I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
From the very start of British policing, Sir Robert Peel’s key principle that the
“police are the public and the public are the police”
has set the standard across the world.
I am sure the whole House will join me in praising the bravery, courage and professionalism of our police officers and staff, who do their dangerous job usually unarmed. As we saw again last week, police officers up and down the country put their lives on the line every day. Neighbourhood police officers and police community support officers deal with antisocial behaviour, catch and deter criminals and reassure the public. The Government appreciate and value all their efforts.
But it is a sad fact that despite these efforts, crime is still too high, too many communities still live in fear, and too many people still do not believe, rightly or wrongly, that the criminal justice system is on their side. Our reforms to policing will make the service even better at fighting crime, more responsive to the needs of their local communities and much more efficient.
We will not just talk about being tough on crime and its causes. Instead, we will free police officers up to be tough on crime by slashing the bureaucracy and targets that have kept them from the streets, and by giving them back the discretion to do what they believe is right. We will shift power directly into the hands of the public as they elect police and crime commissioners to lead the fight against crime and disorder in their areas.
At national and international level, we will support the police in dealing with crime that crosses police force and international borders, so we will use subsequent legislation to introduce a powerful new operational body, the national crime agency, to take the fight against serious and organised crime to the next level and to enhance the security of our borders.
Britain remains a high crime country. In England and Wales alone, the police are recording more than 1,000 incidents of grievous bodily harm or actual bodily harm every day and more than 4 million total crimes a year. That is unacceptable. We have one of the most expensive criminal justice systems in the world, but only half the public trust that it will protect them from criminals. We are now faced with the added challenge of cutting crime at the same time as we deal with the record budget deficit.
To those who say that we should slow the pace of reform because of the need to make budget cuts, I say that the economic situation makes reform more important, not less. We need to do more to cut crime, reduce bureaucracy, increase accountability and drive value for money precisely because we are reducing budgets.
The current policing governance arrangements are simply not working. Police authorities have become remote from the public—only 7% of people have even heard of them, and only 8% of local authority wards in England and Wales are represented on their police authority. They are not effective at doing what they are supposed to do. Fewer than one in three police authorities inspected last year were found to be performing well overall, and fewer than one in five performed well in setting strategic direction and value for money, despite the fact that these are their two main functions. They have neither the democratic mandate to set police priorities, nor the capability to scrutinise police performance.
We need a new approach, one that takes power from the bureaucrats and puts it back in the hands of the people and the professionals. So the deal for the police is greater public accountability through police and crime commissioners and, in exchange, more freedom to do their jobs, less Government interference and much less bureaucracy. We have already begun slashing Labour’s bureaucracy. By scrapping the stop-and-account form and cutting the items recorded during a stop and search, we will save 800,000 hours of police time every year, and that is just the start.
Will the right hon. Lady join me in commending the work of Jan Berry, who was appointed by the previous Government but completed her report under the present Government, and her recommendations to reduce police bureaucracy? Will the right hon. Lady give the House an undertaking that that work will continue, and that Jan Berry or someone like her will continue to monitor the reduction in the bureaucracy that is hampering the police in doing their job?
I am happy to take up the point made by the right hon. Gentleman. Jan Berry did a very good job in looking at police bureaucracy. Obviously, she had considerable experience which enabled her to do that. I can reassure the right hon. Gentleman that the work will continue. We are already taking forward further work in a number of ways to examine the bureaucracy surrounding policing so that we can take further steps to reduce the amount of bureaucracy that the police have to deal with.
With a strong democratic mandate from the ballot box, police and crime commissioners will hold their chief constable to account for cutting crime. They will have the power to appoint and dismiss chief constables if they do not believe they are performing effectively. If the public do not believe that their police and crime commissioner is performing effectively, the commissioner will face the ultimate sanction of rejection at that same ballot box. Importantly, police and crime commissioners will set the annual budget for their force and will determine the local precept—the local contribution to policing costs.
Police authorities are not properly accountable for how public money is used, so they do not drive value for money in their forces. The democratic mandate of police and crime commissioners will put them in a much stronger position to drive the efficiencies and value for money needed to ensure that resources are focused on the front line.
The right hon. Lady mentions a number of functions and areas of accountability. Does she agree that whoever is responsible for the police must ultimately be judged by success in reducing crime, which is the single most important objective that the police have to deliver?
I shall not echo what the Home Secretary has been saying. One of my big anxieties is that she talks about accountability in relation to the commissioners, but each of the forces in our land is a rather curious geographical unit. For instance, in the South Wales police, the demands of Swansea and of Cardiff will be completely and utterly different from the demands of valleys communities such as those in the Rhondda. It will be extremely hard for one person to reflect that better than a body of people who come together from the different communities.
If the hon. Gentleman will bear with me, I will shortly deal with part of the point that he makes.
Earlier today, we announced police force funding allocations. These ensure equal treatment across all forces, as each force will receive the same percentage reduction to its core Government funding. At the same time, we are giving the police service greater freedom than ever before over how to use its resources. With this new budgetary freedom, police and crime commissioners will be able to make real decisions about funding local priorities.
Concerns have been expressed about placing this degree of power in the hands of one person. The hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) made the point about an individual representing, in some cases, a large area with competing and different requirements within it. The Bill will ensure that there are appropriate checks and balances on those powers.
At the core of our proposals is the establishment of new police and crime panels. These will ensure that there is a robust support and challenge role at force level, and that the decisions of the police and crime commissioners are tested on behalf of the public on a regular basis.
I share the concerns of my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) about the ability of a single individual to be visible and accountable in an area such as Greater Manchester, with 2.5 million people. Is it not the case that the police and crime panels which the right hon. Lady proposes are remarkably similar to the police authorities, which have been criticised time and again for lack of visibility and lack of accountability?
No. I shall come on to describe some of the powers of the police and crime panels. That democratically elected individual is essential, restores a link between the police and the public, and makes sure that at those elections the public are able to have their say about what their police and crime commissioner is doing in terms of the responsibilities of the police. To those who raise the issue of representation of the full area, which is the point made by the hon. Member for Rhondda, I repeat the figure that I gave earlier in my speech: only 8% of local authority wards are currently represented on the police authorities, so the police authorities are not providing representation on the same basis as some of those who call for their continuation would argue.
I am very grateful to the Home Secretary, because those issues have obviously tested many Home Secretaries over the past few years. Has the right hon. Lady given any consideration to electing those local representatives, who would then be visible, accountable and have a local mandate?
Yes. Indeed, the right hon. Lady’s own Government looked at the possibility of electing police authorities and rejected it, but we are sure about what we are doing through the police and crime commissioners and the police and crime panels. The panels will comprise locally elected councillors and some independent and lay members, who will be able to veto a commissioner’s proposed precept by a three-quarters majority and veto any candidate a commissioner proposes for chief constable by the same majority. The public will also be given opportunities to scrutinise the performance of their police and crime commissioners directly, through enhanced local crime information, including street-level crime maps.
On accountability, is it not the case that London has an elected Mayor, covering 6 million people? That person is highly visible, highly accountable and, even, highly popular. There are executive mayors throughout the country, including in Lewisham and in east London, who are highly visible and accountable, too, so surely the argument about accountability is a bogus one.
I am very grateful to my hon. Friend, who is exactly right: this is not an untried method of dealing with police accountability. The Mayor of London is indeed the equivalent of a police and crime commissioner. Earlier, from a sedentary position, the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd (Chris Ruane) said that the Mayor of London was “too visible”, but politicians should be out there, visible and able to take on—
Will the Home Secretary clarify one point? Under current legislation, it is illegal for a police officer to be a member of the British National party or of other extremist groups, but will she clarify whether these elected individuals, at local council level or at commissioner level, will be able to be members of such political parties? Will that be compatible with managing police officers, who cannot?
I am about to come on to exactly that point. The right hon. Gentleman asks whether it is appropriate for such individuals to belong to a political party of which a police officer cannot be a member, but one could argue that the same position already exists: Home Secretaries are elected under political banners. I actually trust the people of this country on elections.
I shall return to that point, because police and crime commissioners will give the public a real voice in policing. They will ensure that what the public care about is taken seriously, and that local people’s priorities are the priorities of the police. I thank ACPO for its constructive engagement in the reform process, and the Association of Police Authorities will have an important role to play until police and crime commissioners are introduced. We will continue working with the APA until that point. We have consulted widely with the public and with key partners, such as the APA and ACPO, through the consultation document “Policing in the 21st century: reconnecting police and the people”, which was published earlier this year, and in other consultation with them. We have listened to their views and amended our proposals accordingly.
On consultation with the Association of Police Authorities, there is a letter in The Guardian today—[Interruption.] It is signed by the Conservative, Liberal Democrat and Labour leaders on the APA, and it says:
“There is no evidence that PCCs”—
police and crime commissioners—
“will improve the service the public receive, and every reason to reject this proposal.”
Why has the Home Secretary failed to persuade Conservatives on the APA that her proposals are good proposals?
The right hon. Gentleman—[Interruption.] His hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd can even do the turkey noises for him.
Let me explain my earlier comment. It is very straightforward. We have had discussions with the APA about the future of police and crime commissioners, and it is no surprise that police authority members are not as convinced as we are about setting up PCCs, because when they are set up, police authorities will be abolished. That was my point, but I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will give us the benefit of his views.
Turkeys voting for Christmas? May I quote Sir Hugh Orde, of the Association of Chief Police Officers, who said:
“Every professional bone in my body tells me it is a bad idea that could drive a coach and horses through the current model of accountability for no added value but plenty of confusion”?
Is the Home Secretary calling the head of ACPO a turkey as well?
No, I am not. Had the right hon. Gentleman been listening, he would have heard me say already how grateful we are for our constructive engagement with ACPO. We have listened to its comments on the introduction of police and crime commissioners and amended our proposals accordingly.
To return to the point about democracy, first, I see no reason not to trust the British public. We trust the public and we trust democracy, so I see no reason to constrain democracy by vetting or by excluding candidates we might think are extremist. The British public have shown over the years that they are perfectly capable of stopping extremists where they should be stopped—at the ballot box.
Secondly, although the whole point of our reforms is to improve the local accountability of the police, that in no way means that cross-boundary challenges such as organised crime, terrorism or other national policing issues will be neglected. Police and crime commissioners will be supported by a new strategic policing requirement to help them to hold their force to account for all its policing, and they will have a duty to collaborate with other police forces and other agencies, including the new national crime agency, on issues that cut across force boundaries. I am clear that the structures that we are putting in place must address national policing issues as well as local ones. Commissioners will also be required to work with other forces to simplify the arrangements for procurement and back-office functions in order to improve efficiency and achieve better value for money.
Thirdly, let me reassure the House that the introduction of police and crime commissioners will in no way affect the operational independence of the police. Commissioners will not manage police forces.
No, I am going to make some progress.
Commissioners will not manage police forces, and they will not be permitted to interfere in the day-to-day work of police officers. The Bill sets out for chief constables and for police and crime commissioners clearly defined roles that, in the words of the director of the Institute for Public Policy Research, are
“actually a pretty good definition of operational independence”.
I should also like to point out for the benefit of Opposition Front Benchers that we have included provisions to prevent police and crime commissioners from appointing political advisers from public funds. All appointments will need to be made on merit, and all posts must be politically neutral.
Will the Home Secretary clarify that point? My right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) quite rightly raised the issue of political advisers for police and crime commissioners, but the Policing and Criminal Justice Minister says that the posts will be politically restricted. Although “politically restricted” means not being active politically, it does not mean that these political advisers cannot be a member of a political party. Will the Home Secretary therefore confirm that political advisers to police and crime commissioners can be members of a political party?
Our intention is absolutely clear: the police and crime commissioners will not be able to appoint from public funds political appointees who are political advisers. We do not think that that is appropriate for them, and that is absolutely clear in what we are doing.
I apologise to the Home Secretary for intervening again, but this is an extremely important point. When the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice explained the meaning of the term “politically restricted,” he said:
“You may not, for instance, be a member of a political party.”
It is not correct to say that someone cannot be a member of a political party when they are in a politically restricted post. Will the Home Secretary confirm that?
I am happy to confirm—this is at the heart of the matter, and I know that Opposition Front Benchers have been trying make something of the issue—that we are very clear that police and crime commissioners should not be able to appoint political advisers from public funds. I do not believe that that would be right. That is the intention behind what we are doing and this Bill.
It is very important to be clear when we make statements in the House. It is not the case that Opposition Front Benchers have been trying to make something of the issue. At a meeting of the APA, the Policing and Criminal Justice Minister said that the first decision he would make if he were elected a police and crime commissioner would be to appoint a political adviser. Did he say that? Can the Home Secretary confirm that? If he did say it, can she tell him he was wrong to say it and that it is not in fact true?
I have just checked with my right hon. Friend and he is absolutely clear that he did not say that. I say to the right hon. Gentleman, who seems to think that the issue has suddenly arisen in the last minute, that the document that summarises the consultation responses to “Policing in the 21st century” states clearly on page 13, at paragraph 2.12:
“Whilst the PCC will be able to appoint staff to advise and assist them, all staff must be appointed on merit and will be politically restricted posts.”
[Interruption.] Hon. Members should wait. It goes on to state:
“Party political office holders and active party members will not be able to be appointed to the PCC’s staff.”
Our intention is absolutely clear.
The running costs and day-to-day expenditure of police and crime commissioners will not be any greater than that of police authorities.
I am going to make some progress; I have been very generous in giving way to Opposition Front Benchers.
The running costs and day-to-day expenditure of police and crime commissioners’ will be less than 1% of the total costs of policing. What will be different is the value that the public get for that money. Police and crime commissioners will need to demonstrate value for money to local people or they will simply not be re-elected. The only additional cost of police and crime commissioners will be the costs involved in running the elections because, as we know, democracy costs money. That cost will be £50 million over four years, compared with the £50 billion that will be spent on policing in the same period.
No, I shall make some progress. Let me make this point clear: the money will not come from funds that would otherwise have gone to policing. In the spending review, the Treasury provided funds specifically for these elections because it knows, as I do, that this money will help to cut crime. In contrast, I ask hon. Members to remember that we currently spend £120 million of public money every day on paying the interest alone on the debt that the previous Labour Government racked up.
Our proposals to introduce police and crime commissioners will reconnect the police with the public they serve, and will ensure that the police focus on what local people want, not on what national politicians think they want. Our proposals will help to cut crime and will deliver the efficient, effective and responsive police service that we all want.
As well as giving power back to communities in terms of policing, the Bill will give power over licensing decisions back to local communities. Five years ago, when Labour introduced 24-hour drinking, they promised us a European-style café culture. I was the shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport at the time, and I told the House that Labour was being reckless in pressing ahead with longer licensing hours without first dealing with the problems of binge drinking. Sadly, Labour’s Licensing Act 2003 has proved to be the disaster that many predicted. The police continue to fight a battle against alcohol-fuelled crime and disorder, and the taxpayer continues to pick up the bill of more than £8 billion per year. Last year, there were more than 1 million alcohol-related hospital admissions. That cannot go on.
Over the summer, we consulted on plans to overhaul the Licensing Act to give local communities greater power to tackle the problems associated with alcohol. We received more than 1,000 responses, which we have taken into account. The Bill will give all those affected by licensed premises the chance to have a say in the licensing process. It will allow early morning restriction orders to be extended to between midnight and 6 am and it will give licensing authorities the power to take swift action to tackle problem premises by refusing licence applications or applying for a licence review, without having to wait for a relevant representation from a responsible authority. The Bill will also lower the evidential hurdle for licensing authorities, so that it is easier for them to refuse or revoke licences from irresponsible retailers. In addition, the Bill will double the maximum fine for under-age sales to £20,000.
I warmly welcome what the Home Secretary has said today, which is in keeping with the recommendations of the Home Affairs Select Committee in the previous Parliament. Why did the Government not go that one step further and enshrine minimum pricing in legislation?
May I pay tribute to the Home Affairs Committee’s work on the issue? I shall finish talking about what is in the Bill and will then comment on the issue raised by the right hon. Gentleman, which is not covered in the Bill.
We shall allow local councils to charge a late-night levy on licensed premises that open after midnight to help to pay for late-night policing and other services, such as taxi marshals or street wardens. On the issue raised by the right hon. Gentleman, which is not included in the Bill, the Government remain committed to banning the below-cost sale of alcohol and we will bring forward proposals on that shortly.
Right hon. and hon. Members will not need me to tell them of the growing concern about the availability, use and potential harm of so-called legal highs. We supported the previous Government in the action they took to ban mephedrone, and we have taken legislative action against a similar but even more potent drug: naphyrone. The existing arrangements for bringing a drug under control using the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 remains our preferred approach. However, it simply takes too long to respond effectively to these new and fast-evolving substances. In the meantime, their availability in the UK goes unchecked and we run the risk that they will gain a foothold—as mephedrone did—and that they will cause damage on our streets and harm to our young people. The power in the Bill to make year-long temporary class drug orders—temporary banning orders—will strike the right balance between swift action and expert advice. The offences in the Bill are rightly targeted at suppliers and traffickers, and carry significant penalties.
On a different issue, I am sure that right hon. and hon. Members from all parties would agree that for too long the historic Parliament square has been subjected to unacceptable levels of disruption and abuse caused by long-term encampments occupying the site. The actions of a small minority have also prevented others from enjoying an important public space. The Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005 tried to deal with the disruption on the square by targeting protest as a whole, but it went too far and missed the point. The continuing occupation of the square and last week’s violence, on which I updated the House earlier, have shown that those measures have not worked. The Bill will restore the right to peaceful protest around Parliament by repealing the relevant sections of the 2005 Act.
I confess that I was responsible for the original clause in what became the 2005 Act. I would like to apologise for that, because we did not quite get it right. However, it is not the drafting of the legislation that matters but whether people are prepared to implement it. The Home Secretary will certainly have my support if she can manage to get the police and the local authority to work together to do something, rather than simply talking about it.
I am grateful for the right hon. Gentleman’s point. I think it is fair to say that the whole of Parliament thought that previous attempts to deal with the matter had succeeded and that people were disappointed when we discovered that that was not the case. I can confirm that the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup (James Brokenshire), who deals with crime prevention, has been working very closely on the matter with the Metropolitan police, the Greater London authority, Westminster city council and, indeed, with the House authorities where relevant. Those parties are willing to work together to ensure that we keep Parliament square clear of encampments. The Bill does not deal with the problem of permanent encampments by restricting protests across the board; it bans the use of tents, other equipment and the unauthorised use of loudhailers in Parliament square.
The Bill must go through the relevant parliamentary procedures and will probably not receive Royal Assent until the end of July. Is my right hon. Friend conscious of the fact that the royal wedding is in April and that there will be pressure to remove the encampment before that auspicious occasion?
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for raising that issue. The Prime Minister made it clear at Prime Minister’s questions, and I have made it clear separately, that we need to ensure that we can clear Parliament square for the royal wedding on 29 April.
The Bill addresses another important area of law that is not currently working—the whole issue of how we apply universal jurisdiction, which is a key principle of international justice that enables some of the gravest offences to be prosecuted here, regardless of the state in which the offences were committed.
Does the Home Secretary accept that there are already adequate safeguards in this respect? It is not a question of someone simply going to the magistrates court alleging that a war criminal is on British soil. There is a feeling—she obviously does not share it—that this law is being changed as a result of the pressure that Israel put on the previous Government and is clearly putting on this Government. It does seem unfortunate that we are going to change the law because a foreign country has put such pressure on us.
We are not changing the law because a foreign country has put pressure on us. In relation to this law, the evidential requirement that is needed in order for somebody to go and get an arrest warrant is significantly less than that required for a successful prosecution. We are saying that the Director of Public Prosecutions should be able to look at any such application that is made and give consent to it or otherwise.
The measures on universal jurisdiction are one of the more important aspects of the Bill, because what we have seen before has made Britain a laughing stock as a place of fishing and trawling for international justice in matters that are better dealt with elsewhere.
I thank my hon. Friend for making that point. It is certainly clear that the current process for applying for an arrest warrant has deterred some public figures from overseas from coming to the UK. The Bill will make the process fairer and safer by requiring the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions before a warrant can be issued.
The key issue that the DPP will look at is the basis for the request for the arrest warrant and the extent to which there is a genuine basis for bringing it forward. He will look at the prospects for a successful prosecution and balance that issue in the view that he takes. At the moment, the threshold requirement is significantly less than would normally be required in bringing a successful prosecution.
As I said, I am about to finish my speech.
The Bill is focused on cutting crime and putting power back where it belongs—in the hands of local people. Directly elected and directly accountable police and crime commissioners will bring reform to the police, ensuring that they cut crime, focus on local priorities and drive up performance. The problems of 24-hour drinking will be tackled by giving our communities greater powers over licensing decisions, and the emerging problems of legal highs will be dealt with through temporary banning orders.
At the international level, our relationships with our overseas partners will be strengthened by the introduction of the key safeguard in the application process for universal jurisdiction arrest warrants. At home, our democracy will be strengthened by the restoration of the right to peaceful protest outside Parliament, at the same time as we take targeted action to deal with the long-term encampments and loudhailers which cause so much disruption and distress.
This Bill is necessary, it is proportionate, and it is right. I commend it to the House.
I beg to move,
That this House declines to give a Second Reading to the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill because it introduces an expensive set of reforms which will do nothing to bring the police closer to the communities they serve; because it risks a single elected politician remote from the frontline overruling operational policing decisions, thus ending one hundred and seventy years of tradition of police independence from politicians; because it gives insufficient attention to the risks of police force collaboration being undermined by the creation of individually elected police commissioners; and because the Government has indicated that it will implement this expensive and disruptive reform in the same year as the Government is making the biggest annual cut to police funding as set out in the Spending Review.
Protecting the public and giving people confidence that they can live free from the fear of crime and antisocial behaviour is the first duty of Government. On the front line in the fight against crime are our police and police community support officers, who do a difficult, sometimes dangerous job with great professionalism. We should start by congratulating our police, who, in record numbers, under Conservative and Labour Governments since 1994, have delivered a 50% fall in crime. We congratulate them on that achievement. We will support the Government, where we can, to ensure that our police have the resources and the powers that they need to do the job.
It is right, too, as the Home Secretary said, that the police must be close to the local communities they serve and be responsive to the views of local communities in order to be accountable to the taxpayer. I pay tribute to the reforms made in recent years by Labour Home Secretaries who have introduced neighbourhood policing, which has ensured that the police are embedded in our communities. That is an achievement of which Labour Members can be very proud.
However, we will argue in Committee that there is more that we can do to deepen that accountability at the force level and at the neighbourhood level to ensure that the police are properly and fully responsive to local communities. I have to say to the Home Secretary that the approach to police accountability that the coalition is pursuing in the Bill is absolutely not the answer to that challenge. Indeed, the judgment of the Association of Police Authorities, which said that elected police commissioners are the wrong reform at the wrong time, is looking more prescient by the day.
Will the right hon. Gentleman cast his mind back to the cuckoo months of the previous Prime Minister’s Administration, when the then Home Secretary, the former Member for Redditch, considered the idea of elected chiefs of police and then discarded it, not because of politicisation or fears about cost, but because of lobbying from Labour councillors who did not want to lose their lucrative positions on police authorities?
I merely draw the hon. Gentleman’s attention to the excellent House of Commons research report on the Bill, which makes it absolutely clear, in terms, that the then Home Secretary rejected that proposal because it would lead to the politicisation of our police, which is exactly why we are opposing these measures.
Look at the storm that is now gathering around the Home Secretary. Over the past few days, we have seen the events in Sweden—[Interruption.] Hon. Gentlemen mock the events that are happening. We are seeing a rising terrorist threat. We saw the events of last Thursday and the statement that we had to have this afternoon about disorder on our streets. We have the Olympics coming up the year after next, with the Home Secretary now proposing to force through a 20% cut in the Olympic policing budget.
The right hon. Gentleman raised the Olympic security budget in his response to my statement earlier. I refer him, yet again, to today’s written ministerial statement on police funding allocations, which says that we have protected the £600 million expenditure on Olympic security. In fact, we think that what is needed can be done more cheaply than that, but we are protecting the £600 million. Will he now withdraw his accusations?
I will do no such thing, and I will tell the House exactly why. We are consistently told by the Home Secretary that she has protected the counter-terrorism budget. What she means by “protected” is that it is cut by only 10%, unlike the police budget, which is cut by 20%. That is what the protection is all about.
I note that the Policing Minister’s letter says that he hopes to make savings and not to use the £600 million. Today’s Birmingham Mail points out that despite an earlier promise that the Pope’s visit would be subject to a special grant for security, that grant was never provided, and west midlands police have virtually exhausted their contingency for special events. If that happens around the country, how can the Government possibly hope to make savings on the Olympics?
I do not know the answer to that. When I spoke to my right hon. Friend the Member for Dulwich and West Norwood (Tessa Jowell), the shadow Olympics Minister, about it this afternoon, she said that she was assured that any reduction in the £600 million budget would be briefed on in advance with the details of the savings, but she has had no such briefing. It looks to me as though the commitment to keep £600 million in principle was rushed in at the weekend.
The reality of the position is that the Home Secretary is seeking to achieve a 20% cut which will further stretch Policing around our country at a time when the largest cut in our police budgets in peacetime history over the past 100 years has just been announced. In the west midlands and Greater Manchester, 2,500 officers are already set to lose their jobs, not to be appointed, or to be removed through regulation A19 powers, with equivalent numbers among PCSOs and other public staff. Other forces around the country will be considering today’s announcement of 20% real-terms cuts. The health budget was broadly flat, although falling slightly; the schools budget was broadly flat, although falling slightly; and the defence budget was cut by 8%. People around the country are asking where the Home Secretary was and how come the police budget was cut by 20%.
As my hon. Friend knows, the Association of Police Authorities estimates that 600 officers’ jobs could be saved with the money that will be spent on the unnecessary election of police commissioners. We hear nothing from the Liberal Democrats, who all stood on a manifesto commitment of 3,000 more police officers, not 20,000 officers being cut.
I am happy to accept my hon. Friend’s clarification on that point.
The context for this legislation includes the largest cuts to policing that we have seen, police officers losing their jobs through A19 powers and a freeze on recruitment across the country, at a time when the security threat is rising. The Home Secretary and the business managers have chosen the day on which the cuts have been announced to ask for support for the risky experiment in police accountability that is elected police commissioners. The coalition has no mandate and no evidence base for that reform. It has not done a proper consultation and it has failed to win the active support of either the police or the public.
Before the election, when the then Home Secretary was asked whether he could promise that police numbers would not be cut under Labour, he replied “No.” Is not that and this nonsense about the Olympics budget why nobody is listening to the right hon. Gentleman as shadow Home Secretary?
I will answer the hon. Gentleman’s previous erroneous intervention before I give him a second go to see whether he can do better. Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, an independent body, said that it was possible to make reductions of 12% in the central Government grant over four years, without cutting front-line policing, as we heard last week. The Government are pushing through savings not of 12% but of 20%, and they are doing so not over four years but by front-loading them, so that the biggest cuts are in the first two years. As police authorities say, it is impossible to make such cuts without cutting front-line policing capability. If what we proposed was being done, cuts to front-line police numbers—indeed, cuts to all police numbers—would be avoided. Under the coalition, there will be cuts to front-line policing. No Government Members were elected on such a manifesto, and they will be held to account in the coming months and years. I happily give way to the hon. Gentleman so that he can have a second go.
I do not mind being held to account for sorting out the nation’s finances. The right hon. Gentleman should answer the question. He said that my intervention were erroneous. When the previous Home Secretary was asked whether he could guarantee to protect police budgets from being cut, did he not say, “No”?
The hon. Gentleman knows the answer to his own question. He can wave his arms around in a histrionic way, but the reality is that the previous Home Secretary said that he could not guarantee the individual decision of every chief constable of the 43 forces. However, he said that on the basis of a 12% reduction over four years, there would be no need for any reduction in police numbers. Under the coalition, the Police Federation estimates that 20,000 officers will be cut. We know that 1,100 officers will be cut in Birmingham and that 1,400 will be cut in Greater Manchester. The difference is that under our proposals there would have been no cuts to police numbers, and under the coalition proposals there will be cuts in every constituency and in every police force in the country. Those cuts will be made worse by the additional expenditure on the ridiculous and flawed proposals before us.
If, rather than framing his intervention, the hon. Gentleman had listened to the previous one, he would have known the answer to his question and would not have had to bother asking it. HMIC said that a 12% reduction in the central Government grant over four years was deliverable without cuts to front-line policing. That advice has not been taken by the Government: they have gone not for 12% but for 20%, and it will be front-loaded on the first two years. The coalition policy will mean not 3,000 more police officers, but visible, front-line police officer cuts in police forces up and down the country. That is not the manifesto on which Government Members were elected, and they will be held to account.
Will the cuts not be more savage in particular areas? In police forces such as South Wales, the work that absolutely must be done, such as policing major sporting events, looking after the Welsh Assembly and the continuation of anti-terrorism work, will not be cut, meaning that the neighbourhood policing that happens in ordinary people’s streets will end up being cut?
I hope that that will not be the case. The chief constable of West Yorkshire police has said the opposite to me. His priority will be to protect neighbourhood policing, if possible.
That point brings me to a smear that has been propagated regularly by those on the Government Front Bench. On the basis of the HMIC report, they claim—in my view erroneously—that only 11% of policing has been visible at any one time and that the other 89% has somehow been wasted on bureaucracy and form-filling. The fact is that 50% of that 89% comprises the policing of organised crime and domestic violence, criminal investigation departments, and work on drug and alcohol policies. Perhaps such policing is not done in neighbourhood teams, but it is vital nevertheless. It is discounted by those on the Government Front Bench as waste and bureaucracy. Frankly, that is an outrageous slur.
The right hon. Gentleman has admitted that he would have cut police funding by £1 billion a year, which is the HMIC proposal, and that under his proposals, there would have been no cut in police numbers. Will he explain how he would achieve £1 billion of savings?
I fear that we may be wasting time by going over the same point, but I will explain it again. HMIC said that a cut of more than 12% in central Government funding would lead to a cut in visible, front-line police numbers. The coalition is cutting central Government funding not by 12% but by 20%. As the previous Home Secretary made clear, on the basis of the HMIC report, savings could be made in procurement and through collaboration—precisely the sort of cross-force collaboration that will be undermined by elected police commissioners. It is possible to do that without cuts to front-line policing. It is the Minister’s 20% cuts that will lead to a reduction in police numbers, as is accepted universally by police officers across the country.
I hope to help my right hon. Friend. As he knows, I was the Minister with responsibility for policing in the previous Government. The £1 billion that we sought to save was made up of £500 million to £600 million from overtime and shift patterns, several hundred million pounds from police procurement of things such as helicopters and uniforms, and savings through back-office staff mergers. All those savings could have been made without cutting front-line policing. The HMIC report shows that the additional £1 billion that is being taken out by the Government will damage front-line policing.
My right hon. Friend is making the point that the previous Home Secretary would have fought his corner for the police and Home Office budgets. In the spending review, the Home Secretary did not exactly lead the police chiefs up Downing street, as the Secretary of State for Defence did with the defence chiefs. We heard nothing—not a squeak. The Home Secretary calls what we ended up with a fair settlement, but it is a deeply unfair settlement, compared with that for schools, health and defence, that hits the police disproportionately with spending cuts. Police chiefs around the country ask me, “Where was the Home Secretary?”
What the hon. Gentleman will not hear from us is support for a reform that a former Met commissioner has today said is
“without any intellectual underpinning or historical understanding”.
It will weaken police accountability by making it more personalised and less representative of local communities, and it will overturn a 170-year tradition of independence in policing by empowering one elected individual to direct police priorities, fire chief constables and hire political advisers to do his bidding. It will make cross-force collaboration harder, not easier, and it will divert millions of pounds—the equivalent of 600 police officers—from the front line to new elections. It is a flawed reform that will waste millions and do nothing to reduce crime, so we are very sceptical about giving the Bill a Second Reading.
South Wales police currently have a police authority that contains cross-party representation from the leaders of a number of local authorities as well as people who are independently selected. How can it be said that there is greater democratic accountability when one person is directly elected than when there is cross-party representation from across the whole police authority area?
I do not know, and that is one of the flaws in the Bill that we will need to investigate in Committee. As I understand it, that problem was why the Liberal Democrats did not support the policy. They rejected it in their policy documents in the past two years, stating that
“police authorities must be representative of the whole community, including women and ethnic minorities, which is why we reject…plans for elected sheriffs.”
That was why they rejected the policy in the first place.
The right hon. Gentleman has described the current situation as “non-optimal”. May I ask him what he means by that term and what his own plans for reform are, or is he doing just what his leader is doing and bringing nothing but a blank sheet of paper to the Chamber?
As I said at the beginning, we will propose amendments in Committee to strengthen accountability at force and neighbourhood level, but in a way that is consistent with an approach to policing that respects political independence and ensures broad-based accountability across an area. Concentrating power in one individual will lead inevitably to political interference, and it will be impossible for one individual to represent, for example, the individual point of view of every town and community in West Yorkshire.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for his patience with me. In Kent, the police authority’s idea of accountability seems to be to sue people who question it for libel, which I regard with serious concern. That should not be done with public money. The Library report to which he referred states that two thirds of the public said that they did not know who to go to if they had a complaint, and that 59% said that it was very difficult to have a say on how their area was policed. Surely an elected police commissioner would be more responsive.
I do not know whether the Library report quotes the Conservative chair of the police authority in Kent, who, as I understand it, totally disagrees with the hon. Gentleman and says that the proposal is flawed and will not work. It will not be properly representative.
Bizarrely, the coalition came along and proposed the abolition of police authorities, but then realised that it was a flawed policy. It then decided to reinvent police authorities and give them a new name so that they would be called panels rather than authorities. The problem of representation needs to be solved, because it is serious.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that visibility and accountability have to be balanced with the integration of services, particularly with local authorities and other partners? Partnership working in policing has been shown to work over the past few years, and a single elected commissioner could well tear the system apart and lead to much less effective policing on the ground.
I agree, and effective accountability really ought to happen in the main in the basic command unit. We need to ensure that the police are accountable to their community, but that they can demand support from the local authority, the health service and the other agencies that are vital to tackling the causes of drug crime and wider youth crime. All that will be ripped up under the Government’s proposals, and we will end up instead with one elected person for a massive area, who will be able to visit each ward perhaps once every other year. That is not local accountability at all.
The right hon. Gentleman has just said that a single elected individual could rip apart the policing in an area. Is that what he would say to Bill Bratton, who was the single elected individual who increased the detection of crime in New York and Los Angeles?
The shadow policing Minister, my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), read out to me earlier the views of Bill Bratton on the Conservative proposals and the risky and reckless way in which they are drawing conclusions from the American experience. Bill Bratton said:
“What I would suggest is create your own experience; don’t try to learn from us—seriously.”
He went on to explain exactly why the American policing model does not translate into a British context, and why it is dangerous to draw such a conclusion.
I am interested that my right hon. Friend has read the evidence given by Mr Bratton, who went on to say that telling all 43 police authorities that they had to be managed in the same way was an experiment. He contrasted that with the plethora of different ways in which things are done in the States, including the variety of experiences that he had had himself.
He did say that, and I am glad to receive my right hon. Friend’s praise for reading the evidence given to the Home Affairs Committee. I do so on behalf of the shadow Policing Minister, who read it in even greater detail.
The question of new panels points to another flaw in the Bill. There is one area in which the Home Secretary has agreed that the panels actually will have power, and it is the one in which we would think an elected police commissioner ought to have legitimacy—the setting of the precept. Rather bizarrely, on abolishing police authorities and establishing the panels, the one power that the Home Secretary gives the panels is to veto any proposal for a rise in the precept by the elected police commissioner. The commissioner will not have the power to set the precept without veto from the panel, and apparently will not be involved in operational policing, so it is not clear what they will be able to do. They will be even less powerful than the police authorities are at the moment.
I will not go into detail on the issue of political advisers, because we have done to death the mistake of the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice in saying to The Guardian that staff of the policing and crime commissioners will not be able to be members of political parties. It is absolutely clear that he is wrong about that and that they will be so able.
The Home Affairs Committee report is very instructive on the matter of operational responsibility. The problem is that one individual will be elected solely on a policing mandate and will stand alongside a chief constable. That makes the definition of operational responsibility very important. As I asked the Home Secretary earlier, what will happen if a commissioner is elected on a mandate of, for example, abolishing speed cameras or introducing water cannon—if the Home Secretary allows that—and the chief constable says, “No, in my judgment that is not required operationally”? Who will decide? I am afraid that the lack of clarity on that issue raises the spectre of politicisation in certain circumstances. That will need to be discussed in Committee, because the Home Affairs Committee was right to say that without a proper definition, a memorandum and a way of getting the situation clear, there is an inevitable risk of politicisation, which is exactly the fear of police chiefs across the country.
The final point that we hear regularly is that London is somehow a model. Of course, in London the Mayor is elected not for policing but for a wider range of powers. He tried to get involved in the hiring and firing of commissioners, but decided that it was inappropriate because it risked politicisation, and had to stand aside for his non-elected deputy to take over responsibility for the matter backed by a police authority of elected members from the Greater London authority with proper powers. The Home Secretary invents reasons why the model that she proposes cannot apply to London, but the reason is that it has been tried there and did not work.
I want to address some of the wider issues in Bill. They cover only one third of the clauses, and our intention, where possible, will be to seek consensus on these proposals. The Bill contains a number of changes to the licensing regime and to powers for councils that build upon, rather than reversing, the licensing reforms of the past decade. If the Bill receives its Second Reading today, we will clearly need to examine the proposals in detail in Committee, but we will support extra powers to enable local communities and the police to keep public order to ensure that people can enjoy a night out in a safe and secure manner.
We will look into the proposals on drugs in detail, but at this point, we cautiously welcome the temporary banning orders that the Home Secretary is proposing. However, there is a suggestion, in the changes to the role of the advisory committee, of a move away from evidence-based policy making on drugs. That gives us some cause for concern, and we shall need to look closely at the matter in Committee. As we heard from the former Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett), the devil will be in the detail, as it was with the reform of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. We will look closely at the detail of the proposals in Committee.
We will also probe the details of the clauses on universal jurisdiction in Committee. The Opposition believe strongly in the importance of universal jurisdiction, and we will support the proposed changes to make it work more effectively in each of the relevant areas. We will seek to achieve consensus in Committee, but, as I have said, these measures add up to less than one third of the clauses in the Bill, and as far as the policing issues are concerned, it has been very hard to be the shadow Secretary Of State.
I should first declare that I am a member of the Kent police authority and that I support our abolition. I should also correct the right hon. Gentleman: our chair is not a Conservative. On the issue of operational independence, surely Ministers have made it very clear that there should be no interference by politicians on matters of individual investigation or arrest. Does he not agree, however, that it is quite proper for there to be democratic oversight of the broader issues of strategy and of the setting of budget priorities?
I fully agree about the importance of that middle tier of political accountability for chief constables. What I and many other experts fear, however, is that if one individual is elected on a direct mandate for policing, it will be very hard indeed to prevent their supposed mandate from crossing operational dividing lines. That does not happen now, because each police authority—half of which comprises independents, the other half of which is indirectly elected—covers a number of areas and often comprises a number of political parties. They ensure that there is a collective sense that operational responsibilities are properly respected. I have no doubt that some elected police and crime commissioners will want to respect operational independence, but I have no doubt that individuals might be elected on a mandate that explicitly crosses that line. Unless that element of the Bill is sorted out quickly, we will end up with an expensive politicisation of policing in this country that will overturn 170 years of policing tradition.
I have looked carefully to find support for the Bill. I have already quoted Sir Hugh Orde and ACPO. I have also quoted the Association of Police Authorities. Police superintendents take the same view, as do Liberty and the Local Government Association. I have spoken on this matter at two conferences where I have urged anyone in the room who supports the proposals to identify themselves to me privately afterwards, because no one will dare admit to it publicly. As a member of a responsible Opposition, I want to know the arguments, yet nobody will come forward. It is very hard indeed to find anyone who supports this policy.
As a result of assiduous research by our shadow team, however, I have identified three organisations that support the proposal. The first is a think-tank called Policy Exchange. Yes, it is the think-tank that was founded by the Secretary of State for Education, and the think-tank that said that the solution to unemployment in the north was for people to move to the south. Mr Blair Gibbs made the case for these commissioners on behalf of that organisation. He was in fact chief of staff to the Policing Minister between 2007 and 2010.
The second organisation is called Direct Democracy, which included in its book “Direct Democracy: An Agenda for a New Model Party” a chapter on the case for independent police commissioners. Yes, that is the Direct Democracy that was founded by the hon. Member for Clacton (Mr Carswell) and by the Tory MEP Mr Daniel Hannan—he who described the NHS as a “60-year mistake”. Unfortunately, the chapter in the book was authored by the Policing Minister himself.
The third organisation is a think-tank called Reform. In its 2009 pamphlet, it also advocated this policy. Yes, the Reform think-tank is now headed by the former Tory central office head of political research, and it was founded by the Policing Minister. So there we have it: a former chief of staff to the Minister, a chapter written by the Minister and a think-tank founded by the Minister. Unusually for the coalition, the Minister responsible for the policy actually supports it, which is quite a turn-up for the books.
The right hon. Gentleman has been talking about operational independence for the past five minutes. Does he not agree that, when Tony Blair summoned all 43 chief constables to a knife crime summit in Downing street and urged them collectively to do more about knife crime, he was illustrating exactly the way in which politicians could constructively influence the police?
Of course the hon. Gentleman is right: Prime Ministers should take an interest in these matters, and I am sure that the Prime Minister of the time did that while fully respecting the operational independence of the police. The present Prime Minister is an advocate of individually elected police commissioners; in fact, it was in his 2005 manifesto. It is always good for the Home Secretary to support the Prime Minister if she can, but sometimes, as I know, it is important to say no. I am afraid that, on this matter, she has been remiss in her duties. It would have been much better if she had said to the Prime Minister, “I am very sorry, Prime Minister, but a policy that sounded good in opposition is deeply flawed and unimplementable in government.”
The right hon. Gentleman mentioned three organisations that support the proposals for elected police commissioners. I should like to read him a quote from a fourth:
“And with local meetings, new elected police representatives, and online crime mapping, people will have more information and more influence over what their local team is focused on.”
That quote is from the Labour party website, www.labour.org.uk.
As I have said, we are looking carefully at this proposal. We have investigated it in detail, and we have concluded that it is a bad idea because it risks politicising our police and it is a waste of money. The money would have been better spent on police officers on the front line. We had a record number of police officers, and now we are seeing the biggest cuts in peacetime history.
Is not the absolute proof that the Government know that these are to be politicised posts the fact that the Bill allows for the Home Secretary to make provision for the candidates for the posts to be included under the terms of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000? They will effectively become politicians; they will be party nominees.
As I understand it, though, the drafting of the Bill has not taken into account the fact that funding needs to be restricted on third-party campaigning. This issue needs to be cleared up and properly brought into line with other political elections. We know that the matter will be politicised by those on the Government Benches, because they have said so.
It is the job of the Home Secretary to stand up for public safety, to fight for police numbers and to resist barmy political reorganisations that get in the way of progress. Instead, we have seen her standing back and giving in to the Chancellor on huge and disproportionate cuts to policing, and being steamrollered by the Treasury into proposing front-loaded cuts. We have seen her stand at the Dispatch Box and recite a script that was written by the Prime Minister before he was Leader of the Opposition, back in 2005. To agree to any one of record police cuts, front-loading of cuts or a risky change to political accountability would be a foolish thing to do, but to sign up to all three at the same time is very reckless indeed. That is what the Home Secretary has done over the past six months in the job. It is time that she got some operational independence and started to do the job that she was appointed to do. She must stand up for our police and our communities, and resist these barmy proposals. We oppose giving the Bill a Second Reading.
As we saw in the ugly scenes outside this building last Thursday, the police deal with people at their worst, when they are in states of anger, violence, grief, shock and fright, and frequently when they are unpredictable because of drug or alcohol use. Through all that, they have to retain their composure, sense of perspective and humanity. Many of us here today have had the opportunity to go on patrol with our constabularies better to understand the pressures that they routinely face on our behalf.
A Saturday night patrol gave me a unique insight into the diverse range of incidents that a two-man team can be called upon to deal with. As we went from one incident to the next, I was impressed by their patience and professionalism, and their ability to maintain a sense not only of perspective but of humour. I went home exhausted, with a feeling of achievement at just having survived the night, while they, of course, had to go and do it all again the following day. I have spoken at length to my local chief constable and other police officers about the Bill. Why? Because it is too important to get wrong. No one knows when they will need to call upon the police for assistance, but we do know that, at that point, we will expect them to be there.
Budget reductions are never desirable, but in the current economic climate they are necessary to get the country back on track. Some forward-thinking chief constables might see it as an opportunity to rethink traditional practices, restructure management hierarchies, get the best out of support infrastructure such as HR and procurement, see opportunities for cross-boundary collaboration and information sharing, and run things better and more effectively.
The scope of the Bill is vast, but there are three main parts that I want to talk about, beginning with the proposals on licensing. In a previous life, I sat on the licensing committee of the local council, and local residents would often cite their frustrations with the antisocial behaviour of people leaving bars and clubs late at night. At present, the responsibility of the landlord ends outside the bar or club, and short of ushering customers away from their premises with a plea to leave quietly, they are essentially free to make their money while others are left to clear up the undesirable after-effects.
What taxpayer in their right mind would prefer to see their money pay for police in yellow jackets spending all night dealing with teenagers who have drunk themselves stupid on alcopops, rather than catching burglars, rapists and murderers?
Scenes such as those my hon. Friend has just described are all too typical and do much damage to the night-time economy. Does she agree that the late-night levy will help to deliver a safer night-time economy, which will be a boost to the vast majority of law-abiding customers who are all too often put off by the actions of the disgraceful minority?
My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is important that the levies are imposed only on venues that supply alcohol between midnight and 6 am. That means the responsible pubs and clubs that shut earlier and are managed well, are able to go about their business without any such levies. The funds generated by the levy will be payable to the police and crime commissioners to help to fund the necessary policing, as well as to other organs of local government that address the effects of alcohol-related crime and disorder.
Another positive outcome of the Bill is the reduction in centrally set targets and in bureaucracy. The mass data collection prescribed by the previous Government is one of the biggest frustrations for our police. In Hampshire, it amounts to 130 weeks’ worth of extra work per year—two full-time members of staff—just to satisfy the demands of the Home Office. And I have no idea who reads all that stuff. The plea from local police is that this great advance towards common-sense policing needs to be reflected in changes to the criminal justice system. At the moment, our police spend thousands of hours preparing court cases in which the perpetrator says nothing on arrest or at interview but pleads guilty in the Crown court. All the preparation work was therefore an utter bureaucratic waste of time. There has to be some way of mitigating that.
Hampshire has the sixth biggest force in the country, policing about 2 million people, and substantially more during the summer.
Well, in some cases it is an inevitable guilty plea. It is thousands of police hours—not in every case, but in many.
There are clear benefits from increased collaboration between forces, not least improved efficiency, the driving down of costs and the avoidance of reinventing the wheel. Police forces can do a lot by sharing back-office functions and procurement. In Hampshire constabulary there will be collaboration with the neighbouring Thames Valley force on facilities such as dog teams, firearms response, IT and surveillance aircraft.
We also need to ensure that the collegiate approach is backed up with shared local information. So many times, the police talk of the frustrations of the record management system, with local criminal information not being available across county borders, which the bad guys are happy to exploit.
There is a tendency for people to view the police as “them and us,” but the police are us; the us that is prepared to deal with humanity at its worst. As both Robert Peel and the Home Secretary have said,
“The police are the public and the public are the police.”
In Gosport, our local police work hard to build up trust in traditionally wary neighbourhoods. The Bill starts to recognise that work and build on it, and is joined up in both its approach and its delivery.
What my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) has said about the attacks on the strength of the police and about the cuts in police budgets particularly affects us in Greater Manchester, where we have an absolutely excellent local police service that will be severely damaged by what the Government propose.
I wish, however, to concentrate on clause 151, which has been smuggled in to fulfil a Conservative election pledge made in a full-page advertisement in the Jewish Chronicle during the general election, namely the change in the administration of universal jurisdiction in this country. There is no need whatsoever to change the law. To obtain an arrest warrant for a suspected war criminal, it is essential to surmount a high hurdle, and that rarely happens. Such applications are made rarely, and are granted even more rarely. This change in the law would never have been proposed if it were not for the case of Tzipi Livni, the war criminal daughter of a terrorist father, who was scared off coming to this country because of the danger of an arrest warrant being issued for her. She was jointly responsible for the slaughter in Gaza in Operation Cast Lead in which 1,400 people were killed, including 300 children, in a war in which 14 Israelis were killed, some by friendly fire. It is bizarre that a major change in our criminal justice system is being made at the demand of one of the most discredited regimes in the world.
The right hon. Gentleman specifically identifies Tzipi Livni and talks about the accusations that have been levelled against her, but I am sure that he will agree that, as Foreign Minister, Livni would not have had either direct or ultimate command responsibility for any of the alleged atrocities. Will he concede that what he has just told the House is incorrect?
Without the change in the law she would not dare come here.
The Israeli Administration are one of the most discredited regimes in the world, and have persisted in committing war crimes, right through to the lethal attack on the Gaza flotilla on 31 May.
The fact is that Israel breaches international law and the Geneva convention every single day. It has just snubbed the President of the United States by refusing to halt the illegal building of settlements—that in itself is a contravention of international law.
I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, but I must say that his hatred for Israel knows no bounds. He explains exactly why universal jurisdiction needs to be changed—it is being used as a political football by people such as him who have hidden agendas.
There would have been no proposal to change the universal jurisdiction law if Tzipi Livni had not been scared away from this country after committing appalling war crimes against the people of Gaza. It is as simple and as plain as that.
As I said, the Israelis have just snubbed the President of the United States by refusing to halt the illegal building of settlements. The Israeli regime uses its powers of arrest without charge arbitrarily. Two Members of the Knesset, including the Deputy Prime Minister, were scared away by the law, but 30 members of the Palestine National Council are currently held by the Israelis without charge. That is not a threat of arrest, but an actual arrest.
Last month, when I was in Jerusalem, I visited three PNC members who are taking refuge from arbitrary arrest by the Israeli police with the international Red Cross. I met and heard the testimony of young Palestinian children who were assaulted by Israeli police—they showed us their scars and bruises—as a result of the arbitrary and illegal way in which the Israeli police treat Palestinians, including Palestinian children. When we met the Foreign Minister of Jordan in Amman, he told us that he had to offer diplomatic shelter to the President of Palestine because when they were driving along one after the other, the President was continually halted at Israeli checkpoints. For all those crimes and many more, the Israelis are answerable to no one. Now, one of the few sanctions on those crimes will be removed. As a result of the Bill, Israeli politicians will be literally allowed to get away with murder.
That comes at a time when the ground is shifting. As I said, the pledge on the measure was made in a full-page advertisement in the Jewish Chronicle in order to get Jewish votes in the recent general election, but there is an upheaval in the Jewish community, as a result of which the across-the-board support for anything an Israeli Government do is no longer available.
I am well aware what they said, because week after week, I sat in the Chamber at business questions, when the current Deputy Leader of the House rose without fail to say how heinous and unacceptable it would be for the Labour Government to change the law on universal jurisdiction, and how the Liberal Democrats would be totally opposed to any such change. We have an obligation to remind the electors of Oldham East and Saddleworth of the broken Liberal Democrat pledge of 3,000 more police on the streets, and of their broken pledge to oppose any change in the law on universal jurisdiction. Those things will not go by unnoticed.
As I said, an upheaval is taking place in the Jewish community. The attitudes of leading Jews who have been vocal champions of Israel are becoming deeply critical of the current Israeli Government. One of the most active and vocal supporters of Israel has accused them of being in the process of turning Israel into an “apartheid state”.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) pointed out, the hypocrisy of the Liberal Democrats on universal jurisdiction is unlimited, as on so many matters. Week after week, their spokesman rose and vehemently opposed a change in the law for which he will vote tonight, just as Liberal Democrats voted last week in blatant breach of their election pledges.
Whatever change in the law the Government introduce for the most craven reasons, Tzipi Livni and her ilk will remain unwelcome in this country. What worries me is that without a valid and operable legal sanction—one currently exists, but the Bill will repeal it—and without the legal deterrent that the Bill removes, disapproval of the presence in this country of Livni, Netanyahu and their cronies will take forms that I and many others deplore.
Is it not a fact that the right hon. Gentleman is at the extreme in his views on Israel? Many of us consider them abhorrent, and Front Benchers on both sides of the House have expressed their support for clause 151. It is interesting that he has used the debate on the Bill as a vehicle to display his political views rather than to debate justice. Does he agree that arrest warrants should be issued when there is insufficient evidence to justify a prosecution, because that is at the heart of this matter of justice, not his political views?
The hon. Gentleman may wish to behave like a creep to his Front Benchers—I was elected to Parliament not to creep to my Front Benchers, but to speak on behalf of my constituents. Indeed, I persuaded the previous Prime Minister to abandon his proposal to change the law on universal jurisdiction. I went to see him and persuaded him that the proposal was mistaken, and he did not proceed with it. If my Front Benchers do not want to agree with me, that is their business. I state a view that I have stated consistently in the House for very many years, and I shall continue to do so, because it is the Israelis who are in trouble, the Israelis who are turning Israel into a pariah state, and the Israelis who will be overcome by demographic changes—they will be outnumbered by the Palestinians—and this Government are an accomplice to what they are doing. God forgive them.
I should like to use this opportunity to thank the police for performing the difficult role of policing our country while ensuring that people’s civil liberties are observed.
I thank the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) for mentioning Oldham East and Saddleworth, because it gives me an opportunity to tell him that I was there on Saturday; and Sunday. I can assure him that the circumstances that led to the by-election are at the forefront of the minds of residents. They are reflecting at some length on the action the Labour party took in the general election campaign, and I am sure that they will continue do so as they walk into the polling stations to cast their votes.
The bulk of the Bill clearly deals with the elected police and crime commissioners.
The hon. Gentleman knows that the Liberal Democrats went to the courts because allegations were made in the Labour party literature that were completely unsubstantiated. They were not just the normal unsubstantiations that one expects from the Labour party, but significant unsubstantiations and—indeed—slurs and innuendoes against the Liberal Democrat candidate.
I regret being led astray by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe).
I was saying that the Bill is principally about elected police and crime commissioners, who will provide the potential to improve police accountability. I believe that it will lead to something that does not exist currently: individuals with whom local residents can identify and hold directly responsible, in electoral terms, for the success or otherwise of policing in their area and the strategy and budget adopted to tackle crime. It is our role—I hope it is the Labour party’s role too, but we will have to see in Committee—to improve further on this positive development by ensuring, for example, that elected police and crime commissioners are truly accountable.
An essential ingredient will be the effectiveness of the panels, and one way of judging their effectiveness will be to look at their powers of veto. I seek clarity from the Minister about the power of veto over the appointment of chief constables. I would also like to know why no reciprocal powers have been proposed in relation to the suspension of elected police and crime commissioners should it be necessary.
Under clause 30—I hope the Minister will pick up on this at the end of the debate—an elected police and crime commissioner can be suspended if found guilty of an offence that carries a maximum term of more than two years. The Local Government Association and Liberty have expressed concern about that. Given that an assault on a police constable, for instance, could lead to a term of just six months, why has the threshold been set at two years? Although one would not go to the extent of requiring an elected police and crime commissioner never to have had a parking ticket, they would need to observe certain standards.
Clause 58, to which the shadow Secretary of State referred, provides for elections. I hope that the Minister will address a couple of issues that the Electoral Commission has flagged up. It has said that there do not appear to be provisions enabling the commission to provide advice and assistance to returning officers, political parties, candidates and agents. However, it might be expected that it would do so anyway and that therefore we do not need provisions enabling it. The second issue is whether third party campaigns would have to report any financial expenditure in support of a particular candidate.
On clause 79, the Minister will be aware that one of the big discussions about elected police and crime commissioners has been on how they will balance their essential role of dealing with local crime with their equally essential role of focusing on national priorities, which might not be as visible to the electorate but will still need addressing. The Minister will have been lobbied by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and a range of other organisations concerned about national policing capabilities and the effect on their—perhaps niche—concerns. I am not saying that looking after children is a niche concern—it is an essential priority. I am thinking of other areas, such as business crime. The Minister has covered that brief for many years and, like me, will have been lobbied for years by the business community on the importance of addressing business crime. The British Retail Consortium, among others, has requested that it be covered in the national policing capabilities. I do not know whether that much is necessary, but I would be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about it.
Part 2 of the Bill does not mention the below-cost sale of alcohol, so I hope that the Minister will tell us what is planned in that respect. The principle of the late- night levy is excellent, but he will know that the LGA has sought greater flexibility to allow it to take into account the extra costs, but without the additional administration of a late-night levy. I hope that he can explain why a late-night levy was adopted, rather than providing more flexibility in tackling the full cost of processing licences.
I do not feel the same animosity as other hon. Members do towards the noise from Parliament square. It is an important principle that people should be allowed to demonstrate there, which is why we need clarity on the proposals, particular on the oral instructions given to people. How will that work? How will people know when a formal oral instruction has been given requiring them to comply with a direction not to use amplified noise equipments, tents or sleeping bags, for instance? I also have concerns about the force and forfeiture powers that might be provided to employees of the Greater London authority and Westminster city council.
On the misuse of drugs, the Minister has made it clear that there is no attempt to stop scientists being involved in this process—my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) might be tabling amendments on this point. We want to be certain that scientists will be involved, and that policies will be evidence based.
The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton made a point about arrest warrants. I understand his concerns, but I think they can be addressed—I hope this will be made clear in the Bill—if the Director of Public Prosecutions is under strict instructions to ensure that any requests for warrants are processed within a very short period. That would ensure that the process is not used as a means of preventing action from being taken simply because it takes too long to consider a matter. I have had discussions with a previous DPP, whose clear view was that requests can be turned around quickly and that they will not get in the way of action being taken when necessary.
It is essential that the role is conducted in a timely fashion. However, does my hon. Friend agree that for the public to have confidence in the arrangement the DPP must be able to exercise his or her role without political interference from the Attorney-General, who is an elected politician exercising a supervisory role over the DPP?
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. I can assure him that the previous DPP whom I was talking to would have ensured that there was no political interference of the kind he describes, as will, I am sure, the current DPP.
It is difficult in the time allotted to do justice to what is in the Bill. There are solid proposals that we can improve on—and which I am sure we will debate at length in Committee—for elected police and crime commissioners. There are also some positive developments in relation to licensing that I know local authorities will support. On the misuse of drugs, I welcome what the Minister has said before—and what he may say again today—regarding the important role that scientists will play in making an evidence-based assessment of the impact of drugs. Finally, on the proposals to change the way in which arrest warrants are issued, it remains my view—and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Duncan Hames)—that sufficient resources will need to be provided to the DPP to ensure that arrest warrant requests are dealt with speedily, and are not used as a means of ensuring that appropriate action is not taken. This Bill provides a positive step on policing, and I look forward to debating it in greater detail in Committee.
I would like to focus on part 1 of the Bill—on the proposals for directly elected police and crime commissioners. The proposals throw up a wide range of issues and will fundamentally undermine the foundations of policing, ending years of police independence from politicians. There is a great deal in the Bill to which I object, but I want to focus on two particular concerns. First, the implementation of elected police and crime commissioners is an expensive process, coming at a time when our police forces are facing deep and serious cuts. Secondly, the Bill concentrates a great deal of power into the hands of one person—the elected commissioner—and will, in my view, lead to our sacrificing the police’s political independence, which has existed successfully for more than 170 years.
The reforms come at a crucial time for the police—a time when they have to absorb the impact of cuts to both the Home Office and local government funding and when, despite the Tory rhetoric, the Ministry of Justice is undertaking a massively underfunded shake-up of the criminal justice system. For those with an interest in crime and justice, these are indeed worrying times. It happens to be a fact that under the last Labour Government, crime fell by 43%, while the chance of being a victim of crime fell to a 30-year low. There can be no doubt that that great achievement was underpinned by record police numbers. That progress is now being put at risk by reckless cuts.
It is convenient for the hon. Gentleman to suggest such a thing, but the reality of this Government’s proposals is that police numbers will fall substantially. He represents Humberside, as I do, and I am sure that he, too, will have heard the concerns of police officers about the risks to which this Government are exposing them. Police numbers will fall as a result.
The reforms are happening at a time when, despite the rhetoric that we hear, the Ministry of Justice is undertaking a massive shake-up of the system. Although the Home Office has claimed that the annual cost of running police commissioners and panels will be the same as the cost for police authorities, we understand that extra costs of £136.5 million will be incurred, owing to the need to hold elections. In addition, there is a further £5 million fund for redundancy payments. It seems that this Government cannot implement any policy without slashing jobs. The Tory manifesto stated: “Policing relies on consent.” My fear is that the Bill will stretch the public’s consent to breaking point. One has to imagine a situation in which police numbers fall and crime increases, while at the same time the public are asked to shoulder the cost of another level of bureaucracy in the policing system.
I also have grave concerns, as do many others, about operational independence and the politicisation of the police force. The political independence of the police is as important in our democracy as the independence of the judiciary. A crucial principle of UK policing is its operational independence and unwavering commitment to non-partisanship. If policing operations are overseen by someone who is politically motivated, maintaining police independence will become increasingly difficult.
Not at the moment. I would like to make some progress.
Any change to police force operations must ensure that that independence remains. The Government’s proposals will not maintain that crucial division. Although they have stated at every turn that forces will retain their operational independence, I do not feel that their proposals can even remotely achieve that. The political interference begins from the very start of the process, with the selection of candidates. Even if election expenses are capped, prospective candidates will have to invest money and raise their profiles across the force area, as well as picking up issues that will help with their campaigning.
Not at the moment.
The Government’s proposals inevitably restrict the range of candidates to either those who are sufficiently rich or those with party political backing. [Interruption.] Hon. Members are making comments from a sedentary position, but that happens to be a fact. The process of electing police and crime commissioners will be fraught with difficulty. It is not beyond the imagination of any Member of this House to see that the sensitive parameters of the commissioner’s role and the importance of operational independence may be compromised, as candidates seek popular support on local law and order issues. Besides that, I feel that we are in danger of unrealistically raising the expectations of local communities about what a commissioner can truly achieve. That will serve only to undermine trust in police forces further.
Once the polling has drawn to a close and the commissioner is in place, there is great potential for further problems to arise. There is an increasing risk that someone who has been elected will be reluctant to make an unpopular decision, regardless of its necessity. A prime example would be on the visibility of police officers, which is a particular concern to me. In my view, an elected commissioner would prioritise highly visible policing, such as policing to tackle antisocial behaviour, while less visible policing, such as policing to tackle organised crime, high-value electronic fraud and paedophile rings, would be left to one side. An elected commissioner would be faced with a stark choice: do they do what is in the best interests of getting re-elected, or do they do what is in the best interests of community safety? The Government’s proposals mean that policing decisions will be made in people’s narrow electoral interest, and not in the wider national interest. That is a concern supported by Sir Paul Stephenson, who stated that
“we must ensure that this does not become just talking about popular visibility issues”.
The powers conferred on the commissioners, such as drawing up the police and crime plan, the firing of chief constables and the control of the budget, will give them a broad amount of control over operational matters. They will get to decide that visible crime such as antisocial behaviour is prioritised over invisible crime such as the criminality I discussed a few minutes ago.
Bearing in mind the commissioners’ wide-ranging powers and the party political nature of their election, I also have grave concern about the hijacking of these positions by extremists. Having one person in control of such a vast power, particularly in regard to law enforcement, will naturally attract those from the far right. To dismiss these concerns as “scaremongering” is both short-sighted and inappropriate. Twenty years ago, no one would have imagined the British National party sitting in the European Parliament. Despite not winning a parliamentary seat in this place at the last general election, its overall share of the vote increased.
This Bill poses an important question for the future of this country’s policing. We are faced with the choice of abandoning political independence and objective decision making for politicised choices made in the electoral interest. At stake in this Bill is the integrity of our police forces. Chief constables, such as the one in my area, are expressing concern about being forced to make cuts that will impact on front-line services. The Government must decide what they value most: is it to be the ill-thought-out, dangerous and costly policy or will they fund the police properly and ensure that front-line services are not affected?
Thus far in today’s debate, we have heard some interesting comments about a wide-ranging Bill that covers increasing licensing powers, banning legal highs and ending the disgraceful occupation and vandalism of Parliament square—a situation that it is hard to conceive would have been allowed to develop had people decided they wanted to set up a campsite on any other pavement or public square in the United Kingdom.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way so early in his remarks. Is he concerned, as I am, that the provisions to deal with the Parliament square encampment will not receive Royal Assent until the end of July, which means that the royal wedding in April could still be subjected to the awful sight of this encampment in Parliament square?
I share the concerns of my hon. Friend, who makes a good point about the timing of this legislation and the effect or otherwise it will have on the royal wedding. We all heard the Prime Minister say that he hoped the encampment would be gone by April, so I look forward to seeing how this progresses. I understand that my hon. Friend has some ideas of his own, and he will no doubt inform the House of them at a later date.
I would like to focus my remarks on the provisions around police and crime commissioners, the direct election of whom will, I believe, mark one of the most significant and positive changes to policing in our country. The Jack Daniel’ s adverts currently on the tube billboards read: “No one built a monument to a committee”—and if they were intended to refer to police authority committees, it is not hard to imagine why. They are possibly the least effective, least visible bureaucracies in the public sector that I can think of—visible to just 7% of the UK public. I believe that the bold changes in the Bill will finally end governance by committee and instead enable transparent and accountable policing in this country.
Opposition Members—not that there are many of them left in their places—have advanced a few arguments against police and crime commissioners today, and I would like to address, in order, the three main criticisms that have come out of the debate. First, the Opposition have argued that commissioners will cost more than police authorities; secondly, they have alleged that PCCs will interfere with the operational independence of chief constables; and, finally, they have said PCCs will do nothing to bring the police closer to the communities they serve. Indeed, the shadow Home Secretary has said that this Bill
“goes against a 150 year tradition of keeping politics out of policing.”
The Opposition are mistaken on every single one of those counts, and I welcome the opportunity to explain why.
Let me first turn my attention to the issue of cost. Implementation costs, which are the price of shifting from police authorities to police and crime commissioners, are expected to be £5 million. The forecast cost of holding elections every four years is £50 million, but the running costs of the police and crime commissioners and their panels are predicted to be the same as for the current police authorities. Opposition Members would do well to remember that when Labour was in power, increased spending of any kind was slavishly hailed as a sign of automatic improvement in public services. They would be well advised to think carefully before voting against this investment, which, contrary to most of the Labour Government’s spending, will promote democracy, accountability and thrift.
I cannot recall many Labour Members arguing against the price of democracy when introducing elections for regional assemblies or indeed when it came to Lord Prescott’s proposals for regional government, which fortunately never made it through to the ballot box—although if they had, I am sure there would have been a price attached to them.
Where police authorities are invisible, police and crime commissioners will be high profile; where police authorities fly below the radar of public scrutiny, PCCs will be held accountable; and where police authorities are divided, wasteful, bureaucratic and inefficient, PCCs will be firm of purpose and leaner in expense. The reality is that police authorities are a costly collection of committees that are simply no longer fit for purpose. They cost £65 million and taxpayers fund all the generous expenses and allowances that individual members claim. In the light of the rising costs, we simply cannot ignore the value of bodies that fail to hold police properly to account and are invisible to the people they claim to represent.
Government Members need to counter the “scaremongering” myth peddled by some that election costs for these commissioners will come out of already stretched local authority budgets. This is unfounded and inaccurate: they will be funded by the Home Office budget and, as I said earlier, it is not the intention that PCCs should cost more than existing police authorities. In fact, it is quite the opposite: the intention is to give much better value for money.
Let me move on to the issue of independence. I agree with the Opposition’s stance on maintaining the importance of operational independence. For this reason, I was pleased to hear my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice emphasise in September the need to maintain the operational independence of policing. He said that
“someone has to hold the police to account. In my view that should be an elected politician. We cannot have the police answering to no one. Therefore what we are discussing is simply the nature of that accountability; but politicians will be involved in one way or another.”—[Official Report, 14 September 2010; Vol. 515, c. 241WH.]
I believe that, far from interfering with operational independence and duty to act without restraint, I believe that this Bill will serve to improve it. Chief constables will have greater professional freedom to take operational decisions without fear or favour to meet the priorities set for them by their local community through their commissioner.
The Opposition’s charge of politicisation is, I am afraid, based on a fundamental misconception. The governance of policing is rightly, and by its nature, political. Deciding where to deploy limited resources is a political decision. Deciding whether to put officers in cars or on the beat is a political choice. Deciding whether they patrol in pairs or singly, on the same side of the street or the opposite side, is a political decision. As I mentioned earlier—I would have reiterated it later if the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) had accepted my intervention—when Tony Blair summoned all 43 chief constables to Downing street for a summit on knife crime to put political pressure on them to do something about the explosion of that crime, that was political interference, to use the words of Labour Members, with the police. It was entirely legitimate, however, because Tony Blair as a politician democratically representing the people of this country wanted to put pressure on our police to do something about a problem. It is precisely the same principle in the Bill.
Although my hon. Friend is right to mention the influence of the former Prime Minister Tony Blair in the context of the street crime initiative, I think that members of the shadow Cabinet are concerned about the fact that he intervened in other circumstances where we know he exerted influence. I am thinking of, for instance, the Serious Fraud Office and the investigation into British Aerospace. Will my hon. Friend confirm that Government Members will not accept such actions either?
I agree. Operational independence is about, for example, decisions to arrest people. No one is suggesting that we should give police and crime commissioners the power that Winston Churchill had in the Essex street siege to order police officers to arrest people, but I think it democratically legitimate for a police and crime commissioner to be elected on a mandate of, for instance, putting more police on the streets where they are visible and accountable, because that is what the public want. Over the past 10 years—indeed, throughout the 1980s and 1990s—there has been a move to put police officers in cars and say to their chief constables and senior officers, “This is my democratic mandate. We want more police on the streets. Tell me how you will achieve it.” That does not strike me as interfering with operational independence.
Let me now say something about transparency and accountability, both of which have been criticised by Opposition Members under whose Government any hint of either was lost in the mire of sofa government. Despite costs of between £52 million and £78 million a year, there is scant awareness, and therefore scant accountability, in relation to the authorities themselves, let alone their expenditure. Public input is exceedingly low. A significant proportion of police authorities received a meagre average of three letters or e-mails per week between 2007 and 2010.
When asked by the Home Affairs Committee how one individual could improve police accountability, Kit Malthouse, London’s effective police and crime commissioner, replied:
“It allows there to be a kind of funnel for public concern. For instance, when I was appointed to this job in May 2008, and given the job title Deputy Mayor for Policing, the post bag at City Hall on community safety went from 20 or 30 letters a week up to 200 or 300. The letters just came and came.”
According to Louise Casey’s 2008 crime and communities review, only 7% of the public are even aware that police authorities exist. According to MORI, however, 68% of people agree that a single person should be elected by local people to hold the police to account on behalf of the community.
For too long the fight against crime has been caught up in red tape, which has created a gulf between law enforcement agencies and the communities that they serve. The shadow Home Secretary himself said in Cannock that the work of police authorities
“isn’t always as visible as it could be. Around police landscape, around accountability, there is more to do”.
If he opposes the Government’s police reforms, may I ask what he proposes to do about that? Surely he cannot attack our plan without having a plan himself.
Establishing commissioners will only serve to improve the alarming statistics that I have mentioned, and to raise the profile of the police force as a whole. It will enable us to turn our backs on a corrosive legacy that has done nothing to prevent the British public from being misinformed about, and unaware of, how to influence directly the strategy of policing in their areas. It is impossible to conceive that after just one term of police and crime commissioners, only 11% of police officers will still be visible and available, only 7% of the public will know how to contact their police and crime panels, and there will still be record dissatisfaction with the police despite the existence of a record number of them.
Locally elected police commissioners will be transformative. They will ensure that the police concentrate on the crimes that most affect local people’s quality of life. The existing top-down, target-ridden culture will be replaced by something altogether preferable: accountability to the public. The Home Affairs Committee’s report concludes with the words:
“Police and Crime Commissioners will be judged on whether they succeed in bringing the police closer to the public they serve.”
It is clear that the proposals for police and crime commissioners and their supporting panels will go a huge way towards achieving that aim.
I oppose clause 151, which is entitled “Restriction on issue of arrest warrants in private prosecutions”. I do so as chair of the Back-Bench all-party parliamentary human rights group, of which the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) is treasurer. I hope that my arguments will prevail on him, and that he too will see that to change the position in that regard would be invidious.
I think that if the Director of Public Prosecutions, having taken on this responsibility, is given resources enabling him or her to process a request for an arrest warrant in a very short time, all the right hon. Lady’s concerns may disappear. If they do not go away, will she explain why?
I hope to, if I am able to develop my thoughts.
Much of our criminal law is territorial, applying to acts committed in England and Wales or by British people, but we have agreed to prosecute those who commit crimes, such as grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions Act 1957 and torture and taking hostages here, wherever or by whoever those crimes are committed. That is universal jurisdiction intended by all the countries who accede to it to ensure that there is no international hiding place for perpetrators of grave crime. We have a duty to seek out the culprits, and either to extradite them or to prosecute them here. For example, in 2005 an Afghan warlord, Zardad, was successfully prosecuted in the United Kingdom for torture offences abroad.
In the United Kingdom, it is not only the police who can initiate proceedings; any individual can apply to a magistrate for a summons or warrant to bring someone to court. The test for the magistrate is whether there is prima facie evidence of an offence on the part of the person named. Many cases involving serious offences cannot proceed beyond that stage without the Attorney-General's consent. I have a little experience of that, having chaired Indict, a human rights organisation which for seven years gathered evidence against Iraqi war criminals, many of whom are appearing in an Iraqi court or have already been sentenced. I have no time to go into what happened then, but in the current circumstances it is extremely difficult to obtain an arrest warrant. It took two years just to discuss the case of Tariq Aziz with the Attorney-General and with Scotland Yard. It was then thrown back to the Attorney-General, and we did not secure a decision. There was a strong possibility that Tariq Aziz, who travelled a good deal, had come to this country, perhaps to spend Christmas with George Galloway, who had spent Christmas with him in the past.
We did not manage to obtain that arrest warrant. English law does not allow arrest warrants to be granted on flimsy evidence, but although our evidence was very strong indeed, we still could not obtain one. Only two of the 10 private arrest warrant applications made in the past 10 years have been granted. Nothing needs fixing, as nothing has been broken.
Universal jurisdiction is a vital, agreed-on basis for tackling impunity in states that do not sign up to the International Criminal Court.
My right hon. Friend clearly knows what she is talking about. I do not know whether she was as dismayed as I was by the fact that the Home Secretary clearly did not know what she was talking about when she was asked what standard of evidence the DPP would require. Is it the prima facie test, the full code test by the prosecutor, or something in between? Perhaps my right hon. Friend, like me, hopes that the Minister will clarify the matter in summing up the debate. If the answer is a full prosecutorial test, that effectively means that no warrants will ever be issued, because that standard of evidence will not have been gathered at the arrest stage.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reinforcing that point, on which I attempted to extract more information from the Home Secretary. I am afraid that I did not get an answer however, and I too hope this might be explained further in the summing up.
The 1949 Geneva conventions require us to seek out and prosecute absolutely anybody suspected of committing war crimes. Similar duties exist under the torture convention, where we also have a duty to apply criminal law uniformly. A special legal or procedural system for those cases that is different from the rest of criminal law could breach that obligation. Victims securing the arrest of visiting suspects fulfil an important rule-of-law purpose. No state inference should bar their access to courts. As Lord Wilberforce said in 1978, the right to bring private prosecutions remains
“a valuable constitutional safeguard against inertia or partiality on the part of the authority”.
Lord Diplock similarly described it as
“a useful constitutional safeguard against capricious, corrupt or biased failure or refusal of those authorities to prosecute offenders against the criminal law”.
Does the right hon. Lady not accept that many countries with similar legal systems to our own—Canada, for example—have established a similar system? In the Canadian context, the Attorney-General or deputy Attorney-General has to give leave before the exercise of their universal jurisdiction power. Many other countries have similarly fettered the misuse of universal jurisdiction, which has often taken the course of party political or other politically biased purposes, and they have not had any difficulties in respect of the point the right hon. Lady is making. Where Lord Diplock and others refer to interference of the state, they did not apply it to this test.
I hope the hon. Gentleman will seek to catch Mr Speaker’s eye, as he obviously has a speech in the making. I have experience of trying to get an indictment against some of the Iraqi war criminals in other countries such as Sweden, Norway, Switzerland and Belgium. The closest we came to getting an indictment was in Belgium, but that was thwarted at the last moment because somebody brought an indictment against Sharon, and the Belgian Government changed the law. Sometimes the pressures can be very different, but we do not have time to go into the details of this now.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the difference between what is being proposed and what happens in Canada is that in Canada the DPP is entitled to appear and present evidence for or against the issuing of a warrant, but the decision is a judicial one? What is being proposed here is wholly different, although the hon. Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis) perhaps does not understand that. The decision is made by the state, before the court has a chance to consider the matter.
I am grateful for my hon. Friend’s expert knowledge of this issue.
Senior district judges are trusted to deal with highly sensitive terrorism and extradition cases. They are very highly thought of—I would like to hear anybody say they are not highly thought of—and their role should not be undermined, but that is precisely what the Government are attempting to do. These judges are known to have thrown out cases against Israeli Defence Ministers Mofaz in 2004 and Barak in 2009, plus several cases against Mugabe. Eight refusals out of 10 means the system is already robust enough to weed out illegitimate cases. Indeed, there is not a single example of the current system failing to filter out cases that are an abuse of process. What is the evidence that the judge acted wrongly in the two cases in question? Does the Crown Prosecution Service have a view? Perhaps we will hear.
Some people are, of course, wildly exaggerating the real impact of the current law on them and officials from other countries. We know very well that many people from other countries who are currently in government—Presidents, Prime Ministers, Foreign Ministers and perhaps sometimes Defence Ministers—are free from any arrest warrants of this kind and can travel freely. In fact, absolute immunity applies to serving Presidents, Prime Ministers, Foreign Ministers and so forth, so I do not know what the problem is. It is a problem of the Government’s own invention, and I am sorry my Front-Bench team seems to be going along with them at the moment as does the coalition partner—although the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington might like to indicate whether he has changed his mind again. I think they are misled and we do a disservice to the many people all over the world who have been injured in some way by some of the people who can clearly be identified as war criminals.
In the eight minutes available to me, I hope to cover two key issues that are of the utmost importance to my constituents: elected police commissioners, and the impact of alcohol in our town centres.
I was grateful to the shadow Home Secretary for addressing in such detail the germination of policy among Conservative think-tanks down the years, as I have spent many a long hour in the twilit, striplit demi-monde of Conservative think-tanks listening to speaker after speaker talk about these ideas while drinking slightly warm orange juice and eating slightly stale croissants. I have to say that it was not initially an issue that particularly excited me. I did not feel inspired by the idea of elected police commissioners.
It was only when I started talking to real people in the real world that I actually began to understand why there was such intense anger and frustration. During the Labour leadership contest over the summer, it was interesting to note that its participants had been agonising and soul-searching as to why the Labour party’s core vote has wandered away. Might I suggest that the arrogance over law and order is at the heart of the reason?
I am proud to represent the fourth most deprived Conservative-held seat in the country. There are many hard-working families on below-average incomes who routinely tell me how angry and frustrated they are at the disconnect they perceive between the police and the people. It is a growing gap. That saddens me, and it should sadden the police as well.
I get much positive and valuable feedback about individual police officers at ward level and about individual police community support officers because of the social value they add to their local communities—whether a PCSO in a local school organising football on a Saturday morning or the local beat bobby who looks after a few of the elderly residents, checking they are okay. What I do not get positive feedback about, however, is the overall structure. People do not have a sense that when something goes wrong—when there is an act of social disorder in the street or a theft from the front garden—all they have to do is pick up the phone and someone at the end of the line will listen to their concern and a policeman will appear. That confidence has long since gone. That is a very great shame, as it is fundamental.
What Sir Robert Peel said is being forgotten. We heard the Home Secretary quote Sir Robert Peel, so I thought I might offer my favourite Peel quote. He said that it is important
“to recognise that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour.”
There can be no police without the support of the public, and I worry that that is in danger at present. That is why these reforms are so essential.
My constituents do not know who to go to in order to make complaints. The police authority is not a constant presence in their life. In saying that, I do not criticise those well-meaning individuals who from a sense of public duty and public service serve on that authority, but it is a fact that police authorities are no longer fit for purpose. We need the focal point of a figurehead who can bring together all the disparate strands of crime reduction partnerships, community safety partnerships and police and communities together—PACT—meetings. Everything that goes on at a local level needs to be brought together by one individual.
The same people who are expressing concerns about the disconnect between the police and the public are expressing concern about the impact of alcohol on the town centre. It is a sad fact that many elderly people in my constituency tell me that they are too scared to go into Blackpool town centre of an evening. That is a great tragedy because it is their town as much as anybody else’s. I understand that when Labour Members brought in their reforms to licensing they wanted to create a continental style café culture. From their Tuscan palazzos, they had observed the intergenerational passeggiata and it had warmed their hearts. I think it is fair to say that the passeggiata and the café culture that they so admire on their summer holidays has yet to make it to Blackpool town centre on a Friday or Saturday evening.
I agree entirely. The importance of the night-time economy is much misunderstood. It is not just about vertical drinking establishments, how many stags and hens we can cram into the town centre or about how much alcohol can be consumed. A town such as Blackpool has a much wider range of things to offer. We have an excellent theatre in the Grand theatre.
Does my hon. Friend agree that the implementation of the late-night levy will be incredibly effective in helping to address some of these problems? A 50:50 split between the police and the local authorities would mean that that local authorities, on a business improvement district-type model, could work with the local licensees to address the priorities. Most licensees are decent people who try to do a good job. Does he not agree that a 50:50 split would perhaps be better?
That is certainly an interesting point, and I hope that it will be explored more thoroughly in Committee. Many of the elderly people who would otherwise be keen to go to the Grand theatre for an evening’s show do not do so because they do not want to have to form crocodiles for safety, weaving their way through the town centre to find a local taxi rank because they are scared.
If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I will not, because of the lack of time. I have given way twice already and I apologise to him.
It is also important to understand that alcohol has a social impact. This is one of the great unresolved issues, certainly for me, politically. On the one hand, I believe in freedom of choice and the freedom of the individual. Alcohol is a perfectly legal substance. We should all be able to consume it in moderation, perfectly legally, without the forces of the state interfering with us. On the other hand, it is impossible to be the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys and not to have a genuine understanding of the social cost of alcohol consumption in such a deprived area.
Some of the statistics frighten me. Some 75% of all the domestic violence in Blackpool is linked to alcohol and 42% of the violent crime takes place in the three town centre wards. We are beyond saturation point when it comes to off-licences. In some of the town centre wards, such as Bloomfield, there is one off-licence for every 250 residents. To me, that is not so much a market as an oversupply. It is a market that is not functioning. We have 1,900 on-licensed premises supporting the hospitality industry. There must be freedom of choice, but there must be an understanding of the social cost of alcohol, too. That debate needs to take place.
That is why I am such a supporter of the alterations to what is known as the vicinity test. I know that many in the alcohol trade are concerned about that change, which will allow many more people to put their views forward on the issues of granting extra licences. It will no longer apply just to the adjacent roads. Anyone from across the town will be able to have their say. That is a vital step forward.
We need a much more mature and wider debate in this country about the role that alcohol plays in our lives. We need to understand how we can balance our freedoms with the need to protect the vulnerable. When I am walking around the streets of Blackpool, I understand why we are the national capital for liver disease, sad as that might be. I can see why we have a problem with domestic violence and violent crime. When I look at the number of alcoholic establishments outside my constituency office and the numbers crowding around of a Friday evening, I see the importance of trying to tackle underage drinking. I welcome the heftier penalties, but they need to be imposed.
It is vital, however, that, in addition to tackling that problem, we recognise that the state can do only so much. We can try to tackle under-age drinking by imposing extra fines and closing down the off-licences that sell to the under-age people, but I do not think that the state can ever tackle issues such as proxy purchasing, where adults go into the off-licence on behalf of the child, or drinking at home.
Unfortunately, there is only so much that the state can do, but none the less I welcome wholeheartedly the provisions proposed in the Bill as a sensible step forward and as an example of how localism can work and how local authorities that have imagination and bravery can use legislative implements to improve the lives of their inhabitants. I hope that after this Bill is passed many more of my constituents will feel able to take back their town centre and to go into Blackpool and find out that it is not the scary place they read about in the local papers but somewhere in which they have a stake, as well as the stag parties, the hen nights and the day trippers. I believe that Blackpool is for the inhabitants of Blackpool as well as for the tourists.
I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this Second Reading debate on what I believe to be a very important Bill. The issues are close to my heart, not just because, like the Policing Minister, I struggled with the tension between visibility, accountability and performance for the three years for which I was Policing Minister, but because I know how important those things are to my constituents in Salford and Eccles and to communities across the country.
There is undoubtedly a problem with the visibility and accountability of police authorities. I believe that the public are entitled to know much more clearly who is responsible for setting policing priorities as well as ensuring that chief constables address the issues that are important to local people in an effective way that achieves the best value for money. It is a complex set of tasks for any police service, but over the past few years we have done pretty well. We need to do more, however. Having a safe community not only transforms life for ordinary people but affects business, investment and economic transformation, and that is why it is so important.
Let me make it clear that I believe that if local people are given the chance to elect their police representatives, they will do so sensibly and rationally and that the spectre of their electing an extremist candidate is unlikely. It is the responsibility of people like us, in this House and elsewhere, to ensure that, in any direct elections, we get involved, campaign on a proper platform, reflect the people’s priorities, offer political leadership and support our citizens in making their democratic choices. I have always trusted the public and they often—in fact, nearly always—get it right.
I have real concerns, however, about the idea of electing a single individual who is not connected to the rest of the local governance arrangements for the provision of public service. I would be interested to hear from the Minister when he responds to the debate whether he has really considered that issue. Evidence shows that what has worked in policing in the past few years is the integration of services—for example, in family intervention projects and tackling antisocial behaviour—and joint working between agencies, particularly between police and the criminal justice system. On Friday, I visited a new pilot in Greater Manchester of intensive alternatives to custody, which involves embedding police officers with probation and family support workers—again, involving integrated services. Approaches such as the co-location of key staff and the sharing of data have been part of the direction of travel that has led to effective policing.
That is the direction in which all public services are moving. As part of the previous Government, I started the Total Place work to bring all public services together. It is called community budgeting under this Government. I do not mind what it is called, but it is the most effective way to provide services. It is designed to break down barriers, integrate staff, set joint priorities, pool budgets and get more for less. If the move to having a single, elected police and crime commissioner means setting the police apart from the rest of that system, I honestly believe it will be a seriously retrograde step.
Does the right hon. Lady agree that the call for elected police commissioners came precisely because the public do not feel that the current system, integrated or not, is serving them? Is not there a need for the public to have a single voice?
Indeed, and I am about to put forward an idea that would meet many of those concerns. One way of achieving the greater visibility for policing that the hon. Lady talks about would be having a directly elected person in each local authority area who would be responsible for local policing but would also have a duty to operate within the rest of the local public service framework to mobilise all those resources to make communities safer. Those directly elected local commissioners could act collectively at force level to hold chief constables to account and to provide direct, local links to their communities. I am genuinely concerned about the ability of a single police and crime commissioner to be visible and accountable to 2.5 million people across Greater Manchester in communities as diverse as those in Rochdale, Wigan, Stockport, Oldham, Manchester city centre and Salford. I wonder whether the Minister has considered having directly elected local commissioners. There is all the rhetoric about localism, but then this policy of having a single police and crime commissioner for millions of people. That is not localism.
Is not the right hon. Lady effectively making the case for an elected official for each basic command unit? In such a system there would not be co-ordination between different parts of Greater Manchester, because those people would compete with one another for resources and to work and co-operate with other state agencies. That would be a recipe for duplication, expense and confusion.
It is a difficult circle to square and I shall suggest how we might address some of those issues. There is no perfect system, but I do not believe that having a single person who is supposed to be visible and accountable to millions of people will work.
I understand that the police and crime panels, which are to be made up of local authority representatives and which will be remarkably similar to the police authorities that have been criticised for their lack of visibility, will have the power to advise and scrutinise the work of commissioners, but would it not be better if those local representatives were elected and therefore had a direct local mandate and accountability? I am very concerned that there will be a lack of consistency between the plans and strategies of local authorities and the health service, plans on tackling drugs and the possible crime plans of the police and crime panels. The local reps could come together and pool the sovereignty of their elected mandates to consider issues of serious, organised and trans-border crime—issues that are properly the concern of whole force areas. Currently, there is concern that police and crime commissioners will concentrate almost solely on very local issues, because of the electoral impetus, and that they might ignore some trans-force, serious and organised crime issues as well as national priorities.
It is inevitable that commissioners will be pressed to prioritise local, visible neighbourhood policing. I do not argue against that, as there is no greater advocate in the House than me of neighbourhood policing. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) and I drove a culture change through the police service to ensure that neighbourhood policing was properly valued and rewarded. Hon. Members will remember that 10 years ago the sexy end of the police business was going out in the squad car with the blues and twos blazing and a helicopter circling overhead. People thought that was real policing. It was not entirely dissimilar from Gene Hunt’s kind of policing and it took a great deal of effort to bring the police back to tackling antisocial behaviour, closing crack houses and tackling prostitution on our estates. That was the really important part of policing for local people. I believe that the police get that now and know that being visible in their communities is hugely important to restoring and improving local people’s confidence, but we still need to keep the pressure on to make sure that that happens.
Some crime is not immediately visible to people on the streets, but is hugely important to address—whether it is counter-terrorism, serious and organised crime, the emerging problems of cybercrime, drug enforcement or tackling knife and gun crime. All that work needs to be done. The Home Secretary can talk about the national policing priorities in the Bill, but there is no provision for those second-tier regional priorities. In my own area, Salford, we have just had a fantastic operation called Operation Gulf, which entailed the long-term surveillance of organised crime gangs, using a range of powers—not police powers, particularly, but bringing in, for example, the Department for Work and Pensions to examine tax and benefits fraud, working with the Security Industry Agency, and investigating illegal protection rackets and pubs that have been used for organised crime. All that is not immediately visible to people on the street, but it is tackling those serious criminals who are role models for many of my young people. It is about confiscating their assets, and it is long-term police work that costs money. I worry enormously that a police commissioner will not give that the priority that it needs.
In the short time left to me, I shall say a word about the people whom we ask to carry out all that work on our behalf. We spent a long time trying to get a proper skill mix within our police service, recognising that we do not need fully warranted officers to do every single job in the service. Peter Fahy, the chief constable of Greater Manchester, has been a tremendous champion of work force modernisation. When I met him last week, he was desperately worried that with the very severe cuts that we have to make in such a short period of time, the people who will be most vulnerable are the PCSOs and the civilian staff who, because of their employee status, can be made redundant, unlike police officers.
I worry that we will go backwards, rather than forwards. We have got police officers away from being escort officers, custody officers or scenes-of-crime officers, and we have got them on the front line. As a result of cutting so quickly and so deeply, we will find uniformed officers again in the back-office doing file preparation or escort duties. That is utterly ludicrous. It is a backward step which will lead to much less effectiveness in our service. Our chief constable must get rid of 3,000 people over the next four years. He has said publicly that that will affect front-line policing. As a result of the speed at which it needs to be done and the arcane employment regulations in the police service, we will find ourselves making the wrong decisions about effectiveness.
The public will judge success not simply by elections. They will judge it by what happens on their streets and in their communities. If they can go to bed at night and not wake up with the fear of being burgled, if they can get up in the morning and find that their car has not been slashed and trashed, that will be the sign of success. Accountability, as commissioners will find, will be a pretty tough thing.
I begin by paying tribute to the police in my constituency, who have been helping to deal with the protests over tuition fees. We have had a few minor actions and in each case the police have demonstrated fantastic support.
It has been a great pleasure listening to the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears). She is heading in the right direction, though not far enough and certainly not fast enough. It is right that we consider the question of accountability in the policing of Britain.
Let us talk first about the commissioners. It is important that they are elected, that there is just one of them, and that they are responsible for planning, as outlined in the Bill. The electorate want an interface with a single person who will speak on their behalf and deal with the issues that arise in everyday policing. My one concern about the disqualification list is whether a recently retired chief constable is the right person to be elected as a commissioner. That needs to be discussed in Committee.
I listened carefully to the shadow Home Secretary. He mentioned Councillor Rob Garnham, the chairman of my police authority in Gloucestershire. Councillor Garnham is well known, probably because he has launched a campaign to save police authorities, not because of the work he did as chairman of the police authority. I believe that the membership and function of police authorities are not properly understood by the electorate. We could test that by asking people who they think is on their police authority. Some people would look rather surprised. They certainly would not be able to provide an answer, because the police authority is just not recognised as the equipment for maintaining police accountability.
It is right to introduce commissioners, and it is right to get rid of police authorities. It is also necessary to improve value for money in our police forces, because police authorities have just not exercised that function terribly well. I heard only today just how many police forces buy the same equipment from the same old firm, without going through proper competitive tendering, driving down the price or saying, “If you don’t do a better price, we’ll go somewhere else.” The process is too sloppy, and it needs to be tightened up.
The Bill includes some other interesting areas, one of which is licensing and the role of local communities and local authorities, because it is important to ensure that decisions are properly enforced locally. That is one of the key things. Local authorities already have a useful set of powers, but the question is about ensuring that they are deployed and that the decisions are made to stick.
The Localism Bill will enhance the role of the community, so we need to link it to the Bill before us. We have to engineer a change not just in powers, but in culture, so that local authorities are keen to make decisions properly, to be ambitious, to work hard for their communities and to be ready to make different decisions from their neighbours’ and more interesting decisions for themselves.
On the cost of drink, I am sympathetic to higher prices, because it is important that we deal with binge drinking. One can go to France to buy cheap beer—there it is, at LeClerc, the local supermarket. One can also buy lots of cheap wine, so other countries have cheap drink, but the French, for example, do not have much binge drinking. That is something to be discussed, and we need to look at the causes of binge drinking, because it is a cultural issue.
My hon. Friend knows that 70% of all alcohol sold in this country is sold through supermarkets. Is not the danger that all the measures before us put extra burdens on pubs, which have to deal with the consequences? The Minister will say that supermarkets can be controlled within the late-night levy, but the problem is clearly not supermarkets selling alcohol after 12 o’clock, but people buying alcohol at 6 o’clock in the evening and drinking it before they go out. The pubs and clubs then have to deal with the consequences. Do we not need to tackle binge drinking and supermarkets’ irresponsible pricing if we are to tackle the problem of alcohol-fuelled violence?
That is why I am sympathetic to dealing with the problems in supermarkets. My hon. Friend is right: we do have cheap booze; it is bought in bulk; it is consumed in a bingey way, which does cause huge problems; and we have to address the issue.
We had a debate about pubs last week, but let us repeat the point that we must recognise the pub as a useful, controlled environment in which people can drink.
My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech, but following the previous intervention does he not agree that alcohol sold in supermarkets is often bought by people who cannot otherwise afford it? Surely, the only restrictions should therefore be on so-called alcopops and drinks like that.
I thank my hon. Friend and appreciate all the interventions—the two of them, at least—that I have had. He makes a good point about alcopops, and we need to think about that, because we can be too draconian, but I shall make three general points about drinks. First, we have to think about binge drinking and its causes; secondly, we need to look at the role of supermarkets in supplying the drink; and, thirdly, we need to bear in mind the strength of the drink.
My hon. Friend is making some very important points about the balance of responsibility for binge drinking. Does he agree that the burden of the balance of responsibility is placed unduly on the pubs and not sufficiently on the supermarkets? Regulation focuses on the pubs and there is insufficient regulation of the supermarkets. Does he think that this is an opportunity to redress that balance?
Funnily enough, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. When one considers the number of regulations and bureaucratic requirements that a pub has to fulfil, we wonder why people want to be landlords. They do so because they enjoy the job and do a great thing for communities, but they are often discouraged from getting on with the job because of all the work that they have to do. My hon. Friend is right about supermarkets. If we consider the abolition of resale price maintenance and the relentless march of supermarkets in number and size over the past few years, we realise that supermarkets are not controlled as much as they should be. We need to consider some sort of ombudsman system to ensure that supermarkets have a more responsible approach to drinking.
The other thing about supermarkets is that they are quite powerful. They are able to control price, and supply and demand. We must recognise that. As a farmer, I remember being told what prices my products would be simply because the group of five supermarkets concerned knew in advance how much they would pay. Let us remember that supermarkets have power and let us be prepared to address the question of binge drinking with that in mind. However, we should also have in mind the restrictions and problems that pubs have been confronting over the past few years.
In summary, let us be confident about the role of the commissioners. Government Members think that they are a great thing and one Labour Member obviously supports that direction of travel. We must accept that our police authorities do not set the world on fire in discussing policing policy, and we must think very carefully about value for money and ensuring that police forces are much more responsive to people’s needs. Is it not simply right for local communities to feel that they are being listened to? Sometimes just the act of listening can lift a huge amount of confusion and alarm from local communities, who are often bewildered by other more complicated arrangements for expressing themselves. The Bill is good. It is the right kind of measure and it is consistent with localism and with law and order. Above all, it is consistent with setting a useful agenda for responsible behaviour in our society.
The hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) was absolutely right in saying that the hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) was making an excellent speech. He did make an excellent speech—not just in his comments on alcohol-related crime, but in what he said about procurement—and it is a pleasure to follow him. If ever there is a vacancy on the Select Committee on Home Affairs, I hope that he will apply to join us because his speech was really excellent. I will speak very briefly, as all hon. Members must, and will make just four points. I agree with much of the Bill, as many of its provisions reflect the Home Affairs Committee’s recommendations in the previous Parliament.
As the House knows, 50% of crime in this country is alcohol related. All hon. Members who have spoken on that subject have talked about the effect that alcohol-related crime has on local communities in their town centres, and the enormous amount of police resources that have to deal with it. The Government have taken a very important step in terms of licensing. I was reassured during my intervention on the Home Secretary when she said that the Government would continue to consider the issue of minimum pricing. Tonight’s speeches reflect the fact that there is concern not necessarily about the pubs and clubs in our town centres, but about the supermarkets.
If one goes to Asda or Morrisons—I am not suggesting that hon. Members on either side of the House may choose to do this; the Chamber may be about to empty—one can get 36 cans of lager for £18, or about 50p a can. [Hon. Members: “How do you know?”] I do not drink alcohol, but one of my researchers looked into this over the weekend. There is no doubt that it is cheaper to buy alcohol in supermarkets. As we heard earlier, people get tanked up before they go out because of the very cheap cost of alcohol there. I am glad that the Government are doing something about minimum pricing, and we look forward to seeing what they do.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that when one can go to a supermarket and buy a can of strong lager more cheaply than a can of Coca-Cola, that sends out an extremely damaging message to young people? That is why so many young people are pre-loading. Before they go out for an evening, they drink far too much, and we see the effects on our high streets, in our police cells and in our emergency units.
The hon. Gentleman is absolutely right, although some may say that drinking Coca-Cola is almost as bad for young people as drinking alcohol.
My second point is about drugs. The Government are taking absolutely the right powers in the Bill to be able to ban legal highs. Mephedrone—commonly known as meow meow—has been a big problem. The Select Committee heard very eloquent evidence from the mother of a young girl who had died as a result of a legal high. It was clearly taking too long to ban such substances, so we warmly welcome putting into the hands of the Home Secretary the power to be able to bring a statutory instrument before the House to deal with these matters.
I also warmly welcome what has been proposed about Parliament square, especially after what happened last Thursday.
On the subject of drugs, does the right hon. Gentleman share my concern that the Bill has some suggestion of weakening the role of scientific input? I am sure that that is not the Government’s intention, but does he agree that it might be helpful to secure that aspect and to ensure that in the case of any temporary bans, there are at least some scientific suggestions before the decision is made?
The hon. Gentleman, who is the resident scientist on the Home Affairs Committee, is right to point to the need for evidence-based decisions and the role of science.
My final point concerns police commissioners. Two members of the Select Committee are here—my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) and the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert)—and other Members have spoken about this. There was no agreement in the Committee on whether elected police commissioners were a good idea, and we therefore put it to one side. We were more concerned with producing a report that would be helpful to the House before this debate and would enable Members to look at the implications and practicalities of elected commissioners.
The Committee asked the Government and the House to note three points, the first of which—it was mentioned by the hon. Member for Stroud—was whether it was desirable for a chief constable who was serving in a certain area subsequently to stand for the post of an elected commissioner. We thought that there should be a cooling-off period so that if the chief constable for Leicestershire, for example, wanted to be a commissioner he—it is a man at the moment—could not do so until his whole term of four years had expired. There was unanimity on these points. We hope that the Government will consider this and that others will do so if they are lucky enough to serve on the Bill Committee.
The Select Committee’s second point concerned the cost of commissioners. I noted the exchange between those on the Front Benches about special advisers. Of course, I accept what the Policing Minister has said. We need to be very careful about costs, especially those associated with the crime panels. I do not agree that those bodies should be elected, but they should be representative. As the Select Committee said, they should comprise those who have already been elected to represent district areas. It is important that they are as representative of the local community as possible, with the right to appoint independent members to deal with the issue of gender and ethnicity balance, which may be lacking in relation to elected representatives.
The final point relates to operational independence. The hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) is not here, but he is the Committee’s leading expert on operational independence. The Committee felt that the time had come for a clear definition of where the responsibilities of the commissioner begin, where those of the chief constable end, and where those of the Home Office impact on the new responsibilities. We suggested not a Magna Carta, but a charter or a memorandum to set out those powers and responsibilities. We think that this is an appropriate time for that so that there is clarity. I hope that when hon. Members discuss this matter in Committee, they will find a way forward on such a memorandum of understanding.
Every local authority is different: Leicestershire is different from Bedfordshire, Bedfordshire is different from Cambridgeshire, and Greater Manchester is different from Birmingham. This is not Gotham city—I am sure that you were a fan of Batman and Robin, Mr Deputy Speaker. Commissioner Gordon will not put the light up in the air so that Batman—the equivalent, I suppose, of the chief constable—comes rushing forward to solve the crime. If only it were as easy as that. I am sure that there would be mobile phones in any new series of Batman. The fact is that these are complicated issues.
If we take the party politics out of this matter and analyse the discussions that we have had today, including the contributions of my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears) and other hon. Members from both sides of the House, I am sure that we can make some progress. I hope that progress can be made in Committee on accountability and on the other important issues that have been mentioned today.
It is a pleasure to speak in this important debate on a Bill that will fulfil many Conservative manifesto commitments, namely electing police commissioners and tackling the antisocial behaviour that is caused by excessive drinking in some of our towns. It is a pleasure to follow the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee for the second time in a week. I found myself losing concentration thinking how wonderful it would be to be able to summon Batman to tackle the crime in our towns, but I sense that that solution is not possible.
I will start with the less high-profile measures in the Bill and leave police commissioners for the end of my small amount of time. Even areas such as mine, which lack a large city and its attendant problems, face the problems of alcohol-induced antisocial behaviour in the early mornings; people finding back routes home from the pub that take them past people’s houses, where they disturb people with their noise; and people’s frustration when they are not allowed to object to a licence because a vicinity test does not quite work. The reforms on those matters are greatly to be welcomed.
We must be careful that in the well-meaning attempt to tackle these problems, we do not create a different problem or use the proverbial sledgehammer to crack the nut. An example is the late-night levy, which is an important measure and a great tool for councils. My understanding of the Bill is that if a council such as mine introduces the late-night levy, it has to do so for the whole borough. My seat contains three towns, so all three towns would be included and not just the one where there might be a problem. We could therefore end up imposing a provision that is not required on establishments that are completely responsible and in areas where there is no issue to be tackled. Perhaps that point can be addressed in Committee so that the words achieve what we want them to.
I am sorry, time is too limited.
Police commissioners, as the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) said, are not something that one reads about and at once thinks, “Oh, marvellous.” People do not come to our surgeries and say that they want a police commissioner by May 2012. However, when one works through the ideas and looks at the problems that we are trying to tackle, it is clear that constituents feel divorced from the police. Perhaps unfairly, they think that the police are not accountable to them and are not doing what people want. In comparison, people are usually quite happy with the safer neighbourhood team with which they associate. There is a general view that the police are happily sitting behind desks or racing around in cars, rather than doing policing. That is a real problem that we need to tackle, because we all believe in policing by consent.
No one is arguing that we do not need some kind of authority or body to hold the police to account. We would not want to leave it to the chief constable to do whatever he felt like. We all accept that there have to be policing priorities. We cannot have police everywhere doing everything on every issue all the time. It is right that when difficult choices have to be made, there is some democratic accountability.
No Member has argued tonight that police authorities are a great success. I imagine that most of my constituents would struggle to name a single member of their police authority, and I do not recall an election leaflet saying, “This guy’s been on the police authority for the past four years. Hasn’t it been terrible? You should vote him out because of his record on that”. It just does not happen.
Nobody appreciates or values what police authorities do, and despite the costly newspaper that appears through my door every so often, nobody really understands what on earth they are for. There is a vacuum, and I cannot imagine that the way to fill it is through each district electing its own commissioner and all of them coming together to try to agree on something. I cannot see that working. The right answer has to be to elect an individual whom the public will recognise. People will understand that that is the person who is there to be accountable and to whom they can complain. That is the person to blame, who can set the strategy that the police force will follow. People will know that if it does not work, they can vote that person out four years later. That has to be the right way forward.
I do have some concerns about the electoral system for police commissioners included in the Bill. It is a bit strange that we will have a referendum next year to decide how we elect our MPs, yet we have jumped almost to the other side of that debate in the Bill. I might have preferred us to use the same electoral system for commissioners as for MPs. That would be far more understandable for the public.
I understand the argument that the method proposed will ensure that we do not end up with an extremist person having a commissioner’s power by mistake on a flukily low vote, but frankly, I would trust the people of Derbyshire not to end up in that situation. Those of us who represent a seat where there are British National party councillors can be a little nervous about that, but we can trust the people to elect a responsible person as commissioner. They will see that it is a very important job, and it will be valued, so I do not think people will do unfortunate things with their vote.
I wholeheartedly welcome the Bill. It meets a whole load of the promises that we made at the election, and it will be a great step forward in bringing the police back closer to the people. We should all welcome that wholeheartedly.
It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills), which is becoming a regular occurrence. We seem to be making quite a habit of it.
I am not sure that I share the hon. Gentleman’s views on police commissioners, because I believe, as Conservatives used to believe, in the old maxim, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. That is why I have real doubts about police commissioners. I invite any Conservative Member to show me a recent inspection report that raised major concerns about the functioning of police authorities. I am not saying that there are not things that we could deal with, but there have not been major concerns.
Even if there is some merit in the idea, I should like to know what the hurry is, especially at a time when we have so many other matters to contend with, such as massive cuts in the police budget, increasingly violent demonstrations, renewed terrorist threats and, I believe, a likely explosion in crime, especially if the Secretary of State of Justice gets his way and we have reduced prison capacity and reduced community justice budgets. I do not see the urgency at all. The Home Secretary said earlier that the money is not coming from police budgets, but surely the question is why she thinks she has any money to fritter away on non-essentials at a time like this.
I can see the reasons for the London arrangements in the Bill, because the Mayor doubles as the commissioner. However, little thought seems to have been given to the situation in other parts of the country that could also have powerful directly elected mayors. What will be the situation there, especially if there is a fundamental disagreement between the mayor and the commissioner? If I read the Bill correctly, a commissioner could well be nearly six months into his or her first term before their first policing plan was signed off. That does not sound like a model of urgency or efficiency. What would happen if a chief constable were profoundly to disagree with elements of the plan? That could be a recipe for stalemate.
We want the public to feel more engaged with the process, but, as I read the Bill, the police and crime commissioner will determine the manner in which their response to any recommendations on or criticism of their plan is published. That obviously means that they could choose to bury the parts to which they do not want to give exposure. Equally, I understand that they will be allowed to publish the plan itself as they see fit. If the idea is to ensure that people become more engaged with this process, I would have thought that the commissioners should be urged to publish the plan in a way that guaranteed maximum public access to it, rather than in the way that they see fit.
As this Bill begins its parliamentary route, we still have no idea what the salaries or pensions of the police and crime commissioners will be. Nor do we know anything about the salaries of the chief executives or the chief finance and accounting officers, but if they are anything like their equivalents in Birmingham, those people are going to be earning salaries greater than that of the Prime Minister, and I am not sure that that would be very smart at a time like this.
I welcome some of the measures in the Bill, particularly those relating to licensing powers. It is a good idea to give communities greater input and to listen to their representations and calls for the review of a licence. I shall be interested to see how that works, however, because my experience of licensing authorities is that they do not always pay anything like sufficient attention to local communities. I also welcome the doubling of the maximum fine for those who persistently sell alcohol to under-18s, and the increase in the period of suspension of the licence for premises involved in that activity. What most people want, however, is for the licence to be permanently revoked from premises that are persistently causing trouble and selling alcohol to under-18s.
I am slightly worried by what might be an unintended consequence of the powers for licensing authorities to impose conditions on a temporary event notice on environmental or health grounds. In a place such as Birmingham, that could result in the local authority tying good, honest charity events up in ridiculous bureaucracy and red tape. That must surely be an unintended consequence of the Bill that we would not wish to see.
I think it was the hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) who referred to clause 15, which covers the power to commission the supply of goods from any source. That sounds good on the surface, but what will be the safeguards against illegal favours or monopoly arrangements? That is not the sort of thing I want to see. I also wonder about the powers in clause 16 for the commissioner to appoint persons who are not on the staff of the local policing body. I am sure that that is intended to deal with joint appointments, but it could be a consultants’ charter. I notice that clause 22(3) gives the Home Secretary the power to intervene if the budget is set too low and could endanger public safety. If this is such a good Bill, and if we can be so confident about the performance of police and crime commissioners, why would she have to take a power like that? It suggests to me that the Government have their own concerns about this matter.
Much in the Bill requires far more scrutiny in Committee. The Government need to explain a lot to reassure us that, while some of the measure’s intentions are good, its practice will not prove wrong.
For me, the centrepiece of the measure is the wrong policy at the wrong time, which, I fear, will lead to the wrong outcomes. The Government’s focus should be on preventing a rise in crime, helping victims and safeguarding our communities. It should not be on political experiments that waste money, risk politicising the police and take attention away from the need to bear down constantly on violent offenders and career criminals.
I welcome the Bill and the debate. I have four substantial points to make: where there is direct democracy and policing elsewhere in the world, it works; we must do more to support special constables; we must tell the truth about crime in our statistics; and universal jurisdiction must be reformed so that the Director of Public Prosecutions has control over issuing warrants.
We have rehearsed the arguments about police commissioners this evening. I am a passionate supporter of the policy because I believe that local people should have some say in the policing they want for their neighbourhood. The public want that—they are unhappy with police authorities. Extremist groups have not taken control of the police in north America, where there has been no great backlash against democracy.
I want mainly to speak about special constables. I have long believed that we must do more to support them and make them into a reserve force, like the Territorial Army or reserve firemen. Since 1997, the number of specials has fallen dramatically from 20,000 to fewer than 14,000. I have tabled three early-day motions on the issue—1160, 598 and 520. I also raised it at business questions last Thursday, and welcomed the Leader of the House’s response.
I am grateful to the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, who previously agreed with me in the House that there is huge untapped potential for recruiting more specials, who are in many ways like neighbourhood watch: a genuinely local force and a vital source of community intelligence.
One suggestion is to allow councils to discount council tax for those who become specials. That would act as an incentive and fit in with the Government’s big society proposals. The Association of Chief Police Officers supports the idea and Southampton city council has already trialled a scheme, which offered special constables a rebate rather than an up-front discount on their council tax. However, because of the legal uncertainties, the process took months and was only a one-off. At the end of the debate, I intend to table an amendment to clause 10(3) to make such action much easier for our colleagues in local government.
Under the new duty to co-operate, I would like the Bill to clarify that local authorities are free to co-operate with police forces, if they choose, by exempting special constables from council tax, or, at the very least, offering them a substantial discount. That does not have to be expensive. Essex is lucky to have nearly 700 specials. If each was offered £100 off their council tax bill, it would cost the grand sum of £70,000. Given that the public sector spent £10 billion in Essex last year, £70,000 is not an astronomical sum. I hope that the Minister and colleagues will be able to consider my amendment.
We must tell the truth about crime in our statistics. There is huge bureaucratic and political pressure to say that crime is decreasing. Everyone wants to believe that things are getting better. However, the tragedy is that that translates into immense personal pressure on individual police officers not to record crime because if they go out on the streets and find criminals their statistics look worse and worse. I recently met the Home Secretary and the chief constable of Essex to discuss crime in Harlow, and the chief constable made that point powerfully. One solution is to record two sorts of statistic. An innovative proposal is to use the Australian system and distinguish between crimes that the public have reported and those that the police have discovered.
Imagine if instead of one single box for recording crime, where everything gets jumbled and mixed together, we had two boxes. In the first box we could measure crime reported by the public, police officers and PCSOs, and in the second we would measure crime proactively discovered by the police. If the number of the latter crimes increased, we would not worry unduly, because it would mean that the police were doing their job, patrolling the streets and uncovering the hidden criminals who are disrupting our neighbourhoods.
I sincerely hope that when we consider that reform, we consider how to free our police officers from the immense political pressure to say that crime numbers are coming down. I welcome the reforms to public information, such as crime maps, which the Government are pushing for, and measures such as clause 89, “Crime and disorder strategies”, and clause 34, which contains the duty to liaise with local people. However, I hope that the Minister considers the Australian system of recording crime.
Finally, I believe that universal jurisdiction must be reformed so that the Director of Public Prosecutions has control over issuing warrants. Currently, the process for private prosecutions is being abused—it is used as a political tool for campaigning and point scoring—but the purpose of our justice system must be justice, not media campaigns. Therefore, I welcome clause 151, which will ensure that universal jurisdiction cases proceed only on the basis of solid evidence.
My hon. Friend is exactly right. The problem is that the current arrangements have been used as a political tool. A disproportionate number of arrest warrants sought for war crimes are directed at Israeli officials and politicians. It is worth remembering that Israel is a democratic country with the rule of law, and that it has a thriving judiciary and a Supreme Court that often rules against the state in cases with sound legal bases. If we want to promote peace in the middle east, Israel’s leaders must be able to come to Britain for talks with the British Government. The current misuse of universal jurisdiction actually hinders reconciliation efforts. That applies not just to Israel—for example, I understand that an arrest warrant was issued against Henry Kissinger.
In conclusion, I am hugely supportive of the Bill. The more democracy, the better. I hope that the Minister and colleagues will consider my amendment on special constables and reforming the flaws in our crime statistics, but I welcome the Government’s reforms, especially on universal jurisdiction and elected police commissioners. The Bill is in the same vein as all the Government’s policies and can be summed up in four words: power to the people.