Skip to main content

Police Accountability

Volume 527: debated on Monday 9 May 2011

The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill will establish directly elected police and crime commissioners in every police area in England and Wales. They will hold police forces to account on behalf of the public and so strengthen the vital link between the public and the police.

I thank my right hon. Friend for that answer. Given recent moves to ensure that actions are available to constituents when MPs commit wrongdoings, is such an option being considered in respect of elected police commissioners?

I assure my hon. Friend that any police and crime commissioner who is convicted of an imprisonable offence, regardless of whether they are sentenced to a term of imprisonment, will be disqualified from their post. I think that that answers his question.

Does the Home Secretary plan to listen to the Deputy Prime Minister and delay the introduction of police and crime commissioners?

Starting on Wednesday, when the House of Lords Committee stage of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill begins, there will be proper and due consideration of every aspect of the Bill. However, it is our intention that police and crime commissioners will be introduced across England and Wales.

Accountability of police forces to the public is essential, but so are robust checks and balances to challenge the actions of any commissioner who exceeds their powers or seeks to interfere in operational policing matters. Will the Home Secretary consider seriously the request from the other place that the new accountability arrangements be piloted and the checks and balances strengthened?

As I said in response to the previous question, there will be proper and careful consideration of all these issues as the Bill goes through Committee and its further stages in the House of Lords. I am aware that issues have been raised about the police and crime panels and how they use properly the checks and balances in place to hold police and crime commissioners to account. It is our intention to introduce commissioners across England and Wales.

The Home Secretary will know that on the Bill’s Third Reading five weeks ago we called on the Government to stop and think about the plans for police and crime commissioners, given the deep concerns about the lack of checks and balances in this American-style reform, but she refused. She will have heard Liberal Democrat Front Benchers’ plea to listen. The Deputy Prime Minister has now said that he supports pilots first, his parliamentary aide said this morning that this is the key area, in addition to the NHS, on which Liberal Democrats want to see changes, and Liberal Democrat peers are proposing a two or three-year pause for proper pilots to take place. Will the Home Secretary tell the House whether she is indeed listening, and whether she will consider amending the Bill to introduce pilots first?

I have to tell the right hon. Lady, after that lengthy question, that I answered the point about our intention regarding pilots in response to the previous two questions. I gently remind her that this is not an idea of which we have no experience: the Labour Government made the Mayor of London responsible for overseeing the Metropolitan police and therefore acting as a pilot for police and crime commissioners.

So this, it seems, is the Home Secretary’s answer to the Liberal Democrats: they have done a pilot and it was the Mayor of London. In fact, as she will know, the Mayor of London works under a completely different arrangement, and I am not sure that the Liberal Democrats will see that as the Prime Minister’s so-called listening mode. These American-style plans concentrate considerable policing power in the hands of one person without putting in place the proper checks and balances. They are opposed by crime and policing experts and are deeply illiberal and not very British. The Deputy Prime Minister says he wants to hear a louder Liberal Democrat voice. It sounds like they are shouting, but she is not listening. The so-called new business relationship is just business as usual: the Conservatives take the decisions, the Liberal Democrats take the blame.

It was a coalition agreement commitment that we would introduce directly elected individuals to oversee police forces and to hold them to account, and that there would be proper checks and balances. Far from there not being proper checks and balances, as the right hon. Lady suggests, the police and crime panels will provide real checks and balances to the police and crime commissioner. Perhaps she needs to speak to the shadow policing Minister, the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), who a couple of years ago said that

“only direct election, based on geographic constituencies, will deliver the strong connection to the public which is critical”.

We agree with him.