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Police

Volume 722: debated on Thursday 25 November 2010

Debate

Moved By

My Lords, it is a privilege to introduce this debate at this crucial time, ahead of the police Bill. The subject of the debate is widely drawn and I could not hope to do it justice in the 12 minutes available to me. I will concentrate, therefore, on more specific and, in my view, topical matters.

A matter currently of considerable topicality is that of elected police commissioners. This has excited a great deal of debate. There are those who argue that the present system of police authorities works well, with a structure refined by my noble friend Lord Howard of Lympne when he was Home Secretary. They will no doubt argue that the accountability of the chief police officer to the authority works satisfactorily, and that any attempt at political control by the elected councillors is counterbalanced by the presence of the independent members of the authority. Against that is the argument that greater accountability can be enforced through one individual. This is but a summary of the respective standpoints but the arguments hinge on the question of accountability.

The coalition Government are emphatic in their commitment to the operational independence of police forces in England and Wales. In the Home Office publication Policing in the Twenty-First Century there is an assurance that this will not be meddled with. However, alongside this is the determination to elect individuals in the place of police authorities. This, as I have said, is a hotly debated issue both within and outside the police service. Questions have been thrown up on which I should welcome the Minister’s views. The first is: will one individual, replacing the 17 to 19 individuals that there are at present, be able to deliver oversight of the huge breadth that modern policing demands? Secondly, I seek reassurance that politics is not in danger of intruding into police operations; for instance, when an election commitment to which a policing and crime commissioner is bound places him at odds with a chief constable’s professional judgment. Thirdly, I understand that policing and crime panels are intended to act as a check on the commissioner. Will we not be in danger of replicating the present police authorities under another name? I look forward to my noble friend’s comments.

I also touch on the somewhat sensitive subject of special entry. I am aware that there has, to date, been considerable resistance to this within the service. However, there is in place a scheme of accelerated promotion where time on the beat is confined to two years. This is a kind of halfway house to the Trenchard scheme, which was abandoned after the Second World War. However, I suggest that the Minister takes a close look at the outstanding success of officer training in the Armed Forces. Take one example: Sandhurst. Until comparatively recently its cadets were drawn from what is loosely called the “officer class”. Now entry is drawn from all strata of society. The excellence of the end product and the leadership it displays—and leadership is what this is all about—is so impressively visible in Afghanistan. The armed services’ socially broad-based intake makes it, I suggest, a more appropriate template for the police service than has been the case in past years.

There are, of course, differences. A member of the Armed Forces is likely always to have the support and camaraderie of his unit, however small. The police officer, on the other hand, for much of his time on duty is absolutely alone. I accept this, which is why an essential component of any direct entry should be a minimum but meaningful time on the beat. I hope simply that the police service and the coalition Government will keep this matter under review.

It is all about leadership, which brings me to ACPO. It is an admirable organisation and the structure of specialisms by individual chief officers is particularly valuable in making its case to the public. It is also an essential link between the police service and the Government. However, there is a perception out there that ACPO is in practice accountable to no one. That is why I am particularly pleased to learn that Sir Hugh Orde, chairman of ACPO, is on the case. If I understand him correctly, he sees its future not merely as a forum for chief police officers but rather—these are his words—

“to act as the professional voice of policing, that develops the profession from cradle to grave”.

I refer briefly to the amalgamation of police forces. It is an ongoing subject of debate but I detect no great enthusiasm for it at present. But whichever way this goes at national level, this, together with the current financial stringency, has encouraged a positive approach towards the sharing of services such as traffic, forensic, crime, helicopters and so forth, which must be wholly to the good.

We await with some anticipation the publication of the forthcoming Police Bill, but it is worth recalling that the last attempt to stand back and consider the delivery of policing in its entirety was the Royal Commission of 1962 when, incidentally, “Dixon of Dock Green” was in its heyday. People look back to that model of policing with nostalgia but things have moved on and crime has become more sophisticated and more international. “The Bill” picked up where “Dixon of Dock Green” left off and the enormous popularity of that programme showed how much the public identified with a civilian police serving the community. It is true that there is less evidence of the bobby on the beat but times have moved on. Mobility and communications ensure that police officers are able to cover substantially wider areas. However, let it be noted that the 9.6 million crimes measured by the British Crime Survey in 2009-10 represented a fall of 9 per cent from the previous year. Some 4.3 million crimes recorded by the police over the same period represented an 8 per cent drop. The British Crime Survey estimates that the risk of becoming a victim of crime is the lowest since it began in 1981.

A widely aired criticism is that front-line policing is supported by an overly heavy tail, but modern crime is a sophisticated business and child abuse and sex offences are regrettably prevalent. A snapshot of one force showed that in the past 50 years the number of officers in CID rose from 42 to 490, plus 131 in specialised crime units. Then it had no staff at all engaged in domestic abuse, child abuse or sexual offences; now it has 153. Sir Denis O’Connor, Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary, has estimated that the police service is divided roughly 50:50 between those dedicated to visible policing and those delivering specialised services. However, let us not be blind to the realities. The savings that the police service is required to make are considerable. There will, of course, be some gold-plating of back office jobs which will have to be addressed. As we have seen from recent announcements from Greater Manchester, West Midlands and Kent, there will inevitably be some reductions in the uniformed force.

As I have said, the last Royal Commission on the police was in 1962. Since then there have been radical changes in virtually everything that affects the working of the police service: its relations with the public, government and cybercrime terrorism, to name but a few. Is it not time for another Royal Commission, which would, I hope, pre-empt the need for a succession of piecemeal police legislation to which we have been subjected in the recent past? As an indirect result of this, the police service is engaged in its third pay review in seven years. The previous Government vetoed the idea of a Royal Commission, I suspect on grounds of cost and time. I hope that the coalition Government will take another look. I hope that I may make a suggestion: would its incorporation into a wider defence review ease the logistics? It is sorely needed. Perhaps that is another question for the Minister.

It has been well said that every country has the police it deserves. Two hundred-plus years after Trafalgar, we take for granted Nelson’s hold over the Royal Navy. Talking to police officers of all ranks, I am reminded that their hero and role model is Sir Robert Peel, who conceived a civilian force within and at the service of the community.

That is what this nation still essentially requires of the police. Of course, the challenges in the 21st century are ever-more resourceful criminals, the breakdown of the family, the onward march of technology, terrorism and so on, but there is a basic public confidence in a still-largely unarmed police service. Whether this is, in fact, what we deserve may be a matter for debate, but policing in this country remains something in which we can indeed be proud.

We shall, of course, await the police Bill with interest, and I look forward to the contributions from other noble Lords and to the reply from my noble friend.

My Lords, I should declare my background. I was a member of the Thames Valley Police Authority for 10 or 12 years, and I saw some of the changes to which the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, referred.

The make-up of a police authority is now quite good. It has members from an independent background, representatives of political parties and some magistrates, although their number has been reduced. The duty of a police authority is to set the budget, which gives the authority a lot of leverage over the chief constable in the way that he operates, and there is a requirement for a policing plan which is built up from ground level. In addition, there is wide consultation with various interest groups, such as the business community, ethnic minorities and farmers. All are well focused on the police authority. It does not attract much newspaper attention, unless something goes very wrong. The public never come to watch and listen. However, the influence of the independent members has completely changed the nature of police authorities since they came into being. One thing that has been brought into police authorities is proper ethnic-minority representation. When I left Thames Valley, four out of the 19 members of the authority were from ethnic minorities.

We received regular updates from the chief constable, who was immediately in contact with the chairman, the vice-chairman or a local member of the authority if an incident was in their area. However, the chief and the team made the operational decisions. They were not above criticism if those decisions went wrong. I can remember one or two cases when we received pretty poor reports regarding things which should have been done. There is an independent police complaints authority, which is extremely thorough in its investigation of any complaints, and a professional standards committee makes sure that officers are doing what is right and it investigates complaints. Operational independence did not mean that the chief constable was above criticism but, crucially, no decision was made for political reasons.

The noble Viscount mentioned elected commissioners. I am very worried as to who would stand and, more particularly, who would vote, because when considering the idea of elections—which is very fashionable and is postulated as a future for this establishment—you always have to ask yourself: when will the elections be, who will vote, and on what platform will they campaign? There is a great danger of people putting forward fairly extreme views, being supported by a few newspaper editors and getting a small percentage of the electorate turning out to vote for them. We would then find that a very professional chief constable would be made subject to the direction of somebody who knows nothing about policing, probably does not know a great deal about anything else and may be propelled simply by prejudice into the role that he adopts. Will the Minister confirm whether there is any body that will control the elected police commissioner; and, if he has to report to somebody, will the Widdecombe rules apply so that the proportion of representation of each of the parties, including independents, will be maintained? That is the basis for running a proper police authority. If there is such a body, will the commissioner have the right simply to brush it aside?

The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, also touched on the effect of relationships between the police authority, the Association of Police Authorities and ACPO. Will the police commissioner be independent of these bodies or subject to them? If he or she is subject to them, how will this work? I am very worried also about how an elected commissioner will manage a large and diverse area. We have talked about police commissioners in small areas, but the authority of which I was a member— Thames Valley—covers a vast area that is hugely different from place to place. People in north Oxfordshire might be concerned about hare coursing, whereas people in Slough or High Wycombe might have concerns nearer the other end of the scale.

What will happen to the police commissioner if he is not up to the job? How will one get rid of an incompetent police commissioner? There are procedures for dealing with a chief constable who is not up to the job, but we need to know what will happen to a police commissioner who patently is not. Lastly, will the Minister say whether the police commissioner will be subject to inspection by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary? Will he really be a free agent who will bring something new to the post, or somebody who is not responsible to the members of the community who elected him?

My Lords, I thank the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, for this debate to call attention to the role of the police. I declare my registered interest as a life member of the Association of Chief Police Officers and the deputy chairman of a major security company. I will summarise briefly the importance of the history and legacy of policing. I will then say a few brief words about the current concerns over policing. Finally, I will add my thoughts about the Government's proposals for police reform.

I turn first to the legacy. At 6 pm on Tuesday 29 September 1829, the first group of Metropolitan Police officers marched out from a still-being-converted building not far from here called Scotland Yard. They were dressed in blue cloaks and black top hats—deliberately not in red so that they would not be confused with soldiers. They were not in elaborate uniforms like those of the continental gendarmeries. They carried no pistols, swords or knives—merely small wooden batons and wooden rattles to call assistance. They marched out to be greeted with derision and hostility by the London public. Four years later, it was still possible for a coroner's jury to record a verdict of justifiable homicide when Constable Robert Culley was brutally killed by an angry mob simply because he was carrying out his duty. Within a few short years of PC Culley’s death, hostility and derision became acceptance and admiration.

Why am I talking about these things from the past? I do so because I think that they still have enormous resonance for the challenges that police officers face today. Who were those early police officers and what were they asked to do? They were not asked to be soldiers; they were ordinary men drawn from their community for the community. They swore an oath in the office of constable. They were Crown servants with powers and discretion which they had to exercise as individuals. They were accountable as individual constables, not an anonymous group of soldiers taking orders en masse.

The first joint commissioners, Sir Charles Rowan and Richard Mayne, in consultation with Robert Peel, who had been arguing for these reforms for seven years as Home Secretary, wrote what I guess today we would call the mission statement for those early police officers. It was very simple and enduring, and it was the mission statement that I had to learn almost as my first act as a new constable in 1967. It read:

“It should be understood, at the outset, that the principal object to be attained is the prevention of crime”.

The men with this role won over a doubting and hostile public within a few short years of policing the streets of London.

If we fast-forward the history through a number of royal commissions and public inquiries, we arrive at the royal commission, already referred to, which reported in 1964—the last and most influential royal commission on policing. It set out the police role as follows:

“First the police have a duty to maintain law and order and to protect persons and property. Secondly they have a duty to prevent crime. Thirdly they are responsible for the detection of criminals”.

It then said some things about prosecution which have since been transferred to the Crown Prosecution Service. However, lastly it said that the police have,

“a long tradition to befriend anyone who needs their help and may at any time be called upon to cope with minor or major emergencies”.

So to modern policing. I know from my professional roles, from debates in your Lordships’ House and just as a member of the public that there is growing concern and confusion about the role and performance of the police. What has contributed to this erosion of trust in what I might call the policing covenant? The breadth and range of the policing role has been stretched almost to breaking point. Greater Manchester Police recently placed all its reported incidents on Twitter over a 24-hour period. It revealed complex, unpredictable demands from the public which had as much to do with agencies from health, education and local government as they did with policing, and certainly the demands on the police were far more extensive than merely preventing and detecting crime.

The barrage of new legislation in recent years from all shades of government has created hundreds, if not thousands, of new criminal offences and police powers, and an expectation of police action. Every inquiry into something that has gone wrong in policing, every inspection of a police force and every inspection of a major theme such as domestic violence or children at risk, vital though these issues are, generates enormous new demands, new procedures, new forms and new bureaucracies. That is part of the explanation for more police officers being on duty on a Monday morning in warm offices than on a Friday night in city centres; it is partly why, in 2009, 2,600 pages of new guidance setting out how police officers should fulfil their duties were issued in a single year; and it is partly the explanation for some police forces currently recording anti-social behaviour under 48 separate categories of form-filling and box-ticking.

It could be argued that all this has led to what, in other environments, would be described as mission creep and confusion. We now have the following symptoms: a can-do mentality of policing is in danger of being replaced by a risk-averse, criticism-avoiding mentality. In certain circumstances, it is safer to do nothing than to do something. Too often, bureaucracy and box-ticking replace patrolling and response and, in an attempt to do everything, many things are not done particularly well by the police service. Public confidence that the police will respond well has been replaced by much lower, sadly cynical, expectations of the police.

The police covenant with the public and the police legacy are certainly not broken, but they are strained and under challenge. The police service continues to attract and retain some of the finest, bravest men and women in our country. There is no shortage of able, well educated recruits; we could have an all-graduate police service, if that were what we wanted. Because of my links with the police service, I am constantly reminded and humbled by outstanding acts of courage and professionalism, literally on a day-to-day basis. However, we are now on the verge of a major programme of police reform and we have the opportunity to reset and recalibrate the police covenant and police legacy which I have described.

Three interlinked issues will generate those changes and have the potential to improve or undermine policing. First, the police service budgets will be reduced by more than 20 per cent over the next four years, with more than 14 per cent of the savings being front-end loaded and coming in the next two years. That cannot be achieved by salami-slice savings. Many thousands of police and civilian jobs will go and tough and necessary decisions and tough choices will have to be made. The police service cannot be exempt from public sector savings, nor should it be. Mature decisions will have to be made about what can and cannot be done, but there must not be a dishonest pretence that the status quo can prevail or that front-line policing will be unaffected.

The second issue which will affect policing is a fundamental review of police pay and conditions which has been commissioned by the Government. It will report in early 2011. That report must not destabilise police morale and performance, but equally some long, overgrown nettles must be grasped to provide modern, flexible and fair pay and conditions for the police service.

Thirdly, the Government have set out in the Home Office document, Policing in the 21st Century, their programme for police reform. I know that very soon those aspirations will be fleshed out in a Bill before Parliament. I assume that it will, as others have said, contain provisions for directly elected police and crime commissioners, a new national crime agency and many other important provisions. Today is not the day for detailed discussion of those proposals and I look forward to participating in your Lordships' House when we examine the proposed legislation. However, it is important today to flag up some of the issues and criteria that I will be testing and examining when the Bill comes before your Lordships' House.

First, there must be an honest appraisal of the core functions of the police against the available budgets and foreseeable resources allocated to policing. Tough choices will have to be made by police, by politicians and in consultation with the public. We must face up to those tough choices.

Secondly, the historic office of constable and operational police independence must be enshrined within the new overall framework of political accountability, locally and nationally. With or without locally elected police commissioners, police constables and chief constables must not feel that the independent exercise of their historic office and powers is being undermined in some way. Operational independence is vital and I hope that the Minister will confirm that he agrees with that.

Thirdly, if the chosen way forward is to retain more than 40 local police forces with more than 40 new, inexperienced, elected police commissioners, they must be embraced within an effective and integrated network of policing. They must not become, as I fear they could, a disorganised patchwork of policing. Even with a new national crime agency, there will remain a significant requirement for co-ordinated action between local forces big and small to combat terrorism, organised crime and many other issues. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure us that however the Bill looks in its shape and form, we will be presented with a network of policing, not a disorganised patchwork of policing.

The fourth issue is value for money. Value for money, economies of scale, procurement of goods and services, outsourcing, the development of a cadre of effective police leaders and combating terrorism are vital issues that suggest to me, and have throughout my career, the need for national and regional police organisations and structures. This is in no way to denigrate or detract from local policing and neighbourhood policing being delivered by very local police officers. The Government will have to show how their devolved patchwork of policing will measure up to the operational needs and financial constraints of 21st-century policing.

In conclusion, the office of constable and the historic legacy of policing must be understood and respected, but not fossilised. The role of policing should be reset and recalibrated for the far more complex modern world we live in and in which the police operate locally, nationally and internationally. By all means let us be bold and innovative and let us change, but in doing so, let us renew and strengthen the police covenant with the public and not undermine it.

My Lords, it is a real privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Condon, who was a very distinguished senior policeman. In his speech, there were many excellent pearls of wisdom, and I know that when we come to debate the Bill, we will return to them.

I hope the noble Lord will agree that it might be appropriate at this moment to express a personal opinion, with which I hope many noble Lords will agree. I have great admiration for the way in which the Metropolitan Police handled the events of yesterday and the past 24 hours. Like many of your Lordships, I was inconvenienced, but I talked to a fair number of the officers on duty, and I thought they had tremendous patience and good nature and were extremely efficient. I hope that your Lordships will allow me to pay that tribute now.

We should be grateful to the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, for initiating this debate. His experience and interest in this field will be valuable in the progress of legislation. I shall make a brief contribution based upon my experience as an elected Member in the other place for Northamptonshire and my experience of dealing with the Northamptonshire police force, the chief constable and the police authority.

I welcome the forthcoming Bill. I note that in 2008, the previous Labour Government were on the verge of delivering a very similar Bill, and it was a shame that it did not proceed. I think there is—I hope there is—broad agreement between the parties on at least the accountability elements of the draft Bill. I know that the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, with his local experience in Oxfordshire and Thames Valley, wearing many hats, not least of which is working with the police authority and supporting the police, will debate what needs to be in the Bill not just from national principles but from local experience.

I strongly support the concept of police and crime commissioners throughout the country. I take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Condon, that there has to be some mechanism of co-ordination and exchange of views, but their responsibility, as with elected individuals, would be to help with the strategy and the relationship between the police force and the local community. They should not be involved in controlling operational matters.

It is my understanding that Sir Hugh Orde, president of the Association of Chief Police Officers, is now largely convinced that there is a clear divide between operational responsibility, which is for the chief constable and senior police officers, and the elected commissioners, who should be able to express concerns, worries, issues and suggestions about policing in their local area or neighbourhood. The Bill should ensure that there is this clear division of responsibility.

We should compare and contrast what is likely to happen under new legislation with the control that Home Secretaries for many years have had in influencing and policing in the United Kingdom. In 2009, for example, more than 50 documents of central policy control were issued by the Home Secretary. Another 60 were under consideration. It might be relevant to quote Paul McKeever, chairman of the Police Federation. He said:

“We need to be accountable, but we appear to have such an unnecessary number of quangos and bodies created to check on us that one wonders if this is merely to create jobs than fulfil any useful function”.

A new structure to make it absolutely clear that chief officers will deal with operational matters without interference from those who are elected politicians and that elected commissioners will reflect the views of the local community and are best able to communicate their worries is a sensible and necessary division.

The experience of my noble friend Lord Bradshaw in Thames Valley might vary a little from mine in Northamptonshire. In knocking on doors over 14 years, I found little knowledge and understanding of the role and composition of the local police authority. A commissioner who is directly elected—I hope that independents will stand, and that minorities and those with past political experience will be represented—would be better able to reflect concerns and to make representations. Certainly, the electorate would be better able to understand some of those generally expressed concerns.

My final point has already been made by my noble friend Lord Bradshaw. With constraints on expenditure and the problems of reducing budgets for police authorities, it will be helpful to have elected commissioners because not only will they be able to reflect local concerns rather than simply those of the police themselves or of elected Members of another place, but they will, as the elected representative, be responsible for indicating where the priorities should be and how the police have adapted the resources that are available to them in providing the cover that is valued and necessary. I thank my noble friend Lord Bridgeman for initiating this debate, and I look forward to participating in proceedings on the Bill.

My Lords, I, too, am grateful to my noble friend Lord Bridgeman for instigating this debate. I should like to speak about issues of governance and, in particular, to comment on the recent government consultation paper, Policing in the 21st Century: Reconnecting police and people, in the context of forthcoming legislation. My simple question is: will directly elected police and crime commissioners deliver the Government’s aims? That question presupposes, of course, that police and people are disconnected. I cannot speak for the country as a whole, but I have no evidence that in Newcastle or in the Northumbria Police Authority area—here I declare my interest as a councillor in Newcastle and as a one-time member of the Northumbria Police Authority—there is any meaningful disconnection. For the most part, local people are happy with the policing that they receive.

I support the Government’s general direction to improve communication, to make people feel safer and more secure, to enable them to hold the police to account and to ensure that people have a real say in how their neighbourhoods are policed. However, there is no reason to suppose that, if we have directly elected commissioners, the Government’s desired outcomes will be delivered. How does the direct election of an individual covering a very large geographical area or population make the police more accountable—day in, day out and week in, week out—to its constituent neighbourhoods?

There is also an unanswered prior question: to what problem is a police and crime commissioner a solution, and why is it assumed that a single election and a single person will reconnect people and police? I am afraid that I find the proposal deeply unconvincing. Is the proposal designed to reduce crime? Well, it might be, but actually the answer is “Hardly” because crime has been dropping with the current governance structures. Is it designed to improve governance? Well, in my view it will not, for two reasons. First, having directly elected police and crime commissioners will concentrate power rather than disperse it. Secondly, the proposal would build in implicit strains between democratically elected councillors—and perhaps elected mayors—and the commissioners as well as between the commissioners and chief constables. Is that what we want?

What exactly is wrong with the current system? My police authority area has a police authority made up of nine democratically elected councillors, who are answerable to the community at large and to their own electorates, plus eight independent members, including a magistrate, who bring a wealth of different experience to that police authority. The structure is not perfect, but it is certainly more accountable than what is likely to be proposed.

Three major concerns have been raised by the Northumbria Police Authority, whose views will be shared by many other authorities. First, key constitutional changes are proposed that have not been subject to assessment or consideration in the same manner as the constitutional changes made by the Police Act 1964, which were informed by a Royal Commission. Secondly, proposals are being made for a system that has not been tried and tested in the United Kingdom through the operation of a time-limited pilot scheme. Thirdly, the consultative paper makes no reference to a corporate legal entity or statutory body that the commissioner will work within and which will hold the budget, act as employer, and own the real property necessary for the chief constable to deliver an effective policing service. The paper also fails to identity the fundamental requirement of the chief executive and/or monitoring officer role, which is a key role that was introduced as part of the 1994 Act to ensure propriety in the use of powers.

One possible way forward that could meet the wishes of the Government would be to have an independent police board, with the chair taking the title of police and crime commissioner and a board of assistant police and crime commissioners made up, as now, of local councillors and independent members. The board would work together to set the strategic direction for policing within local priorities and budgets and to hold the police to account for performance in all the geographical areas within its police area. To be clear, a purely advisory role for such a board would be unsatisfactory, because that would simply deny it the real teeth needed to maintain its independence.

The extent to which all these proposals are relevant to neighbourhood policing also needs to be considered. The truth is that they matter little. What matters to local people is how effective policing is in their neighbourhoods. People need structures to enable them to communicate directly with police officers and to get solutions speedily for their neighbourhoods. Police authorities and councils already have structures in place to achieve that, which are led by the councillors elected in their neighbourhoods.

The Home Secretary said that commissioners will ensure that police forces will meet local rather than Whitehall targets. That is good, but it begs the question of what is meant by “local”. Many police authorities cover large geographical areas, but what people want is access to police officers at their neighbourhood level to discuss policing issues. That is where accountability must be realised. Neighbourhoods talking to their own police officers—that is how the police can build safer neighbourhoods and build public confidence in them. By comparison, police and crime commissioners could be a diversion. They will spend their time juggling competing demands from the different parts of their police areas. They will court displeasure when they fail to deliver and when they are felt to favour one area rather than another.

The basic flaw in the Government’s proposal is that the commissioner will set priorities for the police force but it is not clear how the commissioner will know what those priorities should be. Will the commissioners have powers, formal or subtle, to interfere in the day-to-day running of the police? Sir Hugh Orde, head of the Association of Chief Police Officers, in responding to the Queen’s Speech, said:

“One of the great strengths of the British style of policing is the balance between … robust accountability at local level and operational independence. The police service is more effective through the freedom to make professional judgments about how we keep people safe, free from political interests”.

I agree with him. For me, this is a fundamental issue when considering how security and policing are best delivered across the country.

As things stand, a police and crime commissioner would appoint the chief constable, set the budget of the force and set the strategic police plan for the area. There would be advisers in the form of councillors and independent members, but they would have no formal powers. I cannot believe that this is wise, for where are the checks and balances that should be a central requirement of our governance of policing? I sincerely hope that the Government will think long and hard about trying to introduce such an untried system of governance.

Many questions arise. Is it wise for community safety partnerships—which, in most cases, have done a very good job in preventing and reducing crime—to be accountable not to their local area but to the commissioner of a much bigger area? Are we in danger of politicising the police in a way that could fuel accusations of partiality? How does the localism agenda fit with having one commissioner per force area? What are the accountability arrangements among the councils, elected mayors and elected commissioners? What budgets will commissioners hold and how will that money be raised? Overall, how will national and local policing be enhanced?

The Home Secretary said that the consultation paper Policing in the 21st Century is the most radical reform of policing for 50 years. That may well be true, but it does not make all of it wise. The Home Secretary went on to say that the police have become too bureaucratic and too much accountable to Whitehall rather than to the people whom they serve. That is also true, but cutting bureaucracy does not require police commissioners; it only requires the Home Secretary to act. Dismantling Whitehall targets is also simple to deliver and does not require police commissioners either. To make police more accountable to the people whom they serve is most simply delivered by neighbourhood governance structures and an independent police board with real powers, as I have suggested.

The Government are proposing many things in policing that can be welcomed. However, the proposal for police commissioners is, in my view, ill thought-out and should be reconsidered.

My Lords, I add my congratulations to those already expressed to the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, on securing this debate, the subject matter of which changed, for reasons unexplained, from the role of the security services and the police in national security to solely the role of the police.

I was fortunate enough recently to be able to take part in the Police Service Parliamentary Scheme. I spent more than 20 days with the Metropolitan Police seeing and learning at first hand what the police in London do and the breadth of responsibilities and activities that the force undertakes. The impressions that I formed are obviously mine and mine alone. I spent a number of shifts with officers in the immediate response cars. It was not as dramatic and action-packed as you see in the numerous carefully packaged television programmes broadcast nowadays of police activity in different towns and cities around the country.

A significant percentage of the emergency calls responded to were more to do with what one might describe as a semi-welfare role: numerous incidents arising from domestic arguments and disputes, elderly people convinced that an intruder was in their home or children allegedly locked out of their homes. However, the officers driving as fast as they safely can to respond to an emergency call do not know exactly who, or what, will confront them when they get to the scene. It could be a domestic argument where the parties have already started to simmer down or where one party has already left the scene. It could be someone with a knife or other weapon that they are prepared to use, or, indeed, it could be more than one person in that category.

I saw a wide variety of incidents, including stop and search, fights in the street, anti-social behaviour, motoring offences, searches of premises for drugs, checks that home curfew orders were being obeyed and street prostitution, as well as the procedures and processes at the police station for dealing with those brought in following arrest. I was struck by the outward calmness of the officers whom I was with—I was with a number of them—and the high and consistent degree of civility that they showed towards those whom they had to talk to, question, challenge or arrest at the scenes of the incidents to which we were called. That civility was, needless to say, not always reciprocated. Police officers do get provoked; they have to deal on many occasions with people whom most of the population would not wish to meet. What is surprising is not the number of incidents where police officers lose their cool, but rather how few such incidents are.

I was struck also by the importance of decision-making by officers when first arriving at the scene of an incident in response to an emergency call. They may be confronted by people who are distressed or aggressive, have had too much to drink, are under the influence of drugs, irrational, highly emotional, prepared to use violence or just plain unco-operative and obstructive. The initial assessment by officers of the position and people with whom they are faced when they arrive at the scene can be crucial in determining whether a potentially explosive situation is calmed down and controlled or whether it simply gets out of hand. The officers have no higher-ranking officer or other manager on hand to whom they can turn for advice. They have to make instant decisions and they have to get them right.

I also had the opportunity to see the full range of responsibilities and activities undertaken by the police—the work done by officers and civilian staff, referred to by the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, who are not out on the streets but who play a key role in investigating and solving crime. Those engaged in fraud and IT crime do not tend to be caught by officers patrolling the streets or responding to emergency calls; they are apprehended by those doing painstaking and thorough work pursuing leads, seeking and analysing data, interviewing victims and putting together a case that will stand up in court. The same goes for the work of those who attend the scene of a crime and collect possible evidence, seeing whether there is a similarity with evidence from previous crimes or whether it is evidence that, when checked against records, will help to identify the perpetrator. They are not officers and staff who spend their time out on patrol.

There are also specialist units dealing with child abuse and rape cases. They are staffed by officers who do not spend their time patrolling the streets but who seek to provide support for victims at a time of great distress and trauma and to secure the necessary evidence to bring cases to court. There are officers dealing with the threats of terrorism. Once again, they do not spend their time out on patrol but are engaged in collecting and analysing intelligence, working with other agencies and keeping track of the activities of those about whom they have suspicions, with a view to preventing acts of terrorism and, if appropriate, apprehending those who they have good reason to believe are about to act. Many other activities carried out by the Metropolitan Police and, to a less wide-ranging extent, by other forces are directly related to solving and preventing crime but do not in the normal course of events directly involve officers patrolling the streets or driving in immediate response cars, visible to the public.

That brings me to the impact of the Government’s comprehensive spending review and the associated reductions in expenditure on police forces. Claims have been made, not least by the Government, that reductions in expenditure should not affect the front line of policing, but that raises the question of the definition of “front line”. Does it mean officers out on patrol, on foot or in cars, on the streets, or engaged on other activities, such as yesterday outside Parliament, when they are visible to the public? Alternatively, does it mean any officers or civilian staff whose work and responsibilities are directly related to solving and preventing crime, many of whom, as I saw during my time with the Metropolitan Police, are primarily working inside and are not normally visible to the general public? If the Government claim that reductions in expenditure will not affect front-line police involved in solving and preventing crime, I must ask the Minister to give a clear definition of what the Government regard as front-line policing. The Government may believe that too many civilian staff are employed by the police, but there is no question of a reduction being achieved in this area simply by transferring work undertaken by civilian staff to police officers, as this would mean that police officers had less time available to spend on duties and responsibilities that the public might normally expect them to undertake. One reason for civilian staff in the police force is to help to ensure that police officers are not spending their time undertaking duties that do not need to be dealt with by fully trained officers, so that such officers can spend their working time carrying out the role and responsibilities for which they have been trained.

It was with some interest that one read in the press the recent expression of considered opinion by the Minister with responsibility for police matters, Mr Herbert, that more police does not mean less crime. The parallel argument to that is presumably that the Government do not believe that having fewer police runs the risk of more crime, which is a very convenient U-turn in approach for a Government who are significantly reducing the amount of money available for policing. During the election campaign, Mr Clegg said that he would put 3,000 more officers on the streets, so presumably he does not agree with Mr Herbert, who also referred to a previous increase in the numbers of police officers, only a small proportion of whom, he said, were visible and available to the public at any one time. That comment relates to the point that I made earlier that to be engaged actively in solving and preventing crime does not mean that an officer has to be clearly visible to the public, which seems to be what the Minister thinks. Indeed, the Home Secretary appears to think the same, as a Home Office spokesman commenting on the cuts in expenditure said:

“The Home Secretary has been clear from the beginning that it is possible to maintain the visibility and availability of the police on the streets”.

That carries the obvious implication that police officers and civilian staff engaged in solving and preventing crime who are not on the streets are not making an important and decisive contribution. Hence the importance of the Minister’s response, which I hope will be forthcoming, to my direct question as to the Government's definition of the front line when it comes to police work.

A recent survey has suggested that nearly all police forces in England and Wales have frozen recruitment, which, taking account of the existing turnover rate, would lead to a reduction in officer numbers of some thousands. Greater Manchester Police has announced plans for 3,000 job losses over the spending review period, including some 1,500 police officers. The chief constable said that, while there would be a significant reduction in the size of the middle and back offices, it was clear that,

“over the four year period there will also need to be a reduction in frontline police officer numbers”.

Funding for the West Midlands Police is to be cut by 20 per cent in real terms, as is funding nationally, although for the West Midlands the impact is likely to be greater than elsewhere since that force depends on central government for a higher proportion of its funding than any other constabulary in the country, except, interestingly enough, the City of London’s.

Accountants KPMG have estimated that around 18,000 police officers could be lost nationally by the end of the four-year spending review, while the Police Federation has suggested that around 20,000 officers would be lost. At the same time as the numbers of police officers are to be significantly cut, the Government can apparently still find the resources to throw at establishing elected police commissioners. I sensed a certain lack of enthusiasm for elected police commissioners from the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, and rather more than a lack of enthusiasm from the noble Lord, Lord Shipley.

I am sure that some savings can be made through greater efficiency and through changing structures, processes and procedures. It would be stretching it a bit to say that police forces, particularly large forces, are already so efficient that they cannot make further savings in this way. Yet to argue, as the Government appear to be doing, that savings of the magnitude announced can be made without any real impact on the quality and effectiveness of solving and preventing a crime is, at best, a breathtaking statement of unsubstantiated hope about a service where such a high percentage of costs are labour costs.

Fewer police are unlikely to improve communications and contact with the public. This Government will be held to account for the outcome of their decisions on police funding, which they appear to be claiming will not affect what they define as front-line policing—and we await the Minister’s definition of that. I listened with real interest to the thought-provoking speech from the noble Lord, Lord Condon, as I am sure the Minister did. Our policy in government was to be tough on crime and tough on the causes of the crime. The measures that we took helped, along with other factors and thanks to the police, to bring down the level of crime. No doubt this Government also want to be tough on crime but, frankly, their approach to police funding so far smacks rather more of being tough on the fighters of crime.

My Lords, this is the first of many debates that we will no doubt be having on the future of policing in this country as the police reform and social responsibility Bill, which we expect to be published shortly, begins to move through both Houses. I thank everyone who has contributed to this debate, particularly the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for that very interesting speech on his own involvement and how he has seen the different dimensions of policing. As someone who is new to this dossier, I was reflecting on how much policing has changed since I first had contact with police forces as a junior lecturer in Manchester. I was dealing with the Irish Government and therefore, for the first time, coming to terms with Special Branch, which in those days was concerned with Irish terrorism. Special Branch today has to deal with a far wider range of terrorist threats.

Some 20 years ago, I was at Chatham House and was asked to chair a seminar of senior policemen about the international dimension of domestic policing. This was early 1989 and it was fascinating to have a number of policemen who thought that this was a small and specialised dimension of what they had to do, although I recall a policeman from north Wales saying that he really needed to train some of his policemen in Dutch because so many Dutch holidaymakers crashed their cars in north Wales every summer.

When, some years ago, I was the chair of EU Sub-Committee F, I was astonished to discover that there were by then police liaison officers in UK embassies throughout the European Union and beyond, that SOCA had been created to deal with the international dimension of British policing and that, according to the national intelligence model, we now have three levels of policing: level 1, the area that the public care most about and are most conscious of, which is local policing; level 2, which is the national policing of cross-border crime by different cross-border police forces; and the increasingly important level 3, which is transnational crime.

The increasing sophistication of crime is something with which we are now all familiar. Organised crime has ceased to be predominantly domestic; it is increasingly cross-border. Forms of international crime include drug-smuggling, international financial fraud, human trafficking—we had an interesting debate on that the other week—and now also cybercrime, on which I was given my first briefing the other day. We are in another world and the pace of change is increasing. I was struck when I read an HMIC report from July this year that said that there is no time for a royal commission, and that the police leadership needs to rise to the challenges of a cessation of the rapid increase in funding that has come in the past few years and the changing tasks that are required of it. The pace of change requires us to respond.

Many people here have talked about the changes in democratic accountability which the Government are proposing. We will have plenty of time when the Bill is presented to discuss in more detail the role of police and crime commissioners and their relationships with chief constables and with the police and crime panels that will, in turn, hold them to account.

I assure the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, that the intention is that police and crime panels will consist predominantly of representatives of local authorities. There is, as he rightly points out, a large question about what we mean by “local”. The current structures of police forces and that of local authorities, as we well know, do not fit. That is part of the problem, and part of the reason why the Government are proposing police and crime commissioners to fit these separate entities that are now our largely regional police forces.

My noble friend Lord Bradshaw asked a number of questions about who will stand, who will vote and what they will all campaign on. American experience, which has been prayed in aid in this House as a horror story, has actually led to some rather good police commissioners and indeed elected mayors arriving. We must not necessarily assume that democracy is a dangerous thing that might lead to disaster.

The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, asked about the future role of ACPO. It will continue to play an important role in providing professional leadership to the police service but, again, discussions are under way about the way in which this association of chief constables will continue to drive value for money and improve the quality of co-operation among different police forces. Noble Lords will be familiar with the discussion over the past few years about whether another round of police mergers was necessary. The decision has been taken that the structural solution of further mergers itself carries costs, and that we wish to promote as far as possible—the previous Government believed this, as well as the new Government—closer co-operation among different police forces. A range of areas, from sharing police helicopters to co-operation across many other areas, can be improved.

The move from SOCA to the national crime agency is also intended to pull further together the different abilities of different police forces and the specialised tasks that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, has been talking about, while trying as far as possible to maintain the historic principle of local responsibility for local civilian police forces.

We are concerned about value-for-money savings. Police budgets have increased rapidly over the past five years, and we recognise that they will cease to do so over the next four to five years. Government core funding of the policing will reduce by 20 per cent in real terms over the next four years. Taking into account our precept for local budgets, that amounts to an average—I stress, an average—for police forces of 14 per cent in real terms. In December, we will set out to Parliament exactly what this settlement will mean for each police force. However, I stress that real costs have been imposed on police forces by the previous Government through the central targets and the very detailed guidance. As the HMIC report states:

“In 2009 alone 2,600 pages of guidance were issued to officers setting out how their work should be done; and there are now 100 processes in the criminal justice system, requiring 40 interventions by police officers, staff and specialists. The cost to policing is estimated at £2.2 billion per year”.

Significant savings can be reached through reducing this sort of central top-down bureaucracy. On average, only 11 per cent of total police strength is visible and available to the general public at any time. We are confident that reducing some of these reporting and bureaucratic elements will enable us to maintain the police front line while reducing costs.

Others have raised questions about political leadership.

The Minister has referred to the police front line. Will he define what the Government mean by the front line as far as policing is concerned?

The police front line is increasingly sophisticated because, as I was saying earlier, if we look at what we want the police to do, the police front line is not just what is visible on the street. It is the policeman dealing with domestic violence in a sexual assault referral centre; it is the policeman dealing with financial fraud in the City of London Police which, as the noble Lord knows, is a specialist force for international financial fraud. The front line has become rather more sophisticated in that area, as crime itself has become more sophisticated. The public think of the front line as the police they see on the street. Very often, the public see the front line in police community support officers, who command a great deal of confidence because they are visible. The public see special constables as part of the front line. We pay tribute to our predecessors in government in that the number of special constables has increased from 11,000 to 15,000 over the past four or five years, and we would like to see it increase further. We all recognise that the front line has to include these more specialised and sophisticated areas as well.

Can I be clear: is the Minister saying that the reductions in policing expenditure will not affect the quality and effectiveness of the front line of policing as he has just described it?

That is our aim and intention. We are looking at how far we can reduce costs by reducing reporting requirements, the time spent in the station, and so on. It will be tough, but we will do what we can. That means slashing the bureaucracy that gets in officers’ way. There are a number of reports from Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary; I am sure that noble Lords have seen the two reports on policing in an age of austerity and valuing the police. They show us the direction in which to go. I think the first was commissioned by the previous Government, so I am not being entirely partisan in this respect.

The noble Lord, Lord Condon, introduced me to a phrase with which I was not familiar before—the policing covenant. I am much more familiar with the military covenant. The idea of the policing covenant is very interesting, and I look forward to debating it further. We want a police force that has the confidence of the public and is highly professional but which feels itself to have, in the broadest sense, public confidence. The management of the demonstration yesterday was a good illustration; we all recognise how difficult it is to maintain this balance. I look forward to hearing whatever the noble Lord would like to feed to me on what he has on that very interesting concept.

The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, talked about recruitment and accelerated promotion. Recruitment to the police has been affected by the rising proportion of young people going to university. Many of my children’s friends have gone to university with the intention of joining the police and have then done so as graduates. That is part of the way in which the police themselves are changing.

The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, and the noble Lord, Lord Condon, raised the question of police pay and the report of the Winsor review. This is not an easy issue. The Government are committed to maintaining the current settlement until its completion. After 2011, however, the Government intend that pay across the public sector for civilians should be frozen for two years after the end of the current agreement.

The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, asked about ethnic representation. I am happy to say that there has been, under the previous Government, a gradual increase at all ranks in the number of ethnic minority police. It is now approaching 5 per cent among the professional and warranted officers. Among special constables, who are volunteers, it is now approaching 10 per cent. Similarly, 25 per cent of full-time police are now female, as are a third of specials.

The noble Lord, Lord Condon, raised the concept of a network of policing. I have already said that we see ourselves resisting further police mergers but encouraging closer co-operation in specialised units and the sharing of facilities wherever possible. The Home Office business plan sets out that, with a national crime agency, police forces will be encouraged to network as closely as possible. Collaboration is the way forward.

We all recognise the vital importance of this topic. Domestic order is the basis for a stable democratic society. Public confidence in how the police maintain that public order is vital, and civic engagement with the police is the basis for a stable society. I look forward to many future debates on the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, and on many other aspects of policing. We face a range of future challenges to the maintenance of our borders. I have not mentioned the establishment of a UK police border command, which we will, perhaps, turn to another day. There is the developing use of the internet, with cyberfraud and other matters. There are links to many other themes, such as active citizenship and the greater engagement of the public in taking control of order and anti-social behaviour in their own communities.

We welcome the increase in the number of volunteers from within local communities in recent years. Alongside this, we value enormously the role that professional and highly trained police provide, often in specialised groups, linking across different forces, working through SOCA now and the national crime agency in the future, and working internationally with forces in other states through Europol and Interpol. How best to balance all these competing demands and tasks within a civilian police force is a constant concern to us all. We all appreciate how well our police attempt to do that. We all also understand how difficult a balance it is to strike.

My Lords, I start with an apology to Sir Hugh Orde, whom the noble Lord, Lord Freeman, has reminded me is the president, not the chairman, of ACPO.

When I saw the list of speakers I was rather alarmed by the small number, but the shortage of numbers has been well outweighed by the quality of the expertise and experience that has been brought to the debate. I am most grateful to noble Lords who have taken part. I am also grateful to the Minister for the attention he has given to answering the many questions that were raised in the course of the debate. I beg leave to withdraw the Motion.

Motion withdrawn.