House of Lords
Wednesday, 27 April 2011.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Gloucester.
Lord Turner of Ecchinswell took the oath.
Higher Education: ERASMUS Scheme
To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they will maintain the fee waiver after 2012 for students spending a year of their university degree courses abroad through the ERASMUS scheme; and what plans they have to extend the waiver to students going outside the European Union.
My Lords, the Higher Education Funding Council for England has made the ERASMUS fee waiver available for the 2011-12 academic year for students at English institutions which participate in the ERASMUS programme. No decisions have been made on the fee waiver for future years. An announcement will be made in due course. The ERASMUS programme is limited to exchanges within the European Union and five other countries so the question of extending the fee waiver to students going outside these countries does not arise.
I thank the Minister for that reply and declare an interest as chair of the All-Party Group on Modern Languages. Will the Minister accept that there needs to be more long-term certainty about the fee waiver because the quality and even the survival of modern languages degrees will be threatened if universities cannot afford to offer a year abroad or if only well-off students can afford to take one, even though the experience and skill that they acquire is what employers say they want? Would the Government be prepared to consider a package of measures to encourage linguists and others by increasing the proportion of the fees covered by the waiver by freezing the loan interest during the year abroad and offering financial incentives to universities to run programmes in Europe and world wide?
My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness that there is a need for long-term certainty and I say that as the parent of a child who is about to make decisions about universities as he completes his AS year. Obviously that is something that the Government will do and I hope that colleagues will be able to make a decision as soon as is appropriate. We also understand the point underlying the noble Baroness’s Question about the importance of improving and encouraging the teaching of foreign languages. We are glad that there has been an increase over previous years. Although there has not been an increase in the proportion of the cohort going in, there has been an increase in overall numbers. We will certainly make a decision as soon as possible.
My Lords, we welcome the Government’s support for ERASMUS, but although we have spent £3.1 billion on that programme over six years few of our students take part in it. A significant number of students with disabilities do not get places at all and apprentices in advanced apprenticeships cannot operate there either. Only one in four students who come from a STEM background can get a place on an ERASMUS course. Is it not time that the Minister, in negotiating the new ERASMUS programme, renegotiated the terms of this very useful but ill-focused programme?
My noble friend is right to highlight the importance of the ERASMUS programme. I can give him an assurance that my right honourable friend David Willetts has written recently to the appropriate Commissioner about where ERASMUS should go in the next seven-year cycle. His more detailed points about dealing with disabled students and others is another matter, but we will certainly do what we can to encourage ERASMUS and its development. That is why my right honourable friend has written to the appropriate Commissioner.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware that since the start of this programme in 1987 more than 2 million young people have benefited and for many of them it was the first time they had lived abroad and studied, so it is a cultural phenomenon. If this programme is stopped or curtailed it will be a shattering blow to the Government’s social mobility agenda. Will the noble Lord keep that in mind when making that decision?
My Lords, I agree with virtually everything that the noble Lord said. No one is talking about stopping ERASMUS; we are talking about encouraging the Union to make changes to ERASMUS as it develops. The specific Question about fee waivers is a detailed Question for Her Majesty's Government and one that colleagues in the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills will consider and make the appropriate decision in due course.
My Lords, is the noble Lord aware that the limiting of fee remission to those aged up to 25 studying for a first full level 2 and specified level 3 qualification will negatively impact on disabled people seeking apprenticeships, because they can take rather longer? Will he agree to look at the matter again?
My Lords, again, that would be a matter for the European Union to look at. Again, I will pass that question on to my right honourable friend and I am sure that it is one that he will want to take up with the Commissioner in his further consultations about the future development of ERASMUS.
My Lords, ERASMUS is an important scheme to gain valuable work experience and language skills. Applicants to that scheme are not the only group who would like a fee waiver from 2012, as more than 70 per cent of universities will be charging the maximum fees of £9,000 per year. Has the Minister seen the outcome of the High Fliers Research study published today, which finds that more than half of current final year students would not have gone to university if they had faced fees of £9,000? Given those findings and the consequences to the Exchequer of higher than budgeted fees, how will the Government square extending access with deficit reduction? Is it time for another pause to go to listen to the public?
My Lords, the noble Lord takes us slightly beyond the Question on the Order Paper. We have on a number of occasions debated the whole question of the reforms that we are bringing in; we will have further debates on them in due course, and I look forward to taking part in those debates. This Question is about ERASMUS, which is a much narrower point than the one that the noble Lord is asking about.
My Lords, can my noble friend tell me where the ERASMUS project is physically based, because the European Union Commission, with uncommon felicity, managed to put the EUREKA programme in the Rue Archimède?
Oh dear. I am afraid that I cannot answer my noble friend's question as to where it is physically based. The best answer would probably be that I think that it is based in Brussels, but if it is not I will write to my noble friend to let him know.
Oak Processionary Moth
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to eradicate oak processionary moth.
My Lords, Forest Research has moved from a strategy of eradication to one of containment in the west London outbreak area. Outside this, a protected zone has been declared, within which regular surveys will be conducted to ensure that any new infestations are eradicated.
My Lords, I must declare an interest as a patron of the Friends of Richmond Park. Richmond Park will spend £50,000 or more this year to remove nests of that moth in order that the public can continue to use the park.
The Minister will be aware that the health hazards of the oak processionary moth caterpillar are such that to remove the nests people have to be in full chemical contamination gear, including breathing apparatus. Therefore, he will understand that I am very distressed that the eradication programme has now been set aside. Can he tell us how containment is going to work; and can he give assurances that areas of oak woodland will not have to be closed to the public, as they have been in Holland and Germany, because of the impact of this moth?
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for all she has said. She is quite right in, first, underlining the public health issues and, secondly, underlining the fact that some oak woodland areas might have to be removed from public access, as has happened in other parts of the EU, although we hope that it will not happen here.
The reason we have moved from eradication to containment is based on scientific advice that eradication within the five boroughs in south-west London that the noble Baroness is aware of is not possible. We managed to eradicate the outbreaks in Leeds and Sheffield but we got on to those much earlier. We did not get on to this outbreak, which started in the summer of 2006, early enough and therefore it will be very difficult to get rid of it. However, we are very grateful for all the work being done by Forest Research, Fera and by Kew Gardens, which also has an interest as it is right in the middle of the area.
My Lords, will the Minister confirm that this moth affects other trees as well as oak? In view of the fact that Defra has required the Forestry Commission and Forest Research to reduce their budgets by 25 per cent, with a similar reduction in their staff, is the noble Lord absolutely confident that we have the resources available to tackle this tree-related disease plus the many others that are coming in from overseas at this time?
My Lords, the first point to make is that we do not know that this disease has come from overseas; we do not know where it has come from. Secondly, my advice is that it affects oaks, but I will write to the noble Lord if it affects other trees as well. Thirdly, there is no question of budgetary constraints affecting the fight against this particular menace. I have spoken to the Forestry Commission today and it was perfectly happy to assure me that they had all the resources it needed to fight the problems of the processionary moth. The simple problem is that there are an awful lot of them in a confined area and there are an awful lot of oaks around, and finding all the eggs, larvae and so on is very difficult indeed. Money is not in question.
My Lords, my noble friend in his last supplementary answer said that the Government do not know where this moth originated from. Does he know whether the moth affects oaks in other countries more seriously than it does here?
My Lords, there are bad outbreaks in other countries. My noble friend Lady Kramer referred to the problems in the Netherlands. As I said, we cannot be certain as to how it got into the country. It is as likely as not that it came in from imports via the plant trade, but we simply do not know. We will do what we can to continue the fight, but, as I said, it will be one of containment rather than eradication.
My Lords, the Minister seemed to imply that the moth had not been found because of a lack of surveyance and that it had been in the woods in south London since 2006. Can he assure the House that there will be enough feet on the ground to survey trees generally in the country to ensure that we do not have outbreaks of disease that are so devastating?
My Lords, however many feet we have on the ground, I do not think it would be possible for any government agency to cover the entire country in terms of the number of oaks there are and the number of oak processionary moths that might be processing around the country. All I am saying is that that particular outbreak was discovered in the summer of 2006. The Government moved as quickly as they could, but obviously they could not get on top of it. They managed to get on top of the outbreaks in Leeds and Sheffield and we have found no more two years after the attempt to eradicate them.
My Lords, would my noble friend take note of very recent research which indicates that there is a green health element not just in oak woods but in all our hardwoods? They are uniquely beneficial to many people suffering from psychological and mental ill health. Might this not therefore be an urgent issue that should be addressed more specifically than may be the case at present?
My Lords, that is another question, but I agree that trees are good for us. That is why we want, if possible, to eradicate or contain the oak processionary moth so that our oaks can flourish.
My Lords, at the moment the problem has largely been limited to London, although I echo the concerns of the noble Baroness and the way in which she raised them. I understand that there has also been an outbreak in Pangbourne in Berkshire, which is worrying because of the number of oak trees found in the wider rural area of that part of the country. Can the Minister give us some reassurance that everything is being done to tackle that outbreak? Furthermore, on resources, given that the end of April and the beginning of May is the crucial time of year for effective spraying, can I again ask the Minister to assure us that the resources are available to undertake such spraying work at the present time?
My Lords, of course I am aware of the outbreak in Pangbourne, which took place in 2010. It is too early to say whether we have eradicated the oak processionary moth because we cannot really talk about eradication until we have seen two years without any eggs or larvae around. We will report back in 2012 with the good news on that, if we have it. I shall repeat again what I said before: there are no problems with budgetary constraints in terms of fighting this problem.
My Lords, I doubt if the Minister knows the answer, but I would like to know what we are actually looking out for.
My Lords, one is looking out for a moth. It is called the oak processionary moth that exists on oak trees. It is called the oak processionary moth because it processes up oak trees in a processionary manner, whereupon it does what moths want to do. Being more serious, I should make it clear that Forest Research at the Forestry Commission is offering advice, particularly in the south-west London area, on identification. It is not just our officials and those from the Forestry Commission who will be identifying the moth—we want the public to be able to report on outbreaks as well.
Schools: Curriculum and PSHE Reviews
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what progress they have made with their reviews of the school curriculum and of personal, social and health education.
My Lords, since we launched our review of the national curriculum in January, we have undertaken a call for evidence and are currently analysing the responses. We will announce our proposals on the issues covered by the first phase of the review by early next year. So far as PSHE is concerned, we have been considering the scope and timing of the review announced in the schools White Paper, and we will announce further details shortly.
I thank the Minister for that response and for holding a meeting with me yesterday, which was very useful. Given that parents and children have called for personal, social and health education in the curriculum as part of their life skills education, does the Minister agree that we already have a body of knowledge about this subject and a lot of skills? Is it not time to stop reviewing and to do some implementation?
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the time she gave yesterday to discussing PSHE with me and for the advice she gave to my officials. I hope that she will carry on doing that as the review continues. I know from our meeting how impatient the noble Baroness is to make progress and I agree with her that a lot of information is available. However, we want to hold a proper review and to co-ordinate it with the separate review into the national curriculum that is also going on. But her admonition to get a move on is ringing in my ears.
My Lords, in relation to the co-ordination just mentioned by the Minister, will the Government bear in mind the beneficial effects on children’s achievement in other subjects across the curriculum of high-quality PSHE courses? It gives them the skills with which to learn, as well as the self-confidence, the ability to undertake teamwork and all the other qualities needed in order to become effective learners across the whole of the rest of the curriculum. That is why it is so important that these two reviews are properly linked together.
I agree with my noble friend. I know how knowledgeable and passionate she is in this area, like the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen. I will continue to look to my noble friend’s advice as we go forward on this.
My Lords, are the Government considering including financial literacy as an obligatory element of the national curriculum? It seems to me that it is an essential skill for citizens going forward in this country.
My Lords, generally we are keen to ensure that the national curriculum is as little overloaded as possible because we believe that one should make space in the school day for important subjects such as financial literacy. PSHE would be another good example. That is why we are trying to simplify and reduce the burden of the national curriculum, to leave schools more discretion and time to decide on the subjects they want to teach and the best and most appropriate way to do so, knowing their children.
How much consideration has been given to helping teachers and, therefore, children understand their emotional responses in bereavement, given that we know that 10 per cent of school children are bereaved of either a parent, sibling or close friend and that those who do not have support become victims of bullying and have a higher instance of depression, suicide, alcoholism, teenage pregnancy, and so on?
Again, my Lords, I agree with those points. Part of what one would want to look at in the review is what support children need and therefore what support teachers need to make sure those children have the appropriate knowledge and skills.
My Lords, have the Government considered what effect their policies to introduce free schools and particularly schools of different religious denominations will have on personal and social education, particularly education on sexual and reproductive health?
I am not sure that any of those developments would have an impact in the way that my noble friend implies. The requirements on schools, whether they are free schools, academies or maintained schools, are not changed in any regard by any of the reviews that are currently being carried out.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that once again Michael Gove has jumped the gun by changing the school league tables to reflect the new English Baccalaureate subjects before the curriculum review, which might have recognised the vital importance of PSHE, has been completed?
I do not, my Lords. There are two separate processes at work. The national curriculum review is rightly a process that we are working through to look at which subjects should be in the national curriculum. The English Baccalaureate review was to provide us with a snapshot of what is already going on in schools. The English Baccalaureate is not compulsory in the way that some elements of the national curriculum will be, and they demonstrate different things.
The desire to introduce the English Baccalaureate quickly was driven by our concern that too many children, particularly children from poor backgrounds, are being denied the opportunity to study academically rigorous subjects. I am sure the noble Baroness will know how wide the discrepancy is between children on free school meals and children not on free school meals in terms of their current study of what some people would call rigorous academic subjects. Four per cent of children on free school meals study the English Baccalaureate subjects as opposed to 17 per cent on non-free school meals. I do not think that is acceptable. Highlighting the issue and making people realise that there are these discrepancies will help give children from poor backgrounds, in particular, the opportunity to have academic subjects taught to them, which in turn will help them get into universities, which I know is a goal we all share.
Iraq: Camp Ashraf
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what action they are taking in the light of recent developments in Camp Ashraf.
My Lords, following the unfortunate events on 8 April at Camp Ashraf, Foreign Office Minister Burt released a statement calling on the Government of Iraq to cease violent operations in Camp Ashraf immediately. British embassy officials, including our ambassador in Baghdad, have raised concerns about the incident with the Iraqi President, Prime Minister, Foreign Minister and Minister of Human Rights. We have made it clear to the Iraqi authorities that we deplore any loss of life and have urged them to set up an independent investigation into the incident.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for his Answer, but will he acknowledge that for many years noble Lords in all parts of this House have warned of an impending disaster at Camp Ashraf? Tragically, and in the most brutal way, that has now happened. In the light of the recent slaughter of unarmed civilians by Iraqi forces, is it not clear that Maliki’s word counts for nothing, that he is in hock to Iran and that he is intent on eliminating Ashraf by whatever means? In those circumstances, is it not wholly reprehensible that the Americans have virtually walked by on the other side? Surely there is only one solution remaining: for an international force or UN-mandated body to intervene immediately in Ashraf to provide essential security and much-needed medical assistance.
My Lords, those are some very ambitious demands. Perhaps I should explain to the House that on 8 April Iraqi police and armed forces entered Camp Ashraf, which is an extensive camp in an area that was given to the MEK, or the PMOI—whatever you wish to call it—by Saddam Hussein some 25 years ago, and in the course of that confrontation some 30-plus people were killed and 70-plus people injured. Since then the United Nations Assistance Mission for Iraq has visited the camp, as has a US medical team. We are continuing to discuss with UNAMI and the Iraqi Government what else can be done to assist in this situation.
Is the Minister aware that the Iraqis’ claims that some of the 35 Ashraf residents massacred by Iraqi troops and some of the 350 wounded were shot by the PMOI leadership are totally untrue, and that the interior ministry conducted a search for weapons and explosives at the camp in April last year but found nothing more than 23 decaying empty packets of firecrackers? In the light of this further assault on these defenceless refugees, will the Minister urge the Prime Minister to make a personal phone call to Mr Maliki to demand the immediate withdrawal of his offensive forces, and to ask the UN to take over responsibility for the safety and security of residents and to restore proper access to medical treatment and supplies to those injured in this recent attack?
My Lords, I was not aware of allegations that some of the casualties had been shot by their own side—I simply had not heard that. We recognise that this is a very complicated situation. The Iraqi Government are now the Government of a sovereign state.
They have responsibilities, though.
Of course they have responsibilities, but this is in effect an extraterritorial enclave in Iraq and there are some very large issues. We accept as a Government that, in time, Camp Ashraf should close. The question is how that is negotiated with all sides.
My noble friend will be aware that the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Navi Pillay, has called for a full, impartial and independent inquiry, which you are not going to get from the Iraqi Government. Will my noble friend therefore urge the Foreign Secretary to initiate a resolution in the UN Security Council calling on the Secretary-General to appoint such an inquiry and also demanding that the 1,000 Iraqi troops occupying a third of Camp Ashraf be immediately withdrawn?
My Lords, the fact that Iraqi troops are occupying a third of Camp Ashraf is itself evidence that Camp Ashraf is a very extensive area. As I understand it, that is part of the issue that the Iraqi Government are concerned with—they wish to reduce the area currently occupied by Camp Ashraf. The UN is actively engaged in this. I am told that UN mission members visit Camp Ashraf virtually every week.
My Lords, will the Minister accept that the term “unfortunate circumstance” misleadingly and euphemistically represents what has happened in Camp Ashraf? Does he accept that what happened there was a massacre—wholesale and indiscriminate slaughter? Will the Government consider the need to send a delegation from this House, or from Parliament in general, to Camp Ashraf? Furthermore, will they consider sending Nouri al-Maliki and his Camp Ashraf dispersal committee to court at The Hague?
My Lords, there is a good deal of violence all the way across the Middle East at present, with which the United Nations is actively engaged. I have to reiterate that Iraq is now a sovereign state; that the United Kingdom Government are doing their best to investigate what has happened; that this is a long-standing confrontation going back to the change of government in 2003 in Iraq; and that it is not as simple to resolve as the noble Lord suggests.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, later today we will have the Second Reading of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill. There are 50 speakers signed up to take part in that Second Reading. Subject to progress on the first business today, Third Reading of the Pensions Bill, if Back-Bench contributions on the police Bill were to be kept to approximately six minutes, the House should then be able to rise this evening at around the target rising time of 10 o’clock. This advisory time for Back-Benchers excludes the Minister’s opening of 20 minutes and the Opposition’s opening and winding-up of 15 minutes.
Postal Services Bill
Order of Consideration Motion
That the amendments for the Report stage be marshalled and considered in the following order:
Clauses 1 to 8, Schedule 1, Clauses 9 and 10, Schedule 2, Clauses 11 to 37, Schedule 3, Clauses 38 to 41, Schedule 4, Clauses 42 to 50, Schedule 5, Clause 51, Schedule 6, Clause 52, Schedule 7, Clause 53, Schedule 8, Clauses 54 to 64, Schedule 9, Clauses 65 to 71, Schedules 10 and 11, Clauses 72 to 89, Schedule 12, Clauses 90 and 91.
Pensions Bill [HL]
My Lords, I have it in command from Her Majesty the Queen to acquaint the House that Her Majesty, having been informed of the purport of the Pensions Bill, has consented to place her interests, so far as they are affected by the Bill, at the disposal of Parliament for the purposes of the Bill.
1: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Single tier or universal state pensions
(1) Before the end of June 2016, the Secretary of State must lay before Parliament a report containing an assessment of the consequences of its provisions on any proposals for the introduction of a single tier or universal state pension.
(2) For the avoidance of doubt, this section shall come into force on the day on which this Act is passed.”
My Lords, the amendment in my name would require the Secretary of State to introduce a report on the single state pension by June 2016, before Part 1 of the Bill, which refers to the delay in the state pension age for women, is commenced. I would also ask the House to ignore the word “universal” on this amendment—
I ask that colleagues carry out the normal courteous procedure. Those who are remaining in the Chamber wish to hear from the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis. Could those who are leaving do so rather quietly?
I thank the Chief Whip. The delay in women’s retirement age so that, for the most unfortunate, retirement is delayed by two years, was discussed and determined, narrowly, on Report. No one, I think, was happy about the bunching effect, including the Minister. It is the consequence of insisting, despite the coalition agreeing to the contrary, that the state pension age for women would rise to 66 by 2020. I remind the House that the coalition agreement that women’s state pension age would not begin to rise to 66 until after 2020 was not an election pledge that was broken in the name of coalition dealings and agreement but was part of the post-election coalition agreement from both government parties in the full knowledge of the costs and circumstances. To break that joint, agreed, published, post-election pledge within the year is, in my view, pretty disreputable. However, that is where we now are, regrettably. I hope very much that the other place will try to smooth out the bunching effect, which narrowly this House allowed to continue.
Since Report—I think on the day after—we have had the long-awaited Green Paper on the new single state pension. I am sure that noble Lords greatly welcome it, as I certainly do. It proposes bringing the basic state pension, the state second pension and pension credit into one pool, allowing the payment of a single pension based on national insurance contributions a few pounds above pension credit level. This would both tackle pensioner poverty, especially among women, and encourage saving. Existing accrued rights would be honoured, but possible future accrued rights would be capped in much the same way as when this House decided—rightly, in my view—to replace SERPS with S2P. That mostly capped men’s higher earnings-related pension entitlement with a scheme of more generous redistribution to lower wage earners, mainly women. To me, the Green Paper is very good news, and I congratulate the Minister and his right honourable friend in the other place, Mr Steve Webb, on achieving it in the face of, I suspect, the agnosticism of HMT at best, the scepticism of HMT at least, and the hostility of HMT at worst.
The new single pension is important in a couple of ways. I am raising it now because we did not have the opportunity to raise it on Report, given that the Green Paper just happened to be published the day after Report. There is agreement around the House about the desirability of NEST. It will effectively reintroduce an earnings-related pension, so to speak, to top up the new single pension, performing the same function but in a very different way from the old SERPS. However, as we all know, NEST is risky, particularly for low-earning women. If they do not have a partner at retirement whose pension income lifts them both off pension credit, they find that their savings in NEST are severely depleted by the operation of the pension credit taper. There is no way that someone at 30 can predict whether it is worth saving in NEST if it depends on what partnership and household arrangements they have 30 or 40 years down the line.
Pension credit has done a superb job of tackling the poverty of existing pensioners. It means that pensioners are no more or no less likely to be poor than any other group in society. However, it has added to the risk of future pensioners who seek to avoid poverty by building savings. The single state pension cuts through all of that. It means that your pension income from NEST will depend not on your household but on your own income, which is a far safer, clearer and cleaner path for savers. With a new pension, every penny you normally save in NEST will return to you as your pension. It has built out the risk from saving; it pays to save. That is why, on all sides of the House, we welcome NEST, and I am sure will welcome the new single pension. Hence this amendment.
This amendment seeks to ensure that the new single pension is locked into the pension structure of the future so that NEST in particular is safe. It in no way seeks to reopen an issue that this House has already decided—although I wish we could—on the indecent bunching of women’s state pension age so that some women have to wait two years longer than they could reasonably expect for a state pension to be paid to them. Instead, what the amendment tries to do is to build into the Bill a commitment on the new single pension before the commencement of the accelerated raising of the state pension age, which so many of us in this House deplored on Report. It also seeks to ensure that, at a time when NEST is completing its transitional stage in 2016 and with the 2017 review of NEST in sight, it is securely underpinned by the state platform. Hence, the amendment contains the words “June 2016”. I cannot, even if I wanted to, make the one conditional on the other. In any case, I do not wish to suggest that it is acceptable to delay women’s state pension age because those recipients will get a higher pension from the state. I do not accept any such trade-off. I believe that the Minister is probably unhappy about the bunching as proposed by the Government on the grounds of equity, as a majority in this House probably are. That bunching is simply wrong and unfair, and I hope that the other place will have another go at sorting it out. It is over to them now.
What would be even worse is for women to have their pension age postponed as the Bill currently proposes and then to find that they were still drawing only the existing state pension, with possible vague rights to a state second pension and pension credit very unclear. Under the Companion’s rules, I cannot fully introduce new material, even though this pivotal Green Paper was produced one day after Report so that we could not take it into discussion then. I have had to produce this very mild amendment, which states that the Secretary of State should lay a report on the new state pension before June 2016 changes to state pension retirement age come into effect. It is an attempt, in other words, to ensure that the new single pension does not get kicked into the long grass some time down the line, as I suspect HMT wishes it to be, while the cost-cutting delays to women’s pensions continue on their merry, savage, way, and while saving in the NEST auto-enrolment scheme continues to seem precarious.
I am well aware that a consultation exercise is currently under way and is to be completed in June, and no Government can give a full commitment before that exercise has been completed. However, from my knowledge of those who have been campaigning for such a single state pension over the years, criticism will come primarily from one group and one group only—those who will find themselves excluded from it because they are already pensioners. However, we all hope that, as the economic situation improves, that too may be revisited, perhaps with the older pensioners—those over 80 and 85—enjoying the new single pension along with newcomers into pensions. The two groups over time may meet; I very much hope so.
This is a tidying-up, Third Reading, probing amendment, by which we can take note of the Government’s intentions in this respect, but it is really a chance for the Minister to ensure that the single state pension is locked into the new pensions structure. It will to some extent mitigate the worst effects of bunching, but that still needs to be sorted out in the other place, and it would ensure the safety of NEST. In the hope that the Minister can confirm that, subject to the results of the consultation exercise, it is the secure intention of the Government to proceed down this path, I beg to move.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis of Heigham, on her ingenuity in inserting this into the delicate business of amendments at Third Reading, of which I have, with modesty, rather less experience than her. I also associate myself with the spirit of her intentions in this matter at least in two respects.
First, many of us across the House felt some dissatisfaction or sadness that we were not able to resolve some of the issues of rough justice connected with the bunching of women's pensions. While I appreciate that we cannot reopen that in this House now, that area might repay further consideration. I have seen some correspondence subsequent to our debates on Report which would have suggested, for example, that a minor adjustment in the entitlement for the male pension above the age of 65 might be a way to finance a smoother progression for women without a net cost to the Treasury. I hope that Ministers have not shut their minds to this area, although I appreciate that it is difficult and that there will always be losers as well as gainers. However, it would be inappropriate to go further into that.
Perhaps I would be on more confident and more positive ground in saying, secondly, that I share the noble Baroness's enthusiasm for the single state pension, which I believe would be a considerable social advance. It would help to make pensions and saving for them, including private pensions and NEST, worth while. That must be an objective for us all. It would also be an important advance in simplifying the system. We could not discuss this previously because of the timings of government proposals and I appreciate that pensions' evolution and development is an incremental business. However, I would like to share with the House some considerations which the Minister, even if he does not consent to a formal review—I know that those things are not easy for Ministers to do—may at least wish to ponder in moving through the consultation process on the state second pension and in looking at the interaction with NEST.
With due respect to the noble Baroness, I will not confine my remarks specifically to women's issues because some wider issues are also appropriate to consider. First, it is in the nature of pensions, particularly where they are guaranteed or organised by the state, to reflect long-term commitments. Any mid-term corrective action, even if benignly intended—and this is so—may therefore inevitably subvert arrangements which have already been made. I cite as an example that when we reduced the qualifying years to 30, with a view to trying to do something about women's pensions in the past, it had the converse disadvantage of nullifying the benefits of some individuals who had made contributions above that period in order to safeguard their entitlement, on the rules as they stood and in good faith.
At the same time, if we moved to a single state pension, I would find it personally important to retain an element of the contributory principle. Again, a post-Bill development, as it were, has been the issue of whether there should be some association either of administration or even of coverage between the tax and national insurance systems. Paying for something and getting something back is both morally and prudentially wise, although there is a huge amount of further work to do on that area. There are also potential differential impacts, as the noble Baroness has already touched on, from the change not just on women but for those with interrupted or overlapping working patterns. For example, there are people who have spent time abroad or who may have saved for a private second pension at different times. All that is complicated and requires a good deal of careful thinking through.
At some stage—the Minister can help us by giving some indication of this—we need therefore to take a dispassionate and careful look at all aspects of the proposed changes as they now come out. This should be designed to minimise any retrospective unfairness and to look prospectively to minimise any moral hazard, where people may feel that they lose when they have acted in good faith; but remembering at all times as we do that—and pursue the hard cases, which we must—that there is a grand prize to follow in simplicity and in providing a good platform for additional, personal private saving. That must be our overriding objective.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness on her amendment, which shows us that there are very few people who know as much about pensions as the noble Baroness, Lady Hollis; we recognise her ingenuity, certainly, but above all her knowledge and her belief in getting the right and honourable thing for all pensioners. I too am extremely sad that we were not able to convince this House to amend the proposals affecting those women turning 57 in March and April this year who were going to be required to work an extra two years, a group of women who had far fewer opportunities for flexible working than women have today. I believe that an attempt in the other place will be made to return a more equitable answer to this problem, and I hope that it would be well received in this House. I too support the idea of the single state pension. It would go quite a long way towards a more equitable set-up for both men and women into the future. I would like to end by very much hoping that we will see a better outcome in many respects than we had first thought when looking at this Bill.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Hollis has been an initiator of thinking about, and a passionate advocate of, a single state pension for a number of years. She is truly a leader of the pack on this issue. As she explained, the nature of her amendment this afternoon is simply that it makes a request that the Secretary of State be required to lay a report before Parliament before the end of June 2016, which of course is the start of the timeframe for the acceleration of equalisation of the state pension age under the Bill. That would assess the consequences of the Bill on any proposals for the introduction of such a pension. This does not seem an unreasonable request.
From time to time during our consideration of this Bill, there have been references to proposals for a single-tier pension and the Minister acknowledged this himself at Report, when he referred to being challenged by his noble friend Lord German to say more about the single-tier pension. The Minister duly obliged by referring to a Green Paper, which was due to be published a few days later.
The Green Paper effectively consults on two propositions. One is accelerating the existing reforms so that the state pension evolves into a two-tier flat-rate structure more quickly; and the second, as my noble friend advocates, is a single-tier flat-rate pension set above the level of the pension credit standard minimum guarantee. The Green Paper, incidentally, also consults on proposals for automatically uprating the state pension age, but we are not focusing on that this afternoon. The consultation is just under way and not due to be completed until 24 June 2011. Which option, if any, the current Government wish to pursue may not emerge for a little while, but like all noble Lords who have spoken I will be interested to hear today’s thinking. Indeed, we as a party need to consider the outcome of this consultation, but see the thrust of the benefit of a single-tier flat-rate pension. A number of considerations will doubtless be brought to bear, particularly the voice of the Treasury. I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, who made the point that we need to reflect on these in terms of long-term issues—pensions are about long-term issues—and, I suggest, of the need to drive consensus where we can. The Minister also referred to the contributory principle, and that is very much the same position that my noble friend is in, which is why she prefers the single state pension to a universal pension that would not rely on such provision.
If the proposition emerges that a single-tier pension is to be introduced, it would clearly need primary legislation, and this process would cover the ramifications of existing pension legislation and, doubtless, much else. If legislation does not emerge by 2016, however, notwithstanding the proposal for such a pension, then my noble friend’s amendment would come into play.
How might the Bill have consequences for single-tier pensions? It would be difficult to argue that there will be cost ramifications, because the Green Paper makes it clear that any proposals for a single-tier pension must be cost-neutral—that is, for all the fanfare, there is to be no new money beyond existing allocations. Conversely, it would seem perverse to argue that the manifest unfairness in the changes to the state pension age can be justified as necessary for the introduction of a new state pension system, as no additional funding is to be allowed. The state pension age changes are funding the triple lock but you can spend that money only once.
One of the ramifications of a single-tier pension—this was touched on by my noble friend—is that there could be a significant reduction in means-tested benefits for pensioners, and the demise of the pension credit in particular. This would undermine some of the Government’s argument in the pays-to-save debate. Even though we do not accept the rationale for the trigger in auto-enrolment, the Government’s main justification for the trigger would fall away.
Like my noble friend, I am supportive of the single-tier pension but as things stand we need to understand its full ramifications, the long-term implications and the distribution effect if it is going to be cost-neutral overall. This will doubtless emerge over the next three months in particular.
At points during our debates on the Bill I wondered if some noble Lords were looking for cover or justification for the state pension age changes in the single-tier pension. Whatever the benefits of such a pension—they could be considerable—I doubt whether those noble Lords can get the comfort that they seek for supporting the state pension ages as provided in the Bill at the moment.
I support my noble friend’s amendment. It seeks to achieve something important. In particular, it keeps a focus on the progress of the single state pension, which, if achievable, would be a considerable gain.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the opportunity to spend a little time today on our proposals for reforming the state pension. She has been instrumental, as other noble Lords have pointed out, in the move for better pension provision for those left out of the benefits of the heyday of the occupational pension and the earnings-related state counterpart. The Pensions Act 2007, with its enormous boost for women through the reduction in qualifying years for basic state pension and the increasing coverage of the state second pension, could have been the final push for equal treatment in state provision.
Even that was not good enough, though. In March last year, a week before the 2007 Act started to deliver for women, the noble Baroness launched the pamphlet The New State Pension: A Call to All Parties, which pushed for further radical change. Very skilfully, she got my honourable friend, the Minister responsible, to contribute a chapter to that. It proposed a new type of state pension with a near-universal amount, set above the level of the means test and made affordable by paying the pension to new pensioners only. Her main motivation, as ever, was to deliver an adequate state pension for women who, because of low pay and career breaks, have historically lost out in pension provision.
Just over a year later, the Government published their proposals for improving state provision, A State Pension for the 21st Century. That Green Paper confronts the big issue of how to respond to a decline in private saving at a time of increasing life expectancy. It describes how means-testing, with all the damage that it can do to private saving, pervades the state system. It describes the great complexity of the state system. Bluntly, for most people the system is simply impenetrable. Crucially, it fails to answer the most obvious of all questions from potential private savers: is it worth it? How much will I get from the state when I retire anyway? As importantly, it describes the extent of inequality in the state system—how women, on average, get £40 a week less state pension than men and how they are more likely to live in poverty as pensioners.
The Green Paper describes two options for reform to respond to the challenges that the pension system faces. The first option would simplify the state second pension. It would strip out the earnings-related part of the second pension, leaving just a flat-rate amount—the same pension for all workers and people who are credited into the system for caring and other good reasons. The second, more radical, option would effectively fold the basic and second pensions into one to create a simple single-tier pension, set above the level of the guarantee credit. This option, which is clearly similar to the one that the noble Baroness proposed a little more than a year ago, would mean that by 2020 no less than 90 per cent of pensioners—men and women—would retire on a pension above the guarantee credit.
The Green Paper, as I said, was published earlier this month and the consultation is currently under way. As the noble Baroness appreciates, changes of the magnitude proposed in the Green Paper can be progressed only by listening to the views of all those with an interest. It is far too early in the process for the Government to come to a view on the way ahead, so I cannot give a conclusion to the consultation. I assure the noble Baroness that, should the Government decide to bring forward proposals to reform the state pension system, we would as a matter of course publish a full assessment of impacts, including those on women, alongside any reform proposals.
I remind the House that we published an impact assessment, including a gender, race and disability impact assessment, of our proposals to increase the state pension age first as part of the White Paper setting out our response to the call for evidence and again alongside the publication of the Bill when it first entered Parliament. Those assessments will be further amended and revised as necessary for republication when the Bill enters the Commons and yet again once the Bill has completed its passage through Parliament. I can therefore assure the House that, were the Government to publish a White Paper on reform, we would be no less diligent in providing detailed information on the impacts of any policy changes by gender, ethnicity and a range of other factors. In short, there will be plenty of opportunity for noble Lords, as well as Members of another place, to scrutinise any proposals for reform and their likely impacts, should the Government decide to proceed with reform.
I emphasise that the proposals that we have set out in the Green Paper do not depend on increasing the state pension age. As I said in our debates on Clause 1, the rise in the state pension age must be brought forward because the sharp upward revision in life expectancy projections has overtaken the legislated timetable. The revised timetable would be necessary with or without the reforms on which we are consulting. We have already discussed at some length the impact of our proposed changes to the pension age timetable, in particular on those cohorts of women who face an increase in their pension age of up to two years. A number of noble Lords have emphasised that point and I do not propose to rerun that debate. However, I draw attention to the fact that a key objective of the reforms, alongside simplifying the system and rewarding those who save, is to look at how the state pension could be made fairer for groups, including women.
The noble Baroness’s amendment seeks to ensure that we consider the impact of the state pension age changes in conjunction with our proposals for reforming the state pension scheme. As I said, we are only at the consultation stage on our reform proposals but I can assure the House that although, as I hope I have made clear, these are not interdependent changes, we would undertake such an assessment if these reforms are taken forward. I trust that I have been able to assure noble Lords that the statutory duty that the noble Baroness’s amendment would impose is not necessary and, furthermore, is somewhat premature. We will have many opportunities to debate what to do with any reform proposals as they go through the whole process. I therefore urge the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I thank all those who have taken part around the House, including the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and my noble friend for their warm support for the principle of the amendment. If the comments in this House are anything to go by, the Minister can be assured of the reception that his Green Paper will receive outside the House. I am confident that it will be greeted with warm support.
I very much take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Boswell, that we have to see pensions as part of a structure. However, such a new single state pension is the keystone for any reform not just of state pensions but of occupational pensions that do not generate a savings trap for those on lower earnings. That is why noble Lords all round the House are so delighted to see the possibility of that keystone finally coming into place. The noble Lord said that we should minimise retrospective unfairness and avoid future moral hazard. Those words are well taken; they are wise words for us to absorb.
My noble friend Lord McKenzie is absolutely right that, with the advent of a new single state pension, the issue of the threshold of enrolment into NEST disappears. It does not matter whether you end up with £3,000, £30,000 or £300,000 of savings; you keep the lot if the new single state pension is in place. Therefore, you do not have to legislate to avoid the moral hazard of low-paid women earning less than £7,500 a year going into NEST because their savings may not be worth having, given the effect of pension credit. As NEST will be reviewed in 2017, which many of us are already looking forward to, I very much hope that we shall be able to revisit this issue then as, with the new single pension in place, a threshold of enrolment will simply not be necessary. However modest the savings, they will be worth having and worth encouraging, so that even the poorest of people can go into retirement with a cushion against the adversities of old age.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Freud, for his generous comments on the background to the single pension and to his officials for their work in bringing the Green Paper forward. My only regret is that the Green Paper came too late for Report and that Third Reading has come too early for the results of the consultation. None the less, we are trying to wedge this in between the two. I believe that the new single pension will transform the pension landscape and should receive huge support. I was delighted to hear from the Minister that there was no interdependence between the deferring of the state pension age—in other words, the raising of the state pension age to 66—and the funding or costing of the Green Paper. That is key. It gives me hope that he and his honourable friend Steve Webb will be seeking to smooth the bunching effect whereby some women have a much rougher deal than others. Some wait nearly an extra year for their pensions and some wait for nearly two years. We all recognise that that is—in the words of the noble Lord, Lord Boswell—rough justice. I would go further than that: it is unacceptable. I and, I am sure, the Minister hope that a decent solution can be found to that in the other place.
However, I am, in a way, using the amendment to do what we would have done had the Green Paper been introduced by a Statement, which was not the case. We are delighted to have the Green Paper in place. We wish the consultation good speed. We hope that the results will come through in such a way that the Government are encouraged to go down the path that they should. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Freud, that if he comes forward with such legislation in this House or the other place he will have wide and enthusiastic support. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Clause 10 : Certification that alternative to quality requirement is satisfied
2: Clause 10, page 9, leave out lines 2 to 13 and insert—
““(2A) Alternative requirements must be such that, assuming all jobholders to be active members of schemes to which this section applies, for at least 90% of jobholders—
(a) employer contributions, and(b) total contributions,would be likely to be no less if every scheme satisfied an alternative requirement applicable to it than if every scheme satisfied the relevant quality requirement.(2B) In subsection (2A)—
“alternative requirement” means a requirement prescribed under subsection (2)(b);
“employer contributions”, in relation to an active member of a scheme, means the amount of contributions that have to be paid under the scheme in respect of the member by the employer;
“total contributions”, in relation to an active member of a scheme, means the total amount of contributions that have to be paid under the scheme in respect of the member by the employer and by the member.
(2C) The Secretary of State—
(a) must apply the test in subsection (2A) when regulations under subsection (2)(b) are first made, and(b) must carry out subsequent reviews of whether the test continues to be satisfied.A review under paragraph (b) must be carried out during 2017, and after that each review must be completed no more than three years after the completion of the previous one.””
My Lords, I am pleased to be returning to the topic of certification and even more so to be moving a government amendment that I believe will address the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, and the noble Baroness, Lady Drake. I understand those concerns to be twofold: first, on the scope of the Secretary of State’s powers and, secondly, on the risk of unscrupulous employers manipulating the certification test.
The aims of this amendment are: first, to strengthen the regulatory framework in which the alternative certification model will operate by imposing tougher preconditions before regulations can be introduced; and, secondly, to introduce an ongoing requirement for the Secretary of State to keep the test under review.
At the outset, before publishing any regulations, the Secretary of State must be confident that at least 90 per cent of jobholders will receive the same level of contributions under the certification test that they would have received if their scheme had satisfied the relevant quality requirement. This is more demanding than the previous requirement, which referred to,
“a majority of the individual relevant jobholders”.
In addition, the Secretary of State must periodically review the evidence base of the test. This is expected to involve analysing the dataset from the Annual Survey of Hours and Earnings, known as ASHE. These are the data that underpinned the development of the certification model and other relevant data on the rate of pension contributions required by schemes. This is tougher than the previous test, which relied on a snapshot of the data at the point of publishing regulations. If, as a result of review, we detect undesirable trends in pay and reward packages that suggest that more individuals than expected are receiving lower than minimum contributions, the Secretary of State can intervene to strengthen or repeal the test.
After the publication of the regulations, the review will take place first in 2017 and subsequently at least every three years. The review will form part of our ongoing evaluation strategy. Its publication will be considered in the context of the evaluation of the reforms. The noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, will note that we have pared back the Secretary of State’s power as far as we reasonably can, based on the available evidence. In view of this, I hope that the noble Lord will be reassured that the Secretary of State’s powers are proportionate to the task in hand. For clarity, I should add that the requirements fall to the Secretary of State and not to employers using the test.
The reconfigured regulation-making power aligns more closely with our dataset from the annual survey from ASHE, which we believe to be robust, representative and reliable. Thus, the Secretary of State will be able to deliver the certification model welcomed by employers and key stakeholders at the same time as affording scheme members the appropriate level of protection. A supplementary delegated powers memorandum has been sent to the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee to reflect the tighter constraints on the Secretary of State’s regulation-making power.
I say in conclusion that we have ended up with the outcome broadly envisaged by the amendments that the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, and the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, tabled on Report. I thank both noble Lords for the expertise that they brought to bear on the issue. The Bill has been improved by their intervention and I am grateful for it. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Freud, for his introduction and explanation of the amendment, and for his generous attribution. As he explained, when making regulations about the alternative certification test, the Secretary of State is required now to be satisfied that 90 per cent of individuals eligible for automatic enrolment will receive contributions to the level they would have received had the scheme satisfied the relevant quality requirement. The Secretary of State is required to be so satisfied when regulations are first made and at subsequent reviews. We support the amendments because they represent a significant tightening of the Secretary of State's regulation-making powers.
As we detailed, we support a certification process which gives employers an incentive to retain existing good-quality schemes, provided that it does not undermine the opportunity for relevant employees to benefit from auto-enrolment. We acknowledge that the certification scheme on which the Government are consulting appears already to be drawn within the parameters of the amendment. Perhaps the Minister will update us on that, and in particular on the phasing of employer contributions. Presumably such phasing now will have to be consistent with the amendment. Notwithstanding the constraining of the Secretary of State's powers, we should not lose sight of the fact that the Bill still allows the prospect of up to 10 per cent of jobholders missing out on contributions to which they would otherwise have been entitled.
We stated from the outset that we support the Government and congratulate them on their decision to proceed with auto-enrolment and with NEST. I do so again today. However, we do not do this with unconstrained joy, because a number of provisions in the Bill erode the intended coverage of the arrangements. Some employees might miss out because of the certification process under Clause 10; the three-month waiting period in Clause 6 could reduce an individual's accumulated years of savings by nearly three years; the introduction of the earnings trigger in Clause 5, as currently set, would exclude some 600,000 individuals; and the broad uprating powers in Clause 8 would allow the Government to achieve their aspiration of a trigger of £10,190. As my noble friend Lady Drake pointed out on Report, this would exclude a further 800,000 workers each year, three-quarters of whom would be women.
Collectively, the measures hit the low paid and those working part-time, especially women. They run counter to the overarching objective of auto-enrolment, which is to enable low and moderate earners to save. Should the trigger reach the level of £10,000, the reforms would begin seriously to undermine their original intent. All of this compounds the central unfairness in the Bill, which is the disproportionate way in which women are affected by the raising of the state pension age. As we have had no further comfort from the Minister on this issue today, the parliamentary campaign now moves to the other place.
I conclude by thanking the Minister for the concession that is embodied in the amendment, and his team for their efforts in enabling the matter to be dealt with at Third Reading. They have removed the potential for severe diminution of coverage via the certification process, which is to be welcomed. We look forward to the reviews of how the alternative requirement is working in practice. As this is the last time I will speak on the Bill, I will take the opportunity to thank the Minister for his open approach to handling this important piece of legislation, and the Bill team for the way that they have stepped up to the mark and been helpful to the Opposition as well as to the Minister.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, for that response. He had, as ever, a couple of questions—that is rather a low number for him. I shall do my best to summarise my answers.
On phasing and parameters, I can assure the noble Lord that it does work. Phasing will be consistent with the amendment, which probably does not surprise him. At the moment the figures are comfortably within the parameters, so there is a safety margin. Clearly, if they fall out of those parameters, it will be due to changes that we need to look at. The certification model will be reviewed in 2017 when the phasing of the contributions has ended.
As a result of this amendment the preconditions before the Secretary of State to make regulations will be a better check and balance on his powers due to two factors—that the percentage of job holders that must potentially receive at least minimum contributions is high, at least 90 per cent; and that the strength of the alternative certification requirements will be periodically reviewed. As there might be concern that this will add to the burden on employers, I should repeat for absolute clarity that the requirements fall to the Secretary of State, not to employers, using the test.
Although the government proposal will be more demanding for the Secretary of State, it should maintain the right balance between flexibility for employers and safeguards for individuals. I am very pleased that we have been able to reach common ground on this issue. In my turn, I must commend the close scrutiny to which the Bill as a whole has been subject in your Lordships’ House. The quality of the debate has demonstrated noble Lords’ accomplishment and high level of expertise. Once again, this House has performed its role with the distinction and spirit that are expected from it.
While I have the Floor I must take the opportunity to thank in particular those noble Lords who have made a significant contribution to the Bill’s journey through this House, notably, of course, the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, in his role as opposition spokesman, and the noble Baroness, Lady Drake, for her accomplished performance at the Dispatch Box. I also thank my noble friends Lord German, Lord Stoneham and Lord Boswell, my noble and learned friend Lord Mackay, the noble Baronesses, Lady Greengross, Lady Hollis and Lady Turner, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, for their participation in an active and often challenging debate. Finally, I thank my noble friend Lady Garden for her proficiency in covering a number of clauses in the Bill. I also thank the Bill team, who have supported the Bill throughout this process with the right material at the right time. I am very grateful to them.
The Bill now passes over to the other place, and a number of noble Lords have presaged a little of the activity that they expect to see there on particular matters. I am just grateful to get rid of any prospect of having to look at PUCODIs again.
Let me reiterate the principles of the Bill which I set out on Second Reading, as they are still absolutely applicable. We need a fair, sustainable and balanced system that adequately and accurately reflects the society we live in. Saving for retirement should not be a thought which occurs only when you first spot that grey hair. It should be a process that begins when you enter the labour market as an adult and continues over the years. The Bill does just that while not losing sight of the key tenet of providing a decent income for the individual in retirement.
Amendment 2 agreed.
A privilege amendment was made.
Bill passed and sent to the Commons.
Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill
That the Bill be read a second time.
My Lords, at its heart, the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill reflects the coalition's determination to transfer power away from Whitehall and return it to communities and professionals. Both parties of this coalition Government support the democratic reform of police authorities. Our chosen model of reform—to make the police more accountable through oversight by a directly elected individual who will be subject to strict checks and balances by locally elected representatives—was expressly set out in the coalition agreement. In taking forward this reform, we will swap bureaucratic control for democratic accountability, replacing police authorities with directly elected commissioners in all forces in England and Wales, save for the City of London, which is an exception.
Some have argued that there is a need to delay these reforms. We do not agree. These reforms cannot wait. We do not have the luxury of delaying change when HMIC, the inspectorate, concluded in its policing in austerity report that only four police authorities inspected by it were judged to have performed well in both setting strategic direction and ensuring value for money for their police force. Effective performance in both these functions is essential. Given the state of public finances in this country, it is also urgent. Moreover, the accountability of the police should be to the people and not, as it has increasingly become, towards Whitehall. I shall return to that later in my remarks.
The second fundamental principle to policing in this country is operational independence: freedom from political interference. I am aware that some in this House have been concerned that in altering the arrangements for the governance of the police, this principle, which the Government regard as sacrosanct, might be impaired. There is no necessary connection, but as this is a matter of such importance to us all in this House, I intend to deal with it straight away.
It is important to note that under the Police Act 1996, chief constables had direction and control over their forces and that they continue to do so under Clause 2. Moreover, under the Bill, they will be constituted as corporations sole and will have greater powers than now to appoint their immediate subordinates. To reassure those who remain anxious about the issue of operational independence, the Policing Minister undertook during debate in the other place to develop a protocol in consultation with ACPO, the Association of Police Authorities and the Association of Police Authority Chief Executives, setting out the distinct roles and powers of Ministers, chief constables, PCCs and other bodies in the new policing landscape. That work is well under way and the aim is to have the draft available for this House at Committee stage.
As noble Lords will be well aware, our reforms of the ways in which the police are held to account are the most comprehensive for 50 years. We have not made the changes lightly; nor, as I indicated, have we ignored feedback on ways in which our proposals could be improved. We are grateful for the input from ACPO, the Association of Police Authorities and the Association of Police Authority Chief Executives, as well as individual forces and all those who submitted evidence to the Bill Committee.
Our discussions with stakeholders have helped us better to ensure that the Bill achieves the commitment in the coalition agreement to have proper checks and balances in place. I should like to say a word on this aspect.
An argument has been put forward that police and crime panels do not offer real checks and balances in relation to police and crime commissioners and that they are toothless, but this is far from the case. We expect the relationship between the PCC and the PCP to be as constructive and cooperative as possible. However, we are giving the PCPs the means to ensure, in the event of disagreement, that police and crime commissioners exercise their democratic mandates in ways that are proportionate, effective and reasonable. Their scrutiny powers include a veto, by a three-quarters majority, over the police and crime commissioner’s proposed precept and his proposed candidate for chief constable; the ability to ask HMIC for a professional view when the police and crime commissioner intends to dismiss a chief constable; the right to review the draft police and crime plan and make reports and/or recommendations to the police and crime commissioner who must have regard to them; the ability to require the police and crime commissioners to attend the panel to answer questions; the duty to appoint an acting police and crime commissioner where the police and crime commissioner is incapacitated, resigns or is disqualified; and responsibility for all complaints about a police and crime commissioner, although serious issues must be passed to the IPCC.
Those are teeth, and they will be strong safeguards against the fears of some in the House that police and crime commissioners will act irresponsibly in office. The Government believe that the people of this country can be trusted to use the power of the ballot box wisely but we are nevertheless putting backstops in place. I should mention here that, elections apart, the running costs of police and crime commissioners will be cost-neutral. The elections themselves will cost no more than £50 million—not £100 million, and not £200 million, as has been put about. We have put all our costings on the web so that all can see how we have arrived at these figures.
I should like to spend a few minutes discussing each of the five areas in the Bill. The first is police and crime commissioners, about which there is little more to be said. Their introduction will focus policing on what local people want, not what national Governments think they want. Work has already begun to enhance accountability across communities in England and Wales through providing access to detailed street-level crime and antisocial behaviour data. This has generated extraordinary interest in the public and counters the argument that through PCCs we are assuming a level of public interest that is not there to drive the model. On the contrary, this shows that the interest is present and requires stimulation.
At the same time, there are key national and international responsibilities in policing to which the PCCs must make strong contributions. To ensure this the national Government, who will refocus their role away from micromanaging local policing towards exercising a better grip on key national issues, have a proper role to play.
The Bill provides for the Home Secretary to issue a strategic policing requirement that will inform the way in which police and crime commissioners work with their chief officers to deliver their forces’ national and international responsibilities. There will be strong duties on them to manage national threats, including through collaboration.
We are determined that when these reforms begin, the transition from the existing system to the new regime is as smooth and as painless as possible for police forces and communities. To this end the Policing Minister is personally chairing a transition board made up of all the relevant partners and charged with delivering a programme of 12 projects to ensure that there is an effective and seamless transition to the regime of police and crime commissioners.
Finally, I want to clarify the position in Wales. The Government have respected the will of the Assembly and amended the Bill to remove the police and crime panels from local government structures and establish them as free-standing bodies, but we have done so without sacrificing the public scrutiny powers and using locally elected representatives. In the Government’s view, it is not in the interests of the people of Wales to have a different governance and scrutiny structure for their forces when policing is reserved to Westminster and to the Home Secretary. There cannot be two tiers of governance for a police service whose officers and assets so regularly cross the regional boundary between England and Wales in pursuit of making our communities safer and tackling crime.
I turn now to alcohol licensing. As I have already said, the Bill will give power back to local communities in policing, and it will do the same for licensing decisions. Alcohol-fuelled crime and disorder is estimated to cost the taxpayer over £8 billion per year, and last year there were nearly 1 million alcohol-related violent crimes. That is a good deal too many. The Bill will address these issues. Last summer, we consulted on plans to overhaul the Licensing Act 2003. We received over 1,000 responses, which are reflected in these clauses of the Bill.
The Bill will allow early morning restriction orders to be extended to any time between midnight and 6 am. It will give licensing authorities the power to take swift action to tackle problem premises without having to wait for a relevant representation from a responsible authority, and it will lower the evidential hurdle for licensing authorities to make it easier for them to refuse or revoke licences held by irresponsible retailers. It will allow anyone, anywhere to make representations concerning a licensing decision, regardless of vicinity to a premises. It will double the maximum fine for underage sales of alcohol to £20,000. It will allow local councils to charge a late night levy on licensed premises that remain open after midnight to help pay for late night policing and other services such as taxi marshals and street wardens. But let me make it clear that premises that close before the levy takes effect will not have to pay.
Following an amendment in the other place, the Bill includes a provision to introduce locally set licensing fees so that the costs of licensing authorities, in discharging their duties under the Licensing Act, can be fully recovered. All of these measures show that we are committed to tackling alcohol-related crime and disorder by giving more powers to local areas.
The Government are clear that no one person or group of persons should take over Parliament Square to the detriment of others. The Bill contains a tough but proportionate package of measures to prevent encampments, to deal with disruptive activity and to give the police the necessary powers so that the space can be enjoyed by all. It will also restore the right to peaceful protest around Parliament by repealing Sections 132 to 138 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. It will thus deal with encampments not by restricting protest, but by prohibiting the erection and use of tents, structures, sleeping equipment and the unauthorised use of loudhailers in Parliament Square.
I turn now to drug abuse. The Bill provides powers to crack down on the damage caused by so-called “legal highs”. Many of us will be aware of the growing concern about the availability, use and potential harm that they pose. The existing arrangements for bringing a drug under control using the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 remain our preferred approach. The power in the Bill to make year-long temporary class drug orders will allow us to take swift action temporarily to ban harmful substances which have been specifically developed to get round existing drugs legislation. There will be no possession offence for a temporary-class drug. We do not wish to criminalise anyone, particularly young people, while the harms of a drug are being fully assessed. We have listened to the representations of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs and those made in the other place and we have made an amendment to the Bill to consult the ACMD before invoking a temporary order on a statutory footing. The Bill also allows the Home Secretary to make an order on the recommendation of the advisory council since the council is able to provide advice of its own volition. This underlines the Government’s continued commitment to independent, expert, evidence-based advice.
Finally, the Bill makes reasonable changes to the procedures for obtaining an arrest warrant for universal jurisdiction offences. Universal jurisdiction is a key principle of international justice. It enables some of the gravest offences to be prosecuted in the UK, regardless of where they have been committed. The Government believe that the requirement to seek the agreement of the Director of Public Prosecutions that a case has a realistic chance of success is a fair and proportionate measure to ensure that arrest warrants are issued in a responsible fashion. The Bill is a package of measures, carefully balanced to tackle problems in our society through restoring power to communities and professionals where it belongs. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for introducing the Bill. I warmly anticipate the maiden speeches of the noble Baronesses, Lady Newlove and Lady Berridge, and the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra.
The police in this country play a vital role in underpinning our democracy. We have a long and proud tradition of tolerant policing which is by consent of the British people and which is free of political partisanship. That has always characterised the tripartite arrangement between the Home Secretary, the police authority and the chief constable of every force—a balance between operational independence, local accountability and national strategic direction.
I believe that all this is at risk through the Bill, which will lead to the politicisation of our police forces, conflict and confusion between the respective roles of the elected police commissioner and the police constable, a marginalisation of local government and a loss of public confidence. The Government have in no way sought to mitigate these risks by the publication of a Green Paper, by pre-legislative scrutiny or even in a modest way through risk assessment by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary. Indeed, the Government have no mandate for this proposal, no evidence base and precious little support from either the police or the public.
I find little to convince in what the noble Baroness has said to us this afternoon. She argues that the police reform was needed because the current governance arrangements were not working and police forces looked too much upwards to the Home Office. I agree with her that police authorities do not exactly make front-page news all the time, but why should they? When the public think about policing and about how crime is to be tackled, their focus is not on glossy leaflets or grandstanding by the chairman of the police authority but on the force and the chief constable, as it rightly ought to be.
Of course we should always be working to improve the relationship between the police and the local community. The way to do it, surely, is to enhance the arrangements through neighbourhood policing, which the last Government introduced so successfully. We did it in a way that respected the independence of the police from direct political interference and ensured broad-based accountability to the police authority across the whole of a police area.
As for Home Office targets, which, by implication, the noble Baroness is criticising, targets can be intrusive but the House should be in no doubt that they had a hugely positive impact on efforts to reduce crime. That was surely graphically illustrated by the BCS figures on violent crime of a 50 per cent reduction from its peak in 1995 to 2009-10. The noble Baroness was rather silent on that.
The noble Baroness talked about the transfer of powers to local government, but I hope that this is not a signal of the Government’s intention to absolve themselves of responsibility for the crime figures and from the draconian cuts now taking place in police budgets. She said that the cost of these elections would be only £50 million, but I think that the public would rather that that money was spent on front-line policing.
What does the noble Baroness have to say to Jessica de Grazia, New York’s former chief assistant district attorney, who came over here and said that elected police commissioners in England and Wales would damage public faith in the legal system? She added:
“There is always a risk of police corruption, but there is both a higher risk and incidence when you place the police directly under the control of an elected politician”.
Does the noble Baroness understand that putting in the place of a low-profile group of members of a police authority a full-time politician with a party label seeking to justify a well-paid position is a fundamental change that risks overturning a 170-year tradition of independence? Does she really suggest that, under the current provisions of the Bill, the police commissioner will not seek to involve himself or herself in operational matters? How can that be denied when the elected police commissioner can direct police priorities, hire and fire chief constables and take on political advisers to do his or her bidding? I fear for the operational independence of chief constables and I fear for the consequences of national policing requirements. What does the noble Baroness have to say to Assistant Commissioner Yates, who in a speech only five days ago to a counterterrorism conference said that elected police chiefs would face difficulties in trying to reconcile national counterterrorism demands with,
“local and more immediately obvious crime priorities”?
We have been promised a memorandum of understanding on the relationship between the elected commissioner and the chief constable. I hope that we can see that soon, but I doubt its effectiveness given the levers that the elected commissioners will have over the chief constables. Nothing short of statutory guidelines will do.
I would have more confidence if the proposed police and crime panels had more teeth. The noble Baroness talked about strong checks and balances and said that the panels were not toothless, but the Bill contains a power of veto in only two circumstances—the precept and the appointment of chief constables. For such a veto to operate, 75 per cent of the panel have to vote in favour. Noble Lords should remember that the elected police commissioner will carry a political banner into that role. Seventy-five per cent is a higher threshold than Her Majesty’s Government propose for the Dissolution of Parliament. Indeed, the hurdle is so high that it may never be used. In itself, that gives rise to grave doubts about the influence that the panels will have. As we go into Committee, we shall certainly propose to strengthen the powers of these panels to hold the elected commissioner to account.
I make it clear that we are resolutely opposed to the principle of the Bill as it relates to the police commissioners. I believe that at the very least we should ensure that the Government have to satisfy three tests before the Bill is enacted. First, her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary should undertake an assessment of the impact of these proposals and the Act should not be commenced until that has been considered. Secondly, the proposals should have support among the local community. We propose that a referendum should be held in each police area before a police commissioner can be introduced. We are, after all, in the middle of a rather riveting—at least on this side of the House—referendum and we will shortly debate the Localism Bill, which promises referenda up and down the country. If the Government think that a referendum is important in relation to mayors of cities, why on earth is it not important in relation to the police service and local police forces? If you ask the public which they thought was more important, I suspect that many would say the effectiveness of our police forces. I do not understand why the public are not being given a say in that matter. The third test that I would apply is for the scheme to be piloted. Why not pilot this in two or three areas for, say, three years, evaluate it and then consider the scheme’s general introduction? I certainly hope that these tests will find favour in your Lordships’ House.
There are of course other items in the Bill. The Opposition support extra licensing powers to enable local communities and the police to keep public order. We are sympathetic to temporary banning orders for drugs offences, as proposed in the Bill, but we will probe strongly the future role and membership of the advisory committee. We believe that the law on universal jurisdiction should be changed to address the problem where private citizens can secure an arrest warrant even when there is no evidence for, or prospect of, a prosecution. However, I also reiterate the Opposition’s strong belief in the importance of universal jurisdiction. We will certainly scrutinise the details effectively.
In conclusion, I return to the proposals on the police. The political independence of the police is, I believe, as important to us and our democracy as the independence of the courts. I have no doubt that a single politically motivated police and crime commissioner will make it increasingly difficult to ensure that that political independence is maintained. I strongly urge the Government to think again.
My Lords, I do not know whether being bathed in sunshine is some sort of endorsement of what I am about to say. Not for the first time in my 20 years in this House, I would not have chosen to start from here. “Here” is a Bill that has passed through the Commons—we are not the House with the democratic mandate—that will provide a new injection of democracy into how England and Wales do policing. Who are we to deny democracy? It is, as regards police and crime commissioners, part of an agreed coalition programme for government, and, in my book, agreements are things that you honour. I will try to uphold the best traditions of this House: constructive criticism and amendments, not to wreck but to improve what comes before us.
I have to say that I have never been much of a fan of personality politics or the transfer of celebrity culture into complex holistic subjects such as government and the governance of complex organisations. We will all have our concerns about who may want to become police and crime commissioners: undoubtedly party politicians and also candidates with simplistic—or I could say, extreme—views. Many of us will have been guilty, at least by association, of arguing that putting a police officer on every street corner will solve every problem. Will we get commissioners and candidates prepared to convince the electorate that policing and budgeting for policing needs to be far more sophisticated, and to say that, for instance, it is not a good idea to divert resources disproportionately from what is less visible to groups who shout louder than others?
The debate around the new model started from accountability and the question of who was responsible for what. Knowing what is operational when you see it is not a substitute for trying to define it. I look forward to the protocol. It is important that both the players and Parliament see a resolution to this issue before the Bill progresses.
The underlying philosophy of the new governance model is accountability. The police and crime panels have the statutory task of reviewing and scrutinising commissioners. That means bringing information into the public domain, exploring it and sometimes checking it. The Minister tells us that the panels will have teeth; clearly we have to explore this. I do not believe that the powers, as drafted, are adequate to provide the checks and balances required by the new framework. The term “veto” seems a misnomer. The threshold for a vote against the precept is high, and it relates only to the precept, not to the budget as a whole, nor to its component parts. The powers to secure the appearance of individuals to answer questions in public and to secure information are limited. Moreover, I am concerned that the panels will not be as representative as we would like. A small number of people would cover some large and very diverse areas; and then, of course, there is Wales.
My noble friend Lady Doocey I am sure will talk about London. Having lived through the legislation creating the GLA and having spent some years as an Assembly member and chair, I am quite clear that London should not be regarded as a testing ground for the rest of England and Wales. It is not an exemplar. The arrangements have been good in part but not perfect, and it is very different from other areas. London is also very different from New York, which is often cited, even if you disagree with Jessica de Grazia. Just one difference is the city council in New York, which is a very powerful check on the mayor. So let us judge the plans for England and Wales on their own merits.
Part 1 of the Bill is largely about governance, but I will apply the “Social Responsibility” of the Bill’s Title to it as well. Policing is within a structural framework but it is about people. I hope that we can build on the welcome references to victims, to extending the input of victims, survivors and the voluntary organisations that support them. They have a lot to contribute in addressing the need, for instance, for co-ordinated child protection, as well as in helping victims of human trafficking, rape and the other appalling things that go on in our not always very nice society.
I will not take up more of the House’s time today on the policing part of the Bill, except to say that this Bill is about public service reform and constitutional experiment. Is it not sensible to make sure that we—I stress “we”—get it right? I believe that we are most likely to do that if we pilot the model, evaluate it, assess what aspects of it require review, learn and produce the best, even if it takes a little longer. No doubt it will be a relief to us all when we reach Part 2 of the Bill.
I welcome reducing the burden on local authorities with respect to licensing. The changes in 2003 giving local authorities a new role seemed appropriate then. However, I recall concerns about their operation. We will have to see whether this Bill, as I think it does, gets closer to the right balance of interests between those who want to enjoy various events and activities and those who may be adversely affected. Local authorities are responsible towards both. I do not dismiss the concerns of the trade about, for instance, needing stability and certainty. The late-night levy seems to me to be overly bureaucratic and insufficiently targeted, I question the 70/30 split, and I do not think the balance is quite right as regards conditions on temporary event notices. To those who argue against having some restrictions and that individual licensees are responsible, I say that they may be responsible, their premises may be well run, but they cannot control behaviour outside. I live quite near a pub, and my vocabulary has been increased by what I hear under my bedroom window some nights.
I share the concern of many of your Lordships that drugs misuse needs to be regarded as a broad social and public health issue. We must not let tinkering with the existing legal framework distract us from the need for clear new thinking.
The last pages of the Bill pack in a lot of content. On arrest warrants, my noble friend Lord Alderdice made what I think was a very wise observation from his experience. Does this country not want to be thought of as somewhere people from opposing—indeed, warring—sides can meet to seek progress in resolving their differences?
There is a good deal to say on the subject of Parliament Square. I would prefer as far as possible to rely on the public order provisions, which are of general application. Parliament Square is never going to be the best place for sandwiches and sunbathing while it is simply a medium-sized traffic island, and it does us no harm to be faced with protests every day.
That is enough from me now. In a constructive spirit—because truly I mean that it will be—I and my colleagues will, I am afraid, take quite a lot of the time of the House at the next stage.
My Lords, I begin by declaring an interest. In common with a small number of noble Lords speaking today, I served as a police officer for a long period—in my case, 35 years, with 10 as a chief officer. I shall have some other interests to declare later on.
I rise to my feet with a heavy heart. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has just said, the main measures in the Bill are seen by both parties in the coalition as manifesto commitments in principle. They have been passed by major majorities in the other place and seem likely, whatever happens in this House, to become law in their essentials. I am concerned with only one part of this Bill—the election of police and crime commissioners and what will flow from that change. This idea is quite simply the most lamentable provision about policing that I have ever encountered. The idea is an unintended changeling—a potential cuckoo in the nest of policing. It will set back 60 years of progress towards the establishment of the operational independence of the police, which is the jewel in the crown of British policing and its most important contribution to the rule of law in this country, with unforeseeable consequences.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary, to the noble Baroness and the policing Minister for recently taking the trouble to see me. However, while they listened, their speeches as reported in the other place and as heard today indicate that they did not agree with the concerns that I expressed. I told them that the Government had the right diagnosis but completely the wrong remedy. Despite the honourable service of those noble Lords here who served on them, it is true that police authorities are little known by the public. However, the cure proposed by this lack of public profile is worse than the disease. To replace police authorities with a single, directly elected person is to introduce a foreign species into an indigenous environment without knowing what the impact will be.
Some 20 years ago, after the Bookbinder case in the early 1990s in Derbyshire, a Conservative Government introduced independent members to police authorities in the Police and Magistrates' Courts Act 1994, precisely to limit improper political interference in policing. I believe that that independence is crucial, which is why I told the previous Labour Administration while commissioner that I could not support fully elected police authorities. It seems strange to me that a Government 20 years later should completely reverse their position.
The proposal is based largely on the American model of police governance. There are a reputed 17,000 law enforcement agencies in the United States. I recently visited Martha’s Vineyard, which is about half the size of the Isle of Wight. There are six police forces on that island, the largest of which in Edgartown has 26 officers. The chief holds office at the pleasure of the town mayor; the people of the town know him, know the officers and love the arrangements—but they also know that these officers serve only their small community and that if anything happens beyond the force’s capability, which it quite regularly does, in will step the Massachusetts state police, then the FBI, then the Department of Homeland Security and then one of the many other federal organisations. If, after a suitable inquiry of some sort, the Government had proposed breaking back policing to local towns and communities in this community, that would have been logical, but there is little logic in replicating the arrangements for Edgartown with one person representing the interests of electors in all of Worcestershire, Herefordshire and Shropshire.
Neither of those points are my main objection, which lies in the relationship between the elected commissioner and the chief constable. Here, I must declare my second interest as the only former police chief in your Lordships’ House who knows what it is to serve under a person who is acting like an American mayor. For that reason, I hope that your Lordships will excuse me if I exceed the advisory limit by a minute—that is all it will be.
The Government have laid much emphasis on a proposed protocol concerning the relationship between the chief constable and the elected commissioner, which may or may not be statutory. The Greater London Authority Act currently contains specific statutory provisions for the processes which should be followed in the removal or the suspension of the Commissioner of Scotland Yard. However, the present mayor of London, acting as chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority—he having assumed that office the day before, after a change in legislation—did not choose to use those processes. He merely told me that he would arrange a public vote of no confidence at the next authority meeting, which I would lose. I could have said, in terms, “So what?”, as the commissioner is appointed by the Home Secretary. However, I could see that that would have put my force at war with its own authority and damage the service of which I was a steward. When I saw her, the then Home Secretary could see that as well. We were also aware by the next day that news media had already been enquiring about my resignation. There was no time for recourse to the processes laid out in the legislation because the stable door had been thrown open and the horse had bolted. A pretty similar situation arose in the subsequent case of Assistant Commissioner Robert Quick.
This Bill contains similar, detailed clauses and schedules on the removal of a chief officer. There may indeed be an additional semi-statutory protocol in future, but neither will help a chief officer in the face of an elected commissioner determined to get rid of him or her or, as sometimes happens in the United States—I know that the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, will acknowledge this—of a proposed mayor who campaigns on getting rid of the current chief constable or bringing in another named individual. Politicians appoint and dismiss for political reasons, as they do everything else. How many times will a chief constable go on arguing with a man or woman who can replace him or her for reasons other than proven incompetence or misconduct? How often will the police chief insist on his or her operational duty to deal with national and regional crime, rather than the local issues on which the commissioner has been elected? How robust will the police chief be in examining allegations concerning a friend of the commissioner? Finally, what bright young man or woman will put their pension at risk of such capricious termination by becoming a chief constable? This, as one American police chief put it to me, will introduce into Britain the weakest link in US policing. No protocol or clauses in legislation will stop this possibility.
I said that I have a heavy heart. I have been approached by Members on different sides of the House to support or suggest amendments to the Bill. With the deepest regret, I do not expect to be doing so. That probable decision is because I believe that this provision is simply wrong in principle. No amendment to the powers of the police and crime panel, to the protocol or to any other provision, however wisely suggested by Members of your Lordships’ House, will prevent the significant damage that this measure will do to British policing, probably irrevocably.
In closing, I must declare another interest: the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, who was my history teacher at school. Of course, I bow to his knowledge of politics as well as of history. I accept that many elected commissioners will be men and women of integrity, although some may not, yet they will all be politicians. This is what the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said in the other place in a debate in November 2008 on a Private Member’s Bill seeking to introduce elected police commissioners:
“To politicise the police in the way that has been suggested”—
then there was an interruption. He continued:
“Of course it would politicise the police; people would stand for election on party tickets and for populist policies. Frankly, the Bill is a prescription for anarchy and disaster, and I cannot support it”.—[Official Report, Commons, 11/11/08; col. 640.]
Neither can I.
My Lords, Her Majesty’s Government are rightly concerned about the level of public confidence in policing, which is part of the general crisis of disillusionment with political life and public institutions. Clearly it must be right in principle to seek to reconnect the public with the prevention and detection of crime and the preservation of public safety. However, as we all know, doing this effectively and appropriately is not so easy. The current tripartite system of police governance provides a careful balance of responsibilities and powers involving the Home Secretary, chief constables and police authorities, though it must be admitted that it is rather opaque to the public. The Government’s solution to the so-called democratic deficit is, as we have heard, the direct election of police and crime commissioners, in an attempt both to release energy for change and to improve communication and accountability. However, this is not without its problems, as we have been hearing. Several of us on these Benches have been made aware of the concerns of our local chief constables on this score.
I think it was Aristotle who identified three types of government: monarchy, oligarchy and democracy. Any system of governance is likely to incorporate the roles of the individual, the representative group and the people. There is wisdom in subjecting an individual to the scrutiny of a group of people with varied backgrounds and expertise, as the system of chief officers and police authorities does. Like others, I wonder whether setting up another individual police and crime commissioner to monitor a force and its chief does not in some respects narrow the potential for scrutiny, and create the potential for personality clashes and, worse, the intrusion of politics with a small “p”—and as we have been warned, even a capital “P”—into the relationship. Furthermore, by concentrating so much power in the office of the commissioner, does it not risk the possibility of police governance being hijacked by individuals or groups with a sinister agenda, particularly as a result of elections with a low turnout?
This may sound like an argument against democracy itself, but current concerns about the legitimacy of the AV referendum result suggest that we need to be aware of these practical problems when setting up a new system of direct election. I appreciate that the Government have sought to meet these anxieties by providing for the creation of police and crime panels, but despite the noble Baroness’s assurance, there is doubt about whether the panels have sufficient powers to hold the commissioner to account, particularly in the crucial business of the appointment, suspension and removal of chief constables. Police authorities are not perhaps as dispensable as the Government suppose.
A second major area of concern is the preservation of the operational independence of the police, which is one of the cornerstones of our system. It is agreed that policy must be democratically decided, but that operations must not be under the direction and control of politicians. As discussions in another place have shown, the difficulty lies in determining the meaning of operational independence. As a minimum, it must cover individual decisions to arrest and question, but clearly it involves much more. I can see the objections to a general definition of independence, which neither the Government nor ACPO wants. I therefore welcome the announcement in Committee that the Government would draw up a code of practice, setting out the respective roles of the Home Secretary, chief constables and—if we must have them—police and crime commissioners. However, in these matters, the devil is in the detail, and I hope your Lordships’ House will have at least some information about that detail during our discussions.
I close with some brief remarks on the licensing reforms in Part 2. Experience seems to show that the Licensing Act 2003 did not deal adequately with the public order and health problems arising from excessive alcohol consumption. In some respects, it made it more difficult to tackle them. I broadly support the proposals to rebalance licensing procedures to allow the concerns of local authorities and local communities to be voiced and taken into account. This must be part of a broader range of measures to reduce alcohol abuse and challenge the culture of excessive drinking. The proposals, in this respect, are nevertheless timely and welcome.
My Lords, I speak in support of the Bill. In the interests of brevity, I shall confine my remarks to Part 1. It is hardly surprising that I should be in support of Part 1 since I can claim a modest share in the paternity of that proposal. The proposal for elected police commissioners was in the 2005 general election manifesto of the Conservative Party, which I had the honour to lead at the time. I appreciate that that claim, judging by the speeches that we have heard so far, is not likely to endear me to all of your Lordships, but nevertheless that is the case.
At least that claim enables me to rebut conclusively one of the observations made by the noble Lord, Lord Blair: this proposal does not originate in any attempt to emulate some model transported across the Atlantic from the United States of America. Rather, it is designed to remedy a weakness in the present arrangements in this country. That weakness can be summarised in one question: what is the name of the chairman of your police authority? That is the question to which, if you ask the ordinary man and woman in the street, not one in a thousand would be able to give you the right answer; indeed, most of the people you asked would not have the faintest idea what you were talking about. Your Lordships will have noticed that I posed the question in terms of the chairman of the authority. If you ask the man or woman in the street the names of the members of the authority, you would have an even more minuscule response.
Would the noble Lord be able to guess how many members of the public out of a hundred would know the name of the present Police Minister? Is that then an argument for the Police Minister to be directly elected?
Not at all. The whole point, as I am about to explain, is that the reason why this single question contains the nub of the case for change is that police authorities should be the means by which citizens hold their local police force to account. That is the point of police authorities, and the anonymity of those authorities is an insuperable obstacle to the achievement of that objective. The point of Part 1 of the Bill is to sweep away that obstacle to provide the basis for true accountability.
The election of the police and crime commissioner will attract a great deal of attention. I would not go so far as to say that everyone in the local community will know the name of the commissioner when he or she has been elected; after all, not everyone knows the name of their Member of Parliament, nor does everyone know the name of the Prime Minister. However, a large number of people would know the name of the commissioner, many more than know the name of the chairman of the police authority. That would provide the transparency that is necessary—this proposal is about transparency—if the holding to account of the police is to become more meaningful, more effective and much better understood by those on whose behalf that accountability is being exercised.
This, however, is a big change, and I recognise that inevitably it gives rise to some concerns. There is a concern that the change will have an impact on the operation and independence of the police, and I accept that it is essential that that operational independence is preserved. As has been pointed out, though, the language in the Bill, which provides that the chief constable has direction and control over his force and officers, is identical to the language in existing legislation. The Government intend to publish a protocol, which I understand they hope to have available by the commencement of the Committee stage in this House. As the right reverend Prelate said, the devil is in the detail, and it is right that that protocol should be exposed to great scrutiny by this House in Committee, as I am sure that it will be. However, I do not accept the view of the noble Lord, Lord Blair, that chief constables, with the command that they have too of access to the media, the ability that they have too to put their case, will be so pusillanimous as to give way to any police and crime commissioner who oversteps the mark.
There are other concerns, including that someone dangerous or wholly unsuitable might be elected. I think it was Benjamin Disraeli, among no doubt many others, who said, “Trust the people”. That is not a bad watchword. With great respect, we in this House should be particularly cautious about casting doubt on that watchword. As my successor as Home Secretary, Mr Jack Straw, put it—admittedly in a different context—in an excellent article in yesterday’s Times:
“There is a patrician tendency among the British political elite that asserts that some issues are too serious to be informed by the vulgar instincts of the common people”.
It is a tendency that we in this House should particularly guard against. His words were, as I say, in a different context; he was criticising some of the policies of the current Lord Chancellor and Justice Secretary—criticisms that I wholly share. I assure your Lordships that I am not invariably a supporter of all the policies of the Government. However, his words are equally apposite when applied to those who distrust the electoral process that the Bill would put in place.
The provisions of the Bill are consistent with the localism that is such an important part of the coalition Government’s approach. They create transparency, which is also at the heart of that approach, and so essential if true accountability is to be asserted. There are many points of important detail that will certainly merit careful attention and scrutiny on the part of this House. I wholeheartedly support Part 1 of the Bill and I commend it to your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a police pensioner with 34 years’ service in the Metropolitan Police. I, too, will concentrate on Clause 1, which concerns the appointment of elected police commissioners. I confess that I have particular difficulty in understanding how a single individual can be expected to represent all the variety of local communities in a police area the size of, for example, the West Midlands or Thames Valley. However, there are more fundamental objections to this plan.
First, there is the very simplistic idea, often held by politicians, that elections are always a guarantee of democratic accountability. My experience of helping to monitor some 14 or 15 elections in countries of the old Soviet empire has shown that the mechanics of voting—now generally efficiently performed—have little to do with democratic accountability, which is much more dependent on a free and open media and a neutral police service that does not serve the sectional interests of politicians. I am puzzled, moreover, by the provenance of this idea that an elected politician should have direct control of a police force. The Home Office has always been irritated by the independence of chief constables, but to turn 43 forces over to the control of 43 politicians will only increase diversity and disparity between individual forces. We will no longer have a common standard of policing in this country.
It is also possible that the germ of the idea was drawn from the United States. That country, as we have heard, has about 17,000 separate forces, some of which are excellent. However, others have more examples of racism and brutality than we have seen in this country. Moreover, the crime rate has been declining both in this country and in America but, nevertheless, there were almost as many murders in New York last year as we had in the whole country. Therefore, I do not think it is an example to be followed.
Secondly, in this country we have had nearly 200 years of a tradition of a police service that is independent of political direction. Before Robert Peel managed to get the Metropolitan Police Act through Parliament in 1829, he had made previous attempts to establish a professional police service. These attempts were rejected by Parliament on the grounds that the whole concept of police was a foreign—specifically, French—idea, which would lead to a police state with a police service acting as a tool of government.
My own direct experience of the police service being used as a tool of government came most vividly during the miners’ strike. I was a commander at New Scotland Yard at the time and for a few months was responsible for the police co-ordinating centre that organised the transfer of large numbers of police officers around the country. Every morning someone came from the Cabinet Office for a situation report. I was horrified by their attitude, which was that this was some sort of war game and that the mining communities were the enemy. There was no understanding of the damage that was being done to police and public relationships in those areas.
I would also like to draw on my experience as a chief superintendent at Chiswick and Brentford. The division of Chiswick and Brentford has two very distinct parts, as many of your Lordships who are familiar with London will know. It is a large and diverse community but is inevitably biased in favour of those who are most powerful and most middle class. Chiswick is a leafy suburb of London with riverside communities, low-rise houses and a well-to-do middle-class constituency. Brentford in contrast has two high-rise council estates and a football ground. No part of the division was a high-crime area but the majority of the thefts, graffiti, harassment of Asian shopkeepers and rowdyism and two of the three murders that we had during my three years there were in the Brentford half of the ground. Nevertheless—this is the point of the anecdote—all the pressure that I had from the local community came regularly from the middle-class inhabitants of Chiswick. They wanted a considerable police presence—as someone said earlier, a policeman on every corner—to prevent commuters using their leafy streets as rat-runs. I had difficulty persuading them that there were more serious problems elsewhere in the division. I fear that a single politician representing a particular constituency would be similarly biased in directing what a chief constable did.
In many ways the police service is already highly accountable, and not just to police authorities. There is always intense media interest in all aspects of policing, whether crime detection, civil emergencies or the manner in which public order is maintained. The current widespread debate throughout the country about the tactics of police in dealing with demonstrations is an example of this scrutiny. There are great dangers in having police commissioners, who would inevitably represent a single political party and who would have such power over a chief constable, being able to set a budget and appoint and sack a chief constable. To claim that that individual represents the whole community would inevitably impact on operational policing. It is naive to assume otherwise. We have had 200 years of a police service that is admired throughout the world. It would be a tragedy to destroy it now.
My Lords, I will be speaking on Part 1. I begin by declaring my interests. For more than 20 years I was a member of the North Yorkshire Police Authority and was for eight years its chair. I was also a vice-chair of the Association of Police Authorities and am currently a vice-president of the association.
I want to outline a number of areas in the Bill about which I have concern; other noble Lords have indicated them. However, I begin by absolutely agreeing with the Home Secretary when she says that she does not want to run the police. What a refreshing statement that was after years of micromanaging the imposition of targets into almost every aspect of policing by former Home Secretaries. Sadly, though, this is where my praise has to end. The proposals in the Bill are unacceptable in their present form. Making one individual, instead of the present 17 or 19, responsible for oversight of policing makes the argument about politicisation and partiality very real indeed. At best, the proposal is likely to undermine the confidence of minority communities and, at worst, could introduce a real threat of corruption into policing.
Will a police and crime commissioner be able to resist pressure from one community over another, as we have just heard from the noble Baroness, if the ballot box has shown support from one of those communities but not the other? Will the PCC not feel the need to ensure that those who voted get the best service; and might those who did not vote be disregarded? What happens if the PCC is unable to fulfil his or her duties? Almost certainly, the PCC will be male, white and middle-aged. Who will deputise for that person? The Bill states that they should be a member of the PCC’s staff, but they are expressly required by the Bill to be non-political. I believe strongly that that role should be undertaken by a member of the police and crime panel, otherwise the PCC could have a wholly unelected person running things in their absence, who may have to make some very political decisions such as what precept to set.
There are serious questions to be asked about how the PCC will ensure diversity in his or her team, or how, indeed, diversity will be assured within the police force—making sure that the police reflect the communities they serve. I question how one person can give confidence to minority communities, and how the vast experience of the 17 or 19 members at present on police authorities can be harnessed. Who might fill the skills gap that they leave behind?
An erroneous argument has been put forward that police authorities have been weak and invisible, yet not one—I repeat, not one—authority has failed the recent inspection of authorities undertaken by HMIC. This compares very favourably with other public sector bodies, of which a minority routinely fail inspections. There has been a massive decrease in crime and a continued rise in public confidence in policing over the past few years, so I simply do not understand what is broken about the current system that needs fixing.
The argument about police authorities being invisible is probably made because they spend their money on policing, not on themselves. Police authorities have been lean and mean in order that front-line policing should not be diminished in any way. Indeed, they do the opposite of what is proposed. Personalising the role of police scrutineer, making it high profile and “visible”, will cost a great deal more than at present, as well as set up the possibility of conflict between the chief constable and the PCC over who exactly runs the police.
Talking of costs, calculations have been made about the setting up of this untested and untried scheme. The Police Minister, as we have heard, suggests that it will cost only what present police authorities cost now, plus the costs of elections—£50 million every four years. Independent analysis suggests that the reforms will cost a minimum of £453 million over five years, which is a conservative estimate. That is already £100 million more than the entire cost of running police authorities over the same period. Incidentally, that represents the equivalent cost of 600 police officers. I question whether that is good value for money in an age of austerity.
There is provision in the Bill for payment to panel members, but where will that money come from? If central government is paying for the PCC and his or her office, it must also pay for the panel’s office—the members and their staff—otherwise this whole exercise is deeply flawed and completely unfair, and proper scrutiny cannot take place. I hope there is no suggestion that these panels will be paid for out of hard pressed local government funds. That would be ironic indeed, and would take away local representation with one hand, and make it pay more for less involvement with another. The present structure of police authorities, with some variation of membership and perhaps size, would be far preferable to these proposals.
We will debate many other issues during the passage of the Bill, including the timing of the reforms. Hosting the Olympic Games will be the most challenging project that the police in this country have ever faced. The front-loading of the proposed cuts to police funding will have begun to bite. Reforms to police pay and conditions of service will have started to be implemented. One can imagine the effect of that on an already demoralised and unhappy police service. The stability and resilience of forces will be at their lowest. Whatever one's view of the desirability of police reform, this is absolutely the wrong time to do it.
This is a real mess, done without proper thought or consideration of the wider policing landscape. Dramatic constitutional reforms are being proposed without support from the public. A recent poll indicated that only 15 per cent of people want them. We should produce a consolidated Bill covering all national policing issues rather than taking this piecemeal approach. The current Bill predicates some of what might be in a future policing Bill. At a very risky time for policing in this country, we should test these proposals before bringing them in across the country. Only then will we know if these extraordinary, costly and radical reforms are genuinely wanted by the people of England and Wales.
My Lords, I will confine my remarks to Part 1 of the Bill. I declare a past interest: some 43 years ago I was appointed a Minister in the Home Office responsible on a day-to-day basis for policing. When I look back at that period, it seems almost a distant pre-incarnation.
The central reality that one should regard as a template for all matters that one considers in the context of the police is that the police service represents two things. In the first instance it represents a disciplined service with a disciplined hierarchy. In that regard, it has much in common with the armed services. However, unlike the armed services, the police force comes into daily contact with the citizens of this land. The idea of a disciplined force is central, because it raises the question of whether a civil commissar can overlook any part of the functions of a disciplined force. The second point, which is equally valid, concerns the force’s independence. The independence of the police is as crucial to the rule of law as the independence of the judiciary. Any tampering with those twin pillars—the disciplined hierarchy and the independence of the police—jeopardises the future of the police service. Whatever the temptation may be to pander to any whim, caprice or populist trend, it must be resisted.
The Government’s case has not been made in the slightest. Three cases have been put forward. The matter was debated in the other place on 13 December last year. I will not quote the exact words of the Home Secretary; they appear in col. 707 of Hansard. She gave as the main reason for the reforms the fact that the police had failed the public when it came to curbing crime. We heard nothing of that today—and understandably so. As the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, reminded us—the figures are slightly broader than those that he mentioned—from 1994 to the present, under successive Governments, the spectacular fact is that crime has fallen by almost 50 per cent. That is a huge diminution. Therefore, obviously, the main plank of the Home Secretary’s case disappears there and then.
Today we are told by the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, that there has to be a transfer of authority from the Home Office—from Whitehall—to local bodies. Nothing of that is proposed in the Bill. Indeed, one could well argue that the police panels would be utterly without identity, as compared with the police authority. We heard from the former Home Secretary, the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne, whose main case was that people do not know the name of the chairman of the police authority. I do not suppose that those people know the name of the Lord Chief Justice, the Master of the Rolls or the head of the Family Division, but one does not impose a civil commissar on them.
Is the noble Lord suggesting that the Lord Chief Justice or the Master of the Rolls exercises some local accountability on behalf of the community? That is the difference between the two. Surely that difference must be apparent to the noble Lord.
I see no difference whatever between an ignorance that is shared by a small community in relation to a local matter and an ignorance that is shared by a large community in relation to exactly the same issue. That is my argument.
How many local people know the names of those who sit on the Bench?
That is the case and it illustrates how completely the Government’s case is shattered. The problem is not what has been identified but the solutions that are now proposed. They are disastrous. The idea of introducing a civil commissar, for that is what it will be, into this situation will jeopardise the future of the police service—the best police service in the world. It is a police service whose development we have been very proud of over the last 175 years.
I have no doubt that police commissioners will come in every size and shape, but they will have one thing in common: they will nearly all have been espoused by political parties. The election of an independent will be rather exceptional, yet in all those cases they will have one thing in common. There will be no need for any of them to have the slightest qualification or the slightest knowledge of policing—no more than the man in the moon. How can that bring about a diminution in crime? How can it bring about greater accountability? Anyone would think that our police officers were not accountable, but they are not a gendarmerie or a corps d’élite. Every police officer from the lowest in the land up to the chief constable is answerable to criminal law. Since 1964, every chief constable has been answerable for the actions of his or her officers.
There are massive dangers here. There can be no question of honouring the boundary that separates operational from non-operational matters. It is a shadowy boundary at best and in practice it is impossibly difficult. Imagine a commissioner saying to the chief constable, “I believe we are spending too much money on covert operations—on surveillance—and I want to know what they are”, and the chief constable says, “I can’t possibly tell you”. How then can the commissioner evaluate the division between some areas of expenditure and others?
I shall finish by saying that I believe that the Home Office has served the police badly over the past 12 months in failing to preserve the police budget. Of course, there is a case for an across-the-board sacrifice, but it was rightly decided by the Government that that sacrifice should not apply to hospitals or schools and that in relation to the armed services it should be reduced to 8 per cent. In the case of the police service, the Inspectorate of Constabulary made it clear that the diminution limited to 12 per cent would mean that no front-line cuts would be necessary. But that is not what was agreed. The diminution was set at 20 per cent and top-loaded to apply in the main in the first two years. That is a double jeopardy to which the police have been exposed: first, in the failure to preserve their minimum budget for efficiency; and, secondly, in the proposal for this utterly madcap scheme.
My Lords, I wish to address two points: first, the matter of Parliament Square; and, secondly, the matter of police commissioners. However, before that, following the example of the noble Lord, Lord Elystan-Morgan, I wish to make one foray into generalities. I do not speak as a police expert, as your Lordships will know, but I believe that we need a police covenant in this country to parallel the military covenant, when that is finally formalised and published, as the Government have undertaken to do.
This excellent Bill, making provision for the administration and governance of police forces, will in the end be effective only if we move successfully back towards a new settlement in the public mind about the police, who do a difficult and dangerous job, sometimes getting killed at home in the civilian front line exactly as do our servicemen and servicewomen in their front lines abroad. We seem to have gone from Dixon of Dock Green to the idea that the police are somehow devils in uniform in just about a generation, as we also seem to have lost that intrinsic British balance between the right to a quiet life and the right to demonstrate.
We saw that not too far from my West Country home near Bristol on Good Friday, with crowds wishing to express their displeasure at a particular supermarket chain morphing from retail nimbys into stone, then bottle, then firebomb-throwing yobs in an instant, injuring police heads and breaking teeth with abandon. A nanosecond later, out came the usual suspects to blame the police for it all, locally and nationally—for violence, for pushing too hard, for using the wrong tactics, for being too heavy-handed or too light-handed, for kettling or not kettling enough. Strange how in fiction the police are often alleged in times of difficulty to go out to round up the usual suspects—no need for that on Good Friday, because the usual suspects were out in numbers, often on autopilot, coming out to speak for anarchist, community, liberal or human rights groups, blaming the police for all the ills of the demonstrations that took place.
I think that we are very lucky to have the police that we have and believe that we need to find ways both nationally and locally to formalise a covenant with them. That is something that we need to think about in government and that chief constables and the new police commissioners will need to do.
That generality explored, I turn to Parliament Square, where we have seen, and I have witnessed, violent and unreasonable protests leading to injuries to the police and an appalling misdirection of police effort and resources away from fighting crime in other parts of the capital. Knowledge that there is going to be another demonstration in Parliament Square outside the Palace of Westminster is a much welcomed burglars’ charter to those in that trade who want to operate in our outer boroughs, so I applaud the action that my noble friend is taking with the Government to strengthen our powers in Parliament Square to remove nuisances and to try to prevent them from happening there in the future.
I have looked with interest at the map of Parliament Square, published as an annexe to the Explanatory Notes. Having had some interesting maps in an earlier professional manifestation, I studied this map with care. Sadly, it lacks the traditional indication of where true north lies. The map is produced by the Greater London Authority, so I suppose that we can fairly blame Mr Mayor for that failing, unlike some of what I think were rather unfair criticisms made by the noble Lord, Lord Blair of Boughton—he is not in his place, but I hope that one or two of his noble friends will draw my remarks to his attention. Also, there is not much detail at the edges of the map; there is terra incognita. The ancients, drawing their maps cartographically in the old days, had this problem. They used to run out of knowledge of what was at the edge of their maps, so they would put, “Here lie dragons, here lie monsters, here lie supporters of AV”, or whatever else.
We need some reassurance that the police with their new powers over Parliament Square will be able to act with the same determination in the matter of the pavements immediately opposite Parliament Square, for fear that there may be displacement activity and that those people removed from Parliament Square may move to Bridge Street, St Margaret Street or Great George Street—new betented encampments may spring up by the displacement of activity in Parliament Square almost as traditional as morris dancing to the streets around the margins. That is the one question that I would ask the Minister to think about letting me know the answer to, in future if not tonight.
Thirdly, lastly and briefly, I, too, am prepared to come out and be unpopular. I declare myself as very much in favour of police and crime commissioners. Indeed, had I not made the pledge to dear Lady Patten, I would have thought it an appealing post to stand for, but I do not think that I shall. The problems for police commissioners are excellent and interesting and I predict that, after all the huffing and puffing that has suddenly erupted in your Lordships’ Chamber, unlike in another place, such commissioners will very quickly become part of our civic warp and weft. It is important for people to have the opportunity truly to recommend local views and to be truly accountable to local people. The Government’s plans for police commissioners chime with the new, or at least reborn, Tory localism, meeting the honourable Liberal Democrat localism, which I thought was well established until I heard some Liberal Democrat views of dissent this evening. This is an excellent Bill and it has my strong support.
My Lords, I, too, declare an interest as a former president of the Police Superintendents’ Association of England and Wales. The history of the police in this country throughout their relatively short life has been one of those rollercoaster rides of success and acclaim, with periods of crisis and threats of reform. I once wrote a brief history of the association and I was struck by the cyclical recurrence of the crises, with morale and pay dropping off and politicians setting up committees and inquiries to remedy the problems—from Desborough at the beginning of the century, through the Oaksey committee and the Willink commission to the much lauded Lord Edmund-Davies inquiry, set up by the then Home Secretary, the late Lord Merlyn-Rees in 1978, followed by the controversial Sheehy inquiry in the early 1990s, which I am delighted to say the noble Lord, Lord Howard, stamped on after the disastrous stewardship of the now Justice Secretary Ken Clarke.
The police service has been examined exhaustively throughout these years, and from my experience I can say that morale at the present time is at an all-time low. The police are different from other workers and play an important part in our democracy. What singles them out from other employees? First, there is the importance of the job itself. No civilised society can function without the enforcement of the law and the maintenance of order in a way that is acceptable to the populace. Secondly, there is the statutory prohibition of industrial action as a bargaining chip. It is extremely important, therefore, that Governments treat their police officers honourably and do not lose sight of the point. This is probably the culminant to which the noble Lord, Lord Patten, referred.
This is an important Bill that contains many important provisions. In the short time available, I intend to deal with one particular aspect that, as other noble Lords have mentioned, has caused great concern. I come to the debate with 35 years’ service in the police service but also 12 years in your Lordships’ House, and no proposed change to policing has caused me more concern than this particular Bill.
By popular acclaim, the United Kingdom sets the gold standard for policing in that we police by popular consent, and much to the surprise of foreign visitors the police are largely unarmed. I have lived through many reforming Home Secretaries from all parties, but for all the changes that have been advocated, and in some cases achieved, none previously tried to get the police involved in politics. The strength of the British policing model is the operational impartiality and independence of the police, and this was achieved after many scandals. Some noble Lords will remember the old rotten watch committee system of the 1950s that led to the undue influence of petty politicians on operational matters, and in some cases directly to police corruption.
The trick is to have an operationally impartial and independent police service that is also truly accountable. I believe that this was achieved with the development of the modern tripartite system of governance, with the chief constable working with the police committee and the Home Office. He is accountable locally to the public he polices through the guidance of elected members of the police authorities and to some extent through elected MPs, who can question the Home Secretary. The same Home Secretary, of course, exercises governance on national issues such as organised crime and terrorism. The chief constable of a force is also accountable to the local community through a plethora of consultation mechanisms in his police area, and of course ultimately he is accountable to the law through the courts.
Many years ago, as a superintendent, I spent some months with the FBI. I got to know a number of police chiefs and county sheriffs in the United States. It became obvious to me quite soon that the appointed town police chief was totally beholden to the elected town politician, who had the power to hire and fire. If the politician wanted the police to target a particular problem, which might be to his electoral advantage, he would not hesitate to interfere. In my experience, it was a foolhardy police chief who challenged his political master. If your job depends on it, you will by nature be reluctant to risk saying, “This is my operational decision, not yours”. Noble Lords live in the real world, and that is common sense.
With the sheriff, who is directly elected, it is in a sense worse. He is generally elected on a local ticket that deals with real problems in his area. That is fine as far as it goes, but it reduces his interest in regional problems and even more so in the national scene. The worrying thing is that he could be elected almost on a single issue, and sometimes is. All his deputies are appointed by him, and my experience was of them leaving for the weekend to canvass for the sheriff when he was due for re-election. They had to; their jobs depended on it. I found that bringing raw politics into this arena can lead to corruption.
In Britain, the constable’s oath of office emphasises a duty to impartiality and accountability to the law. We should be careful not to undermine his ability to honour his oath by creating a greater duty to support an elected politician’s chosen priorities. The existing police authorities provide balance and moderation coupled with community checks and balances. It is invaluable for the chief officer to have access to such a range of community views in the whole of his geographical area, provided by a mix of people who are both appointed and elected. The big worry with the present Bill is that all this power and influence is placed on one elected police and crime commissioner. In many cases, the constituency of a PCC will be greater than that of any elected Member of the House of Commons. Some will have populations of over 1 million, cover over 20 parliamentary constituencies and five local authorities. In my judgment of local accountability, a single individual cannot possibly hope to have the same level of representation as a police authority. This creates a less inclusive form of police governance.
High-level police corruption in the United States is very great compared with Britain. In my view, that is influenced by the politicisation of the police. This is an error in the Bill. It has not been justified by any evidence from Ministers, and it puts the police service at great risk of being dragged into politics. There is still time to change, and the coalition Government should be big enough to recognise this by not enacting provisions that they will live to regret.
My Lords, on 25 November last in a debate initiated by the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, I set out my views on the proposed reforms as they concern police commissioners. I want to make it clear that what I say today has no origins in the recent discord within the coalition. I am seeking not to destroy the Bill but to have its contents more carefully considered.
I was a member of a police authority for about 12 years, and I was a member when my noble friend Lord Howard of Lympne introduced the last major reform, that of introducing independent members into police authorities. That improved the quality of the police authorities beyond measure by increasing their independence and bringing in more women and members of the ethnic minorities. Perhaps I may say that there was then much less politicking. There were no group meetings before police authority meetings.
I have asked myself why people serve in the House of Lords. Are we here for our experience or our wisdom? I make no claims to wisdom, but I have experience of working with a large number of chief constables, and I have never heard any of them discuss party politics. I suggest that this legislation has not been thought through. It will politicise the police, so it needs to be piloted to establish whether it is likely to have the intended effect, whether there are any unintended consequences, and whether the costs have been assessed accurately. Going back to three remarks that have been made by noble Lords, if the Licensing Bill 2003 had been put through a process of piloting, would we now be dealing with problems of alcoholism and disorder in our city centres? We are doing so now because the then Government rammed that Bill through without carefully thinking about the consequences.
I give notice that I shall move an amendment to provide for a pilot scheme to be conducted in a single county area outside London, and that at a later stage of the passage of the Bill I intend to press it to a Division. Sometimes the House of Lords must ask the other place to think again and again. I hope that noble Lords on all sides will support this attempt to construct a much better piece of legislation than we have been presented with.
My Lords, I declare my registered interests. As a former police commissioner I am a life member of ACPO, and more recently I am the deputy chairman of a security solutions plc that provides outsourced services to the criminal justice system.
The election of over 40 new and inexperienced police and crime commissioners would be a challenging experiment in the best of times. But these are not the best of times. They are the most difficult times for policing for perhaps over 50 years. Police force budgets have been cut by over 20 per cent for the next four years. These understandable but nevertheless draconian reductions are leading to significant reductions in the number of police officers and civilian support staff. Police officers’ pay and conditions are being managed down, again for understandable reasons but with severe collateral damage to police morale. These events are being played out against a background of potential civil unrest and strikes over government spending cuts, while in the international arena we see increasing uncertainty, which could lead to more acts of terrorism in the United Kingdom.
I believe the Government have a very strong duty to set out a compelling case for how their proposals for elected police and crime commissioners will maintain, or hopefully enhance, the accountability and performance of the police service locally, nationally and when necessary internationally. Like other noble Lords, I believe that certain principles should be enshrined in the new arrangements. First, as others have said, nothing should be done to jeopardise the operational independence of the police service or to damage the historic office of constable, both of which have been enshrined in our policing arrangements since the formation of the Metropolitan Police in 1829. This operational independence is the cornerstone of the legacy of British policing, which has been, and continues to be, admired throughout the free world. I look forward to the promised protocol on how the operational independence will be preserved. It has been promised on several occasions. It is long overdue and I find it bizarre that at this stage of a Bill we are being asked, almost as an act of faith, to believe that a protocol will at some stage resolve this issue.
The second principle I would encourage is that police and crime commissioners are part of a joined-up, integrated policing network and not a patchwork of disjointed local forces. In the modern world a small incident in, say, Bristol, Birmingham or Bradford can quickly lead to issues that have national or international dimensions. We have yet to hear from the Government a persuasive, detailed account of how regional, national and international policing matters will be dealt with. The proposals for a national crime agency are still not sufficiently fleshed out to give complete reassurance that organised crime, terrorism and other major issues will be dealt with properly against the background of over 40 new, inexperienced, elected police and crime commissioners seeking to ensure their re-election on very localised policing issues. Again, I find it bizarre that, as an act of faith, we must believe that at some stage we will be told how these national arrangements will pan out.
The third principle I would argue for is that, against the background of the most difficult set of police budgets in living memory, the new arrangements must not add significant costs and levels of bureaucracy to a system that is already overburdened with form filling, red tape and endless meetings. Take Kent, for example—a county I know well. I had the honour of being chief constable there, and it has always had a good reputation for local government and policing. At the moment there is a county council with a great interest in police and public safety partnerships, the police authority and the chief constable. Under the proposed new arrangements, the county council will still have a real interest and role in the safety of its citizens, the police authority will undergo a form of metamorphosis and will emerge in a different shape as the police and crime panel, and the chief constable will remain in place.
From May 2012, the newly elected police and crime commissioner for Kent will be added to the process. He, or she, will need administrative support to do the job properly. He will need professional financial and personnel support if he is going to discharge his responsibilities for the budget and the policing plan, to hire and if necessary fire the chief constable, and all the other responsibilities that go with the post. Either he will have to be superhuman and omnicompetent or he will need significant support. The boundary management issues as all these key stakeholders learn the new rules of engagement of policing a county like Kent will, I believe, lead to several new senior posts to make it work. Otherwise, the police and crime commissioner will be a superficial role that adds little to the policing landscape. The Government have costed the elections of the PCCs, but I am not aware of costings for accommodation, staffing requirements and all the other infrastructures to make this proposal work. I just do not believe that these proposals can be cost-neutral. Even three to four new senior posts per county outside London will add significant costs to policing.
The fourth principle is that, against the background of the most dramatic reductions in police budgets that any serving police officer has experienced, the new arrangements for very localised policing must not prevent the savings from economies of scale that sensible procurement demands. Savings in the procurement of equipment, technology and services are best achieved through national, or at the very least regional, arrangements. The private sector, in which I have already declared an interest, will more readily offer up savings to larger-sized buyers of their products and services than deal with over 40 individual police forces. The new arrangements must encourage, if not compel, collaborative endeavours to procure goods and services and provide real value for money.
I am not, in principle, against the proposal for police and crime commissioners. The Government have the right and indeed the duty to test and improve the current arrangements for police governance and accountability. I believe I earned my credentials to say this when I was commissioner of police. I came into office when the Home Secretary of the day was the police authority for the Metropolitan Police. I believe there was a democratic deficit in the policing arrangements for London, and I argued strongly for a police authority for the Met with stronger links to London and Londoners and supported and embraced the creation of the Metropolitan Police Committee, which evolved into the Metropolitan Police Authority. I believe that the Metropolitan Police Authority has added great value to the people of London and the policing of the capital.
If and when we have elected police and crime commissioners, let them respect and build on the legacy of the historic office of constable and the operational independence of the police service. Let them be part of a clearly understood, integrated network of policing locally, nationally and internationally so that local uniformed patrolling complements and does not compete with the needs to deal with organised crime and terrorism, which will always transcend local force boundaries. And let us not allow the new police and crime commissioners to add layers of cost and bureaucracy to a system that already groans under the cumulative red tape and form filling that have blighted policing in recent years.
I hope the Minister and the Government will, during the passage of this Bill, reassure your Lordships that the proposals for the new police and crime commissioners will enhance rather than undermine the performance of the current policing arrangements.
My Lords, “Rutland is too large a place” was the response to my tentative request to Garter to be connected to the county of my birth. Has England’s smallest historic county ever been so flattered? I think not. However, I happily settled on the Vale of Catmose, as it was the name of my comprehensive school, and in the time I have today I hope to live up to Rutland’s motto, “Much in Little”.
Joining your Lordships’ House caused me to reflect on the input of so many teachers, friends and mentors, without whom I am sure I would not be here today. The uninitiated like me needed teachers to speak of a place they called Oxbridge, and after Rutland, Cambridge seemed a huge metropolis. To be closer than 20 miles to a cinema was, to my mind, positively cosmopolitan. To be corrected, however, that it was no coincidence that our law lecturer and the textbook author had the same name opened up a world of learning I never could have dreamt of.
Before law studies lay a gap year in Ghana, a country I have now known for over 20 years, a land of gold, cocoa, stable democracy and world-renowned politicians such as Kofi Annan. But I lived as a lone white face among a million people in the last days of communicating by thin blue airmail paper. The novelty of being so obvious and treated as somehow special soon wore off and I longed for anonymity, privacy and the perceived safety of not being different from everyone else.
Unfortunately, at Cambridge I required the excellent services of Addenbrooke’s Hospital, so my final year was deferred. Not to be outdone, I did voluntary work in the beautiful twin island state of Trinidad and Tobago while my contemporaries did their finals. Trinidad is the major Caribbean economy and I was surprised to find that it had a population which was then approximately 40 per cent black and 40 Asian. I had studied GCSE and A-level history, but was only then beginning to learn the tragic and utterly courageous stories behind much black migration around the globe. Trinidad is a peaceful and prosperous society, but not without complexities from its colonial past.
Upon completion of my law degree there were nine wonderful years as a barrister in Kings Chambers, Manchester, after which I moved to the truly cosmopolitan city of London. I came to direct the CCF—not the Combined Cadet Force but the Conservative Christian Fellowship—a great organisation, but at that time lacking in denominational and ethnic diversity. A 2007 Tearfund survey found that 48 per cent of the British black community is regularly in church. Meeting and learning from leaders of the British black community has allowed me to be the recipient of much hospitality and patience, as I struggled to grasp the issues.
Insights from Ghana and Trinidad were valuable but inadequate. I was forced to confront a reality that was not my own experience, and never more so than when the appalling murder of Rhys Jones hit the headlines. The response of the public, media commentators and politicians was utterly appropriate in its emotion, its volume and its outrage. But why when so many young black people died in similar circumstances did it seem that the response was more muted? Was it because the media were not needed to catch the culprits? Was it because the victims were slightly older? Did they die when other items legitimately dominated the news cycle? Taking all that into account, I could not get rid of the lingering suspicion that there were assumptions about these black youngsters and that that lack of outrage would communicate to relatives that young black lives were less valuable in our society. I am not seeking to label this or give it an “ism”, but I believe it to be there and to be wrong.
I am humbled to speak alongside my noble friend Lady Newlove, who, along with others whom I have been privileged to meet—Patsy McKie of Mothers Against Violence, Richard Taylor of the Damilola Taylor Trust, and the Reverend Les Isaacs of Street Pastors, to name but a few—is working to change things for the better. But people have gone beyond community response and are involved in the matter which your Lordships are considering today in this Bill: the governance of our police. Any wisdom I proffer owes much to Pastor Nims Obunge, adviser to both Operation Blunt and Operation Trident, and to the chair of West Midlands Police Authority, Bishop Derek Webley, the first black police authority chairman. It is sad to note that the late Lord Scarman, who reported on the Brixton riots, did not live to witness Bishop Webley's appointment.
Any branch of government, whether the legislature, the judiciary or public institutions such as the police, must have legitimacy. Legitimate government requires the consent of the people and must accordingly be representative of the people whom they seek to govern. It is my sincere desire that directly elected police and crime commissioners and the police and crime panels will reflect the population and, in particular, the ethnic diversity of the people whom they police.
Further, the social responsibility that the Bill is seeking to engender around alcohol consumption is already present in many of Britain's ethnic minority communities. I soon learnt when hosting events with guests from the black-led or Chinese churches that very few people would want alcohol. Legislation alone cannot create a culture, café-style or otherwise. I hope that the values of self-restraint, moderation and abstinence which are also found among the British Pakistani and Bangladeshi communities will come to dominate English and British values around alcohol, rather than those that the police often encounter on our streets in the early mornings.
As the youngest woman in your Lordships’ House, joining felt as exciting and daunting as the latest extreme sport. I remain amazed at the expertise and wisdom of this Chamber which I have been privileged to join. Some of your Lordships wrote the text books that I studied from.
Finally, I am extremely grateful to the doorkeepers, the Attendants' Office, to catering staff and to Black Rod's Office for their hospitality, answers to my endless queries and for the welcome given to me and my guests on the day of my introduction. I have particularly appreciated being able to dine with and get to know Peers from all Benches and I look forward to working with your Lordships on issues of mutual concern. Your Lordships’ kind generosity to me as a new Member has made my time in the House not quite so daunting.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, and to congratulate her on a truly outstanding maiden speech. Of course, we would expect no less from a very talented barrister, but she presented her maiden speech with a great deal of style and wit and let us see what a valuable asset we have gained in her presence with us.
In Dods, the noble Baroness put down her countries of interest as Ghana, Iraq, Nigeria and Trinidad and Tobago, which indicates the breadth of interest that she brings with her. She explained to us today why she is such an expert on so many different facets of what one might call multiculturalism in Britain. We look forward very much to hearing a lot more from the noble Baroness and we are sure that it will be with the excellent style and wit that she has shown us today.
The Bill is of enormous importance, with potentially far-reaching consequences for our whole system of policing, as the long list of speakers bears witness today. At this stage of Second Reading, with such a long list of speakers, I shall speak as briefly as possible on Part 1 of the Bill and on Clause 154 on arrest warrants, in Part 4.
In Part 1, the Government propose to abolish the existing police authorities and replace them with directly elected police and crime commissioners in each police force area in England and Wales. That would fundamentally change the nature of our policing by politicising police services and interfering with the operational independence of the police, notwithstanding the protestations to the contrary of those who support these proposals and of course we have heard rehearsed again today by the Minister.
I agree with the summing up of the Association of Police Authorities that this is, “the wrong reform at the wrong time”. There are great risks in concentrating power of responsibility for oversight of policing in one individual rather than, as now, some 17 or so in a police authority, who are a diverse group of councillors and independent members drawn from various communities across the whole force area.
There is also the question of costs. In the present climate of cuts and reduced police numbers, we are surely entitled to expect that radical changes should be made only when benefits will clearly outweigh costs, but that is not the case here. Analysts have suggested that the cost of the proposed reforms will amount to £100 million more than the cost of running police authorities for the same five-year period, 2011-16—the equivalent cost of some 600 police officers, as the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, so expertly explained to us.
I also believe that there are operational risks. There are real concerns that PCCs will focus on issues that are more likely to attract public attention and enhance the chances of their own election rather than lower- profile crime issues that are still of importance in any professional scale of policing priorities.
Then there is the timing of these changes, a point so eloquently put by the noble Lord, Lord Condon. The most significant cuts to the policing budget, of some 14 per cent, are likely to hit in 2012; and huge changes to police pay and conditions are proposed in the Winsor review. To implement radical changes when the police service is trying to implement reform to police pay and conditions, create a new national crime agency and implement other reforms—all shortly before the Olympics—seems to me to make too great a demand on UK policing. It puts at risk both police resilience and public confidence.
Many sources have expressed concerns about whether the proposed new structure will undermine the political independence of the police. ACPO, while agreeing with the Government’s expressed aim of improving democratic oversight—and who could be against that?—stated that the reform,
“will, on occasion, create a clear tension where political incentives for any politician are for partiality (such as on the approach to an election) and may run counter to impartial professional policing views”.
I do not always find myself in agreement with Liberty, as Members of this House will have noticed from some of the debates I have taken part in before. However, I do on this issue, when it says it considers that the proposals,
“will politicise operational decision-making and place too much power in one place—dangerously undermining the independence of UK policing in the process”.
The so-called “Peelian” principle—after Sir Robert—of policing by consent by officers operating on principles of non-partisanship and accountability to the rule of law, not to Government, has served this country well. I remain to be convinced that the proposals in this Bill do not put that principle in jeopardy.
Very briefly, I want to welcome the long-overdue reform of our universal jurisdiction legislation in Clause 154, which I am glad the Government are now doing and which I rather wish the previous Government had done earlier, even if they did start to prepare for it toward the end of their term in office. The current legislation dangerously exposes the English and Welsh legal system to politically motivated individuals trying to obtain arrest warrants against foreign politicians for publicity purposes. The amendment would reduce political exploitation, make the system in England and Wales more robust, and bring it into line with practice in Scotland, where magistrates cannot consent to private requests for arrest warrants without a Criminal Letter from the High Court, on which the Lord Advocate would have been consulted.
An unintended consequence of the current legislation is that the DPP is only consulted before the issue of arrest warrants in public prosecutions, not private ones. That really does not make any sense. Amending the law to require the DPP’s consent to the issue of arrest warrants against foreigners alleged to have committed war crimes will strengthen our system of applying universal jurisdiction laws. Clause 154 is therefore very welcome.
My Lords, I hope that my noble friends on the Front Bench will welcome a brief interlude from the almost unremitting attrition in relation to Part 1, for I, too, want to speak, and mainly about the universal jurisdiction. I was one of a group of colleagues in your Lordships’ House, with most of the others coming from the Cross Benches, who were involved in activity in the last Parliament supporting the provisions that were incorporated into Section 70 of the Coroners and Justice Act 2009. That provision extended the universal jurisdiction for war crimes, genocide and crimes against humanity. Unfortunately, since the enactment of that provision, we have seen little evidence that the new provision is working at all. My view is that it is part of good administration—which appears in the Long Title to this Bill—that Ministers should bear the responsibility for the universal jurisdiction and that police forces should bear the responsibility for showing that it is working. By now, prosecutions should be commencing as a result of the enactment of Section 70, but they are not. The criticism that the United Kingdom remains a safe haven for war criminals, I am afraid, still sticks.
With this in mind, I, along with others, will in due course table an amendment aimed to ensure reporting and accountability of the work in relation to the universal jurisdiction. Of course, the universal jurisdiction, as the noble Baroness has just said, is connected to Clause 154. For the reasons she has given, I welcome that clause and cannot understand any logical argument for the view that private prosecutions could be brought at a lower standard than public prosecutions. The Director of Public Prosecutions has shown himself to be reliable in dealing with private prosecutions when he has taken them over and recently the higher courts have supported his view that private prosecutions should be subject to the same dual code test that the CPS applies to public prosecutions. I shall strongly oppose any attempt to remove Clause 154 from the Bill.
Now back to the attrition, I am afraid. I congratulate the Government on their decision to create direct democratic accountability for the supervision of police services. It is long overdue. However, I do not congratulate them on the way they have set about it. It has long been Liberal Democrat policy—and I regret very much that this was not in the coalition agreement—that we should have elected police authorities. I see no problem with elected police authorities—they would be reasonably substantial in size, they could elect and remove their own chair, and it is likely that their own chair would be from diverse sections of the community from time to time. I see this as a much more accountable and reliable process than that set out in the Bill. It would avoid—or at least be more likely to avoid—maverick leadership, eccentricity, crass bad judgment and conflict with the relevant chief officer.
I have worked professionally with police authorities in some pretty critical cases and have seen them to be responsible and careful and to listen to advice but, quite rightly, not always to take it. However, it has been their collective approach that has been the benchmark of their success. I therefore intend—I hope with others—to table an amendment for elected police authorities.
Finally, I want to regret the waste of an opportunity. In the time when I was the independent reviewer of terrorism legislation, I watched joint working—which is absolutely inevitable in counterterrorism work—between police authorities. The Wales Extremism and Counter Terrorism Unit, which is a unified body involving the four police forces currently in existence in Wales, is an example. In all difficult areas of policing, 43 territorial police forces can no longer do the really serious work on their own. It is my regret that the Government have not taken the long-overdue opportunity to reform the police service in England and Wales; to reduce the number of police forces from 43 to something like a quarter or a third of that number; to reduce the number of chief officers and police authorities, whether elected or not; and to reflect, by that means, the essence—the needs—of modern policing.
Wales is one example I have much experience of and I cannot believe that it would not be better policed by one police force, or at the most, two, instead of four. I cannot believe that north-west England would not be better policed by the combination of Cheshire, Greater Manchester and the Merseyside police. I deeply regret that the Government and their predecessor—for their predecessor when Charles Clarke was Home Secretary started to approach this territory—have not taken on this agenda, which is really what we need to produce a police force that will survive the next couple of decades.
My Lords, I was amazed but apprehensive when the Prime Minister asked me to join you, and I feel truly humbled and honoured to be here today. I want so passionately to do justice for the many campaigners and victims whom I represent. I know that I am hugely privileged to be singled out, and I promise that I will give every ounce of my strength, every breath, so that I do not let them, your Lordships or the Prime Minister down. I wish to thank my sponsors, my noble friends Lord Strathclyde and Lady Warsi, and my wonderful, warm and kind mentor, my noble friend Lady Morris of Bolton. I thank especially all the employees of your Lordships’ House: my friends the doorkeepers, the attendants, and the wonderful staff and catering staff. They have shown me great kindness and respect. Their warmth has meant so much to me and they deserve their recognition for keeping the wheels turning smoothly here.
I might speak in simple words and not be as polished as many of your Lordships here today, but every word comes from my heart. There is such a wealth of experience, knowledge and humanity in this place. I look to your Lordships’ House to help me, a novice, make this a safer and happier country. I cannot change the past but I will do all I can to improve the future.
I dedicate my speech to my late husband Garry and to my beautiful daughters for their courage and strength. Without their love and support, I would not have wanted to go on living. Together, the girls and I set up Newlove Warrington and we are working on establishing a youth zone based on the brilliant model of Bolton Lads & Girls Club to enrich the lives of young people. I also thank my elderly parents for their love, guidance, discipline and strong core values, which have shaped my life and which I try to pass on.
Last year I became government Champion for Active Safer Communities, and I have met brave and inspiring citizens from all walks of life. These quiet, unsung heroes just get on making their neighbourhoods better places to live. They are good neighbours and they strengthen my belief in the better side of human nature, while exposing the darker element of suffering still out there, to our shame. My report, Our Vision for Safe and Active Communities, is their voice, and together we stand a real chance of rebuilding parts of our damaged society. I am also delighted to work within the Department for Communities and Local Government, and across Whitehall, to implement my report’s recommendations, and I ask you to support them and me.
I am just an ordinary woman from a working-class background propelled into this elevated position by a set of horrifying circumstances, which I wish with all my heart had never happened. Almost four years ago I was a wife, married to Garry for 21 years, and a mother of three children: Zoe, then 18; Danielle, 15; and Amy, only 12. Garry had been struck down with cancer at the age of 32 and had to have his whole stomach and spleen removed. Together, we fought and beat it as a loving, united family. Garry was brave, funny, the life and soul of the party, and he adored us, which makes all the more terrible the senseless way in which we lost him.
Our neighbourhood was bothered by groups of youths hanging around an underpass near to our home, drinking, swearing and being a nuisance. I attended neighbourhood meetings about them but it was treated as low-crime, anti-social behaviour, so not a priority. On the evening of 10 August 2007, Garry had gone out barefooted to investigate breaking glass outside our home. Our next-door neighbour was a young woman alone with a baby, and he was worried about their safety. Like a hunted animal he was brought down by the baying, laughing gang whom he had questioned in front of our horrified daughters. At one stage there were more than 15 around him, boys and girls, aged between 14 and 18 years, high on drugs, alcohol and adrenaline. Within minutes Garry suffered 14 ferocious kicks to the head as well as suffering 40 internal injuries. On 12 August I woke up a wife but went to bed a widow.
Some of these teenagers had been in trouble with the law from only 11 years of age, and I ask: where were their feckless parents? Our girls watched their beloved father being murdered; they were covered in his blood. At the 10-week murder trial, they had to relive that experience minute by minute, to be cross-examined by five QC barristers. My 12-year old daughter was told not to show emotion or fidget when being questioned via video link; but my girls bravely told the truth. They helped bring some of the guilty to justice.
There is so much in the criminal justice system that is so wrong. The victim or their families are given scraps from the table. That is why I am working with Victim Support, the national charity supporting all victims, as well as witnesses. For too long, victims have been second-class passengers, with the offender and their needs in the driving seat. It is time that we were treated with respect and allowed to participate in the criminal justice system—and even allowed to take the driving wheel sometimes. If victims do not have confidence in the justice system, then we all suffer. If frightened witnesses will not give evidence, cases will collapse and offenders will walk away. That surely cannot be allowed to happen.
I also have to ask: why have we let our lovely towns and villages, so charming by day, turn into Dodge City at night, infested with drunken, brawling people vomiting and causing chaos? They cost us billions of pounds, their violence immeasurable in lost innocent lives. They prevent ordinary people enjoying a night out. We must return to social drinking, get rid of underage and binge drinking, and work closely with the drinks industry to educate and promote safe, sensible alcohol consumption. I will make that one of my top priorities.
Since that terrible night when Garry died, I have campaigned for victims whose lives are blighted by thugs. Minor crime, disorder and anti-social behaviour should be a huge warning bell to us all. Unless this behaviour is nipped in the bud, it grows like a cancer, unseen and undetected until it blooms like a malignant flower, which, as we know, can kill. Stories like the Pilkingtons’ or the Askews’, where isolated and vulnerable people have been bullied and hounded to death, are a disgrace and must not continue to happen. But I know that the big society is out there. It has been simmering for years on low heat with no name. Good neighbours and good deeds exist and we must learn from them. We must celebrate them and give them the resources and the power to turn up the heat. I believe we need that fuel of people power to make a difference. Cynics may knock it, but I know that it works. I stand before you to show that it can propel anyone to the greatest heights. Personal responsibility is the price we pay for all the good things that we take for granted. We have shelter, food, education, access to free worship and free speech, and many countless blessings. Children and young people have to be taught moral values and standards, and also that community, family and a love of our country are things to honour and cherish, not to mock and deride.
When we enter a period of peace and kindness in this country, when everyone is able to go about their lives safely, day or night, then, and only then, will Garry's legacy, the high price he paid with his life, be deemed by me to be almost worth the cost.
My Lords, I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, to this House and shall try to find the appropriate words to congratulate her on her incredibly moving speech. We have heard some very fine speeches today. My speech will be extremely quickly forgotten, but I will never forget that speech—it was amazing. Not only has the noble Baroness made a very important contribution today, but I have absolutely no doubt that she will be a very important contributor to the work of this House, representing very effectively the issues of victims and of the social problems in our communities. I cannot say more than to welcome her and thank her for joining us.
I feel like sitting down right now, but I will limit my comments to Part I of the Bill, with a very brief reference to Clauses 152 and 153 on the drugs issue. I want to support concerns already raised about the replacement of police authorities with newly elected police and crime commissioners. For me this is by far the most worrying proposal in the Bill. Indeed, I might be quite happy with one or two other parts of the Bill, but like so many other noble Lords I cannot accept this one.
There are many noble Lords more qualified than I to speak in this debate, as so brilliantly illustrated by the fine speech from the noble Lord, Lord Blair, supported so eloquently by the noble Baronesses, Lady Hamwee, Lady Harris and Lady Hilton, and many others. However, I feel bound to make a brief contribution, having spent eight years with the Police Complaints Authority, working very closely with chief constables and other chief officers across the country. I developed a considerable respect—to my surprise, as I was not expecting to respect these people—for the professionalism, impartiality and deep understanding of humanity of those officers. It seemed to me throughout that period that senior officers paid due respect to their police authorities while holding on very clearly to their strict political impartiality.
I agree with Liberty’s point that,
“policing by consent, and engagement between the police and the community must not be confused with direct community involvement in operational decision-making”.
For me, this is the massive mistake of the Bill.
With so much else to be concerned about in the country today, is there any justification at all for changing the governance arrangements for the police service? It is worth asking what the serious weaknesses are of the present system of police authorities that have led to the development of these ideas. We have had different views about HMIC inspections from the Minister and from other noble Baronesses, but the long and short of it is that no evidence has been presented today that the police authorities have any weaknesses that could not be remediated. If these weaknesses even exist, do they justify the risks involved in introducing overtly political control over chief police officers? Do they justify the inevitable costs involved in the move to PCCs? The evidence suggests not. I understand that the Government's main motivation for the introduction of PCCs is that UK policing has become too far removed from the needs of local communities. I would accept that, but this problem could be tackled very effectively through an overdue reduction in the number of targets, circulars and guidance from the centre to police services and perhaps also some strengthening of the police authorities. Such changes would reduce costs instead of increasing them, avoid unnecessary upheaval, and reduce rather than increase political interference. It would certainly reduce central political interference, and we would all welcome that. Crime, as we know, and as others have said, continues to fall, and the chances of becoming a victim of crime are lower than at any time since 1981. If the system is working, why change it—or, as they say, if the system ain’t broke, why fix it?
The next question is whether the proposals are sensible. Again, the evidence, comments already made in your Lordships' House and common sense suggest not. This matter has been very adequately covered by others, and I shall not repeat their comments. As to the extra costs, the Minister suggests that this matter will be cost-neutral. I have to say that I disagree. Clearly, other noble Lords have made it very clear that there will be costs involved, and the general view seems to be that the PCCs will cost an additional £100 million a year, or about the cost of 600 police officers. I do not have in my head the numbers of police officers to be cut, but I for one would prefer to see a reduction in cuts in front-line policing rather than wasting precious resources on this new governance system.
The Association of Police Authorities points to the pertinent quote from Robert Peel:
“Police seek and preserve public favour not by catering to public opinion but by constantly demonstrating absolute impartial service to the law”.
Other speakers have addressed that issue very fully. I simply want to support their remarks.
To introduce a different perspective on the issue, it is perhaps worth noting that the health department has a very different approach to governance from this one. The Minister may find it helpful to consider the approach of her health colleagues. In essence, Health Ministers are seeking to enhance the role of councils of governors with their foundation trusts. These councils are the health equivalent of police authorities, including both elected and nominated individuals representing all sections of the community. Governors are volunteers and the governance system carries a minimal cost. There is no plan in the Health and Social Care Bill to replace these 40 to 50 individuals with a single commissioner.
I want to refer very briefly to the plans for temporary banning orders for legal highs. I welcome the Minister’s reference to listening to the advice of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. This is a very pleasant change from the recent past, if I may put it that way. I was glad to hear the Minister’s assurance that there will be no possession offence under the temporary controls. Is the Minister aware that the UK Drug Policy Commission will publish in two weeks or so an interesting report recommending a system of regulatory controls over legal highs? I would welcome an opportunity to have a discussion with the Minister about that report and possibly a constructive way forward.
In conclusion, I hope that the Government will reflect on the profound concerns about the PCC proposals and will also consider alternative approaches to the drug issue.
My Lords, it is necessary for me to declare that I am an honorary member of the Police Federation of England and Wales roads policing central committee, but your Lordships will be delighted to learn that I will not mention anything about roads policing today.
We have heard the Government say that they are a listening Government, but what concerns me with regard to this Bill is that although they may well listen, will they act on concerns raised when they listen—or am just being too cynical? I do not know. The noble Lord, Lord Blair of Boughton, who is not in his place, has stated his experiences of this earlier.
Page 57 of the Conservative manifesto stated that the Bill needed to,
“replace the existing, invisible and unaccountable police authorities”.
Yet, in the Police and Magistrates’ Courts Act 1994, when the other place was considering your Lordships’ amendments to the Bill, the Home Secretary, who is now in your Lordships' House, the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne, said that,
“the members of each police authority should continue to choose their chairman and that, in order to stress the independence of the new members, the Home Secretary alone should not select the independent members; but nor should they be selected by the councillor and magistrate members of the authority alone”.—[Official Report, Commons, 26/4/1994; col. 112.]
Thereby, that Bill set out procedures to reflect a balance between the influence of the Home Secretary and the influence of the other members of the police authorities.
Where does that leave us with this Bill, and why the change? How will the police commissioners provide a stronger alternative to that which is currently in place? The single commissioner will have no significantly greater powers in statute beyond the powers to make grants. When a police and crime commissioner, or PCC, seeks to change personnel, that person will lose the power, now exercised carefully by police authorities, to appoint and have oversight of the conduct of ACPO ranks below the rank of chief constable.
The appointments of Sue Sim in Northumbria and Sara Thornton in Thames Valley are welcome examples in tackling the historically indefensible record of the police in maintaining the truth that “the public are the police and the police are the public”. Since the present system of accountability was established, great strides have been made to develop diversity. It is madness to backtrack on this now and to hive off appointments of those very senior officers charged with delivering public services away from the public. With the proposed changes chief constables will become stronger in that they will have the right to act in their own right rather than with the functions delegated by those in the police authority who are accountable to the public. The noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, mentioned the number of police forces. As an aside, I am sure he is aware that a number of police forces are now beneficially working closely together although they still have their own chief constables and officers.
The current system allows between 17 and 23 diverse individuals to examine the crime as a whole—from counterterrorism to car crime. And, with this in mind, it is possible for individuals to specialise in particular areas of policing, which a single PCC could never do. However, if a PCC wishes to monitor a particular area of concern, new staff will need to be employed at additional expense, whereas, currently, colleagues within the authority could assist. Even if replacing 17 skilled people with one individual is considered as a solution to a weak system, how will that single person strengthen accountability? And how can one person become expert in what are increasingly complex challenges for all society? I hope that noble Lords will exercise extreme caution when considering this proposed revolution to the British model of policing.
Perhaps I may briefly say a few words about the operational independence of the police under the proposed changes, and the interesting debates that lawyers might have as a result. In the exercise of their powers the police are answerable to the law and to the law alone—so said Lord Denning in R v Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, ex parte Blackburn, in 1968. Since then life has changed. However, what has not changed is the fact that police officers are free from political influence. All of that might change. In some circumstances lawyers might be asked to advise a commissioner and a chief constable respectively about a certain matter, which could well result in both being advised differently. As a result, both lawyers would welcome the Bill as it stands, because the financial rewards for them are there for the picking.
My Lords, I would like to address my remarks to how Part 1 will impact on London. I need to begin by declaring an interest as chair of the London Assembly. I also serve on the Metropolitan Police Authority and the Home Office Olympic security board. I have a number of concerns about this Bill, not least the Government's plans to implement it in London from 1 October this year. There are two reasons for my concerns: the Olympic Games and the London mayoral elections.
The Games are not just a London issue; they will affect every police force in the country. They take place between July and September next year but there are also many preparatory events—notably the torch relay, which will start on 18 May, last for 70 days and impact on every area of the UK. The Olympics present the biggest peacetime challenge the police have ever faced and officers from all over Britain will be involved in providing mutual aid. The logistics of this huge operation are truly mind-blowing. The Met has spent years planning for every eventuality and will continue to refine those plans right up to the Games. To force the police to divert their efforts from the security of the Games to a major reorganisation at this critical time almost beggars belief.
If that was not enough there is also the issue of the mayoral election in London next May, the outcome of which is uncertain. It is quite possible that a new policing system could be put in place this October, designed to reflect a Conservative agenda, only to be dismantled again next May if another party wins the mayoral election. Such an expensive and time-consuming process should happen only once. The Bill does not stipulate when its provisions will be implemented and the Government are free to choose a sensible date. I strongly urge them to do so.
My next concern involves the democratic legitimacy of the office of police and crime commissioner as exercised in London. The Bill provides for the post of elected police commissioner to be carried out by the Mayor of London, in the form of the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime. The mayor may appoint a deputy mayor for policing and crime with most of the same powers and responsibilities. However, there is no requirement for the deputy mayor to be an elected person. The mayor could simply hand this job to a non-elected friend, making a complete nonsense of the argument about democratic legitimacy.
I have a specific concern regarding the proposed system of police complaints in London. The Bill proposes that, where senior officers below the rank of deputy commissioner are subject to complaint, responsibility should be moved from the Metropolitan Police Authority to the commissioner, who will hear not just the complaint but the appeals. This would make the commissioner both judge and jury, and remove all elements of independence and transparency. I believe we should remedy this by making the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime the relevant appeal body. Like other noble Lords, I believe that the powers of the police and crime panels need to be significantly enhanced. I have three specific proposals for London: that the panel should be able to reject the mayor's draft police and crime plan by a two-thirds majority; that the panel should have the power to require senior officers from the Met to provide information and attend meetings; and that the power to co-opt voting independent members to the panel should be vested in the London Assembly, to ensure that such appointees have a proper statutory basis that is not open to challenge.
One of the greatest weaknesses of the Bill is its provisions for the hiring and firing of chief constables and I share many of the concerns that other noble Lords expressed. We need appropriate procedures to ensure that those appointed have the necessary professional knowledge and experience, that dismissals are for professional or disciplinary failures and not political convenience, and that operational independence cannot be compromised by inappropriate political pressure via the threat of a dismissal.
My final point concerns the duty of the Home Secretary to issue a strategic policing requirement to deal with national threats. Under these proposals, police and crime commissioners would effectively be free to disregard such requirements in favour of political expediency or re-election strategies. They must be obliged to respect them. When we move to Committee, I shall seek to address all these issues.
My Lords, like other noble Lords this afternoon, I must declare an interest. I was attested as a constable in the Metropolitan Police in the year that the current commissioner—the real commissioner—was born and I served in every rank in the police service, from constable to chief constable and commissioner. We all know the expression, “like the curate's egg”. It is an appropriate way to describe the Bill. It has some good bits and there is potential for the reform proposals, such as the new strategic policing requirement and national crime agency, to be forces for good. Yet I hope that the new national crime agency will not be just a cheaper, remodelled and less effective SOCA by another name. Like the curate's egg, however, if you swallow a bad bit it is likely to prove fatal to the whole. Your Lordships will not be surprised to know that I, too, consider the fatal bits to be the proposals that there should be elected party-political commissioners for crime and policing.
To call him or her a commissioner is deliberately misleading. We have two commissioners in this country: the Commissioner of the City of London Police and the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis. This newly elected politician is not a commissioner. Despite the Bill being littered with assurances that the operational decisions will remain in the hands of the chief constable—methinks they doth protest too much—let us be realistic. This will not be so in practice. A visiting politician to your Lordships’ House recently said to me, “Of course we will become involved in the operational decisions—that’s why we’re politicians; it’s our nature and purpose to be involved”. To call him or her a commissioner will imbue him or her with the king’s clothes, as the final arbiter of the chief constable’s decisions. The correct definition is not “commissioner”, but—as my noble friend Lord Elystan-Morgan said this afternoon, either on purpose or by accident—“commissar”. If you look at the dictionary definition of that, you will see that it is an official charged with political education. That is who it will be.
ACPO, with which I have naturally spoken, is determined not to get involved in an unseemly political argument with Government as to the election of PCCs or the disbandment of police authorities. As to the proposed system of PCCs or alternatives, however uncomfortable it might be with the proposal it is clear in acknowledging that it is Parliament's decision who holds the chief constable to account, and how. Despite its widespread doubts—and indeed there are widespread doubts—about the current proposals, it will accept them because they will, of course, work in some areas. That is what police do. If Parliament commands it, they will do their best to continue to give their public the highest level of impartial policing they possibly can.
Noble Lords will be only too well aware that police, like all other public services, will be facing a severe cut in their resources—a 20 per cent reduction. They will of course grumble, but they will get on with it; that is their nature. Many different estimates have been voiced about how many front-line personnel will be withdrawn. Again, despite the cutbacks and their present low morale—because of the danger to their public service pensions for which they have paid and continue to contribute at an incomparably high 11 per cent of their salary—they will get on with it, because that is what they do. We should value that, rather than kicking them again and again.
What are we all worrying about? I am grateful to the Minister for correcting my information in a question that I posed recently; I had understood that the Government would be spending more than £200 million on a system provided for an elected politician to set the police budget and hire, fire and suspend the chief constable as he or she might decide. Are we not fortunate—as the noble Baroness assured me—that it is not £200 million but only £50 million? That is only the beginning, as my noble friend Lord Condon said earlier this afternoon. There is accommodation and other paraphernalia that will go with it. The commissar in every force in the country is likely to receive a salary of something well over £100,000—after all, he would need to be well above the chief constable, would he not? The Bill also makes provision for a well qualified staff for this individual, and the commissar and his staff will want acceptable office accommodation and furniture: carpets, desks, chairs, telephones, headed stationery, computers and printer equipment. That is every force in the country. It is beginning to sound a bit more like £200 million, is it not?
Is it not ironic that we can find all this and much more to ensure that we can introduce this discredited American system, at the same time as we accept that London will lose 700 ambulance drivers to make up a similar amount, a £52 million shortfall? My Lords, do not have a heart attack or a stroke or a sudden illness in the Palace of Westminster after the end of this year, or you will have to get a bus or a taxi to take you to St Thomas's. And who will be there to attend to you? I am told that there will be a severe shortfall of nurses because we cannot afford them. May I be forgiven for thinking that if only we had that £50 million that is planned to be spent on mending something that is not broken and calling it reform—a new definition for reform—we might have enough nursing and ambulance personnel to continue to provide their vital, life-saving work?
I shall leave the incredible costs of this idea to one side for a moment. The originators of this Bill have undoubtedly missed the most important point: that police are not government or political appointees or agents. The office of constable is a Crown appointment, and all officers take an oath at the beginning of their service which begins:
“I (full name) do solemnly and sincerely declare and affirm that I will well and truly serve the Queen”—
yes, the Queen—
“in the office of constable, with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality”.
I emphasise that they are not civil servants but Crown servants, who discharge their duties impartially according to law and not according to a political instruction, preference or whim.
Those who are of the same political persuasion as the Bill's originators will, understandably, no doubt vote for this part of the Bill, but how will they feel when we have the first National Front, British National Party or other extremist party-political commissar? Please let us not put our heads in the sand. Let us not ignore that; it could, and no doubt will, happen. How will the chief constable respond if he believes or has information that a planned march or demonstration is likely to result in very serious public disorder, but it is also known that the commissar is of the same political persuasion as the march organisers?
It has already been mentioned this afternoon by noble Lords that a recent YouGov poll showed that 65 per cent of those polled did not want any change from the present system, 15 per cent agreed with it, and 20 per cent did not know. The poll was commissioned by Liberty, which I admit has not been my comfortable bedfellow very often. It is difficult to ignore a poll like this, which shows that a large and representative section of our society is against this proposal, with only a few in favour.
If the Bill is to go through unamended, will we next find a proposal using similar arguments—that we do not know the name of our High Court judges—for the election of High Court judges on a party-political basis? It might sound dramatic, but we would be failing in our duties if we did not remind ourselves that in Germany in the 1930s political direction and action took precedence over real policing of society, as it did in the Soviet Union in the 1950s, 1960s and very early 1970s. I emphasise that I am not saying that that would happen here, but we must beware of the opportunities for an insidious and subtle political creep into ordinary daily even-handed policing decisions.
The Bill as it stands will be the valedictory address for the global reputation of the British police service—the final eulogy for British policing as the world has come to know, admire and emulate it. No longer will we be asked to travel the globe to help and train foreign police forces in the traditional way laid down by Sir Robert Peel in this country.
As I went through the Bill I made some comments in the margin. Against the election of PCCs I put two comments: one was “dangerous” and the other, if your Lordships will forgive the expression, was “daft”. I realise that to use “daft” is discourteous and would upset many of my Conservative friends, and I have many—at least, I did have until today. Instead of using “dangerous and daft”, I turned to my thesaurus and decided that it would be better to say “dangerous and ill advised”—in fact, grossly ill advised.
Do we cast Peel’s concept of an impartial and entrusted system of policing to the dustbin, and accept that something that has been an example to the rest of the world must now imitate a failed and untrustworthy system from across the Atlantic where another culture prevails? If we want real and well thought-through reform let us do what the Police Federation has, over the past 10 years, been asking for and have a royal commission. Do not let us legislate in haste and repent in future.
My Lords, I pay tribute to the moving maiden speech of my noble friend Lady Newlove. She has already won many friends in the House as well as great respect for her courage and, I am sure, for her speech today.
I strongly support my noble friends Lord Howard of Lympne and Lord Patten. I, too, strongly support the Bill and I want to spend a couple of minutes in defence of the political process and party politics. The assumption of many noble Lords today has been that this may turn out to be a corrupt and corrosive process. I think that the opposite will be the case. I have great respect for the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath—he is an effective debater and an astute politician—but I was slightly depressed by his assertion that somehow we will have a corrupt regime in place if and when the Bill becomes an Act, as I am certain it will.
My argument is this. With the protocols, which the Minister has explained will be tabled shortly before Committee, I hope that we can concentrate on the clear distinction between the chief constable, who has operational responsibilities, and the police and crime commissioner—he or she is not a commissar—who is an individual elected both to ensure that there is a clear division of responsibility and to build a sense of confidence and co-operation.
I take a positive view of these changes because, as my noble friend Lord Howard rightly said, there is a democratic deficit. My experience as a constituency MP was that very few constituents knew who the members were—people will certainly know who the police and crime commissioner is—and the activities of the police authority seemed not to be as central as I believe they should have been. Under the Bill there will be an opportunity for the commissioner to raise issues of responsibility, not the operational discharge of functions, reflecting the concerns of their constituency.
I very much agree with the remarks that were made earlier from the Liberal Democrat Benches. Larger constituencies—mergers of counties, if you like—are certainly in the best interests of making sure that we have a high quality of candidates coming forward, not only to stand as commissioners but to be nominated by the district councils to serve on the panel.
I believe that the protocols are going to be extremely important. I agree that, as several noble Lords who have served with great distinction in the police force have said, it is very important that the distinction of the two roles is made clear and I believe that that will happen.
I support the Bill. I hope that we will have a rational discussion and that the noble tradition of being a party politician, like 50 per cent of noble Lords in this House, will be preserved.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baronesses, Lady Berridge and Lady Newlove, on their maiden speeches. The whole House will benefit from their contributions in the years ahead. I look forward to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra.
The Bill is one of those Bills that need the House to exercise its full powers of detailed line-by-line scrutiny. It will require considerable amendment as it goes through your Lordships’ House so that we ensure that it is a much better Bill when it returns to the other place.
At the outset, I should make it clear that I am not at all convinced of the case for police and crime commissioners. Things can always be reformed and renewed but that is not the case in these proposals. The problem is that in one Bill the present arrangements of police authorities and chief constables are being done away with, to be replaced with PCCs. To make such a major change without thought and planning, without testing and reviewing, is very unwise.
The more I hear of these proposals, the dafter I think they are. There is certainly little support from the public for this change. Your Lordships will be aware of the YouGov poll, which other noble Lords have mentioned, that showed that only 15 per cent—yes, only 15 per cent—of the public would trust an elected police and crime commissioner to best protect their family rather than a chief constable reporting to a police authority.
This is of course a Conservative manifesto proposal that has found its way into the agreement between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. It will be interesting to hear from the Liberal Democrat Benches how in the negotiations of the agreement they gave up on their manifesto proposal for directly elected police authorities with the power to co-opt extra members to ensure diversity, experience and expertise, and why they think that this is so much better than their original proposals.
A number of noble Lords on the Liberal Democrat Benches have said how opposed they are to these proposals and that they are going to do everything that they can to stop them. Well, if the Government are not persuaded by the weight of argument, I hope that we see those noble Lords in the Content Lobby supporting amendments to the Bill that will deal with its weaknesses, as that is the only way in which it is going to be made better.
There are a large number of speakers today, so it will be impossible for the Minister to respond to all the points raised. I hope, though, that she will further address the point about the operational independence of the police and say how the Conservative Government will ensure that that is maintained and not affected by the proposals in the Bill, as I am not convinced by her earlier remarks.
I think that we are heading for all sorts of problems—in particular, where the police and crime commissioner has a police and crime plan that is at odds with what the chief constable or commissioner in London believes are the operational requirements for the policing service to meet the challenges ahead of it. That is why I am disappointed that the Conservative Government have not suggested a pilot of these proposals and a proper review before consideration of a rollout. Maybe we should have the benefit of an inquiry into the proposals, or the option of a local referendum, as other noble Lords have said, before they are implemented in any area. At a time when we have to make public expenditure cuts, is this really something to which we should commit new spending?
If the options are more police officers or a police and crime commissioner, I would rather have more police officers protecting people against criminals. I think that most sensible people would want the same. I live in London, so I keep thinking of the Conservative Mayor of London, Mr Boris Johnson. He may have many admirable qualities but he and his deputy mayor are not the right people to determine such matters. I was alarmed when I read the briefing note from the mayor’s office, particularly the part that says that,
“it is vital that it be made clear that the MPS Commissioner cannot refuse to deliver the MOPC plan and priorities”.
That is a recipe for disaster, putting the mayor and the commissioner at loggerheads. Surely we want the commissioner and his staff—the professionals—to deal with crime, using their expertise and professionalism to keep our communities safe from crime and criminals.
Moving on to other parts of the Bill, I have always supported the right to peaceful protest. I have participated in peaceful protests and organised a few in my time. Since I became a councillor, people have protested about things that I have done in that and other roles. I have also seen protests and wondered what was going on. Therefore, I have seen protests from all sides, with the exception of policing them. Changes have to be made to what is acceptable outside Parliament. The permanent encampments are not necessary and sensible plans should be brought into play. The damaging health effects of living on the pavement, for years in some cases, should be of concern to us all. It is very regrettable that Parliament Square had to be fenced off from the public and 24-hour security put in place, costing thousands of pounds and preventing residents, visitors and tourists from coming to the square. This needs to end as soon possible. It can happen only when we have proper measures in place to ensure that there is no return to the problems of the past. I look forward to the Committee and Report stages of the Bill, when we will explore what reforms can be put in place to give the police the correct powers to police protests on the square and to allow not only protestors to make their point but also those who wish to enjoy Parliament Square to do so.
On licensing, the Bill includes several measures that merit proper discussion in your Lordships’ House. We should look at how the late-night levy will operate in practice and at what incentives there are for well managed premises to be recognised as such. Maybe there could be something such as an insurance-type discount scheme. If there is no trouble, your levy goes down; if there is trouble, you risk your levy going up. We should also explore the process by which people are licensed. Is there any way, through the levy system, to ensure that residents who object to licences have access to legal assistance to enable them to present their case better? My experience of local government, although some years ago now, is often that companies, businesses and their owners employ experienced specialist solicitors and counsel as necessary, while local residents—the tenants’ or residents’ associations, the local playgroup or the community group—do not have the means at their disposal to do likewise. They are at an immediate disadvantage in putting their case forward. We should use the passage of the Bill to explore options for empowering citizens to have their voices heard. It would be useful if the Minister could give her initial reaction to this in her response this evening.
There are many other points in the Bill that other noble Lords have raised, about which I, too, have concerns. I will leave it there at this stage, but I will raise these and other matters at the next stage of the passage of the Bill.
I am very sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Patten, is not in his place. Had he been there I could have assured him that in 1965, when I was operating on the border between Borneo and Kalimantan, I was equipped with a map that had the words “Here be dragons” on it. Before making my main contribution to this debate, I give notice of two issues that I shall raise in Committee. One has already been mentioned by my noble friend Lady Meacher, namely Clause 153, the question of the advisory council and the amendments proposed to it. In introducing the debate the Minister assured us that the Government were willing to listen to expert advice, yet the Bill proposes that the expert advice that is available to that committee should be dispensed with. It is not only an error but a pity that an amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 is being included in a Bill with several other clauses rather than being treated as an issue in itself. Secondly, on behalf of the British Transport Police Authority, I shall table some amendments that will strengthen the Bill by increasing co-operation between the authority and other police forces, particularly in counterterrorism and in the run-up to the Olympics.
I must admit that I was surprised, when I looked at the title of the Bill, to see that it was called the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill. I could find very little in it that was about police reform. Instead, it was about police responsibility reform, which is not the same thing at all. I was brought up to believe that there is little point in making substantive change to something unless you are absolutely convinced that what you will put in its place is noticeably better, particularly when that process is involved in delivering an operational outcome. The operational outcome is, of course, the policing of this country.
I looked for guidance in the impact assessment that was published on 31 March. I looked first at the two questions that were asked in the first box. The first was:
“What is the problem under consideration?”.
I see that the problem is:
“The Government believes policing governance under Police Authorities has become distorted and over-centralised in recent years, leading to a system heavy with bureaucracy, and removed from the public view”.
The second question is:
“Why is government intervention necessary?”.
The answer is:
“Government intervention is necessary to achieve wholesale change, and to formally provide the public with a participatory role”.
That comes from a document signed by the Minister for the Police. I admit that I found those answers slightly thin. You do not have whole Bills merely to achieve wholesale change; you are looking for what this change is all about. What is it doing for us? I looked at the next box, which said:
“What are the policy objectives and the intended effects?”.
The answer was:
“To transform the policing landscape in England and Wales by reducing bureaucracy, increasing democratic accountability and getting the public involved in how their streets are policed”.
However, the public are already involved in how their streets are policed through the 17 members of the police authorities, nine of whom are elected and eight appointed. That has been so since the 1960s, so what are we talking about?
Then I come to the last box, which asks:
“What policy options have been considered?”.
Two have been considered. One is “Do Nothing” and the other is:
“Replace the existing governance framework of Police Authorities”.
However, there is a third option, is there not? Surely, if the complaint is that the existing system has become distorted, instead of wholesale change we could look at amending distortion. In particular, as my noble friend Lord Condon has pointed out, we are now in a very difficult situation, not just economically but over the whole question of how the policing structure of this country is constructed and operated. I am extremely concerned that we should be launching ourselves into something as fundamental as is proposed here. It is not that I instinctively object completely to it all, but I ask myself whether it is worth a candle to do this instead of having an option 3. That would be to look at what is currently said to be wrong and see whether there is another way of fixing it without throwing the whole thing away and starting with something completely new and untried, particularly as that new and untried thing includes this extra dimension of increased political oversight of something that, traditionally, has been operationally independent.
Having looked at all that, I then remembered that when I studied for the staff college exam in 1962 one of the set books was the report of the Royal Commission on the Police, published in 1962, which went into the whole question of policing. I remembered it particularly because of a memorandum written by the father of the noble Lord, Lord Goodhart, that dissented from the line put forward, which essentially promoted maintaining the status quo of local police forces. However, Goodhart said, “No, it is time to go national”. His reason for saying that it was time to go national was based on a very simple statement that criminals recognise no local boundaries and that many of them travel about the country executing their plans on a big scale. In fighting crime of this kind the police are handicapped unless they can enjoy the advantages of central command, without which no army could hope to win a battle, and small forces are greatly handicapped by their lack of modern technical facilities. I say, “Hear, hear to that”. However, that was the situation in 1962. We now have increased electronic complexity added to the whole web of what the police have to deal with. Instead of focusing, as the Bill seems to do, on pointing everything down to the local end and on the local accountability of local policing, which of course is important, surely it makes sense when we are looking at policing in general to have national oversight and what the Minister described as the strategic direction that might come from the Secretary of State.
I have thought about this matter for years, and my conclusions have been reinforced by my personal experience on the streets of Northern Ireland and my experience commanding the United Kingdom field army that was responsible for the defence of this country and for counteracting the effects of natural disasters. I have often thought that it was time to recognise the tensions that are inherent in policing. The tensions are there because essentially policing is a compromise between the national and the local. Neither element is superior; both have to be accommodated. The difficult job that faces our chief constables is the balancing act that they have to perform not only in satisfying the demands with which they are confronted at the national level but in honouring and recognising the local element that is in all their work as they live and work among people on the streets, and it is their well-being that sends out the real message about how successful policing is in their eyes. This tension, caused by compromise, must never be forgotten.
I wonder how an unelected, inexperienced, untrained police commissioner is going to become responsible for producing what are called police and crime plans. Where will they get the education, staffing, experience and background to carry out this very difficult balancing act that chief constables currently have to perform? Surely the role of councils, commissars, commissioners, or whatever anyone calls them, is to support the chief constable and to help and enable him or her to carry out their responsibilities in the part of the country to which they are appointed, however large or small. As I said, I hope that this will be done on a larger scale.
Noble Lords might think that I am talking as a soldier. Fortunately, as a soldier one was not subject to party political interference. We did our job and it did not matter which Government were in charge. I would like to think that the same applies to policing and that party politics should never enter the policing arena. I hope that out of this opportunity that the Government have created to examine what we mean by policing, instead of focusing too much on the reform of responsibility, which has so many red herrings that it will draw people off on all sorts of trails, we get back to the fundamental questions: is our policing system fit for purpose for the 21st century, and have we got the structures and the people in place?
While we are on the subject of people, I am very glad that the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, mentioned leadership, the training of leaders and the identification of them. That is hugely important. One of the reasons why we should consider a national and a local police force separately and recruit people both locally to carry out local community activities and at a national level is because of the complexity of the things that the police have to deal with. You need to recruit, train and manage the career plans of people who will become the experts in these extra activities, which place so many demands on our police.
Therefore, I hope very much that the Bill will turn into a discussion on the reform of the police and not just the reform of the responsibility. To aid us in that I ask the Minister to ensure that the missing paper from the Minister of Prisons is provided before we start Committee so that at least we have firm details of what the Government are proposing.
My Lords, let me at the very outset, in the presence of the noble Lords, Lord Stevens, Lord Condon and Lord Imbert, put my hands up and say, “It’s a fair cop Guv, I’ve got form as long as your arm on police accountability”, because I have. I have had the pleasure of working with all three of those noble Lords in different capacities over the years as a civil liberties lawyer campaigning for the reform of the police, as chair of the GLC’s police committee campaigning for the political accountability of the police in London, and as Minister of State for Police in the Home Office. In all those various capacities, I have supported and campaigned for directly elected political oversight—I stress “oversight” as opposed to “control”—of the police. Therefore, I am bound to say that I cannot oppose as a matter of principle the proposal that is put forward in the Bill—and I do not. However, I am also bound to say that I share the very real concerns that have been expressed in the debate about the proposal that the Bill envisages and the way in which it is being introduced.
I cannot but recollect the vehement opposition of the then Home Secretary to the very modest proposals that were put forward by my colleagues in the Labour Party in 1994 when we proposed directly elected police authorities. That modest proposal—modest in comparison with this reform—was met with the following words of the then Home Secretary. He said:
“I reject entirely the view long held by members of the Labour party that there should be directly elected police authorities. That would be a recipe for politicising the police service. It would also mean removing all magistrates from the work of police authorities. I believe that that would be a retrograde step”.—[Official Report, Commons, 26/4/94; cols. 112-13.]
The noble Lord is in his place. He knows whose words those were. They were the words of the then Home Secretary.
When circumstances change, I change my mind. What does the noble Lord do?
I very much welcome that almost damascene conversion. I would be the last person to oppose the conversion that the noble Lord has evidenced in his remarks today in support of the Bill. However, I should counsel against the sort of zealotry that often comes with conversions of that nature—the zealotry that cannot find any place in its heart for piloting or the modest proposals for safeguards that have come from noble Lords not only on this side of the House but on his own side. I hope that the Minister, in her response and during Committee, does not exhibit quite the same degree of zealotry that has been exhibited in the noble Lord’s speech, because this will be an occasion when the House will need to come together to improve the Bill and try to find common ground where we can find it, while accepting the principle of directly elected political oversight of the police.
I return to stressing the word “oversight” because the bottom line for all of us—certainly for me, as someone who has sought to exercise in the best way that I could the role and responsibilities of Police Minister—is that we must safeguard at all costs the operational independence of the police. That is the bottom line. That is absolutely vital if we are to maintain the best traditions of British policing and to uphold the rule of law.
As we do so, we need, of course, to understand that political oversight brings with it some real advantages, because we would not have seen the reforms that there have been in policing in this country over the past 20-odd years if politicians on all sides of the House and of all political parties had not been pushing and working for the sort of reforms that have made our policing now so much better than it was 20 years ago. I pay tribute to the police, and to a number of noble Lords who sit in this House who have exercised responsibility as operational chief officers of police, for the way in which they have taken the police forward in the course of some very difficult times and in the face of some difficult and hard cases that have exposed real failures on the part of the police. It would be a tragedy if we were to go backwards as an inadvertent result of the proposals in the Bill.
I want to make two remarks on matters to which we will need to return in Committee, and I pay tribute to the two maiden speeches that we have heard this afternoon—those of the noble Baronesses, Lady Berridge and Lady Newlove. They have touched on two areas in which policing has been found to have failed: diversity and ethnic minorities, and victims and their families. The two speeches were exemplars, in their different ways, of what maiden speeches should be, and were a timely reminder of the need to ensure, as we debate the Bill, that in the exercise of the functions of police commissioner and the composition of the panels, victims and ethnic minorities have their concerns taken into account. I certainly hope that we will return to that issue in Committee.
The other issue that we will have to explore with real care is operational independence. It is a matter of concern that we have not, to date, seen the protocols. We will want to see them, examine them carefully and see what the interplay will be between the panels, the police commissioner and the chief constable. As to getting that balance right in the budget, policing policies and priorities, we need to make sure that all three constituent parts of that arrangement are properly equipped, able and resourced to carry out their responsibilities. I do not accept the assurances that we have heard from those on the government Benches that the whole exercise is cost-neutral. If it is cost-neutral, it will be unable to deliver what the Government hope for, because you must resource properly the panels and the police commissioner. If you do not do that, this will be a sham exercise or an exercise that is designed purely to pander in some way to the notion that we have a form of direct accountability, when in fact we do not.
What matters above all else is the principle that Sir Robert Peel sought to enshrine in his version of policing—to recognise always that:
“The test of police efficiency is the absence of crime and disorder, and not the visible evidence of police action in dealing with it”.
Those words are worth repeating. Those of us in this Chamber who have been politicians know that for us the test is always visible action. That is, frankly, the great danger of some of what is proposed, unless you properly resource the role of panel and commissioner alike, because all our officers—those noble Lords who have had operational responsibility for the police—will tell us that the real test of efficiency is the test that Robert Peel set out. We need to ensure, as we take this matter forward, that it is the Peelian concept that is supported and upheld rather than any other.
My Lords, it is with more trepidation than usual that I seek to make my maiden speech on this Bill. Not only am I still in awe of the glorious history of this Chamber and the illustrious noble Lords who have preceded me in this place, and those who are currently serving, but I am deeply conscious of the fact that this House has at present noble Lords with a total of 250 years’ service in the office of constable—from a president of the Police Superintendents’ Association to chief constables, Metropolitan Police commissioners and senior inspectors of constabulary, some with bravery awards.
I was privileged to work with some of these noble Lords in the four years that I was Police Minister in the Home Office—the most satisfying, difficult, but enjoyable post that I ever held in government. Indeed, I so much enjoyed working with the splendid members of the police service, of all ranks, that I declined to leave my post on promotion, but stayed until the electorate forcefully removed me in 1997.
Before turning to the Bill, I wish to express my appreciation of the extent and depth of welcome that I have received from noble Lords on all sides of the House, and the extraordinary help given to me daily by the doorkeepers. As an ex-Chief Whip in the other place, I thought that I had seen everything; but nothing can prepare one for the genuine warmth of welcome that a new Member receives in this House.
I support this Bill because it goes a long way towards getting national politics out of policing and lets chief officers concentrate on local priorities. Let us not kid ourselves: politics has been in policing for many years, and some of the ablest politicians I met were chief constables who were even better than the generals. However, this Bill concentrates any politics into the person of the locally elected police commissioner and reduces substantially Home Office political interference. I have been through six general elections and I know that the electorate will not vote capriciously, whimsically or erratically on things that matter to them—and local policing matters. We do the electorate a disservice if we think otherwise. In my opinion, neither of the voting systems proposed in Clause 57 will deliver extremists as police commissioners.
The old-fashioned concept of the balanced three-legged stool—the tripartite relationship of independent chief constables, strong police authorities footing the bill and the Home Office giving a bit of advice and guidance—is as mythological as the storyline of “Midsomer Murders”. It has long gone. The Home Office dictates too much local policing from Whitehall, with a plethora of targets and reporting back. The police authority is an anonymous body, not accountable to the electorate, and chief constables are first in the firing line when local politicians are unhappy about any aspect of policing in their neighbourhood.
We are told these days that all politics is local. That is a good thing. The Bill inserts an elected police commissioner between the electorate, with their aspirations and grievances, and chief constables, who have to deliver neutral, local policing. The policing panel of elected local authority councillors, the policing plan and all the consultation involved with police commissioners ensure that local priorities are addressed at that level. Chief constables should not then be dragged into political considerations. How many hours have chief constables spent in agonising over press releases on their funding settlement from the Government, and in trying to balance gentle criticism of the Government for not giving them enough money with trying to appear a champion of local interests? That should be the job of elected police commissioners, not of neutral chief constables. Rather than introduce politics for the first time, in my opinion the Bill takes out national politics and puts in local priorities.
The first clause that I looked at concerns repeals. I was delighted to see that Home Office target-setting powers are removed, with the exception of the power to set a strategic policing requirement on national security grounds. There was no harm in the past in the Home Office setting a few key targets for violent crime, burglary et cetera, but the excessive number of targets set in recent years means that this power should not be left on the statute book to be potentially abused in future.
When I look at the £50 million cost of electing police commissioners, even if it were £100 million, I would compare it to the total police budget of £13.8 billion this year. The cost of elected commissioners at £50 million is less than 0.5 per cent of local police funding. Of course, that is additional money that we are promised; it will not come out of the police settlement. Elsewhere, money is wasted. We can free up resources for the front line by speeding up the demise of the National Policing Improvement Agency, which spent £37 million on consultancy fees in the past two years alone. It performs essential services such as maintaining the police national computer homes—whatever number we have now—and the national DNA and fingerprint databases, which should be put into a trust company owned by all the police forces. Bramshill should be under Home Office control and the task of promoting best practice should be given back to Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary.
HMIC is one of the finest examples of the police and Home Office family. It has the most highly trained police officers in the United Kingdom, who visit all forces regularly and know what is happening on the ground. Yet the role of the NPIA was expanded to do what HMIC can do a dash sight better. When we consider in Committee Clauses 84 to 90 on the functions of HMIC, I hope that we can make it clear that in addition to inspecting forces and detecting strengths and weaknesses, HMIC will be the key body,
“identifying good practice and sharing experiences from within the service”.
That is a quotation from the NPIA website on one of its main activities. I suggest that considering all the functions that the NPIA performs with regard to improving police efficiency, there is nothing that HMIC cannot do better, and at much lower cost—and from my experience, it would be done by a body that is respected, feared slightly and utterly independent.
I have tried noble Lords’ patience for too long already and I shall save my other points for Committee. I simply conclude with this point. If your Lordships think that the opinions I have expressed are right, they should support the Bill. If, on the other hand, noble Lords think that I am utterly wrong, that my judgment is flawed and that I cannot be trusted, it is absolutely vital that your Lordships support the Bill, to prevent politicians like me being in charge of the police in future in the Home Office.
My Lords, I warmly endorse the congratulations that have been extended to the noble Baronesses, Lady Berridge and Lady Newlove, on their maiden speeches. I also associate myself with the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, identifying the two essential elements of their very different but equally powerful speeches.
It is my pleasure and honour, by tradition, to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra. What an appropriate title David Maclean chose when he was ennobled. Those like me who have tramped over the high fells and mountains of the Lake District will already know Blencathra. It is a massive, whaleback fell that stands alongside Skiddaw—or “Skidda”, as he prefers to pronounce it—overlooking Keswick and guarding the northern edge of the lakes, close to the Scottish border at which it glowers. He knows the scene well, for it is in the heart of his old parliamentary constituency.
If mountains have characters, and they probably do, Blencathra exudes many of the qualities that the noble Lord brought to high office in the other place: certainty, dependability, a steadfast adherence to high principles—the pun there is deliberate—and a rock-solid determination to do the right thing at all times. I admired him for all that and for other qualities as well. As most noble Lords know, he comes widely experienced in the business of the other place and in the workings of government. He was an assistant government Whip, and later opposition Chief Whip. He was a Parliamentary Secretary in the old Ministry of Agriculture, Fisheries and Food and Minister of State at the Department of the Environment.
I saw much of the noble Lord in the role that he talked of earlier, when he was a Minister in the Home Office, where his sensitivity to human issues, frank integrity, clarity of thought and determination to cut through the dross to reach the kernel of the problem were refreshing and welcome. I am sure that we shall see more of that in your Lordships’ House. If there was a complex issue that David Maclean had in hand, you knew that it would be very well handled. His elevation to the peerage was met with universal acclaim. We all knew that he would contribute at a very high level and we have not been disappointed tonight. Far from it—his maiden speech was a model of its kind. It was succinct, apposite, humorous, forward-looking and wise. In short, it was brilliant. It is a great privilege and pleasure to follow him in this Second Reading debate, to congratulate him on behalf of the House on his speech today, to welcome him formally to his place in your Lordships’ House and to wish him well in the future.
I declare an interest: I, too, was a police officer, for around 40 years. A moment of light humour occurs to me in a rather serious debate. There is an old adage that you can never find a police officer when you want one—but here you have seven under one roof. All of them are retired and unable to cause any more damage to society than they did before. I intend to be brief because most of what I wanted to say necessarily has been said already. I intend to take a close interest in the progress of this Bill in your Lordships’ House. I am, for example, very interested in the licensing proposals and in tents on Parliament Square, but today I, too—and I do not apologise for this—want to address the proposals in Part 1 concerning commissioners.
When I read the proposals concerning police and crime commissioners in the policy review document Policing for the People, which was published two or three years ago, I was unimpressed and underwhelmed. I believed that it was all too much like the east coast of America, too prescriptive and frankly politically too dangerous. Since then, there has been a good deal of discussion with interested and concerned parties and I am now very much more relaxed about the Bill that has emerged and, quite against the seeming trend in your Lordships’ House this afternoon, I am confident enough to give it support—qualified support, but support nevertheless—at this juncture.
It is true that some existing police authorities operate very well, and their members and supporters will understandably feel aggrieved at the proposed changes. I sympathise with their position, but the fact remains that many others do not perform up to scratch or nearly well enough. Perhaps it is time to revise our current arrangements, which, as we have already heard, have been largely in their present form for almost 50 years, while society has changed immensely in the past half-century. In any case, I have to say that it is difficult to fault a proposal that seeks to create a direct channel between the man in the street on one hand and the chief police officer on the other—something that clearly does not exist at present.
I am much reassured that operational responsibility will continue to vest in the chief officer but, as Liberty has emphasised to me and others in your Lordships’ House, the overriding requirement will be to defend a non-partisan, consent-based policing tradition. We should be aware of the overriding tension that will exist in the proposed new system, which is that while chief police officers will always be answerable, as they are now, to the courts, the new commissioners will ultimately be answerable to the ballot box. It is that tension that we should keep in mind throughout the various stages of this Bill. Therein lies the potential for the law of unintended consequences to apply and it is at the root of much of the disquiet that has been evidenced today in your Lordships’ House.
Like others, I want considerable reassurance that the Bill will be constructed in such a way that single-issue politics do not encroach into this field. I go no further than that, as the point has been well made already. Like others, I want reassurance that a proper balance will be maintained between local issues and national requirements, and most important, as most speakers have identified, that the police function does not become a political football. The eagerly awaited protocols that the Government have promised will do much to assuage doubts on those scores; I, too, look for their early publication.
What about hire and fire? It is an area for the closest attention. I applaud the move to allow a chief officer to select his own deputy and assistants. That has been necessary for a long time, but when appointing a new chief officer, what advice and supervision will a commissioner receive, and from whom? Even more important, when a commissioner considers the dismissal of a chief officer, what checks will be instituted to prevent a dismissal that is ill judged, unjustified or, at worst, a malicious dismissal sought for political reasons? In July last year I sought reassurance from the Minister that the Home Secretary would retain some residual oversight of the function of dismissing a chief officer, but no such oversight is contained in the Bill at present.
Relationships between the commissioner and the local authorities in the area will be crucial. Some Members have talked about that this afternoon. How will the financial arrangements work in practice and what realistically will be the role of the police advisory panel? Can it be truly effective or will it prove to be merely an appendage? There is much more, but I do not intend to go into it. Time is pressing and we have heard much already.
I approach the subsequent stages of this Bill in your Lordships’ House optimistically. I hope that what I see is a bold attempt to begin to modernise the police service in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, mentioned. I hope that it will re-establish public confidence and the respect that, sadly, has waned over recent years and that it will put in place a cornerstone on which other initiatives can be based. Those initiatives could and should include, as has been said, the structure of the service, a crucial new approach to establishing high-quality leadership and increased economical collaboration between forces. All those and more cry out for attention. I believe that, if properly handled, this Bill could be that crucial first step towards a thoroughly modernised police service.
My Lords, I shall limit my contribution to Part 2 of the Bill, which deals with licensing. Given the way in which alcohol licensing policy impacts on lifestyle, health and safety, I suspect that many members of the public will have stronger feelings about the need for change on that issue than about police commissioners. I was reinforced in that view listening to the most moving maiden speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove. Access to and availability of alcohol under the licensing regime affect all because abuse is often linked directly to violence, anti-social behaviour, community disturbance and disorder. Those trends regrettably have been growing while other criminal statistics, as noble Lords have said, have been in decline. As the Minister said, in 2009-10 nearly half of all violent crime—almost a million incidents—was fuelled by alcohol. She could have gone on to say that more than a million hospital admissions in 2009-10 were again alcohol related. Regrettably, that figure continues to rise. I understand that there are around 78,000 additional cases in hospitals each year. An estimated 40 per cent of all accident and emergency attendances are alcohol related.
Yesterday, the Brighton Argus—the daily paper from the city where I live—published a major article in which the city’s principal medical officer, Dr Tom Scanlon, claimed that the impact of alcohol was costing Brighton and Hove £100 million a year. That figure includes the cost of treating people with illnesses caused by drinking excessively and of dealing with alcohol crime. He called for a tougher stance on providing alcohol licences in the city and for the low cost of alcohol to be addressed. The Government have already been turning their attention to the latter, but I am not quite sure whether he will have been pleased with what has emanated from the Government so far.
Dr Scanlon argued that the increased availability of alcohol and the rise in the number of licences now being granted were significant factors affecting Brighton and Hove overall. That applies especially to the growing number of licences being granted for off-licensed premises, in many of which cheap drink is available. In Brighton, 73 per cent of A&E attendances on Friday and Saturday evenings are substance or drink related, yet every week ever more drink licences are being granted.
Licences are going, amazingly, to places such as fish and chip shops and video hire shops. Innumerable grocery stores are now being granted licences for drink. Licences are even going to sandwich shops— Submarine applied for a licence to sell drink with its sandwiches. I have drawn the attention of the noble Baroness, Lady Wilcox, who is the Minister responsible, to the fact that, under the transferring of local post offices, they, too, are being granted alcohol licences. I have sent a photograph of a local one where the window is piled high with alcohol, even though the post office shop is immediately next to an off-licence and within 50 yards on either side are two major supermarkets selling alcohol.
I freely knowledge that some of the responsibility for those changes has its origin in the Licensing Acts 2003 and 2005. Some of us on these Benches were unhappy with what was being passed by our Government then. It cannot be denied that the earlier legislation effected a major shift, with the presumption embedded in it that all new licence applications should be approved.
I welcome the Government’s decision last autumn to review local licensing arrangements and to seek to rebalance the Licensing Acts so that there is a better balance between applicants and the needs of the local community. I welcome in general many of the changes that the Minister has outlined in Part 2, where I will be prepared to give support, but I have concerns in a number of areas and I wonder whether we may not be embarking on a further policy of nice words and of smoothing the hair but with no action to be seen.
I have two or three questions about what the Minister said in moving Second Reading. She said that there will be a lower evidential threshold; I understood her to say that it will be more difficult to get agreement that a licence should be granted. Am I correct and, if so, what will the threshold be? Will the Government define their objectives and set out how they expect people to try to attain them?
Also, to my surprise, the Minister did not mention the fact that, in the earlier reviews and exchanges, it was suggested that a public health factor could be considered by committees when deciding whether licences should be granted. The original idea was that PCTs would be imported into the process and would be exercising a judgment. In the light of what is happening on the health service front, will PCTs be used for the interim? If not, has the proposal been totally dropped? If it has not been totally dropped, who will take the position of the PCTs? To what extent will they have power to influence decisions taken locally? Will the public health factor be of sufficient weight to ensure that an application is vetoed in an area where there are already a fair number of licensed premises?
Finally, it is generally accepted that cost is an important factor in all alcohol issues. This is being addressed from a variety of standpoints and I know that a strategy is to be drawn up later in the year on the approach to alcohol. A whole range of different strands will have to be brought together, but cost is, in the opinion of many people who know something about the subject, very much at the heart of the solution.
In the Commons, an amendment was introduced only very late in the process to devolve the setting of licence fees from the centre to the local level. I would like to know why it was done so late in the exercise. Is that devolved power limited to a reimbursement of the costs incurred in considering a licence, or will true localism operate so that local authorities are given permission to set the cost of licences at whatever they consider appropriate in the best interests of the community, although that may exceed the cost of reimbursement for the bureaucratic exercise? I should be grateful if the noble Baroness could answer those questions when she winds up.
My Lords, I add my congratulations to all of today's maiden speakers. We have heard some brilliant and moving speeches today. Most speakers have concentrated their remarks on Part 1. I am in complete agreement with the views of my noble friends on the issue of elected police commissioners, but I focus my remarks on the extensive changes proposed to the Licensing Act 2003 under Part 2, like the noble Lord, Lord Brooke.
The genesis of and authority for the current proposals in Part 2 are contained in the section of the coalition agreement headed “Crime and Policing”, and the statements:
“We will overhaul the Licensing Act to give local authorities and the police much stronger powers to remove licences from, or refuse to grant licences to, any premises that are causing problems. … We will permit local councils to charge more for late-night licences to pay for additional policing”.
There is also, however, a statement later in the agreement:
“We will cut red tape to encourage the performance of more live music”.
That encouraged me earlier this year to introduce the Live Music Bill as a Private Member’s Bill.
I have been in strong agreement with those who want to stamp out alcohol abuse in our town centres. I live in the inner city and share many of the views of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, but I have strong concerns about some of the provisions in the Bill, some of which relate to the impact on the performance of live music, but others of which are more general in nature concerning the regulatory burden they impose. Although some aspects of Part 2 are very welcome, its provisions seem to go well beyond the bounds of the coalition agreement.
Let me take some of the proposals in turn. First, there is the vicinity test. The current vicinity test for making representations will be removed, and any party will be able to object to a live music event if they are located in the licensing authority area. A person will no longer be required to be an interested person in order to object. Why? What mischief has been detected which must be cured by these provisions? As was clear, the proposed removal received a majority-negative response in the consultation. Respondents of all kinds suggested that that proposal could lead to a rise in vexatious complaints and give disproportionate influence to non-local individuals.
Secondly, in Clause 110, entitled, “Reducing the burden: premises licences”, we have the proposed reduction of the evidence required for the attachment of licence conditions, so that they are “appropriate” rather than “necessary”. During Committee in the other place, the Government justified the lowering of the evidence test from necessary to appropriate on the grounds that some local authorities feared that a particular condition or step that they sought to take would not be regarded as necessary. They admitted, however, that support for the measure was based on anecdotal evidence. Surely that is insufficient grounds on which to base a change of this nature, which will fundamentally alter the Licensing Acts.
Why should we reduce the evidence base for conditions so that the need for them becomes a more subjective matter of opinion? That will only lead to conditions being challenged more than currently, resulting in an increased burden on licensing committees, the courts and licensed premises. The licensed trade believes that the current “necessary” test has worked well and has ensured that conditions attached to licences are fair and address specific concerns, as opposed to being unfair and disproportionate. Where is the evidence otherwise?
Then there is the question of objection to temporary event notices. Previously, the police could object only on crime prevention grounds. Now, they and the environmental health authorities will be able to object on the basis of any of the four licensing objectives, and licensing authorities will be able to impose conditions. Temporary event notices are largely used by community groups. Allowing objections to temporary event notices could inadvertently affect a huge range of events, such as community events, village fetes and charity fundraising events. Where is the justification for these changes? Where is the evidence that these additional powers of objection are needed? Are we just creating more bureaucracy for community groups for no purpose? What price the big society and local initiative?
Then we have the early morning restriction orders. The ministerial foreword and the Government’s response to the consultation on the Bill recognise and acknowledge that the majority of premises are well run businesses. Then we have the early morning restriction orders that contradict that, in so far as businesses that have applied for and been granted hours beyond midnight—until 1 am or 2 am, for example—will be penalised through no fault of their own if such orders are imposed. They will simply be swept up in a requirement to cease to trade at midnight.
What exemptions will there be from EMROs? It is important that such exemptions also recognise best practice and social responsibility initiatives, rather than being solely based on premises type. This would ensure that well run businesses that would not otherwise qualify for an exemption are not being unduly penalised by the provisions. Such a blanket measure in itself risks large numbers of customers coming out on to the street at the same time, just like the bad old days. Would it not be more practical to tackle those premises which are the source of the problem rather than penalising responsible premises?
I move on to the late night levy. A large number of trade organisations are particularly concerned about the untargeted nature of the proposed levy for late night premises. The power can only be applied across a licensing authority district as a whole, rather than a specific area, and its untargeted nature means that many responsible businesses will be caught.
A late night levy can be imposed irrespective of whether a bar is a source of disturbance. Ultimately, it is unfair that any licensed premises operating in a responsible manner should have to pay such a charge when the best course of action would be specifically to tackle the irresponsible operators, or indeed individual members of the public who cause problems. Is it not patently unfair, as was pointed out in Committee in the other place, to impose a charge on a business which may be 20 miles away from the source of the problem? As the trade associations point out, it is vital that there are appropriate exemptions and discounts on the levy for recognised best practice and social responsibility schemes.
Finally, businesses in the sector are concerned about the cost implications of late amendments tabled by the Government on fees—a matter referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke—without any adequate explanation for their decision or impact assessment. In the event that fees are to be set locally by licensing authorities, there should be a national cap on the levels that may be charged. A precedent for this is contained in the Gambling Act 2005 with regard to a cap on fees for gaming licences, and it appears to have worked well.
My overriding concern is that all these proposals will add considerably to the regulatory burden of business without a corresponding impact on crime prevention.
The Association of Licensed Multiple Retailers estimates that the average cost per pub will be in the order of £2,000 to £5,000, but this could double when reform of annual fees is taken into account. It complains, justifiably, that this is yet another cost burden imposed on the trade at a time when the Government are seeking to encourage growth and job creation. The measures introduce significant additional costs for those trading responsibly beyond midnight in particular, and introduce uncertainty by increasing the likelihood that licences will be refused or reviewed with no account taken of their previous trading history or their good relationship with the community. Indeed, as the Government’s own regulatory impact assessment makes clear, the net effect of these reforms will see licences refused, revoked and additional conditions imposed, with more restrictive outcomes of appeals and hearings.
What evidence is there that all this extra regulation is needed? Are we not meant to be a deregulatory Government? Instead it will significantly add to the burden of business. I took the liberty of looking at the business department’s website to see how the “one in, one out” rule applied. I do not see where the “one out” comes in for every regulation imposed by this Bill. I wait to be enlightened by the Minister, but is not this very Bill, in the way it has been put into effect—unless the Home Office is exempted in some shape or form from the need to deregulate—contrary to government policy? I very much look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to that.
My Lords, it is very good to be able to contribute to a debate that has included three such distinguished maiden speeches. I extend congratulations to the authors of those speeches.
I should like to focus on Clause 154 in Part 4, but with a viewpoint somewhat different from those expressed by the two noble Lords who addressed that clause.
My concern about Clause 154 is that it adds a second layer of legal process to an already stringent procedure to arrest and prosecute those suspected of war crimes. The clause requires any potential case for arrest to be referred not only to the magistrates, as is the case at the moment, but to the DPP before any magistrate can issue a warrant.
For those who are perhaps unfamiliar with the background, very briefly, it is this. The UK Government, under their universal jurisdiction obligations, can and should facilitate the arrest and questioning of any person suspected of grave offences, such as hijacking, hostage taking, torture and/or grave war crimes. The principle of universal jurisdiction extends even to those non-UK nationals suspected of grave offences committed outside the UK. Any prosecution however is dependent on the consent of the DPP, thus the two events, arrest and prosecution, are distinct. Clause 154 now conflates these two procedures by requiring all the evidence previously dealt with by magistrates to come before the DPP before any decision on arrest can take place.
Clearly, there are limitations to these procedures, in particular that of diplomatic immunity. By long-standing agreement those in senior government positions are protected from criminal investigation and/or prosecution. There is also a degree of immunity for former government Ministers.
In addition to this convention of immunity, there are many other obstacles to the successful prosecution of war criminals, which include the reluctance of the police to act upon information more often provided by human rights groups, the slowness of reaction allowing suspects to avoid arrest, and the lack of what is perceived to be incontrovertible evidence of crimes against humanity. The new clause presupposes that the DPP might require an even higher standard of proof, creating an almost impossible task for NGOs.
In the past 10 years, there have been 10 applications for the arrest of suspected perpetrators of serious crimes and only two of those have resulted in the issuing of actual warrants. The human rights organisation Redress, of which I was a director many years ago, makes it clear in its report that senior district judges take great care in determining whether the high threshold of evidence, liability and jurisdiction has been met and that no immunity applies.
The evidence therefore suggests that the current system enables the judiciary to filter out any potential abuse—a threat the Government cite as one of the reasons for introducing the involvement of the DPP at the initial stages of any potential prosecution that we are today discussing. One cannot view this system as it exists today as anything but a responsible one. So the question arises: why it is necessary to add another level of permission? The arguments put forward by the Government focus on the fact that any threat of arrest prevents those with whom the Government wish to engage risking travel to the UK.
One understands that any Government, including that of the UK, wish to avoid embarrassment, and certainly to avoid at all costs the arrest of former government Ministers in the absence of sound evidence. But as I hope I have shown, the current system is pretty tough and has not resulted in a flood of arrests or prosecutions; in fact, quite the contrary. The clause about which I have concerns in effect introduces a policy that will provide a discretionary extension of current immunities to categories of persons outside the established rules, and in doing so it undermines, to say the least, the principle of universal jurisdiction to which the UK Government are committed and, as a consequence, contributes to a politicisation of the judicial process. The result is that the UK could well come to be seen as a country friendly—even more friendly, perhaps—to those suspected of war crimes.
Instead, one would wish that the Government would bring in measures to enhance and make more effective the current system by providing more resources to the police and the CPS in order to pursue cases and by developing clear and coherent policies to make the UK a no-go area for perpetrators of heinous human rights abuses.
My Lords, this has been a remarkable occasion in the House of Lords. The depth and experience of the speeches has been terrific, and I am so glad to have been here to listen to three moving maiden speeches. I congratulate the Government on introducing an important Bill that in many ways is very radical. I think it will be a big step forward. I should say straightaway that a lot of work has been put into it, unlike some of the other pieces of legislation that have been put before us in recent months which have been ill digested and caused a great deal of grief all the way round.
I, too, want to focus on Part 1 covering the proposals for elected police and crime commissioners and to say something about Part 3 covering the proposals for Parliament Square. We have all had many representations on the Bill. I found the ACPO submission helpful, and I have had the advantage of a discussion with the chief constable of my own home county force in Suffolk and a discussion with the chair of the Suffolk police authority.
There are four reasons, most of which have been referred to, why elected commissioners for forces outside London would be a huge advance. The precedents in the United States, although totally rubbish at one point, have in general been helpful. Those in the UK certainly have been. Secondly, people do not feel that they have an individual whom they can hold to account, to whom they can make representations on their expectations or occasionally express their unhappiness with the performance of the police. Thirdly, the police should be held accountable, not in terms of their individual operations but for their overall operational efficiency. Fourthly, and it has not been referred to sufficiently, the police often need a local person who has the democratic authority to speak up on their behalf.
Let me also acknowledge some of the concerns that the police have over this change. Will there be interference with operational independence? Will an elected commissioner have a party political agenda, a manifesto commitment or the need to demonstrate personal energy or achievement? Will the police and crime panel advising the commissioner have too many powers of veto over a chief constable’s plans? Will the appointment and removal of chief officers continue to be fair and independent? Will the security clearance of the police and crime commissioners be adequate for them to receive full and frank briefings on sensitive matters of security and criminal intelligence?
I believe that the transfer of responsibility for the Met from the Home Secretary to the mayor have been a real success. I remember a wonderful man called Donald Grant, chief of public relations at the Home Office in the days when Lord Whitelaw was Home Secretary, once saying to me, as a journalist asking why something I was going to write about had not been done, “You know, Mark, when Willie is dealing with the Met, he is treading on eggshells”. That is not a healthy relationship. Perhaps one of the worst examples was in July 1982 when a man got into the Queen’s bedroom in Buckingham Palace. The commissioner at the time refused to resign, as I personally believe he should have done.
My noble friend Lord Howard has pointed out that the membership of local police authorities, even the chair, is sometimes unknown to 99 per cent or 99.9 per cent of the local population; I cannot remember which figure he used. That is a real democratic deficit. Even MEPs have a better level of recognition than that. The new police and crime panels will be very important. I suspect that they really could be smaller than the 17 members there are on police authorities, and in many ways, although they will be appointed from local authorities, they will often effectively act as deputies for the commissioner him or herself.
The maintenance of operational independence does not mean that a commissioner’s involvement with operational efficiency is in any way inappropriate. For example, the police can sometimes be quite clumsy in the way in which they handle traffic incidents, showing little regard for the inconvenience to road users from long road closures and diversions. It is perfectly proper and desirable that commissioners should be able to reflect consequent public irritation on such matters. I believe that neighbourhood watch schemes are important and have a real contribution to make, yet quite often the police regard them as just a nuisance.
Another really important point, which I mentioned earlier in my four reasons, is that the commissioner should be able to represent the views of the police when it is difficult for them to do so themselves. For example, when there is ill-founded criticism of the use of profiling for policing, even though the shortage of resources for the police means they have to use them efficiently, an elected commissioner speaking for the taxpayer should be able to mount an effective and brisk defence of the police. I noticed last week that the Chairman of British Airways, Sir Martin Broughton, talked a lot of sense on that issue in relation to the scrutiny of passengers.
Finally, I want to say a brief word on the proposals for Parliament Square in Part 3. I hope we can all agree that Parliament Square is the most appropriate place for public demonstrations to parliamentarians, the public and the media on any matter which is of public concern. But it should be a vibrant and fluid place, not a squalid camp with faded and tattered banners or a precious space hogged by some for months or even years. I am afraid the Bill as drafted, with its five pages of legislation, is not the best way forward. In February 2011, I published a Private Member’s Bill, the Parliament Square (Management) Bill, which proposes in four clauses and on only two pages a simpler and, I believe, more elegant solution. Under my Bill, there would be a Parliament Square committee made up of all the bodies responsible for the square. It would have the power and the obligation to remove from Parliament Square each night at any time between midnight and 6 am all litter, detritus or other debris, including tents and sleeping equipment. I believe within two or three weeks we would have a transformed square. I propose in Committee to introduce some amendments to the Government's Bill. I have talked to a number of colleagues on all sides of the House and I feel I have some hope of getting some support.
My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord with whom I came into your Lordships’ Chamber 20 years ago. There is an iron law of British politics that the Home Office introduces the maximum number of Bills in every Parliament. Every Home Office Bill is large and very complex, aims to cure the problems caused by previous Home Office Bills, and goes on to create new problems which subsequent Home Office Bills will have to cure. I do not think that we have seen any break in that iron law so far.
I shall speak only to Part 3. As far as policing goes, my experience is of being in Grosvenor Square in March 1968 and being chased by police horses rather than being on a police horse chasing demonstrators. From that point of view, I would have much preferred this Bill to have got us back to the Public Order Act 1986 and done nothing more. It will be 10 years on 2 June 2011 that Mr Brian Haw has been demonstrating in Parliament Square. He has been there since before 9/11 and before the Iraq war. In the mean time Parliament has—if I may use unparliamentary language—disgraced itself in its behaviour towards what is, after all, a non-violent demonstration. It is squalid; it is dirty; it embarrasses us. But that is the nature of freedom.
Freedom is not designed to have people demonstrate in morning suits, except maybe to go to the royal wedding, for which even the Prime Minister has had to agree to wear a morning suit. But the whole point of the freedom to demonstrate is that it will be embarrassing and troublesome. If we do not grant that freedom, what are we here for? What is the parliament of a free country for if it cannot tolerate a little bit of noise? And it is much less noise than the House of Commons makes itself—but that is beside the point. Is a little bit of noise so inconveniencing to Members of Parliament that we have to ban this, persecuting and prosecuting this man for years on end, and for what purpose? He is not breaking any law. He is not smashing glass windows in Great George Street or anything like that. He is just standing there saying, “It is shocking that 10,000 people, or whatever, have died”.
I supported the Iraq war. I have no compunction in that. I am a humanitarian warmonger, as I have often called myself. But I still feel that if someone wants to demonstrate in Parliament Square, if they do it peacefully and non-violently, they have a fundamental right to do that. It is no good having the Human Rights Act or abiding by the European Convention on Human Rights—as every Minister says he will do on the front of a Bill—if all we are going to do is prosecute innocent people. I have been on the prosecuted side. I have been on civil rights marches in America and on student demonstrations here. I marched against the Vietnam War. I will not forget my past, but I still think that the Bill should retain Clause 142 and junk Clauses 143 to 150.
We do not need a management committee or a clean-up operation. None of that is necessary. If noble Lords watched tourists going by as often as I have—I do not have a car, so I often walk round these premises and streets—they would see that tourists are fascinated that the British political system allows someone to abuse it right in front of Parliament. We should be proud of that. It should be a world heritage site more than anything else. I do not know how much it has cost us to chase this poor single man around the courts and so forth. Since the calculus is how many police officers we can employ, I am sure that we could have employed 10 or 15 police officers for the costs that we have incurred.
I urge the Government even now to go back to their libertarian principles. The Liberal Democrat Party has libertarian principles. The Conservatives were supposed to have libertarian principles once upon a time when I knew them. There is no problem and no harm is being caused. We should leave people alone and let them demonstrate. It is the oldest freedom and one that we have fought for over many centuries. We can once again get back to the sanity of the Public Order Act 1986. When it was passed it was perfectly adequate, and it had long been adequate before the previous Government, I am sad to say, panicked and brought in this SOCPA legislation, which is completely over the top.
There is still a chance to withdraw from all this nonsense and keep Clause 142, which allows for the Public Order Act to come back into operation. That is more than enough. It would be a proud tribute to the libertarian traditions of the coalition, while it lasts.
My Lords, I am part of the coalition, which I hope will last. I want to address my remarks both to universal jurisdiction, in Section 154, and to licensing—to the universal and the local, if I can put it that way. No one is trying to stop universal jurisdiction for the prosecution of suspected war criminals. That case was made very clearly by the noble Baroness, Lady Ramsay, by my noble friend Lord Carlile and by the Minister when she spoke at the beginning of the debate, so I thought that I would just stand up and say that I agreed. Luckily for me, the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, added some comments that I can elaborate on.
The noble Baroness pointed out that we do not want a two-tier system. I am sorry that she is not in her place, but we already have a two-tier system. If I talk about private prosecutions, the next stage is the Attorney-General. The two-tier is already there, so she is not correct in that assumption.
The usual course at the moment is that when someone is accused, the police investigate and pass the file to the Crown Prosecution Service. If the Crown Prosecution Service feels that there is a realistic chance of conviction and a prosecution is in the public interest, it will charge the accused with the crime. It has powers of arrest while it investigates. That is the case now and that will be the case after and if the Bill is passed.
In answer to the question raised by the noble Baroness, Lady D'Souza, although she is not here to hear the answer, if she had followed the case in the House of Commons she would know that, in answer to one of my Liberal Democrat colleagues, the Minister gave extra reassurance that the Crown Prosecution Service would be given sufficient resources to give exactly what the noble Baroness is complaining about, which is not happening now.
The difference in a private prosecution is that the test is much lower—a prima facie case—and the magistrate is shown only the alleged evidence for the prosecution and nothing at all from the defence. There has never been a private prosecution for universal jurisdiction ending with a conviction. There has never been a trial. Comments were made that there were only 10 cases, of which only two had arrest warrants, but they never went to trial.
So, at present, an arrest warrant is issued and the person concerned is not informed, nor can he or she defend themselves. The person foolish enough to come to our democracy is arrested, and then, currently, the Attorney-General—the second tier, which the noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, did not notice—will decide whether there is a realistic case to answer.
The change effected by the Bill would be that someone can still be accused before an arrest warrant is issued but the Director of Public Prosecutions would have to agree that a prosecution should go forward. The change, which is very good for a democracy, is that you are taking out the politician—the Attorney-General—and replacing them with the DPP, who is not a politician and who has given lots of assurances in the other place. When we spoke about this outside this Chamber, people asked me what the difference is and why someone should not be arrested by the magistrates’ court. The bottom line is that, under the current system, that person could spend two nights in jail before the Attorney-General said that there was no case and they were released. However, if there was a case—whether it is a Crown Prosecution Service arrest or one that arose out of a private prosecution, supported by the DPP—universal jurisdiction and all the things that follow would be there. The noble Baroness, Lady D’Souza, also said that there should be no politicisation of the process. I assure her that the DPP is not a politician—however, the Attorney-General is, and that aspect of the current system is being changed.
I now turn to the localism of the licensing section. Until the last two or three speakers spoke—the noble Lords, Lord Brooke and Lord Clement-Jones—I thought that this would break new ground and offer a little light relief from police commissioners. Part 2, which covers this issue, is pretty good apart from one point, which I think is wrong—the Minister used the word “vicinity” when she talked about widening the places from where people can make objections. At first glance, that is correct, because anyone within the local authority area can object now, which is an improvement. However, local authority areas have boundaries. In my own area of London, there is a boundary for instance between the borough of Barnet and the borough of Brent, called the Edgware Road. There is a pub I can think of on the Brent side of the road that causes great trouble, which, indeed, is subject to a licensing appeal and hearings. However, the people on the other side of the road, in Barnet, under the current draft of the Bill, would not be able to object, because although they live in the vicinity, they live in a neighbouring licensing authority area. I hope to bring forward a minor amendment to include that in Committee.
The Bill itself, as far as licensing is concerned, is dealing very much with dotting the “i”s and crossing the “t”s. However, the trouble is that we have moved in this country towards the free availability of alcohol under the licensing legislation, which did not exist before. Licensed establishments tended to close at 11.30 pm, perhaps with a half-hour drinking-up time. We were told that in order to stop the inebriated persons—let us call them drunks—coming out of the pubs at 11.30 pm in one horde, we would lessen the load by spreading it from 11.30 pm to 12.30 am, 1 am, 3 am and so on, and then it would be easier. Our neighbours across the channel sit quietly at the tables and drink their wine in a civilised fashion, or so we are told.
The halcyon days of the pubs closing at 11.30 pm have now moved on to the pubs emptying out over a period of hours. During that period, those inebriated people may be kept under control within the licensed establishment, but once they are outside, it is the responsibility of the police. Local communities are being treated very, very badly by the freeing up of licensing laws. One noble Lord talked about licensed retailers selling alcohol. So many retailers—someone mentioned a fish and chip shop and someone mentioned a post office—are extending their licensing hours and applying to sell alcohol that it is free for drinking not only within the pubs but in our streets. I believe that that aspect of the Bill needs to be looked at again.
My Lords, I rise to add a few brief thoughts in relation to the provisions in Part 2 concerning the licensing offence of persistently selling alcohol to children. I will first declare some interests. I am a former chief executive of the Portman Group and a former member of the Alcohol Education and Research Council. I currently work as a paid adviser on corporate responsibility to two drinks companies, whose names are listed in the register. I emphasise that I provide them with non-parliamentary advice and that I have had no discussion about this Bill with either company.
The Bill would double the maximum fine imposed for persistently selling alcohol to children from £10,000 to £20,000. I have no problem in principle about a £20,000 fine for this crime. After all, it is perfectly easy to not break the law by always asking for reliable proof of age and refusing to serve any young person who does not have it. The problem is that, even if the fine were a million pounds, it would still be completely ineffective and meaningless unless the law were properly and rigorously enforced. There is no point in having a tough law if people think their chances of being caught are minimal. Under the Licensing Act 2003, the number of people taken to court for persistently selling alcohol to children has been minuscule. It was eight people in 2008, of whom seven were found guilty. In 2009, the last year for which figures are available, this fell to only four people prosecuted and convicted. There have been no occasions to date in which the full £10,000 fine has been applied, and the average fine is just £1,700, a very long way short of the proposed new maximum.
Could the Minister clarify the Government's objective in proposing this clause? If it is to deter people from the crime of selling alcohol to children, how do they expect to be taken seriously enough when the existing law is so feebly enforced? Would it not be a more effective strategy to ensure that the police, local authorities and trading standards officers have sufficient resources to conduct regular, rigorous and extensive test purchasing operations, accompanied by publicity and public education, so that licensees were in no doubt that selling to children would be extremely high risk, putting their licence, their livelihood and their reputation on the line? I am concerned that test purchasing is just the sort of multi-agency activity that will become vulnerable to budgetary cuts in the current economic climate. If the penalties, even if doubled, were never applied because the law is barely enforced, we could end up with neither the prevention that test purchasing provides nor the cure of the law for those who do offend.
I draw attention to another aspect of the existing licensing law, which is the offence of buying alcohol on behalf of children—often known as proxy purchase—where unscrupulous adults will buy alcohol to pass on to children, very often children who are not even known to them but who have stopped them in the street outside licensed premises. Even though the incidence of prosecution and conviction for this offence is still remarkably low, the numbers are much higher than for illegal sales directly to children. In 2008, 42 people were taken to court and 28 were convicted. In 2009, the figures were 29 prosecutions resulting in 25 convictions. This offence carries only a level 5 fine, which is a maximum of £5,000. Why is the Bill not also proposing to double the fine for this offence or to put it on a par with the offence of persistent direct sales to children? Many local authorities now recognise that the offence of proxy purchase is an increasingly significant source of alcohol for the under-18s and are working hard with retailers and the police in community alcohol partnerships to tackle it.
Also absent from the Bill is any proposal to increase the fine for serving customers who are already drunk. This has been an offence for years but, again, the law seems to be virtually unenforced. In 2008, 17 prosecutions were made, resulting in just seven convictions. In 2009, these figures fell to eight prosecutions and just six convictions. Most people in a town-centre pub on a Friday or Saturday night will probably have witnessed that many breaches of the law in 10 minutes. Perhaps the Minister could tell the House why the offence of serving children has been singled out for increased penalties but not the offence of serving drunks or of proxy purchase. Incidentally, I place on record my thanks to the Library researchers in your Lordships' House for providing me only yesterday with all the up-to-date figures that I have quoted this evening.
If the Government’s intention is to rebalance the Licensing Act, this must mean something in practice, not just in terms of the theory of what the law says, which remains meaningless if unenforced. Considerable rebalancing could be achieved by the effective enforcement of the existing law on selling to children and to drunks. But if more severe penalties are genuinely considered to be justified—and I am not sure yet that we have heard that convincing case—could the Government at least be even-handed and apply the penalty upgrade to all the relevant offences that I have mentioned?
My Lords, batting at number 36 in the order for this debate, I can offer very little that is new. The House will have heard the collective experience of retired Metropolitan commissioners and chief constables, and we will hear from past members of police authorities and many others in the field of law enforcement. Many of the contributions have been informed by first-hand experience of policing and in the criminal justice system. I declare an interest in that for a year I chaired a public inquiry into the professional standards and workplace practices of the Metropolitan Police. I pause here to pay tribute to all those members of police authorities up and down the country who gave evidence to my inquiry.
In the light of my experience of chairing the Morris inquiry, and having listened to the wealth of retired chief officers and others, I ask myself whether our police service is broken. My certain answer is no. Can it be improved? Of course, the answer is yes. Is this Bill the vehicle for that improvement? To that question, I conclude that the jury is out. What then is the added value of the policing Bill before us? What is the value of replacing police authorities? We have argued over many years that democratic accountability is important and it was said earlier in this debate that the missing link was the election of the authorities. We must now ask ourselves whether the elected police and crime commissioners will fill that void and that vacuum. How will an elected commissioner change the daily crime experience of the people in many of our communities—those who live in St Pauls in Bristol, Toxteth, Brixton, and Handsworth in my home city? Will the citizens of these communities feel any safer because the commissioner is now elected? I fear not. I ask these questions because these provisions will be measured by the experience of the citizens. That is how the Bill will be tested and measured.
Perhaps the Minister can clarify for us the method of election because, as we read in the impact assessment note from the Home Office, it is not necessarily going to be first past the post, nor AV. Indeed, the note advises that elections will be held using a supplementary vote system and will cost, as we have been told, some £50 million over four years. The striking fact here is that the SV system will cost by itself an additional £5 million. Perhaps the Minister can also enlighten the House with a gentle tutorial on the SV system because it is not popularly understood, or indeed popularly promoted. I ask myself whether that £5 million might make a tremendous difference to a number of officers—front-line serving officers—who are leaving the service because of the budget cuts.
We look to our police chief officers not only to walk the beat, as they say, but to be trusted builders of social capital in our communities. I doubt that the elected commissioners will deliver the social capital, reassurance on concerns, understanding and sensitivity to our communities that are so vital if we are to maintain cohesion in them. Our police service is not perfect by any means but it is a changing force that is much more responsive to the public whom it serves. The recent TUC demonstration, for example, was typical of the change taking place in our police services. They invited over 100 observers to be present in the control room to observe the demonstration, to give advice and to be consulted. They are getting closer to the people and becoming much more accountable.
I am aware that elected commissioners, even by another name, are common practice in the United States. While I am not saying that everything that happens in America is bad, what is good for American society and its community is not always good for Britain. Politics and policing do not mix. Our police deserve our support; they do not need our politics.
My Lords, please forgive me, someone from Northern Ireland, for joining a Second Reading debate on a Bill that is primarily about English and Welsh policing. I declare an interest as I was a member of the security forces in the Province for many years and worked closely supporting the police, planning and patrolling with them frequently—almost daily, sometimes—on behalf of Her Majesty’s Government. I was also a member of the first Northern Ireland Policing Board, formed in response to the Patten report produced by the noble Lord, Lord Patten of Barnes. That Policing Board was in fact an enhanced model of an English police authority. I hope that that experience justifies my giving an opinion in this case.
I come from an area that, sadly, through necessity, had the most politicised policing in Europe. Remember that those opposing the Government shot and blew up the police, the supporting security forces and many others as well. The Patten report and the consequential Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000 set in place mechanisms to depoliticise the police and to make the force more acceptable and responsive to community opinions. We now even have the ex-terrorists in government, encouraging their community to join the police. Sadly, I realise that a small number of their erstwhile colleagues are still killing and maiming, which, of course, we all condemn.
Why on earth is the coalition moving towards greater politicisation, rather than away from it? The Minister said that the Bill would transfer power to communities and professionals. For the life of me, I do not see communities involved, except through local politicians. I cannot even see the professionals whom she talks about—professionals of what? They all look like politicians to me, except for two token independents appointed to the panels. For all the reasons given more eloquently by others, I am very much against the establishment of this elected police and crime commissioner working in isolation. I cannot see how an individual can do the work of an authority on his or her own. Who will do the committee work—the staff? It is not what they are there for. Will he or she have a deputy? If there is no deputy, how on earth is this going to run, not only if that person is away, but if they fall ill? The Minister said that the PCCs would be cost-neutral. Maybe, but the PCPs can only have teeth, which she insisted they would have, if they are provided with structure and substantial funding—in effect, mirroring the PCC’s office. This, of course, is unnecessary.
Although our governance of policing in the Province is by no means perfect, some of what we do is perhaps relevant. We have come from a long way behind, but now we are well ahead of these retrograde steps proposed in the Bill. Northern Ireland is the size of Yorkshire and our Assembly is equivalent to the Yorkshire council, to put it into perspective. Our Policing Board is the equivalent of a combination of the proposed PCC and PCP, with, if you like, the PCC becoming our chairman.
However, although we have Assembly Members equivalent to councillors in England and Wales on our board, we also have independent members who most importantly outnumber the political members. Collectively, they elect the chairman; it does not take much guessing to see that they will not elect a political one. We then also have another body even closer to the communities: district policing partnerships, which consist of councillors in our case, although in England and Wales it might be parish council members—again, critically, with a larger number of independents than elected representatives.
The independents on both these bodies are appointed to provide community balance. The Secretary of State appoints independents to the board, while the committee of the board appoints those on the district policing partnerships. I was on the first panel for appointing independents to DPPs. In carrying out this task, we had to take some of the following criteria, laid down in legislation, into consideration to provide balance: religion, gender, age, geographic location of people’s homes, the less able-bodied and the disadvantaged. We also had to include those who were victims. In her most moving maiden speech, the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, brought up this requirement and the option of having victims represented and involved. Whether that will come about, we wait to see. We have already got this in Northern Ireland. Perhaps the lesson is that, rather than going far away to the US, where there is a totally different scale and a totally different society, and where a lot of what goes on is quite questionable—the Policing Board made a lot of visits there—we should try looking closer to home, taking examples that are built on our own culture.
In respect of what I have said, in this Bill the coalition is tackling the issues from the top down when it should be tackling them from the bottom up from the community. The declared aim is to provide accountability and connection with the communities. Policing is about policing communities, especially the minorities, and protecting them. Where in the Bill is the inclusion of ethnic minorities, equal gender representation, the aged, the less able-bodied, the disadvantaged and the victims, among others? They simply do not appear. I just do not see that the Bill solves the problems; in my view, it will make them worse.
There is a myth that you often hear that more policemen on the street will not solve our problems. In Northern Ireland during the Troubles, we had what amounted to saturation policing, with the support of the military. As opposed to what we have now in my area, where there are 14 policemen, there were up to 650 security force people—it was saturation. What we called ODC—ordinary decent crime—was at a very low level because of the presence on the street. I accept that we cannot afford to do that here, but it is not true that police on the beat do not inhibit crime. They do, and we must find a way of getting them out of the stations and on to the beat.
My Lords, in Committee I plan to participate in debates about a range of issues, including Parliament Square, but today I will concentrate on Part 1 of the Bill and the main issue of elected police and crime commissioners.
I support the idea of elected PCCs because I believe in the power of individual leadership. Yes, we will need strong candidates who are good communicators to come forward with manifestos that are as realistic as they are ambitious, and we will need all the right safeguards to protect the vital principle of police operational independence. If we get the detail of the legislation right, though, I believe that elected PCCs will create an opportunity to renew our fight against crime in a way that unites the police and our citizens.
I am not a policing expert but I am interested in the Bill and the proposal for elected PCCs for two reasons. The first is an interest in the impact of crime, particularly antisocial behaviour and drug-related and drink-related crime, on people’s morale and the ambitions that they might have for themselves and their families. The second is a general interest in people’s lack of confidence in, and their frustration with, our political system.
In preparing for the Bill and deciding whether or not to participate in it, I did a lot of reading and research. That included all the research that was relevant to the proposals in the Bill about PCCs. For me, other evidence not directly about PCCs was more interesting and useful in forming my views. First, in the context of some work that I have been doing for the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill, I have been reading a report published in 2006 following an extensive study about declining participation and disillusion in the political system by the Power commission, which was chaired by the noble Baroness, Lady Kennedy of The Shaws. I do not agree with all its recommendations but the analysis that it offers about why people feel disengaged is very interesting. The report’s central point—what it says underlines a wide range of frustrations that people have—is important in the context of our debate today, and it is this: basically, people feel that they do not have enough influence over the decisions that affect them.
Elected PCCs will offer a real say on how crime will be fought in local areas. I believe that PCCs, standing on a manifesto that people can judge, working with the police chief on a strategic plan to deliver what the people have voted for and setting the right budget so that they have the money to do it, are a powerful response to what people feel they need now in our political system.
The second piece of research that I looked at was more recent. It was research into crime and punishment, commissioned by my noble friend Lord Ashcroft. As your Lordships will know, he is the founder of Crimestoppers and the chairman of its trustees. I have no idea what he thinks about elected PCCs; I do not at all want to suggest that he shares my view. However, his research, although about public and police opinion on the proposed reforms to the justice system, was striking for the unanimity of the police and the general public in their views on crime and the remoteness of government. In other words, they shared a view on the lack of local accountability. A key point from the findings of this research was:
“The public felt that what they saw as the failure of successive governments to act on their concerns about crime and punishment were due to politicians being unaffected by crime in their own lives; the constraints of human rights law and the fear of being accused of political incorrectness; the criminal justice system being staffed by unrepresentatively liberal individuals; and lack of money. Police officers felt mistakes were made because governments paid more attention to theorists than to victims and practitioners”.
As has been clear in the debate so far, some senior police officers and former police chiefs are concerned about elected PCCs, particularly the risks of politicisation arising from ill-defined roles and responsibilities. I understand the need for clarity. I have worked in an environment where the distinction between strategic and operational issues is essential. I understand what can go wrong when that is not the case. Although I have never worked in policing, I have some knowledge of that. The evidence suggests that, once clarity is achieved via the memorandum of understanding or the protocol that has been raised previously, agreement on the strategy in pursuit of a shared goal will not be hard to reach. The public and police will unite in their demand that elected police and crime commissioners demonstrate that they are serious about listening to the public and working with the police to fight crime.
Elected PCCs are radically different from what we have now. Some noble Lords have raised questions about piloting. I absolutely see that much effort will be needed to communicate to the public the effect of PCCs and this change to raise awareness of and interest in elections. However, this is achievable. Indeed, a nationwide campaign will build real momentum. The more I think about it, the more enthusiastic I am. Once support grows for elected PCCs so, too, will public concern about some of the Lord Chancellor’s justice reforms, particularly those that might reduce prisoner numbers. Hearing the public’s views on that will be no bad thing. I support elected PCCs because they will offer stronger local leadership in the fight against crime. I look forward to the detailed scrutiny and debates in Committee and on Report, which are of course necessary. I will participate, in particular, in the part relating to Parliament Square; there is need for some amendments to that part of the Bill. However, I have no hesitation in supporting the principle of the Bill and the changes it proposes at this stage.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, as vice-president of the Association of Police Authorities and as chair of the All-Party Group on Policing.
Fundamental to the model of British policing is the notion of policing by consent, particularly in our society, where the police are largely unarmed and must rely on the good will and confidence of the citizens to carry out their duties effectively and sensitively. The lifeblood of policing is information, and the reason this information flows from the public to the police can be summed up in one word, trust—trust in the police to act fairly and with integrity, and trust in the police that the information will be used judiciously and without attracting retribution from anyone.
Without that trust, information stops and policing becomes ineffective. To achieve this trust, you must have accountability. Without accountability the police become a controlling force, an oppressive instrument of powerful and self-interested groups. In parts of the world this will be the military, in others local warlords, and in some, perhaps, the senior officers in the police force itself. If policing is thus distorted or dictated to by unrepresentative groups, the trust of the public is gone. The only possible result is a downward spiral that manifests itself in corruption, organised crime and abuses of human rights. So, getting it right matters. But how confident can we be that the Bill does get it right? The drafting is certainly deficient. Take the centrepiece of the Bill—the creation of directly elected police and crime commissioners. The dictionary tells you that a “commissioner” is “one who commissions”, and that “to commission” is,
“the act of procuring, committing or performing”.
So in England and Wales we are to have 41 directly elected police and crime commissioners procuring, committing or performing crime. That is brilliant drafting.
Of course, in London we are not going to get directly elected commissioners, partly because we already have two commissioners: the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis and the Commissioner of the City of London Police, who is responsible for a resident population of around 10,000, the size of a local government ward elsewhere in the capital. Instead, the corporation will continue in its own unique and, I have to say, rather opaque way, and the rest of the city will have the “Mopsy”—the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime. Because we already have a directly elected mayor, we will not have a directly elected individual in charge of the police service; so instead the mayor will appoint a deputy—to be called the deputy “Mopsy”—to run the “Mopsy”. That is what the Bill says.
I have no problem with the principle of direct election. Indeed, when I was the first chair of the police authority in London I would have welcomed the additional authority that direct election would have given me—not, I hasten to add, in dealing with the noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, who, as all his colleagues knew, was an absolute pussycat in all such matters. It was much more about authority in relation to other elected individuals, all of whom would otherwise claim primacy in trying to set a general direction for the police force. Therefore, I would have had no problems with that principle, but had I been elected directly to the office of chair of the police authority, I would have been surrounded by an effective governance structure. That would have made arbitrary decisions by myself, or inappropriate directions to the chief officer of police, impossible.
Most of the governance mechanisms that police authorities currently provide are swept away by the Bill. What is also lost is the visible answerability of the chief officer of police. At the last meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority, the Met not only gave and answered questions on its regular operational report and on the policing budget for the year but apologised to the family, present in the audience, of Daniel Morgan, who was murdered in 1987 and whose killers have not been brought to justice because, it is alleged, of police corruption; made a statement about the delays in bringing Delroy Grant to justice for the attacks on elderly people in south London over many years; responded to questions about phone-hacking and the News of the World; and heard from people in the audience about the death of Smiley Culture who allegedly stabbed himself during a police raid.
Where would that happen under this Bill? How would the visible answerability of the police service work under these proposals? The answer is that there is no such mechanism. It may be that the Minister, in response, will talk fondly about the proposed police and crime panels, and say that somehow they will be a substitute. That would be nonsense. If that is the argument she was planning to deploy, I suggest that she does not do so. Those panels will not have authority over the chief officer of police, and they will not even have the power to require his or her attendance at their meetings. Their remit is to scrutinise the elected commissioner, or the MOPC in London. Those forums, by necessity, will be overtly party political, as one group of elected politicians seeks to score points over another elected politician. This is what will happen. It is not clear how the new arrangements will ensure that there is a balanced model of policing everywhere in the country. How will the national policing requirement be enforced to ensure that every force plays its part in delivering effective policing to combat serious organised crime and to counter terrorism? Yes, there will be a national policing requirement, but how is that to be enforced?
There are many other problems. For example, as presently drafted, the Bill makes each chief officer of police a “corporation sole”. This is intended to permit them to employ police staff. Leaving aside whether or not this is a desirable objective—it is a function that could perfectly satisfactorily be carried out by police and crime commissioners, and is currently carried out by police authorities—the function of this corporation sole is not effectively limited to this specific function, potentially allowing chief officers to enter into procurement contracts and detracting from the authority of police and crime commissioners.
The Bill also creates two statutory chief finance officers for each force—one for the police and crime commissioner’s office and one for the force itself. Having two corporations sole for each force will in practice create two auditable bodies, two sets of accounts and consequential cost and bureaucracy, along with a blurring of lines of accountability—the exact antithesis of what the Bill is supposed to achieve. There will be more additional expense and duplication, with a worsening of accountability.
However sound or otherwise the intentions of this Bill, it fails to do what it says on the tin. The risk is that it will weaken police accountability; that the police will be less answerable, not more; and that we will create a system that is more expensive, less efficient, and will in the end undermine that trust on which policing by consent depends.
My Lords, it gives me great pleasure to support the noble Lord, Lord Carlile. We do not often agree and I do not very often support him, but I agree with his promised amendment to deal with war criminals who shelter in this country. This measure is long overdue, and I support it.
I find it extraordinary, however, that in the same speech the noble Lord said that he wanted to make it easier for war criminals to come to this country by tampering with the long-held right of private individual citizens to apply for arrest warrants on potential war criminals planning to visit the United Kingdom. It follows that I shall be asking this House to look closely at Clause 154, and reject or amend it. I may, as usual, be a voice crying in the wilderness, but I am used to that. I am sure that in the course of my speech, I may touch on some sensitive issues. I apologise for that in advance.
Currently, any citizen who can afford legal help and can muster enough evidence against a person alleged to have committed war crimes covered by universal jurisdiction can apply to a district judge for an arrest warrant to be issued on that person. Thereby the allegations can be properly investigated while the person is being held. Of course, that may not lead to that person being charged.
The Government propose in Clause 154 that the Director of Public Prosecutions should give consent before any arrest warrant is issued. I and many other people think that this will further erode this country's record on upholding human rights. Also, obtaining the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions will cause substantial delay; it will not be done over a weekend. It also puts at risk the independence of our judiciary. The Director of Public Prosecutions may be called independent, but he is under the supervision of the Attorney-General, who is a member of the Government. This is not just my view; it is held by many human rights lawyers. If a Government now or in future wanted to protect a foreign national against whom well founded allegations had been made, they could do so via the Attorney-General and his pressure on, and supervision of, the Director of Public Prosecutions. It was pointed out earlier by no less a person than the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that the elected police and crime commissioners might politicise the police force. This is a thread that runs through the Bill. Many human rights lawyers feel that Clause 154 could eventually politicise the judiciary. We do not want either of those things to happen.
I will look briefly at the reasons that the Government give for changing the law. It is said that politically motivated people wishing to obtain arrest warrants abuse the law. As we have heard, there have been 10 such attempts in the past 10 years. In the two cases where an arrest warrant was obtained from senior district judges, neither was effected because the people concerned changed their plans to come to the UK. This was confirmed by Kenneth Clarke last November in response to a Question from Nick de Bois MP. Interestingly, neither of those people attempted to clear their names by contesting the charges. This is hardly abuse of the law: 10 cases in 10 years.
The other reason the Government give is that the risk of the arrest warrants will deter important international leaders from visiting this country to talk to our Government. What nonsense is that? First, if the important leaders are members of a current Government anywhere in the world, they will be immune from the law anyway. Secondly, what is to stop our leaders going to talk to them? I am afraid that the real reason for Clause 154 is that a foreign Government—in this case the Israeli Government—complained when an arrest warrant was issued on the former Israeli cabinet member Mrs Livni when she wanted to visit the UK. Noble Lords may remember that Mrs Livni was a member of the cabinet in Israel that authorised Operation Cast Lead against Gaza, where, as verified by many human rights groups and Judge Goldstone's UN fact-finding mission, war crimes were probably committed. Mrs Livni is famous for saying that Israel would “go wild” in Gaza.
Discussions with the Israeli Government took place, as was confirmed in an Answer from the noble Baroness, Lady Kinnock, to my noble friend Lady Northover in 2009. The then Prime Minister, Gordon Brown, announced that he would see that the law was amended to prevent UK citizens,
“motivated purely by political gesture”,
from doing such a thing again. I noticed that, at the beginning of this debate, the noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, said that we must ensure that arrest warrants were used in a responsible manner. I remind noble Lords: 10 in 10 years.
What an insult this is to our senior district judges, and to human right groups worldwide. More importantly, what an insult it is to Judge Goldstone and the United Nations. William Hague has endorsed Gordon Brown's promise and, sadly, so has my party, the Liberal Democrats. Before the election, we campaigned hard for the law to remain unchanged and promised to work for the implementation of the Goldstone report. However, like most other promises we made before the election, the Palestinians have been betrayed by the only party—mine—that ever gave them real support.
Of course, a change in the law will apply not just to Israelis. It could affect many current members of Governments worldwide and attempts to investigate what went on in Sri Lanka, Libya, Bahrain, Yemen, Syria, Kashmir—not often mentioned—to name but a few. We all support the calls for the International Criminal Court to investigate the recent activities of Colonel Gaddafi in Libya. A change in our law at this time seems inappropriate. Finally, we frequently hear complaints in this House about European Union interference in our laws and affairs. Why then should we tolerate a foreign country interfering on this issue? The way in which the law on universal jurisdiction operates at present in this country takes away any political interference, and that is how it should be. It is not abused and it works well. As for the separation of government and the judiciary, we must be very proud of that and maintain it.
My Lords, I shall concentrate my remarks on Clause 1 and aim to be brief. I begin by welcoming something, at least: I welcome the Government’s commitment to a different approach to policing, and the move away from governance through targets that often count things that can be counted but which have no way of measuring what is being counted. That contributes to what the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, called, in her most powerful maiden speech, a safer and happier country.
I came across the limitations of the target approach when I carried out the review of how rape complainants are dealt with by public authorities. In the course of that work I found widespread concern about the targets for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, which were in conflict. The police were judged on how many suspects they charged and the Crown Prosecution Service on the other hand was measured by getting a person convicted at court. While the police were really keen to charge suspects, the CPS was really interested in charging only those who were most likely to be convicted. The conflict led to a lot of frustration, incomprehension among the complainants and other unintended consequences. I am glad that the Government in their response to the rape review said that they were removing the focus on separate police and CPS measurement. I welcome very much, therefore, the Government’s approach towards a different philosophy of measuring what is seen as good performance by police forces.
I find it very hard to welcome what the Government have chosen as their replacement for governance by target—that one directly elected person should hold the police accountable. I have to say that I was almost convinced by the most persuasive maiden speech by the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra—almost. When I was carrying out my work on rape complainants last year I had the privilege of spending quite a bit of time with the police. I was profoundly heartened by what I discovered about how they were responding to this most difficult issue. Obviously there have been widely publicised mistakes that should not have happened but in all parts of the country there are police officers who have been specially trained, for example, to cope in the middle of the night with a very distressed person, and to gently take that person through the very personal and invasive questions they have to ask and the very intimate and embarrassing tests that have to be done. They put a considerable time into investigating very difficult cases, such as abused people who are often not believed, not listened to and seen as unlikely to be good enough witnesses to put before a court.
I heard recently about one such case at a conference in the north-east, where the excellent Northumbria Police had used the most advanced forensic techniques to secure the conviction of a care worker who had raped a middle-aged woman with learning difficulties. That was very expensive and time-consuming, but it was done and the outcome was positive.
Some police forces are working to persuade street prostitutes to report rape and violent assaults so that the perpetrators of such attacks can be brought to court. In some forces, the most painstaking, time-consuming and painful investigations go on to uncover and prosecute those who are exploiting vulnerable young people leaving care. The NSPCC wrote to me with its concerns about how offences against children and young people and protecting them may not be given priority under the new arrangements.
Democracy is a big word and a big idea. It is more than knowing people's names—with enormous respect to the noble Lord, Lord Howard. It is more than looking at a list of names and putting a cross in a box. The noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, in her excellent maiden speech, reminded us about majorities and minorities. Democracy is also about minority rights, about protecting the most vulnerable, about people being able to complain and about people being seen to matter, however inarticulate they are.
Our current arrangements are not perfect, but we have policing here that tries, more than in any country I know, to prioritise the vulnerable, the powerless and the exploitable. It would be a great pity to lose that, and I fear that these proposals risk that outcome.
My Lords, this has been an excellent debate. When I was thinking about how to describe it, it reminded me of a delicious chocolate chip cookie. There have been lots of typical extremely high-level Second Reading debate comments and, every now and again, you come across a chunk of deep, bitter chocolate, represented by the expertise which has been massing over on the Cross Benches and some other Benches of people with real experience of working in the areas which we are discussing. There is more to come, and if noble Lords stay with the debate to the end, they will see what I mean, because we have more contributions of real calibre to come.
The debate has ranged across the whole Bill, which is good because it covers a wide range of issues, and has drawn in a huge amount of expertise, including three widely and rightly praised maiden speeches. Like many other noble Lords, I was very moved by the comments of the noble Baronesses, Lady Berridge and Lady Newlove. The noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, and I entered the House on the same day, so I am glad that she has now made her maiden speech and is joining us as a full Member. I am sure that she will contribute in a wide range of activities.
Mind you, if I were the Minister, I would not be quite so pleased by what I have heard today. Indeed, she is not here; she has gone; perhaps she has had to go off to seek inspiration elsewhere. I also notice that although she started with eight people in the Box, we are now down to one. I rather suspect that the devastating critique which is running at about 10:1 against the Government's proposals may be having an effect.
I have three reservations to make about the Bill, because many of the points that one could have made have already been made very well. I will make one suggestion at the end.
My first point is: why are only some of our police services in England and Wales being legislated for? If you look at the full list of police forces, you find that there are seven additional services which operate in England and Wales: the British Transport Police, the Central Motorway Policing Group, the Civil Nuclear Constabulary, the Ministry of Defence Police, the Port of Dover Police, the Port of Liverpool Police and the Serious Organised Crime Agency. In Scotland, there is also the Scottish Drug Enforcement Agency. They will not be caught by the Bill. As a result, the operational activities which we have been discussing risk being steered away across the whole of the police service. I should declare at this point that I have a past interest as a mentor involved with the British Transport Police, a service which I hold in very high regard.
I am concerned, in the run-up to the Olympics, about a divergence between the police forces under the Bill, if it passes, which will be operating under one set of rules and operations, because the BTP and the others I mentioned will of course be under a different regime. They will all be playing a part together, as has been mentioned, in the Olympics. There are differences already across government because the BTP reports to the Department of Transport and not to the Home Office. But it surely must be in the best interests of all concerned that as much commonality of approach and operation is present in our police services, however they are organised, and I do not think the Bill will help with that.
Like several noble Lords, I am concerned about some of the licensing proposals. I echo some of the concerns expressed by my noble friend Lord Brooke and I listened to what the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, was saying about the concerns he had received from the licensed trade, which are worth serious consideration. I look forward to the Minister’s response to that.
My particular concern, which I think was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, is the stealth tax that is being applied on the late night levy, which may have a devastating effect on live music. If that is the case and it does come in in that way, it will undermine the Private Member’s Bill, which we support on this side of the House and which seems to be running dangerously close to some of the provisions in the Bill. We will have to watch that very carefully.
I have two concerns about aspects of the drugs provisions in Part 4, some of which have been mentioned already. The temporary banning orders for new drugs fly in the face of common sense. About a month ago we had a debate on the Government’s drugs policy. We learnt that banning was not always the best way to deal with new drugs. We were told during the debate that some 40 new drugs are produced every year. We must have evidence, and that evidence must be used to make the decisions. I was glad to hear what the Minister said on that, but I think we will need to probe this matter more in discussion in Committee. What has been argued in the debate, and seems to be agreed around the House, is that we really have missed an opportunity in the Bill in terms of drugs policy, which is that we now need to look forward to a regime that encompasses all potentially harmful psychoactive substances, including alcohol and tobacco. That is not provided for in the Bill.
In her opening remarks the Minister stressed the value of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs. As has already been pointed out, at the same time Clause 153 removes the requirement of the advisory council to have members with certain specified scientific expertise. I can understand the need for flexibility in this area, and of course there are credibility issues. Again, we should probe that in Committee.
I should like to end by agreeing with some of the comments made by the noble Lord, Lord Patten. I did not agree with much of what he had to say, but I did agree with his point about the tensions that have come up a number of times in debates between the appropriate democratic accountability of the police force and the operational independence which it must have. We have not seen the protocol. It is a bit like “Hamlet” without the prince: we cannot discuss this because we do not know what is in it, but we all know that it is a serious and big issue that will need to come back and be discussed again.
The noble Lord, Lord Imbert, made an important point. If all police constables and above have to swear loyalty to the Queen, surely a protocol—whatever that might be—is not enough. We really should be thinking in terms of a royal charter—in that sense echoing the movements towards a military covenant and the work that was done on the NHS constitution—to enshrine the high-level objectives and standards that we require across the whole country in a way that cannot be changed on a regular basis and that will give the certainty and the backbone we need as we go forward in our police service.
My Lords, I, too, begin by declaring an interest. I have been involved with policing for almost the whole of my working life. I cannot claim to have been at the sharp end of policing, unlike some noble Lords who spoke earlier. I have never made an arrest, I have never tackled an angry mob and I have never even walked the beat. My policing experience was gained in much safer conditions. For nearly 27 years I was a member of the Home Office, where I had responsibilities for policing policy and for the provision of national policing support services, including information technology and forensic science. After leaving the Home Office in 1995, I continued my involvement with the police in the United States, where I spent 10 years working on the other side of policing as an adviser to chiefs of police in New York, Philadelphia and a number of other American cities.
This experience has left me with the greatest respect for the professional police officer who puts his or her life on the line each day to keep us safe and free. It has also given me a tremendous sense of admiration for the management and leadership skills of our chief police officers. We are lucky in this country to have at the top of our police service a group of men and women of outstanding ability, unquestioned integrity, a high level of professionalism and a deep commitment to public service. As I shall argue, this Bill recognises the quality of our chief officers and gives them the freedom that they require to exploit their full potential as leaders and managers. I believe also that it keeps us safe from the sort of corruption dangers which other countries have faced and which some noble Lords have mentioned as one of the problems inherent in this Bill.
A number of noble Lords have argued that one of the major flaws of the Bill is that it is an attempt to copy models of policing accountability from the United States. I can assure your Lordships that that is not the case. There is no American model for the governance of local police forces. American policing is as diverse as America itself. The only thing that American police departments have in common is that they are all paid for locally and they are managed locally. The national Government takes almost no interest in local policing. For this reason, the governance arrangements for these forces, and there are some 18,000 of them—some noble Lords have mentioned 17,000 while others have quoted 19,000; no one knows because some of them are one-man bands where a single officer fulfils every role from chief constable to the constable on the beat—are all home-grown; that is, they reflect the governance of the local communities that they serve.
In New York, for example, the police chief is appointed by and reports to the mayor. In other cities, including Miami, the police chief reports to the city manager. In Los Angeles, the mayor appoints the police chief, but the chief reports to a five-person board of police commissioners, who, in turn, are appointed by the mayor. As Americans are fond of saying, “You pays your money, you takes your choice”. I cannot swear that there is not a single police force somewhere in America with governance arrangements that resemble what is proposed in this Bill, but if there is I do not know about it. Even if there were, that does not affect the fact that, as my noble friend Lord Howard of Lympne told us what seems like many hours ago, the proposal for directly elected PCCs set out in this Bill was developed to meet a particularly British policing need: the need to re-establish close links between local people and their police force.
I use the word “re-establish” advisedly when referring to these links, because our police forces grew out of our local communities and at one time could not have been closer to them. I have no doubt that many noble Lords will remember the pre-amalgamation days when there were nearly 200 local police forces and when chief constables were familiar local figures. Over the years, forces have grown larger and more dependent on central support services such as the police national computer, the police national network and other information and communications systems. They have had to give more attention to such things as serious and organised crime, illegal immigration, internet crime and terrorism, all of which can be tackled effectively only through the strong national and even international collaboration that had to be put in place.
All this has led to a steady growth in the influence of central government on local forces. Chief constables have been drawn inexorably to the Home Office for leadership, direction and funding. Inevitably, this has meant that they have had far less time to spend in their local communities. In fact, some of our best chief constables spend several days a week in London at meetings with Home Office officials and others developing new “policies and initiatives”. The police authorities set up in the 1960s to be responsible for these forces have proved too weak to overcome these pressures from Whitehall. They have had to accept the demands set centrally and sit by and watch their chief constables tick the boxes, complete the report cards and strive to meet the national targets that often bear no relationship to the crime and anti-social behaviour problems that they see all around them.
This Bill stops that trend dead in its tracks. It returns responsibility for local policing to local people. It gives responsibility for identifying and prioritising local policing needs to a local individual who understands the needs of the community and is very much part of it. Most important of all, it makes this individual directly accountable to the community, through the ballot box, for meeting those needs. Many noble Lords have said that PPCs will not know anything about policing. In my view, that is a very good thing. Their job is to identify the policing needs of their communities, not to deliver the policing services required to meet those needs. That is the job of the professional, the chief constable. In parentheses, I can say from first-hand experience that those Ministers who come into office thinking that they know all about the subject for which they now find themselves responsible are not always the most successful.
This Bill does all this without in any way affecting the complex structure of national support and crime-fighting arrangements which have been put in place over the past 50 years and which are rightly admired around the world. At the same time, the Bill significantly strengthens the management role of chief constables. It gives them the freedom to use their professional skills to manage their forces as they judge best. It treats them like proper chief executives of major organisations, which is exactly what they are. It gives them, for the first time, the power to appoint their own top management teams rather than having to make do with a team imposed by their police authorities. It also provides for them to be corporations sole, which means that the force’s civilian staff can be employed by them rather than by the police authority.
Most important, this Bill formalises a process that began when this Government took office a year ago. It frees chief constables from the bureaucratic accountability of the Home Office. It relieves them of the constant flow of guidance, advice, report cards, targets and ring-fenced grants issued by successive Ministers with the encouragement of enthusiastic officials like me, who themselves have had no direct experience of policing and whose knowledge of the local circumstances in which all this guidance and advice have to be applied is at best second-hand. In short, this Bill recognises that local policing needs can be identified only at the local level and that it is only the local chief constable who can decide how best to deliver the policing required to meet those needs. I commend it to the House in the strongest possible terms.
My Lords, we have had a long and very useful debate on the Bill. It has identified a large number of issues which we will need to consider further in Committee. In view of the time, I am going to restrict my comments to the role of the proposed elected police commissioner and to Part 1. Despite the several hours that we have spent in this debate, it still is not clear to me what exactly the problem is that the Government are trying to solve.
The polls show that the public have little interest in changes to police governance and for them, scrutiny and accountability take place at their neighbourhood level. To them, that is local, and in the main it works very well now because of all of the initiatives that have taken place in recent years. As that structure, particularly around partnership working, will continue as now, it would help the Government’s case if they produced evidence of the measurable benefits they seek to deliver. Elections can enhance democracy and accountability and, in theory, commissioners backed by the power of a ballot would enhance the accountability of the police. But it is not as simple as that. Today, we have heard a great deal of the dangers in some of the proposals within the Bill. First, policing could become politicised because many candidates would be nominated by political parties, but only one of them can win. There would therefore be a direct party-political connection with the post of commissioner, which does not occur in the same direct way with the role of the chair of a police authority, who operates much more by consensus.
Secondly, there is a danger that one person cannot represent a population averaging perhaps a million people, which will often be very diverse. That will lead in practice, because of the abolition of the police authority, to a democratic deficit, not to an improvement in democratic accountability.
The issue about commissioners seeking to direct resources to gain votes has been raised in the Chamber today. There is a real risk that commissioners might seek to do that. There is also a risk that commissioners might champion visible issues to gain votes at the expense of those that are less visible but nevertheless very important to the general public. It has rightly been identified in today's debate that the cost of the new arrangements will be much greater than for the existing police authorities because commissioners will inevitably create their own support staffing structures. The Bill itself says that they must have a chief executive and a chief finance officer, but the staff will inevitably have their own substructures and before we know it costs will rocket.
The Bill says that the costs of commissioners must be contained within existing budgets, but there will be a minimum of 82 further new posts under commissioners. That is low because there would have to be an office, support staff, policy staff and press staff. There may even be a number of finance staff and, for example, a statistician. Every commissioner will have a number of staff and I see no evidence that to date the Government have identified the numbers of those and how much it will all cost.
Then there are the problems associated with the powers of the panels proposed. It seems strange that a single commissioner will be responsible for holding the police to account on behalf of perhaps a million people, but a panel of 10 or more people will be set up to hold to account one commissioner. It seems even stranger that the panels, unlike our current police authorities, will not be able to scrutinise the police. That is a major democratic deficit. The panels, if we have them, must be bigger—at least 15 members to cover the diverse needs of their areas. They will need additional powers to enable them to veto the police and crime plan. A two-thirds majority will be needed here to secure a veto, as with the precept. In addition, the panels must have some greater power over the detailed budget as opposed to just the precept because it is in the detail of the budget that the actual plan—for the distribution of police, for example—will occur.
Then there is the issue that we have heard a little about this afternoon of the dismissal of a chief constable. It seems clear from the Bill that the powers of the commissioner are simply too great and the panel will have to have much greater authority. Looking also at the temporary cover that is proposed where a commissioner is absent, surely a panel must be able to elect one of its members to provide temporary cover for the commissioner. It is odd that the Bill proposes that a member of staff of the commissioner's office—presumably appointed by the commissioner, who could be a junior member of staff—is able to take over the commissioner's role for several months not having been elected. That is not right. The proposal for a deputy commissioner who would be a member of the panel and elected by the panel would give greater legitimacy.
I have two brief points about elections. For a number of reasons, I am in favour of a pilot. First, we would see whether it works. However, elections in 2012, as proposed in this Bill, should not apply to those 12 cities having mayoral referendums. That is because we are going to have not just two democratic organisations in local authorities—councillors and commissioners—but, in 12 English cities, we will perhaps have elected mayors. Who would be in charge in that situation—the elected mayor or the elected police commissioner? The elected mayor will be on the panel. I do not think that will work terribly well or that there should be an elected commissioner in any police area where there is going to be possibly an elected mayor. In London, of course, the political boundaries for the London Assembly and those for the Metropolitan Police are coterminous; but in other cities that is not the case. That seems to be a major problem.
Secondly, I have a real concern about an election using the supplementary vote system, because it does not require the support of 50 per cent of the electorate. You could well end up with somebody with significantly under 50 per cent actually securing the post and then being seen to represent just one part of their geographical area.
In conclusion, I hope that in Committee we have some very detailed discussions on much of what we have debated today and also on what we have not. In the event, I believe that it is right that we should now be seeking to pilot this Bill and not simply to impose it from 2012, lock, stock and barrel.
My Lords, I concur wholeheartedly with the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, my fellow Newcastle city councillor; and I ask the rhetorical question, which was implicit in what he said, as to what the mischief is that the proposal for elected police commissioners purports to address. It appears to consist of an alleged lack of visibility and accountability on the part of police authorities. The noble Lord, Lord Howard, who enthusiastically espoused police authorities and their chairmen when he was Home Secretary, today of course abandons them with equal enthusiasm and says that most people do not know the name of the chair of their police authority, which is probably true. Interestingly, the Northumbria force surveyed the population in 2005 and found at that point that only 55 per cent of the population were aware of the police authority. It addressed that issue and sought to promote public engagement; and in the last survey, last year, it recorded that 88 per cent of people in the force area were aware of the police authority. People may not know the name of the chairman, but they are certainly aware of the authority.
The question continues to be: what is it that this appointment would address? After all, the statutory framework currently provides for extensive consultation by police authorities. The very useful paper distributed by Liberty points out that:
“When discharging its functions, every Police Authority is under a statutory duty to take into account the views of the people in the Authority’s area about policing in their community. Police Authorities are also required by statute to make arrangements for obtaining the views of local people on matters concerning policing of their area and obtaining co-operation in preventing crime. The views obtained must encompass a wide range of people with particular focus on those aged under 21 or over 65 and from people from diverse backgrounds including marginalised groups and those of disadvantaged socio-economic status. The Authority must also ensure that it obtains a sufficient number and range of views so that it does not act on the basis of an unduly limited or unrepresentative sample. The Police Authority must also take into account whether the public in the area has confidence in the police force and whether the public considers that their views are being taken into account”.
These are significant statutory obligations currently laid on police authorities, which would no doubt be carried forward into the new framework.
It seems, with respect to the Minister, that she misinterprets the results of the survey that she quoted, which suggests that the interest of people logging on to the new crime maps is sufficient to drive the model that is now being proposed. However, that of course assumes that people are interested in statistics for the whole area. As the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, has pointed out—it is certainly our experience as councillors in Newcastle, attending public meetings regularly with the police in our areas—the interest is very local indeed. It is not force-wide. It is not even citywide. It is very much area-based. I have been present at countless such meetings. I have no doubt that the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, has as well. Nobody has ever asked about policing in the city as a whole, let alone in the Northumbria force area, which is 70 miles in length and encompasses 1.6 million people. That is the kind of localism that the Bill apparently seeks to address, but that is not localism at all. Localism is very much at a lower level. It is certainly true that accountability at that level has improved over the years. It needs to be reinforced at the basic command unit level, at the divisional level, perhaps at the level of the city or part of the county area. However, to assume that a single individual can be responsible and accountable to an area as wide as that, where there is a population of that size, or greater in many parts of the country, seems wholly unrealistic.
Moreover, there is probably not a real risk of an extremist being elected to a position of police commissioner, as one Member of your Lordships’ House suggested, but it is at least likely, in the context of a campaign on a single issue, that fear of crime will certainly be ratcheted up by those seeking election. Fear of the fear of crime, I am afraid, rather dominated the policy-making of the previous Government to an unfortunate and unnecessary extent, and I suspect that elections of this kind will have that same effect again. Of course, the likely outcome is that there will be a further fragmentation of services, when in fact they need to be brought together, with an elected commissioner having a separate, possibly competing, mandate with the local authorities in the area that he or she would seek to serve and to work with, with their separate mandate and their relatively insignificant contribution to the problems of community safety, which of course transcend merely policing the area. It is arguable that, for the first election, there would be an element of accountability. After a commissioner is elected for the second and last time, there is no further degree of public accountability in again looking to the ballot box, so the accountability argument can certainly be overdone.
There is also the question of the substantial powers that accrue to the elected commissioner. The commissioners would be responsible for something like 11.5 per cent of the council tax levied in England and 15.5 per cent in Wales. That is a significant slice of local taxation levied by a separate authority. This is subject only to a three-quarters veto by the police and crime panel. That scrutinising body would have virtually no power. It would have no power to call in decisions or to play any significant part in the appointment of a chief constable or other officials appointed either by the commissioner or by the chief constable. It would not have the power to agree or amend the crime plans. Indeed, even the chief constable would not have the power to agree a commissioner’s plan, and what would happen if there is a disagreement is entirely unclear within the legislation. Therefore there are significant issues about the degree of power to be vested, in effect, in a single pair of hands without much real accountability at all.
As the Bill goes forward, there are other issues that we will have to address around appointments—around the role, for example, of Her Majesty’s inspectorate, which will no longer have to report to the Secretary of State. It is possible to improve this Bill if the Government are prepared to listen and to act on the genuine concerns expressed on all sides of this House and by other interested organisations, and to recognise that what is most important is to improve accountability at the very local level, and not to vest enormous powers in an individual with a wide geographical and population constituency without having that individual subjected to any significant scrutiny. I am afraid that that is the effect of the Bill as it stands.
My Lords, I want to focus on alcohol-related harms, the worst of which was so eloquently described by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, in her deeply moving maiden speech.
The Licensing Act 2003 is a spectacular failure in public health terms. This Bill is a missed opportunity. Alcohol misuse abounds, costing £17 billion to £22 billion per annum, around £770 per household. Alcohol costs the NHS £2.7 billion per annum, double the amount of 10 years ago in real terms and rising. Last year, best estimates are that 40 per cent of the 319,000 people injured in violence in England and Wales were intoxicated at the time of injury and 70 per cent of accident and emergency attendances after 10 pm relate to alcohol misuse.
So what are the possible solutions? The first is pricing alcohol to return its relative cost in relation to income to where it was 20 to 30 years ago. Irresponsible off-licence promotions at less than 60 pence per unit of alcohol must end. Alcohol is ludicrously cheap; supermarket cider is commonly less that 50 pence a pint. Indeed, the late night levy that the Bill provides should also cover the NHS costs from the high accident and emergency attendances. The drinks industry profits could underwrite some of the costs that they actually incur.
Secondly, licensed premises’ cumulative impact and saturation policies should be statutory rather than simply constituting the current ambiguous guidance. A decision to deny a licence is easily overturned. A clear example comes from my home city of Cardiff, where the council licensing committee’s sensible decision not to grant permission to extend an off-sales licence in St Mary Street from 6 pm till 11 pm was easily overturned by well paid lawyers of a large supermarket chain, even though the area has seen the highest incidence of violence according to police and accident and emergency attendances of any street in the city over the past 10 years, and there were already other outlets. The Bill needs amendment to really strengthen the local voice in licensing decisions, and to ensure that cumulative impact and saturation policies include consideration of supermarkets and other off-licence outlets.
Thirdly, we can learn from South Dakota’s SCRAM project. Alcohol fuels about half of all violent crime and road deaths, particularly among young new drivers. An alcohol monitoring requirement, estimated to cost about £1 a day and producing an 80 per cent sobriety rate in the programme, is cost-effective and potentially saves many lives. The National Institute for Health and Clinical Excellence, like the North report, estimates that 16,000 injuries and up to 168 deaths caused by car crashes could be avoided in the first year of a reduction in the blood/alcohol limit for drivers from 80 to 50 milligrams per 100 millilitres and to zero for new drivers.
The fiscal reasoning behind the policing changes in the Bill seems illogical. We are asked to endorse changes costing somewhere in the region of £100 million per annum, yet the Government continue to refuse to fund, by their own estimate, £1 million to £2 million for the office of the chief coroner. Just two judicial reviews avoided would fund the chief coroner, whose creation was supported across both Houses to provide leadership and bring justice to the bereaved victims of crime. This is hardly joined-up financial planning.
As for Wales, the amendments in the other place do not respect the spirit of devolution, as they provide the Secretary of State with powers over local authorities in Wales, which needs to be able to defer implementation until the results from England are proven.
As a UK drugs policy commissioner, I will seek to amend the drugs section to improve the proposals, because I fear that they will only be expensive wallpaper as drafted and will fail to reduce the real harms that they are meant to address.
My Lords, I declare my interests as president of the Association of Police Authorities and chair of the Security Industry Authority. I promise to try to keep noble Lords awake for the next 10 minutes. That is surely a lesser challenge than keeping the attention of students on a Friday afternoon, which I used to have to do regularly. I have been involved in the governance of policing at both force and national level for more than 20 years. My whole approach to the Bill, particularly its first part, is shaped by that experience and by my absolute conviction that good governance is fundamental to success and that in the public sector it is in the policy area of policing that good governance is most essential.
British policing is justly admired throughout the world, not least in the United States, because of the principles on which it is based. Those principles are fundamental to the success of policing in this country and any proposed change in our policing structures should be judged on the extent to which it upholds or betrays those principles. We have heard reference to those principles throughout the debate. I shall allude to them only briefly, but they are important. Police forces, in particular the chief constable and his senior command team, must be held to account to local communities through a body that represents, and which is seen to represent, local people. This body should not operate in a party-political way but should hold the force to account, working with the chief constable to draw up overarching policing strategies within which the force will operate, while day-to-day operations must be exclusively the preserve of the police, who are accountable to law.
The police authority needs to gain its mandate by consulting local people effectively about policing issues, seeking their views on matters such as the level of the policing precept, divisional and force policing plans and their experience of day-to-day policing. This means that any police body has to operate not just at force level but at divisional and ward levels, working in partnership with district bodies such as crime and disorder reduction partnerships and local councillors who may want to raise policing issues. We have to realise that policing in this country is delivered at four levels: national, force, divisional and neighbourhood. Any effective lay policing body has to strive to hold the force to account effectively at all four levels.
I have spelt all this out because it is only when we articulate those fundamental principles underlying policing in this country that we can see how flawed many of the proposals in this Bill are. For me, the most worrying aspect of the proposed changes is that no evidence has been put forward to suggest that the reform will enhance the effective delivery of policing or contribute to the reduction of crime. Surely, if we are making such major changes, we need some evidence. We certainly have not heard from those who have spoken on behalf of these measures today how effective delivery of policing will be enhanced or how a reduction of crime will come about. Without that evidence, how should we possibly be asked to support such far-reaching changes?
The proposals are not supported by the public, who we know in a number of recent surveys have overwhelmingly rejected the idea that one individual elected on a party-political basis should exercise lay control over a police force. They will not apply in Northern Ireland or Scotland, while the Welsh Assembly has voted to reject them. That has led to a serious impasse between the devolved Welsh Government and the Government, which we will have to look at seriously in Committee. It is therefore the forces in England and in local communities outside London who will face the most massive change in systems being imposed on them—a change that, despite all the talk about localism by the coalition, they will have no opportunity to influence.
It is interesting that, although there was consultation last year, we have not yet heard how many of the 900 or so responses apparently received by the Home Office were in favour and how many opposed. I find that rather surprising. We can probably conclude from it that the vast majority were opposed. I have not yet heard any compelling arguments for why these changes are necessary. We heard, not so long ago, about the importance of re-establishing links between the police and the public, but 60 per cent of the public already have confidence in the police. That is third only to doctors and nurses and far higher, I might say, than for politicians or journalists. Neighbourhood policing now gives the public a big and a regular say in setting priorities for their local areas. How much more reconnection are we looking for? The public are getting what they want. In fact, the proposals, as we hear, have not been supported by the public.
There are at least five powerful reasons for opposing the proposals. First and foremost—and everyone has talked about this—we will be injecting party politics into policing in a big and dangerous way that will completely change the dynamics of policing. Anybody who says that it will not does not understand how policing works. It is going to give one individual the power to hire and fire a chief constable. It is no use denying this. What is being proposed will undermine effective delivery by creating huge political tensions between the elected commissioner and the chief constable. It is going to bring party politics to the heart of policing. No protocol that I can imagine at this point in time is going to lessen those tensions.
Secondly, there is a complete mismatch between what the public are asking for and what they are being given. What individuals want is information about policing in their neighbourhood and their district—and increasingly they are getting it. What they are being given in this Bill is an individual elected to cover a force area—that will comprise 18 parliamentary constituencies in Devon and Cornwall, three whole counties in Thames Valley, or the whole of the West Midlands. Obviously the definition of “local” used by the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, is very different from mine.
This one individual, as the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, told us, will decide on the policing precept, which accounts for about 11 per cent of the local authority budget. This individual also has to liaise with and scrutinise the force, all its divisions, all its crime and disorder reduction partnerships, all the local councils and all their scrutiny panels. That is an impossible job for one individual. Partnership is the essence of delivering effective local policing. The election of one single commissioner will weaken and not enhance those essential local partnerships, which have brought crime levels down so dramatically in recent years.
Thirdly, this Bill takes policing away from local government, as the noble Lords, Lords Shipley and Lord Beecham, identified. At present, all police authorities have at least nine elected councillors, who assess police performance at force and divisional level, work with local bodies, question the chief constable in public on any policing issue monthly or bi-monthly, look at force HR and equality issues and consult the public on a range of policing issues. All this is going to disappear. The proposed police and crime panel is a pathetic invention with puny powers. It is confined to scrutinising the commissioner and his policing plans and proposed budgets. It has no political balance and no ethnic or gender balance. It is a huge step backwards from the present situation. Indeed, I believe that this part of the Bill is an insult to local government.
How can it be right that policing is being removed from local government in this way? Is this the beginning of the end for local government? Will we see commissioners for local health, for education, for local transport? What will the relationship be between directly elected mayors and commissioners? Surely the mayors will want some say in policing matters. Among the many amendments that I shall be tabling at Committee stage—this will come as no surprise to your Lordships—will be some to change the role and powers of police and crime panels. They should be working with the commissioner and be operating at divisional and local level, not just scrutinising his or her actions. That at least would make some sort of sense, rather than, as is proposed at present, the commissioner scrutinising the chief constable and the PCP scrutinising the commissioner. Nobody who understands what really makes policing work effectively could ever have proposed this structure.
Fourthly, the election of commissioners is going to be expensive, as we have heard. Should that really be forced on the public at a time when we know that they are facing draconian cuts in their local front-line forces? I confidently predict that, if the public were given a choice between more front-line police and these elections, well over 90 per cent would want the front-line forces.
Fifthly, what if the person elected is no good at the job? At present, chairs of police authorities are elected annually, but we will be stuck with commissioners for four years. They are not to be appraised by Her Majesty’s police inspectorate, unlike police authorities, which is rather surprising, given the Minister’s emphasis on the appraisal of police authorities. No, the will of the people apparently trumps the ability to do the job effectively as, it is argued, those with no aptitude for the position will be voted out of office. That has to be an extremely naive view and it is not borne out by my experience of politics at either local or national level. Also, if a commissioner falls ill, a non-elected member of his office can stand in for him. That cannot be right. It is something else that needs to be looked at in Committee. I have long argued in favour of fewer, larger, more resilient forces. Alas, the measures in the Bill will prevent, not facilitate, that development, which is increasingly necessary in the modern world.
I cannot deal with any other part of the Bill. It is the first part which will change our system and its structure of governance irreversibly and which has the capacity to do so much damage to the delivery of a service that has operated pretty well for nearly 200 years. My fundamental concern is that we are being asked to take a gigantic leap in the dark towards the politicisation of policing in a situation where the existing system is not broken and few people are calling for change. For me, the supreme irony is that the system that we have was established by a Conservative Home Secretary, Robert Peel, and overhauled in the early 1990s very effectively by another two Conservative Home Secretaries. Why on earth does the Conservative Party now want to destroy one of its most enduring achievements? I hope that the Minister will be able to explain the reason to me and to allay my profound concerns when she concludes the debate.
My Lords, I declare my interests: I was a serving police officer for 43 years, and my various other interests are in the House of Lords register of interests. I have concerns in relation to the Bill. I will be going through them, but your Lordships will be glad to know that I will be as quick as I possibly can.
I pay tribute to the noble Baronesses, Lady Berridge and Lady Newlove. If ever there was a description of why we have to get policing right in this country, the contribution from the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, was it. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra. The reason why he is so positive about HMIC is that he was an excellent Police Minister and we in HMI at the time used to take him to the local pub and regularly paid for his drinks. One of the greatest things that people do not know about him is that he was offered a Cabinet post but, because of his devotion to the police service, turned it down. We were glad about that then and we are delighted to see him in the House now.
In my view, the timing of the Bill is extraordinary. We stand at a stage when the police service in this country is facing some of the biggest changes in relation to conditions, wages and pensions that it ever has. We are also standing at a stage when—although hopefully I am wrong—there could be grave public disorder in the streets in the next 12 months to two years, and we have the Olympics around the corner as well. Morale has been quoted as being at its lowest levels; some of us have been downstairs to talk to police officers from Northumbria and other places, and certainly morale is not good. Why are we bringing in the Bill in the way that we are?
I know that in policing people will say that morale is always low. I remember a very good chief constable of mine saying, “John, if they weren’t moaning, I’d be very worried indeed”, and I suppose there was something in that. However, policing over the past 15 years has been highly successful. This was started by the noble Lord, Lord Howard, who as Home Secretary decided that police could actually affect crime and disorder in this country and created one target all about reducing crime, which he pursued as well. Policing has been a success story over the past 15 years and continues to be so. Anything that gets in the way of that success story has to be considered in other than a positive way.
I have a real problem. I was chief constable of Northumbria for five years and I cannot see one model fitting all the forces that I served in—Northumbria, Cambridgeshire, Hampshire and the Metropolitan Police. I was also an HMI for two years, inspecting some of the major forces in this country. I was also present at the appointment of 17 chief constables, the head of the National Criminal Intelligence Service and the head of the National Crime Squad. What worries me about one model fitting all is a problem that relates to Northumbria in particular. Northumberland, to the north, is a county on its own, with the boroughs that we all know so well—Newcastle and Sunderland. For one person to try to deal with the complexity of that would be extraordinary.
There is another thing with which I have a slight problem. I do not often disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Howard—we usually agree on most things, do we not? The people whom I inspected and for whom I was chief constable were not shrinking violets. I know I was a pussycat, Lord Harris. We have heard some of them today: the noble Baronesses, Lady Harris and Lady Henig, and the noble Lord, Lord Harris, to name a few. There was also George Gill. All those people were and still are known in their areas and respected. That argument is perhaps not as persuasive as it should be from my experience, which may be limited.
I have a problem with the elections as well. The election of the PCCs will be conducted under the supplementary vote system, which could, through the transfer of secondary preference votes, result in a candidate being selected without having secured a clear mandate from the electorate. That in itself is worrying, bearing in mind all the comments from my colleagues and, far more eloquently, from some of the people here this evening.
Here we come to the real crux. There are two issues. One is the impact on the national policing priorities. I was lucky enough to chair the police border review. The noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, was generously part of that for the Conservative Party under David Cameron. All of its recommendations were taken up by the Conservative Party in opposition. What we discovered on border policing was that there was a mismatch between what was being delivered nationally and what was being delivered locally. One of the weaknesses has to be the question of whether the reforms to local delivery, under one person, will have an effect on national policing and its resources. Clause 79 states that PCCs and chief constables must,
“have regard to the strategic policing requirement”,
which is set out by the Home Secretary. However, this is not binding. As such, it does not go far enough in mitigating the risk of local issues being prioritised at the expense of national policing matters. That means that the local policing commissioner or chief constable will have priority over national issues.
Very quickly, on the role of chief constable, we have not seen the protocols. I am sure that the Minister is working hard on those. We were promised them by Second Reading. Some of those of us who are privileged enough to speak to the Home Secretary and the top teams have a problem with that. How can we decide about the independence of policing, and where the chief constable or the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police sits in this structure, unless we know that we have independence for the police officer who is involved in crime?
If I may, I shall end by talking as a senior investigating officer. Some time ago I looked into and investigated the National Criminal Intelligence Service; I have now been in Northern Ireland for 20 years, investigating some very difficult issues; and more recently I investigated Princess Diana’s death in Paris. The real power and confidence that I enjoyed in carrying out those investigations and the dedication of the people around me were related to one thing—that I was answerable to the law and the law alone.
Finally, this Bill is the biggest change to the constitution of policing in 150 years. It is absolutely our responsibility tonight and in the following months to ensure that we get it right even if it is carried through in a certain form, which it probably will be. If we get it wrong, we will never sleep soundly in our beds in the future.
My Lords, we have had a lengthy and interesting debate. We have also had the pleasure of hearing three informative, knowledgeable, and at times moving, maiden speeches from the noble Baronesses, Lady Berridge and Lady Newlove, and the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, which have rightly drawn much praise. I both hope and expect that they will all be regular contributors to debates in your Lordships' House.
There are some parts of the Bill which we can support in general terms. These are: the alterations to existing powers for licensing authorities and other responsible bodies with regard to alcohol licensing; the new regulations governing protest in Parliament Square; the new powers for the regulation of drugs; and the provision for the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions before an arrest warrant is issued for universal jurisdiction offences. We will, though, want to probe further into the detail of the Government’s proposals on these provisions in Committee, particularly in the light of some of the comments made in this debate.
Most of those who have spoken on the issue have either been directly opposed to the principal provision of the Bill—namely, the elected police and crime commissioners—or have expressed strong and powerful reservations about the proposal and its potential implications. One of the concerns is: what exactly will the police and crime commissioners do if they are not, as claimed, going to become involved in operational matters? The Bill sets out the basic duties of the post, which hardly add up to a well paid, full-time job, unless, of course, the appointment, suspension and dismissal of the chief constable is to become a regular event, or police and crime plans and objectives are to be changed every five minutes in order to create a job.
We currently have police authorities which meet at regular intervals but not exactly every day. We have an individual who is the chair of the police authority but it is not normally a full-time position. If the police and crime commissioner is not going to be involved in operational matters, will the Minister set out exactly what duties and responsibilities the commissioner will be taking over from the chief constable, what duties and responsibilities he or she will be taking over from the chair of the police authority and the members of the police authority, and what duties and responsibilities will be entirely new and are not undertaken by anyone at all at the present time? Is the reality that much of the work of the police and crime commissioners will simply be duplicating work which the chief constable and his senior team already do, and will in effect create a further management layer with the need for further papers, reports and attendance at meetings by senior police officers who should be spending as much of their available time as possible leading the fight against crime? Is it the undeclared intention that the role of the police and crime commissioner will be extended at some later stage to other areas of the criminal justice system such as, for example, the probation and prison services, or even the local courts service?
What exactly will be the position in London? The Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, which sounds a bit like a quango, will have the same powers as a police and crime commissioner, so will the mayor be the commissioner or will the commissioner in reality be a mayoral appointee, in which case what has happened to the Government’s much vaunted concept of the need for directly elected commissioners?
To whom will the police and crime commissioners be accountable during their period of office? It does not look as though there will be the equivalent of a Parliament, an Assembly or a local council with the power to accept or reject key proposals or changes that the commissioner wishes to take, or to hold the commissioner to account. Where is the check on inappropriate or overenthusiastic use of power by a single individual? It will certainly not be with the toothless police and crime panels—the PCPs that will be the police commissioner’s poodle—which, even in their own limited area of power, will need 75 per cent of all their members, not even just those present, to send back the commissioner’s proposed precept. Current police authorities are executive committees, but police and crime panels will be scrutiny bodies without executive powers. It appears, in reality, that the only person whose approval the commissioner needs to seek is himself or herself.
Those who may consider that elected national politicians have already politicised the police will be in for a shock when they realise the degree of party politicisation that single elected police commissioners will bring. If the intention is that the operational independence and impartiality of the police will not be put at risk, what is the Government’s definition of operational independence? The Government have said that they will produce a memorandum or protocol that will set out the terms of agreement on the relationship between the new elected police and crime commissioners and chief constables to ensure that operational independence is protected. Typically, the Government have failed to produce the document in time for today’s Second Reading. That is presumably because the Government, despite claiming that operational independence will be protected, do not yet know what the words they have uttered mean in reality. That is a not dissimilar situation to their lengthy silence when we asked them to define what they meant by the front-line policing that they asserted would be protected from cuts.
Does operational independence include decisions on how many police officers are required to be on duty for particular demonstrations, marches and protests? Does operational independence include the police tactics to be deployed on such occasions? Does operational independence include, within the parameters of an overall budget, the number of officers and civilian staff to be employed on the variety of different activities that a police force undertakes? Will a police and crime commissioner be able to dismiss or remove a chief constable when the issue or issues that have caused difficulty would appear to any reasonable person to relate to a chief constable’s unwillingness to carry out instructions from a commissioner on an operational issue?
Will not the reality be that we will find ourselves with police and crime commissioners who have won an election, but have yet to find a role? In trying to create a full-time job for themselves—incidentally, how many staff is it anticipated they will have, and at what cost?—they will seek to usurp the responsibilities of those senior police officers who currently manage and run our police forces and, in so doing, create a lot of frustration and conflict, as well as unnecessary and unjustified duplication and additional bureaucracy. The reality, as has been said on many occasions today, is that a commissioner who has the power to dismiss will always have the whip hand over a chief constable on issues regarding what is or is not deemed to be an operational matter.
For what purpose is all this being done? The level of crime reduced steadily by more than 40 per cent over a number of years under the previous Government, and confidence in the police is at a high level. That is not bad for police authorities that suffer the allegedly overwhelming defect of not having a chair or members who are widely known to the public. What exactly is it that is so deficient about the present structure that demands the introduction of police and crime commissioners and the potential politicisation of policing and dealing with crime, which should be independent and impartial? Are the imposition and additional costs of directly elected police and crime commissioners the Government's thank you to police officers and police civilian staff throughout the country for their success in reducing and tackling crime, for facing cuts in numbers and for facing pay and conditions being managed down?
The argument is that policing and crime have a significant impact on people's lives. The current arrangements of police authorities provide a level of accountability that includes a majority of locally elected council representatives, which should not simply be swept aside. People want managerial competence, an efficient and effective service, and an ability to have a say over what happens in their immediate locality—an ability that has been enhanced by community partnership working, and by the introduction of neighbourhood police community support teams, which spend time keeping in direct contact with those who live and work in their neighbourhood to make sure that they are aware of their principal concerns on crime and policing issues.
People do not want the politicisation and fragmentation of the police service because not all policing matters affect only one area or county. Counterterrorism and kidnap activity do not respect police authority boundaries, or at times even national boundaries, any more than do drug trafficking, human trafficking, e-crime and cybercrime. Co-operation between forces is vital, and the Association of Chief Police Officers does much good work in this area.
What will be the attitude of an elected police and crime commissioner who believes that his or her prospects of popularity and re-election will depend on allocating resources and on trying to deliver on promises made, however unlikely, during an election campaign, rather than on directing their resources at major national or international crimes that may not have an obvious immediate impact in their own area? We do not want more than 40 separate police service silos, but that is what we risk getting, and the Government certainly have not explained how the strategic policing objectives will ensure that this cannot happen.
The creation of police and crime commissioners will enable the Government, having made significant cuts in police budgets, to seek—in vain, I suspect—to wash their hands of any responsibility for the incidence of crime and how it should be addressed, on the basis that that is the responsibility of the elected police and crime commissioner. The approach will be similar to that adopted towards local government, where they reduce the amount of money received by local authorities and then seek to blame them when the inevitable happens and important services are cut or reduced.
We have seen the Government decide, following almost universal criticism of their proposals for the National Health Service, to take time to reflect on their position before proceeding further. A similar period of reflection on the proposals for police and crime commissioners would not come amiss. They will not make policing work easier. They will cost money that could be better spent on more police officers fighting crime. The election of police and crime commissioners will potentially politicise the work and activity of each and every police force, threatening the perception of the police as being impartial and independent in dealing with and fighting crime.
The work of policing will be further politicised if elected police and crime commissioners, elected local authority members or elected mayors have public spats with each other over where responsibility and accountability lie for levels of crime or the incidence of particular types of crime. Reducing and fighting crime requires a crucial partnership approach between the police and local authorities. Having different arms of that partnership under different political leadership, with different priorities and objectives, will jeopardise and not enhance successful partnership working, and with it the continuation of the reduction in the incidence of crime.
My noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath referred to the absence of a Green Paper, pre-legislative scrutiny, an impact assessment on the proposals for commissioners from HMIC, proposals for referenda on the introduction of PCCs and any provision for pilot schemes. The Government should think again. The continuation of effective, impartial and non-politicised policing is more important than delivering, without due regard or consideration of its consequences and implications, what appears to have become a pet project of at least one half of the present Government.
My Lords, I am grateful for the generally thoughtful tone of the debate this afternoon and evening, even if it was not especially supportive of the Government’s position. Like other noble Lords, I was struck by the fact that it was graced by three outstanding maiden speeches, from my noble friends Lady Berridge, Lady Newlove and Lord Blencathra. Listening to the speech of my noble friend Lady Newlove, in particular—I agree with those who said how moving it was; indeed, she told a tragic story—I was reminded that this Bill is also a social responsibility Bill. I am sure that the whole House hopes that when enacted it will reduce the likelihood of the sort of incident that she described occurring in the future.
As time is short, I should like to confine the greater part of my closing remarks to Part 1 of the Bill. I hope that the House will understand if I do not tackle all the points made, but I hope to touch on the key themes. Something else that struck me in the debate was the fact that many of the doubts expressed by Members of this House betrayed what I would regard as being a preference for expertise over visible leadership, reliance on robust democracy and indeed the good sense of the electorate—a prejudice that my noble friend Lord Howard warned us against at the beginning of the debate. Reliance on the people is not, as some noble Lords have suggested, naivety. It is actually healthy democracy. As against that, I particularly welcome the offer from those who have considerable experience in policing to work with us to engage constructively on making these reforms work. Of course, I accept that there are ways in which they can be improved.
The core of the Bill, however, is about accountability. It is not about operational policing matters. The Bill will support operational matters and will not, as has been suggested, somehow adversely affect them. That is why your Lordships did not hear from me this evening about many operational policing matters, on which Members on the opposition Benches have touched. I agree with those who have said that we have the best police service in the world, but we do not have the best governance of that police service. It is that aspect that the Bill is designed to improve.
There have been many queries as to why the reforms are needed and why they are needed now. Let me touch on this again; I spelt it out in my opening remarks, but it is worth repeating one or two of the points. A number of noble Lords suggested that the reforms are not needed. We disagree. It is clear, as I have indicated, that there are some philosophical differences between us, as well as, I suspect, differences in the assessment of the quality of the situation that we have at the moment. In our view, the case for change is clear. Police authorities are not sufficiently connected to the public. We know this because only 7 per cent of the public understand that they can approach their police authority if they are dissatisfied with policing. I reject the argument that anonymity does not matter. A typical police authority gets only about two letters a week from the public. When the Mayor of London took on the responsibility of policing in our city, the fact that there was a recognisable figure in charge prompted a significant rise in the amount of correspondence received from the public. The public care and, contrary to what has been suggested, they are not satisfied. At the moment, they simply do not know whom to call. We believe that some of the provisions, which have not received great attention in the debate, for greater transparency in all the proceedings that will take place between the police and crime commissioner, the chief constable and the PCPs, which lie at the core of the Bill, will help immensely in generating greater information about and confidence in the police.
The noble Baroness, Lady Harris, argued that no police authorities had failed their inspections. That is the case, but we do not think that not failing is good enough. As I mentioned, only four police authorities are performing well out of the 22 inspected by HMIC. I think that we all agree that HMIC must be respected in its judgments. We believe that we can do better than that and that the public have a right to expect better performance.
We also think that there is a democratic deficit between the authorities and the public whom they are meant to serve. Only 8 per cent of wards in England and Wales are represented on a police authority. We think that the system of governance, even if it is not broken, is not performing well enough and requires improvement, so we are going to make the changes. We also think that the change is needed now. As I indicated, the Government do not believe that piloting would be helpful. I have no doubt that I will have considerable opportunity in Committee to explain in greater detail why I think that that is the case, but I must inform the House that I will be resisting that idea vigorously.
The coalition parties support the direct democratic reform of police authorities. It is interesting that the Opposition also favour the democratic reform of police authorities. The only difference between the Opposition and the coalition Government is how, not whether, it should occur. That puts a point on some of the arguments that we have heard tonight. Right at the outset of the debate, the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, suggested that HMIC be asked to approve the Government’s reforms before they are instituted or that there should be a series of local referenda before they could take effect. If we think, as a House and as Parliament, that direct democracy in policing could be improved, it seems to me odd that we should suggest that HMIC should make a judgment on what is clearly a political matter. That is not what HMIC is there for. As for local referenda, the PCCs are a national policy, and a single system of governance is needed. Policing crosses force boundaries, just as criminals do, and we must have a degree of commonality in how it operates, so I do not think that we can go for local referenda.
In respect of the arguments made to the effect that these reforms will politicise policing—we have heard a great deal of that this evening—I want to be absolutely clear: that will not be the case. There is no reason why there should not be partnership between the PCC and the chief constable. Many of the Bill’s provisions are clearly designed as a failsafe in case there are problems but the whole premise of the Bill is that there should be partnership. We agree with those who say that there should be partnership, and we are confident that partnership will come about. Equally, it is important, as the whole House acknowledges—we certainly support this—that the operational independence of chief officers is not prejudiced. It will not change. Under the 1996 Act chiefs will continue to have direction and control of their staff. Operational independence is already protected, not just by measures in primary legislation but also in common law and the attestation of all constables on appointment, as has been said in debate. It is a cornerstone of British policing and nothing—nothing—in the Bill or any protocol that we produce will alter that, but we shall seek to make the principles of the relationship between the various parties clear in the protocol.
It has been well said that the police are answerable to the law. Indeed, we are all answerable to the law. But the Government see no contradiction between being answerable to the law and being accountable. These two things go hand in hand.
I have no doubt that in debate we will spend some time on the arrangements in London. I am not going to deal with those this evening, but I should like to make a comment on one point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Harris. He seemed to be suggesting—perhaps I have him wrong—that because the precise method of accountability of the chief constable had not been prescribed in the legislation, therefore it could be assumed that there was no such answerability. That is not the case. The PCC has the same statutory responsibility to hold the chief constable to account as he has at present to the police authority. Not everything has to be spelt out in detail in the legislation as if no one is capable—
My Lords, my point was not that there is not a clear accountability mechanism, because that is set out in the Bill; my point is—it applies not just in London but to all the PCCs—that the one-to-one relationship between the elected individual and the chief officer of police does not allow for the visible answerability of the chief officer of police, answering questions in public on matters that affect the locality. That is what will disappear in this Bill.
I do not think that that is the case, my Lords, because there is nothing to stop meetings taking place in public. Indeed, the records have to be put into the public domain, so I do not think that somehow this relationship will be conducted behind closed doors. On the contrary, I think that it will be extremely transparent. One other point I would like to make is that the police and crime commissioner can require a chief constable to report on a particular matter if he does not get co-operation from him, although I do not see why he should not. Both accountability and transparent accountability will be present in arrangements.
I should like to deal with some of the points where it was claimed that this new model would be costly and would introduce unnecessary bureaucracy, and to be clear about what the model involves. The PCP will not replace the police authority, so those costs are gone. The PCC replaces the police authority and indeed will need support staff but, unlike now, they will be held directly to account by the public, so we will require them to publish details of their expenditure and the public will expect them to deliver value for money. This creates a very strong incentive to drive costs down, an incentive which does not exist at present.
If the House is concerned about costs, I say that the alternative models that have been suggested—an elected chair of a police authority or indeed an elected police authority—are no less expensive than what we are proposing, and would probably be more expensive. We also think they would be less effective.
Finally, I should like to put these reforms into their proper context. Some noble Lords have asserted that PCCs will be concerned only with the local agenda, neglecting national issues and protective services. I had hoped that I had spelt that out adequately in my opening remarks, but let me repeat that that is not the case. The Bill starts to rebalance the system from the Government telling local areas what their priorities are to focusing on those issues that are of national importance such as organised crime and counterterrorism. To that end, we have included Clause 79, which gives powers to the Home Secretary, as I mentioned, to set out a strategic policing requirement. That is obviously an important document. The strategic policing requirement will describe the collective capabilities that police forces across England and Wales would need to have in place in order to protect the public from serious harm and maintain national security; that is, the contribution that they would be expected to be capable of making to these national issues. The police and crime commissioners will have to have regard to the strategic policing requirement, which means that they may not ignore it when setting out their police and crime plans. It cannot be the case that their focus can be wholly local.
I cannot see how a police and crime commissioner who wished to be regarded as effective would see his duties as not encompassing the things that he needs when it is quite obvious to the public that he needs to be charged with doing them effectively. When he is setting out his police and crime plans, they will include the discharge by that police force of its national or international functions, and chief officers will be held to account if in any respect they fail to come up to the operational standards that are required. Furthermore, all this will be underpinned by the new backstop powers which currently apply only to the Metropolitan Police Authority for the Home Secretary to enter into an agreement with any PCC or the Mayor of London on their national and international functions, where it is deemed necessary, to direct them to take action. We hope that that is not the kind of thing that is going to be necessary, but clearly the power will be in place if it has to be exercised. At a later time, as the House is aware, we will be introducing the new national crime agency, which will be a framework for the functions of national scope, and these will cover such things as organised crime.
I turn briefly to the points made on licensing, the first of which is the removal of the vicinity test. I know there is a fear that this proposal could lead to an increase in frivolous or vexatious representations, but I have to say that during our consultation a very large number of respondents welcomed greater community involvement in the licensing process, and they were clear that the activity related to licensed premises can have an effect well beyond the immediate vicinity. The objectors, of course, have to make a case which is related to the full purposes of licensing.
On the issue of health bodies becoming responsible authorities, I can confirm that the Government will ensure that in the future this role is compatible with the changes being made to PCTs, but in the short term the PCTs will be the relevant health bodies. As regards the maximum fine for underage sales of alcohol, by doubling it, the Government are sending to retailers a clear message that we will not tolerate the sale of alcohol to children. The noble Baroness, Lady Coussins, asked a number of detailed questions focusing on why the Government were not doing more in other areas, and no doubt we will take those in greater detail in Committee. The point of the Bill is to do something simple, obvious and straightforward, and which is capable of being actioned in a way that we hope will be effective. However, I quite appreciate that there are issues other than those set out in the Bill which add up to an effective challenge to the increasing abuse of alcohol.
As for the levy, it applies across the whole licensing authority area because that is the simplest and fairest way of ensuring that all premises that benefit from selling alcohol late at night contribute towards costs. We have to recognise, as I have just said, that there is a problem of alcohol abuse in this country and it has to be tackled. That is why the emphasis in this Bill is on increasing our ability to do just that.
I hope the House will be willing to forgo responses on the many points raised in relation to Parliament Square and universal jurisdiction. The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, has promised us a lively debate in Committee on the first and I have no doubt that we shall debate the need for the intervention of the DPP on the second. The DPP has made it clear that he would be willing and would have the capacity to act rapidly in any case and that his intervention would not act as a delay or a bar on issuing a warrant.
The core of the debate has been on the PCCs and I want to make two last points. First, the noble Lord, Lord Boateng, made the point, which I am sure the whole House accepts, that we shall need to come together on this Bill to ensure its passage. Secondly, while I did not accept many of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, he said something with which I profoundly agree; namely, that trust is crucial to the preservation of our tradition of unarmed, impartial policing. In making the changes, the Government are determined to preserve this long-standing principle and great tradition. I commend the Bill to the House.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.
House adjourned at 11.32 pm.