Committee (1st Day)
Relevant documents: 13th report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 14th Report from the Constitution Committee and 11th Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
Clause 1 : Police and crime commissioners
1: Clause 1, page 1, line 6, leave out subsection (1)
My Lords, before moving the amendment, I will take the opportunity to welcome my noble friend the Minister to her new post. I am sure that I speak for all noble Lords when I say that we are looking forward to having a constructive and amicable working relationship with her.
Amendment 1 would remove the elected police and crime commissioner—the PCC—for each police area. Amendment 10 in the group refers to the PCC being a “corporation sole”. This would be replaced by the corporate body envisaged in Amendment 31. Amendment 11 and 12, also in the group, relate to the PCC being directly elected and would become obsolete if the PCC is appointed by the police and crime panel, the PCP, as envisaged in my proposed new clause put forward by Amendment 31, which would create a police commission. I hope it will be helpful if I indicate that I believe that all the amendments are consequential.
First, I declare an interest as a former police authority chair and a former vice-chair of the Association of Police Authorities. I am currently vice-president of that association. In the past, I have also been a member of the regional crime squad in my area and of the Service Authority for the National Crime Squad, and I have served on a number of policing bodies such as the PNB and the PAB.
The amendments ask a number of important questions. First, they provide a chance before we move on to the detail of the Bill to pause and ask ourselves whether we really understand what we are changing and why; and, above all, whether we fully appreciate what the consequences of that change will or could be. I am not against change, but if it is to be positive it needs at the very least to do more good than harm, and preferably it needs to demonstrate that what it creates is better than what came before. I am very concerned that the evidence base for making this change is incredibly thin, and that the consequences of implementing it have not been thoroughly researched or properly thought through.
The Bill changes a very precious thing. The British police service is the envy of the world. We should all pay tribute to the dedicated and professional officers and staff who contribute daily to making it so. However, part of the success story concerns how it is structured and how it is governed. Since the first British police force was set up by Peel, it has been faithful to the principles that the police are the people and the people are the police; that the police are absolutely impartial and serve only the law; and that the police service is not and never has been an organ of the state. Neither does it serve political or partial interests. It has always comprised local forces governed by local people and free from political interference.
These principles are reflected in the doctrine of operational responsibility for chief officers, and in the way in which police governance has evolved into a tripartite structure comprising chief officers, police authorities and the Home Secretary. In theory, each balances and keeps in check the powers of the others. The Home Secretary sets the national framework within which policing operates. Police authorities are responsible for local governance, set local direction and have substantial local democratic, independent and judicial elements. Then there are chief officers who are responsible for local delivery and operational direction. This is a very delicate balance, which has evolved over time, but it has broadly stayed true to the basic principles of localism and impartiality. It may not have always been perfect, but where problems have arisen, they have been corrected, most recently by the creation of police authorities in their current form in 1995. This reform introduced independent members to police authorities to overcome concerns about local political interference in policing in some areas.
More recently, there has been criticism that the powers of the centre have been too much strengthened at the expense of local influence and, particularly, local governance. If that has been so, one might suggest that the most obvious solution is the reduction of the power of the centre, not the wholesale reform of the local governance structure. My main point here is that this is a very delicate and carefully crafted balance, and we had better be very sure that in changing it we are not so badly unbalancing the structures that we capsize the whole ship.
Where is the evidence base that these proposals will work? They are certainly not in America. For those of us who have heard the very eloquent speeches of Jessica de Grazia, the former assistant district attorney in Manhattan, this looks very like a model with American credentials. In a speech to cross-party Peers last week, she said that,
“the fundamental question to be asked about this bill is will it improve British policing? Will it make it make the police more sensitive to the law enforcement needs of diverse localities? Will it improve on the ability of the police to maintain public order? To conduct impartial and robust investigations? Will it lead to reductions in crime? The only evidence base the government has presented is the success of Bill Bratton, an American chief constable, in implementing innovations that reduced crime dramatically in the 1990s. However, crime has been dropping steadily in the UK and some of its Chief Constables are the equivalent of Bill Bratton.
Proponents of the Bill believe it will deliver democratic accountability and localism. There are many routes to democratic accountability and localism. Police Authorities, as currently constituted, are a form of democratic accountability. Neighbourhood policing is a tactic that creates localism”.
Secondly, as a former councillor, I have nothing against democracy and elections, but I think we should ask whether direct elections are the best way to ensure that the police service is more accountable to its communities or whether this approach could, in fact, have perverse results. The system is set up so that the electorate holds to account the person who holds the police to account. It is possible that this will not be well understood and will raise unrealistic expectations among the public, who might think that they can hold the police chief to account directly. The police could also become accountable only to the people who vote, so that the people who do not—often the vulnerable, minorities and the disadvantaged—have no say at all in policing. What effect will this have on confidence in policing?
We can contrast this with the current system in which we have 17 or more police authority members whose main job is to engage with local people to ensure that their views are reflected in the way they are policed. An elected PCC may conclude that it is not worth the bother if there are no votes in it.
My biggest concern is about putting so much power in the hands of one person in the form of the police and crime commissioner. There are so many questions here. Do we really understand all the legal implications of making both the PCC and the chief officer a corporation sole? I am not a lawyer, so I do not, but I hope that some of my more learned noble colleagues can answer this. Do we understand all the practical implications of putting one elected politician in charge of this new structure? Can one person in the form of a PCC really do such a big job for such a large area and truly represent, and be answerable to, all its communities in a meaningful way? Can a PCC really do this better than the 17-plus police authority members whom they will replace? Is this really the very best we can do? Is it in the best interests of policing for the whole country? If there is an unequivocal yes to these questions, I ask again: where is the evidence? Certainly, none was forthcoming at Second Reading. If there is doubt about the answer, should we not pause to reconsider what we are about to do? A host of future amendments will address these matters in greater detail.
Thirdly, I would observe that the Government’s Green Paper on policing led us to believe that the tripartite structure was being rebalanced to redress perceived weaknesses, in particular the overcentralisation of powers in favour of local governance. Yet the Bill contains a number of new regulation or order-making powers for the Secretary of State and gives fewer powers to PCCs than police authorities have at the moment. This seems a faintly absurd situation, no doubt resulting from the perceived need to limit the powers of an individual PCC and to provide many checks and balances against them. However, if the Government were concerned that police authorities were too weak, how are PCCs, with fewer powers and subject to greater central regulation, going to do any better?
Fourthly, another consequence of this drive to limit the dangers of too much power residing with one person is the proposal to set up a police and crime panel to scrutinise the PCC and a new role for the IPCC to investigate serious complaints against the PCC. This all seems to add new layers of bureaucracy and regulation, so I query why we are swapping a largely self-regulating body, in the form of a police authority, for an individual who needs to be regulated by several other bodies to curb the way in which he or she might use powers inappropriately.
My Amendment 31 would address all these points by bringing the PCC and the PCP into a single corporate body that would have joint responsibility for governing policing, with the one providing a check and a balance for the other.
For all the reasons listed above, I would like reassurance and the views of other noble Lords about whether we really appreciate what we are doing in this Bill and whether we have properly considered all the consequences. I dare say, given my long association with the Association of Police Authorities, that the Minister is tempted to remind the Committee that turkeys do not vote for Christmas, as her colleagues observed in the other place. I stress that I am not against all change. I am certainly totally in favour of giving people, all people, more say in how they are policed. However, I remain genuinely concerned that this Bill will not do that and will instead give rise to great risks for policing. Yes, the electorate can throw out PCCs after four years, but that is a very long time in policing as well as in politics. Irreparable damage might by then have been done to the precious and world-recognised jewel that is British policing. I beg to move.
I have to inform the Committee that if Amendment 1 is agreed to, I cannot call Amendments 2 to 8A by reason of pre-emption.
I support the points made so forcefully and eloquently by my noble colleague Lady Harris of Richmond. First, I must declare my interests; I chaired Lancashire Police Authority for 16 years up to 2005, and I chaired the Association of Police Authorities for eight years and am currently its president. I begin by joining those who have welcomed the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, to her new role. I am sure that the whole House will look forward to working with her. In the short time since her appointment was announced on Monday, I have talked to many people who worked with her. They told me that she had considerable abilities and many accomplishments—too many for me to mention here today. I was not told specifically, but I am sure that one of those will be the ability to learn very rapidly on the job, which will be a great asset to her in this new role.
I am quite sure that she has been extremely well briefed by the Home Office, but she will this afternoon have the opportunity to hear at first hand the views of those with first-hand experience of local policing and its governance and those who understand how their local communities work across England and Wales. This will, I hope, give the noble Baroness a different perspective on this proposed legislation and help her to understand the serious nature and extent of our concerns.
My greatest concern is that the major changes outlined in Part 1 of the Bill are not based on very much tangible evidence, as far as I can see. I have listened carefully to all the arguments that have been put forward to justify the changes, but I find a lot of the arguments pitifully thin and some of them are out of date. The first argument was put forward at Second Reading; it was necessary to reconnect people to policing. That assumes that in some way the public are not presently involved at all. That is patently not the case. Neighbourhood policing is doing an excellent job working with local people at ward level to address their concerns and to work with them in their localities to address complaints and problems. The police usually do that by way of monthly meetings, and this is happening all over the country. That is what the public want.
What the public do not want is one individual elected to cover the 23 parliamentary constituencies of West Yorkshire or a massive police area such as Thames Valley, which does not actually exist in local government terms. In a recent survey in Lancashire, over 70 per cent of the more than 1,000 people surveyed said that one person could not possibly represent the diverse communities of Lancashire. Of more concern, the figure was much higher among those from ethnic communities, who believe that their concerns would be marginalised under the new arrangements. The Lancashire Police Authority has always had direct representation on it from its ethnic communities since its inception in 1995. That, together with other policies, has considerably boosted confidence in policies across the ethnic minority communities in Lancashire. To lose that direct link would be a serious step backwards. That worries me greatly.
The second argument for change was put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Howard, at Second Reading. He said that local people did not know the name of the chair of their local police authority. He said that that had apparently helped to change his view that direct elections to police authorities would be dangerous because they would politicise policing, which was certainly the view that he held in the 1990s. I am willing to say to the House that I believe that that is probably true because, in the recent audit of political engagement carried out by the Hansard Society, more than half the people surveyed said that they knew nothing or not very much about how things worked in their local areas.
As a result, police authorities have been innovative in combating that problem. For example, Lancashire police have held 14 roadshows since last April, meeting more than 5,000 residents and gaining the views of more than 10,000 people in surveys. Similarly, in south Wales, roadshows are held in each of the seven local authority areas every year, and in the past year there have been more than 18,000 visitors to the police website. South Yorkshire Police are in regular e-mail contact with 4,000 people. The Minister may be interested in the fact that Devon and Cornwall, part of which she represented in the other place, held 37 public meetings in the past year, engaging up to 1,000 people.
There is much greater awareness of police authorities now even than in 2005, partly because of the development of new technology and innovative computer communication and partly because of recent newspaper coverage. That all leads to a third argument. We have been told that police authorities lack visibility and that they are weak. Again, I remind the House that police authorities were reconstituted by Kenneth Clarke in the early 1990s to operate in a more businesslike and focused way. They were reconstituted to hold the force to account, rather like a non-executive board of directors, and worked very effectively across party lines. They have not gone eyeball to eyeball with chief constables or acted in a high-profile way but have gone about their business very effectively, and as a consequence they have not attracted headlines. I see this as a good thing—as a measure of success, not of failure. However, I assure the House that they are not weak. Every month in public meetings up and down the country, police authorities question their chief constables very robustly and vigorously on a whole range of issues, many of them quite sensitive, and they demand clear answers and assurances. I am sure that many noble Lords might well have been at such occasions. Certainly in London, those meetings often attract publicity and are very well known about. It shows that police authorities are not invisible and are not weak.
Fourthly, another reason came forward. We were told that police authorities did not do very well in recent HMIC inspections and therefore there was an urgent need for change. However, only 22 authorities out of 43, or half, were inspected: of which four were deemed good—which on my maths is 17 per cent, which seems to be reasonable—the rest were satisfactory and none failed. The Government were particularly worried that police authorities were not scoring well in securing value for money from forces in these difficult economic times, and I understand the concern. However, where is the concern then for securing value for money in terms of these current proposals? Where is the value-for-money argument in terms of the cost of elections and regarding the considerable additional cost of introducing this new system? If we are going to consider value for money, we should consider it across the board.
What equally concerns me is what we have not heard. We have not heard arguments in some very important areas. For example, what is the extent to which this change will continue to drive down crime and how will this happen? Surely one of the major things we want to see is crime being driven down. Police authorities and forces have been extremely effective in the past 20 years in driving down crime. That has to continue. How will these new arrangements work? Will they continue to do that? My fear is that the opposite will happen and crime will go up. I would like somebody to tell me why my fears are misplaced and that crime will continue to go down under this arrangement.
How will these new arrangements work with local partnerships, which have been so instrumental in helping to reduce crime? How will local partnerships be affected? Will they be enhanced? I think that local partnerships will be quite seriously undermined by the election of police and crime commissioners.
How will the new arrangements ensure that a full range of local and national strategic police initiatives will continue to be fully scrutinised? That point was made by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, and it is a very important one. How will these new arrangements facilitate collaboration between forces, which is really important? I fear again that the election of commissioners will have the opposite effect of keeping forces separate rather than helping them to collaborate.
I have a problem, because I have heard no evidence that the delivery of policing, or its accountability to local people, will be more effective in practice under this new system than under current arrangements; and there is a real danger it could be less effective.
Two eminent policing experts who gave evidence in the other place at the beginning of the Committee stage of this Bill both said they would not have gone with a commissioner model. They both said it was the most radical and untried option of the directly elected models that had been suggested. What really concerned me was that one described it as “a unique constitutional experiment” never before tried in this country. I find that quite worrying. If we are going to have a unique constitutional experiment, I do think we need to do it on a stronger basis than where we are at the moment.
The public are also quite opposed and sceptical about what it will achieve and are adamantly opposed to any suggestion of the politicisation of policing. Yet this danger—that party politics will be at the heart of these new arrangements—is the one we all fear the most. Nothing I have heard or seen so far, including the draft protocol, comes close to dealing with that threat. So, as the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, said, should we not be pausing and asking ourselves: what is the problem here; what are we trying to achieve; and what might we lose in the process?
I am an historian by profession, and one of my criticisms of many politicians is that they refuse to learn from history. One lesson that we surely should have learnt by now is that incremental change has a better chance of succeeding than very radical reforms. That was why Kenneth Clarke’s reforms of the early 1990s were so effective—they built on what was there already and improved it. There are times when radical reforms are needed, but as far as policing is concerned I have seen no evidence that this is such a time.
For all those reasons, I support the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, in raising considerable concerns about this proposal.
My Lords, I hope that I will be forgiven the discourtesy of absence from some parts of this debate because of a commitment in a Committee Room upstairs. I join others in welcoming my noble friend the new Minister. I learnt the other day—indeed, I am bound to say that she told me herself—that she is an extremely good cook. In this Bill, she has as ingredients the meat of police commissioners, the wine of the licensing provisions and the hot spice of universal jurisdiction, but it may be difficult for her to produce a dish that is up to her usual culinary standard at the end of our discussions. Having been a Member in the other place with her, I can confirm her reputation for being doughty, determined and, above all, dangerously disarming.
I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Harris for the way in which she moved the amendment. She was very persuasive, but I am bound to say that, with great respect, I disagree with her profoundly. I would like to remind the House of one or two things that have happened. Before the coalition, the Liberal Democrats were solidly in favour of democratic accountability for the police service through elected police authorities, to which we will return later today. The Conservative Party, the larger partner in the coalition, has been consistently in favour of the election of police commissioners. Both parts of the coalition have been solidly in favour of democratic accountability for the police through some kind of elected person or body through which the police service for a police area should be accountable. The amendments proposed by my noble friend Lady Harris would destroy that determination. I do not think that we have reached the point in coalition politics at which we should distance ourselves from the strongly held views of both parties because we are wedded to some old practices, which, in my view, do not stand the tests of scrutiny that have been relied upon by my noble friend. Indeed, what we should be discussing, if we are to discuss this at all, is the form of democratic accountability rather than whether there should be democratic accountability. These amendments would wreck the first Part of the Bill completely, for which reason I am opposed to them.
On police authorities, we will have a debate later about Welsh police authorities. With great respect to my very distinguished colleagues in this House who will speak in favour of basically no change in Welsh police authorities, I do not think that they could be more wrong, and I do not think that anybody could be more wrong than to say that what we have at present is a democratically accountable system that does the business really well. If one were just to stray into Wales for a moment and walk down the streets of Llanfair Caereinion, Llanfyllin or Llanrhaeadr-ym-Mochnant and ask people on those streets to name a single member of the police authority for their police area, unless one had happened to bump into a member or one of his or her nearest or dearest, they probably would not have a clue that a police authority existed, let alone who those members were.
In a professional capacity as a barrister, I have worked for and with police authorities and I have seen them in operation—I have seen very good and I have seen much less good. As a Member of the other place for a constituency in rural Powys, I had dealings with the police force and the police authority for those 14 years, and I can say very clearly that if anybody was concerned about the police they did not go to the police authority or any member of it, because they had no idea where to go. By and large, they went to their local Member of Parliament, who then processed the issue or complaint for them.
If one looks at some police authorities—it would be invidious to name names or issues, particularly as some of my experience is shrouded in professional confidentiality—one can be far from confident that every issue has been dealt with in a way that the public would regard as properly accountable and transparent. Indeed, there has been an issue involving a chief officer this week which has been well publicised and which raises many issues about the performance of that police authority and the relationship between that police officer and the public that he supposedly serves as the paragon of policing.
This amendment is going far too far. We should carry out the examination of police authorities that the Bill predicates and should not waver one bit from a form of democratic accountability, whatever that form be.
My Lords, first, I welcome the Minister to her onerous new responsibilities. She has a particularly difficult Bill to deal with.
Policing operates only with the consent of the people, and it has long been the experience in the United Kingdom that that consent depends very largely on the extent to which the people can trust in the independence and impartiality of the policing service which is delivered to them.
I want for a moment to refer to the situation in Northern Ireland in which policing became very seriously politicised and the consequences of that politicisation. In the first instance, there was a loss of community confidence in the police, which over the period of the Troubles crossed from the nationalist republican community into the loyalist community. It is important to acknowledge that the loss of confidence was right across the community. That led to a lack of support for the police in critical moments. I am thinking in particular about things like demonstrations, which are becoming more prevalent on the streets of the United Kingdom. It led to the loss of the flow of active information to the police, and the extent to which people were prepared to come forward and tell the police things. They very often told me as Police Ombudsman that the decisions that they made were based on whether they thought they might be listened to anyway. So people stopped providing information—sometimes information relating to the commission of crimes—and that led to the necessity for greater use of other mechanisms for collecting information, with the additional costs attached to those, all the complexities of the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and the potential for the increase in corruption. Ultimately, the loss of confidence in policing led to a lack of proper accountability in Northern Ireland, and we saw what happened, and we saw the necessity for the commission headed by the noble Lord, Lord Patten, and all the consequences which derived from that. Members of the House will now have gathered that I stand in support of the noble Baroness, Lady Harris.
I want to consider what it is that we are contemplating in this election of a police commissioner. The noble Baroness, Lady Harris, has identified the deficiencies in what a police commissioner could deliver which is not currently delivered by a police authority. I speak as a former member of the Police Authority for Northern Ireland, and I know the extent to which authorities go in extending their reach and bringing people in. When you combine that with the district and community policing partnerships that exist across the country, there is very significant outreach between the police, the police authority and those who are served by policing. The imposition of a single elected person would almost inevitably result in the election of someone who was politically affiliated. Political affiliation could be very damaging to policing and could lead to decisions in the allocation of resources which may well not reflect the needs of the marginalised, the poor, the vulnerable, the disabled and many other constituents of our community.
As Jessica de Grazia said when she addressed the meeting on the Bill, the United States system is very different from ours. I have spent a great deal of time going backwards and forwards to America looking at the possibility of importing ideas to improve policing in Northern Ireland. We do not have in the Bill the extensive protections which, as Jessica de Grazia said, have been built into the United States system over a period of 200 years to mitigate and correct the abuses of power that are a consistent feature of that form of police governance; we do not have an FBI which has a responsibility for significant areas of policing; we do not have police forces which comprise nine, 10, 20 or 50 people as the majority of American police forces do. The situation which we have is profoundly different from the one in America and the process which has evolved in the tripartite relationship between the Home Secretary, the police authority and the police has been adopted in other countries because it is seen to work.
On the American system and the references to Commissioner Bratton, there is absolutely no doubt that Commissioner Bratton was an able, effective and innovative police chief. We have adopted from America ideas such as broken windows and zero tolerance in many of our policing areas, and we have had significant developments in neighbourhood policing. All those initiatives have led to a greater relationship between people and police. To effectively take all those out and to replace them with a single person—who, as the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, said, sits over a significant area—could not deliver the existing level of contact with the community.
We are making these decisions at a time of a massively increased national security threat and it is profoundly important that we do all we can to ensure the total impartiality of our policing; to give all sections of the community the right to be represented in the running of policing; and, perhaps most of all, to ensure that we do not in any way imperil the impartiality of our policing. Our police commissioners are required to be effective and efficient; they are not required, as our chief constables are, to be independent and impartial. This is an ill thought-out scheme which will not produce the level of policing that we have at the moment; and it will not maintain or sustain the level of community confidence in policing which exists at present.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, because when I had the great fortune to be chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee I saw at first hand what she had achieved. She speaks with a quiet authority—as, indeed, do the noble Baronesses, Lady Harris and Lady Henig.
Like other noble Lords, I congratulate and welcome my noble friend Lady Browning. I served with her in the other place and I know her to be a woman of calm judgment and true determination. Above all—and I saw this when she had high office in the Conservative Party—she is someone who truly listens. I hope the House will give her the opportunity of its views today and I know that she will reflect upon what she hears in this Chamber. For that reason, I appeal at the outset to some of those who I believe are considering breaching a convention of this House and calling a vote today. I would beg them not to do so, out of courtesy to the new Minister. I have learned in my brief time in this House—although I observed it for 40 years from another place—that the hallmark of this place is courtesy.
I wonder if the noble Lord would give way.
What I have learned in my time here is that the convention is that issues are thoroughly discussed in Committee and that when we come to Report, Ministers having had the chance to go away, think and come back with answers, we decide whether we will vote—as we did last night, when I found myself, for the first time in my time in this House, in the Content Lobby. I give way to the noble Lord.
My Lords, the noble Lord comes to this House with great experience and we have all enjoyed his interventions. I would gently point out to him that there is no such convention. Votes do take place in Committee and any such vote would not be a matter of discourtesy to the Minister, whom we all welcome to her place today.
I am glad for that assurance but I still hope that there will be no vote today, because there will be proper opportunity both for my noble friend the Minister to reflect and for noble Lords in all parts of the House to put their points of view.
I have always been extremely sceptical about this policy. This is no new attitude; I remember having a vigorous discussion with Mr Dominic Grieve, when he was the shadow Home Secretary, telling him that I very much hoped that this would not form part of official Conservative policy. Although it has been rightly said that it is the official policy, many members of the Conservative Party are truly concerned about the implications, as I know well from my private conversations in this place and elsewhere. We are seeking to elect on a party ticket—it would be in almost any case on a party ticket—a man or a woman who we expect to have the pastoral wisdom of a bishop, while we give him or her the powers of a commissar. That is not a very good combination.
I speak as others speak, because we all talk from our own experience. For 40 years, I represented a Staffordshire constituency and have worked with six chief constables. I had the great benefit of a long discussion a couple of weeks ago with one of those, John Giffard, who said that I could mention his name in this House. I know that John Giffard was an exemplary chief constable, not at all afraid of accountability or of talking to a police authority and recognising its remit. Yet he is very wary of having an elected party politician as an immediate boss.
This policy is a very brave step indeed and if we are to take that step, we ought at the very least to have some pilot projects to see how it works and just how it reacts. There are other amendments on the Order Paper to this effect. I know that my noble friend Lady Browning will consider what is being said and I hope that she will discuss with the Home Secretary and others that to have pilot projects is in no sense to wreck the Bill. It is, rather, to make haste slowly, which is often the best way of moving forward.
If party politicians were elected, imagine a Derek Hatton being in charge of the police on Merseyside. One does not need to elaborate to realise that implicit in any election is a danger that that sort of thing can happen, particularly if it is a mid-term period when the Government of the day are excessively unpopular. We all know, from last week and other examples, that when people vote in elections other than a general election they are not always entirely motivated by the local issues. The noble Baroness, Lady Henig, talked—I think I remember the number right—about 23 constituencies in West Yorkshire.
I am sorry, North Yorkshire. In Staffordshire, including the city of Stoke-on-Trent, there are a dozen constituencies, but it is a fairly populated county, particularly in Stoke. The interests, concerns and priorities of those who live in that city are very different from those of the people who live in the rural area of the south of the county, which I represented, or in the Staffordshire moorlands. Is it really possible for one person adequately and properly to understand people’s conflicting priorities and interests in such a diverse area?
If it is not possible for an elected police commissioner to know the different conflicting views and opinions throughout Staffordshire or North Yorkshire, how then can a chief constable manage to do it at the moment?
My noble friend, for whom I have real affection, as he knows, has been a champion of this policy, very honourably. He knows that I take a different view. We respect each other and will continue to do so.
In this case, the situations are different. An operational chief—after all, we are so keen on operational independence that it is written into the Bill—with a series of assistants and deputies under him, with this as his sole and absolute duty and having done it all his life, because a chief constable by definition is someone who has risen through the police service, is in a far better position to know this professionally. I cast no aspersions on those who would aspire to stand as a commissioner, of course, but for the most part they would be party politicians with party priorities, to a degree.
My noble friend constantly reverts to the point that they would almost certainly be party nominees. Might it not turn out otherwise, as it quite often has in the elections for directly elected mayors? Does he not conceive it possible that in fact independents have a certain appeal, particularly in that position, and that they might put themselves forward quite successfully and that people might vote for them on an individual basis, as has been happening to some extent in the elections for directly elected mayors?
My noble friend moderated his own comment by saying “to some extent”, having said “very often” at the beginning of his intervention. The fact is that it does not happen very often that independents are elected. If there were a clause in the Bill to say that only those who were not affiliated to a political party were eligible to stand, many of my objections would be answered. However, I am concerned.
Because I know about Staffordshire, I would like to relate my remarks to my own county. In future, with Stoke included, it will be what is called a swing county; it will go Labour, then Conservative and then Labour again. This could have a very odd effect on the relationship between the commissioner and the chief constable. For four years you could have a Conservative commissioner. He appoints a chief constable. He begins an entirely proper but very constructive relationship for four years, and then he is out, replaced by someone from the other side who will not necessarily readily and immediately be able to establish a similar relationship.
I may have been slightly rebuked for my interpretation of conventions, but I very much hold to the convention that this House has a duty to improve legislation, not to reject it, unless it affects the very future of Parliament itself. We may come to that at some stage. In this case I accept that the House of Commons has determined that there should be police commissioners. That is why I should not support the amendment of the noble Baroness exactly as it stands; I believe that the pilot scheme is a better way forward. This House fulfils its absolutely proper constitutional responsibilities by saying, “All right. You have decreed this but we want to look at it carefully, and we do not want to rush into a series of elections that would cover every corner and part of the country”.
The noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, talked of her experience in Northern Ireland. Not so long ago I talked to Sir Hugh Orde, who now has a different role. When he was in Northern Ireland, he welcomed having a police authority—under another name, I know—composed of people from all shades of political opinion and all communities. It would have been much more difficult to respond to a particular individual. This is why, in their wisdom, the different main parties in Northern Ireland have said that they have to stand back from appointing a Minister of Justice. They will have one from a minority party. It is a similar approach.
I finish by saying that we have a Bill and we have a decision to make, but we also have a duty. That duty is to ensure that, as we move towards elected police commissioners, we do so properly, methodically, conscious of all the difficulties that have been referred to this afternoon, and by having pilot projects. I beg the House, as I did earlier, not to vote this afternoon, but rather to look at this matter again on Report when the new Minister has had chance to reflect and discuss with her ministerial colleagues. Perhaps we can then have a consensus. We may have to vote; who knows?
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in extending a warm welcome to the Minister. I share entirely their confidence that she will listen very carefully to the views of all sides of the House on this extremely important matter.
I confess that I have what can be described only, in appropriate terms, as form in the reorganisation of policing. As vice-chairman of the Local Government Association and leader of its Labour group, I led an ultimately successful campaign within my own party and against the policies of the party in government when it sought to introduce the least bad of three bad propositions for the reorganisation of policing. The Labour Government’s proposal was that the majority of members of police authorities should be directly elected. As the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, pointed out, the Liberal Democrat policy was for the entire police authority to be directly elected. The present Government’s proposition is that all of that should be replaced by the election of a single person. The campaign was against the least bad of the three. It succeeded because the Government were persuaded that it was wrong to vest separate powers in the hands of bodies elected from other parts of local government.
It is instructive to look at the protocol, which has somewhat belatedly been circulated. I refer to the introduction to this document, in which the following words appear:
“The election of Police and Crime Commissioners is at the heart of the Government’s plan to cut crime”.
There is, as has already been pointed out, little evidence that such an appointment would have that effect but let that stand. It goes on:
“They will reconnect the public and the police, and allow us to replace bureaucratic accountability to Whitehall with democratic accountability to local communities”.
That is as classic a piece of gilding the lily as I have come across in a long time. I need hardly remind your Lordships that lilies are poisonous plants. The first part of the sentence is surprising: it implies that the police and public have been disconnected. As I have previously had occasion to point out to the House, I have served for 44 years as a councillor in Newcastle upon Tyne in quite a deprived community in which crime has always been an issue, although it has been reducing in recent years. The past few years have seen a much greater connection between the public and the police than at any time previously, certainly during my period of service. The police regularly attend meetings, communicate with the local community and report back on crime statistics. They are more accessible than most other public services, if truth be told.
As I said on Second Reading, the interest of the local community is very much focused on the immediate locality. In all the meetings that I have attended with the police and public present, never has anybody raised force level matters or even, frankly, matters concerning another part of the city in which they live, let alone Berwick, which is 56 miles to the north, or Sunderland, which is 15 miles to the south, all of which would be included in the area to be governed in this respect by the police commissioner. Therefore, there is already a connection between the public and the police. Having said that, accountability needs to be reinforced and there are ways in which the Bill could be improved to secure that, with or without the imposition of an elected police commissioner.
However, the second part of the relevant sentence in the protocol is a non-sequitur. I agree that the previous Government overdid the provision of targets and laying down what should be done in this and other areas. Occasionally, I used to say that the Government of the day had established more targets than the Pentagon had during the whole of the Cold War. Their setting of targets was excessive, including in this area of public policy. When I was chairing a review of local public services in Wales, I well recall a very charismatic, if somewhat idiosyncratic, chief constable of north Wales saying that he was not minded to follow the Home Office advice about giving priority to knife crime—I think that was the crime in question—because in his part of the world that was not a serious issue. I cannot remember whether sheep rustling was his preferred priority, but at all events he made a perfectly valid point which certainly needs to be borne in mind. However, as the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, pointed out, that does not require, nor does it necessarily flow from, the proposition to establish a directly elected police commissioner. The Home Office could relax its grip and its tendency to dictate priorities under the current system or, indeed, any other system for that matter. It is a question of a self-denying ordinance on the part of the Home Secretary and the Home Office of the day, and certainly that should be welcome, but the two issues are not connected in principle or in practice.
The protocol goes on to say in a further paragraph:
“The Police and Crime Panel within each force area is empowered to maintain a regular check and balance on the performance of the PCC”—
that is, the police and crime commissioner. If one looks at the proposals for the police and crime panels in the Bill, it is very difficult to see the substantial checks and balances that the protocol suggests are present; they are few and far between. For example, they would require a three-quarters vote to veto—they cannot amend—the budget of the police and crime commissioner or his crime plan. There is no provision for the police and crime panel to call in decisions of the commissioner before they are implemented, as can a scrutiny panel, for example, in an authority with an elected mayor or any other form of executive It seems to me that very few checks and balances are present, despite what the protocol claims.
Another part of the protocol states:
“The PCC has the legal power and duty to … provide the local link between the police and the public, working to translate the legitimate desires and aspirations of the public into action on the part of the Chief Constable to cut crime and antisocial behaviour”.
That raises a number of questions. To begin with, who determines the,
“legitimate desires and aspirations of the public”?
Apparently it will be the single person who is the elected police and crime commissioner. That suggests the very kind of populist flavour that is likely to characterise the campaigning for an election to that position, which many of us—I suspect on all sides of the House—fear will actually aggravate problems, rather than resolve them. It will lead to an increase in the fear of crime, and that in turn makes the job of the police more difficult.
The protocol also implies something very close to interference in the operational performance of the chief constable. I repeat:
“to translate the … aspirations of the public into action on the part of the Chief Constable”.
It might be argued that that is to be confined to the plan, rather than operational detail, but the terminology is suggestive of a rather greater role than many of your Lordships would like.
There are further responsibilities referred to in the protocol and in the Bill, one of which will again concern many of your Lordships. The protocol states:
“A PCC has wider responsibilities than those relating solely to the police force”,
“a wider responsibility for the enhancement of the delivery of criminal justice in their area”.
The Bill refers to collaboration between the commissioner and a range of organisations, including the courts, the Prison Service, the probation service and youth offending teams. I would be concerned if anyone holding the position of a police commissioner or, indeed, the chair of a police authority under the present structure, engaged with the courts or any of those bodies. The police function in that sense is separate. Again, the notion that a single individual should have that responsibility strikes me as being inherently undesirable, and perhaps even dangerous. The powers of the commissioner are virtually untrammelled in the Bill, and that is a serious objection to the proposal as it stands.
The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, who is not now in his place, prefers the model of democratically elected police bodies. There are a number of arguments against that, one of which is that the existing police authorities, and even the Bill, propose the retention of some independent element within the police and crime panels. Police authorities at the moment have a significant number of independent members. That has contributed significantly to ensuring that there is geographical balance and a balance of gender and ethnicity in the composition of police authorities. The Bill provides for only two such members, and their number should be somewhat greater—perhaps a third of the total number—in whatever structure we end up with. However, as I understand it, the formulation of the noble Lord is that all members should be democratically elected, and one would thereby lose that important dimension.
However, councillor members of police authorities are democratically elected. Although they are not specifically elected to the police authority, they are accountable to their electorate in their ward or authority, and are accessible to the wider community. It is perfectly true that they may not be household names in every street or town in a country area, but, as the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, pointed out, authorities have done a great deal to extend information on and access to those who serve.
There is a further objection to the proposition of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile. His formulation implies the creation of a separate elected body with a separate mandate. This represents a fragmentation of local governance, beyond what we already have. Of course, some police authorities are based on existing counties—there is effectively a county force. Thames Valley is not an example, because it links several counties, but Hampshire, for example, has its own police authority, which is effectively part of the county council with additional members.
The noble Lord's argument could be extended. If we are to have separate bodies separately elected with their own mandate—and, incidentally, responsible for a significant portion of council tax; 11 per cent in England and 15.5 per cent in Wales—why not have a separately elected body for passenger transport? Why not go back to the 19th century and have elected school boards? Why have local government at all? It is an infraction of that principle that the noble Lord appears to support. I do not think that his arguments are well founded. All of us want more accountability; all of us want a democratic element; the Bill as currently set up does not achieve those objectives. I hope that it can be substantially revised, and I certainly support the amendment moved by the noble Baroness.
My Lords, I declare my registered interest as a former commissioner and chief constable. I, too, welcome the new Minister to her place and wish her well in dealing with the Bill. I support the sentiment, tone and mood of the suggestions made by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris. I do so with some hesitation. I do not want to undermine the ambition of the Government in the Bill, because I believe that there is ample scope for improving the democratic accountability and performance of local policing. Nor am I in principle against the notion of elected local police and crime commissioners. My anxiety concerns whether the provisions as drafted do as they are intended. Will the new elected police and crime commissioners have the infrastructure to deliver? The noble Baroness, Lady Harris, has served the House well by giving us the opportunity to pause and think again today by her amendments. Have we got the right infrastructure in the Bill which will, as we all hope, improve the democratic accountability and performance of policing locally?
We are all prisoners of our experience, and I refer back to my time as chief constable of Kent, a county I know well, still live in and serve in a number of ways. If in two to three years’ time we had an elected police commissioner for Kent, he or she would be expected to connect in some way directly with over 1.5 million people in Kent. He or she would have to connect directly in some way with 17 parliamentary constituencies, a very large county council and 12 very big local authorities. The current proposal, with an elected police and crime commissioner floating free, is a mission impossible when it comes to connecting in a meaningful way with local people on their fears and aspirations concerning crime and related issues.
My second anxiety relates to the drafting concerning the police and crime panels. We will have a transition from the old police authorities. Some of the checks and balances will be carried forward into the police and crime panels, but in other ways, they will be given a different role. My concern there is that we will have 10 to 15 or more people, many of them locally elected through the democratic process, not engaging directly with the public or the police service to improve policing but all facing narrowly towards the new elected police and crime commissioners and all their energies going into what could be, as others have said, a very adversarial, party-political driven contest between the police and crime panel and the elected police and crime commissioner, who may not necessarily be from the same political persuasion. There is a real danger that that will dilute and dissipate a lot of local energy and expertise which should be used in a more collaborative way.
Therefore, I hope that, as we move forward with this debate in your Lordships’ House, we will move towards a position where, if we are to have directly elected police and crime commissioners, they will be located within a more supportive and collaborative framework locally and will not float freely, as is currently envisaged. I am relaxed about whether they become a chair of the police and crime panel, whose role is redrafted and represented, or the chair of a police commission or a police board, or something that locates them in a more collaborative endeavour which gives them a much stronger chance of genuinely tapping into local feelings, moods and concerns, and gives them a much stronger feeling for how they are going to interact with the chief constable and local policing. My hope is that we will somehow find an agreed way of moving towards this more collaborative framework, which genuinely has a much stronger chance of enhancing local accountability and improving police performance.
For the purpose of today’s debate, I am not going to rehearse all the anxieties that I expressed at Second Reading. However, in addition to all the things that we have spoken about so far, there are still a lot of unknowns concerning national structures and how we are going to deal with terrorism, organised crime, police leadership reforms and police pay and conditions reforms. These new proposals involve a massive act of faith and experimentation in moving away from over 180 years of legacy and performance.
Therefore, I am not against elected police and crime commissioners and I am certainly not against improving local democratic accountability in relation to policing but, as we move forward and change more than 180 years of history and legacy, let us make sure that we take our time to get this right.
My Lords, I also congratulate my noble friend Lady Browning on being appointed as a Minister. It is a first-class appointment. Having known her well, like many others, in another place, I know that she will be a doughty fighter and very fair with all of us. We are very lucky to have her.
I very much support the Bill because I do not really take the view that has been expressed in this House this afternoon that, in the words of my noble friend Lady Harris, the British police force is the envy of the world. There may have been a time when the British police were the envy of the world but I am not at all sure that that is still true today. One problem that the police have is that they have succeeded in roughing up the middle classes, who traditionally have always supported them, and there is also a perception that they are doing less and less for the poorest in our society, who of course really are the victims of crime. My noble friend Lady Harris said that these were the people who did not vote, but then of course they probably do not vote for the few councillors on the police authority either, so I am not sure that the concept of accountability works here. I think that a larger number of people would probably vote for elected police commissioners than for councillors, and therefore there could only be an improvement on that front.
I am afraid that this is an issue on which I do not agree with my noble friend Lord Cormack. He and I see life in very much the same way on issues of the constitution but on this matter I think that we have to differ. He seemed to be very concerned that the police commissioners would be party-political animals, but I am sure that people must have deployed the same argument in relation to mayors, as did my noble friend Lord Hurd, who is not with us. Clearly, they are party political creatures: but does that mean that they are not able to serve their community? I do not think that there is any evidence for that. If one does not believe in elected police commissioners, presumably one is in favour of getting rid of elected mayors, because I do not see that there is any great difference between the two. I see that my noble friend Lord Cormack wants to get rid of elected mayors as well. I take the view that the ratchet is operating here and that on the whole London has been better represented by elected mayors than it has been without them. Certainly an elected police commissioner will be known and, as has been established very satisfactorily in the debate so far, nobody has the first idea who runs the police authority or who is a member.
We have a serious disconnect between the police and the people whom they are supposed to serve. Introducing elected commissioners would do something to start reconnecting the British people with their police. This is very important and we cannot do anything but benefit from it. I very much support the Bill and oppose the amendment.
My Lords, I first declare an interest as a member and former chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, and also as a vice-president of the Association of Police Authorities. The noble Baroness, Lady Harris, has given good service to the House today by moving her amendment, if for no other reason than that it will enable us to have a free-ranging debate in Committee. I hope that it will be a useful introduction to the Minister in her new role; it will enable us to rehearse the arguments for her benefit as well.
The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, is worried that we might pass the amendment, which would be discourteous. However, it would provide an opportunity for—in the current jargon of the coalition—a pause. Apparently pauses are a good thing because they allow the coalition partners to consider whether they are departing on precisely the right track. This would be useful in the context of the Bill. The central objective that the Government have put before us of improving the democratic accountability of the police service is right. I hope that no one in the House would disagree with the principle. The question is whether the mechanism that has been put forward will achieve that objective, or whether it will have unintended consequences. The work of this Committee over the next few weeks or months may be to look in some detail at how this will work in practice, and whether there could be unintended consequences.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, I have no problem with the principle of direct election. I work on the basis that elections are a rather good way of determining who should have ultimate responsibility for things. However, what distinguishes this proposal is that we are talking about the direct election of an individual who will be given tremendous responsibilities, but without a suitable governance structure to prevent a situation in which the individual might make capricious judgments or seek to trespass on the operational independence that chief constables hold so dear. The Bill would give an individual tremendous authority, but without the governance structures, checks and balances that would be necessary given the importance of the role.
When I chaired the police authority in London, I would have welcomed the additional authority that would have been given to me had I been directly elected to fulfil the role. I was a directly elected member of the London Assembly, but that was slightly different from being directly elected to be in charge of the police service for London. I would have welcomed that additional authority. No doubt it would have been helpful to my relationship with the commissioner of police for the metropolis, the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, who has just left us. It would have been particularly important for my relationship with other elected colleagues such as other members of the London Assembly, local council leaders and so forth. I would have been able to say, “This gives me the authority on behalf of the people of London to say what is necessary”, but I would have been operating in the context of checks and balances on what I could and could not do. I would have had other authority members and the scrutiny processes that were in place with the London Assembly. Therefore, it would not have been untrammelled power. I would have had that responsibility and extra authority, but there would have been these mechanisms around.
What is so striking about this Bill is that those mechanisms are virtually absent. We will be told that the policing and crime panels offer that substitute governance structure, but they are essentially scrutiny bodies after the event. They are not part of the decision-taking structure and are not there, except in extremis, to say that a decision has been taken inappropriately. The spirit of partnership with other colleagues is so crucial in this area.
There is nothing wrong with the principle of direct election, and if that is something that the Government feel is absolutely central to what they are trying to achieve here, that is fine, but around this single individual, if that is what we are to have, there must be a proper governance structure. The danger is that because a number of us, perhaps in all parts of the House, have concerns about the single individual, we will set around that individual not mechanisms of good governance, but limits to their authority and to their ability to make the police service accountable to the local community. The danger is that those extra mechanisms may reduce the quality of accountability and the extent to which the police are accountable to their local communities. If you simply say, “We will give the policing and crime panel more of an opportunity to have a go at the policing and crime commissioner”, that is all well and good, but let us be quite clear that they will then be very political environments. You will have an elected politician, and I share the view that this will almost certainly be someone from a political party. It may exceptionally not be, but it will usually be, and if it is not, it will make the matter worse because they will then be dealing with a policing and crime panel that will be virtually entirely made up of elected politicians from the various political parties. This will then be a party-political forum in which the aim will be to criticise the decisions of the policing and crime commissioner. It will all be good fun, but it will do nothing about the accountability of the police service.
In the Second Reading debate, I referred to the last meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority that I attended. It was an example of the visible answerability of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis in that there was a series of major items with which the public were seriously engaged. It required the acting commissioner to make a public apology to those present and, through the media, to London as a whole for failures in respect of two investigations. In one instance, the family of the person who had been murdered was present to hear that apology. That is something you throw away at your peril. There was also a large group there that was concerned about the death of Smiley Culture. The sight of the police being seen to be answerable to people representing the public is very important in incidents of that sort. The danger, the unintended consequence, of the Government’s attempt to improve the democratic accountability of the police may be that you lose that visible answerability and that opportunity for different sections of the community to come together. We have not heard an answer about how that is to be replicated.
The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, suggested at Second Reading that the occasions when the chief officer of police meets the elected policing and crime commissioner could perhaps be held in public, but I do not see how that can work. It is a discussion à deux. There would be TV crews and newspaper reporters would be taking notes. This is not the way accountability operates. We are talking about how you recreate that visible answerability and provide a mechanism whereby an individual elected to this important role is protected from acting capriciously or unnecessarily. I am not suggesting that, in the way of former Roman emperors, they should have somebody going around whispering in their ear that they were mortal, but if there are to be people elected by perhaps 1 million people in some of the larger police areas who have that direct responsibility and no governance structure around them, there has to be some mechanism which reminds them of their wider responsibility and helps them to avoid making capricious decisions or decisions which favour one part of a community rather than another. That is why that structure is needed around what is proposed.
The Government are not wrong to pursue the principle of direct election, nor are they wrong to pursue the principle of improving democratic accountability, but it is important that they get the mechanism right. I am happy to support the amendment because it provides an opportunity to pause and look in more detail at how these mechanisms might be made to work effectively. The Government are in danger of weakening the principle of accountability and of making visible answerability disappear. Under the circumstances, the principle of British policing based on consent, where people can see that the police service is operating in their interests and those of the whole community, is in danger of being thrown away. That is why the amendment and the discussions that we will be having in Committee are so important.
My Lords, I, too, welcome the Minister to her place and look forward to working with her on this Bill.
The noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, has proposed this amendment and I have to say, up front, that I do not support it. The argument that seems to underpin it is that there is nothing much wrong with the current system. I shall address that in a moment. It is an oversimplification, I know, of what she said, but that seems to be the core of the argument which supports the amendment.
I was surprised to hear the noble Baroness say that we are here to prevent power going into one set of hands, or words to that effect. It seems to me that power is already in one set of hands—the hands of the chief constable. That is properly and legally constrained in ways we all understand. We are trying to find in your Lordships' House the way in which other powers, matching, mirroring and supporting that, can also be so constrained so that they work in harmony or in balance.
I agree with almost everything that was said by the noble Lord, Lord Carlile of Berriew, who is not now in his place. As a chief constable and a very senior officer in the Metropolitan Police for many years, I worked with police authorities of various political complexions and persuasions. One or two of those were good; most were indifferent; and at least one that I served as the chief officer was downright bad. So I can tell your Lordships in all honesty that not everything in the current situation is correct.
One should also reflect on the fact that the current Chief Inspector of Constabulary found that only four police authorities out of more than 20 that were recently inspected were fit for purpose or “up to scratch”, as I think he put it. As an inspector of constabulary for more than five years, one of the first things that I did was to respond to a request to take on an inspection of Derbyshire Constabulary. I knew little about Derbyshire except that it was a moderately sized police force of no great significance in the pantheon of policing and that it was not an innovator of policy so much as a follower. But I took myself off to Derbyshire in the very early 1990s and found the most appalling situation. The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, asked us to dwell on the hypothetical case of Derek Hatton being chairman of a police authority. Derek Hatton never was chairman of a police authority, but a man called Councillor Bookbinder got his hands on the chairmanship of the Derbyshire Police Authority, with substantial party support behind him. To put it frankly, he brought the Derbyshire Constabulary to its knees. It was in the most appalling state, starved of funds, chivvied about by a thoroughly capricious chairman with a thoroughly capricious committee behind him.
I discussed that with Councillor Bookbinder and his colleagues. I gave them six months to put things right and they did not. From memory, I gave them a further six months, saying “Please get it right because an axe will fall”. They still did not and in fact tightened the screws yet more. I declared Derbyshire Constabulary inefficient. That was the first time in nearly half a century that an Inspector of Constabulary had deemed a force to be inefficient.
Changes came about, one of which was the interposition into police authorities of the independent element, but an independent element in Derbyshire would have made no difference. Such was the political majority in power, they would have swept over the independence come what may. Change came and Derbyshire is now a very different place in policing compared with 15 or 20 years ago. I make that point to say that the current system can in extremis fail. The risks are still there with the current system and, of course, as many noble Lords have said today, there are risks in the system that we are invited to look at in the Bill.
At this very early stage we should reflect on the fact that in the other place this Bill was passed with a substantial majority. On the back of six years’ experience in your Lordships' House, I suggest that we owe it to the parliamentary system to give this Bill fair scrutiny from start to finish. I, too, am concerned about checks and balances. I want to see what I guess most of us in this House want to see and that is two individuals—the chief officer of police and the police and crime commissioner—working together in harmony for the benefit of the population, not as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said earlier, somebody who is a boss. That may have been a loose use of that term. I do not see a boss in this relationship at all. The chemistry is important.
I am concerned about a number of things. I pick up a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Condon, about size. He mentioned Kent. I could mention the West Midlands, where I was chief officer. It is the biggest police area in the UK outside London with a population of 4 million and more than 30 Members of Parliament. I am not sure how one individual can adequately represent an area that stretches from outside Coventry through the west virtually into Shropshire, taking in bits of the surrounding counties and seven huge cities and boroughs. That will be very difficult. That is one issue to which we should pay particular attention.
On the whole, I am saying to your Lordships that I shall oppose the amendment if it is put to the House. This is such an important issue, which has already been passed in another place with a big majority, that we should look at everything in the Bill and give it a fair trial before we come to a conclusion.
My Lords, I support the amendment. Notwithstanding the comments that we have just heard from the noble Lord, I see his arguments as supporting the amendment rather than opposing it. He asked how one person can know the whole of the West Midlands area. I totally concur. How can they? Of course they cannot. That underlines the need to ensure that there is as broad a base of involvement with our chief constables as possible, with either a panel, a committee or some other grouping. The wider the grouping, the better it will be. If we accept the argument that no one person can possibly be representative, as is obviously the case, then surely this is an instance where we need to be as collaborative as possible. To put the PCC there, as the Bill does, as yet another focus on an individual, seems to undermine the very point that the noble Lord was just making.
We therefore support this amendment, because putting the power in the hands of another individual is to move it yet further away from being representative. As the PCC can be only one person he or she will not have the broad constituency that exists for panels or committees. I also wonder whether the noble Lord who has just spoken heard the same speech as I did at the beginning. I did not hear the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, say that the present system works perfectly; rather I heard her say that she is ready for amendments and changes but questions, as I do, whether these are the right changes. I am not saying that any system is perfect—none of us would make such a claim as clearly is would not be true. However, that is all the more reason for us to have such safeguards in place as we can.
If we go for the path which the Bill suggests of locating the authority in just one person, I would have strong concerns, which I am sure many other noble Lords will share, about the processes for appointing our chief constables and about what would happen in situations—which we all hope never arise, but which occasionally will—where there are suspensions or disciplinary issues. Nothing in the Bill addresses these issues, and putting the power in one person’s hands seems an unnecessary and unjustified risk. If we are to walk this path, and I hope that we do not, then surely this path, at the very least, needs to be piloted, tested and tried so that there is an evidential base showing it will improve a system which we all agree could be improved but we do not agree is broken. In that sense, it does not need fixing at any price. I hope that others will want to support the amendment and allow us to have as broad a base of representation and support as possible.
If we locate authority over our chief constables in one person, the police and crime commissioner, how will that individual spend his or her time? Locating the role in an individual without the clarity of processes for appointments and other things is a recipe for interfering with the role of the chief constable. If we are to have PCCs, we want these posts to be filled by people who are hugely able and talented, with energy and ability. Where is that energy and ability to be focused? How are PCCs to use their energy and time? Is there not a great risk that they will use it in a way that not only does not work collaboratively with the chief constable but threatens to interfere? The boundaries are not neatly drawn and we do not know exactly how the role would work out. We would want it to be a good working relationship, but, as we know, that level of power and authority risks being lived out and acted upon in a multitude of different ways. I fear that some of those ways would not be to the benefit of policing within our nation. I therefore ask noble Lords to support the noble Baroness’s amendment.
We have been discussing this for some time but I want to add a few points. The first one is that Mr Bookbinder, whom many of us will remember, was of course elected from an area where one would wonder what sort of police commissioner would have been elected at that time.
I very much support the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, for the reasons that have been given by so many Members of this House, but I should like to add one or two points. First, I also was very impressed by Ms de Grazia, in particular because she pointed out that, in the United States, the FBI monitors the elected police authorities. There is no body such as the FBI to monitor the new police and crime commissioners. Secondly, I have put my name to the first of the amendments proposing pilot schemes. I have done that very much as a second option, as I much prefer the option proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris.
It is suggested that the police commissioner would reconnect with the people. I live in the Devon and Cornwall Police Authority area, which the Minister knows very well because she was my MP, and I very much welcome her in her new capacity as a Minister in this House. She will know that the Devon and Cornwall Police Authority has 19 members, who represent areas ranging from the Isles of Scilly—for those of you who know what the south-west is like—right the way through to east Devon. In their way, they represent all corners of this part of the country where I live.
I suggest that we really ought to consider, with this pause that I would very much like to see, whether the police panel should not be elected. In electing the police panel, we would be creating an organisation very much like the police authority but which would have teeth and which would, under Amendment 31, appoint the police and crime commissioner. We would then have the connection with the public and we would have democratic elections, but we would not be putting all the power in one person.
I urge that we support the amendment and have a pause. I am very concerned that we should not plunge into very deep water without buoyant life jackets.
My Lords, I, too, welcome my noble friend Lady Browning to her new responsibilities. She was a superb Minister in another place, and I am sure that she will be equally good in this House. I say to my noble friends that she is a listener and she has tremendous experience of policing. The noble Baroness, Lady Henig, said in her remarks in her excellent speech, which I much enjoyed listening to, that the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, would hear some examples today of practical policing. The Minister may now be hearing those examples from a different perspective, but if one has been a constituency Member of Parliament in the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary area, I think that one gets practical examples of policing from constituents both happy and unhappy. I welcome her to her new responsibilities.
It was a privilege to listen to the speech of my noble friend Lady Harris of Richmond, who introduced her amendment with a very passionate and well intended speech, but like my noble friend Lord Carlile I think that she is profoundly wrong. I say so to your Lordships as someone who must also declare some form, not from any past responsibilities as Police Minister but from the sabotage that I successfully performed two or three years ago when Cumbria Constabulary decided to amalgamate with Lancashire Constabulary. I am not sure who decided that or who was in the driving seat, but both police authorities—unelected police authorities—were fanatically keen that the amalgamation should happen. I urged the Cumbria Police Authority not to do it, as I think did most other Members of Parliament in Cumbria from all political parties, but the unelected police authority, paying no attention to our views or to the views of the vast majority of the public in Cumbria, proceeded hell for leather with amalgamation talks. I decided that I would do my utmost to stop it because I thought that it was wrong and not what the people wanted. After I challenged the suggested savings of £20 million, they came down a few months later to £10 million and a couple of months later to being cost-neutral. Once they got to minus £10 million, the authority began to think again. When they became a cost of plus £21 million, the unelected police authority finally abandoned all effort at amalgamation. At that point I concluded that there has to be something better than an unelected police authority driving this process forward and not caring what the local people want. Therefore, I do support the main thrust of this Bill and, with all due respect, must disagree with my noble friend on her amendment, which would stop this Bill in its tracks.
Your Lordships will be pleased to hear that I can be mercifully brief, because I entirely agree with the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Dear. I had the great honour of him following me when I made my maiden speech, and he was so generous in his remarks as to be almost bordering on the untruthful. Of course, he was not—but today I can assert with all authority that he has not exaggerated his case in any iota. If we were to remove this element of the Bill today, we would do a great disservice to the agreement made between the coalition parties and to the electorate, because of the manifesto commitments of the major parties.
The only other little point that I shall pick up is one from the noble Baroness, Lady Henig. She said that she was worried that crime might go up with an elected commissioner, but I profoundly disagree, for a reason advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, who was afraid that an elected commissioner might be a bit populist. Well, I hope so; if populist means doing what the people or the electorate want, then bring on populism. If the commissioner is to be populist, he will be bearing down on crime day in and day out, because that is what the electorate will want. They want that in the rural areas, the city areas, the Tory areas and the Labour areas, as well as in the areas where people do not vote or apparently care a fig about politics. They want the police to bear down on crime, as it affects them.
Does the noble Lord also agree that an elected commissioner might well cut down on the form-filling and paperwork that seems to take place under police forces these days and put the police back on the street where they can cut the crime?
I would like to hope that that would be the case, but I suspect that the only means of cutting down on form-filling rests with the Home Office. I shall put down some more amendments to remove some more of the form-filling, if I may.
I remember in my time at the Home Office that every time we asked the police to fill in a new form it was in response to our need to answer a parliamentary Question. When a colleague wanted to know the number of helmets lost in Herefordshire we would ask the police to supply that information, and inevitably the Home Office would then invent the form for every police force to fill in the number of helmets lost. So the responsibility for cutting down on the form-filling rests on us as parliamentarians not wanting to know the minutiae of policing in local areas, but leaving that to the local people.
I have pushed noble Lords’ kindness and generosity too far and will conclude my remarks. I visited Commissioner Bratton in 1996, when I was passing back through New York, and I was impressed by what he was doing. I thought, yes, that is almost as good as what they are doing in the Met already and in most of our county forces. This thing about the broken window syndrome—yes, it was wonderful. Commissioner Bratton overnight got his hands on 7,000 extra police officers, who were not very well trained because they were from the New York Transit Police and Housing Police. But overnight he put 7,000 extra bobbies on the streets, and New Yorkers saw a difference. That was one of his main successes.
The problem we have here is that the term commissioner for an elected commissioner is the same as the term commissioner in New York, but the job is totally different. Commissioner Bratton was a hands-on police officer; he had direction and control and operational policing charge, just like Met commissioners and just like the commissioner in the City of London. The commissioners envisaged in this Bill are political appointees with no direction and control over the police force—that will be the chief constable. Perhaps not today but at Second Reading there was some confusion among some of us that we were electing commissioners who would have hands-on responsibility. They will not.
There is something in what the noble Lord, Lord Condon, has said about having more resources for the commissioner so that he or she can connect with the local people. I disagree with my noble friend Lord Cormack that it would be impossible for an elected commissioner to know the views of the people in Thames Valley. If the chief constable can do it, surely a politician can as well.
I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Condon, who, interestingly, is not in disagreement with the principle of the Bill. I would be very worried if someone of his experience and responsibilities in the past was opposed to the principle, but he is not. He is worried that the elected commissioner may not have enough back up to carry out his role of assessing what the people in, say, Thames Valley, North Yorkshire or other large-spread police areas want. I hope the Government will address that issue and reassure him.
On the basis of what the noble Lords, Lord Condon and Lord Dear, have said, I, too, urge that the amendment not be pushed to a vote. If it is, with all due respect to the noble Baroness, I hope that she will be defeated.
My Lords, I shall try to be brief; a lot of arguments have been made and I shall try not to repeat them. However, I will repeat the congratulations that have been given to the Minister—although I will change it to commiserations because being dropped into a contentious Bill of this complexity and which has constitutional implications is a big challenge. However, I know she will listen and that is very important.
My reason for offering support to this group of amendments is because we are engaged in something very serious and a pause for thought is right. The trial period might be referred to in a more important group of amendments than this one but it involves the same principle that we need to pause and think about this.
One of the most important statements in the report of the House of Lords Constitution Committee, quite rightly, is:
“From a constitutional perspective, the chief risk with Part 1 is that of politicising operational decision-making”.
That, and what follows from it, is profoundly important. I ask the Minister, when she considers all of these arguments, to take that statement by the Constitution Committee into account more than anything else; it is particularly important.
I shall refer now to the optimism of people who believe that elected police commissioners will address a democratic deficit of some type. I am a strong believer in democracy and in voting generally, but there are times when you need to step back and think about whether it is the best system. The noble Lord, Lord Carlile—who is in a committee at the moment and will not hear my comments—is convinced that it is very important to have the senior officer of the police committee elected in the way described in the Bill. I say to him that one of the things that we all underestimate at times is that the British public as a whole put such great store on their constituency MP that they tend to go to their MP before they think of going to anyone else. Any ex-MP will know that despite the fact that you might say 100 times to an individual, “The local councillor can sort out your problem quicker and better than I can”, they will still go to the MP. That there are people who think that by setting up elected police committees covering large areas they will have people going to them, is a triumph of hope over experience.
The other fear I have was put clearly by my noble friend Lord Beecham and I do not need to repeat it in too much detail. There is a problem about people being elected on the basis of a fear of crime. I listened carefully to the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, but the problem with populism in an area such as crime is that it is based on fear. One of the difficulties in dealing with crime prevention is lowering the fear of crime. The greater the fear of crime, the more people retreat indoors, the more communities get cut off and the greater the risk of crime becomes. There is very strong evidence for that.
One of my objections to, particularly, the tabloid press in the 1970s and 1980s was that it played on the fear of crime to the extent that it drove the crime level up. I shall give a simple example; I shall not delay the House on it. I remember chairing a meeting in my then constituency of Shepherds Bush, with two police officers sitting alongside me, because there had been a murder at the base of a block of flats. The public meeting was very angry and the residents wanted large, 20-foot high gates erected to stop people coming in. They kept referring to three murders and I kept saying, “I know of only one murder”. I asked the police about this and they said, “No, there has been only one murder”. When I talked afterwards to the people, who were, importantly, mainly elderly, they kept referring to three murders. “There were three murders here, Mr Soley. You don’t know what you’re talking about and you’re not listening”, they said. So we went away and researched carefully the papers for the area. There had been three headlines in the paper: one when the murder was committed, one when the guy was caught and one when he was sentenced. The more I think about it, that was a classic example of the fear of crime because people had read it as, “Murder in this block of flats”, and it became three whereas in fact it was one. The fear of crime produces a higher crime level.
I will not go into this now because it is for a future debate on the Bill but I have reservations, too, about confusing crime prevention measures with policing. Police have a critical part in detecting and preventing crime but crime prevention is infinitely more than just policing. In fact, if you try to deal with crime just by dealing with the police you are unlikely to succeed. Those are my reservations about going down the election route without testing it pretty thoroughly first.
A couple of examples have been given, of Derek Hatton and the Bookbinder case. I knew about the latter, incidentally, but not its details. The noble Lord, Lord Dear, might well agree that if it was the first time we had to do it in 50 years—I think his term was “half a century”—that is a pretty impressive success ratio for a system. Any governmental system that lasts for 50 years without a major intervention of that type is one you have to look at carefully and think about copying, because you do not normally get that level of success. You do not need to look just at the Bookbinder case and Hatton examples: as the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, pointed out, Hatton was not a case but could have been. You need to look only at the recent case of Boris Johnson and the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. Leaving aside whether the mayor or the commissioner was right, we should bear in mind that we appear to be creating a structure which will make such conflict much more common. Can the Minister keep that very much in mind? It is profoundly important. If we really want to see battles between an elected official and a chief constable, the danger in the Bill is that that will be a high risk.
My other point is one that the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, made carefully with her great experience of Northern Ireland. I remember from my own time dealing with Northern Ireland, both on the Front Bench in the House of Commons and as chair of the Select Committee, that the problem of policing there was extreme. That was because the divisions in the community were based on both national and religious identities, while we had a police force which primarily, and almost entirely, represented one section of the community. The method of control had been by one section of the community. I think my noble friend Lady Henig made the point that if you have large areas in mainland Britain, as opposed to the United Kingdom including Northern Ireland, there will be patches in them where the people are not similar to the whole area. You do not need to take your example from Northern Ireland; you can simply look back to London in the 1970s and 1980s.
When the riots broke out in 1981 and the Scarman report came out, Lord Scarman powerfully made the important point that racism within the police had to be tackled. Racism in the London police force at that time was very serious; we all knew that. Despite noble efforts by police at all levels to deal with it, the problem was severe. I say again to the Minister, who I am sure is in her listening mode, that if she is looking at large areas of this country she will find that some of them contain large minority populations who already feel, in some cases, that the policing does not represent them. If we are to go down the road that we are heading down with this Bill without checking it out pretty carefully first, one thing I ask of the Government is to look very carefully at how on earth they make sure that ethnic minorities in those large areas feel represented within that system. London was a classic case of the explosion of anger about policing, when a large and growing section of the community was left out.
I am the first to congratulate the police in the metropolis on all that they have done in recent years; they have worked wonders, and things are infinitely better than they were. As any senior police officer will tell you, though, there is still a problem—in other words, it is not easy to deal with. As the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, pointed out, although we have made enormous strides in this area in Northern Ireland, the idea that somehow we cracked this problem is a triumph of hope over experience.
I said that I would keep my words brief. My single message, picking up on the point made by the Select Committee on the constitution of the House of Lords as well as the points that have been made by myself and others, is that the Government are embarking down a road that has an awful lot of elephant traps in it. When policing is such an important part of our constitution, as the Constitution Committee makes out, the case for making sure that we get the detail right is profoundly important. We will come to this in a later group of amendments, but there is a case for piloting or a pause of some type.
My Lords, I declare an interest as the commissioner to whom the noble Lord, Lord Soley, just referred. I am afraid that I will spoil the party of the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, by saying that yes, there is someone here who was a Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and opposes the Bill in root and principle. The reason why I do so is the nature of the beast, in terms of who these police commissioners will be and how they will behave.
I support the amendment because I do not support pilots. We do not need pilots because we can see how the system works. The gentleman who has been mentioned a great deal, Bill Bratton, a good friend of mine, the greatest commissioner and probably the greatest police officer that I have ever met, was fired after 28 months, after reducing crime across the board in New York, including homicide, to limits that had never been seen before. He did that but he crossed Mayor Giuliani by appearing on the front of Time magazine, and was fired instantly. Giuliani of course appointed a man who ended up in prison later on in his undistinguished career. That, I am afraid, is how the beasts behave.
Another example of my worries about the Bill goes back to what the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, said about the protocol. Much was made about the protocol at Second Reading. I have read the protocol and it is not worth the paper that it is written on. It has no statutory basis, and when it comes to the point of hiring and firing the chief constable, there is nothing in that protocol that will stop an individual police and crime commissioner simply announcing that he has got rid of or wishes to get rid of the chief constable, or that he has no confidence in the chief constable. Once that has been announced, the chief constable is almost finished—without any help, because there is no panel there that would be able to support him.
If noble Lords do not think that British politicians would behave like that, I shall give the example—I will not name him, but your Lordships will all know him—of the Home Secretary who tried to have the chief constable of Sussex and the chief constable of Humberside fired, without the power so to do, and he did that effectively on the front pages of the national newspapers. This is for your Lordships’ House to consider: unless someone does something that puts limits around the power of these commissioners, who may well go into office with wonderful ideas and deep integrity but may also see their chances of re-election fall through the floor, and unless their power is constrained in some way, the only answer is for this House to support the amendment put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Soley, for making the first point that I wanted to make about the danger of populism. You have only to look at the way in which reactions to particular high-profile cases have led to some very dangerous situations on our streets in recent years to recognise that although democratic accountability is highly important, populism can have a very nasty face as well.
The other point that I wanted to make, picking up something that the noble Lord said, was about the diversity of the communities that will be served by these commissioners. My own county of Sussex is a leafy, largely prosperous place, but with huge pockets of both rural and urban deprivation—precisely the places that are likely to feel themselves excluded because our community as a whole feels itself to be prosperous and settled. It seems extremely difficult to deliver policing, as it is to deliver the services that the church tries to offer, in a community as diverse as that. Great sensitivity is needed to the nature of the communities that are being served.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Blair, for what he has just said. My main point relates to the protocol. I am afraid I have a rather more jaundiced view of the protocol than the noble Lord does. I fear that it may be worth more than the paper it is written on and could become precisely the basis on which the Act will operate if the Bill becomes an Act. I read with some terror the section headed “The Police and Crime Commissioner”, which goes straight to the heart of the operational independence of chief constables. If that protocol were implemented as it is presently written and became the interpretative tool for the Bill, it is hard to see that it would not affect the operational independence of chief constables.
I speak on this as a complete fool; I am a simple bishop and I understand nothing about how these things work. However, I have a deep concern for our local communities, the confidence that they have in their police force, and the confidence they can have in that person in whom such trust is placed—the chief constable. I am undecided about this amendment in a way that I was not when the debate started. I can see many more sides to the issue than I could a couple of hours ago. However, the issue of operational independence, and how accountability is set in a properly democratic and neither populist nor party political framework, goes right to the heart of the constitutional dangers in the Bill as it stands at present.
My Lords, I also welcome the new Minister to her role. I hope that today she will listen carefully to the views expressed in the House on the detail of the Bill. I have previously talked about the problems of elected police commissioners twice in debates in this Chamber. I will not reiterate what I have said on previous occasions. Suffice it to say that we must not, through our debate on the Bill, end up polarising power in the hands of one individual. We should not politicise the police or produce conflict in electoral mandates between councils, their leaders and elected mayors and a police and crime commissioner. We should maintain impartial allocation of resources, preserve the neutrality of the police service and balance operational command with accountability.
Reference has been made to the coalition agreement. I shall quote precisely what it says:
“We will introduce measures 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”.
The issue is that the checks and balances are not strong enough and they are certainly not strict. They are very weak indeed. As we have heard, the commissioners will have the power of appointment and dismissal of a chief constable. They will have the power to set a precept, which must then be charged by the local authorities. They will have the power to set a budget and agree the heads of expenditure for a whole police area. They will also have the power to issue a detailed police and crime plan.
There are some checks in place. As the Bill makes clear, 75 per cent of the panel voting can veto the appointment of a chief constable, and 75 per cent of a panel can veto the level of the precept. However, as currently stated in the Bill, a panel has no power to veto the police and crime plan. It has no power to veto the budget and no power to veto the dismissal of the chief constable. The panel will be consulted on the plan and the proposal to dismiss a chief constable will have to go to it for consultation, but it does not have the powers to veto either of those areas.
Further, the commissioners will have the right to appoint their own staff directly. Crucially, the commissioners will have no legislature underneath them, unlike London, where there is one. Therefore, there is no structure underneath the commissioners which provides them with the advice, guidance and support that is absolutely required. As set out in the Bill, enhanced powers are needed for the panels in relation to the plan, the budget and the dismissal of the chief constable. The panels need to be bigger; 10 is too small. Geography, diversity, and urban and rural areas all need to be reflected in the panel. The veto should not sit at 75 per cent. Amendments have been tabled calling for two-thirds. The more I think about this, the more I believe that 50 per cent plus one is probably the right level. The panel must have power to scrutinise the police directly, as police authorities currently do. Under the Bill, they will be able to scrutinise only the commissioner, not the police. I do not regard that as acceptable.
The panel should be able to appoint one of its own members as a temporary replacement when the commissioner is incapacitated. As stated in the Bill, it will be required to appoint a member of the commissioner’s staff who has been appointed to that post by the commissioner and who will, by the very nature of the appointment, not be elected. I simply do not see how that is a strict check and balance on the power of the commissioner.
We shall need to debate many questions in relation to the Bill. I raise a further matter which has not been raised today but comes from the Constitution Select Committee and concerns the voting system. Your Lordships may have had quite enough of discussing voting systems, but a major constitutional issue is involved here. The committee states at paragraph 17 of its 14th report:
“The Government should explain clearly the rationale for adopting the supplementary vote system for the election of police and crime commissioners. In particular, the Government should explain why they have seen fit to recommend a different system to either of those put to the vote in the 5 May referendum on the voting system for the House of Commons”.
The point is extremely important because the supplementary vote does not require 50 per cent support. We simply do not know how many candidates there might be, but as people will have only two votes you could end up with a police and crime commissioner being appointed on a very low percentage of votes. I hope that in our debates in Committee we will look very carefully at how people get elected, because in my view the person who is elected a commissioner—should we have one—must have the support of 50 per cent plus one of those who are voting.
My Lords, I too speak in support of the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, and the important principle that the police service should remain politically neutral. The current system provides for a spread of political allegiances and representation of many sections of a force area. I cannot see that a single person can fulfil this role or that having the power to set the budget and sack the chief constable will not inevitably interfere with police operational actions.
On Second Reading I talked about my experiences as a chief superintendant and serving police officer at Chiswick, and of the distortions that can occur when policing is influenced by politics. In particular, I spoke about Chiswick and Brentford, where most of the problems of crime and disorder were located on the Brentford half of the ground, but all the public pressure came from the articulate, organised middle classes of Chiswick.
The role of the police service in this country for nearly 200 years has been to be politically neutral. The oath that we all took on joining the police service was that we would act “without fear or favour”. Indeed, in my view, the main role of the police service is to act as a buffer between the strong in society and the weak. This may be to protect specific citizens from attack by violent criminals, but it is also to protect minorities from the overbearing power of the majority, and allow them the space to demonstrate and to represent their points of view. Where this goes horribly wrong has been recently demonstrated in places such as Syria and Libya.
In contrast to the role of the police service, the role of politicians is to represent the interests of those who elected them and to favour policies that will ensure their re-election—not to have regard to the problems of disfranchised minorities. If the Bill becomes law, we will end up with police forces that are almost permanently influenced by one party or another. We will have Tory police forces, Labour police forces and, increasingly, different styles of policing.
My second problem with the provisions of the Bill is the title, “police and crime commissioner”. The introduction of “crime” into the title strikes me as cheap populism. The police service has many other responsibilities, in particular those relating to public order. One of the primary objects of Peel’s police was the preservation of peace and tranquillity. That holds true today. If we are to have these commissioners—which I very much hope we do not—then “crime” should be dropped from their titles.
My final problem with this proposed duopoly of power is that either the relationship will become too close, or there will be a clash of personalities. During my police service, there was a series of scandals in places such as Blackpool and Southend, where chief constables became too close to the local politicians and did them favours, or interfered with prosecutions—often on traffic offences. Alternatively, political differences may lead to, for example, the recent difficulties between the Mayor of London and the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. We have just heard cited the Bookbinder case. The most notorious example of this problem took place some time ago with the chief constable of Nottingham—the gloriously named Captain Athelstan Popkess—who saw his Labour councillors as Soviet sympathisers and had them investigated by his Special Branch. He was subsequently sacked by the Home Office.
The Bill, as it pertains to policing, is wrong in principle. We have a police service in this country that is admired very much throughout the world, despite some reservations elsewhere, for its impartiality and reluctance to act as a tool of politicians. To jeopardise that political neutrality is, I believe, extremely dangerous.
My Lords, I shall be brief to the extent of telegraphy, even if it costs me welcoming my noble friend, which of course I do. I did not speak at Second Reading. As this is, therefore, my first speech during the passage of the Bill, I hope your Lordships' House will excuse my momentary pomposity if I say that I must declare an interest, which I shall declare only once. When the Police Act 1964 passed into law, my late noble kinsman was the Home Secretary who took it through. Given the heat that seems to surround the present reform, it might be said that that Act has stood the test of time well over those 47 years, but it does not mean that my late noble kinsman would necessarily have regarded its reform as inappropriate. His first nine years in politics were in the fledgling Conservative Research Department, whose historian, my noble friend Lord Lexden, now sits in your Lordships’ House and who would, I suspect, say that my late noble kinsman was an indefatigable producer of detailed policy documents at the drop of a hat.
I am profoundly fond of my noble friend Lady Harris. We have shared many British-Irish occasions, as well as police ones. However, my remarks are composed on the flyleaf of the Bill, and flyleaves are often passed through like small station halts by an express train. To remind your Lordships' House, the flyleaf, after the title and the word “Contents” reads, Part 1, Police Reform, Chapter 1, Police Areas Outside London. Clause 1 is entitled “Police and crime commissioners”. Those words recur on page 1, before recording Clause 1(1), which my noble friend’s amendment would strike from the Bill. It would be difficult for Clause 1(1) to have more of the quality of a foundation stone or a greater centrality in the Bill so my noble friend has chosen a target worthy of her mettle, but it is no surprise that the speeches that the amendment has occasioned have had largely the smack of Second Reading speeches, which are normally frowned on in Committee. As, conventionally, we do not vote at Second Reading, I hope that my noble friend will remember the spirit of that convention when we come to her final speech on the amendment.
My Lords, I support the amendment and will make two brief points. The first concerns democratic accountability and community involvement with the police; and the other concerns whether a single commissioner can do the job. On accountability and community involvement, at the moment we are looking to a senior tier to link the police and the people. However, that accountability relies on their being connected at the very lowest level of the community. The panel we have for such a large area, dealing with more than 1 million people in many cases, simply cannot connect. Under the Police (Northern Ireland) Act 2000, the Government and the then Opposition enforced on us much more democratic accountability down the line than we ever wanted. That is why it worked. The point was that there is a level below the panel which we are discussing. We should not expect people, in open meetings with the panel, to travel 60 or 70 miles to say that their gated community is not working or that crime on the street last night is not happening. That will not happen.
There has to be some other form of panel at the divisional level of policing involving the local community. It is no good calling for it to be entirely elected. That may be democratic, but as far as I am aware, elections never favour minorities. Therefore, you have to appoint people who come forward from the minorities. That includes the obvious minorities, but it also includes those with disabilities and those from disadvantaged areas. We must encourage participation. Democratic accountability and involvement is one thing, but when you get to a certain level, you have to ensure something else. Noble Lords may remember that we had reverse discrimination, if you like, with the 50:50 in the police force. What happened? It worked.
Secondly, regardless of the sort of person who will be elected to be a police and crime commissioner, if he is utterly brilliant, middle of the road, not political and can keep all other things out of his mind, he may be a good person for that; but he will be out of this world if he can do the job. He is holding to account a police force with many different departments. There is not just the chief constable. The chief constable has his finance department, his estates department, his operational department and his crime department. Those are all run by different people in his organisation. How can one person possibly bring forward those people in succession to monitor them and hold them to account?
In our policing board, which was the same as a policing authority, we had committees which mirrored the departments within the police force. That is the only way that you can hold a department to account. In your Lordships' House, we have an EU Committee. The chairman of the committee is chairman of several sub-committees. If we had no sub-committees, he would be a very hard-worked man and could not mirror all the committees on Europe. He could not do the job. If we elect the chairman of the police panel, and he is able to use the police panel to carry out the functions, that is a different matter, but from our experience in Northern Ireland, it would be impossible for an individual to do that.
This amendment is a useful opportunity to draw your Lordships’ attention to something of a constitutional stand-off between the Government and the Welsh Assembly Government. This is an entirely different point from those that have been raised this afternoon. The problem exists because the Welsh Assembly declined to support a legislative consent motion, which was required to allow Parliament to legislate on behalf of the Assembly on a devolved issue. The Bill involves a devolved issue in an aspect which I shall explain in a moment. The issue in question is the establishment and make-up of the police and crime panels in Wales. Because those panels will involve elected councillors, the Bill will intrude on devolved powers. I urge a breathing space for the UK Government to discuss fully and constructively with the newly formed Welsh Assembly Government—so new it was formed only this afternoon—to find a satisfactory compromise on how the panels will be constituted in Wales.
As your Lordships will be aware, there has been something of a hiatus in government in Wales lately because of the Welsh general election, which was held last week. It would not have been reasonable to expect either the Government or the Welsh Assembly Government to have made progress on the issue since the vote in the Welsh Assembly at the very end of the previous Assembly in March. There has been no opportunity to make progress; but it is important that progress is made now.
It is important that your Lordships note that the Welsh Assembly has never before rejected a legislative consent motion. It is not its practice to do so, so that needs to be taken seriously—all the more so because the Home Secretary had agreed to a small role for the Welsh Assembly Government in the appointment of a panel member nominated by the Welsh Assembly Government. That was a compromise negotiated between the two Governments but rejected by the Assembly in a vote.
In response to that, the UK Government appear to have decided that the Home Secretary is to be responsible for bringing together locally elected representatives, but I believe that it is against the spirit of devolution to ignore the Welsh Assembly Government in the panel appointment process. So much of what the police do in Wales involves close joint working with local authorities. That joint working involves significant funding directly from the Welsh Assembly Government and the devolved budget. I give some examples: community safety, highways and transport, youth services, and substance misuse policy. All those and many more are devolved policy areas and the policy is funded by the Welsh Assembly Government. There is therefore a direct impact on policing from Welsh Assembly funding. It is important that that is respected. I give your Lordships another example, a stunning example of success in South Wales: the 101 non-emergency number, jointly funded and jointly operated by local authorities and the Home Office. The two work together in the same building; they funded it together. It is important that that success is built on.
I hope that my noble friend will forgive me for intervening. Another group is coming up which deals with Wales in great detail. I hope that she is not getting ahead of herself.
I take the point. I conclude by saying that the Welsh Assembly’s Communities and Culture Committee reported on this Bill. Its headline recommendation was that the Welsh Government should have a dialogue with the UK Government to persuade them to defer the introduction of those aspects of the Bill that relate to the abolition of police authorities and the establishment of police commissioners and police and crime panels in Wales, at least until the effectiveness of their impact in England had been assessed.
Later, we shall come to amendments that relate specifically to Wales. They go further than I am asking the Government to do. I simply ask them to take account of the issues, and I urge them to give this proposal a test drive before imposing it on Wales and on the Welsh Assembly Government and the Assembly.
My Lords, I shall be very brief. Perhaps I may respectfully say that the protocol has been given a very bad press by both the noble Lord, Lord Blair, who is not in his place at the moment, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Chichester. I draw your Lordships’ attention to what I think is one nugget in the protocol. It says that the police and crime panel has:
“The power to ask HMIC for a professional view when the PCC intends to dismiss a Chief Constable”.
So far as I am aware, there has been little or no mention of the role of the HMIC in the relations between the commissioner and the chief constable, and I suggest that this is a very important link.
My Lords, I, too, welcome the Minister to her appointment. I welcome her because of her experience, her willingness to listen and the manner in which she has behaved since she came into this House. I, too, thought of something that I will, if she will forgive me, offer her as a word of advice. It came to mind when I was listening to the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, and particularly the noble Viscount, Lord Brookeborough. Sometimes this end of the telescope is slightly more difficult than the other end. On occasions, the difficulty is in convincing colleagues in the other place of the strength of feeling in your Lordships’ House. During the passing of the Police (Northern Ireland) Act, the then Secretary of State stood in the Corridor trying to negotiate through me, as the Whip, in order to get things through. Therefore, I welcome the noble Baroness’s experience and I am sure that she will adapt to this end of the Corridor.
I listened with interest to the noble Lord, Lord Dear. With respect, I think that he proved the point that I am about to make rather more than the one that he made. Had there been the direct election of an individual, I fear that at that time and in those circumstances the person to whom he referred, David Bookbinder, would have been elected because the political climate then was even less fettered. However, the most important point is that, as a result of some difficult experiences, modifications and improvements were made to the composition and role of police authorities, but they were incremental. One noble Lord after another has spoken about the need for incremental change in a service that we all hold dear.
My second point is equally important. The noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, referred to our police service—to me, it is a service, not a force—roughing up the middle classes and failing to look to the interests of deprived communities. I am sorry: I live in the police authority area where I served as a member of the authority for 20 years and I do not recognise that description. What I do recognise, however, is that the middle classes are more vocal. They want a police officer in a car to appear at their door if they have a burglary and they also want police officers walking the streets, but I am afraid that, however populist the campaign, the concerns of that community will not be met by anyone. To my mind, my noble friend Lady Henig was, as leader of the County Councils Association, one of the best chairs of a police authority in the country. However, she could not provide what those vocal people wanted, because they wanted it and they wanted it now, and they were not prepared to talk through how much money it would cost.
The noble Baroness has given way to me. Does she accept that there are some very deprived areas in our inner cities where the police do not patrol at all?
That is not my experience of Lancashire or of the other authorities that I know well. I know that there are areas where the police service is stretched to breaking point by the circumstances that they face on Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights, but my experience in Lancashire is that the service is provided without fear or favour to all the communities there.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way so quickly for a second time. For the avoidance of doubt, when I referred to Derbyshire and Councillor Bookbinder, I was making the obvious point that things go wrong under the present system, or something approximating very closely to the present system. The main thrust of what I said, as I am sure she will agree, was that, if we are to have police and crime commissioners, we must work very hard indeed to make sure that the checks and balances are sufficient so that we get an exact balance between the chief officer and the PCC.
I think that we can agree to a degree that the conclusion the noble Lord reaches is not the same as the one that I reach. My main point is the importance of incremental change, taking the police service and the communities with us.
My other point is a very strong one and concerns the importance of the relationship between the police service and other services in local authority areas. In my experience, we had one difficulty during my first period on Lancashire County Council when the chief constable left, not totally willingly. However, beyond that, our chief constables wanted to talk to and be part of the community that was discussing social services problems and education problems, in which they had an interest. To argue for separately elected police authorities and police panels ignores the importance of that relevant link.
Noble Lords have asked why this should be party political. Has anyone sat down and thought about the cost of an election covering a huge police authority area? Has anyone thought about the fact that, if someone is well known in one town or city in Lancashire or in one part of one police authority—I refer to Sir Peter Soulsby, who was elected very recently as mayor of Leicester—they will not be known across the whole area? Therefore, one will need total back-up to run an election campaign in those circumstances.
My final point is that I fear, even more than political bias or political clash, community disaffection as a result of one person from a small area of a police authority being in charge. Communities want to feel that they have a representative. Noble Lords have said that some people do not know the names of members of their police authority. In my experience, if they had a big problem they found them out pretty quickly and came to us. I suspect that quite a lot of people cannot remember the name of—please forgive me—the most reverend Primate the Archbishop of Canterbury, the Prime Minister, the Deputy Prime Minister or the Home Secretary. People find out when they feel strongly. We must ensure that when people look to change our police service, they build in an evolutionary way on experience and judgment.
Perhaps I will be not quite the last noble Lord to give a very warm welcome to the noble Baroness. I am not sure whether she expected a rerun of Second Reading. I hope that she has found it helpful, because there have been some very perceptive, interesting and thoughtful speeches. I cannot resist saying that she will have noticed that we are right behind her.
In view of the time, I will edit my remarks as I go, and I hope that they are not too disjointed. The longer the debate goes on, the more I wonder whether it will be possible to have sufficiently strict checks and balances on an individual, and the more we expose the nature of the position of an individual with so much power, with all the characteristics that are often intrinsic to an individual in a powerful position, some of which—but not all—need to be guarded against. I am in no position to comment on whether bishops may sometimes operate as commissars. However, I can see that the commissioner would be in a very distinct position from that of a chief constable, who has the eyes and ears of a police force on the ground.
Chief among my fears is that of moving towards the politicisation of the police. I fear that this will be difficult to avoid, not just because of the likelihood of candidates having a campaigning infrastructure of political parties behind them—as elected mayors have, with whom they may well be confused. That is perhaps an issue for another debate. The very nature of a democratic mandate involves policy, and one cannot separate policy from a budget because the money facilitates the implementation of the policy. Like other noble Lords, I fear that what is populist may sometimes be dangerous, and may not reflect the needs of those who can shout less loudly.
However careful and detailed the protocol—it seems to be a useful summary of the Bill which I wish I had had when I started reading the Bill—it is not a great deal more than that, and cannot change the statutory structural framework. Nor can it apply the governance. I was chair of the London Assembly budget committee when the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, was chairing the Metropolitan Police Authority. Who was the check and balance on whom, history may tell.
I wonder whether, ironically, this is a move against localism. I have a question for my noble friend. I very much welcome the fact that she has enabled the House to have a debate at this stage of the Bill. Democracy has rightly been mentioned often. Her proposed structure involves panels. Perhaps she can tell us how she envisages democracy being used in connection with the panels.
Lastly, I will be wary throughout the Bill of appearing to be either promoting or opposing the interests of a number of sectors, but particularly the police. I, too, would like to see us achieve the production of a collaborative framework. Most importantly, my noble friends and I are on the side of citizens.
My Lords, first, I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, to her position. She will already have got the message from the House that we very much welcome her appointment. She comes from the other place with an excellent reputation and we very much look forward to working with her. Four years ago, I was appointed Minister for Health, and three or four days later I found myself on the first day of Committee in your Lordships' House, so I know a little of the challenge that she faces. I am grateful also to the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, for allowing us to have this very important debate.
I do not stand here pretending that our police forces are without blemish, or that there are no areas of performance that could be improved. I agree with the final point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. I, too, have read the report of HMIC assessing police authorities' performance that was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Dear. However, in the past 15 years we in this country have seen both a dramatic fall in crime and an improved relationship with the public and local communities. My noble friend Lady Henig gave many examples of this. More than that, there is in our police, with their political impartiality, tolerance and philosophy of policing by consent, something precious that we undermine at our peril.
Why is this being put in peril? The Government argue that police reform is needed because the current governance arrangements are not working, and because police forces look too much upwards to the Home Office. However, as far as concerns policing and crime, I do not think that the public really worry about police authorities or the name of the chairman. They are concerned about the performance of the chief constable and of the force. Surely it is right that that is where their focus is concentrated. I see no appetite among the public for this change, and certainly not for the perverse consequences that could come about. My noble friend Lord Harris described some of them. Perversely, accountability may be reduced and police forces in future may come with a political label. The noble Lord, Lord Hurd, said that there was a possibility of non-political people being elected police commissioners. Of course, that is entirely possible. However, the electoral areas are so large that it is almost inevitable that only those on party tickets, with the support of a party machine, will be successful. One should consider the cost of the elections. I suspect that it is only political parties which will be able to support candidates.
On the question of the Home Office and targets, I confess that I was once Minister for targets in the Department of Health. I once asked officials to add up how many targets we had set. By the time we got to 435, we thought we had better stop. However, some targets are important. We have drastically reduced waiting times because of targets, and I have no doubt that Home Office targets in relation to reducing crime have had a dramatic effect for the better on our communities.
Surely the role of the Home Secretary is balanced against the work of the police authority and that of the chief constable. We call it the tripartite relationship between operational independence, local accountability and national strategic direction. I have not yet heard any convincing argument that suggests that we should upset that relationship. The problem is that the Bill risks the politicisation of our police forces; conflict and confusion between the role of the police commissioner and that of the chief constable; the marginalisation of local government, and a loss of public confidence. I really regret that these proposals have not been subject to a Green Paper, a White Paper, pre-legislative scrutiny or even an assessment by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary.
I have with me a seminal document: the report of the royal commission on the police of 1962. It is a comprehensive piece of work, and a view of policing and its governance. I am not an unmitigated fan of royal commissions—as Harold Wilson said, they take minutes and waste years—but when you are contemplating such radical change, surely there has to be some process of careful consideration and public examination. Putting policing power into the hands of a single party politician elected only once every four years, with a power to fire chief constables but without proper checks and balances on his power, is very risky indeed.
The noble Lord, Lord Dear, referred to checks and balances. They are very important. It is quite clear that there are insufficient checks and balances at the moment. The police and crime panel has a veto in only two cases, one in relation to the precept and the other in relation to the appointment of chief constables. However, 75 per cent of the members of those panels have to vote to use that veto. I would have thought it very unlikely, except in the most extreme circumstances, that those vetoes would ever be exercised. Even in the US, to which we are told to look for examples, there are more checks and balances. There are independent district attorneys with a power to investigate if the police force will not do so. There is also the possibility of a special prosecutor, if there are serious problems, as well as the FBI. We have no such checks. We received the draft protocol yesterday. It does not contain proper safeguards for the operational independence of the police. It has no statutory force, and, as Liberty said today, it provides no guarantee that the party-political police commissioner can be prevented from misusing his or her power.
The Opposition have tabled many amendments to the Bill, including amendments on pilot schemes to enhance the scrutiny power of the police and crime panel and statutory protections for the operational independence of the chief constable. But amendments such as these go only so far. There is a fatal flaw at the heart of the Bill—the chilling prospect of party-political police commissioners undermining the impartiality and good name of our police service.
Should we put this to the vote today? The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, raised that point right at the beginning. I would refer him to my experience with the Mental Health Bill back in January 2007. A week after my appointment, I found myself on the Floor of the House faced with an amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Barker, which was supported by the Conservative Benches. Many of the Cross-Benchers also went into the Lobby with them. We had a vote and I lost it by 225 to 119. It is entirely appropriate for this House to vote on the first day in Committee, and I hope that it will do so.
My Lords, I thank your Lordships for such a warm welcome from across the Committee. I would appreciate it in any circumstances, but I have been in this post for only 48 hours, and the very last thing I was told was, “Oh, by the way, there is a Committee stage to take on Wednesday”, so I have particularly appreciated your kindness and generosity this afternoon.
I am very grateful to my noble friend Lady Harris of Richmond and to the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, for tabling this amendment as they have given us an opportunity to discuss other models of accountability. Indeed, our debate today has been wide ranging, so wide ranging that I believe it would be a great pity if we were denied through a vote any chance of discussing what are clearly matters that many noble Lords consider to be very important that will follow from the first group of amendments.
In winding up this debate, I will not be able to cover every point that has been made. Not only have they been wide ranging, but there is clearly common cause in many areas of policy. I cannot go out on a limb as a new Minister and say, “Okay, I’ll go along with that”, but I will take away from this debate and subsequent debates where I feel we might improve the Bill with the contributions of noble Lords. I stand in great awe of the vast experience in this House, whether noble Lords are in favour of the Bill or not. This is your Lordships' House at its best. This is what this House is about. It is where that experience and expertise come together. I may not always appreciate it, but I am sure I am going to be very grateful for the opportunity to hear first-hand.
I am new to the role, and I have had to ask myself some searching questions in taking on these new responsibilities, but I hope to set that out. I shall begin by dealing with one or two areas that your Lordships have raised that perhaps have common cause and where it might be helpful if I respond specifically to points raised.
The first was raised by my noble friend Lady Harris who was very concerned that commissioners will have fewer powers than police authorities. Police and crime commissioners will not have fewer powers than the authority. However, they will be subject to checks and balances. I hope we can go into more detail on that because it is clearly a matter that we have to get right. They have got to be there. The police and crime panels have been mentioned, and we will come on to them later in the Bill. They will have the power of veto over the proposed precept, and there will be other measures that we will perhaps want to discuss in more detail.
The noble Baroness, Lady Henig, who has put her name to this amendment, spoke about how PCCs will work with local partnerships, which is very important. They will be able to bring community partnerships at force level better to tackle areas of concern. They will also be able to make grants to partnerships to respond to local needs, rather than responding to centrally imposed initiatives. Getting this right and targeted at local level is extremely important.
Many noble Lords referred to the protocol which was published yesterday and which I hope your Lordships have been able to access in the Printed Paper Office. I clarify that it has “final draft” printed on it. In other words, the draft is final, but it is still a work in progress. Some noble Lords have expressed concern about the protocol and others were perhaps not aware that a lot of work has gone into it. The work in it has been contributed to by many bodies, including the Association of Police Authorities, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Local Authority Chief Executives.
When we see the final version of the protocol, which people will now have an opportunity to contribute to, it is important that it gets right the balance between the commissioner and the chief constable. We all recognise the sensitivity of this, and I was very encouraged, for example, that on publication today the Metropolitan Police put out a statement which welcomed the publication of the protocol. It said that it provides clear direction on the roles of chief constables, PCCs and the Home Secretary, ensuring the balance between operational independence and appropriate public accountability. I emphasise that this is not the final version of the protocol but the final draft, so there will be an opportunity for a lot more input on this. The MPS specifically welcomes the inclusion of the fact that the PCC must set the strategic direction and objectives of the force and decide the budget of the force while the chief constable will remain operationally independent. That is something that has been focused on by all sides of the Committee during today’s debate.
Many people have raised issues that come up in later amendments. If your Lordships will forgive me, I shall not go into them in too much detail, although I have copious notes. I hope that you will instead indulge me while I share with the Committee my personal view on the amendments in this group. I am pleased to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, that I quite take the point that she raised about Wales, but there will be a meeting on Friday between Home Office officials and the Assembly. We recognise that that matter needs to be addressed rapidly.
The noble Lord, Lord Dear, who made a compelling contribution today, wrote in the Times last week that he has seen this reform evolve into the Bill and that he firmly believed that the introduction of police and crime commissioners will lead to better policing in our country and a better, more responsive public service, something that any public service reform should aim to achieve. I am very grateful to the noble Lord for that, and for his contribution today. Many people have spoken in support of the principle, and it is to the principle of the amendments that I want to address my remarks rather than drill down to the detail, which I hope we will do in later amendments.
I have no doubt that your Lordships will want to continue in the true spirit of this House and seek to review, revise and improve the Bill in the days ahead. However, I am clear that, once the case for reform is considered and a model is set out in its entirety, review and improvement are precisely the tasks in hand here, rather than dismissal or fundamental alteration of the PCC model.
Perhaps I may share with your Lordships the reason why I agree with the principle of the Bill. This was touched on by the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss and my noble friend Lord Hamilton—my noble friend used the term the “middle classes”; I think that I know what he means by that. I was a Member of Parliament for nearly 20 years in rural Devonshire. As my noble friend said, I had a lot of dealings with police authorities and the excellent Devon and Cornwall force. I think that any of us who have observed, worked and had ongoing communication at close quarters with both police authorities and police forces, including chief constables, recognise that they are excellent people who achieve a lot and work very hard.
However, I have in recent years expressed to police authorities and chief constables my worry that a serious disconnect has grown up between them and the public. I shall not call them the middle classes, but what I will call them is that great body of the British people who live their lives by the law, who seek to keep the law, who respect the law and who bring up their children to respect the law. When that group of people—label them however you will—starts to believe that the police are not on their side nor are there for them, we should regard it as a dangerous slippery slope.
That was my experience as a Member of Parliament. It is no reflection on the Devon and Cornwall force, which I regard very highly; my concern came about because of the way policing changed, because of directives that came from on high, and because we did not look at how we might keep that connection with the public.
Policing by consent is at the heart of our policing in this country and has been for generations. We are policed by people who live and work among us. Therefore, it is extremely important that the people regard the police as being there to protect them and to respond to them. I know that there can be vexatious complainants —we have all had them—and they can be a real pain, but the main body of the public expect something to happen when they are victims of crime, whatever its level. When they feel let down, which I believe many people have begun to feel, we must address it by doing something more than maintain the status quo and reconnect the police with the people in their communities. That is why, although I come to this subject matter from a very low base as I am sure many of your Lordships will tweak out from me in the days and week to come, I believe in the principle of the Bill. I believe in the reconnection that it brings about. That is why I have no hesitation in saying that I shall be very happy to take it through your Lordships' House, although I hope that we can improve the detail on the way.
If the intent of the amendment is to question the need for reform, I ask your Lordships to consider the evidence when assessing the effectiveness of the current system, over and above my own personal experience as a former Member of Parliament. Cabinet Office research in 2008 showed that 7 per cent of the public understand that they can approach their police authority if they are dissatisfied with policing. This is at the heart of the case for change. For example, when the Mayor of London took on responsibility for policing in London, having a recognisable figure in charge prompted more than a fourfold rise in the amount of correspondence and contact from the public. That was a significant change that shows that the public care but that they just do not know who to call.
As has already been mentioned, independent inspection by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and the Audit Commission showed that fewer than one in three police authorities, which are charged with providing the vital link between police and public, was engaging well with its communities. Only one, Lancashire, was performing excellently in community engagement. This is not about the individuals who sit on police authorities, who I am quite sure have worked extremely hard and diligently and given great public service, but more the corporate view. However, there is a need now for change.
The inspection also showed that only four out of 22 authorities inspected—less than 20 per cent—were performing well both in setting strategic direction and ensuring value for money, the most fundamental of their functions. Fewer than one in three police authorities inspected was performing well in scrutinising its force, and one was performing poorly.
The current model, with police forces accountable to police authorities, simply does not provide the public with the mechanism for holding their police service to account. To those who say that it does not matter, I have to say that I disagree, because repeated research has shown that the public are interested and want a say in their policing. The success of the crime-mapping website, launched in February this year, is evidence of the public interest, having had 410 million hits. Perhaps we need to look at the route by which the public can make contact with those responsible for policing.
Cabinet Office research in 2008 showed that more than two-thirds of the public wanted an elected person to hold the police to account. The evidence as to the process that we would need to undertake to make changes that meet what the public expect forms the basis of this legislation.
I ask your Lordships to consider what a singly elected representative means in the light of all this evidence. It means a voice responsive to local people’s needs, both visible and accountable. It means an elected individual charged with being the voice of some of the most vulnerable people, particularly those who are victims of crime and for whom the Bill would be particularly important. It means somebody to hear those voices and act upon them at both the local and the national level. Quite simply, after careful consideration I believe that police and crime commissioners will be both visible and democratically accountable.
When I read the briefing notes for the Bill, of which I have had a great many, I asked myself why that mattered. What did it mean in terms of real results and outcomes? We hear a lot about outcomes, but they are important. Looking at the reform in detail, it is not unnecessary organisational change for the sake of change: it goes to the heart of effective policing and delivering policing by consent. The much quoted Peelian principal, which has already been quoted once today, that:
“The police are the public and the public are the police”,
is as important in today's society as it was in the 19th century. That means a public who feel that the police’s fight against criminals is their own fight and a police service that feels that the public's concerns and issues are also their own. That creates a society of capable guardians willing to step up and take a stand to support their police service and their communities. It does not benefit the organisation: it benefits the public whom the organisation is there to serve.
The Government are clear that there is a need to replace police authorities. While there are examples around the country of individuals who work hard, it is clear that the system is not working in order to achieve the outcome that we are seeking in making that important and now very timely reconnection between the people and the police.
We are not alone as a Government in believing that. There is a consensus across the main parties that some form of direct accountability is needed. The coalition agreement brings together the Conservative model of a directly elected individual with the Liberal Democrat model of a directly elected police authority. As we have heard, Labour also acknowledged that, in former legislation that it considered but did not bring forward. Police authorities are not as responsive as they could be to the needs of local communities. That is something that we need to address. The Government's proposed reforms are intended to address that gap.
I now come to the issue that I believe is where the debate is to be had—on checks and balances. They have already been mentioned a lot today. We believe that the checks and balances should rest outside the office of the police and crime commissioner and I welcome the opportunity for us to discuss that in much more detail in amendments that will follow. The checks and balances should be strong but, in keeping them separate from the PCC, we will ensure that policing can benefit from a clear mandate and accountability that is lacking at the moment. Putting the functions together in any form of committee or commission does not fit the key weakness that we are trying to deal with. Crucially, it removes any direct accountability and returns to accountability by committee, which we know has not worked.
Therefore, I must say to my noble friend that I recognise the feeling with which she brings the amendments to the House today, not least because she has dedicated her life to something that the coalition Government are now proposing to abolish and replace with something else. But I hope that she will understand that I believe the way forward is for us to review and improve the legislation before your Lordships' House. There is a lot of detail to be discussed in the course of this Committee. I ask my noble friend seriously to consider withdrawing her amendment.
I will not go into the history of whether it is appropriate or not because I have not been in your Lordships' House long enough to know whether a vote at Committee stage is or is not appropriate or should or should not be opposed. However, we have a lot of work to do in this House in scrutinising this important Bill. If these amendments are voted on and carried today, we shall lose a lot of valuable time today and later in the Bill for scrutinising and carrying out the function that your Lordships do so well.
My Lords, the time is late. We have had nearly three and a quarter hours of debate on one amendment. First, I thank my noble friend the Minister for her thoughtful and sensitive summing up of what has been a very important debate and the way that she has responded to the concerns that your Lordships have eloquently and strongly put this afternoon.
It has never been my practice in the 12 years that I have been a Member of your Lordships' House to vote against my Government—I am proud to say that this is my Government—so today I find this very difficult. This Bill has brought forward something that I consider a true principle. It is an appalling Bill. I simply cannot believe that having directly elected police commissioners will improve the policing of this country, which is what we want. That is what we all want. I have heard all the arguments about how different police authorities have not been very good: I know that. But they have been a jolly sight better than they ever were before and we can improve on them. We should improve on them. My biggest concern, therefore, remains about putting so much power into the hands of one person in the form of police and crime commissioners.
I do not want to waste your Lordships' time any more. The debate has gone backwards and forwards and I have to say that I simply do not believe that these proposals will be beneficial in any way to improving policing in this country. I wish to test the opinion of the House.
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now resume. In moving this Motion, I suggest that the Committee stage begin again not before 8.30 pm.
My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now adjourn during pleasure until 7.30 pm.