Committee (2nd 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.
Moved by Lord Strathclyde
That the House do now resolve itself into Committee.
My Lords, all those who are interested in this Bill will be aware that, last Wednesday, a short debate took place that, at certain times, became quite philosophical about how we should continue Committee stage. I thought that it would be entirely fair and appropriate for me to move this Motion and explain to the House where we are and why we are here in terms of process and procedure.
Last week, the Committee of the Whole House, to which the Bill has been committed, took an unusual decision. On the very first amendment, on the first day in Committee, the Committee decided to leave out from the Bill the very principle of elected police and crime commissioners, which was, as I think the House will know, the essence of the Government’s policy. As the Opposition Chief Whip said at the time,
“It makes a mockery of the discussion and debate on this part of the Bill if we continue as though this has not happened … Having ripped the guts out of a piece of legislation, I cannot see how we can intelligently proceed as though nothing has happened”.—[Official Report, 11/5/11; col. 961.]
He was right. Last week, through the usual channels, I put a proposal to the Opposition to secure a better process for scrutiny of Part 1. I suggested leaving it out of the Bill completely at this stage; I suggested facilitating discussions on the policy off the Floor of the House; and I suggested making time available for detailed consideration in Committee of Part 1 in whatever shape the Commons might send it back to us. The Opposition’s response was to reject that suggestion in favour of continuing with the Marshalled List in the usual way or, at most part, taking Part 1 in a few days’ time at the end of Committee stage. We thus find ourselves resuming Committee in the faintly unreal world where the Bill no longer reflects the principle of the policy which the Government and the House of Commons support. The Government remain in favour of elected individuals as police and crime commissioners. The Government cannot support any of the amendments on the Marshalled List which relate to those parts of the Bill affected by last Wednesday’s vote on Amendment 1. The Government cannot therefore support the scheme of Part 1.
The Committee will thus work its way through the Marshalled List. The Minister’s replies will be limited, but, as the House would expect, she will approach the debate as constructively as she can. But the House should understand that, by voting so early on the principle of the Bill, it has restricted its usual function of scrutiny and revision in respect of Part 1. That is the decision the Committee took, and the Opposition rejected our procedural alternative to where we find ourselves today. For the Government’s part, we will do our best to be constructive as we proceed through the Committee, but we do not accept the new principle of Part 1.
I hope that that explains sufficiently where we are and I therefore beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into a Committee on the Bill.
My Lords, I am sure that the whole House will welcome the presence of the Leader of the House and thank him for his words. We welcome the Government’s decision to be constructive. The noble Baroness the Minister will know that we very much welcome her and the approach that she has taken in this House since she was appointed a Minister in the Home Office.
The remarks of my noble friend the Opposition Chief Whip were related to the situation which appertained immediately after the defeat of the Government on Wednesday last when he suggested that it might be advisable to adjourn for the evening in order that all Members might consider the consequences. We believe it is best to carry on with the Marshalled List. I hear what the noble Lord says about the principle. He will be aware that consequential Amendment 31 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, sets out a construct of a police commission with two elements: the first element is a police and crime commissioner; the second element is a police and crime panel. Many of the amendments to be debated apply as much to that situation and the relationship between a police and crime commissioner and the police and crime panel as they would between an elected police commissioner and a police and crime panel. They embrace issues such as whether there should be pilots, whether the operational independence of the chief constable should be enshrined in statute, and the role of the police and crime panel in being able to veto any decisions of the police and crime commissioner.
It will be worth while for the House to debate these matters. We look forward to the response of the noble Baroness and welcome the fact that she will be as constructive as possible—I never doubted that. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, for allowing us to have this short debate before now moving into Committee.
Clause 1 : Police and crime commissioners
Amendment 14 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Amendment 15 not moved.
15A: Clause 1, page 2, line 5, leave out subsections (6) to (8) and insert—
“(6) The police and crime commissioner is head of the Police Commission and must co-operate with the police and crime panel to enable the functions of the Police Commission to be discharged effectively and efficiently.”
My Lords, I declare an interest as a former chair of a policy authority, as a former chair of the Association of Police Authorities and as the current president of that association.
The amendment is in a group of amendments, the majority of which are in my name. The substantial amendments are Amendments 15A and 31D but I shall speak also to Amendments 32G to 32R, 34B, 35A and 36ZA.
The two key amendments seek to explore and fill out the new structure that has been put in place by the changes incorporated in the Bill last week. In particular they set out the key function of the new police commission and explain that, as the head of the commission, the police and crime commissioner must work with the panel to ensure that the new body works effectively and efficiently. The majority of the remaining amendments are consequential amendments to parts of Schedule 1; they essentially confer on the commission powers and protections that were previously conferred on the police and crime commissioner, particularly those for appointing staff.
I shall begin by saying a little more on Amendment 15A, which focuses primarily on the theme of strengthening checks and balances by placing a duty on the police and crime commissioner to co-operate with the panel. While I am hopeful that the changes to the Bill have put in place a structure that is based more on co-operation than conflict, I am conscious that the legal structure will not in itself guarantee this.
The amendment seeks to ensure that a spirit of co-operation is explicit in the way in which the commission has been established. The relationship between constituent members of the commission—that is, the police and crime commissioner and the panel—will be vital in ensuring that policing remains resilient and responsive in difficult times. It is important to strike a proper balance from the outset to ensure that we do not set up a landscape that is combative rather than collaborative.
Amendment 31D sets out the core overarching function of the police commission, which has now been established. It is clear that these key functions should belong to the commission rather than to any one of its constituent parts. It is not necessarily an exhaustive list and I am sure that we will have some interesting debates later in the Bill about where some functions should properly sit, whether with the police and crime commissioner, the police and crime panel or the parent body in the form of the commission. However, it seems to me that these core functions should sit with the commission, and I look forward to the debate testing this proposition.
One of those functions is new compared with the functions of their predecessor police authorities, and that is the one relating to the new crime role envisaged by the Government. It is important to explore this crime role in more detail because it is not entirely clear what it means in practice and whether it is adequately covered in the Bill at present. Apart from a short and generic section in Clause 10 about co-operative working between police commissioners, community safety bodies and criminal justice bodies, the new role seems to rely mostly on explicit powers to make grants to reduce crime and disorder.
I am sceptical that making additional grants to external bodies is realistic, given the current cost-cutting pressures on the police service, unless the Government are proposing to increase central funding, but perhaps the Minister can confirm that. I am also curious as to how this will fit with the new payment-by-results approach which the Ministry of Justice is developing for criminal justice bodies generally. This must lead to concerns about the timing of the Bill, because arrangements are being put in place when the landscape of criminal justice is still being developed. If police commissions or police and crime commissioners are genuinely to be given a greater role in the criminal justice system, I am concerned that their functions are drawn too narrowly in the Bill and that the ability merely to make grants will not achieve what is intended.
For instance, the Audit Commission has highlighted the limitations of grants on the basis that,
“A grant is a gift or donation—the commissioner giving it has no right to receive anything in return but may attach terms and conditions specifying how the grant is to be spent”.
Hints are given in the Bill that a wider approach is intended, but this seems to be limited to specific circumstances. Changes to the Housing Associations Act in Schedule 16 give police and crime commissioners a wider power to promote and fund the Housing Association, but this is not carried through elsewhere. The Bill contains generic provisions that a police and crime commissioner may do anything calculated to facilitate the exercise of their functions, but their functions are limited through Clause 1 to securing the maintenance of the police force, securing that it is efficient and effective, and holding the chief officer to account. Clause 1 also confers the functions in Chapter 3, but these are limited to making grants and co-operating with partners. Clause 10 refers to working with criminal justice partners to secure an efficient and effective criminal justice system but only in so far as it is appropriate to do so.
Perhaps the Minister can therefore explain exactly what is appropriate in this context and illustrate the kinds of things that she expects the police and crime commissioner or a police commission to be able to do in this wider crime role. For instance, would a commission or a police and crime commissioner be able to mandate other parts of the criminal justice system to take particular actions? If not, would a public, who may have elected a police and crime commissioner—that is not currently in the Bill, but the question arises—on a platform of locking up more criminals, have the right to feel cheated when he then has to admit that he does not have the power to make this happen? If on the other hand it is intended that a police and crime commissioner should have some authority over the criminal justice system, should not the Bill put the matter beyond doubt and explain the exact nature of that authority? Given the intentions set out by the Government in their paper, Policing in the 21st Century, to include a role in relation to crime, it seems sensible to make this explicit in the functions of the new commission or the police and crime commissioner. That is the intention of this part of my amendment. I would be interested to hear the Minister’s views.
In the proposed new clause in Amendment 31D, subsection (2)(b) makes it explicit that the police commission should,
“secure that the police force is efficient and effective”.
One reason why it is important to spell this out is that the commission would, I hope, build on existing best practice in this area. I envisage the police and crime commissioner taking the lead in holding the force and its senior command team to account and exercising strategic oversight of force needs and national strategic policing needs. Individual members of the commission, however, should be assigned to the different police divisions to oversee their functioning and the crime and disorder reduction partnerships in local areas. Forces now delegate significant financial and operational powers to divisional commanders, and it is very important that divisional policing is carefully scrutinised. Local councillors on the police commission are in the best position to undertake this scrutiny, working with local councillor scrutiny panels where appropriate. I envisage a sensible division of responsibilities, with the commissioner operating at force level and dealing with collaborative agreements and regional links with other forces and the other members of the commission operating at divisional and borough level.
Two additional points incorporated in this amendment are worth noting. First, proposed new subsection (3)(c) in the amendment is intended to clarify the responsibility to hold to account chief officers performing their duties under all legislation. The Bill originally contained a specific provision about holding chief officers to account for functions relating to equality and diversity legislation but not to other legislation. I have incorporated wording in my amendment to change this and highlight two additional Acts on human rights and on children which I think are important. It seems to me a key principle of governance that the chief officer should be held to account for the exercise of functions imposed by any Act. I believe it is also important to reassure communities that a police chief is properly carrying out his duties under all legislation.
The Human Rights Act tends to come into play in certain sensitive policing operations such as counterterrorism policing or public order policing. It often involves difficult and complex issues where mistakes are made, and if they are it can have a corrosive effect on trust in the police. The Children Act is also important because this is the legislation that imposes responsibilities for the welfare of children and sets out how children are to be safeguarded by local public bodies, including the police. High-profile deaths of vulnerable children are often linked to failures to implement these partnership obligations correctly. For these reasons it is important that communities see there is an independent reality check on how police powers are being used to ensure the public have a voice in how they are policed. At the moment, police authorities have a legal duty to do this, and it seems logical that that should pass to the commission or to the police and crime commissioner.
I also draw the attention of the House to the wording I have included, which both obliges the commission to hold meetings with the public and ensures that the police and crime commissioner must attend a minimum number each year. It contains some very specific provisions about ensuring that a diverse range of the public is included in these meetings. A failure to engage minority or disenchanted communities who feel they have no say in how they are policed is likely to have a dramatic impact on public confidence in policing. The dangers of not getting engagement right have been understood ever since the Scarman report into the Brixton riots highlighted the importance of working with all communities in an area, not just some of them.
I am aware that there are separate provisions about consultation, but this is about giving the public a chance to engage personally with the police and crime commissioner or other members of the commission to raise concerns and to ask questions. It is also about making sure that this opportunity is open to a wide and varied range of people to ensure that meaningful connections are made with all sectors of the community.
Finally and briefly, as mentioned earlier, there are a number of consequential amendments to Schedule 1, which reflect the new structure of a police commission, in effect transferring a number of powers that previously fell to the police and crime commissioner to the new commission, which will enable the commission, rather than the police and crime commissioner, to employ and pay staff. It will also confer on it incidental powers in carrying out the overarching governance functions which the substantive part of my amendment would impose on the commission.
I hope I have satisfied the House that the issues I have raised are ones that are in the Bill whether the police and crime commissioner is elected or appointed. These concerns relate to policing as a whole and we really do need to debate and discuss them in this House. I therefore beg to move my amendment. In doing so, I must tell the House that the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, had hoped to speak in support of this amendment but is suffering from laryngitis. She is very sorry but she will not be able to do so.
I should point out that if this amendment were to be agreed I could not then call Amendments 16 to 19 by reason of pre-emption.
My Lords, the Committee owes an enormous debt of gratitude to the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, for tabling this series of amendments that seek to put some flesh on the bones of the amendments that we considered last week. This is a useful attempt to help the Government in their response to the difficulty in which they find themselves with the original legislation.
Amendment 15A sets out how a police commission might work and what its functions might be, and in doing so it addresses many, although not all, of the original objectives of the Government’s proposals. It also addresses many concerns expressed in the Committee and at Second Reading about the issues around the Bill. It sets out a clear framework of accountability, making clear how the mechanism will work and to whom chief officers of police are accountable. Given that concerns have been expressed about the visibility of existing police authorities, the concept of a police commission may well be seen as a much more visible entity and one that will have some of the benefits that the Government are trying to achieve. The clarity in the amendment about what the commission will do is extremely important, but it is also valuable in that it addresses some of the concerns that Members of this House have been exercised about as we have debated this matter in the past few weeks.
My concern, which I have expressed on a number of occasions, was where the visible answerability of chief officers of police was to be located. Where would the public see that the police service in their area would be held to account? Clearly, that mechanism will provide that opportunity in what will no doubt be public gatherings of the commission, which will no doubt attract considerable public attention because of the very high profile associated with this work. The example that I cited in our discussions last week was of a location in which the acting commissioner of the Metropolitan Police was able to apologise to the public, and in particular to someone’s family, when the police had failed in investigating a crime. It would also provide a forum for those who were deeply concerned about other incidents that occurred in a police area. All that would be located in meetings of the commission. That is a very important principle—where the visible answerability will be whereby the public can see that the police service in their area is being held to account.
The other issue very helpfully addressed in this amendment is the question of public engagement. While I am sure that the Government’s original proposal envisaged that policing and crime commissions would engage with the public, a single individual covering a large local area was always seen as a tall order. Many noble Lords expressed that in debate. This group of amendments provides us with a structure whereby that public engagement would take place. Setting a framework for that is also extremely helpful in enabling us to see how these arrangements might work, who would be responsible and who would be entitled to be part of that engagement process. No doubt in some parts of the country the police commissions would take a very broad view of this and might want to include other categories of people with whom they would engage as part of this process. However, this sets a minimum standard and is one that the commission itself would be expected to meet.
I am conscious that the Government are determined to have these functions carried out by a single individual—a single, directly elected individual. I also recognise and am very conscious that a number of Members of the House expressed real reservations about the amount of power that that placed in the hands of a single individual. This mechanism, while clearly creating the police commissioner as the most important part of this structure, also makes it clear that that person does not act on their own but has to act in concert with other members of the commission who are appointed as part of the panel process that this amendment envisages. It would therefore not be a single individual who, because of their mandate and feeling of power, might be tempted to go off in capricious directions but an individual working with colleagues as part of a commission. That addresses one of the concerns that have been expressed.
Clearly, the structure envisaged in this amendment is that the person who acts as commissioner is appointed by the other panel members of the commission. They would appoint one of their number to be the commissioner, which is of course entirely contrary to the Government’s intention that that person should be directly elected. I certainly said in earlier speeches that, when I was a police authority chair, I would have welcomed the additional authority of being personally elected to fulfil that role. Obviously, if we are in what will no doubt be an iterative process between the Houses, it will be possible for the Government to insert some mechanism of direct election into this. However, what we have before us was the will of this Chamber when it met in Committee last week. That does not necessarily preclude further discussions as we go down the road.
The concerns about direct election are ones that the Government clearly need to consider. I have reservations about some of the wilder fantasies that people might have about what direct election would bring, because I believe the electorate would take these elections extremely seriously. As they would be for large areas, I suspect that the political parties would invest considerable energy in making sure that their choice of candidate was not part of any lunatic fringe. The fundamental point is that this process would temper the concerns that there might be about direct election, were that to be reinserted into the Bill, because that person would be acting as part of a commission and with other commission members.
This amendment is helpful to your Lordships and sets out a framework with which the Government can work. I feel very sorry for the Minister, who is new to this role and is being confronted with a Bill that is perhaps no longer quite as coherent—if that is the right word—as it once was. I am conscious of that and of the demands that it is now placing on Home Office civil servants. It is therefore incumbent on the Committee to offer the Home Office a structure with which it can work, that will deal with many of the concerns that your Lordships have expressed and that will enable us to have a constructive debate as we go through the rest of the Bill.
I wonder whether I might respond to what has just been said. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, referred to a coherent area and to a person who is well-known in that area—through the available media, both newspapers and television—and who is elected by people. It will be much easier in that sort of area than in many of the police areas up and down the country. Those are large, extremely diverse areas, many of which have no coherence whatever other than that they contain one, two or three counties. There is nothing else.
I have been told today that the Thames Valley police force covers the diocese of Oxford, but that is its only boundary, as it were, other than the old country boundaries, which have changed over the years. I would draw a strong distinction between London, where people might have had the benefit of knowing Toby Harris before they voted for him, and an area in which a person is likely to be elected from a small and diverse police area and will be known to very few people, even if he has a party ticket. That person, I suggest, will concentrate his attention on the area in which he lives.
I want to make it clear that, in trying, as ever, to be helpful to the Government, I was saying that, if they were so minded as to restore the principle of direct election, this framework would allow them to do so. I suspect that we are not at that stage yet and perhaps I spoke for too long on that point. Clearly, that would come back as an amendment from the other place and we would no doubt have the opportunity of debating it then. I was simply saying that the framework does not preclude that if the Government were so minded.
I accept that point. I am not against—as I do not believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, was—the idea of an elected head of the police authority or head of commission. I just wanted to point out that London, as a trial area, if you like, is not typical of the rest of the country. It is actually atypical and inferences drawn from it might be misleading.
I want to raise the question of who will hold this person to account. Is it the public in quite incoherent areas who do not even know various places, or is it the press? I fear that they will press the commissioner to pressure the chief constable to do things. Last weekend we saw a disturbing manifestation when certain organs of the press claimed that the Prime Minister had directed the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to devote resources to a case that I think is well known to Members of this House. I am very worried about the possibility of political direction being passed to a chief constable. A chief constable has myriad duties and he or she should be the person who decides where attention is most needed. I would be sorry if that were changed.
I share entirely what the noble Lord, Lord Harris, said about concentrating power in the hands of an individual; the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, referred to that as well. If there is an elected police commissioner —or not—he must be subject to rigorous checks and balances, otherwise that person will be accountable to no one other than in a four-yearly election. It is important that that person gives an account month-by-month not only of what money he is spending but of what is being done about crime and about relations with the community.
I hear what the noble Lord says and I agree with some of it, but I plead: do not assume that we have had a trial area in London or that London would make a good trial area.
I have never suggested that we have had a trial area in London. London has essentially a completely different set of proposals here. Indeed, I have amendments, which we may or may not get to today, that would try to make London more like the proposal that the Government originally put forward. The London clauses of the Bill are not affected directly by the amendment that we passed the other week, simply because they do not relate to police and crime commissioners.
My Lords, I intervene in what is a difficult situation for the House, as has been recognised on all sides. The Bill, if not holed below the water-line, certainly has a large torpedo gash marginally on the water line. It is worth saying, given some of the comments that have been made from the Government’s side, that the amendment came from a government Member and several government Members supported it in the Lobby, with a number abstaining. Therefore, it would not be wise for the House to make assumptions about what will happen in the House of Commons when it looks at this again.
I draw attention now to something that my noble friend Lady Henig said, which is very important to this debate. She made the point that the structures we are talking about now—this is possibly the point which the Minister will want to address in replying—would imply whether the police and crime commissioner is elected. That makes no difference to the structures that you need to put in place to safeguard police independence. Clause 1(4) states:
“The police and crime commissioner for a police area is to be elected, and hold office, in accordance with Chapter 6”.
I make no secret of my desire; as I said in the previous debate, there is a strong case for separating this Bill by taking out the drugs and alcohol provisions and dealing with them as a separate Bill, and bringing this back in a form that might be more acceptable to the House. Either way, there is a problem about the control of the police. That goes to the heart of the concern on practically all sides of the House. Everybody has expressed the concern that we are in danger of creating a structure in which political control can override police control. That is the fear that underpins so many of the arguments about this. I am pleased to see the noble Lord, Lord Howard, in his place. I well remember him, many years ago in the 1980s, warning the Labour Party about the danger of elected police commissioners. His position seems to have moved considerably since then, but I suspect that underneath it all he has the same concerns.
My noble friend Lady Henig, ably supported as usual by my noble friend Lord Harris with his special knowledge, has indicated that you can build up a structure that will make that political control less likely, regardless of whether the police and crime commissioner is elected or appointed. It is important to note that the term “police and crime commissioner” is referred to throughout the Bill, not just in Part 1. It appears in some of the schedules as well. There is a problem in assuming that there will not be a police and crime commissioner. My assumption is that, whether elected or appointed, the Government want a police and crime commissioner. In that context, I say simply that the amendment moved by my noble friend Lady Henig, supported by other Members of this House who put their names to similar amendments, means that we need a structure that ensures that the police can police without political involvement. That has been an absolutely fundamental principle for this House for many years. We do not want to lose it.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, has done the House a great service by moving this amendment, which is about good-quality governance. I have a sense of déjà vu about this, which goes back only to yesterday. Yesterday the Government presented us with some proposals that seek to replace something rather odd, which has evolved and works quite well—namely, your Lordships’ House—with something new, the working of which is extremely uncertain. In the proposals in the mere 19 pages of that White Paper, the Government set out what looked to me, after reading it all, like the very elaborate rules of what is bound to be an unsuccessful board game.
It is to be hoped that, if we are to have elected police commissioners and police commissions, we will be able to take the best practice of police authorities and ensure that it is set out, either in statutory form or, if the Government prefer, in some form of code of practice or other clearly designated publication that ensures that good governance occurs.
As the original proposals stand—we have to be realistic and talk about the original proposals because we will certainly return to them in due course—we do not have absolute clarity about the responsibilities of the police commission. Nor do we have absolute clarity about the relationship between the commission, the police and crime panels and the commissioner, let alone the relationship with the chief constable. If we are to reform the governance of the police service so radically, it seems to me that it is the absolute responsibility of the Government and of both Houses of Parliament to provide the police service, and everyone concerned with it, with the clearest possible rules of governance. I urge my noble friend the Minister, whether or not she supports these amendments and the principle behind them, to tell this House that provisions will be introduced which will meet the aspirations of the noble Baroness’s amendments, and will therefore satisfy us that there will be good governance for the police.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Soley, talked about torpedoes and water-lines; I think that we are talking about horses and carts. We are trying to design a cart without knowing whether one, two or four horses will be drawing it. We know where we are, and it is a confusing state for your Lordships' House. I sincerely hope that the opinion of the House will not be tested on this amendment. I take this opportunity to make a few if not random then certainly general, comments. The general thrust of the measure we are discussing is helpful, tidies up some of the framework and deserves the close attention of officials. It does not seek to dilute power but to channel and harness it and—to use the word again—to check capricious behaviour. All in all, I do not think that it is unduly prescriptive. I sense that noble Lords are generally trying very hard to be helpful to the Government. The latter find themselves in a difficult position although I will not go into the horses and carts scenario again. In broad terms, I support what is being said. As I have said before, I support the principle of the elected commissioner, but checks and balances need to be reassessed and strengthened. I trust that the Government will do that in due course.
My Lords, I rise only because my name was prayed in aid by the noble Lord, Lord Soley. I do not believe for a moment that these amendments are necessary to prevent the commissioner taking control of the police because the Bill in its original form makes it absolutely clear that the operational independence of the police is protected. Therefore, the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Soley, is completely wide of the mark.
However, I was intrigued—since I am on my feet I shall make a further point—by the intervention of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, and his attempt to draw parallels between the discussions that took place in this House yesterday and the discussions that we are having today. I had assumed that the whole thrust of the proposals which were put forward yesterday emanated from the devotion of the Liberal Democrat Party in particular to the principle of democratic elections. I thought that that was at the heart of the proposals which were put before this House yesterday. However, the fact that a significant number of Liberal Democrats were not prepared to accept the principle of democratic election in respect of police commissioners has resulted in the difficulties which have also been discussed today. That is the most significant and odd lesson to be drawn from the contrast between our discussions yesterday and our discussions today.
I do not want to turn this into a little contest between lawyers but I do not know from where my noble friend derives the assertion that I am in some way opposed to democratic elections. As a lawyer like him, I am in favour of tidy and comprehensible solutions—that is my concern about yesterday—but perhaps we should move on to today.
It was the noble Lord who brought yesterday into the discussion in the first place. I did not introduce the subject of yesterday, he did. I just thought that I would point out the beginning of a discrepancy between the approach of the Liberal Democrats to what we were discussing yesterday and the approach of at least some of them to what we are discussing today.
I will not intrude on family grief on the government Benches, but the decision taken last week was a decision of the House. It involved Members from all sides of the House, including a significant number of Cross-Benchers. I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Howard, has singled out one group, or part of a group of Members, for his animadversions. I am also a lawyer although a much humbler one than either of the noble Lords who have just spoken—I am a journeyman solicitor, not an eminent silk. However, with respect to the noble Lord, Lord Howard, he slightly misreads the nature of the amendment, which is not at all about controlling chief constables. The amendment deals with the function of the panel. In many ways, it is an amendment for all seasons because, as other noble Lords have said, it would fit with any structure—an elected commissioner; a commissioner appointed in the way described by the noble Baroness, Lady Henig; or any structure as long as it has a panel. I think it is commonly accepted that that will be part of the final structure that emerges from all this.
The amendment is a paving amendment. It is to strengthen the role of the panel. In Committee, we had the benefit of the protocol, which spoke of checks and balances. There is a widespread view in the House that those checks and balances were insufficient. The amendment is directed at strengthening the checks and balances and the role of the panel. That is something that I hope the Government will take seriously. It seems to me and to others who spoke last week that the Bill does not achieve what the protocol purports: that there are sufficient checks and balances on either the commissioner or, for that matter, arguably, the chief constable—but particularly the commissioner.
Let us regard this as a helpful and constructive amendment to reinforce the Government’s intentions, which I accept at face value, of having substantial checks and balances in the system. In that context, I hope that it will be widely accepted in the House.
My Lords, I declare my normal interests. I agree with the aspirations of the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Henig. I do so with some hesitation because I am not against the principle of elected police and crime commissioners. Last week I found myself in the position of saying yes or no, but I voted against the idea because I was concerned that, as drafted, the position of elected police and crime commissioners was a mission impossible. Today the amendment gives us a vision of how a more collaborative structure might reinforce, support and enable an elected police and crime commissioner, should that be the end result of the iterative process. It would give an idea of how that person might operate in a more collaborative environment.
My concern has always been not whether we should have elected police and crime commissioners but that he or she, when elected, should have a real chance of doing the job well and of tapping into the best of local democracy and working with it, rather than against it. The amendment gives us some aspirations and some background vision regarding how, when we think again today and subsequently about how an elected police and crime commissioner might operate, this might be helpful in that process.
I was concerned last week when we voted on the issue. I accept that the noble Baroness was very new to her post, but she gave no comfort whatever about how an elected police and crime commissioner might be drawn into a more collaborative endeavour locally, rather than being totally isolated. It seemed almost as if the notion of an elected police and crime commissioner working in a committee, commission or panel structure could somehow emasculate them, dilute their role or disable them in a way that committees, boards or panels do not emasculate people in other aspects of our society. Many successful companies work with an effective board structure; indeed, many effective organisations work with boards, commissions or panels. I hope that the amendment will at the very least tease out from the Minister some support on the need, in rethinking how elected police and crime commissioners might operate, to move towards a more collaborative endeavour which involves a board, panel or commission, rather than the very isolated and adversarial role which the Government currently propose for the elected police and crime commissioner.
I am afraid I am going to compete with the déjà vu of the noble Lord, Lord Carlile. My déjà vu goes back to the point where we were at an ACPO dinner together when we discussed accountability, the role of police authorities and what the membership ought to be. I remember clearly that the noble Lord wanted diverse views to form the view of the community expressed towards the chief constable in an area. I also refer to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, about different police authority areas and police service areas. From my experience of living in Lancashire since 1969, I know that a very competent police commissioner who had to say no to a public meeting in Burnley, and who happened to be based in Blackburn or Blackpool, would get short shrift. My concern is that the roles envisaged in my noble friend’s amendments would assist a police and crime commissioner in gaining, keeping and knowing what the diverse communities were thinking about. There is ethnic diversity in Lancashire and diversity not only between urban and rural but between different parts of rural and different parts of urban areas. It would also be impossible for a single individual to be present at local meetings at divisional level to hear the views of the local community. If the role envisaged in my noble friend’s amendments were to be accepted in principle, and worked on in detail by the Government, it would help the process of establishing a new system by building on what is best about the old.
I said that it may be that people would shout down someone who was elected from Blackpool at a meeting in Burnley if the person at the meeting in Burnley was unable to give them what they wanted. That would undermine the job of the police service in Lancashire, which the Minister was good enough to recognise as a superb example of good policing. It would undermine the divisional commander’s role if the commissioner, elected or otherwise, could not be present at all these meetings. They would be able to share the responsibility. I hope that the Government will take away some of these concerns.
I have a final point to make which I think is critical when we look at the role of the commissions, to which my noble friend’s amendment refers. Comparisons are made with the United States. Were the Government to suggest that Burnley, Blackpool and Lancaster should have their own locally elected commissioner, there would be a different argument because, as with my noble friend Lord Harris, everyone who lives in London believes that they live in London, although they claim allegiance to certain parts of it. However, we are not considering that. We are not considering the people of Burnley or Blackpool asking someone to represent their concerns; we are considering the whole of Lancashire.
Whatever happens, I am proud of the police service in my locality. I hope that the Government will do what I am trying to do, which is to ensure that nothing we decide undermines good practice and that we can build on that good practice rather than take away the foundations.
My Lords, I share the view expressed by many noble Lords that the noble Baroness should not proceed to a Division with this amendment. It should be regarded merely as a probing exercise, giving all of us the opportunity to discuss a situation which is, to say the very least, extremely complicated. The Leader of the House referred to the discussions last week as being philosophical. However, I would say that, if anything, they were more metaphysical than philosophical.
There is a great deal to be said in favour of the amendment in very general terms but I doubt very much whether it can cure the situation either in part or in whole. I shall not repeat this on other amendments, although it governs the whole situation, but I believe that the idea of a police commissioner or a police commissar, to use a term which illustrates the problem more classically, is alien to the whole concept of a disciplined force and a disciplined hierarchy—as alien as it would be in relation to the armed services. I say that as someone who 43 years ago had the very great privilege of being a Minister for the police in the other House. I do not believe that you can treat the police in that way.
Having said that, I do not in any way doubt the genuineness of the approach to this problem taken by any of the main political parties. There is obviously room for improvement in the relations between the police and the public, and there is room for better scrutiny and greater efficiency, but I believe, with all the sincerity that I can muster, that all these considerations have been borne in mind by the parties that have allowed themselves to be led down that path in the belief that there is a massive problem that has to be dealt with in some revolutionary way. I do not believe that there is a massive problem.
With very great respect to the noble Baroness who has proposed the amendment, I do not believe that the amendment can ameliorate the problem, because I do not believe that you can ameliorate the unameliorable, redeem the unredeemable or repair the irreparable while the concept of a police commissar is central to the whole of Part 1 of the Bill.
I would not pretend in my most egotistical flights of fancy to have a complete answer to this situation. However, I believe that the answer lies somewhere in the direction of strengthening the position of the chairman of the police authority. Police authorities have served this community well over the years. I believe that their record is honourable and impressive, and that one can go in that direction without damaging the whole concept of a disciplined hierarchy. I believe that one of the most important questions in relation to this whole matter was raised by the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw: who controls the controller—or, to use the words of Cardinal Richelieu, quis custodiet custodes ipsos? It is a massively important question.
There is a fallacy that has been expressed by the noble Lords, Lord Howard of Lympne and Lord Carlile, two gentlemen for whom I have immense personal regard. But the very fact that a person has been elected by way of a democratic process does not of necessity lead to a good, democratic result. If I remember rightly, Adolf Hitler was elected Chancellor by a democratic process. It is not the process that matters; it is the purpose that is served by that particular person. If tomorrow you have a proposal by the most direct process of democracy—I shall not animadvert as to whether that would be some form of PR or first past the post—and if there were the most direct and fair system of election of a person to a dictatorial post, that would still be wrong. It would still be antidemocratic.
As regards relations between the police and the public, 100 years ago the ordinary, decent citizen regarded police officers as sentinels who stood on the ramparts of civilisation, defending people’s rights against all the evils that existed in this world. Then one thing above all happened to change everything: that was the internal combustion engine. It led to the possibility of millions of ordinary, decent, law-abiding citizens suddenly finding themselves crossing the line into criminality. If anything over the past 100 years has changed the benign relationship between police and public, it is the internal combustion engine, but I am not suggesting that it should be abolished.
My Lords, continuing the debate about governance and organisational and managerial matters, it might be appropriate if I say a brief word about practice, and in particular support Amendment 19. I do so because I believe this to be an important amendment. I am grateful to those who have tabled it, and particularly to the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, for her comments. It is important because it is essential that a police constable is left in no doubt that one of the priorities for which they will be held to account is that of safeguarding children. These duties are not discretionary; they have been placed upon them by Parliament under the Children Acts, notably the 2004 Act. It might seem self-evident that chief constables have these responsibilities, but, sad to say, experience indicates that this work can easily become lower-order activity in the great responsibilities of policing. Indeed, some people have described in rather derogatory terms that it is a matter of social policing, as though it is a marginal activity. In the evidence to the Victoria Climbié inquiry, witnesses variously describe this area of work as being “woman’s work” or a convenient place to put less able staff. It certainly was regarded by many witnesses from the police service as a career-limiting posting.
After the Victoria Climbié inquiry, the Metropolitan Police reformed and reinforced its police child protection services. Sadly, by the time of the death of Baby Peter, the staff and the resources devoted to this work had been seriously reduced in favour of other policing priorities. Recently, I had the pleasure of visiting the police child protection services in London and I venture to suggest that the Metropolitan Police now has one of the foremost police child protection services in the world. However, it is important that the standard of the child protection service is maintained. To achieve this will require determined leadership, and police constables should be left in no doubt that they have a continuing and prime responsibility to tackle the abuse, neglect and exploitation of vulnerable children. If they fail to do so, we know from experience that this can lead not only to terrible suffering but to the death and murder of children. For this reason, I press the Minister to take seriously Amendment 19. I hope that it might be incorporated into the Bill to reinforce what I know is the commitment of the Government to ensure that the safeguarding of children remains a significant priority in the responsibility of chief constables.
Perhaps I may make a point—
My Lords, I must admit that I am confused. Regrettably, I was unable to be here on 11 May for the first day of Committee. I received a telephone call in the rehabilitation centre where I was staying for a few days to say, “No worries, we won”. Now I find that the debate is still centring on elected police commissioners.
We have heard a lot about democracy. It seems that some people have the view that if we vote, that is democratic. My view—with which noble Lords may disagree—is that living in a democracy means living where there is a free press, a well informed public and, most importantly, a politically neutral police service. Whichever way this debate goes, we must ensure that the police are not only politically neutral but are seen to be politically neutral. My fear with a party-political, elected commissioner is that the public will not trust that the police are politically neutral. I appeal to all noble Lords not to put politics before common sense. Some will vote for this proposal because that is their political view and they want to follow their party. Others will vote against it because they, too, are following their political party’s views. I ask noble Lords to vote one way or the other to ensure that the public of this country know that we have a politically neutral police service that is also seen to be politically neutral.
My Lords, does the noble Lord, Lord Imbert, recognise the contribution to that political neutrality—and to the confidence expressed by the public in many parts of the country—of the noble Lord, Lord Howard? In the 1980s he was part of a Government who sought to deal with the issue and with these concerns. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Imbert, will seek to prevail on the noble Lord, Lord Howard, to take an evolutionary approach to his many previous successes.
My Lords, I support the amendments, which take us in the right direction. I do not mind whether the commissioner, or the head of a commission or a panel, is elected or otherwise: coming from Northern Ireland, I have no right to that view. However, from my experience with the police there, it is clear that an individual cannot do the job without the backing of a committee, panel or commission, which must supply him with the means of interrogating the police and different departments in order to get the story out. One individual cannot do this: we have committees with numbers of people on them because one gets a variation of views and questions. Otherwise, there would be no point in having this Chamber; we might as well have just one person. Therefore, he must be attached to a panel, a commission or a committee of some kind.
Taking that into account, as far as I can see, the panel, as it stands at the moment, only makes recommendations or questions the commissioner, who is not policeman, and is expected to get satisfaction from that. This is Chinese whispers by the time you get to the end of the road. The panel has an obligation to have public meetings so that the public can put their views forward. We have already been into that. It may be that a single panel for a single police area is not local enough or accessible enough, which is a different matter, but I question whether the public are going to continue to turn up to a panel where the police are not present to ask a panel to ask a commissioner, a chairman or however you put it to ask the police a way down the road.
If we are talking about democracy or, indeed, connectivity, which is what it is all about, the Government’s current system does not suffice. Unless they are able to amend their plans to ensure that the lowest denominator —the man in the street—feels that he has some method of influencing his destiny as far as crime and policing in his area goes, they are not going to work. This idea of having different people at different levels without the panel actually having the police there to talk to will not work. If you look at public meetings held by hospitals and other organisations, if people do not think they are getting anywhere, they will not turn up, and you will have lost the vital part of policing in this country.
My Lords, I have not spoken on this Bill before and I rise now with some diffidence because I feel somewhat estranged from the debate. What people really care about is what happens to them, not just perceptions. I will be slightly frivolous about internal combustion engines. I live very near the A1 in the north-east of England and I have had several internal combustion engines taken out of my garden. The security measures that I now take are much more comprehensive than they were in my youth. For example, we used to leave the keys in our cars, if I remember rightly.
At certain times of night in the north-east—the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, knows more about this than me—there are parts of Newcastle where the anti-social behaviour is pretty compelling. As the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, knows, my son-in-law tries to assist the police in dealing with some of this behaviour. I think there are places in south-west Durham where the police do not go. I shall not quote the names of the ex-mining areas into which they do not go at certain times of the day and possibly hardly ever.
In the context of what is happening in the country, we need to think very seriously about the purpose of this Bill. It is to try to establish arrangements, which I think would meet with total agreement on all sides of this House, for the reduction of crime and anti-social behaviour. I hope that in all this discussion, conversation and exchange about form, we do not lose our sense of purpose.
The noble Viscount referred to the disorder in Newcastle. In 2003, a Licensing Bill was forced through the House by another Government without proper trial. From that, we derived much greater use of alcohol, much greater disorder in city centres, much greater burdens on the health service and terrible problems for town centre management. Does the noble Viscount agree that trials of any changes are probably worth while?
My Lords, I am not the person for solutions; I presented the problem. I am coming into this debate entirely new and without any experience as a policeman or of being on a police committee. I have met policemen from time to time. Sometimes the exchanges have been friendly and at other times they have been not so friendly. Indeed, on one occasion, I thought I was being treated in rather a highhanded manner, but these things happen to people. My concern is about what is happening to people and about the purpose of the Bill.
I speak as a devotee of democratic election but as an equally firm opponent of the concentration of power in one pair of hands. I wrote down the term “collaborative” when the noble Lord, Lord Condon, used it in our previous debate because it is absolutely right. Whatever model we end up with—I share the views of those who are perhaps realists in this political process—the panel should be part of a collaborative process and have an active collaborative role. I see scrutiny and the imposition of checks and balances as part of that activity and collaboration. We have a lot of detailed amendments later about the powers, functions and relationships of the panel and about with whom and when it has conversations. They will apply whatever the model. They may, no doubt, involve the role of the media. It is a reality today that the media have an important role. The scrutineer needs to know how to work with the media and not get caught out by them. The checks and balances are immensely important. In a recent e-mail to one of my honourable friends in the Commons, I referred to them as Cs and Bs, and he thought I was referring to the Cross Benches and the Bishops. Maybe he was not wrong.
At the risk of being a bit of a nerd, I shall ask some questions about a couple of specific points in the amendment. I am sorry to come from a different point of view from that of the noble Lord, Lord Laming, but I worry about the references to the Human Rights Act, the Children Act and the Equality Act and about the dangers of singling out particular references. We may discuss all this in the context of the strategic policing requirement and the protocol and I in no way suggest that those Acts are not important. However, is it not the case that the chief constable, who is the object of these parts of the amendment, is held to account under the law and that it does not need a specific reference in this legislation to deal with that?
My other question is perhaps even more nerdish, but I do not want to suggest that it is not important. There must, of course, be an endeavour to secure the reduction of crime, but Amendment 31D states:
“The Police Commission … must … secure the reduction of crime”.
But what if it cannot? I agree that it should try to, but what are the consequences if it fails? Frankly, one does not want to allow difficult ratepayers looking for audit-based complaints to have a go at a commission by saying that it has not secured the reduction of crime.
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness. I accept that there is a danger of highlighting some piece of detail in the Bill, but does she accept from me that while there is a huge emphasis on the amount of crime and the reduction of crime, nothing in the legislation talks about the safeguarding of children, the abduction or trafficking of children and the like? Is it not important not to lose that in the great scheme of things?
I agree with that, and it is one of my concerns about the election of an individual. I would like to think that individuals might stand on a mandate to reduce the things to which the noble Lord has just referred, but I think that that is very unlikely indeed. I have tabled a series of amendments, which we will come to later, with a view to raising the issues of child protection and of human trafficking of adults as well as children. I think that the noble Lord is absolutely right, but I am being a bit of a nerd in questioning the way that that is dealt with. My point about securing the reduction of crime was whether that might have unforeseen consequences, again merely in the way that it is dealt with.
Has the noble Baroness considered what it is to reduce crime? The number of crimes committed could be reduced but their seriousness increased. Is there a metric for what the reduction would be?
I am not sure that that question should be directed to me or to the noble Baroness, but the noble Lord is absolutely right that this is a multifaceted issue.
My Lords, we have had a very interesting debate. I know well the views of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, on the licensing legislation and the point he makes about pilots. I hope that we will come to the question of pilots later on. I agree with the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, that there should be no complacency about the level of crime or the effectiveness of the police force. However, it is accepted and a matter of record that the last 10 to 15 years have seen dramatic reductions in the number of crimes committed, including violent crimes. This has been confirmed by independent surveys such as the British Crime Survey. However, I also have to say that we are seeing elements of crime rising again. The latest figures for the West Midlands police force, published last Thursday at a meeting of the West Midlands Police Authority, show that the trend is reversing.
I still do not understand why the party opposite has such a downer on the police; it is a great puzzle. That is clear from the statements made during our discussions. There seems to be a real sense of angst in the party opposite about the police service which I just do not understand, and it is part of the problem we face in debating the Bill. Having said that, let me turn to the issue. Whether you have an elected or appointed police commissioner, I believe that what is needed is strong and effective corporate governance. That point was made by all of my noble friends and the noble Lord, Lord Carlile. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, talked about checks and balances. It is the absence of proper corporate governance or checks and balances that is so worrying and inexplicable.
The noble Lord, Lord Carlile, said that the Government have some form in this area and tried to invite the noble Baroness to respond on House of Lords reform. On Monday I tried to do that without any success, and I do not think that the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, is going to be any more successful. But let me try another area, that of the National Health Service. Here I declare my interests as set out in the register as a consultant trainer and chair of the Heart of England NHS Foundation Trust. The proposal for GP consortia is shocking in relation to the absence of proper corporate governance. The original proposal was for £80 billion to be given to GPs. That has now been reduced to £60 billion, but it is still an awful lot of money. It is to be given to one profession which would then decide where it should be spent. Again, that was done in the absence of proper and effective corporate governance. Yet the party opposite has a record to be proud of in its work before 1997 on enhancing corporate governance in both the public and the private sectors. I well remember the initiatives sponsored and supported by the party opposite when it was in government. It set up a number of reviews and initiated developments to strengthen corporate governance. It encouraged the IoD and the CBI. I remember well the Cadbury report, which I know that the Conservative Party strongly supported. So it is a puzzle to me why the Government now seem to be moving away from effective corporate governance.
One of the most shocking parts of the Bill is Clause 62, which is entitled “Appointment of acting commissioner”. It is right that the circumstances should be prescribed where a commissioner no longer holds office or is incapacitated in some way. Let me just make this point. An individual elected or appointed as a police commissioner is going to come under intensive media scrutiny about their entire life. Sport will be made of trying to find out anything wrong with them, so it is likely that after such a person has been appointed or elected, issues will emerge which mean that that person will have to resign, or at least be suspended. I do not think there can be any doubt about that whatever. Clause 62(1) states:
“The police and crime panel for a police area must appoint a person to act as a police and crime commissioner”,
if a vacancy arises. The panel can only appoint such a person if that person is a member of the police and crime commission staff at the time of the appointment. Who will it be—the PR officer, the chief of staff, the buddy? Enormous powers will be given to that person. They can appoint or dismiss the chief constable. They can set the precept. I find that wholly and absolutely unacceptable. Clause 62(4) states:
“All the functions of a police and crime commissioner are exercisable by an acting commissioner, apart from issuing or varying a police and crime plan under section 5”.
A staff member appointed by the police commissioner can suddenly be called on to assume enormous powers without the effective checks and balances and corporate governance that would be appropriate in every walk of life in both the public and the private sector. That is why there is so much concern about this Bill and its construct.
The second part of this amendment—I am indebted to my noble friend for bringing it forward—concerns the relationship between the individual commissioner, either elected or appointed by the panel, and the area he serves. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, referred to the Thames Valley. I know it well because I was brought up in Oxford in the great days of the Oxford City police force and the watch committee. Of course, watch committees were abolished because of political corruption. Again, I fail to comprehend why the Government have not understood the lessons of history. When politicians are brought too close to operational policing, there will always be trouble.
The Thames Valley police force is roughly analogous to the diocese of Oxford and to what used to be called the Oxford Regional Health Authority area of Berkshire, Buckinghamshire and Oxfordshire. The noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, is right: there is no heart; it is a false area; there is nothing really that brings it together. But even in the West Midlands, my own patch now, if you had one person who came from Coventry, what confidence would there be in Wolverhampton? I think that there would be great concern, because you would have lost the balance that you have with our current police authorities. That is why it is so important, if we are to continue with a single commissioner, either elected or appointed, first, to ensure, as my noble friend wishes to do, that there are regular engagements between that individual and the communities; and, secondly, to strengthen the role of the panel. The panel will consist of elected councillors from the different local authorities. They will be able to provide some connect between the work of the police and the local community, but they will be able to do so only if they have sufficient authority and power to exercise proper checks and balances in relation to the police commissioner.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to the debate. Perhaps I may begin by putting something on the record, because many noble Lords have mentioned the operational independence of the police. In particular, the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, drew attention, I believe, to the case of Madeleine McCann. I can assure your Lordships that there was no question of the Home Secretary directing the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police to carry out this exercise. Due to the international expertise that exists in the Met, there were discussions between the Home Office and the Metropolitan Police. The commissioner took the operational decision to support the investigation on that basis. It was felt appropriate that funding should flow from the Home Office because of the additional costs associated with policing that case. I hope that that reassures people who have been concerned about that aspect of it.
For the benefit of noble Lords who were not here last week when we produced the protocol document, perhaps I should also repeat that the whole area of governance, and the relationship between a police and crime commissioner and the chief constable, is set out in a draft document that is still open to consultation. I hope in due course to have further discussions with Members across the House so that we might see how that document can be improved. Again, the governance and independence of the police are key to that document.
This is an unusual debate by any standards of what has taken place in the House previously, and I shall attempt to address as much of what has been said as I can, given the circumstances. I know that the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, is having difficulties with her voice at the moment, but if she is able formally to move her Amendment 31, which proposes a new model of governance, a police commission, perhaps we might then have a little more clarity in our proceedings, because the amendments in the group which we have been discussing are consequential to that amendment. None the less, I shall try to be as constructive as possible in relation to what has been said today.
I was asked about the role of the PCC in tackling crime; the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, referred to it in her opening remarks. Had the Bill not been amended as it was last Wednesday, the PCC would have been empowered to make grants to community safety partnerships within their force areas. It was envisaged that the PCC would determine local priorities for crime reduction and who was best placed to handle both the symptoms and, crucially, the causes of crime within their force area.
The amendments propose a new model whereby a police and crime commission will be created, consisting of a police and crime panel with the power to elect a police and crime commissioner. If you directly elect an individual, you have to be able to allow that individual to carry out the mandate on which they have been successfully elected. The elected individual needs strong and effective checks and balances—I am in total agreement with that. What is proposed, however, is not an effective check and balance but a slow and bureaucratic decision made by committee.
In the absence of any evidence to the contrary, I assume that the police and crime panel to which the amendments refer is the panel as set out in the Bill. This is fundamentally the same model as we have now with police forces accountable to police authorities—a model which, as was discussed last Wednesday, simply does not provide the public with a mechanism for holding their police service to account. The proposed model would fail to provide the democratic accountability that policing needs and the public demand. If anything, it turns the clock back. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, mentioned the watch-committee style of policing governance which was abolished in 1964. The model proposed, as I understand it, would place politicians in control, with no direct accountability to the public, which is what the original provision sought to do. The watch-committee style of system, with politicians in control but with no direct accountability to the public, resulted in corruption and politicisation of the police. On the first day in Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Hilton of Eggardon, and the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, respectively reminded your Lordships of the cases of Chief Constable Athelstan Popkess in Nottingham and of Councillor Bookbinder in Derbyshire. Surely we do not want to return to that.
Amendment 19, to which the noble Lord, Lord Laming, spoke, would add to the list of duties on which the police and crime commissioner should hold the chief constable to account. The noble Lord was concerned that it should mention duties imposed by any enactment, specifically those under the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Children Act 2004. All of us here want our police to comply with all their statutory duties. That is why Clause 1(7) already provides for the PCCs to hold the chief constable to account for the exercise of all their functions, which naturally include those legal obligations with which the chief constable must comply. The Government are happy to take this opportunity to reassure the Committee, because I know that views on this are widely held, that they take very seriously compliance with the Human Rights Act and the Children Act. However, the inclusion of the duties under those Acts, let alone every other enactment, would muddy the list of functions which are particularly important for PCCs. The Government do not consider it necessary to include the provisions of the Human Rights Act or the Children Act in Clause 1(8), much as the provisions of those statutes are of course recognised to be important.
However, given the strength of feeling that has been expressed today, we are willing to revisit this point and to ensure that the correct balance is struck between the general and specific duties of the chief constable. I make the offer of one-to-one discussions as the Bill progresses with noble Lords who have a particular interest in this area to make sure that we get that balance right.
I thank the Minister most warmly for that. I gladly accept the opportunity to have a discussion.
I will be very pleased and willing to set up such a meeting.
The amendments of the noble Lords, Lord Hunt, Lord Rosser and Lord Stevenson of Balmacara, require the PCC to arrange public forums for a police area. Much has been said today about the need for public forums and interface with the general public. We expect PCCs to engage regularly with the public and with representatives of communities in the police area. However, we also expect PCCs to decide how best to go about that engagement. They would be democratically elected and held accountable to their electorate. We would also expect the police and crime panel to have an overview of how that function is carried out.
PCCs would have been accountable directly to the public. The noble Baroness, Lady Henig, queried this in her opening remarks but there would have been no doubt in the Bill that they would have been directly accountable to the public. That is why the Bill, as introduced, contains provisions in Clause 14 to ensure that the PCC is required to obtain the views of the community. Clause 34 also makes it a statutory requirement for police forces to have regular meetings within their neighbourhoods and to develop other innovative ways of engaging their communities to ensure that they talk to a representative and diverse group. I hope that assures noble Lords who have been concerned that the police would be divorced from the public by the proposed changes in the original drafting of the Bill; that is neither the intention nor the outcome of the original drafting. We believe that this is sufficient assurance to ensure that PCCs’ policing arrangements reflect the priorities of the community, which is most important.
Noble Lords have already made their intentions clear in respect of Amendment 31, which I shall refer to as “the new model”. We shall not object to that amendment if it is moved later in our proceedings. However, it is not necessary to make these changes as well and I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment and for noble Lords not to move theirs.
The Committee will be grateful to the Minister for the way in which she has addressed the issues raised in the debate and for the extent to which she is clearly prepared to engage with the House on them. However, I would be grateful for an indication of the Government’s intentions on this matter. Clearly it will go back to the House of Commons. At the moment we have the amendments approved by the House last week, and when in due course we get to Amendment 31 that will no doubt be approved by the House without further discussion. However, assuming that it does not magically become the desire of the Government to achieve what is contained in the amendments, no doubt they will come back with something not very dissimilar from what we started with.
I take from her tone that the Minister wants to engage with Members of this House in making the detail work. Presumably, therefore, she would wish to see amendments passed to the rest of the fabric of the Bill—the consequential matters contained in my noble friend’s amendments—so as to provide hooks on which she on behalf of the Government can respond to the concerns of Members of the House. Clearly if my noble friend withdraws the amendment today and we carry on not making further changes to the Bill, all that will go back to the House of Commons will be those five amendments the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, spoke to last week. That will not provide enough space for the Government to respond constructively in the way in which I am sure the Minister would wish.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord for his remarks because we are in rather uncharted and new territory—not least myself. My approach to this is that before the Bill returns to another place—between now and then—I am willing to engage with noble Lords across the House in areas where we might seek negotiation and concession. In that way, when the Bill is presented before another place, it will reflect the views of noble Lords, even though because of the technical constraints now before us we may not have had the fullest debate that we might have had, had the amendment not been carried last Wednesday. I am genuinely keen to be constructive, as I pointed out last week in the discussion about the protocol. It is a draft document which contains some important points about the relationship between the police and crime commissioner and the chief constable, and the whole question of the governance and independence of the police. It has been consulted on very widely with the relevant authorities but there is still room for Members of the House to have an input into it.
On specific issues—for example, on police and crime panels—I am happy to sit down with noble Lords. I can make no promises off the top of my head about what changes might be made, but I am willing to explore where they may be made. If we can come to agreement, even if it is outside the Chamber, I hope that will be reflected when the Bill comes before another place.
However, I must be quite honest with the House: it has been already stated by the Home Secretary publicly that, following on from our debate last week and the result of the vote, it would be the Government’s intention —I am sure this comes as no surprise—to seek in another place to reinstate directly elected police and crime commissioners. However, outwith that, further discussions can take place to take account of genuinely held concerns in areas where many in the House have a great deal of expertise and experience and feel keenly about matters.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness—I am sorry to prolong this—for that extremely helpful statement. However, I am slightly confused procedurally. I do not suggest that the noble Baroness will be able to answer this tonight but I hope that within the course of the next few Committee days she will be able to give a definitive view. Presumably, at some stage before the Bill leaves this House, if it is possible to reach agreement on issues outwith the prime question on which I understand the Home Secretary has clearly expressed her views, that will mean amendments being brought forward, either on Report or Third Reading, which will put into place those areas where agreement has been reached.
I admit openly that I am probably just as confused as the noble Lord is about the procedural matters that will follow. I have to take advice on an almost hourly basis. A great deal will depend on how Part 1 of the Bill progresses. I will have to take legal advice on into which context we put amendments that have been debated or voted on. At the end of the day, noble Lords may well have to take my word that concessions that we have agreed to will appear not in subsequent stages in this House but in another place. It will depend on the technicalities, which are for those with more expertise than me—on whom I rely—to know. I am genuine in my desire to make progress and to be as constructive as possible, but we are constrained in what we can and cannot do now because of where we are.
I am grateful. I understand we are constrained; I am worried that we should not be even further constrained by the fact that when the Bill emerges from here at Third Reading, in whatever form it is, it is then not possible for the other place to look at those issues about which the Minister has given reassurances simply because there are no extant amendments to those clauses where a concession might be appropriate. I am not suggesting that the Minister should try to address that matter today—I realise that a lot of work will have to be done on it—but it is an important point.
It would probably be useful if there were further discussions in the usual channels about this. My experience is that, when there is a desire through the ping-pong process to achieve an agreed change, then the ways of this place and the other place seem to find a way to do it.
I want briefly to add a word. We all seem to be of a mind to find a way to make the procedures work for us and not to be overburdened by them. I hope that, in whatever order we do things, there will be a proper opportunity, whether through a fairly prolonged ping-pong or not, to contribute the experience and expertise all round the House, as the noble Baroness said. Nobody has a monopoly of wisdom on this. We need to collaborate.
I thank noble Lords who have participated in a most interesting debate. I particularly thank the Minister for her response. I also apologise—I must have been too close to the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, because my voice is beginning to go. First, in speaking to these amendments I was trying to be constructive and attempting to build on existing good practice—that is very important. I said at Second Reading that I thought good governance was absolutely essential in the policing world. I am trying to ensure here that good governance is an essential element in any new structures that the Government introduce. That is one of my fundamental concerns.
I shall address one or two points raised by the Minister. There was an issue about the public holding directly elected people to account. I was a local councillor on a police authority and can assure the Minister that I was held to account by the electorate, as were fellow members of the police authority throughout Lancashire. There is a debate to be had on representative democracy as against direct democracy. If the Minister would like to have that debate, I am willing to join her. The fact is that in this country we have a system of representative democracy. We elect members of Parliament and they are then appointed to government jobs. We elect local councillors and they are then appointed to bodies. That is, as I understand it, representative democracy. If the coalition Government now suggest that we should have a system of direct elections, I hope that they are not just suggesting that for local government. If you want direct elections, that goes right across the board. We are then dealing with a very different system of government. As far as I am concerned, we have always had representative government in this country. That is why I feel so strongly when people say that local members of police authorities have not been held to account. That is not true.
The second point that I take exception to is that we keep hearing references to Derbyshire and what happened there in the 1980s. Here I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Howard. The fact is that the reforms of the early 1990s created police authorities that were very different from those that existed in the 1980s. Indeed, one of the issues facing police authorities currently is that because they work across party lines, work co-operatively and have a very corporate style, they have not attracted the headlines but have worked much more effectively. I can assure noble Lords that no police authority that I can think of in this country has operated in any sense like that of Derbyshire in the 1980s: that needs to be acknowledged. There was a sea change in the way that police authorities operated. I almost feel I am carrying the flag for the reforms of the noble Lord, Lord Howard. While he has changed his mind and is adopting the Labour policy of the 1980s, I am now advocating the changes that he effectively brought into being.
I seek to relieve the noble Baroness of her burden. Is not the point that the reforms put in place in the 1990s—she has been kind about them and their consequences—were a response to the problems of the 1980s? Some 20 years later, it is time to look at things again and see if we can improve the arrangements that have been in place for 20 years and institute a more effective way of dealing with the difficulties which have arisen.
I am sure that the noble Lord would agree that a lesson from history is not to walk blindly backwards into a situation. I do not think I have discussed Derbyshire so often since I ceased to be a member of the Association of County Councils. As leader of the Labour group on the Association of County Councils, it is my personal experience that at that time in that place, not only would it have been the leader of Derbyshire County Council—supported by other Derbyshire county councillors—who was on the police authority and causing some problems, but also, had it gone to the population of Derbyshire, then that would have been a direct election, unfettered even by other members of the local authority. I am worried about the noble Lord, for whom I have enormous respect. I hope that he will not take us back into the dark ages.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Howard, on one thing. He said we should evolve and I absolutely agree that we should build on and continue to try to improve the structures that we have. On that, there is no debate. However, I argued last week that change should be incremental. Introducing directly elected individuals is not incremental but highly radical change. That is one reason why many of us feel it is several steps to take in one go. We would like something more evolutionary. That is one of the differences between us.
In drawing to a close, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee. Many of us in this Chamber have extensive experience of the lay governance of policing. Policing is a fundamental but complex service. Different views from around the House on what would work would be quite useful in moving this debate forward. I took exception when the Leader of the House suggested that discussion of Part 1 would be completely pointless in view of what happened last week. I do not share that view and hope that the constructive debate that we have had shows that there are many significant issues that we need to discuss.
One of them, raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, was to do with reducing crime. I did not suggest that the new individuals should be called police and crime commissioners. However, if they are going to be called that, then they have to be seen to engage in the reduction of crime. However you measure crime, the reduction of crime is an important part of their brief. That is why I sought ways in which that could be reflected in the drafting of the Bill.
I do not propose to push this amendment to a Division at this point. The amendments were probing. They have shown the sorts of concern that noble Lords rightly have about aspects of the Bill. I will, by leave, withdraw the amendment but hope that many of us will be able to engage constructively with the Minister in the way that she suggested. That would be extremely helpful. I reserve the right to perhaps return to these amendments at a later stage if I feel that we are not making as much progress as I would like.
Amendment 15A withdrawn.
16: Clause 1, page 2, line 5, at end insert “, in conjunction with the chief constable”
I shall also speak to Amendment 52. Amendment 16 is very short. It has only six words and I hope I will be brief in moving it. In our view, it is, despite its brevity, very important as a principle. It lies right at the very start and at the heart of the Bill.
The amendment says that the police and crime commissioner for a police area must,
“in conjunction with the chief constable”,
secure the maintenance of the police force of that area and ensure that the police force is efficient and effective. It makes clear that the principle of the central involvement of the chief constable in securing the maintenance of the police force and ensuring it is efficient and effective is seen as a matter of co-operation and partnership as opposed to being simply the responsibility of the police and crime commissioner. The words “in conjunction with” are important because they are stronger than simply saying that the commissioner must consult or the commissioner must co-operate with the chief constable; “in conjunction” means it has to be much more of an equal partnership between the two. It is as simple as that. It may seem a very small amendment but in principle it is extremely important because it clearly defines the responsibility of the commissioner to work in conjunction with the chief constable. I beg to move.
We have effectively moved back to the first group of amendments as Amendment 15 was not moved and we moved onto the second group. I have rather a lot of amendments in this group—Amendments 20, 21, 29, 36B, 37ZA, 37ZB, 40A, 55A, 64D and 249. This is a very important group of amendments. They are as relevant to the Government’s original proposals as they are to Amendment 31, the consequential amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris.
The House will know that there is concern about the relationship between the police commissioner and the chief constable and the possibility that the commissioner will seek, one way or another, to intervene in operational issues which will be the responsibility of the chief constable. Indeed, the noble Baroness rather anticipated some of our discussion in a very helpful response to the previous group of amendments. This is a very genuine and realistic concern. It is held by many responsible organisations and people who have experience, expertise and judgment in areas of police, crime and justice.
Let us think briefly about the role of the commissioners. They will be full time, rather well paid, working entirely on their own with no other responsibilities. What are they going to do? The Home Secretary said yesterday, in her speech to the Police Federation, that the result of introducing police commissioners would be to reduce bureaucracy. I wonder. I suspect that chief constables are going to have PCCs crawling all over them. After all, they are going to have a manifesto if they are elected and even if they are appointed by the panel, as the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, suggests, they are going to be appointed, I should have thought, on the basis of some kind of statement about what they would do.
Commissioners will set their own targets. They will call for all manner of reports and reviews. Indeed, in our previous debate, when we discussed public engagement, it was clear that any commissioner worth their salt is going to have lots of public meetings. When you have public meetings you write notes and you go back and you talk to the chief constable. There is going to be an enormous amount of traffic between the commissioner, who has nothing else to do except be the commissioner, and the chief constable. The commissioner is full time and will spend countless hours worrying about this and talking to the chief constable. The chief constable is going to have a hell of task in trying to run a service and deal with this commissioner.
This is what is so worrying to us about how this is going to operate. I think about my experience as an NHS non-executive chair. I must again declare my interest in that and as a consultant in the health service and as a trainer. One of the reasons I do not try to run the trust is because it is a part-time role. There is a clearly accepted corporate governance understanding of what non-executives do. In essence, we are appointing an executive commissioner on some kind of programme or manifesto and they are bound to want to influence, in a very strong way, what the police will do. I am sure the noble Baroness will respond by saying that that is fine because they are there to set the strategic direction. That is a very good answer but I believe that inevitably commissioners will be drawn into operational matters.
One of the great problems here is that whether elected or appointed they will have political labels. Under the noble Baroness’s amendment they will be members of the police and crime panel so they will be local councillors under the current construct of the Bill. Regarding elected commissioners, I am still hopeful that the Government might listen to your Lordships’ House—my goodness me they will have to listen if it is elected under PR. Just on the current basis, surely it is going to be very difficult to constrain those commissioners as they will have political banners. I am afraid forces will be known as Labour forces, Conservative forces and Lib Dem forces—they are bound to be. This is our real concern about the proposals. It is not about the Government’s efforts to enhance accountability. Indeed, if they had come forward with proposals around police authorities, which could have done many of the things they are seeking to do, that would have been a much more satisfactory debate. These are real concerns about day-to-day politics intervening in the affairs of the police force.
I want at this point to refer to the draft protocol. I acknowledge that this is a draft. I am grateful to the noble Baroness for ensuring that we received it before the first day of Committee. She will know that there have been comments which seem to suggest that it does not ensure operational independence. I have also received comments that the commissioner’s control over the budget may be used unduly to influence operational matters. I think of our good friends in the Treasury and their control over departments. Maybe life has changed but I rather doubt it. I found that the Treasury took an unhealthy interest in the affairs of the departments I had a responsibility for. It was able to do so because it had the dosh. Again, there is a concern here that budgetary control, in the end, will ensure that the chief constable has to take account of what the commissioner says and that in turn could lead into areas of operational business. I think, for example, of where the chief constable is well aware of the national priorities in relation to policing but the commissioner really wants to spend more money in another area. Again, one could see a case where the chief constable felt that he was being unduly pressurised.
My amendments do three things. First, they make the protocol into a statutory form in one way or another. Secondly, they reinforce the benefit of the police form of declaration. I do not want to read out the form of declaration, although it is a very impressive declaration indeed. It says that the police officer,
“will serve the Queen in the office of constable without favour or affection, malice or ill will”,
and so on. I understand, of course, that nothing in this Bill would affect that oath, but my amendment just seeks to reinforce its importance. Thirdly, they set out a set of principles to which I think it desirable for the Home Secretary, commissioners and chief constables to have regard. These are probing amendments that seek a response from the Minister about this issue of the line between commissioners and the chief constables. I am very glad to have taken part in this debate.
Where does the Bill say that the commissioner has to be full time? I could not find it.
My Lords, the Minister may help me on the salary intended to be paid to the commissioner, but my understanding is that we are talking about a six-figure salary.
It is a matter that we believe the Senior Salaries Review Board should determine.
I cannot anticipate what the board will decide, but I would have thought it inconceivable that anyone would be elected who said that they would treat this post as a part-time post. I think we have all been working on the assumption that this will be a full-time responsibility. I would much prefer it to be a non-executive appointment around a strong corporate governance structure. That would be most satisfactory. In the construct that the Government had in the original Bill, before noble Lords sought to improve it last week, it would inevitably have been a full-time job. My great fear is that to justify re-election, if the commissioner is to be elected, or reappointment, if the commissioner is to be appointed, the commissioner will spend day after day interfering in the work of the chief constable.
The noble Lord may be right—I do not know—but I suggest, certainly in the light of how this Bill has gone so far, that we do not jump to too many conclusions. After all, I know that my noble friend on the Front Bench has said that she was willing to discuss anything and everything. We seem to be getting to the end altogether too quickly.
I wonder whether I might help the House with a personal set of experiences gathered over five years as chief constable in the West Midlands. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, has said that the new PCC will be all over the chief constable like a rash—and I think he would be. During my experience in the West Midlands in the 1980s, it is true that the police authority was rather different. Nevertheless, the individual as the elected chairman would broadly in this context replicate the PCC. It was in the era of extreme political interest in police forces. Noble Lords will remember how the press hung avidly around the doors of Greater Manchester and Merseyside police at that time, and the quite difficult relationships that those two forces had with their chairman or chairwoman. I found broadly the same thing in place when I took over the West Midlands in 1985. I found that I spent quite a lot of time talking to, being with, or walking around with, the chairman, but I did not find that it was a problem. I made it clear to him that the operational responsibility was mine and reminded him—not that he needed reminding—that all the buildings, the pay and rations, the precept and budget and so on, were his. He had a role to play. My experience of that situation, which required political acumen both sides, from him and from me, was that if we were successful on some operation or other, as we frequently were, he would want to be in the limelight as well. That was perfectly understandable. If things went wrong, as they frequently did, he was nowhere to be seen, and I carried the can, because it was an operational decision.
The only point that I make from that experience—and I do not want to try to prove the general from the particular, because that is always wrong—is that however we manage this in future there will always be the PCC that wants to swarm all over the chief constable. It is how those two individuals relate that is important, and there will be some bad cases when they do not get it right. However, it is quite likely that most of those sets of individuals will get it right and will hammer out a relationship with each other. One has to wait and see.
As this is Committee and we are allowed to bounce up and down, can I respond to the noble Lord? He was, of course, an outstanding chief constable of the West Midlands and is long remembered for the work he did there. Of course, he is right that there is a normal relationship between the chairman and the chief executive, if I can put it like that, and I recognise that some chairmen like to take the credit but put the blame on their chief operating officer, although not all. The essential difference here is that the election under a manifesto and the appointment under a programme would change the relationship. That is what I am trying to focus attention on.
My Lords, by giving us the benefit of his experience, the noble Lord, Lord Dear, has highlighted what I think will be the crux of some of the discussions that we have to have on this Bill and highlights why this is the most difficult area of some of the issues that we have to look at. Perhaps I can add my experience as chair of a police authority for four years and then, since 2004, as a member of a police authority. I hope that is helpful.
The noble Lord, Lord Dear, made a very interesting point when he talked about the relationship that he had with his chairman of the police authority. He talked about reminding him of his responsibilities in pay and rations, buildings and setting the overall strategic direction. One bit of this Bill that we have to address—and there are amendments on this matter that we might reach today or tomorrow—is where it takes away the responsibility from the commission, the commissioner or the authority for pay and rations and for buildings. We might as a result create a situation in which the commissioner, whom the White Paper certainly envisaged would be full time in his role, would have nothing else to do but intervene in matters that we would otherwise regard as being the responsibility of the chief constable. The balance of responsibility between the commissioner or the commission, or whatever we want to call it—whatever we end up with—and the chief officer of police will be exceptionally important.
I believe that police accountability is important and I take the view that whoever discharges that responsibility, whether it is an individual commissioner or a commission, there must be some levers that can be applied. That is why I think we will want to return to the question of exactly what is transferred to the chief officer of police. My experience says that it is not always terribly helpful to define what is or is not operational, because it will depend on the personal chemistry between the chief officer of police and the person who fulfils this role—the commissioner or the commission.
There was a transition period before the new Metropolitan Police Authority came into being in 2000; it was not quite as long as the one that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, suggested last week, but it was certainly a matter of months. A few weeks after that came the Notting Hill carnival, which is the largest street festival in Europe, involves policing costs of £3 million to £5 million, and is a major issue for relations between the police and the community. At that stage, the police authority, of which I was the new chair, had an interim secretariat that, despite the fact that many of them had been seconded from the Home Office, was less experienced in these matters, and which advised me that as the chair it was completely improper for me to say anything about the policing of the carnival.
My first response was to say, “Well, it’s interesting that you say that, but I've already done three radio interviews this morning on precisely that topic”. However, I took the view that because of, first, the sum of money involved and, secondly, the pivotal issues about relations between the police and the community, there were of course matters which the police authority chair—or, in future, the commission or the commissioner —would expect to comment on and have some say over. That is right and proper. It should not be the responsibility of the commissioner, the commission or a police authority chair to say, “At this stage, you should put your NATO helmets on”, or, “At this stage, you should block this street rather than that street”, because that would be intervening in the operational responsibility of the police. However, to take no role at any stage on one of the biggest policing operations would be wrong.
Looking at what has happened more recently in London, where I sit as a member of the police authority, I have watched the new administration since the election of the mayor who came in. A number of things happened for which that new administration could properly claim credit. For example, a much more rigorous, aggressive anti-knife policy, Operation Blunt 2, was introduced after the elected politicians who came in after an election said, “We believe that knife crime is a matter of such public concern in London that you, as the police service, should be ratcheting up what you do”. Again, that seems to me to be a legitimate concern and not intervening in operational matters.
More recently there has been the attack dogs issue and whether the police service in London should take it much more seriously. Again, that is sometimes presented as a personal preoccupation of the current police authority chair, Kit Malthouse, when it has actually concerned the police authority for some time. When I walk through the park near where I live, early in the morning, and see young lads hanging their dogs off trees by the jaws to strengthen their jaws and make them more effective as attack dogs, I think it is of concern to Londoners. In both instances—knives and attack dogs—the Metropolitan Police probably recognised what should have a higher priority, but elected politicians came in and said, “Actually, this is what concerns us”. The danger in trying to avoid inappropriate intervention in operational matters—such as saying, “Investigate this case rather than that case”, “Arrest this person rather than that person”, or, “Close that street rather than this street”—is in undermining the principle of accountability that the Government want to achieve.
The protocol has turned out to be a slightly better document than many might have expected, but it was extremely difficult to write. I pay enormous tribute to those who spent many happy hours trying to get that document right, but there is a real danger with it. The more a chief constable or we in this House or the other place say, “We've got to protect against this”, and write it into that document, the more enforceable we make it and the more difficult we will make the sensible arrangements of accountability that we are trying to put in place.
The Minister raised the intervention last week on the Madeleine McCann case and properly explained the process that was being engaged in, which was not an instruction. Despite some of the press briefing that might have gone on beforehand, there was simply a conversation. As I understand it, the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police simply said, “Yes, of course, that is something that we should and could do”. I will not get into any questions of whether that is the right or wrong thing to do.
I do not know whether any of your Lordships remember Flanders and Swann. One thing that they did—it might have been Michael Flanders on his own—was to talk about the origin of the song “Greensleeves”. Michael Flanders describes how they were trying to find the first-act closer of some mid-16th century revel. A tune arrived and Flanders, or whoever it was, says aloud: “Who on earth has written this stuff?”. A voice from the back of the auditorium says, “We did”. He asks, “I can't see who that is—who are you?”, then hears, “We are Henry the Eighth, we are”. At which point, says Michael Flanders, they realised that it was precisely the song that they had wanted. I wonder whether the discussions last week—it may have been as much the Prime Minister as the Home Secretary taking this view—were very much, “We are Henry the Eighth, we are, and of course this is exactly what we wanted to do in the first place”.
We have to preserve the iterative process by which elected politicians, who should be in touch with their local communities, say to the police, “These are the priorities of the community”. We have to make sure that it exists in whatever arrangements we have, whether it is a directly elected commissioner, a commission or anything else. I am worried that if we define this too precisely, we will end up in worse trouble. I have heard chief constables say, “Of course, this will end up in the courts. We'll have this protocol and as soon as our commissioner steps over the line we’ll be in court and sort the thing out. The courts will always favour the police so we'll be all right”. I have heard that line expressed. However, if in the private dialogues between the commissioner or the commission and the chief police officer the protocol is mentioned more than twice, it will have demonstrated that the relationship between that chief police officer and that commissioner or commission has broken down irredeemably. Have it there as an expression of fine words but do not try and define it precisely, because that will only lead to trouble.
The noble Lord’s last remarks were a bit like the instructions that go with a piece of information technology; when all else fails, turn to the instruction book. I agree entirely with what he said. Any chief officer who tries to push back on politicians who are giving good advice is a fool. The wise chief officer will say at every stage, as in the example of the Notting Hill carnival, “Come and have a look at it and tell us what you think. In the end I, the chief officer, will make an operational decision, but I value your contribution”. I would have thought that the majority of chief officers would do that. I have not heard of those who want to test it in the courts. I hope that they are very few in number and I do not wish them well.
My Lords, I apologise for taking us back by two or three speeches, but the Committee really should be grateful to my noble friend Lord Eccles for making his observation about the assumption that the Official Opposition’s spokesman was making, when there is in fact nothing in the Bill to confirm it one way or the other. I am extremely grateful myself for his doing that. Earlier this afternoon the noble Lord, Lord Harris, said that the arguments in our debate at the end of the evening last week were metaphysical, but the speeches which my noble friend Lord Eccles picked up on were being hypothetical in that there was no definitive reference to this in the Bill.
I go back to my own experience on the Greater London Authority Bill, a not dissimilar Bill to the one that we are discussing, when the Minister in charge of that Bill kept saying again and again that it was a breakthrough in local government legislation because, for the first time, the Mayor of London would have advice from advisers that would remain totally confidential and would not be available to anyone else in the authority. It was a novel development in local government affairs, but again and again I asked the Minister—no names, no pack drill—“Where is your legislative cover in the Bill for what you are continuously reiterating to the Committee?”. Eventually, he broke down and said, “The right honourable gentleman is quite right. We haven't yet put the amendments down”.
Given the particular circumstances in which we are debating this Bill, with which one is familiar because of the action of the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, last week, we will inevitably find ourselves debating a number of hypotheses throughout. It is extremely difficult for some of us to follow exactly what is happening, not least that we are now going backwards in the Bill in an Alice in Wonderland way to a group of amendments that were put down earlier. All I seek to plead is that if people are going to be hypothetical, they should say that they are being hypothetical so that the rest of us know where we are.
I do not quite know what the noble Lord means about going back. Amendment 15 was not moved. We therefore moved on to the group starting with Amendment 15A. We are now debating the group starting with Amendment 16.
I totally understand what we are doing, but the fact remains that it can be difficult to follow. There are a lot of people taking part in these debates—that is a tribute to the Bill—and the easier that those taking a lead on it can make this for the rest of us to understand, the more progress we should make.
My Lords, I am aware that the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, would have difficulty in intervening, but it is a little unfair—although in this case we are discussing how a personalised system would work—to personalise the decision as being “the action of the noble Baroness, Lady Harris”. It was the action of your Lordships’ House, including support, or lack of it, from some of the noble Lord’s noble friends.
Since the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, has taken this up with me, she and I know each other very well—we have worked together on matters relating to local government for the best part of 30 years—and I do not in the least mind being rebuked by her. However, I am trying to make the Bill work better by all of us attending to what might otherwise mislead.
My Lords, when the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, mentioned Flanders and Swann and a song, I thought that he was going to quote “The Bindweed and the Honeysuckle” because they both strove and ended up in the same place by climbing around each other and working together. I thought that perhaps he was going to draw the example of how closely the chief constable and the police and crime commissioner would work—in other words, there would be contact between them and a strong working relationship.
Before I respond specifically to the amendments, I would like to say that I stood for elected office at general elections on five occasions. Many in this House—most, in fact—will know what it is like to be part of a political party, to campaign and so on. It is all great fun and all very serious stuff, but for most people who aspire to and achieve elected office, once they are elected, the fact that they wear a party badge does not necessarily mean that that influences everything that they do in their working life, representing people who have not necessarily voted for them. So I have a much more open view when noble Lords describe elected police and crime commissioners being badged as Labour, Conservative, Liberal Democrat or whatever. I think that most people who are serious about elected office—of course many of them will come via a party route, but not all—try, having achieved that office, to do the job to the best of their ability for the good of the community that they serve, regardless of party politics. That has been my experience, having served in another place. I hope that noble Lords will take some encouragement from that; I do not share their concerns that police and crime commissioners will be seen as simply representing any one political party if they have stood on a party ticket or been known to be associated with a party.
My noble friends Lady Hamwee and Lord Shipley’s Amendments 16 and 52, allowing for the police and crime commissioner to act in conjunction with the chief constable when carrying out the PCC office core functions, appear to me to be a step too far in seeking to ensure that the PCC is legally bound to act in all respects in partnership with the chief constable. The duty that has been conferred on the police and crime commissioner by Clause 1(6), to which the amendment refers, simply lifts the current legal duty placed on each police authority today and places it firmly on the police and crime commissioner. It would be difficult for the police and crime commissioner of a force area to deliver the duty of the current police authority to maintain an efficient and effective force if they were bound to abide by that duty with the same chief constable that they are required to hold to account. This is not the case now, nor should it be in future.
Further amendments that were laid by the noble Lords, Lord Hunt, Lord Rosser and Lord Stevenson, seek to protect the operational independence of chief police officers—something to which the House returns with these amendments—while at the same time placing a specific prohibition against the police and crime commissioner doing anything that would lead to the chief constable breaching his or her oath of office as a constable. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, raised that. Nothing in the Bill makes any changes to the office of constable or to those provisions in the Police Act 1996 that already establish the oath in law.
I draw your Lordships’ attention again to the draft protocol that has been submitted, which has been mentioned. There are areas about the protocol that we need to discuss collectively in this House. The Government have not yet determined whether the document should be placed on a statutory footing. That is an important aspect of the protocol, on which I would be interested to hear colleagues’ views from across the House.
The draft protocol goes beyond the proposed amendments that we are discussing to provide a suitable safeguard on matters related to command and control, and seeks to address the entire relationship between the PCC and the chief constable. I remind the House that, in drafting the protocol, the Government have taken great care to consult ACPO, the APA and the Association of Police Authority Chief Executives. We have committed to working with partners and with Members of this House to develop the draft into an effective tool that will set out the principles and the relationship and interaction between the parties that should follow.
I turn to Amendment 40A. The noble Lords’ drafting of the new clause is laudable. I do not believe that anyone in this House would disagree with the fundamental principles that are set out. However, I suggest that it is not necessary or desirable to set out these principles in the Bill. As I said, the Government have been working hard in partnership with others to produce the draft protocol, and within the protocol are enshrined the same principles as are outlined here. I am not going to go through each of them at the moment, because I am aware that we have spent quite lot of time on this amendment. However, they are important principles; all of them have merit in their own right and this is something that we need to come back to in the context of the protocol.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said that he would not read out the oath, but it is worth remembering the attestation at this stage because it is important. A police constable swears:
“I ... do solemnly and sincerely declare and affirm that I will well and truly serve the Queen in the office of constable, with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality, upholding fundamental human rights and according equal respect to all people; and that I will, to the best of my power, cause the peace to be kept and preserved and prevent all offences against people and property; and that while I continue to hold the said office I will to the best of my skill and knowledge discharge all the duties thereof faithfully according to law”.
When a police constable swears that oath—it applies to all constables, however high up the career ladder they go—we as politicians should respect it in the context in which it will be kept. I am sure that we can trust chief constables particularly to keep that oath, knowing that they have made it and therefore are bound by it, and will not be forced to show partiality or depart from that oath on the basis that they might be leant on by anyone.
I will not be seduced by the noble Lord to go down the road tonight of the case of Madeleine McCann and the Statement I made to the House. I will just say to him that such conversations take place every day of the week in all police forces. I am sure he knows that. As a Member of Parliament, I frequently had to sit in a chief constable’s office—and those of other police officers—to say, “There is a problem. What are you going to do about it?”. That is not unreasonable and it is not political pressure. It is how we work within the environment of policing by consent. The noble Lord was being just a tad mischievous with me there. I suggest that the impartial delivery of policing is enshrined in the wording of the police oath, which effectively sets out those duties. I therefore hope that the noble Lords who have tabled these amendments will engage actively with me on the protocol, which is a way forward in addressing the principles that they have raised tonight. I hope they will not feel that they need to press these amendments to a vote.
My Lords, before the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, responds to this important debate, I shall make just two comments. First, I am grateful to the noble Baroness for her comments about discussions over whether the draft protocol could become statutory in due course. I also say to my noble friend Lord Harris that I understand the point that he has raised. There is always a dilemma over the wish of Parliament usually to dot the “i”s and cross the “t”s to safeguard a position—in this case the operational independence of the chief constable—without creating such a list of items that it inhibits a good relationship. I am very mindful of the balance to be drawn here. A discussion between noble Lords and others who are interested would be very welcome.
Secondly, there is a difference between making representation to a chief constable as a Member of Parliament and doing so as a police commissioner who is appointed or elected on a programme. That changes the relationship considerably. I say to the noble Viscount, Lord Eccles, that it is quite fair to take the Bill and speculate about how it might work in practice. That is why I am pretty confident in saying that a police commissioner will be working full-time and will be on the back of the chief constable.
I thank the Minister for her comments. I still have some residual concerns about the nature of the relationship and partnership between the commissioner and the chief constable. However, there is now to be, I hope, a substantial discussion about how the protocol will work. Given this proviso, and the fact that the amendments of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, raise some very important issues—which I hope we can develop, maybe to improve the Bill as a whole—I beg leave to withdraw the amendment in my name.
Amendment 16 withdrawn.
Amendment 17 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Amendments 18 to 21 not moved.
Amendment 22 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Amendment 23 not moved.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.34 pm.