Committee (4th Day)
Relevant documents: 13th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 14th Report from the Constitution Committee and 11th Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
Clause 9 : Crime and disorder reduction grants
81: Clause 9, page 9, line 33, at end insert —
“( ) Before making a crime and disorder reduction grant, the elected local policing body shall consult the relevant police and crime panel and shall have regard to its views.”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 81 I shall speak also to Amendments 88A and 89A. Essentially, these amendments are about a similar thing. They are about who consults whom and who co-operates with whom between the four bodies of the police and crime commissioners, the chief constables, the local police and crime panels and local authorities. Amendment 81 simply tries to make it clear that:
“Before making a crime and disorder reduction grant, the elected local policing body shall consult the relevant police and crime panel and shall have regard to its views”.
I hope that is felt to be a non-contentious proposal.
Amendments 88A and 89A seek to add, alongside paragraphs on obtaining the views of victims of crime, that the views of victims and witnesses should be secured on matters concerning the policing of the area. There is a view that witnesses are extremely dependent upon responsive and sensitive police support to keep them updated on investigations, prepare them for giving evidence in court and provide protection if there is any perceived danger to them. It would be a good thing if consultation about a plan did not take place just with victims of crime but also with those who might have witnessed those crimes. These three small amendments seek better ways of ensuring that consultation occurs and that witnesses and victims of crime or those who have received a crime reduction grant can all feel that due consultation on the process being followed has taken place before decisions are made.
My Lords, first I declare an interest as a former chair of a police authority, a former chair of the Association of Police Authorities and the current president of the Association of Police Authorities. I wish to speak to Amendments 83ZZA, 83C, 85B, 92AA and 167ZA in this group. As the previous speaker said, I hope that my amendments are also considered non-controversial as they are extremely important. They are a constructive attempt to ensure that the Bill helps to deliver effective public consultation on policing and build on the strong relationship between police authorities and local crime and disorder reduction partnerships; and on our knowledge, after a dozen years or so, of what works best at local level in terms of co-operation between different policing bodies.
I believe that effectiveness is most likely to result from arrangements that are transparent and co-ordinated between different agencies and that make a meaningful link between neighbourhoods and the strategic force level. Amendment 83ZZA sets out to ensure that the local policing body works as effectively as possible with the local crime and disorder reduction partnerships and community safety partnerships. This amendment would remedy the Bill’s proposal to break the link which exists under the current arrangements between those local crime reduction co-ordinating bodies and the strategic level of the police authority.
In many ways the Bill builds on the innovation of crime and disorder reduction partnerships that were introduced almost 15 years ago, with their simple premise that tackling crime and disorder requires the concerted insight and action of a range of local public, private and third-sector agents. I was very surprised to find that, in trying to join up agencies concerned with crime, the Bill does not carry forward the requirement on the strategic policing oversight body to play a full role in local crime and disorder reduction partnerships. There are countless examples of these local crime and disorder reduction partnerships and CSPs providing a crucible within which creative solutions to local crime problems have been found. It would be senseless for the strategic policing body not to have an effective two-way channel of communication with such a body. I chaired my own local crime and disorder reduction partnership for six years from 1999 to 2005 and I know what an important body it can be in working to reduce crime locally, and the importance of having links directly from the crime and disorder partnership at local level through to the strategic policing body. That is what my amendment seeks to bring about.
I will not repeat the concerns voiced by many noble Lords that a single police and crime commissioner would be too remote from communities spread across literally hundreds of miles in areas such as that of which the Minister has exemplary knowledge, the Devon and Cornwall force area, or the 2.4 million people within Greater Manchester. Meaningful links between the members of the panel and the local crime and disorder reduction partnerships or community safety partnerships can help to bridge the gap and tackle perceptions of remoteness. Panel members being on these partnerships at local level can ensure that the strategic oversight of the police is not excluded from but can be influenced by, and benefit from, the insight of local partners working together to tackle crime. As I have said, I hope that this is non-contentious. To me it is common sense.
Amendment 83C sets out the important minimum arrangements for police and crime panels to hold public meetings. This seeks to keep the public accountability of the police public, not reduce it—as the Bill that came to your Lordships' House effectively proposed—to off-camera conversations between just two central characters, the chief constable and the commissioner. Again, this amendment seeks to make good the Government’s stated desire to bring the public and the police closer together to bridge an oft-cited and worrying gap between the two.
My noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey spoke eloquently on past Committee days of the efficacy and, indeed, constructive power of ensuring that the public cannot only hold to account politicians on the police authority or any future panel, but interact with and hear from senior police officers in a public forum. To reduce public accountability of the police to what could amount to a private chat between the chief constable and the elected commissioner behind closed doors is to diminish, not augment, the public’s everyday access to seeing, understanding and trusting that the force they rely on is being held to account. Public trust and confidence in this most essential of public services demands that the police are not only held to account, but are seen to be held to account. It was therefore strange that there was no requirement in the Bill that meetings of the commission should be in public.
We often hear that people no longer come to meetings. Indeed, attendance may not be what it was, but that is no reason to shut the public out. Thanks to the web, the public need no longer come to the mountain. We can be streamed into the homes or businesses of anyone interested in our deliberations. I therefore envisage the requirement for public meetings to encompass meetings being filmed and made available on the internet. Such a move merely extends existing best practice. To take one example, more than 4,000 members of the public have this year watched the recorded proceedings of South Yorkshire Police Authority. That is obviously an exciting broadcast—and people have been watching it. I therefore believe that the meetings of the commission must be in public wherever possible, with appropriate allowances for the commission to hold meetings in private session only where absolutely necessary. This amendment sets out how this might happen.
Amendment 85B expands the scope of the annual report that the local policing body must produce to include the extent to which crime has gone up or down at both the force level and divisional level. During our previous deliberations in Committee, the Minister made deservedly fulsome praise of the popularity of the crime-mapping website by which people can learn the facts about crime in their immediate vicinity. In fact, we are told that this is the most popular government website ever. This excellent facility was developed by the soon-to-be-disbanded National Policing Improvement Agency and piloted with excellent results by the West Yorkshire Police force and authority. This demonstrates that the overwhelming focus of people’s interest in crime is local. By that we mean micro-local: my street, my immediate neighbourhood or the estate around my workplace.
This amendment therefore builds on the success of the service, of the Government and of what the public have made clear they want by making the policing body produce an annual report that is meaningful for every community, showing crime’s rise or fall at the local divisional level that people can relate to and understand. The alternative of policing reports focused on the force level will have at best limited traction and relevance for the people of an area such as Humberside, which no longer exists in local government form, or police forces that cover two areas, such as Avon and Somerset—to say nothing of the relevance of statistics about all of Hampshire for the fortunate residents of the Isle of Wight. In other words, force statistics will not be meaningful for a lot of people. Such relevant local clarity will only facilitate the Government’s stated goal of ensuring that the police are held to account and trusted on the firm basis of relevant evidence that must be taken at a local, as well as a force, level.
Amendment 92AA proposes that the local police and crime body should fill an important gap in the Bill—that of co-ordinating the plethora of consultations about crime and community safety carried out by a range of local actors, thereby reducing unnecessary duplication and assisting joint working. A number of agencies—not least the police, a future police and crime commission, local authorities, organisations representing victims and a victims’ network—will all seek to consult the public about their perceptions of local crime and disorder and what should be done about it. This multiplicity of approaches is not necessarily harmful, but it is only by those agencies bringing their findings together that the fullest possible picture of public concern may be painted. The Bill fails to ensure explicitly that one person or agency is responsible for co-ordination and removing duplication. The commission provides an ideal opportunity to establish that single point of analysis and co-ordination and it is only logical to make that explicit in the Bill.
Finally, Amendment 167ZA proposes that, having consulted the chief constable, the local policing body should ultimately decide which neighbourhoods are in the local police area. That is intended to ensure that co-ordination between the police, local authorities and other relevant local agencies is not hindered by different partners having non-coterminous borders. It enables partner agencies to take advantage of stronger working relationships, clear lines of contact and publicly understood limits of responsibility. Although the chief constable’s view must of course be taken extremely seriously in these matters, the determination of neighbourhood boundaries will inevitably involve political and public sensitivities, not to mention practical issues of co-ordination with the boundaries of various other agencies, such as health and local authorities. I doubt that the chief constable’s time is best spent negotiating that potential political minefield. Decisions about local boundaries, which may be controversial, should be publicly accountable.
I hope that the amendments are not seen as controversial. To me, they are common sense and are intended to fill what I think are gaps in the Bill’s provision. I commend them.
I shall briefly endorse what my noble friend Lady Henig said and refer to three short amendments in the group: Amendments 86A, 86B and 86C in Clauses 12 and 13, which would reinforce the principle of accountability which my noble friend addressed, in this case to involve the chief constable in that accountability. All of us in your Lordships' House are persuaded that there needs to be enhanced accountability affecting policing. The amendments are intended to contribute to that by providing, in respect of annual reports, that in addition to, in the phrase of the Bill, the “elected local policing body”, attending before the crime and disorder panel at a public meeting arranged by the panel, the chief constable should appear before the panel to answer questions on the report and, similarly, to,
“give the panel a response to any report or recommendations on the annual report”.
I cannot see any intrinsic difficulty in that. Many chief constables already attend council meetings within their force area. They address them and answer questions. The amendment simply reflects good practice in a number of areas.
The third amendment relates to the provision of information for police and crime panels. Again, under the Bill, that duty rests solely on the elected local policing body. I think it necessary for the same duty to be laid on the chief constable. I hope that the Minister will take these points away and give them sympathetic consideration. I commend the amendments in my name.
My Lords, I shall speak briefly to the amendments. Although I have not taken up the Committee's time by tabling parallel amendments in respect of the arrangements for Greater London, they could be proposed for consideration.
I want to pick up three issues. First, I echo the remarks of my noble friend Lord Beecham about the importance of chief constables being required or encouraged to attend key meetings. That ties in with Amendment 83C, to which my noble friend Lady Henig referred. It is about the visible answerability of the police in public: the police being seen to be accountable. The Government's original arrangements did not create a mechanism whereby the police would be seen to be accountable. The amendments would write that into the Bill, either under the model of a police and crime commission or whatever other model one chose. That is extremely important. I have discussed this matter with a number of senior police officers and they, too, are conscious that when they take difficult decisions it is important that they are seen to answer for them in a public forum, that they are seen to justify why they have done what they have done, and that they are seen to answer questions from those who are informed and empowered to ask questions about that specific point. That is why the visible answerability of chief officers of police needs to be found a place in whatever arrangement finally emerges from this Committee’s and Parliament’s consideration of the Bill. I hope that, in replying, the Minister will be able to indicate the Government’s thinking on this and tell us where it is envisaged that the visible answerability will take place.
Finally, I want to pick up on Amendment 83ZZA, which relates to membership of crime and disorder reduction partnerships. The current legal framework has built on the concept that local crime and disorder reduction partnerships should, first, be centred around the local police commander and the local chief executive of the local authority working together to solve problems to reduce crime. Various key stakeholding parties have been added over time, one of which is currently the police authority. Whatever emerges from consideration of the Bill regarding how the police service is governed and held accountable, we will have the rather strange situation that the body which holds the police service to account and which, so far as concerns the public, is responsible for most of the key decisions on the direction and strategy of the police force will not have a seat as of right on local crime and disorder reduction partnerships. There is then the complication of who exercises that right, although it is important to have that input at that level in crime and disorder reduction partnerships. Again, I should be grateful if the Minister could indicate how he envisages that this will happen in the future.
I have already said that by and large these amendments do not relate to Greater London, although similar points apply. There is a need for the visible answerability of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis to be seen to take place in some forum, whether it is the London Assembly panel which is created for that purpose or anything else. There will also be a need for input into local crime and disorder reduction partnerships from the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, because in many London boroughs those partnerships are the engine for delivering crime reduction.
My Lords, the purpose of this group of amendments in the names of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and my noble friends Lady Henig and Lord Beecham is, as they have said, to increase transparency and accountability through providing requirements in the Bill for the provision of information and consultation with and between the relevant bodies and individuals referred to in the Bill and with the local community. This group of amendments in effect comes back to the heart of much of the debate on the Bill that we have had so far and, in particular, the extent to which the Government’s proposals for a police and crime commissioner concentrate so much virtually unchallengeable power and authority over wide geographical areas in the hands of one individual.
The amendments seek to provide for consultation and taking account of views expressed before crime and disorder reduction grants are made, taking account of the views of witnesses, as well as victims, of crime on policing, appointing a member of the police and crime panel to sit on each crime reduction partnership or community safety partnership within the relevant police area, holding public meetings at which the business of the commissioner may be conducted and decisions made, the production of an annual report showing the extent to which crime has increased or decreased, obtaining through co-ordinated consultation the views of the community, and provision for the chief constable to attend a panel meeting when the annual report is presented and for the chief constable to provide information to the panel to enable the panel to carry out its functions. The local policing body appointing a member of the panel to sit on each crime reduction partnership or community safety partnership within the relevant area is to ensure that the functions of the local policing body are exercised effectively, as there must surely be a need for the local policing body to be aware of the concerns of the partnerships and their priorities and that the links between them are strong. Other amendments are designed to ensure that business is conducted in a public setting, and is seen to be done in public, to ensure greater transparency and accountability.
The arguments for these amendments have been made powerfully by noble Lords who have already spoken and I certainly do not intend to go through all the points made again. Like noble Lords who spoke on this as well as those who have listened with interest to this debate, I await to hear what the Minister has to say in reply. If the Government do not accept the amendments, I hope that the Minister will say which of the proposals in the amendments the Government find unacceptable and why. If the Government do not object to any of the proposals in the amendments, but do not feel that they should be in the Bill, I hope that the Minister will say why the Government are confident that each and every body and individual referred to in the Bill will carry out, as a minimum, the level of consultation and the provision of information and will take into account the views expressed, as called for in these amendments, when there is no apparent requirement in the Bill for them to do so. We look forward to the Minister’s response with interest.
I am grateful for that set of questions. I spent much of Friday with the local police team in Leeds talking about crime reduction and the very effective role of the crime reduction partnership in the region. I very much have in my mind the value of working together with different agencies in these areas. Incidentally, that answered, to my satisfaction, one of the questions that was raised in earlier Committee sessions, which is whether directly elected PCCs would want to push active policing into only the middle class, wealthy areas. The clear answer is that on the whole that is not where the burglars, who burgle the middle class areas, come from, so anyone who was that short-sighted would not be very effective as regards crime reduction. As one policeman put it to me, “After all, they have motorcars and it is quite easy to travel around the region”.
I very much appreciate the concerns about ensuring that scrutiny mechanisms are in place and that people in different agencies and those who work at different levels work together to control local and regional crime. This model is about accountability but not always about consultation. The role of police and crime panels is to review and to scrutinise decisions made or actions taken by the relevant police and crime commissioner or police and crime commission in relation to the exercise of that person’s functions. That duty certainly applies to the award of grants by the PCC. The Bill gives the panel the power to obtain information from the PCC and to summon the PCC and her staff to appear before it so that it can discharge its duties effectively. It then goes on to talk about the role of the chief financial officer and the statutory duties which the chief financial officer has to carry out, such as the right to insist that the local authority makes sufficient financial provision for the cost of internal audit.
We accept that there are large questions about how much detail should be on the face of the Bill and about whether particular actions should be required under statute or should be recommended in practice. Amendment 83ZZA, for example, requires the local policing body to appoint a member of the police and crime panel to sit on each crime reduction partnership or community safety partnership in their police area. The police and crime panel will represent every local authority in the police force area. There will be representation in one direction or another. We think that the amendment ties up the links further than is needed. I remind noble Lords that in the largest police force for these purposes, Thames Valley, there are 18 community safety partnerships. Working together will be something that the police and crime panel, as well as the police and crime commission, will have to do. However, we do not necessarily need to make sure that there is two-way traffic in terms of appointments: there will be representation between the different levels.
The Bill introduces provisions in Clause 89 and Schedule 11—I trust that all noble Lords have read Schedule 11—to ensure that local police bodies work effectively with their community safety partners. Schedule 11 sets out a framework in which commissioners will be enabled to develop strong relationships with their local community safety partners. It will be important for commissioners to establish such relationships to get the best out of their force-wide role.
My Lords, I am sorry that the Minister has slightly confused me—or rather, I have become confused, because I am sure that the Minister was clear. I did not understand his point about the necessity for two-way communication and representation, but not necessarily the involvement of people from both bodies. I cannot see how information could flow both ways if there were not people at both ends to ensure that.
I may be misinformed, but I cannot imagine a community safety partnership that does not have representatives from the local authority. Since each local authority will be represented on the police and crime panel, there will be representation. I will check and make sure that I am correctly informed.
There is representation. The idea that local authorities should appoint people to the police and crime panel which would then appoint representatives back to the community safety partnerships on which local authorities are represented makes life more complicated than it needs to be. The important thing is, first, that there should be some form of representation, and, secondly, that the two should work together.
I recognise that police authorities traditionally have had this role. We are proposing a new model. Local authorities will be represented both on police and crime panels and, as they are now, on community safety partnerships, the importance of which we entirely recognise.
I suspect that the Minister has been mesmerised by trying to work through how the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, would work in practice. I treat this as an entirely positive development from the government Front Bench. However, the core of Amendment 83ZZA is that an arrangement should be facilitated whereby the local policing body, whatever it ends up looking like, will be represented on crime and disorder reduction partnerships. With this legislation, the Government are removing from each local crime reduction partnership the presence of a representative of the body that holds the police service as a whole to account. That is the gap that has been created. The amendment is trying to fill it. If the Government think that it is a good idea to remove from the crime and disorder reduction partnership the body to which the police service as a whole is held accountable, perhaps they could explain succinctly why.
My Lords, there is a question about whether police and crime panels, which are constituted from and representative of local authorities, should then appoint people back to local authorities. It is argued that the appointment of local authority representatives to the police and crime panels is part of what we need. I recognise that many amendments that we will discuss during the rest of the day are very much about the form of accountability that will be provided for both chief constables and police and crime commissioners between the four-year elections of police and crime commissioners, and therefore about the precise role of police and crime panels. The Government are very anxious to make sure that this is well thought through. Perhaps we all need to discuss between Committee and Report how much needs to be in the Bill.
The intention of Schedule 11 is to provide a framework—
I am sorry to interrupt the Minister in full flow. However, he has responded in terms of the position of the police and crime panel, whereas the amendment specifically says that a “local policing body” is to appoint, in this case, a member of the police and crime panel, because that is the model of governance that the Committee is currently working on. If the Government were to revert to something else, we would have a system whereby the local policing body would not have a status in individual local crime and disorder reduction partnerships. Is the Minister telling us that it is government policy that these magic new police and crime commissioners, if that is what we are to have, at the end of the day will not be represented on local crime and disorder reduction partnerships; and if so, why?
It is very much the Government's proposal that police and crime commissioners should work in partnership with community safety partnerships. However, in places where—as, for example, in Thames Valley—there are 18 community safety partnerships, the idea of requiring the police and crime commissioner to be a member of each of those CSPs and to attend each meeting seems to us to be writing too much into the Bill.
My Lords, my recollection from when I was chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority is that we built relationships and appointed representatives to 32 crime and disorder reduction partnerships in Greater London—we did not have the pleasure of having representation on the City of London Police crime and disorder reduction partnerships, if such a thing there be. However, the point must be that if you want those relationships to exist and if you have settled on a process whereby there is a single police and crime commissioner, that person must be enabled to have someone—presumably a member of his or her staff if it is not going to be a member of the police and crime panel because the Government do not fancy having police and crime commissioners—and a mechanism to enable them to be directly represented. Those crime and disorder reduction partnerships are where local decisions are taken by the police, the local authority, the health service and the other responsible bodies on what has to be done in the local area. That is precisely the area where you would expect there to be collaboration and the police and crime commissioner, the local policing body, to be represented.
We are well aware of the very central role of CSPs in managing the problems of crime reduction at local level, and naturally we expect and anticipate that PCCs will regard co-operation with CSPs as a central part of their role. However, we resist the proposal that they should—by statute, on the face of the Bill—be a member of each CSP. We will look at this again but it does not seem to us that, in asking and requiring them to work together, we need to put it on the face of the Bill.
I hope that the Minister will take away and consider very carefully the points that have been raised. I consider this question from my experience as a Lancashire county councillor, serving on the council at the same time as not only my noble friend Lady Henig but as the Minister's noble friend Lord Greaves. Were there to be a perceived inequality of treatment and representation between his noble friend’s Pendle, my noble friend Lady Henig’s Lancaster or my own part of Preston, it would undermine exactly what the Government are trying to achieve. Perhaps the Minister will forgive me, but I think that the Government have looked at models around the world, not least at one in America. This problem would not arise in America because, in most parts of the country, with the exception of large conurbations—London, for example, would be a comparator—local communities have a local police commissioner who is elected. The Government, in trying to look at the appropriate model, must have regard to the fact that this structure is different—it is on a bigger scale. I hope that the Minister will think about what I have said and, if he does not believe me and the strength of my feelings, I suggest that he talks to his noble friend Lord Greaves.
My Lords, the Government will certainly take this matter away and look at it in detail. I go to my neighbourhood police forum from time to time, on which the police are also represented, and I hope and assume that in areas of particular concern PCCs will find it very useful to attend by invitation neighbourhood police forums as well as community safety partnerships. These are the ways in which we hold the different levels of policing together. As the noble Baroness will know very well from her extensive experience, when we talk about crime reduction we are very often talking about a number of different levels which we all have to operate, and operate together.
When I was a graduate student in the United States, I experienced all the benefits and disadvantages of elected local—very local—police commissioners changing from time to time. The Bill does not propose a model of a local police commissioner for a local, very small borough, which would not suit our organisation of policing. We are attempting to provide a different model to work with the different levels at which local crime reduction and local community safety partnerships operate, which are, as noble Lords are aware, smaller than our current police force areas. That is the issue with which we are concerned.
Does the Minister accept that the problem here is that, as his comment suggests, the role of the police and crime panel is simply to review the actions of the police and crime commissioner? If that is the case, all the problems that we have identified will follow. Will the Minister look at this again? This is a completely inadequate role for the police and crime panels. They need to work with the police and crime commissioner and to have some responsibilities at local level. If that is acceptable, they could liaise with the panels, as we have been suggesting, and there would not be a problem. The problem is the Government’s hang-up that police and crime panels can only scrutinise the commissioner and do nothing else. That is the issue that would facilitate more sensible discussion.
My Lords, I recognise that throughout the rest of today we will discuss the relationship between the PCP and the PCC, and the relationship that the police and crime panel has with all the other agencies. The Government are certainly prepared to look at that again to make sure that that we get this right, as it is very important. However, we also recognise that practice, as well as statutory requirements, will make a great deal of difference to how this new model works. We have to make sure that PCPs and PCCs work together.
On whether the police commissioner is required to have public meetings, the PCP and the police commissioner will have public meetings together. It will be perfectly acceptable—indeed, desirable—for the police and crime commissioner to invite the chief constable to accompany her to public meetings with the police and crime panel, and that that will become part of the pattern. Again, how far that should be on the face of the Bill is something we need to consider further, but we are happy to talk off the Floor between Committee and Report on the precise role which these will have.
Should communication break down, that will become difficult. The Minister is perfectly proper in suggesting that the chief constable would normally be invited to such public meetings. Should things enter a difficult phase, which occasionally happens with the best laid plans, our concern would be that surely the public have a right to know that there is that expectation on the head of the service, rather than having to rely on an invitation being given.
My Lords, the design of this Bill is that the accountable body that is directly elected will be the police and crime commissioner, and that the police and crime panel holds that police and crime commissioner to account. The operational autonomy of the chief constable is answerable both to the police and crime commissioner and, as a backstop, to the Home Secretary, as monitored by the Chief Inspector of Constabulary. However, the accountability of the police and crime commissioner is first to the police and crime panel, which is the key relationship designed in this Bill.
My thinking was to do with the presence of the chief police officer at particularly major public meetings. At the moment, they often attend full county council meetings and are highly visible. If the Minister will forgive my use of the slightly vernacular, there could be occasions when feelings are running high and even the commissioner could be asked the whereabouts of the organ grinder because the public do not want the monkey. I have been at these public meetings and this sort of thing happens only when feelings are running high. Feelings were phenomenally high during the run-up to capturing the Yorkshire Ripper. As for relying on just an invitation, in a way there is a missing link in the chain between the public and the chief constable or chief police officer as described by the Minister. The public will expect it to be at least as strong as it is now and probably more so.
Most of us who have dealt with chief constables will know that chief constables would be unlikely to be shrinking violets and absent from public meetings on such occasions. In the type of instances referred to by the noble Baroness, it is evident that the chief constable would be there to answer for his force alongside the police commissioner. However, it is the model of this Bill that, formally, accountability runs from the police and crime commissioner to the police and crime panel. We do not wish to muddle the line of accountability by establishing a direct link in which the chief constable on her own answers to the police and crime panel.
Many noble Lords have met chief constables far more regularly than I at public meetings and public consultations. In practice, when meeting CSPs and other bodies, chief constables naturally play their part in regular consultation: that is, consultation that answers to the public at large but is different from the relationship between the PCP and the PCC. We are, however, willing to take this away and to consider in detail whether there are ways in which the Bill can be tweaked to answer some of the issues that have been raised by those on the opposition Benches.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving way and for the point he has just made. His explanation of how the Government envisage this working is as clear as it can be in the circumstances. He is telling the Committee that there is no requirement under this Bill for the visible answerability of chief officers of police. Visible answerability does not exist. It exists only if the chief constable, the chief officer of police, accepts an invitation to attend a panel. That is not going to be seen by the general public as being answerable in the same way as being called before representatives of the public to respond to questions is. That is the weakness of the Government’s proposals.
I understand the purity of the argument whereby a directly elected police and crime commissioner holds the police service to account, and that individual is then held to account by the police and crime panel. That is a wonderful concept, but it loses the visible answerability of the person with direction and control of the police force. That is what the public expect to see and what is missing from the Bill. If that is what the Government are proposing, that is fine; we understand it. However, I do not think it is in the interests either of properly accountable policing, or indeed of policing itself.
My Lords, we will take this away. However, the principle of the Bill is that the chief constable is responsible to the police and crime commissioner. It does not exclude public consultations and public meetings, but that is the principle of the Bill. Of course chief constables meet a whole range of people on a regular basis, but democratic accountability in this form is from chief constable to police and crime commissioner, with the police and crime panel scrutinising the actions of the police and crime commissioner. That is the purpose and design of the Bill.
My Lords, in taking this point away, will the Minister please have regard to the public perception that if policing has become difficult in an area, the public wish to see the person who is the professional in charge of operational decisions being held to account in public and in their locality? I apologise for interrupting the Minister so often, but I am deeply committed to ensuring that, in whatever form the Bill is eventually enacted, people out there do not suddenly discover that there is less accountability, particularly if the Government do not intend that to happen.
My Lords, I am happy to give that assurance. We are all concerned to ensure that the operations of the police at all levels are visible and accountable. This is intended to make the mechanism of accountability rather more visible than it has been with police authorities. That is the purpose of the Bill. Having given that assurance, perhaps I may invite those who have moved and spoken to this group of amendments to withdraw them so that we may return to the issue on Report.
My Lords, I have been trying to make sense of this exchange, and I think that my noble friend has been quite kindly in her interventions. I have to ask the Minister rather more directly whether it is the Government’s policy that the chief officer of police should not appear before the public in the way described in these interventions. Is that the intention or not? If it is not the intention, how will it happen?
It is certainly not the Government’s intention that they should not appear in public. Incidentally, I am not aware that the precise current relationship between the police authorities and chief constables is written down in as much detail as some of the amendments might suggest. Some time ago I asked a chief constable how often he spoke to the chair of his police authority, and he replied that he did so on most working mornings. That is good practice, not a legal requirement. Chief constables speaking at public meetings, to community safety partnerships and so on again is regular, normal and desirable practice, and we hope and intend that it will continue to operate.
My Lords, I want to address the issue of crime figures being provided at divisional as well as force level. I am sure that this is completely uncontentious in that it is simply common sense that people would want those figures to be provided at both levels. However, the Minister has not mentioned it, so I wonder whether he could say a word about it.
I apologise. I did not get through all my notes; I was a little distracted at one or two points by former members of Lancashire County Council. It is our view that this requirement is already covered in Clause 12(1)(b), which requires PCCs to report the progress that has been made in meeting the objectives set out in the police and crime plan.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for his response. I had not realised that this matter would be quite so complicated or contentious, because I said in moving the amendment that I thought that it was relatively straightforward. The amendment goes to the heart of something very important: the nature of scrutiny. The Minister said that scrutiny was of the commissioner by the panel, but that raises the question where the panel gets its information from, because panel members need to be involved at all levels. When the number of bodies involved in running or managing something is increased, the level of consultation, scrutiny and representation has to be improved, otherwise things will go wrong. Scrutiny cannot just be about what happened; it has to be scrutiny of what might happen and what people feel should happen. The only way of delivering that kind of scrutiny is through a more formalised mechanism for consultation. Therefore, to have members of panels who are members of a partnership body is central to enabling the scrutiny function to take place.
However, we have had an interesting debate. My noble friend the Minister has given a commitment that there will be further discussion prior to Report. I remind him that I raised a point about witnesses, which will no doubt be discussed as well. Given that we have had a detailed discussion of the issue and that those further discussions will take place, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 81 withdrawn.
Clause 9, as amended, agreed.
Clause 10 : Co-operative working
Amendments 82 and 83 not moved.
83ZZA: Clause 10, page 10, line 2, at end insert—
“( ) A local policing body is to appoint a member of the police and crime panel to sit on each crime reduction partnership or community safety partnership within its police area to ensure that the functions of the local policing body set out in subsection (1) are exercised effectively.”
The Minister said that the Government were anxious that everything should be seen to be thought through. None of the provisions seems to have been thought through at the local level. They have been thought through at force level but not at local level. The Minister said that the Government wanted things to be transparent and visible at all levels, but it is at the local level that they are not. Like the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, I hope that the Minister will take away this matter and look at it again. I detect a degree of rigidity here. I felt that I was putting forward suggestions that were eminently sensible and tried to improve the structure. We continually hear back references to structures that are clearly not workable. We are trying to improve the model, but I sense all the time rigidity and reluctance to accept any changes whatever. I regret that that is the case, but I am sure that the Minister is sincere in saying that he will take the matter away and look at it. He really needs to do that, otherwise the provisions will not have been thought through, which will have serious repercussions at local level. Although I shall not move my amendment at this stage, I reserve the right to bring back some of these issues on Report, because, so far, we have not had sensible answers to some of the serious issues being raised.
Amendment 83ZZA not moved.
Amendments 83ZA and 83A not moved.
Clause 10 agreed.
Amendments 83B and 83C not moved.
Clause 11 : Information for public etc
Amendments 84 to 85A not moved.
Clause 11 agreed.
Clause 12 : Annual reports
Amendments 85B to 86C not moved.
Clause 12 agreed.
Clause 13 : Information for police and crime panels
Amendments 86D to 88 not moved.
Clause 13 agreed.
Clause 14 : Arrangements for obtaining the views of the community on policing
Amendments 88A to 90 not moved.
91: Clause 14, page 12, line 30, at end insert—
“(c) the local authorities in the area (including parish and town councils),”
I shall speak to other amendments in the group and refer to their numbering as I come to them.
In the last debate, my noble friend Lord Shipley referred to the tools that police and crime panels need; I would add to that ammunition. From time to time ammunition is needed—although preferably not used—and the knowledge that it is there can sometimes work wonders. My noble friend did not use the term “outward looking”, although it was implicit in what he said. Panels need to relate—I appreciate that I am in part reflecting the previous debate as an introduction to the points that I am about to make—not only to the police and crime commissioner but to everyone else, including the communities involved in, in the jargon, the policing landscape, although one might just say life.
Amendments 91 and 92 deal with obtaining views in connection with the precept. Under the Bill as drafted, the police and crime panels have to obtain residents’ and business’s views; my amendments provide that they should also obtain the views of local authorities and, in London, the London boroughs. Again, this is blindingly obvious. The local authorities are there at the most local level—by definition they are the most grass root—and they send out the bills that incorporate the precept. If the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, is agreed, they will send out separate bills with the precept. So my first point is about more extensive consultation.
Amendments 117, 118, 119, 120 and 121 relate to Schedule 5 and concern what I might summarise as the realities of approving or blocking the precept. In our view, if the police and crime panel is to provide the right checks and balances, it needs to be able to do more. I have always thought of the precept as the last point in a discussion about local authority and equivalent budgets. One has to think about what needs to be spent, how it should be spent and what is available to be spent before one comes to the precept. In order to go through those thought processes and apply their logic, the panel needs to be able to bring other issues into the public arena for debate and have tools to deal with more than just the precept—in other words, to deal with the whole budget and the steps on the way to creating it. The budget is essentially the spending to be undertaken using the local funding—the precept—and the central grant. Of course, in the policing world, the central funding is enormously important. It would be a great pity if the panel were taken down the road of thinking that what mattered was what people were charged instead of also looking at the totality of the budget. I know that that attitude is very widespread, but I would always do anything that I could to stop it being perpetuated.
My amendments propose that the panel should have a role in looking at the heads of expenditure within the budget. That may not be the right way of expressing it, but noble Lords will understand what I mean if I refer to “press and PR” as one budget head, and perhaps the “commissioner’s office”. Then there is the “back office”, if one can ever define what the back office is, and things such as sickness rates. My amendments intend to give the panel the opportunity to make a reality check on what is proposed and to block virement between budget heads. Unless the panel can prevent moving around between the different parts of the budget after the totality has been agreed, it is not really able to fulfil the function that it should.
Amendments 146 and 147 would change the majority needed to block or veto the budget from three-quarters to two-thirds, although as this debate has gone on I have become more and more persuaded of the need for that veto to be exercisable on the basis of 50 per cent plus one—not 50 per cent, which is different, but 50 per cent plus one.
I have provided for an iterative process for the panel to give its approval or not, built on the procedure and drafting with which I am familiar from the Greater London Authority but also from other authorities that have directly elected mayors. I do not like the word “iterative”, but noble Lords will understand it.
I think that the two-thirds level is counterintuitive, which is a term that has been very much used—and other noble Lords will have heard this—by our then colleague Bob Neill, who is now a Minister. In criticising the way in which the GLA budget had to be dealt with because of the legislation, he talked often very powerfully about how constituents had spoken to him on the subject of his having a direct electoral mandate but not being able, as a Member of the Assembly, to block the mayor’s budget. Other noble Lords, as Members of the GLA, will have heard about the budget being in a common-sense way defeated when it came to us from the mayor but having to be approved technically because there was not the sufficient majority against it.
I am sympathetic to Amendment 116ZA in this group, which refers to a link between the money and the objectives. In my mind, that is what I am trying to say when I talk about budget heads.
Finally, I refer to the 13th report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. Paragraph 7 is on the regulations regarding precepts in Schedule 5, which the committee says,
“go to the substance of precepts that may be issued in cases where commissioners’ proposals have been vetoed by panels—and, as well as enabling constraints to be imposed on such precepts, the regulations may confer wide discretion on persons not even identified in the Bill”.
The memorandum provided to the committee by the Home Office,
“gives no explanation about the purpose of those powers, how they might be exercised or who (if anyone) might be consulted before … regulations are made. The issue and withholding of precepts are potentially important matters which may affect the operational capability of the police or their perceived independence”—
I stress the words “operational capability” and “perceived independence”. The committee drew this power to the House’s attention to,
“seek further information from the Minister in order to determine whether the negative procedure provides an appropriate level of scrutiny”.
That is what I am asking for with my final amendment. I beg to move.
I shall speak to Amendment 116ZA and, briefly, Amendment 122A. We have heard a lot about checks and balances in the debate thus far and this is my attempt to provide some of them in relation to police budgets. Again, while we have heard that people want checks and balances, every time one suggests some, one is given a whole sheaf of reasons why they are not appropriate in that case. I hope that there might be some sympathetic view, at least on police budgets, that checks and balances are required here and that what is being put forward has some sense to it. Amendment 116ZA proposes that the panel must consider not only the bald, simple figure of the proposed precept but, in a timely manner, an appropriate level of detail about the proposed budget—what the precept is to be spent on.
Put simply—this relates to a point that the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, made on the previous group of amendments—how can the panel fulfil its duty to scrutinise and shape the precept, drawing on its own local public consultations and knowledge, and to make sure that it will meet local expectations if the panel is not told how it is to be spent? In other words, you need information to be able to carry out that scrutiny role. When it comes to life's fundamentals or even the simplest purchasing, do we not all start out by identifying the very basics of what we need before working out how much we shall spend? Yet the Bill proposes that the panel should consider only the overall amount to be spent, rather than what is needed and what it should be spent on. Frankly, this seems a not very sensible way to conduct the scrutiny of budgets of many millions of pounds within a total national policing spend of something over £12 billion a year.
Let us be clear: the panel is there to provide scrutiny in some detail. It is not there to provide a rubber stamp for generalisations or headline figures. While the level of precept is of course of enormous influence and importance, and will rightly command significant space in the local press, what is as important in policing terms is the detail of what that money is to be spent on. If the panel is not equipped to engage with this level of detail, it is in danger of being consigned to being little more than a forum for the exchange of generalities and political knockabout.
I hope that the Minister will forgive me for saying that police authorities and recent surveys have demonstrated that the public want not a single commissioner dictating a budget according to his or her preferences but a broadly based range of local people, with the skills and experience of a range of communities across the force area, who can shape the police budget and priorities according to the needs of the public—particularly in local terms. We have spoken many times about the near impossibility of a single politician providing an effective funnel for the needs of vast and differing communities across the widest police force areas. That is why the panel is so important, being drawn from each district or subsection of the force area. The panel members will bring their local perspective to bear on strategic decisions and there are no more strategic decisions than on the budget and the precept, matching resources to evidenced needs.
Incidentally, noble Lords here will attest from personal experience that, far from the London experience providing a test bed for the single-commissioner model where, it is claimed, one mayor provides an exemplar for the proposed solo police and crime commissioner, London’s 23-member police authority seems in fact to be an excellent example of how a panel can complement the strategic force-wide view of the commissioner, providing a golden-thread link from the cul-de-sac to City Hall. That is an example that we already have. It is crucial that a diverse multi-member body engages with the detail of the proposed budget.
Let us be clear: right now, every subdivision within the force area has a local link member on the police authority who can constructively influence the force budget with knowledge of the public’s policing priorities for their local area. Authority members can ensure—and, under my amendment, so could panel members—that the budget is fit to address local objectives within the police and crime plan. If the Bill is not amended by your Lordships, this meaningful local influence will be lost because the panel will have no say over the detail of the budget—how it is divided and spent—but will have influence only over the overall size of the public purse. In these days of austerity we know only too well that how the contents of the public purse are spent is just as important as the overall size of the budget.
Subsection (4) of my amendment makes explicit reference to the need for the draft budget to explain how the commissioner proposes to ensure that the budget is effective and efficient. Efficiency and effectiveness are two requirements currently at the heart of police authority oversight of budgets—to considerable success, it should be said. Authorities have delivered on every efficiency target set by central government and, while there is much more to do, they continue to drive innovation in collaboration and procurement, which fosters efficiency. I am puzzled about why now, of all times, amid unprecedented budget cuts in peacetime, the Government should consider dispensing with the simple, highly efficient and effective maxim that budgets must be efficient and effective, which is why I suggest putting it back in again.
In Amendment 122A, I am proposing a majority vote rather than a vote of two-thirds. That is what I am used to in local government. The only reason for two-thirds, or, originally, three-quarters, was the model that the Government set up. I have already indicated that I think that is a very poor model; it is not very workable and will not be effective. A half—or a half plus one; I could be pushed to that—is a much more normal majority in terms of local government. It is what I am used to, it is how local government works and I see no reason why we should depart from it.
My Lords, we heard at Question Time that the House gave considerable support to an issue about cheques, in a different context. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and my noble friend Lady Henig have again raised the issue of checks in the context of checks and balances—that is, other than bank balances. My amendments to Schedule 5— Amendments 116A, 117A, 117B, 121A and 121B—are intended to complement those proposed by the noble Baronesses. I entirely adopt and endorse what they say about the need for the budgetary process to be a proper process, not simply a matter in which the precept is determined.
I make no apology for once again reminding your Lordships that 11 per cent of council tax in England and 15.5 per cent in Wales goes on policing, a significant proportion of local taxation. My initial amendment is in the interests of transparency to make it clear who is levying what on local taxpayers, rather than for a combined precept to be issued, which many will assume is the entire responsibility of the billing authority—that is, the local council.
There is another aspect to this that will arise when we come to discuss the Localism Bill. I have to say that the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill is a model of brevity, clarity and simplicity compared with the Localism Bill, which we will begin to debate tomorrow. The latter Bill contains a difficult provision in this context, because it provides for a compulsory referendum to be held if the Secretary of State deems an increase, either by a local authority or by a police commissioner, to be excessive. It will be a little difficult, I suspect, for a local authority if its precept is deemed acceptable by the Secretary of State but the police precept is not. If it is all in one bill, one can see complications arising. There would have to be a referendum on the part of the bill that people are expected to pay, which would presumably hold up payment of the rest of the bill. There are practical as well as philosophical reasons for separating the two precepts. That is the object of the first amendment.
The other amendments deal with the process of determining what the precept should be. They go beyond the Bill’s present proposal, which is simply that the commissioner—assuming there is one—notifies only the panel of the proposed precept, without notifying, or apparently being under any obligation to consult, the local authorities about it. As many of your Lordships have pointed out, policing is not a stand-alone service. It is intimately connected, if it is to be effective, with the other services of a local authority. For that matter, the totality of the fiscal burden to be placed on the local community has to be looked at as well, and judgments made about the balance between different heads of expenditure. It is entirely appropriate, therefore, that local authorities should be involved in discussing the proposed police precept. This provision and the subsequent amendment, which requires the commission to have regard to those representations made by local authorities, will, I hope, deal with that. It is remarkable that there is no obligation on the police commissioner or commission to take account of representations made by local authorities in the relevant area.
The next amendment deals with the power of the panel to veto or amend the proposed precept. The previous amendments referred merely to the veto. I would be very comfortable with a smaller majority, as proposed by the noble Baronesses, of 50 per cent plus one, as opposed to two-thirds. There is a hierarchy of preference here. The least desirable is the 75 per cent in the Bill; slightly more desirable is the two-thirds proposed here. The ideal would be 50 per cent plus one, but it is perhaps sensible to have a fall-back position against the remote contingency that the Government might not be entirely happy with 50 per cent plus one. They may be slightly more sympathetic towards the middle position. However, the major feature of this is the proposal that the panel should be able to amend, rather than simply veto—and therefore presumably freeze the whole budgetary process—the recommendation of the commissioner. I see no reason why there should be no power to amend. It would be more efficient than renegotiating the whole process of a budget.
Taken together, the amendments in my name would make the situation more transparent from the point of view of the taxpayer and more efficient in the involvement of local government in the process. Indeed, it would be both more transparent and more efficient in terms of the proposed role for the panel.
My Lords, I have two amendments in this group: Amendments 118A and 122AA. I also support the thrust of the other amendments in this group that we have already heard about this afternoon. We are talking about a considerable sum of money. As my noble friend Lord Beecham said, it is 11 per cent of council tax in England—millions of pounds. We are giving considerable power to two people to spend this budget. We have two corporations sole in the PCC and the chief constable, and one person to set the precept—the police and crime commissioner—again, as a corporation sole. Huge power over resources is being given to two people without any recognisable corporate governance safeguards. It is a most extraordinary proposal—one for which I have yet to hear any persuasive argument at all.
If this Government last their full five-year term, it is clear to me that before the end of that term another police Bill will be introduced to safeguard the public purse as this structure will undoubtedly cause problems with the budget and the way in which the money is spent. I guarantee that the Government will have to come back to this, which is why it is so disappointing that so far we have had little sense that the Government are prepared to listen and introduce amendments to secure the public purse.
First, I very much agree with what my noble friend Lord Beecham said about the need for transparency. Why should the police and crime commissioners hide behind the council tax levied by the relevant local authority? Surely, this matter should be completely transparent. As my noble friend says, there should be two completely separate precepts. Secondly, he referred to the relationship between this Bill and the Localism Bill, the Second Reading of which we are to have tomorrow. It is a very large Bill indeed. Although it is entitled the Localism Bill, it seems to give enormous power to the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government. The freedom that local authorities are being given seems to me to be freedom to act as the Secretary of State instructs them so to do. However, as my noble friend remarked, there seem to be inconsistencies in the way that issues around the precepts are dealt with. Will the Minister assure me that there has been close understanding and contact between her department and CLG to ensure that the proposals on precepts and local referendums run together? My reading is that there is a conflict between the two Bills on this matter.
I turn to the role of the panel in scrutinising the precept proposal. I very much agree with my noble friend Lady Henig on this. I do not see how the panel can undertake appropriate scrutiny unless it is given full details of the budget which lies behind the precept. We deserve an answer on that. We also need to hear why local authorities are not being properly consulted about the precept. Why should business rate payers be consulted but not local authorities? What is it about local authorities that should exclude them from this process? As we have heard from my noble friend—this comes back to the Localism Bill—11 per cent of council tax is accounted for by the relevant precept. That must have an impact in relation to the total tax raised from local council tax payers. Why on earth are local authorities not to be consulted on this matter?
As regards the veto power, a three-quarters proportion is too high. I can think of very few circumstances where the veto power is likely to be exercised at that level. It is not even a case of 75 per cent of those present and voting, but 75 per cent who are members of the panel, so the bar is set higher than if it were those present and voting. There are a number of suggestions: two-thirds, 50 per cent and 50 per cent plus one. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has convinced me that 50 per cent plus one is the right figure. I am sure that when we return to the matter on Report, we will have to see which proposal commands the most support. Clearly, if the panels are to have any leverage whatever, they must have the ability to veto, and the bar must be set sufficiently low to make police and crime commissioners understand that it is possible for that veto to be applied. No police and crime commissioner will think that that is the case if the 75 per cent bar stays.
Finally, I come back to the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, on the previous group. He moved the argument on. We have understood that the PCP was there to scrutinise the police and crime commissioner. The noble Lord went further today and said that the police and crime commissioner is accountable to the police and crime panel. If that is so, surely we have to give those panels the ability to hold the police and crime commissioner to account. The Bill as it stands does not do that.
My Lords, I sense that I have been tempted to enter into something of a Dutch auction. Many figures have been bandied about in terms of the veto. I should say that this is an area where I am genuinely listening, but I think that noble Lords on all sides of the House have colluded this afternoon to try to beat me down to a particular figure. I will promise to look at this, because I realise that there are strong feelings about it. However, I cannot make any promises. If I were able to move, I am sure that I would be unable to move as far as some of the figures that have been suggested. I do not want to raise expectations unnecessarily, but I recognise that in this area there is feeling on all sides of the House. I will genuinely look at this.
The word “accountability” has been mentioned a lot. I must reiterate that police and crime commissioners should be accountable to the public, first and foremost. That is the whole thrust of this legislation and change—I quite accept that it is a big change. We are talking about significant changes to the way in which we organise ourselves at force level. Police and crime commissioners will be elected by the public, and our provisions propose that through elected police and crime commissioners, the plan and the precept—the provisions that these amendments seek to change—were the very tools that would allow commissioners to consult and be measured by the public.
In this debate I am grateful for the constancy from Members of this House on the importance of getting the balance right on the limits on the police and crime commissioners’ powers. Members from across the House have raised this—particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Henig. I can assure her that I will hold a round-table meeting to which I hope she will come, because I want to make sure that we get these checks and balances right—although I doubt that I will be able to satisfy her on everything she asked for.
Noble Lords will remember that in the original Bill, as drafted, the Government intended that panels would have provided a robust overview of police and crime commissioners’ decisions. I must emphasise that we intended for these panels to be constructive and supportive relationships. In this vein, if the first time that the police and crime commissioner discussed the police budget with the panel was the point at which the precept was being agreed, that was not the model we proposed. Members have raised many concerns about heads of budget and other matters to do with the precept. Our intention would be for a series of discussions to be held, not just one blanket meeting at which, for example, the precept or the budget was discussed and a decision taken without the panel having a lot of background information that it would clearly be entitled to ask for. I hope that that will reassure noble Lords that it is not the Government’s intention for there to be one blanket meeting, nor was that the intention of the Bill as originally drafted. Having a veto is a back-stop for when these relationships break down—no more. If the provisions had stood, I would have looked forward to hearing noble Lords’ views on the level at which this could best be achieved but, as we all appreciate, we are now talking about something rather different.
I can promise your Lordships that we will take another look at the figure of three-quarters. I note that many references were made to the figure of two-thirds, although this was in the Bill. I gently remind your Lordships that the figure in the Bill is three-quarters. We seemed to get to a much lower level than that this afternoon, but that is where we are at the moment. I promise to take that away to look at it. Given that, I hope that noble Lords will not press their amendment.
My Lords, I am certainly not setting out to beat the noble Baroness down, up, across the Chamber or in any direction; I am seeking to persuade her. This is not a Dutch auction but to do with what the public would expect. I referred a few minutes ago to it being counterintuitive in the minds of the public when a proposition is, in commonsense terms, defeated by a simple majority but is not actually defeated. Public expectation in all this is very important. If the new model is to be successful, people need to be persuaded to buy into it. They need to be persuaded that it is worthwhile voting for the new commissioners, or whoever we end up with. That philosophy is behind my amendments, along with what the noble Baroness describes—and I agree—as what should be constructive and supportive relationships. I also agree that the arrangements we have been debating should not be the first discussion about the budget, but unless there are formal provisions in the Act—as it will no doubt become—there is no statutory framework to require discussions to be held with the information for which the noble Baroness said the panel would be entitled to ask. We seek to pin that down, together with the attendance at panel meetings by various people who can give the panel the necessary information on which to base its decisions.
I should clarify something, because I do not want in any way to mislead the House. Although of course it is right that the panel has information and that there are meetings leading up to the decision on the precept and discussion on the budget, nothing in the Bill would allow the budget as a whole to be overridden by the panel. It can override the veto, and regulations will address how that would then be managed. I did not want to lead my noble friend into thinking that I was suggesting that the panel could override the budget as a whole.
A veto on a veto.
This debate has dealt with seeking information about the budget. We have previously discussed amendments about the panel's right to seek information and require attendance to deal with wider issues. I had assumed that, in dealing with those amendments, all noble Lords had the budget in mind as well as other matters, which would make the narrower amendments unnecessary. The noble Baroness has given us welcome news, in the way that she put it, about resisting a Dutch auction but thinking about the merits of the arguments. I hope that, when the points that we have made have settled in people's heads, the merits will be obvious. For this afternoon, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 91 withdrawn.
Amendments 91A to 92B not moved.
93: Clause 14, page 13, line 12, leave out subsection (6)
I shall speak also to Amendments 139, 150 and 226, and shall perhaps mention the other amendments in this group. Amendment 93 is very short. It seeks to understand why subsections (6) to (10) of Section 96 of the Police Act 1996 are to be omitted, although I can see that this is partly consequential. However, subsection (6) deals with the Common Council of the City of London and, as we debated the other day and as the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, mentioned this afternoon, the City has escaped being affected by this Bill. Subsection (7) is about the duty to review arrangements and subsection (8) gives the Secretary of State powers. I am always happy to see Secretary of State powers going but I wonder why it is happening in this instance.
Amendment 139 relates to Schedule 6 to the Bill. Paragraph 32 of the schedule deals with regulations made by the Secretary of State to modify or exclude the application of enactments. That seems to be a rather extreme way of putting it without a limitation regarding, for example, the modification being only as necessary for the particular requirements of the panels. I put down this amendment to give the Minister an opportunity to give some assurances on that. I tabled it before seeing the report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which deals with this issue at paragraphs 11 and 12 of its report and recommends that regulations under paragraph 36 of the schedule,
“should be subject to the affirmative procedure”.
I overlooked taking the matter to the next stage. If the Minister can give us the assurances that we need, perhaps we will not have to come back to this at the next stage, although we may need to do so.
Amendment 150 would take out paragraph 6 of Schedule 7 to the Bill. The paragraph says that regulations may apply to amend or modify Part 2 of the Police Reform Act 2002—I am abbreviating the wording—and may apply such other enactments,
“as appear to the Secretary of State to be necessary or expedient in connection with, or in consequence of, regulations”.
What is that intended to achieve? Regarding the words,
“in connection with, or in consequence of, regulations”,
I ask: what regulations? It seems a bit circular to me. Therefore, again, I seek information.
I turn, finally, to my Amendment 226. Clause 80 gives the Secretary of State the general duty to exercise powers in a way,
“best calculated to promote the efficiency and effectiveness of the police”.
I heard what the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, said about that phrase in the previous debate. I have proposed substituting the phrase “safety and security” because I think that it goes wider and deeper than, and encompasses, “efficiency and effectiveness”.
We will hear from other noble Lords about their amendments but I think that Amendment 226AA, which will perhaps be dealt with by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, seeks to retain performance targets for police strategic priorities. I have never been much of a fan of targets but I am a fan of reporting, so I go a little way along the road with him on that. I beg to move.
My Lords, I break the habit of a brief parliamentary lifetime by suggesting that the Secretary of State retains the two powers which she proposes to dispense with under Clause 82. This amendment would restore the power of the Secretary of State to issue codes of practice for and to secure reports from police authorities. It seems to me that there ought to be a standard code of practice, not necessarily covering everything, but at least covering the basics in the operation of the police force to provide a degree of uniformity across the country or countries—Wales is, of course, included in the provisions of the Bill—rather than different forces operating significantly differently in the way in which they conduct the crucial area of public policy in crime and community safety. It is perfectly reasonable for the Secretary of State to issue such guidance, obviously after the appropriate consultation.
Similarly, accountability is repeatedly averred to be the core of the Bill. At some level the Secretary of State needs to be informed about what is going on nationally in terms of policing so that, in Parliament, she can answer issues that are her responsibility, particularly when they relate to strategic concerns. My noble friend Lord Rosser will be moving an amendment precisely relating to those strategic priorities. There are national and local priorities and it seems to me axiomatic that the Secretary of State should have the information available in the form of reports which she can digest and which Parliament can also read and discuss. This is another aspect in which transparency and accountability can be reinforced, somewhat paradoxically in this case, by restoring to the Secretary of State powers which, at the moment, she is happy to lose. I hope that the Minister will consider this modest accretion to the functions of central government in the wider interests of accountability and transparency in respect of these matters.
We now make rapid progress because my amendment jumps to Clause 80 but it is in this group for discussion. Clause 80 contains the general duty of the Secretary of State and states that it is to be best used,
“to promote the efficiency and effectiveness of the police”.
I take a quite different view. It is not the duty of the Home Secretary to promote the efficiency and effectiveness of the police because this Bill seeks to have elected police and crime commissioners to do that. Even if the first amendment on which we voted were to be accepted in another place and by this House when the Bill returns, and we had the continuation of police authorities, surely it should be their duty to promote the efficiency and effectiveness of the police.
I say to my noble friend that I would not dream of pushing my amendment to a vote because I seek to use perhaps an extreme form of words. I take the totally contrary view, suggesting that it is not the duty of the Home Secretary to promote the efficiency and effectiveness of the police but that she should interfere only to prevent the safety of persons in a police area from being put at risk. I suggest that the Home Secretary should intervene and use her powers generally in the Bill only in those dire circumstances. I accept that that goes to a more extreme position than even I might believe in at times. However, somewhere between that position and the general power which, I suggest, continues in Clause 80, of total interference by the Home Secretary in anything that he or she likes, there may be a balanced, happy medium which would permit an elected police and crime commissioner or a police authority to exercise their proper duty of efficiency and effectiveness.
As soon as I got the Bill, I turned to look at what powers of the Home Secretary would be abolished. I found Clause 82 and thought, “Jolly good. What about the rest?”. Unfortunately, I could not find many other powers of the Home Secretary that were being abolished, and there were still too many powers for the Home Secretary to call for reports from chief constables and elected police and crime commissioners, to call for statistics and to call for this, that and the other. Members of this House who have served in another place will know that if a Member of Parliament asks the Home Secretary for a single statistic about a police force, inevitably it will be replicated for other police force areas. The Home Office will then invent 10 forms so that the Home Secretary is never wrong-sighted, and we will build up a plethora of information gathering that will be excessive and unnecessary. This is not germane to the amendment, but I use it as an example to say that the Home Secretary's powers could be further circumscribed in the Bill without any risk to national policing and the proper co-ordination of policing throughout the country—a role that is better promoted by HMIC than by the Home Secretary.
I conclude by referring to Clause 80, much further down the line, which gives the Home Secretary the power and duty to promote the efficiency and effectiveness of the police overall. If the Home Secretary has and exercises that duty, what is the point of police authorities, and what is the point of the elected crime commissioner? That is what their job was supposed to be. I do not suggest that my amendment is perfect—it is far from that—but it adopts an extreme position in the hope that I can make a point to my noble friend and that, possibly by Report, we may have a slightly different form of words for what the duty of the Home Secretary may or may not be.
My Lords, the amendments in this group deal with the powers of the Secretary of State. I tabled Amendment 226AA on police strategic priorities, but will speak to others in the group. Among other things, the Bill deletes the regulation-making powers and provisions relating to seeking the views of the community on policing. It deletes the powers of the Secretary of State in respect of performance targets for police strategic priorities, codes of practice for police authorities and reports from police authorities to the Secretary of State—as my noble friend Lord Beecham said when he moved his amendment. The amendments seek for the most part to preserve these powers for the Secretary of State, although I accept that the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, has gone down a different road.
The Bill also places a general duty on the Secretary of State to exercise powers in a way that appears to the Secretary of State to promote the efficiency and effectiveness of the police. One amendment in the group seeks to replace the efficiency and effectiveness duty with a duty to exercise powers in a way that best ensures safety and security, which one would have thought was a rather more important consideration in relation to policing.
We have already had a debate today on consultation, with the Minister agreeing to look again at certain areas of concern. I hope that, as part of that further look, he will also reconsider the proposal in the Bill to delete the regulation-making powers and provisions on ascertaining the views of the community on policing. In the context of our previous debate, one would have thought that they were important powers for the Secretary of State to have.
As for my amendment on performance targets for police strategic priorities, there are national strategic police considerations, in particular relating to more serious crimes, to be taken into account and that would not be assisted by these powers being taken away from the Secretary of State. Unlike police and crime commissioners dotted up and down the country, the Secretary of State can take national strategic policing considerations into account. Surely there must also be a need for some consistency on basic strategic objectives over policing, which does not necessarily appear to be the way that the Government are thinking of going in the future. It is also not clear why there should be an efficiency and effectiveness duty on the Secretary of State rather than, as I said a moment ago, a duty to exercise powers in a way that best ensures safety and security, which is surely more important.
These amendments, as has already been said, obviously raise the issue of the future role of the Secretary of State in relation to policing powers in the light of the likely advent of police and crime commissioners. We hope that, in response, the Minister can explain why the Government take the view that the current powers of the Secretary of State to which I have referred, and which are referred to in these amendments, should be reduced rather than retained in the way that this group of amendments proposes.
My Lords, I wonder whether the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, in looking at the response that the Minister is about to give, will forgive me for referring back to my experience for a short time on the government Front Bench. It was my experience that sometimes it was not the Secretary of State who wished to retain powers quite as much as it was the department—particularly the senior officials in the department—that wished to retain the powers. Perhaps I was slightly biased because my background was in education. I am sure that we can reassure him that both Ministers serving the House on this Bill will, when they have considered what has been said in this debate today, consider carefully whether it is the Secretary of State or the department officials who wish to retain the string.
I start by thanking the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, for that immensely helpful intervention; I think that we can all recognise where that came from. Perhaps I should also, with this and the next group in mind, congratulate a number of noble Lords, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, and my noble friend Lady Hamwee, on the immense care they have taken in going through the Bill in great detail. I have been thinking that I might have spent too much time on my allotments and should really have been looking more at the detail of Schedules 7, 8 and 11.
In this group of amendments we are discussing in detail the question of how far we should loosen central controls on the operations of the police and the forms of local accountability for the police. The coalition Government’s general approach is that, in the relationship between central and local government, we have wandered too far in the direction of allowing Secretaries of State or, in their name, departments to require a great deal of information and a great deal of detailed controls, which should, where possible, be loosened. However, we all recognise that some back-stop powers are necessary for central government to retain.
I deeply regret having to tell the noble Baroness that I shall not be speaking on the Localism Bill. I think that, for the time being, the EU Bill and the police Bill are sufficient for me—although I do occasionally miss the House on the one day a week that I am not here on my feet.
The Government’s general approach on the issue is that where possible we should reduce the level of the detailed oversight that the Secretary of State has on the operation of local policing. For example, police and crime commissioners will be subject to a general duty regularly to consult and involve the public. That is in the Bill. However, the Government take the view that it is not appropriate for the Secretary of State to prescribe how this should be interpreted at a local level. Where possible, necessarily, one has to look back through previous Acts and consider how far they need to be amended in the light of the new procedures. However, I should note that Clause 80, with its reference to efficiency and effectiveness, mirrors Section 36 of the Police Act 1996. We are not introducing new language; we are amending, but continuing, language from previous Acts. This therefore imposes an identical duty on the Secretary of State in relation to the way she exercises the powers conferred by that Act, but I am sure that noble Lords will understand that there are a number of previous Acts that have to be amended or adjusted in the light of the new provisions in the Bill.
Amendments 225A and 226 require the Secretary of State to use the powers conferred by Part 1 to safeguard public safety and security in addition, but the crucial considerations of public safety and security are already provided for, where necessary, in the provisions that contain the individual powers covered by Clause 80. For example, the strategic policing requirement under Clause 79 sets out national threats, which include any threat to national security or public safety. Clause 22 allows the Secretary of State to intervene where force budgets are set too low, but she can do so only where it is necessary to prevent public safety being put at risk. The power under Clause 93 is not a public safety matter since it simply enables the Secretary of State to receive criminal data and information from chief constables. Some of the clauses, particularly Clause 93, set out a number of requirements by the Secretary of State on local authorities and local elected police bodies.
The new accountability structures allow individual police and crime commissioners to decide for themselves how to carry out their duties in the light of local circumstances. That is the purpose of this Bill. They leave it to the public, not central government, to assess the performance of commissioners in detail. To that end, the Bill requires the commissioner to provide information to the public to help local people assess how their force is performing. That is set out in Clause 11. The police and crime panel provides additional scrutiny of the commissioner from the local perspective. The commissioner must attend the public meeting to present an annual report on the progress that has been made in meeting the objectives in the police and crime plan and must answer the police and crime panel on the report. That is required by Clause 12.
Will the Minister indicate whether he thinks it useful, in terms of informing the public, for the public to know what other police authorities are doing? Would it not therefore be sensible to have a point at which the information is collated generally so that those comparisons could be drawn? Would that therefore not be a good reason for police authorities or commissioners to report to the Secretary of State so that the information can be made more widely available and accessible?
I think the noble Lord wishes to tempt me down the road back to what his noble colleague, the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, suggested about detailed and excessive reporting to the Secretary of State. I take the point that he is making in terms of comparison, but this will be available in public. I think it highly unlikely that scrutiny committees in another place, and in this place, will not begin to look at the comparisons. That is part of the process of scrutiny. Perhaps I should say to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who challenged me on accountability, that I have always understood that scrutiny is part of the process of accountability. I am afraid that I am not immediately able to quote Professor John Stewart on this question, but I think he would agree with me that scrutiny and accountability are indeed parts of the same process.
Clause 92 ensures that the Secretary of State will retain powers to intervene as a last resort when a police force is failing, but that is a backstop clause for the Secretary of State. In the event of serious or systemic failure of a police force, backstop powers will remain in place so that the Secretary of State can give directions to the police and crime commissioner. These existing powers, currently applicable to police authorities, are applied to police and crime commissioners under this clause.
Where the Secretary of State is satisfied that the police force is failing to discharge its functions in an effective manner, she can direct the police and crime commissioner to take measures to remedy the failure. These measures can include the submission of an action plan. This is important because retaining backstop powers in relation to police performance provides an additional layer of accountability and assurance to the public. But I stress that these are intended to be backstop powers and not to impose detailed reporting requirements on police and crime commissioners throughout all their activities. The intention is to loosen central controls on local policing. For these reasons, I respectfully ask that the amendment is withdrawn.
My Lords, I am sure that my noble friend’s time on his allotment was well spent and he should not fret about that. I agree with him that scrutiny and accountability are closely related. This is one of those replies when one needs to read the detail, which I will of course do, rather than attempt an off-the-cuff response.
However, I shall mention one thing that is not apposite but I cannot resist it. When Section 36, “General duty of Secretary of State”, of the Police Act 1996 was enacted, the Secretary of State was a man. Therefore, it reads:
“The Secretary of State shall exercise his powers … to such extent as appears to him to be best calculated”,
and so on. The drafter of this Bill finds it difficult to accept that the Secretary of State might not be a man. Although the word “her” appears sometimes, the wording is not precisely the same and does not change “him” to “her”. It changes “him” to “the Secretary of State”, which is rather sad. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 93 withdrawn.
Clause 14 agreed.
Clause 15 : Supply of goods and services
Amendment 94 not moved.
Clause 15 agreed.
Clause 16 : Appointment of persons not employed by elected local policing bodies
Amendment 95 not moved.
Clause 16 agreed.
Clause 17 : Duties when carrying out functions
Amendment 96 not moved.
Clause 17 agreed.
Clause 18 : Delegation of functions by police and crime commissioners
Amendments 97 to 100 not moved.
101A: Clause 18, page 14, line 18, leave out paragraph (a)
In moving this amendment, I shall speak also to Amendments 101B and 101C, Amendments 234ZZA to 234ZZE and Amendments 234R and 234S. I find myself at a bit of a disadvantage in that some of the amendments in this group are consequential, arising out of another group of amendments dealing with chief officer appointments, suspensions, professional standards and dismissals. The explanation of their effect will therefore be disconnected from the main body of the debate but I will outline their effect briefly and perhaps refer back to them when we come to the appropriate group.
Amendments 101A to 101C revise the proposals in the Bill in relation to the delegation of functions by police and crime commissioners. They would enable a police and crime commissioner to delegate functions to a police officer and to another local policing body—I will explain shortly why I think that this is necessary. They would also enable the appointment, suspension and removal of chief officers to be delegated to police and crime panels in certain circumstances, which are set out in a separate group of amendments that we shall come to later.
Amendments 234ZZA to 234ZZE deal with redefining the meaning of local policing bodies and elected local policing bodies in the interpretation part of the Bill. They would include police commissions in this definition rather than police and crime commissioners, as currently drafted. That would, of course, affect the use of these phrases throughout the Bill.
Amendments 234R and 234S affect Schedule 16 by reamending the changes set out in the schedule to the Police Reform Act 2002 dealing with chief officer appointments and like matters. As I mentioned, these are the subject of a separate group of amendments that I shall bring forward. The Bill as drafted removes the definition of “senior officer” and replaces it with “chief officer” in relation to the roles of local policing bodies in appointments and removals. My amendments would effectively revert back to the current position whereby the local policing body appoints all ACPO-rank officers, not just the chief officer.
I believe that my amendments in relation to the delegation of functions by the police and crime commissioner are important. Noble Lords will recall that, on the previous day in Committee, I argued that chief officers should not be corporations sole. I am not going to go over those arguments again but, if they are not to be separate corporations, some other mechanism is needed by which they can be given responsibility for the day-to-day management of police finances and other matters by the governing body. This would make it essential to be able to delegate functions to chief officers. At the moment, the police and crime commissioner cannot do this because the Bill specifically prohibits functions from being delegated to a constable. A chief officer may be a very grand constable, but he is none the less a constable and, as the Bill stands, cannot have police and crime commissioner functions delegated to him or her. As a matter of general principle, this prohibition lacks flexibility, as there may be other functions that the police and crime commissioner might want to delegate that can be more effectively carried out by the force than by the local policing body. As a specific matter in relation to the delegation of budgetary management, such delegation would be essential if the chief officer is not to be a corporation sole. I am, if you like, outlining alternative means.
My next amendment would remove the prohibition on delegating functions to another local policing body. This is intended to be used within the context of collaboration where it is currently not possible to formulate a lead authority model of collaboration—that is, where one authority deals with a particular collaboration agreement or a particular aspect of collaboration on behalf of other authorities. The Bill would continue this prohibition into the new model of police governance. That means not only that every collaboration agreement has to be signed by every party to it, but also that every one has to be managed by every party to it. This will greatly increase bureaucracy, so it would streamline the processes if one governing body was able to manage an agreement on behalf of the others. My amendment would enable this to happen. That seems a matter of common sense and good management practice, as well as a way of reducing the burden of administration in difficult financial times.
I suspect that the Minister sympathises with the desire to reduce bureaucracy but will tell me that this would be tantamount to abrogating responsibility for collaborative matters. He may also say that it could be used to abrogate responsibility for other types of functions, which could be disastrous. I do not think so. As I think I have mentioned, a delegation agreement is a tightly drawn document which is very specific about what functions can be delegated, in what circumstances and to what extent. It is not a casual carte blanche. However, if the Committee thinks that there are loopholes, I would be happy to consider putting conditions around this to ensure that it could be used only in the context of collaboration agreements, which is the intention of the amendment.
The third amendment in this group is effectively a consequential amendment to those on chief officer appointments, which fall in a different group to be debated later. It would bring consistency to an amendment that I am going to propose in that group, which is that in certain circumstances, where the police and crime commissioner has a conflict of interest in appointing, disciplining, suspending or dismissing the chief officer, the police and crime panel or police commission may undertake this function.
My next five amendments relate to earlier changes voted on by this House to create police commissions. They would change the definition in the interpretation part of the Bill so that the phrases “local policing body” and “elected local policing body” became synonyms for police commissions rather than police and crime commissioners. This would have a significant effect on the entire Bill and I hope that it more accurately reflects the intentions of this House in relation to the role of police commissions. The commissions having been created, the amendment would give them a significant role in police governance and funding throughout the Bill. Police commissions comprise both the police and crime panels and the police and crime commissioner, so giving effect to the more collaborative approach to police governance that I believe the original amendment intended. I know that time is short today and I shall not elaborate every area of the Bill that the amendment would affect, but I note in passing that, in my view, it would not affect the arrangements set out in the Bill in relation to London.
As previously noted, the final amendments in my name are effectively consequential on the group of amendments dealing with senior officer appointments. They would ensure that the local policing body retained police authorities’ current responsibility for appointing, disciplining, suspending and dismissing all police officers of ACPO rank—that is, assistant and deputy chief constables as well as chief constables. The Bill proposes that chief constables take this role in relation to deputy chief constables and assistant chief constables. I shall not take the time now to set out my arguments about why I believe that this is a mistake, but I shall certainly do so under a later appropriate group of amendments. Meanwhile, I beg to move.
I support the amendments put forward by the noble Baroness, Lady Henig. If many of us in the Committee are concerned about the unfamiliar concept of corporations sole and giving this status to chief officers, it makes absolute sense to look at alternative approaches. I would support an amendment that allowed a PCC to delegate certain functions for the management of police budgets and related issues to a chief officer.
I have been concerned in the past about the way in which collaboration agreements and arrangements work. I fondly recall putting forward some amendments about exactly that while the House was considering the then Policing and Crime Bill two or three years ago. They suggested that a police authority should be allowed to delegate certain responsibilities for managing collaboration agreements to another police authority, which is currently prevented. I complained at the time that this made managing better collaboration unnecessarily bureaucratic and burdensome. The same argument applies to PCC functions for managing collaboration agreements. I strongly support the amendments.
I also congratulate the noble Baroness on her amendments to the interpretation part. They are exactly the sort of thing that is required to give force to the more collaborative approach to police governance that I intended by my amendment creating police commissions. Amendments in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, suggest that a PCC and a panel should share responsibility for handling of force complaints and conduct matters. I support that, but the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, goes just that little bit further.
I am also happy to support the other amendments in this group to which the noble Baroness has spoken. However, as many of them relate to ACPO-rank appointments and complaints, and a later grouping deals with these matters, I shall speak in more detail at that stage.
My Lords, I am indebted to my noble friend Lady Henig for her amendments. As she said, some are consequential and some help with interpretation, particularly in relation to the vote on day one in Committee. I also share her concern about the corporation sole concept and delegation to chief officers and I welcome her proposal to streamline collaborative processes.
My amendment in this group, Amendment 211ZB, returns us to a matter that I have raised a couple of times before. It relates to one of the most bizarre provisions in legislation that I have ever seen before your Lordships’ House. Clause 62(2) states:
“The police and crime panel may appoint a person as acting commissioner only if the person is a member of the police and crime commissioner’s staff at the time of the appointment”.
Clause 62(1) states that the police and crime panel must appoint a person as an acting commissioner if,
“no person holds the office of police and crime commissioner … the police and crime commissioner for that area is incapacitated, or … the police and crime commissioner for that area is suspended in accordance with section 30”.
If we track back to Clause 30, we find the circumstances in which a police and crime panel may suspend the relevant police and crime commissioner. They relate mainly to whether a commissioner has been charged with an offence that carries a maximum term of imprisonment exceeding two years. We shall come back to the issue of whether two years should be reduced to six months, which it ought to be.
In essence, in circumstances where the commissioner is either incapacitated in one way or another or has been charged under the provisions of Clause 30, the panel is to appoint an acting commissioner who will be a member of the staff of that commissioner. This is extraordinary. Who will the people appointed be? I do not want to repeat what I said on our last day in Committee, but who will they be? Who will the commissioners appoint? They will be media people, because the commissioners will want to be re-elected and so a great deal of their focus will be on communications. We should look at the staffing. There is no control over the police and crime commissioners. There is no corporate governance and there are no non-executives; it is solely up to the commissioners whom they appoint. Clearly they are going to appoint people who will help them in their political endeavours—and yet it is suggested that, if the police and crime commissioner is no longer able to carry on in the job, a member of their staff will be appointed.
What would happen if a police and crime commissioner was charged with corruption and the sentence carried more than two years? What would happen if the senior members of the commissioner’s staff were also charged with corruption? Who then would the panel turn to? Even if it was only the police and crime commissioner who was charged with corruption—and, as we are giving so much power to one individual, with very few checks and balances, it is not impossible that one of the PCCs may find themselves in that situation—are we saying that the public would have confidence if a member of the staff of the person so charged were then to become the police and crime commissioner?
So far, apart from the issue of the memorandum of understanding and the clear hint that the Government are prepared to reduce the veto requirement on the precepts from 75 per cent to two-thirds, we have had very little give from them about recognising some of the serious concerns being put forward. On this one, surely the Government must think again.
I can speak briefly on Amendments 234T onwards because they are all broadly the same. They are consequential amendments that relate to the fact that the description “police authority” has been changed to “local policing body”, obviously because that is the basis of the Bill. The difficulty with this is that a police authority has a number of members whereas a local policing body will have many fewer members. There is a major issue of principle, both about the centralisation of power in one person and about how the scrutiny, representation and consultation are all undertaken. We think it is clear that it is essential that the policing body should operate in conjunction with the police and crime panel. That gives it a more democratic legitimacy, but also enables it to make better decisions, because it enables the views of the panel to be fed in as part of scrutiny at an earlier stage than that at which a decision might get made.
Finally, there is an important issue of public perception and confidence in the new structure, which goes right to the heart of what the Government are trying to do. The public would expect a police and crime panel to be at the heart of decision-making before decisions are made. This is in conflict with what the Government are intending, but communication and consultation is central to making good decisions. That is why the set of amendments to this schedule, Amendments 234T to the end of the group, stand in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Hamwee.
My Lords, I support Amendment 211ZB proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. I agree entirely with him that it is not just a theoretical possibility. If this legislation was enacted, over time there would probably come a set of circumstances in which it would be totally inappropriate for the acting commissioner appointed to be a member of the commissioner’s staff—if the commissioner had been charged with corruption or a related offence. I urge the Government to think of redrafting this in a way that does not exclude the possibility of a member of the commissioner’s staff being acting commissioner if he or she is the appropriate person in seniority and there is no role conflict, but not to insist on their being the only candidate who can be appointed in those circumstances.
My Lords, I also speak to Amendment 211ZB on the basis that the principle that the Government should look to in this case is that the person who deputises under such functions must be an elected individual. If the principle of the Government’s legislation is that policing and crime commissioners are directly elected, the consequence must be that if they cannot carry out those functions, for whatever reason, the person who fulfils them in their absence must also be directly elected. I appreciate that in the current iteration of the Bill we are not talking about a directly elected policing and crime commissioner, but we are envisaging a situation in which the person who acts as policing and crime commissioner has a personal electoral mandate, not necessarily for the whole of the area but for part of the area. The principle of the person who deputises being directly elected is fundamental, whatever final models you have.
There are certain ways in which that aim could be achieved. If you had a direct election model for the commissioner, you could also require that a deputy was elected on the ticket at the same time, in the same way as a president and vice-president are elected at the same time in the United States. It would be a very simple change to make and would provide all sorts of additional sensible opportunities for delegation in the administration that was required. Alternatively, you could specify that it should be a member of the policing and crime panel who deputises, because they would have a personal electoral mandate and would be accountable in that way. However, the idea that individual officials, even if there is no cloud over them personally, could set the precept is an extraordinary one. I am sure that that is not what the Government have in mind and I am sure that we would all earnestly hope that there would never be circumstances in which a non-elected person set the precept. However, if the concept of the Bill is to vest these immense powers in a single individual, including the immense power of setting the precept, whether the veto is at 75 per cent, two-thirds or 50 per cent does not matter. You are vesting that power in one individual, and at the very least that person should have a personal electoral mandate.
My Lords, I hope that the Minister on this occasion—and I mean no offence to the noble Baroness, Lady Browning—will also quote what Professor John Stewart has to say about this idea. I agree totally with my noble friend Lord Harris about the confidence of the public in someone who has been elected. I also speak as somebody who was a member of a county council when an allegation was made about a chief constable and the chair of the police authority. Nobody knew where the ends of that ball of string would end up, and it is conceivable that somebody who was later drawn into the same allegation of corruption would have been the natural person to have been appointed instead. Flexibility has to be there because of the danger. It is not always clear at the beginning that it will go in a direction that involves members of staff.
The other points I put as questions to the Minister. I am a person who can see the potential for conspiracy, having been in politics so long, but it is possible that somebody would step aside with a spurious excuse in order that a member of their staff could act for a period of time and then stand for election themselves. You could see a situation in which the person concerned who had been elected was not aware of that. The Minister is looking puzzled, but it is quite possible that there could be collusion about the possibility of one individual appointing another individual into a post in their stead. That could lead to a form of nepotism, and that worries me unduly.
I come back to the point made by my noble friend Lord Harris. I do not think that the public can possibly have confidence in the system that is being proposed here.
My Lords, I am very sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, feels that the Government are not willing to listen. The Government have indeed just sent out a number of invitations to meetings in between Committee and Report. I understand that he is unable to come to the consultations to which he has been invited.
It is true that I cannot attend, but I understood that the invitation was to give us the memorandum of understanding between the elected police commissioner and the chief constable. That is very welcome, but if the Government are putting all their eggs into the basket of a memorandum of understanding and reducing the veto on the precept from three-quarters to two-thirds, they are not going far enough.
We are not putting all our eggs into that basket. Let us continue with some of those discussions. I shall also dig out my dog-eared lecture notes and see whether I can find some further quotes from Professor Stewart so that we can continue those discussions.
Of course, I can see that if you are holding someone to account, clearly you are part of holding a person or body to account as you scrutinise their performance. I fully understand that, but we have been presented with the proposition that we are to have single individual elected politicians, accountable to the public through the ballot box, for the performance of the police, with the panel providing some kind of scrutiny in addition or as some kind of safeguard. The noble Lord took the argument a bit further forward today by emphasising the accountability of the police commissioner to the police and crime panel. I rather welcome that if the panel is to be given proper powers to hold the PCC to account. The problem is that it is very difficult to see how on earth the PCC can hold the commissioner to account because it has only two levers—one on the precept and the other on the appointment of the chief constable—and very little else.
This is precisely the question of how the process of scrutiny holds people to account. Public meetings are absolutely part of that, but we clearly need to continue that discussion. It is indeed the purpose and design of this Bill that ultimate accountability for the key tenets of this reform agenda remain with the elected individual. That is, after all, the Bill’s underlying objective. It is also why the Government resist the proposals that a PCC could delegate to his or her operationally independent chief constable, or to others, the task of justifying the political decisions of the office of police and crime commissioner. We accept that there are instances where a PCC will be required to work with others to achieve their political and strategic intents, but we suggest that this should be through collaboration rather than simple delegation. We recognise, of course, that there is a clear need for effective checks and balances. I have already undertaken to the House to ensure that these are properly considered and will be further discussed.
On Amendment 211ZB, on which a number of noble Lords have intervened, the Government’s original proposition for the case in which an elected PCC was incapacitated was to secure an assurance that their plan and strategy would be impartially delivered while they were not in a position to provide the necessary oversight. Much as the Civil Service provide to the Government of the day, it was this Government’s intention to secure a similar degree of impartiality by looking to the head of paid staff to act as a day-to-day caretaker for the police and crime commissioner of their plan, while the police and crime panel would be utilised to provide effective and constructive support and scrutiny of the delivery of that plan.
I am trying hard to think of a similar set of circumstances in which someone who is elected and holding an office—for example, as Secretary of State—is temporarily out of action. They may have a team of people who help and advise them. In this case, there are two Ministers in your Lordships’ Chamber. I cannot think of a politician or member of the public who would accept the Permanent Secretary stepping into their roles temporarily, although I can think of some Permanent Secretaries who may have wished to do so.
Perhaps the noble Baroness will be kind enough to name names outside the Chamber afterwards. I accept the criticism; we are indeed debating acceptable models. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, asked whether one should perhaps elect a deputy commissioner, with all the questions that then follow. What does the deputy commissioner do while she or he is waiting around in the hope that the police and crime commissioner will fall ill at some stage, possibly slipping arsenic into their tea at the same time? There are a range of issues that need to be debated there. The model of having someone from the police and crime panel as an alternative also has advantages and disadvantages; it threatens the possibility that there would be a different sort of competition. We recognise that none of these models is ideal. I assure your Lordships that we will look at these amendments and will ensure that they are considered by my colleagues in the Home Office.
The questions in relation to Amendment 234R were about how many chief or senior police officers should be appointed, whether the PCC should be responsible for appointing the chief officer and whether that chief officer should then appoint other senior officers. Our intention here is to ensure that the chief officer holds responsibility and is accountable for all constables and staff under his or her direction and control and that only he or she is accountable to the police and crime commissioner. This is intended to provide a simple basis for lines of accountability and responsibility.
Members of ACPO have their own views on how the lines of responsibility should lie, but this is the view that the Government take on this front. There will be further consultations between Committee and Report on a range of issues about accountability, scrutiny and others. However, having replied to these specific, and in some cases extremely detailed, amendments, I hope that Members are willing to take this as a constructive discussion and response and will be prepared to withdraw the amendment for the time being.
It seems that the Government are tying themselves more and more into knots. One reason for that is the uni-dimensional nature of the model. If everything has to go through commissioners, you will get more and more problem areas, as we have already identified, and we are not going to get a very rational model. I was pleased to hear that the Minister was able at least to attend his allotment. I have to tell him that my garden has recently been very neglected. One reason for that is because I find it inconceivable that this present coalition wants to turn the clock back 15 or 20 years where policing is concerned and is not prepared to build on policing best practice, which is actually there, up and down the country, as we speak. The Government are apparently not prepared to learn the lessons of the past two or three decades either, so I have felt it necessary to neglect my garden and to try to do everything that I can to improve this Bill. If that means tabling detailed amendments, so be it. I feel that I have to try and I know that others feel the same about trying to make this model work. It can work only if we all collaborate on tweaking it in different ways to make it work. A lot of really sensible suggestions have been made that would improve this Bill enormously, and I am sad, but not surprised, that the Government have so far shown no real interest in listening to anything that any of us have had to say. I heard the Minister say that he was going to take this away, and I appreciate that. I am sure he will do that, but I would like a little more give in this.
There are people in this Chamber who have spent decades in policing and really understand how policing works, not just at force level but at local level. I get the sense that all that knowledge is actually being treated with contempt. People do not really want to hear about it or to know what works. They say: “There is this model and we are going to stick to it, come what may”. Those of us who have experience and want to say, “Look, this or that may not work. Have you considered the alternative?”, might as well save our voices. I feel that we cannot do that because we owe it to people out in the country to say, “This has worked; this won't work”. We have to continue to do that although, as I say, I have the sense that we are not really getting very far and are not being listened to. While I am therefore willing to withdraw my amendment at this point, I think that many of us will return to a lot of these matters on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 101A withdrawn.
Amendments 101B, 101C and 101 not moved.
Clause 18 agreed.
Clause 19 : Delegation of functions by Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime
Amendments 102 to 116 not moved.
Clause 19 agreed.
Clauses 20 to 26 agreed.
Amendment 116ZA not moved.
Schedule 5: Issuing precepts
Amendments 116A to 122AA not moved.
Schedule 5 agreed.
Clause 27 agreed.
Clause 28: Police and crime panels outside London
122AB: Clause 28, page 20, line 25, leave out subsection (1) and insert—
“( ) Every police and crime panel shall have 15 members.
( ) Schedule 6 has effect in relation to the membership and composition of police and crime panels.
( ) A police and crime panel has—
(a) the functions conferred by this section; and(b) the functions conferred by this Act and other enactments.( ) The police and crime panel for an area must—
(a) co-operate with the police and crime commissioner for that area;(b) appoint a police and crime commissioner by majority vote of all the members of the police and crime panel from amongst the members of the police and crime panel at an annual general meeting or emergency general meeting of the Police Commission;(c) appoint co-opted members of the police and crime panel in accordance with Schedule 6;(d) assist the police and crime commissioner in the discharge of all matters over which the panel has a power of veto;(e) agree decisions by majority vote in relation to all such matters;(f) review and scrutinise decisions made or other actions taken by the relevant police and crime commissioner, and make recommendations or reports to that police and crime commissioner about the discharge of his functions.( ) The police and crime panel for an area must in particular—
(a) monitor the delivery of police and crime plans and police performance at local and divisional level;(b) engage with and consult the public at a neighbourhood and local level to ascertain their views about policing and crime;(c) nominate one or more of its members to answer questions at meetings of the local authority or local authorities within its police area.”
My Lords, I shall also speak to Amendments 123D, 124A, 135A, 135B, 137A, 137B and 138A to 138F in this group. Amendment 122AB sets out new proposals in relation to the composition of police and crime panels and sets out overarching functions of the panels. Amendment 123D would remove references to Schedule 6, because this is referred to in my Amendment 122AB. Amendment 124A would radically revise the current Schedule 6 to make new detailed proposals about the membership of police and crime panels. The remaining amendments in my name are consequential amendments to Part 4 of Schedule 6, which deals with general provisions about police and crime panels.
In an effort to save time and not go on too long, I will not address every provision in these amendments, but I will make some key points. For me, these amendments go to the heart of making the police and crime panel or the police commission into an effective body. By that I mean a body which does not just confine its activities to scrutinising the police and crime commissioner but which collaborates with him or her and has real powers and responsibilities in terms of local policing. If we are serious in our wish to have strict checks and balances in place, these amendments will help to create them; that is their purpose. They also flesh out the police and crime panel or police commission and make them more businesslike and cohesive, as well as an essential collaborative body with the police and crime commissioner.
What should the key functions of a police and crime panel be? To save time, I will not deal with every change that I propose, but some key points need to be made. A number of the new functions that I have outlined deal with the more collaborative approach between the police and crime commissioner and the panel, which is predicated on the creation of a commission. In particular, there is an obligation on the panel to co-operate with the police and crime commissioner, which mirrors a similar obligation that I have suggested should be placed on the police and crime commissioner. There is also a provision that the panel should assist the police and crime commissioner in discharging his or her functions.
I have also suggested that the panel should have a particular role in monitoring police performance at divisional level and in engaging with communities at a local level. That plays to the strengths of involving local councillors in policing governance. This is absolutely essential if the panel is to provide checks and balances on the work of the police and crime commissioner and to complement their activities. In my opinion, the police and crime panel is best placed to deal with divisional and local policing and to collaborate with local councils. The panel is much better placed than a police and crime commissioner, who is responsible for the whole police area at a strategic level. It is the panel members, rather than the commissioner, who are best placed to get involved in local issues. In my view this should include not just engagement, but also an element of oversight of police performance and delivery at a local level.
That would also be consistent with the more supportive approach to the relationship between the panel and the commissioner. Panel members could bring concerns about local engagement or police performance to the attention of the police and crime commissioner, to escalate if necessary. I do not understand this concept that there has to be a commissioner and that is an end to it—that anything else would dilute this revolutionary new concept. I am sorry, but if we really want effective policing, there has to be engagement at local level that is collaborative with what the commissioner is doing. I do not see why a police and crime panel cannot provide that level of input into local policing and then collaborate with the commissioner. I do not understand why that model is regarded as not valid, while the commissioner doing everything is regarded as a valid model. I hope that the Minister can perhaps explain that to me, because I do not fully understand it at the moment.
On the make-up of the police and crime panel or the police commission, I am concerned that the current proposals in the Bill are not strict enough in ensuring that the political balance of the whole police area is reflected in the make-up of the panels. To address this, I have borrowed the wording that is currently used to regulate the political balance of police authorities. The effectiveness of this has been well tried and tested. Police authorities have worked effectively for 15 years and their members have operated very well across party lines because of the provision in the 1996 Act. It is important that police bodies should not operate in party-political ways. They can be political, but they should not be party-political.
One reason why many of us in this Chamber can work effectively on policing issues across party lines is that we are used to doing so in police authorities and in some areas of local government as well. We do not find it surprising that we should be able to work with Members from other parties on policing issues. That has been a huge strength of police authorities in the past 15 years. This goes to the heart of the arguments about politicising policing. My amendment is an attempt to ensure that a panel—and, by extension, a police commission—cannot be entirely dominated by one political party.
That is also important because if the end result of this Bill is a directly elected police commissioner, there will be a tendency in different parts of the country for one of two things to happen. The first is that, in some parts of the country, the panel could be packed with political opponents of a commissioner, which could lead to a state of constant warfare between the commissioner and the panel, making any proper governance of the force a daily struggle. The other tendency could of course be the opposite: a panel is packed with people of the same political persuasion as the police and crime commissioner. Here the temptation will be to pick panel members who are little more than cheerleaders for the commissioner, so that they do not exercise robust scrutiny of the way in which the force is governed. It is a fundamental issue that the police and crime panel must be politically balanced.
I was interested to read that, in Committee in the other place, a comment was made about political balance on this issue. The Police Minister said that he agreed with political balance in principle but that it would be extremely difficult to implement it in practice because you could not tell a council that you had to send a Labour or Conservative person. I am sorry, but that has been happening for the past 15 years; the Minister may not realise that. For example, in Lancashire, to have the required political balance because of how the Lancashire electorate are politically represented, Blackburn has in the past been told to send a Labour member and Blackpool to send a Conservative member. This has happened across the country. It has not caused problems; it has enabled police authorities to work very effectively. I do not understand why this is suddenly deemed to be far too difficult. It is just turning back the clock and I do not understand it.
The other way in which I have sought to moderate the political balance of the panel is by increasing the number of co-opted or independent members. Two co-opted members, as currently proposed, is nothing like adequate to improve the diversity of the membership and cover specialist skills gaps in the rest of the membership. Therefore, my amendment would increase the number of co-opted and independent members. I have also included provisions about geographical balance in relation to both local authority and co-opted members to address some current weaknesses in the system. There has to be geographical balance as well. I have suggested six independent or co-opted members, although I am not altogether convinced that that is enough. However, I am concerned to keep the size of the panel manageable and consistent with the principles of good governance.
This latter point brings me to another issue: two-tier authorities and how the police and crime panel or police and crime commission should be made up. It is being suggested that district councils should be represented on police panels. I agree, having argued for it for a long time. However, there has to be a sensible proportion between the number of district councillors on a panel and the number of higher-tier representatives. I have suggested three district councillors, appointed by a joint committee of all the district councils where appropriate. This is in stark contrast to the Bill’s proposals, which would simply go on adding members to the panel until every upper-tier authority and every district council has at least one member. That could lead to large and unmanageable panels that lack focus. It also raises the spectre of the old-style police committees, which used to deal with police governance before the reforms of the noble Lord, Lord Howard, who is not in his place, which introduced police authorities. We have already discussed the weaknesses of those old police committees at some length and I shall not rehearse them. However, very large panels would be a retrograde step.
The approach of one authority/one member has another effect in areas with district councils. Some areas might well have a double whammy: they might have both a district councillor and a county councillor representing quite a small area—let us say Lancaster, for example, where that would be very possible. Other much larger areas might have only one representative. That seems unfair, and doubly so if one of those areas is a large unitary authority—perhaps a city that has only one member representing a huge population. It would then see a much smaller place having not one but two members representing it. That has to be looked at. The present suggestion of having one member from every district council and every upper-tier council, with no attempt at balance by weighing populations or geographic spread, seems not at all workable.
The other key feature of this amendment would remove the powers of the Secretary of State to formulate panels in relation to Wales and other areas. My hope is that, if the Bill is predicated on a commission rather than a commissioner, the Welsh Assembly might feel able to accept those arrangements and different provisions might no longer be needed. The amendment also contains provisions about how members of the panel are to be appointed and removed, and certain changes to Part 4 about how panels should conduct their business to align these to other changes that I have made to Schedule 6. Notably, this includes an amendment that provides that all decisions on issues where the panel has a veto or exercises other key functions should be made by majority vote or, I hasten to add, perhaps 50 per cent plus one. I am persuaded of that.
I have given a lot of thought to this issue. I believe that my model is far more workable than the one that the Government originally put forward, although I would say that, wouldn’t I? However, I hope that the Minister, in responding, will explain why she feels that my amendment lacks coherence or is not fit for purpose and why the Government’s model is superior. I am sure that she will argue that, but I would like to know why. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the proposals of the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, in this group of amendments to strengthen the functions of police and crime panels. These give some helpful detail on how the intent of my amendment to introduce police commissions could be carried forward. I particularly note how her amendments give additional depth to addressing the appointment of a PCC by the panel. I much enjoyed her discourse on how policing in Lancashire proceeded. It brought back some very happy memories of the authorities being non-political. Members were in a strict political balance from all over the area in which I was chair of the police authority. We also appointed the co-opted independent members, who made a significant contribution to the make-up of the police authority. Indeed, they provided the balance of geography, gender and ethnicity that the authority needed. We might not have managed to get that right if police authorities had been constituted by political membership.
I also welcome the obligation placed on the police and crime panel to assist the PCC, particularly in those matters where it has a power of veto. That is in line with the more co-operative arrangement that I had in mind in creating a police commission. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, that the panel should have a role in oversight of issues that are very local in nature, ranging from monitoring police performance at divisional level to a more active responsibility for engaging local communities. I also very much approve of strengthening the role of the panel by reducing the voting majority required, as we talked about earlier, to exercise a power of veto, and of tightening up the way in which the panel manages its business and procedures. The Minister should carefully consider this set of amendments and the way in which the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, has proposed them.
I have four amendments in this group. The first, Amendment 123B, is very straightforward. It would simply require the police and crime panel to appoint an audit committee. We have already identified that significant expenditure will be borne by these authorities. Taken together, the aggregate expenditure of a police authority that covers several local authorities probably equates to the total budget of one of those authorities. I think that all authorities now have audit committees. As part of the scrutiny role, it seems necessary to have an audit committee and for that function to contribute to the better governance of the police force in the area.
My other three amendments relate to the composition of the police and crime panel. I confess that Amendment 126A is not terribly clearly drafted. The Bill requires just two members to be co-opted by the panel. The intention of this amendment is that one-third of the total membership of the panel should be co-opted. Taking a base of 10, as in the Bill, one would envisage a panel of 15 with five members—that is, a third of the total—appointed by the two-thirds of members who had been elected by the constituent local authorities. That gives a better balance, is closer to the current model and strengthens the role of independent members, which has been, as many of your Lordships have pointed out, a welcome change to the operation of police authorities. It emanated from the Act that the noble Lord, Lord Howard, introduced 15 or so years ago, as my noble friend Lady Henig reminded us.
I go a little further than that in my amendments by suggesting in Amendment 126B that, in co-opting members, the panel should take into account equality and diversity considerations. One of the strengths of the independent member system is that it has allowed those factors to be reflected in the composition of these bodies. That could be particularly important in areas where there is a mixed ethnic population. That system also ensures a better gender balance. I perhaps should have added that geographical considerations should be taken into account as well given that some of these panels and their forces will cover large areas. As my noble friend Lady Farrington explained eloquently and at length, it is desirable that different communities should be adequately represented. I suspect that that phenomenon is not restricted to Lancashire or the north-west but is common across much of the country. Co-option offers a way of ensuring that these considerations are adequately reflected in the constitution of the panels.
My Amendment 126C seeks to define a little more closely how the political proportionality that the Bill envisages should be derived. It can be defined in a number of ways. I do not know whether the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, or the noble Lord, Lord Wallace, will be replying, but I hope that they will explain the precise concept of proportionality that the Government have in mind. You could say that as there are eight Conservative councils and two Labour councils or vice versa in a given area, certain members should be appointed to reflect that political composition. Alternatively, you could adopt the procedure followed by the Local Government Association—this amendment seeks to do so—of looking at the total political balance of elected members and their electorates across the relevant authorities and then working out a proportion that would not necessarily reflect the crude political control of the relevant councils. In all events, it is worth discussing and thinking about what sort of political proportionality we are seeking. Even in areas that are heavily dominated by one party or another, it is important that the minority voices among the elected members are represented as well as—I hope—the independent voices being represented round the table.
I hope that the Government will consider these constructive amendments, which seek to make the panels more effective and more representative and to avoid the implications that might arise from dominance by one party or one group in the community as opposed to another. I am sure that that is not the Government’s intention and I hope that the Minister will take this measure away and discuss ways in which we can achieve what I believe are shared objectives.
My Lords, I wish to comment on the amendments in this group standing in the names of my noble friend Lady Hamwee and myself. Amendment 124 is a preliminary amendment relating to the situation in Wales. I will not speak about that situation, and the amendments relating to that, as my noble friend Lady Randerson will do so. I wish to raise a broader issue relating to the discussion we have had so far about the nature of the panels, the number of members on them and their proportionality. Once the Committee stage is completed and before Report a number of issues will need to be discussed in detail.
I am not convinced that every panel needs to be the same size. It is proposed that there should be 15 members on a police and crime panel, but geography, population and other factors need to be taken into account. There may need to be lower and higher numbers of members in certain cases. I have a real difficulty with the proposal in Amendment 122AB that a police and crime commissioner could be appointed by a majority vote of a police and crime panel, which under this amendment would have 15 members, as a majority vote implies that eight people could appoint the police and crime commissioner. This will be a very powerful, highly paid and responsible job. I do not think that we should allow eight people to make an appointment of that kind. I would much prefer a directly elected police commissioner than one who might be appointed on the votes of eight people. A number of issues in Amendment 124A then become clearer. It proposes that each police and crime panel should have 15 members, but six of those will be,
“independent members to be co-opted by the panel”.
Therefore, the amendment implies that the panel will have only nine members, and that five of the nine can co-opt the six independent members. This concentrates and centralises power too much. At a time when we are trying to disperse power and make those who are elected to posts more accountable, I do not think that that proposal will work. Indeed, I assume that Nolan principles should apply in appointments of this kind. Therefore, there is a discussion to be had about what the powers of the panel members might be, how many there should be, who they represent, and how that will be done.
As regards having a discussion prior to Report about how proportionality will be delivered, broadly speaking proportionality on joint boards and police authorities can work reasonably well. However, it may not work reasonably well. It depends whether people want it to work well. There is a very strong argument for saying that proportionality in this case should depend not on the numbers of councillors by political grouping within the police authority area but rather on votes cast at the previous general election. There are a number of ways of doing this but it is very important that there is public support for the way in which the panels are constructed because if there is no public support it will make life very difficult for the chief constable, the commissioner, the panels themselves, the partnerships and the local authorities. At the heart of all this, the amendments carry a real risk of building single-party political control into the structure. One of the great benefits of the current structure, of which I am a strong supporter, is that it is a plural structure which enables everyone to work together with a common objective in their geographical area.
Amendment 127 seeks to ensure that,
“each relevant local authority has at least one of its councillors as a member of the panel”.
I believe that is very important. There is a discussion to be had about the nature of district councils, county councils, unitary councils and single-tier councils—whether they have only one or two members, high populations or more members than others. The amendment is a statement of our intent that,
“each relevant local authority has at least one of its councillors as a member of the panel”.
There may be a case for saying that in this situation district councils should give way to county councils but we need to discuss that.
Amendments 136 and 137 concern who can be a co-opted member of the panel. I do not think that a directly elected mayor of a local authority covered by the police area should be able to be co-opted to the panel—they should actually be on it. There is a fundamental issue here. We should add the proviso that a directly elected mayor cannot be co-opted to the panel because it should surely be assumed that they are members of it, otherwise there will be friction and that is one of the things that we are trying to avoid in the Bill.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, for his intervention, because that is absolutely true. Insufficient work has been done on the impact of having an elected mayor in some cities but not in a whole police area. Of course, the boundaries in London are coterminous, but they are not coterminous in the larger urban areas in the rest of England. That is a potential problem. I take the noble Lord’s point. How the situation can be properly addressed, should there be a mayor, has to be talked through.
As to Amendment 137, the Bill states that a local authority member is excluded from being co-opted. I think that the opposite will prove to be the case. There may well be a need for a local authority member to be co-opted, perhaps to demonstrate political balance but, more likely, to demonstrate diversity or geographical interest. Preventing a local authority member who has not been directly appointed by the local authority from being a member of the panel is a potential mistake.
Finally, Amendment 138 states that:
“Panel arrangements may not include provisions for the approval of any member other than by that member’s nominating authority”.
This simply makes it clear that the power of appointment should lie with a member’s nominating authority.
My Lords, I hope that our discussion has highlighted to the Minister why the composition of these panels is a complicated matter to which a great deal of thought should be given. Earlier, the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, waxed eloquently about how wonderful these panels would be, how they would have a member from each relevant local authority in an area, how all this was going to be fine and that this meant that this would be the channel by which all the necessary consultation and discussions could take place. However, the reality is that the panels as envisaged in the Bill will not deliver that in that way. They will end up being cumbersome because of the other things that need to be taken into account as a consequence.
The Government cannot have it both ways. In one part of the Bill there are proposals for panels, but in London there is a proposal for a panel of Members of the London Assembly. Therefore, none of the 32 London boroughs will have an automatic right to be represented on the panel that will scrutinise the actions of the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime. There may be one or two Members of the London Assembly with a dual mandate—something of which many political parties disapprove, but many members have a dual mandate—and, by chance, some people may represent an individual local authority. However, the norm will be that the members of the panel in London will not cover all local authorities in the area. Indeed, there may not be an elected Member of the London Assembly panel who covers a particular part of London, because the constituencies of the London Assembly Members may preclude that. It is also possible that none of the London-wide members may be elected. Therefore, in one part of the Bill there is a proposal for a panel that does not cover every local authority, while in the rest of the Bill panels are proposed for England and Wales that cover every local authority in the area.
The Government must address the question of which is the important principle. If the principle is that every relevant council should be represented, why does that not occur in London? If the principle is not so important in London, why is it more important outside London, where there is the additional complexity of districts, counties and unitary authorities? Also, if the Localism Bill goes through, there will be a whole series of directly elected mayors in addition to those we have at the moment.
These are questions that have to be resolved, as do the questions of proportionality and the balance between different geographical areas, because under the current Bill you could end up with all sorts of inequalities in terms of the balance of power within those panels. I am sure that that is not what the Government intend, which is why I am sure they will want to revisit this in our limited time available before Report.
The other point on which I wanted to pick up related to Amendment 123B, spoken to by my noble friend Lord Beecham, about the importance of having panels with separate panels to review the audit issues relating to the actions of the police and commissions in their areas. I chair the equivalent of the audit panel for the Metropolitan Police, and I have to say that this is not a small responsibility because of the number of audit issues that arise on a regular basis. These are matters that for the purposes of good governance must be addressed properly. There must be a route whereby internal and external audit can report, and it must be seen that those issues have been properly addressed. The danger of the present arrangement is that there is a vacuum regarding how audit issues can be properly dealt with. We discussed this briefly at an earlier stage in Committee, and I know that Ministers are having to think about this again. However, the principle remains that there should be some clear mechanism whereby these audit issues are considered, and if we are looking to strengthen the work of the police and crime panels, a requirement for there to be separate panels to consider audit issues would be a sensible way forward.
My Lords, I should like specifically to address the amendments that refer to Wales, including Amendments 127A, 128A, 132A, 132B and 132C. When we discussed this issue previously, the Minister was good enough to confirm that there was due to be a meeting between Ministers here and Ministers of the Welsh Assembly Government. This is perhaps an opportunity for the Government to bring us up to date on the situation and on whether there is likely to be any agreement with the Welsh Government.
For those noble Lords who were not involved in the previous discussion, the background is that a legislative consent Motion is required from the Welsh Assembly in order for this Parliament to deal with issues that are partially devolved. The way in which this works is that local government issues are devolved to the Welsh Assembly; the Assembly and the Assembly Government have the power to cap the police precept; and there are numerous funding streams in Wales that are partly funded by local authorities and partly funded by the police. The two streams of power are literally intertwined and the Assembly has to give consent for the legislation to be passed.
For the first time ever, the Assembly did not give that consent. There was a negotiation, an agreement apparently was reached, and a proposal was put to the Assembly. Despite the fact that Ministers in Wales put forward that proposal, they abstained in the vote, and the proposal was defeated. Rightly or wrongly, Ministers were not convinced that they had been given sufficient say in how the panels were to be constructed. The proposal then was that Welsh Ministers should have the power to appoint a single member on each of the four panels for Wales. The legislation suggests that it could be either a Member of the Welsh Assembly in each case or a councillor. The Explanatory Notes imply that it would be an Assembly Member, but that is another issue which the Government might consider. That proposal was defeated and the Bill was then redrafted to give the Secretary of State the power to draw together the local authority representation on the panels. That clearly cuts the Assembly and Welsh Ministers entirely out of decision-making on the composition of the panels, which is undesirable in something which so closely affects so many aspects of devolution. Members were talking earlier about the possibility of friction between those areas with mayors and those without. There is a considerable possibility of friction between Home Office Ministers here and the Ministers of the Welsh Government if the latter have absolutely no say.
The amendments proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, would put the power in the hands of the Assembly rather than Welsh Ministers. That is good democracy at work. It gives the Assembly as a whole, on a cross-party basis, the opportunity to make the nominations. I urge Ministers to consider that, if they have not already reached an agreement with the Welsh Government on the way forward, because it is only right and sensible, in something that involves such close contact between the Government here and the Government in Wales, there should be a voice for the Welsh Assembly and the Ministers in Wales.
I shall speak to my Amendments 126BA and 127A, but first I shall comment on the debate so far. One thing that has become absolutely clear is the risk of politicisation of our police forces. On the one hand, we will have party-political police and crime commissioners and, as noble Lords have suggested, the risk is that we will have panels dominated by either political supporters or opponents of the police and crime commissioner. It is clear that the morale of police officers will plummet if they see themselves becoming meat in the sandwich in debate and potential conflict between the politicians on the police and crime panel and the politician who is the police and crime commissioner.
The architecture seems designed to politicise the police force and, as my noble friends have suggested, to lead to circumstances in which, because of the lack of any corporate governance surrounding either the chief constable or the police and crime commissioner, there are bound to be real issues about probity and the use of resources. That is why the amendment tabled by my noble friend Lord Beecham on an audit committee, and the support given to it by my noble friend Lord Harris, is so important.
The debate about ensuring political balance is also very important. Whether it is done using the LGA model or, as the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, suggested, using votes cast at the previous general election, is open for discussion. I should have thought that one would want to strive for some kind of political balance.
I also very much support the amendment that suggests that some independent members be appointed. I am very confused about the Government's position. In almost every other department, when public bodies are being discussed and created, the importance of independent members is without question. The fascinating debate about FIFA and the Football Association recalls the comments of the Ministers at DCMS, who are urging the Football Association to appoint independent members. In the health service—I declare my interest as the chair of an NHS trust and as a trainer and consultant in the NHS—the role of non-executives, independent members, is regarded as critical. Yet in a service in which one wishes the public to have confidence and to believe in political impartiality, we have none of that. We are simply piling in party-political politicians. I despair of the Bill. It is so wrong. It will run into so much trouble if it is enacted. I am very tempted to move an amendment giving Henry VIII powers to the Home Secretary to correct the architecture as problems arise, because if not, I am convinced that the noble Baroness will be here in two years’ time with a police reform Bill mark 2, seeking to introduce the protections that noble Lords around the House clearly think are necessary.
On my two amendments, I hasten to say that the first one, Amendment 126BA, which would delete the ability of mayors to sit on the panel, is probing. I was very glad that my noble friend Lord Beecham and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, commented on it. It would be good to have a debate about the role of elected mayors in relation to the panel. First, what is the panel? Is it a rather inoffensive scrutinising panel on which it might not be appropriate to have the executive elected mayor, or is it the all-singing and dancing panel promised by the noble Lord Wallace, which will rigorously hold the police and crime commissioner to account? We are not sure yet, but that would be one aspect in a debate about whether elected mayors should be members of the panel.
Let us take the example of the West Midlands. I do not know when the Bill will be enacted, but the Government hope that panels will be established very soon. We have the bizarre situation in Birmingham where the Government presently propose that Councillor Mike Whitby, who is currently the Conservative leader of the Lib Dem-Conservative council, will be appointed shadow mayor. He will lose control of the council in 11 months’ time, but under Mr Pickles’s proposals, none the less, he will be shadow mayor, with all its powers. He could be appointed to the panel. We would have Mr Whitby as a member of the panel, but the other boroughs within the West Midlands will not have elected mayors, so they will presumably be represented by rank-and-file councillors. The whole issue of balance within that panel would be very difficult indeed.
I turn to Wales. I support the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, because I very much agree with what she said, which is why my name is appended to Amendment 127A, although she did not comment on that. It is clear from the noble Baroness’s very helpful response in Committee on 24 May that, because the Welsh Assembly rejected a Motion from the Welsh Assembly Government to support the Government’s negotiated solution, as it was described by the noble Baroness, in respect of police and crime panels, power is now to be given to the Secretary of State. I find that quite extraordinary. The Government acknowledged that provision regarding police and crime panels rightfully fell within the competence of the National Assembly for Wales, but the Assembly decided that it did not want anything to do with it because it did not like the proposals in the Bill. However, instead of the Government acknowledging that, they decided to say, “Well, if that’s the way it is, we’ll take power to ourselves”. That is rather a kick in the face for Members of the Welsh Assembly. I can only hope, as does the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, that there have been further discussions, and let us hope that the Government have seen sense on that.
My Lords, I speak as someone who sat for many hours on the Front Bench that the Minister now occupies acting as a Whip for the legislation that led to the Welsh Assembly. I can see noble Lords such as the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford, with whom I spent many happy but rather late hours discussing all this. Given the legal situation, can the Minister say whether there is any possibility of a challenge to the legislation which would overrule the establishment of the Welsh Assembly, the powers devolved to Wales and the joint powers that mingle together? I should be very interested to know whether the Government can simply decide on this one issue to give power to the Secretary of State in Westminster. I think that it will cause fear to run not only through Wales but possibly through Northern Ireland, and even Scotland if the current leader of the majority group in Scotland discovers that the Government can suddenly say that any Secretary of State in Westminster can start taking back powers to him or herself in spite of the devolution settlement. I think that there may be the odd legal challenge. I am not a lawyer but I have sat in your Lordships’ Chamber long enough and heard enough lawyers to know that they are very inventive when it comes to legal challenge. In saying that, I intend no offence to the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford.
My Lords, it may be appropriate if I begin with Wales, as we have finished with Wales at the end of a very long debate covering a wide range of amendments. At the last meeting of this Committee, I gave quite a detailed explanation of the background to what has happened in Wales. I just say to my noble friend Lady Randerson that the meeting that took place since we last met in this Chamber was not a meeting of Ministers; it was a meeting of officials. At that meeting, attended by officials of the Home Office, the Wales Office and the Welsh Assembly Government to discuss the implementation of the provisions of this Bill, there was no agreement that would in any way override the decision taken by the National Assembly for Wales.
I think that we now have to respect the previous decision of the National Assembly for Wales and therefore the Bill will be amended accordingly. I have heard what noble Lords have said about the Secretary of State taking powers. I assure the Committee that the Secretary of State will not go about this in an aggressive way. There will be further discussions and it is hoped that names will come forward rather than the Secretary of State having to impose a heavy-handed approach to this matter. As I mentioned during our previous day in Committee, the cross-border issues between England and Wales are extremely important, and it will be most unfortunate if, when this legislation is enacted, a situation on one side of the border gets in the way of cross-border co-operation in policing matters. Therefore, it is very important that we resolve this matter. I say to my noble friend Lady Randerson and to the noble Lord that I am very happy to discuss this issue with them, although I gave a very full explanation during our previous day in Committee.
The noble Lord is right to correct me. I was thinking in terms of the different structures and the way in which policing matters across the border are very important, as are other issues. It is a question of trying to make sure that we have harmony across both sides of the border.
The possibility of a legal challenge was also mentioned. If there were such a challenge—although I am not aware of one at present—we would obviously have to await the outcome.
Perhaps I may begin by talking about the panels. I am incredibly disappointed this evening for two reasons. First, I am trying to look at areas where there may be some room for manoeuvre within the Bill. I can understand noble Lords’ frustration. I fully appreciate that the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, like many others in this Chamber, has put in a lot of work in a genuine attempt to bring forward helpful ideas on changing the Bill. It must be frustrating when I do not stand up and say, “That was a good idea. Yes, we’ll do that”, but I think all noble Lords have been here long enough to know that I am not in a position to do that.
What I can do is go away and look at the situations that people have raised and discuss them with colleagues, not least because this legislation has already passed through another place. The Bill is not starting out in your Lordships’ House; another place has already given its decision on the structure of the Bill that was first presented to this House. I am genuinely looking to see where I might be helpful and I am talking to colleagues about that. However, it is very unlikely that at the Committee stage of a Bill I shall be able to respond to individual amendments by saying, “Okay, I’ll go along with that”. On the other hand, I do not want to over-egg my response and give people false hope, because there are clearly limitations to what I might be able to achieve. However, I assure your Lordships that I and my colleagues on the Front Bench have listened to the suggestions that have been made, some of which have been incredibly helpful.
I believe that the noble Baroness is trying on this but one problem is that she is not able to say the issues on which she would be prepared to move. I hope that she will not forget the power and influence that she has as a Minister in this House. She is being addressed by people who for many years have had considerable knowledge of policing. I hope that when she talks to her colleagues in the House of Commons it will be helpful to her to point out that the amendments being put forward here are very constructive and that they should be viewed as such, because the proper role of the House of Lords is to act as a revising Chamber.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Soley, for that. Although I am a new Member of your Lordships’ House, I am very appreciative of the expertise and experience that people bring to the debates and to the amendments that they table. However, I also have to remind the Committee that a fundamental change has been made to Clause 1 compared with the Bill that came from another place, and that has necessarily affected the way in which I can respond to the amendments that are tabled. As we pursue these individual issues, it is perhaps becoming clearer that there is a difference in philosophy and approach across the Committee. It would be wrong of me to pretend, particularly to noble Lords opposite, that I am going to be able, or would wish, to make significant changes to the overall structure of the Bill. I am trying to look at suggestions that might improve the Bill based on the Government’s original intention as to how the Bill should proceed, and I hope that noble Lords will take that at face value.
Yes, I understand that. The change made at the beginning of the passage of the Bill in this House was very profound. It was made by a Member on the government Benches and supported by others. That is another message which the other place might need to consider. Alongside that, arguments have been made about accountability today that are very important and override the initial change to the Bill.
I can assure the noble Lord that overturning Clause 1 has not gone unnoticed by others who have an interest in the Bill. I was tempted to say that we speak of little else, but that would probably be an overexaggeration.
There has been a lot of discussion this evening about the composition of the panels and the need for accountability and balance. I take on board the fact that people are genuinely concerned about that. The panels are intended to provide balanced representation at force level and force-level scrutiny of the police and crime commissioner. It is a little strange that noble Lords have voiced their concern that every local authority within a force area would have representation on the panel. I see that as a good thing. Although, at the moment, there is local government representation on police authorities, it is not necessarily uniform across the force area. Therefore, despite the fact that it might result in a larger panel in some cases, I would have thought that there would be more equality of representation, at least in terms of numbers. I can think of some very large counties, particularly some of the more rural ones, in which the people who live there very often think that the people in the towns and cities have the most influence and that people from the rural district councils do not always have a say. I think it is rather good that they will be represented on a panel. It is up to the local authority to ensure that people feel that their representative on the panel will be able to speak across the whole district, including some of the smaller areas. I was rather disappointed that people did not see that as an opportunity.
I hope that a lot of people out there will want to serve on these panels, particularly when they know that they will have an opportunity to be on the panel representing the local authority area in which they are involved. They will be able to bring their own views about a locality into the fulcrum of an important part of deciding policing in that force area.
I hope that the Minister will feel able to discuss with her noble friend Lord Howard not only the geographical balance but the political balance being negotiated within an area. From the local government end, I did not always totally agree with Michael Howard, as he was then, on local government and policing. As my noble friend Lady Henig said, he produced the system that got the balance that was needed—so it is not only geographical.
No, I take that point, but I think it goes even further than that. That is why it is so important that panels have the right to co-opt. I hope that they will see co-option as a useful tool in bringing equality to other issues, such as in discrepancies in the composition of the panel in relation to people from ethnic communities, the gender balance and so on. On the equality aspect of the panels, there is a lot to look at. The starting point of local authorities all having a representative is a good one. I am sure that the panels will not be so big and unwieldy that they will not be able to focus on the business in hand. Numbers are at the heart of being able to get a balance. Indeed, I have already taken that away and will look at it.
The panel for the Mayor of London will be subject to an existing mechanism for providing a committee of elected individuals to scrutinise the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime. However, that mechanism does not exist outside London, as I am sure the noble Lord knows only too well, hence the provisions in the Bill to form a PCP of the unitary and district authorities. The policy intention is for elected people to be involved in scrutinising the PCC. The situation is not perfect for London, but London is a very different animal from the rest of the country. With his knowledge of London, the noble Lord will know why that is.
I certainly know why that is. We start from the basis that London is the greatest city in the world and that Birmingham and Manchester pale into insignificance. To be very serious about this, under the current arrangements, the 32 boroughs in London feel that they are not directly involved, which is one reason why we have had amendments in Committee on the importance of consultation and involvement with local authorities. It is all part of a package, and I hope that in looking at the issue outside London the implications inside London will be reflected on. Part of the solution will be to build in robust relationships between, in London's case, the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime and, outside London, police and crime commissioners and commissions or panels, or whatever else we have, and the elected local authorities in each area, both in providing scrutiny and in developing plans for policing in those districts.
I realise that I have not spoken in this debate yet, but following the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, perhaps the Minister would also consider the position of the current London Assembly. It appears not to be too concerned about most of the functions of the panel; it will be restricted to a number of the members of the London Assembly, but not all of them. On the noble Lord’s point, only a selection will do the job, not all 25 members, so the position there is exacerbated.
I promise my noble friend and the noble Lord, Lord Harris, that I will look at that, but I cannot make any promises. Speaking of my disappointments, I say to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that I do not accept that there is no corporate governance in the Bill. We are looking at matters that have been raised by this Committee. I refer him to Clause 28, which deals with independent members; to Schedule 1, which deals with the requirement of chief executives; to Schedule 16, which deals with external audits; and to Clause 11, which deals with the duty to provide information. Those might be imperfect and noble Lords might not agree with them, but it is just not right to say that there is no corporate governance in the Bill. I am very happy to look at that in the light of remarks that have been made in previous debates. I think the noble Lord overegged the situation a little this evening.
Perhaps I can turn to the amendments; there have been a lot of them. I shall begin with Amendments 123AB, 139A, 148C, 148D, 149B, 149C and 149D. Those amendments envisage an entirely different approach to handling complaints against the police and crime commissioner. They would mean that a code of conduct for a PCC would be drawn up centrally and that police and crime panels would hold PCCs to account against it. It would even allow a police and crime panel to go as far as removing a directly elected person with a public mandate from their office and to suspend the PCC indefinitely while the allegation was investigated.
I cannot support the amendments because they would enable the police and crime commissioner to be removed from office without recourse to the public who elected him or her. A PCC will be elected by the public in their force area and will be accountable directly to that public for the decisions that it makes. Of course, that is if the Bill returns in a different form from the one that is before your Lordships tonight. I add that caveat. The commissioner cannot be removed by the police and crime panel for a perceived breach of a centrally defined code of conduct. If the PCC makes the wrong decisions, the panel will ensure that the public are informed, and the public will remove them at the ballot box. That is at the heart of the matter, and something on which probably we will not agree.
Perhaps I may refer to my folder, which I have left on the Bench. I apologise; I put my papers down in the wrong order. They are now on their way. I will set out how the amendments would affect the Bill, and the Government's position. The overarching effect of the majority of the amendments would be to change the relationship between the police and crime commissioners and the police and crime panel, as well as the composition and powers of the panel. This would include provision for the police and crime commission to be drawn from the panel membership. The Government's intention remains that police and crime commissioners will be elected by the public to hold chief constables and their forces to account, subject to—
My Lords, I was trying to attract the attention of other Members on the Front Bench. I think that the noble Baroness has gone on to the next group of amendments. I wonder whether I am the only one who is confused; other noble Lords are listening obediently. Of course, it may be very useful to have the answers before we move the amendments.
My Lords, I apologise for the inconvenience caused to the House. I will address the amendments that we have debated. There may be a sense of déjà vu because I have read out a bit of this already. I will begin at the beginning. I will set out how the amendments would affect the Bill, and the Government's position. The overarching effect of the majority of the amendments would be to change the relationship between police and crime commissioners and the police and crime panel, as well as the composition and powers of the panel. This would include provision for the police and crime commissioner to be drawn from the panel membership. The Government's intention remains that police and crime commissioners will be elected by the public to hold chief constables and their forces to account. They will be elected on a mandate that will give the reform the democratic accountability so necessary in policing today. I stress again that this is subject to the Bill returning to your Lordships’ House in a different form to that which we are debating tonight.
The arrangements for the panels set out in the amendments would place a much greater level of prescription on their composition and how they arrive at their membership. Local areas can decide for themselves how to appoint the police and crime panel members in a fair and balanced way. I referred earlier to the importance of balance; we should look at that and I hope that we can make progress. I also fully recognise the importance of ensuring that members of the panel can represent geographically large and diverse communities. It is an important part of the police and crime commissioner’s role to reach out to their communities in order properly to consider and reflect their views in policing and community safety arrangements. The commissioner has a responsibility to understand and represent the electorate in all its diversity.
The panel’s main role is to provide a check and balance for the commissioner by ensuring that each local authority is able to nominate a representative to the panel for its force area and ensure that there is a clear, fair and proportionate process in place that reflects local political structures. Although I appreciate the purpose of all these amendments, I believe that we have created arrangements that are sufficiently flexible to meet local needs while ensuring that police and crime panels are the right size to avoid becoming an expensive and bureaucratic burden.
Amendment 123B would require the police and crime panels to appoint an audit committee. Several Members of the Committee were concerned about this. Police and crime panels are free to establish sub-committees that would help to carry out their functions most effectively. It is up to individual panels to decide which areas of business should be covered by such sub-committees, but we would not want to prescribe that in legislation.
On Amendments 125, 125A, 126, 128 and 138F, I also recognise the need to ensure that the Secretary of State’s powers to appoint panel members are necessary and effective. The Secretary of State’s power to appoint police and crime panels will be applicable in England as a backstop power, should all the local authorities in a police area be unable or unwilling to appoint. These are in extremis situations, but that power is there. This backstop power is considered necessary, as police and crime panels will be a vital part of the new landscape.
I have already mentioned Wales, which is the subject of Amendments 132A, 132B and 132C.
Perhaps I may draw the Minister's attention to Part 2 of Schedule 6. Paragraph 4(1) talks about the composition of the police and crime panel and prescribes a number of persons “properly appointed” and,
“two members co-opted by the panel”.
There is not, is there, much flexibility in that? That is one of the issues to which the amendments are addressed—namely to increase the proportion of co-opted members. It does not seem to be allowed for in the Bill as it stands.
The noble Lord is right: the co-option is limited to two. However, the intention is to get the balance and to consider the overall numbers on a panel. I shall take away the issue to ensure that we have the formula right in terms not only of geography but, as I said earlier, of gender balance, ethnicity and, as noble Lords have said, political balance as well. I am very happy to take a look at that.
I have mentioned Wales, and at the last Committee sitting I gave quite a full explanation of the background to the issue. It is a difficult situation. I say to noble Lords with a particular interest in the part of the legislation affecting Wales that if they would like to come and have a chat, I am happy to talk to them on a one-to-one basis.
Amendments 135A and 135B would allow the police and crime commissioner to be a member of the police and crime panel. This goes against the fundamental principle of this reform, which is to have a directly elected individual accountable to the public for policing, with scrutiny being carried out by the police and crime panel. The amendment seeks to create a police authority by another name. I see from noble Lords’ expressions around the Chamber that they probably know that this is what the amendment would do, and I know that they are trying keep the police authority structure in the Bill if they can. This is where we get the tension between the Bill's philosophical aims and those who perhaps do not share the aim of making the democratically elected police and crime commissioner the accountable person.
The effect of Amendment 136 on the Bill as introduced to the Lords would be to prevent a directly elected mayor being co-opted as a member of the police and crime panel for that force area, as was mentioned earlier. It is intended that directly elected mayors will be required to be an elected member of the panel. This provision was in the Bill as introduced in another place but due to a drafting error it was omitted when the Bill was amended by the substitution of a new Schedule 6. It is intended that the provision will be reinstated by government amendment.
Amendments have been tabled that would block the appointment of a mayor on the panel as either a full panel member or a co-optee. We believe that as a directly elected representative and leader of their community, they should have a role on the panel, and we will be amending the Bill accordingly.
Amendment 137 would allow a police and crime panel to co-opt its two independent members from local authorities. As I mentioned, I am happy to look at the size of the panel. The current minimum panel size is 12, at least 10 of whom are local authority councillors. Two independent members can be co-opted to the panel but they do not have to be members of local authorities. As they would bring additional skills, experience and diversity, I do not want to remove them despite what we have said about the need to look again at this. They would also provide an independent perspective to discussions. I think that there is some consensus across the Committee that the co-option and independence of those on the police and crime panels would be a force for good.
The effect of Amendment 138 on the Bill as introduced would be to ensure that panel arrangements may not include provisions for the approval of any panel member other than by that member's nominating authority. I understand the concern to be that a local authority should be able to choose which elected members represent it on the panel, and that its wishes should not be overridden by the other authorities in the police area. In our view this amendment is unnecessary. Paragraphs 6 to 8 provide for a local authority to nominate one of its members for appointment to the panel. Paragraph 9(2) then provides:
“If the nominee accepts the nomination, the relevant local authority may appoint the nominated councillor as a member of the panel”.
The Bill leaves the appointment at the discretion of the nominating authority and this discretion is not fettered in any way. Without express provision to the effect that this power of the nominating authority to make an appointment is subject to the panel arrangements, it will not be possible for the panel arrangements to include provision preventing the authority from freely exercising the discretion given to it in paragraph 9.
Amendments 138A to 138E would increase the level of prescription in how local authorities might set up and run police and crime panels. The whole thrust of this legislation is to free up local areas from prescription and unnecessary bureaucracy. We do not believe that it is for Whitehall to dictate every last detail. Local areas already carry out scrutiny of various functions and they are well placed to decide how best to achieve successful arrangements for panels within the framework that we have set out.
I thank the Minister very much for her very lengthy response. I also thank everyone who took part in the debate. The intention of the amendments was very much to start off a debate on these issues. I thought that the many points to which the Minister has just referred needed to be explored in debate. There has been an extremely full and good debate on a whole range of issues. Perhaps I may mention one or two of them.
The first issue is the composition of the panels. I feel the same way about the composition of the police and crime panels as I do about the composition of the House of Lords—I believe that composition should follow function. The composition of the panels should, in a sense, follow the functions of the panels, and I accept that I am trying to change those functions. I am trying to get the panels to have a more collaborative role. I do not want them just to be scrutinising the commissioner because I think that that would be a total waste of the panel members’ expertise. I am therefore trying to change the role. I am also suggesting that if the role should be more one of collaboration and getting involved in local policing, the composition will need to follow that. It will need to be somewhat more cohesive and to be balanced in the sorts of ways that I have mentioned. If the commission’s only function is to scrutinise the commissioner, which was the original model, then there is a greater case to be made that everybody should be included in this scrutiny exercise. But if that is all that the panels are going to do, it will be a complete waste of local talent.
Given that the noble Lord, Lord Wallace of Saltaire, has been telling us how, as a substitute for involvement in crime and disorder reduction partnerships, local authorities will be represented on the police and crime panels, does that not suggest that this is not just about scrutiny but about a much more important role? Therefore, all the noble Baroness’s points are even stronger.
I was going on to say that I remain absolutely convinced that political balance is essential. The political balance on police authorities at the moment—I lost the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, at one point—is established by the votes cast at the previous general election. That is the basis on which the composition of police authorities exists. It has worked extremely well for the past 15 years, and I see no reason why we should depart from that. In a sense, it is not that we want to keep police authorities in existence. That suspicion was voiced by the Minister, but that is not the issue. The issue is that we want to build on existing good practice. There are things that have worked very well in the past 15 years, and it seems stupid to throw them away. That is what we are trying to argue. The political balance of police authorities over the past 15 years was one of the positive changes that took place. To throw that away and to return to politicisation as we had it in the 1970s and 1980s is something that some of us want to avoid at all costs. That is one of the points about political balance.
The second point is about independent members. In the past 15 years, we have seen how effective independent members have been on police authorities. We know that two will not be sufficient. We know that you need diversity, gender balance and geographic balance. My suggestion of five or six independent members was intended to build on good practice. That is what I was trying to do in some of these amendments. It goes without saying that these independents would be appointed on Nolan principles. That has been established in the past few years, and I think it would continue.
On the other place sending us legislation, I have read all the debates. MPs came up with problems similar to those that we have been wrestling with here, and I have to tell the Minister that on more than one occasion people not just on the opposition side but also on the government side commented that they hoped that the Lords would be able to amend the legislation to meet the point. That was said more than once in the Committee stage in the other place and it is precisely what we are trying to do. We are trying to do what the other place suggested when it came up with problems. We are trying to find solutions, and that is running headlong into what the Minister confessed right at the outset—that there would be no changes to the overall structure of the Bill—and that is where we have problems. There is tension between no changes on the one hand and people in the other place knowing that there are serious flaws in the legislation and hoping somehow that the Lords will find a way to deal with them. We are trying to deal with these issues.
This was a probing amendment. I do not claim to have all the answers, but we have to try to meet some of these points. There are serious problems to be dealt with in this legislation, and that is what I think many of the amendments are trying to address—not in any hostile way, but simply to try to improve the legislation. If there are going to be no changes to the overall structure of the Bill—we will come back to that at the end—that will give us problems. However, at this point I will withdraw my amendment, but I shall feel free possibly to bring it back at a later stage.
Amendment 122AB withdrawn.
Amendments 122B to 123AA not moved.
123AB: Clause 28, page 21, line 6, leave out subsection (5) and insert—
“(5) A police and crime panel has the following functions in relation to complaints—
(a) to refer complaints against the police and crime commissioner to the IPCC in accordance with Schedule 7 or, where appropriate, deal with such complaints directly;(b) to monitor the police and crime commissioner’s compliance with the code of conduct;(c) to arrange for complaints against members of the police and crime panel to be dealt with in accordance with subsection (5A);(d) to monitor the discharge of the police and crime commissioner’s functions to deal with complaints in relation to the police force for its area.(5A) Every police and crime panel shall establish an independent subcommittee to discharge its functions under subsection (5) in accordance with Schedule (Conduct Committees) which has effect.”
I shall speak to a number of amendments. I will try to be as brief as I can be in view of the time, but it will be very difficult because this is an important set of amendments made up of Amendments 123AB, 139A, 147A, 148C, 148D and 149C. I am sorry about this, but this is a very large group of amendments and I hope I will not be testing the patience of the Committee too strongly. These are important amendments and although I do not want to speak at inordinate length, their implications and significance need to be spelled out.
My first six amendments in this group make new provisions about conduct and complaint matters in relation to the police and crime commissioner and the police and crime panel. Amendment 139A inserts a new schedule to the Bill requiring panels to establish arm’s-length conduct committees to deal with ethical standards for all members of the police commission. I shall briefly outline the effect of these amendments and say why I think they are necessary. Amendment 123AB proposes specific new functions for panels in relation to conduct and complaint matters. Amendment 147A replaces the criteria about criminal offences in relation to suspending a police and crime commissioner with a more generic standard about reaching required standards, and Amendment 148C reflects parallel wording in the event that a police and crime commissioner ceases to be suspended. Amendment 148D makes new provisions about when and how a commissioner could be removed from office by the panel, and Amendment 149C provides that the Committee for Standards in Public Life will devise a code of conduct for all members of the police commission, which would include police and crime commissioners, setting out the required standards of behaviour.
My next four amendments deal with ensuring that the police and crime commissioner appoints, disciplines, suspends and dismisses all officers of ACPO rank within the relevant force. That is currently done by police authorities, and I am suggesting that it should also be done by police and crime commissioners. Amendments 178EA to 178EC deal with strengthening the role of the panel in the appointment, suspension and dismissal of all ACPO-rank officers within the relevant force. Amendments 214ZA and 216ZA make some changes to the disqualification provisions. The first suggests that it is not appropriate for a serving police officer or someone who has served as a police officer in the previous five years to be a commissioner. The second would allow people who are currently members of police authorities to stand as police and crime commissioners. My final amendment, Amendment 216B, ties a strengthened standards regime for police commission members to the disqualification provisions, and stipulates that any police commission member who does not sign the code of conduct within a month of taking office is disqualified.
I have a problem with the whole way the conduct regime is drawn in the Bill at present because it basically predicates all meaningful action that can be taken against a police and crime commissioner on the yardstick of criminal or corrupt behaviour. In my view, this is a woefully inadequate standard for a person who is charged with overseeing the police. If public confidence in the police is to be maintained, communities need to be reassured that the standards expected of them are beyond reproach, not merely slightly better than criminal. The people who scrutinise the police and crime commissioners should also be expected to observe similar high standards. I remain unconvinced that the IPCC is the best organisation to oversee serious police and crime commissioner complaints because its expertise lies in regulating the professional standards of forces, and I am not sure that it is well equipped to deal with the often more politically motivated complaints that police and crime commissioners will attract. I am most concerned about what happens with lower level complaints and with conduct where behaviour cannot be proved to be criminal or corrupt. At the moment, the Bill suggests that these should be matters for informal resolution between the commissioner and the panel, subject to regulations by the Secretary of State, but I find this hopelessly vague. It gives the panel no obvious sanctions over an errant police and crime commissioner. It also fails to deal with the conduct to be expected of members of the panel. Low-level complaints could be about things such as conflicts of interests, a community’s perception of poor engagement or being ignored or inappropriate behaviour. None of these is criminal, but they can all be corrosive and can all impact on and undermine public confidence.
I keep being told that the public can vote out a police and crime commissioner who has become a laughing stock or an object of distrust after four years and that it is all about accountability, but much more urgent action may need to be taken to ensure that policing is not put at risk. It assumes that a police and crime commissioner will stand after four years. They may choose not to stand after four years, in which case they will not be accountable at all. In that situation, they could cause enormous problems over a four-year period and then stand down. It is that sort of situation that I find very alarming. I am conscious that dealing with standards of behaviour in a political environment can be difficult because many complaints are likely to be motivated by political point-scoring. Equally, they could be legitimate complaints from members of the public and others.
My amendment suggests that expected standards of behaviour should be set out in a code of conduct drawn up by the Committee on Standards in Public Life and should apply to commissioners and panel members. A later amendment suggests that a commissioner or a panel member must sign this code of conduct and agree to abide by it within a month of taking up office. Failure to do so would mean disqualification. Therefore, the code would have real force.
Amendment 123AB would strengthen the role of panels in complaints but provides that panels must establish a sub-committee to deal with complaints and conduct. The amendment would also revise the role of the panel in dealing with complaints and conduct issues against the commissioner, give it authority to deal with complaints against panel members and include an oversight role of the commissioner’s activity in relation to force complaints.
Complaints and conduct matters would be entrusted to a committee within the panel but at arm’s-length from it. Again, I cannot see that this should be contentious. The conduct committee should be chaired by a person who is not a member of the police commission and should comprise a number of additional independent people who are not members of the police commission. That seems to me to make very good sense.
Some members of the police and crime panel would be able to sit on the committee to provide a link to the open knowledge and expertise on the panel, but panel members would not be in the majority on the committee. This is designed to overcome concerns about politically motivated complaints and to provide reassurance that complaints are dealt with fairly. It also builds on existing good practice.
The conduct committee should be able to make a range of recommendations to the panel about action that can be taken. That could range from an apology or exposing an interest where there is conflict to dismissing a member, including the commissioner, from their position in more serious cases. I have already of course heard the Minister’s reaction to this part but none the less I will continue. The decision about what action to take would be for the panel, but the panel would not be able to apply sanctions without an appropriate recommendation from the conduct committee. The amendment also includes a number of other safeguards, such as the need for a majority vote to agree action against a commissioner. As already noted, my next few amendments would ensure that the commissioner appoints, disciplines, suspends and dismisses all ACPO-rank officers and not just chief constables.
The House will have gathered that I do not in any way agree with the Government’s assertion that police authorities are weak and ineffective. However, having taken note of their determination to create more powerful individuals to play a more muscular role in governing the police, I was astonished to see that they are giving the power to appoint deputy assistant chief constables to chief officers. I find that hard to go along with. Apart from the inconsistency of this position, it gives me serious concerns for other reasons. It is important for the governing body to exercise a decisive role in selecting the entire top team. My amendments would remove the proposals in Schedule 8 and replace them with alternative proposals, giving a stronger role to the commissioner and the panel.
I believe that ultimately it is the lay governors who are responsible to the public for the overall shape and style of policing and for the effectiveness of policing in their area. They cannot do this properly if they do not have the final say over the senior team in the force, although I think that it is appropriate to involve the chief officer in who is selected as a deputy or assistant chief constable. My amendment allows for this.
There will always be a tendency for senior people to promote and select others in their own image. Police authorities fought long and hard to get more diversity into the top jobs in the force. I am speaking now as the person responsible for appointing the first female chief constable in the country, with—I have to say this—the considerable assistance of our HMI at the time, the noble Lord, Lord Dear. I am sure that he would agree that the appointment of the first female chief constable in this country was no automatic appointment. It was very difficult and hotly contested, particularly by the outgoing chief constable.
It is bad for the image of the service, bad for the retention of able officers who do not fit into a particular mould and bad for community confidence if senior appointments become little more than a closed shop. I am not saying that they would, but we have to guard against it. My experience suggests that lay governors should be involved in appointments at the top level and that their involvement is extremely important.
While on the subject of ACPO-rank appointments, I see that the Bill has taken out the role of the senior appointments panel in overseeing potential candidates for ACPO-rank positions. Perhaps the Minister can tell me what would be put in its place. I served on the senior appointments panel for a number of years. I thought that it played a valuable role in assessing the career path of ACPO-rank officers and in monitoring appointments by police authorities. I am not sure how this role will be carried out in the future, how suitable candidates for promotion will be selected or how they will be developed and put forward for particular posts. Nor am I clear how commissioners will know who is available. We do not seem to have much clarity in this area and I would be interested to know what will succeed the senior appointments panel and all the work that it did.
I am very conscious of time, for which again I apologise to the House. The most alarming aspect of this section is the suggestion that chief officers should be responsible for disciplining their immediate juniors. This is a recipe for corruption. I can think of few circumstances where a chief officer would not be to some extent tainted by the inappropriate action of an immediate junior. I do not want to go into them, but there have been situations recently around the country where this could have been an enormous problem. I can think of few circumstances where a chief officer would not be tainted. If nothing else, there would be a suggestion that a chief officer had inadequately supervised that person and had been complicit by omission, if not commission. That is unacceptable and needs to be changed. This outlines a compelling summary of the reasons why responsibility for ACPO-rank appointments and standards should remain with police governors. I will not speak on it further.
Conscious of concerns about putting too much power in the hands of a single commissioner, my amendments also suggest a much stronger role for the panel in ACPO-rank appointments and related matters. I believe that members of the panel should sit on the interview panel for ACPO-rank officers and have a vote on who is appointed. The conduct committee should have a role in overseeing the commissioner’s actions in relation to force disciplinary action and complaints. The police and crime panel must approve decisions by the commissioner to suspend or dismiss senior officers after referring the matter to the conduct committee where appropriate. There is also a mechanism to refer the matter to the Secretary of State if there is deadlock between the panel and the commissioner about dismissing a senior officer. That seems to be a much more balanced approach to dealing with senior officer appointments and complaints than currently in the Bill. It overcomes the arguments about giving too much power to one person while making sure that the governing body of the force has meaningful traction over the senior force team on behalf of the public. However, if my suggested amendments about an entirely new approach to ACPO-rank appointments are rejected, there is an additional amendment that stipulates that at the very least the panel’s existing powers of veto should be subject to a majority vote and not a vote of three-quarters of the panel.
Two amendments deal with revising the disqualification provisions. The first suggests that a serving police officer or a person who has been a police officer within the past five years cannot be a commissioner. I am astonished that there does not seem to be any general provision in the legislation that a serving police officer cannot be a commissioner. Bizarrely, there is a provision preventing officers of the British Transport Police and the Civil Nuclear Constabulary from being commissioners but nothing preventing a member of another police force from taking up this post. I can only assume that this is an oversight, but perhaps the Minister will confirm this.
I also think that it is inappropriate for a former police officer to be a commissioner at least until there is some space and distance between them and their former role. I suggest that this should be at least five years, otherwise we risk either a very insular mentality in the relationship between the chief officer and the commissioner or a swathe of disgruntled police officers seeking to exact revenge on former colleagues—far be it from me to mention anywhere in the country, but I say that in passing. To me it makes little difference whether someone stands as a commissioner in an area that was their former force or not. The principle is the same and there should be a prohibition at least for five years.
Finally, the disqualification clauses currently contain provisions that a police authority member cannot stand for commissioner. Again, I am surprised by this. I should have thought that a police authority member would have the relevant expertise needed to be a commissioner. It seems to me unfair that a local councillor can stand as a commissioner but he cannot stand if he is also a member of the police authority. He could of course resign as a member of the police authority, but then we risk a number of police authority members resigning so that they can stand. Who would then serve in the mean time? If that happens, has the Minister considered what can be done to overcome significant disengagement of members from authorities before commissioners are put in place? In short, that seems to be an unnecessary provision, which should be removed.
I am sorry that this has taken me such a length of time but I believe that I have covered some important issues. I beg to move.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, has tabled a series of important amendments, so she should not apologise to the Committee for taking some time over them. They are extremely important and I hope that noble Lords will read Hansard carefully tomorrow to make sure that they understand exactly what she has said.
I agree completely that the standards of conduct to be established for the PCCs are utterly inadequate in the Bill as presently drafted. Her amendments to address them make absolute sense. I also agree that the current provisions are inadequate for some of the more politically motivated complaints that are likely to be made. Just because they are political, it does not necessarily mean that they are by definition spurious, although of course many of them may be. A proper and robust mechanism for dealing with them is essential, but the Bill does not currently provide for that. More serious in many ways, though, is the lack of clarity about how complaints from ordinary members of the public are going to be dealt with or how generally poor conduct is going to be handled. I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, on the solution that she has set out. It manages to balance properly the independent oversight of these matters with an appropriate and stronger role for the panel. I therefore support the proposals wholeheartedly.
Moving on to senior officer appointments and dismissals, I agree that the final decision on these matters must rest with the governing body. It is not enough for only the chief officer to be appointed, disciplined or dismissed by that body; this must apply to the other senior ranks as well. I support particularly the concerns outlined by the noble Baroness about the negative impact that this will otherwise have on diversity in senior police ranks. I am therefore pleased to see that her proposals for appointing senior officers include a role for community representatives. That is to be warmly welcomed.
I wholeheartedly support the much stronger role that the noble Baroness proposes for police and crime panels in appointments, suspensions and dismissals of the top force team. This obviously guards against too much power being in the hands of one person and reinforces a more collaborative approach between the PCC and the panel, which is absolutely desirable.
I agree that it is not appropriate for the chief officer to be responsible for conduct and discipline matters for the other members of the senior force team. I share the concerns of the noble Baroness that this is asking for trouble and could easily lead to corruption. It seems to me that the provisions in the Bill relating to force corruption complaints and discipline must be changed. I agree completely that it cannot be appropriate for a serving police officer to stand as a PCC. How ridiculous that would be. It is much better for police governance that all former police officers must wait some time before they can become PCCs. The noble Baroness has suggested five years; I would make it life.
I also agree that the current provisions seem to discriminate unfairly by barring current police authority members from standing as PCCs. If councillors can stand without having to resign, police authority members should be able to do so, too. Any arguments about their possibly misusing the resources of the authority to aid their campaigns apply equally to councillors. In any event, as with local authorities, rules are in place for police authorities that prevent resources from being used in this way. I am concerned that this could lead to a number of police authority members resigning at a time when authorities need all the members that they have to deliver business as usual in a challenging financial environment and to deliver the successful transition that we all want to see.
My Lords, I apologise to those Members of the House who are keen to move on to the other debate, but I have to say that it is quite strange that we moved on at this point to this group of amendments, given their sheer number, complexity and importance. I am afraid that I have four issues to raise and, although I will abbreviate what I would otherwise have said, I think that they are important.
The first is that there must be a clear and robust framework for the conduct of people who are either elected police and crime commissioners or, in the case of London, the mayor or the deputy mayor responsible for policing and crime. The same applies to whatever other structure we may have, whether it be police and crime commissions or anything else. The reason why we must have a robust and clear set of guidelines for conduct is that potentially very serious problems could arise. Although provision is made in the Bill to deal with the most extreme examples, it does not cover the sort of things that are much more likely to happen. If an elected police and crime commissioner, having been briefed by a chief officer of police about a particular investigation, takes it upon himself or herself to telephone the subject of the investigation and talk to them about it, how will that be dealt with? Where are the guidelines and rules of conduct to say that that is not appropriate behaviour for such a person?
I find it extraordinary that there is no mechanism for dealing with such an event. I also find it extraordinary that there are no mechanisms for dealing with what are perhaps slightly less serious matters, or indeed for providing a framework so that the people who are elected understand what is and is not permissible. Things of this sort could happen, so there is a need for a robust and proper framework to deal with them. I am extremely grateful to my noble friend Lady Henig for tabling this group of amendments and for giving us an opportunity, albeit it at a rather inappropriate moment, to debate these points. There has to be a framework for conduct, whether it is the standard structure as set out in these amendments or something else. However, there must be an explicit code of conduct.
My second point relates to the appointment of senior officers. I know that the purpose of the Bill is to have a pure line of accountability with the elected individual holding the chief constable or chief officer of police to account and with the chief officer of police then having absolute control over the force. Again, however, I wonder how well this is going to work in practice. There have been too many instances, even under the existing arrangements, under which the appointment of senior officers is led by police authority members, where it has been felt that in particular police forces there is a golden group of individuals who are selected, supported, encouraged and promoted by the chief constable—they always get preferment. The consequence of having the kind of appointments process set out in the Bill, which the amendments would unpick, is that that is all the more likely. Even if such preferment does not exist, the perception of it will be there. We will have chief constables constantly being assailed by rumours and stories saying that they promote only people in their own image or those whom they particularly favour. If people think that this would not happen, I can assure them that it would.
The same applies to the third group of issues to which I want to refer, which concern discipline. These are the sorts of things that are always difficult and contentious, so in the circumstances it is going to be extremely hard for the chief officer of police to be responsible for disciplinary matters in respect of close colleagues. If one of those colleagues is not disciplined over a matter, the assumption will be made that it is because of favouritism on the part of the chief officer. That may or may not be the case, but the assumption will be made. That is why the broader mechanism set out in these amendments is needed.
I want to refer briefly to my final point, which concerns the grounds on which a chief constable can be removed. I understand that the Government want to see a situation where, if the elected individual or the commissioners decide that a chief constable is not meeting their requirements, it is possible to dispense with him and appoint someone else. However, the grounds for doing so are not given in the Bill. There is no information on how or when this is to happen or what the circumstances will be. I have put my name to a number of amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, which at least try to state something about the grounds—that is, that the action taken should be in the interests of the efficiency and effectiveness of the force. That is the bare minimum that one can expect. Without those statements and without some framework, what will happen and how will these matters be taken forward?
I hope that the Minister will recognise that these are important principles and that, without a framework against which it can be seen that an elected individual is acting responsibly in dismissing or suspending a chief officer of police, there will be endless problems.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 170, 171, 181, 182, 227 and 228 and I thank my noble friend Lord Harris for supporting them. My concern is about the hiring and firing of chief constables and, in London, the hiring and firing of Met commissioners and deputy commissioners. I am concerned that the police and crime commissioner, or MOPC in London, has the power simply to decide to sack a chief constable or the Met commissioner. My concern is only magnified by the fact that there are absolutely no checks and balances, as noble Lords have already said. I do not believe that there will ever be a police and crime commissioner, or the equivalent in London, who will not be tempted to interfere in the day-to-day running of police and operational issues. There is no room for interference in operational issues, but, as night follows day, it is exactly what happens. As long as somebody has the ultimate power to fire the commissioner, it is quite easy to see that the commissioner might be persuaded to turn a blind eye to something because somebody feels particularly strongly about it and because, ultimately, they know that if they worry about it too much, they can be fired. That is a major problem and it risks the politicisation of the police.
I have a further concern relating to the hiring of chief constables. The Bill contains no selection criteria, which I find very worrying. There is no requirement for expertise or experience in policing; there is no requirement for political independence, as there ought to be. One of the greatest weaknesses of the Bill is its provisions for the hiring and firing of chief constables. The amendments would restore at least some clarity and probity.
I support the amendments described by the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, and the noble Lord, Lord Harris, in relation to the appointment of chief officers below the level of chief constable. The problems inherent in the Bill as drafted have been described by the noble Lord and the noble Baroness. For reasons of credibility, legitimacy, transparency and national requirements, it is important that the selection process for chief officers below the level of chief constable include people beyond the chief constable of the force involved. Otherwise, all the problems described by other noble Lords will emerge. It perhaps sounds paradoxical for me as a former chief constable and commissioner to support the amendments, but I really believe that it is in the public interest that appointments below chief constable level, at ACPO level, should involve some influence beyond that of the incumbent chief constable.
My Lords, I, too, have amendments in this large group—I am afraid that it is another nine. Like other noble Lords, I apologise to Members of the House who are waiting to speak in the next debate. They are sharing something of the pain that has been experienced during the past few Committee days.
My Amendment 148 deals with the suspension of a PCC who is charged with an offence. The Bill provides that the suspension will kick in if the charge is of an offence which carries a term of two years’ or more imprisonment. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has pitched that at six months; I have brought it right down to any imprisonable offence.
The commissioner will be a man—almost certainly—to whom the chief constable, and hence the force, is accountable. It is important that the credibility of the person right at the top is not under threat. I recognise that this is harsh, because we are talking about a charge and not a conviction. There may be a balance to be struck by looking at the type of offence and at whether the salary should continue to be payable. In most situations where somebody is suspended, salary, allowances and so on continue to be paid. The penalty in this case is that the salary is not paid for the period of suspension, which could do with some examination.
Amendment 148AA would provide for the suspension of the commissioner who
“is the subject of an allegation of a serious complaint or … conduct matter”—
I have picked up definitions from elsewhere in the Bill—extending beyond a criminal offence to “other corrupt behaviour”. Other noble Lords have talked of their experiences of dealing with corruption and have seen the fallout at close quarters. I am not sure that “corrupt behaviour” is the right expression, but I am sure that conduct matters are too central to the model—any model—to be left to regulations. We need provisions in the Bill. Nor is it proper to put matters which may affect the whole attitude of the force and individual careers into secondary legislation.
Notwithstanding that, my Amendment 149B would give a regulation-making power to the Secretary of State on the setting of standards to be observed by the commissioner. It would do so not because I think that that is necessarily the right way to go about it but because I want to draw attention to and probe how the Government intend to deal with the setting of standards.
Amendment 149D would add to Schedule 7 a new paragraph providing for the panel to monitor and review complaints and conduct matters and their handling. It would give the panel a wider role in order for it to be able to consider not just individual problems but the overall picture. I stress “monitor”, “review” and “handling”.
Amendment 172 takes us to the veto of the appointment of a chief constable, which should be a meaningful power. I shall not repeat the arguments advanced for three-quarters, two-thirds or 50 per cent plus one, but noble Lords know where I have been going on this issue.
Amendments 173, 174 and 175 would remove certain powers of the Secretary of State. Schedule 8 provides that the Secretary of State may make regulations about next steps if there is a veto of the appointment, including, as I read it, allowing them to insist on the appointment of a candidate who has been rejected. Secondly, the schedule provides for regulations on limits on who may be considered for appointment, including limits not only on but to—in other words including—a previously unsuccessful candidate; and then confers functions on the Secretary of State or “any other person”. That raises a lot of questions.
Finally, Amendment 216A is an add on to the disqualification from election for or being in office as a commissioner—that is, being the subject of an investigation by or on behalf of the IPCC resulting in a recommendation for qualification.
The group covers an enormous amount of ground because there is an enormous amount of ground still to be covered.
My Lords, I shall not detain the Committee for too long. I thought we were breaking at eight o’clock.
I have tabled a clutch of amendments to Clauses 38 to 40 but they have been superseded by the eloquence and persuasiveness of my noble friends Lady Henig and Lord Harris, in particular, and so I will not touch on them. They relate to the questions of appointments and discipline.
I shall instead confine myself to two further amendments. Amendment 214 deals with the question of eligibility, to which other noble Lords have referred. It suggests that it would be wrong for someone who had served in the relevant police area during the eight years prior to the election, or four years prior to the election in any other police area, to be eligible to stand for election as a police commissioner; or for any former chief constable or deputy chief constable who has served in any area to be eligible to stand. That is a reasonable position.
Amendment 226C would allow the Secretary of State to require a police commission or commissioner to suspend from duty the chief constable of the police force in the relevant area. This touches on a fear expressed by a number of your Lordships about the possibility, perhaps not of corruption but of a too close relationship between either a police commission or a police commissioner and a chief constable. There have been examples of this in the past, as we have heard. The Bill removes the capacity of the Home Secretary to intervene. It seems a necessary safeguard in those hopefully very exceptional cases that somebody outside can insist upon the replacement of a chief constable if the police authority, however constituted, declines to do so. I urge the Government to look again at that safeguard which is properly exercised by the Home Secretary.
My Lords, I am afraid I shall have to speak, if only briefly, because I regard this as one of the most important group of amendments. It is very sad that we are, in effect, rushing through it in the way that we are. I say to the Minister simply that one of the best things he could do is to give a copy of the speech of my noble friend Lady Henig to every member of the Cabinet. There is a warning in this group of amendments about what will go wrong with the police in the coming years unless we address the issues that she, the noble Lord, Lord Condon, and others have raised. If we do not do that, in a few years time we will have stories of corruption, inappropriate appointments and problems with the complaints procedure, which will be aggravated at times by some of the ethnic arguments we have seen over the appointment or dismissal of officers. It is profoundly important.
If this House does not give detailed attention to the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, and the others grouped with them, we will be in danger of being ourselves accused of what people in this House often accuse the House of Commons of doing—that is, not giving the Bill the detailed scrutiny it deserves. This is one of the most important groups of amendments. I am sad that we cannot spend more time on it—it deserves it—but the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, has given a real lead to the House which has been supported by others, both from the independent and Liberal Democrat Benches. The Government need to take this group of amendments away and come back with serious changes—otherwise they will rue the day that they left to chance the kind of thing we saw in the distant past where we had allegations about corruption, dismissals and appointments and all that goes with it. It is a very serious group.
My Lords, I know the Minister will seek to answer all the points. I have been listening intensely, as have other Members of the Committee, and I realise that it may be difficult to cover all the points in an atmosphere of pressure. I hope that the Minister will agree to write in detail to everyone who has taken part in the Committee stage of the Bill covering all these points as soon as possible so that we can consider the Government’s response in good time for Report.
My Lords, earlier in the discussion today my noble friend Lord Hunt mentioned that this was a bad Bill and thought that a number of noble Lords around the House felt the same. The advantage is that it has allowed us to look into some of the practices currently surrounding policing and it may be that some good will come out of our previous debates and the current debate, even if we cannot amend the Bill to make it better. For that we have to pay tribute to the considerable work that has been going on, the thinking that has been taking place and the amendments that have been tabled by my noble friends Lady Henig and Lord Harris and the noble Baronesses, Lady Harris, Lady Doocey and Lady Hamwee.
They have all pecked away at the points which underlie this group of amendments, wide though they are. They include the question of how we manage to find within the Bill, or in any rethinking of how we approach policing, the balance between the public confidence that is necessary for us to carry out our policing—because, in the well-worn phrase, we police by consent—and the need for proper accountability and control.
I shall be brief and make four quick points. We think that there must be more to the Bill about conduct generally, particularly in relation in the Bill. The Minister needs to explain why the proposals put down in amendments from across the House are not required.
The point has been well made about the need to make sure that we have a proper process for the appointment of senior staff in the police service and do not leave it simply to the chief constable. Posts at or above ACPO rank need a public confidence check as well as other aspects. We have had support for this concept from the Cross Benches and the Minister needs to explain why there is not more in the Bill on this matter.
We have touched on the question of discipline and the role of the police and crime commissioners in relation to that. Again there seems to be a good case for it to be looked at again within the Bill and I hope the Minister will be able to respond on that. She gave a clue in her opening remark last time round that that was not going to find favour, but the arguments have been heavily weighted against her on this point.
It was clear in all the speeches that we need an approach to bring together two aspects: what are the reasonable standards required for the work of policing in any regime that will come out of the Bill; and how do we balance the public interest in making sure that these matters are being dealt with? It is all very well to say that the election of a police and crime commissioner is sufficient, but that will only get us started; it does not give us the guarantee that, as work goes on and time passes, people will retain confidence. If confidence is gone, there is no service. We have to make sure that we keep politics out of this as the process goes forward.
The noble Lord, Lord Solely, suggested that this group of amendments was important enough to require consideration and correspondence. I suggest to the Minister that that is a good idea.
My Lords, I am grateful and I shall be happy to write to noble Lords. This is a large group of amendments and a lot of detail has been discussed across several subjects relating to the amendments. I shall be very happy to write but perhaps I may begin by touching on a couple of matters that might be helpful to noble Lords.
The noble Baroness, Lady Henig, mentioned the fact that members of police authorities are not allowed under this legislation to stand as police and crime commissioners. That is the case. I have just looked at the legislation again. But if they were to resign their position as a member of the police authority they would then be eligible to stand as a candidate. They would not be able to do so while retaining their position. That is not uncommon. For example, many people standing for Parliament are required, because of the nature of the job that they hold, to give up their job in order to stand as a candidate so that there is no conflict of interest there. If they were keen to stand as a candidate, they could resign from the police authority and then stand.
I will have to check that out for the noble Baroness, and write to her on that. It looks as though the Bill says that, just because you have been on a police authority, for some reason that is not obvious you cannot stand as a candidate. I agree that that reads in a rather strange way. But that is the position and I shall check out whether the same rule applies to people on local authorities. I shall write to the noble Baroness on that.
A lot of concern has been expressed about the police and crime commissioner and what would happen if they did something outwith the law or acted in a certain way. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, gave an example—that they might ring somebody with confidential information that had been given by the chief constable. That could be construed as perverting the course of justice, which would be a criminal offence subject to investigation by the IPCC.
I am sorry to hold up noble Lords who wish to speak in the debate that follows, but my example was not posed as a hypothetical incident. It happened in London. The present Mayor of London was briefed about an operation and phoned the person who was the subject of the investigation. I think it would have been disproportionate for the Mayor of London to be prosecuted, as the Minister suggests, for trying to pervert the course of justice. It would have been disproportionate to something that was ill thought out and a spur of the moment action by the Mayor of London to phone somebody that he regarded as a chum. Because there was in existence a robust, standard structure, with clear guidance and a code of conduct as to what was or was not appropriate, it was possible to hold the Mayor of London to account and go through a process whereby, I am sure, he would not do the same thing again. But if the only answer is to arrest the police and crime commissioner for perverting the course of justice, I suspect that we are getting ourselves into a very unfortunate tangle.
My Lords, I suggest that the Minister looks at a case in Lancashire, where the father of somebody accused of an offence telephoned a friend who happened to be in the same organisation—I do not need to go into detail—who then telephoned a friend of his who was in the same organisation, who then telephoned the chief constable, who then telephoned the police officers involved with the original charge. The charge was reduced as a result of the call from the chief constable, and the person got off from the lower charge. In the middle of all that could have been one of these commissioners. In the end, people lost their jobs, but there was not actually a crime committed anywhere in that chain of offences.
I am very grateful to the noble Baroness. I realise that the House feels under some time pressure at the moment. I would say to the noble Lord, Lord Harris, that the case to which he refers relating to the Mayor of London was one in which the person concerned was aware of the investigation, but I do not want to delay the House too much on that. It is important to state that the police and crime commissioner will be regarded as a Crown servant and subject to the Official Secrets Act.
I have to say to the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, that I am afraid that since I last said this half an hour ago I have not changed my mind about the code of conduct for police and crime commissioners. The House heard what I said about that at the time. I have concerns around that.
Amendment 178EC and Amendments 178G to 228 would greatly increase the role of the police and crime panel and the Secretary of State in the appointment, suspension and removal of chief officers. I have heard what noble Lords have said about their concerns around this. It was the intention that a police and crime commissioner be democratically accountable for their decisions regarding the appointment, suspension and removal of a chief constable. Following the vote in this House at the beginning of the Committee's proceedings, perhaps noble Lords will want to consider whether that is still the case.
It is a fundamental principle of these reforms that those responsible for taking decisions about the appointment, suspension and removal of a chief officer are accountable for that decision. The election of the police and crime commissioner would, for the first time, mean that those responsible for taking key decisions, such as the appointment and suspension or removal, are directly accountable to the public for those decisions. While the PCP provides an important scrutiny function during this process, it is not the primary decision-making body; that is the role of the PCC, as set out in the original Bill that came from another place to this House.
Amendments 169B and 178F would limit the pool of candidates from which PCCs would be able to choose. By limiting the pool of candidates to those and only those forces covered by Schedule 2 to the Police Act 1996, we would prevent PCCs from appointing individuals that have acted in equivalent posts in other relevant services. At this crucial time of reduced budgets and increased financial challenge, it would be vital that PCCs and chief constables are able to avail themselves of as wide a pool of talent as possible.
Amendments 177ZA and 178BA would transfer the power to appoint, remove and suspend deputy chief constables and assistant chief constables away from chief constables to the PCC, supported by a panel of people. It is a fundamental principle of the Government’s programme of police reform that the command team of each force be appointed by the chief constable. I have heard what noble Lords have said about that, and I see one or two still shaking their heads who do not agree, but we believe strongly that this responsibility should rest with chief constables, as they are best placed to decide who they need to make up posts in their chief officer team and what skills they need. Noble Lords may wish to note that we have the support of Sir Paul Stephenson, Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, in this regard.
I am sorry that I am probably not going to do as much justice to the detail of these amendments as noble Lords may have wished but I am conscious that we have had quite a time now on this group. I hope that noble Lords will accept that I will write on those points which I have not been able to cover in my response.
I thank the Minister and I apologise to the House. As someone who did not really want to start at the time we did, I am really sorry to those who have been waiting for the next debate. Again, I am short of time but I have to tell the Minister that I found the response completely inadequate for what I believe was a most serious group of amendments. We really have not had a satisfactory response. Perhaps I could just cite, on the mention of it being the first time that somebody directly elected would be taking these powers and that therefore we would have to have a completely different response, that I was elected and took decisions in relation to chief officers but I was covered by standard legislation. I do not see why commissioners should not be accountable to standards procedures, with proper committees of conduct and so forth. I really cannot follow that argument at all.
I cannot accept the argument about chief officers appointing their own team. I am well aware of what some chief constables think about this. I have been a friend of Sir Paul Stephenson for more years than I could tell the House and this is one of the issues on which we have always disagreed, although we did so behind closed doors and did not necessarily advertise our differences to the public. I think he is wrong on this one, as I happen to believe that lay governance is important in top-team appointments. It works for local government in town halls, where a chief executive does not appoint their whole team. In fact, local councillors take part in appointing people in the team and I do not see why the same should not be true of policing. Why is policing different? I am sorry; I do not see the argument at all. As I say, I find the responses inadequate but, in view of the time, as I am sure that we will return to some of these matters on Report—I would be very surprised if we did not—I will withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 123AB withdrawn.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 9.20 pm.