Report (1st Day) (Continued)
7A: After Clause 2, insert the following new Clause—
(1) The Secretary of State must—
(a) establish schemes to test the operation of police and crime commissions, including police and crime commissioners, in no more than four police areas outside London, to operate for at least four years;(b) commission an independent review to assess the impact and effectiveness of the police and crime commissions in place of police authorities in those pilot police areas; and(c) at the end of the pilot schemes, publish a copy of the final review report and lay a copy of that report before Parliament.(2) Before commencing the pilot schemes under subsection (1), the Secretary of State must make regulations to establish—
(a) the police areas that the pilots will operate in, taking into consideration the diverse demography, police resources, policing requirements and geography of those areas;(b) the terms of reference for the review; and(c) the assessment criteria that will be used in the review.(3) One of the police areas prescribed under subsection (2) must have an elected mayor in a local authority within that police area.
(4) The Secretary of State must include—
(a) a description of the consultation undertaken; and(b) a summary of representations received on;the proposals in the draft regulations to be made under subsection (2) in the explanatory notes accompanying those draft regulations.”
My Lords, in moving this amendment, I will also speak to two other amendments in my name in this group. We come to the question of pilots on which we had a good discussion in Committee. The introduction of police commissioners alongside police and crime panels is a new departure. The House will know that we on this side of the House have many worries about the impact of unelected police commissioners in terms of the potential politicisation of the police force. We think that it would be worthwhile testing this out in a number of police force areas to see the benefits and potential pitfalls.
We discussed this in Committee, as I said, and I was struck that a number of our former commissioners of the Metropolitan Police expressed some reservations about pilots. I well understand the kind of reservations that they were expressing. Essentially, they were saying that pilots create uncertainty among the other forces and chief constables. I have seen government proposals in relation to other public services where proposals are made and you have what are sometimes called pathfinders. You then implement changes in some areas over a couple of years. People in other areas are then not sure when they will come on to the tranche that will introduce changes to their particular part of the country, and clearly there are therefore some uncertainties. But this is such a major departure from the current arrangement that some uncertainties are worth it.
Overall, we do very well by our police service. There are issues and problems in some areas and there are no doubt areas where the efficiency of the force could be improved, I do not doubt that. But many advances have been made in the past 10 or 20 years, not least in the effectiveness of the forces and the strong relationships that they have built between themselves and their communities, particularly at neighbourhood level. There are considerable risks in moving away from that. Pilots would be a great chance to try this out, see what some of the problems are and see, too, some of the advantages. We could learn from that and then look to general introduction.
I hope that I will find some sympathy around the House for this suggestion. After all, if one were looking for a way through the potential disagreement between this House and the other place, I would have thought that pilots might be one way in which we could find some agreement. I beg to move.
First, I take the opportunity of associating myself with the remarks just made by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, about the improvements in the effectiveness of the police over, I am very glad he had the grace to say, the past 20 years—otherwise, it might have been a little more difficult for me to agree with his sentiments. He started off by saying 10 years, but he modified that to 20 and he got it right in the end. I am happy to associate myself with that tribute, but of course there is always room for improvement. The purpose of the measures before your Lordships is to improve the accountability of the police.
I am opposed to pilot schemes for two reasons. First, I very much doubt, and I think it is difficult to make the case, that pilots will prove any true test of the effectiveness of the measures contained in the Bill. The Bill proposes to introduce an element of democratic accountability into the way in which the police operate. The essence of democracy is that it does not lead to uniformity. Democracy is the enemy of uniformity. In a democratic system, some elected police and crime commissioners will be more effective than others: that is in the nature of a democracy.
It would be very difficult to draw general lessons, which is presumably the purpose of pilots, from a few pilots, whatever attempts are made. I recognise that attempts have been made in the amendment to make them representative, but there is no such thing. There cannot be any such thing as representative arrangements. Whatever arrangements are made and whatever areas are chosen, it will not be possible to draw general lessons from whatever happens in the particular pilot schemes that would be set up.
Secondly, there is the element of uncertainty. The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, had the grace to refer to this. Amendment 7A proposes that these pilots should last for at least four years and then there should be an independent review of them. I hesitate to suggest that this is simply a delaying tactic or that the noble Lord has in mind, in effect, a wrecking amendment. Far be it from me to make any such suggestion but this is to contemplate a delay of some six years—taking “at least” four years, then adding an independent review and the time to examine and reflect upon the consequences and results. That is six years of uncertainty for the police service. That would not be doing it or the community at large any kind of favour. For both those reasons, I urge your Lordships to reject these amendments.
My Lords, I rise in very much the same vein. I have this flight of fancy when I see the word “pilots”. I think of pilots, then test pilots, wind tunnels, test flights, circuits and bumps, and all the risky business that goes on in the world of aviation. This is a risky business as well, even in an allegorical sense. I am deeply opposed to the concept of pilots. Having the greatest possible respect for the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, I know that this is not a wrecking amendment. It is advanced for the best of reasons but, as has already been alluded to, it would effectively be a wrecking amendment to the Bill. It would certainly not be helpful.
I, too, could come up with a number of reasons why we should not pursue the course that is suggested in the amendment. I will go through four or five quickly. For a start, would the areas that are selected for the pilots welcome or resist the attention? Either reception would skew the result. Those who welcomed it would make sure that it worked; those who did not would probably go in the opposite direction. That skewing of the result is certainly something to which one should pay attention.
Despite the standpoint that they take, would the areas welcome the change and the possibility of then going back to square one if the pilot was unsuccessful? It would be change and more change, all over a period of four or six years. What of the uncertainty in the remainder of the country? I will not labour the point because it has already been clearly made by the previous speaker. What does it say of the parliamentary process as a whole? Is it that we cannot make our minds up here and get the job done correctly in your Lordships’ House the first time?
The most important point has of course been mentioned several times in Second Reading, in Committee and again now. What of the effect of the uncertainty on the police service itself? The service is struggling hard—and well—to come to terms with all the pressures of modern life and the current economic situation that we find ourselves in. ACPO has not declared a position on this, quite correctly. I respect its diffidence but I would put private money on the fact that the police service does not want to see a pilot. It wants certainty, to know where it is going and to know that now. In any case, it has enough uncertainty swirling around its ears.
I will not weary your Lordships any longer on this. I have made my position quite clear. We should strive very hard in your Lordships’ House to get the Bill right first time and implement it in whatever form is eventually, democratically decided upon. A pilot would be a retrograde step.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said, I have some concerns. I apologise for my colleague and noble friend Lord Condon not being here. I speak on his behalf as well as my own. Some of the concerns about how this will affect the police service have already been discussed. They have been described in a way that we would follow.
My noble friend Lord Condon and I worry about the fact that a pilot scheme of certain forces will not show what happens to the rest of the more than 40 forces, which will not get a real feel for it. The other issue that we raise is that the interaction with the national and international strategy must see the whole panoply of this new scheme and strategy there, in terms of the PCCs and PCPs. Unless you have that, our feeling is that there are uncertainties around it. To take a biting issue in terms of taking out certain things, but then not dealing with the whole issue at one time, would be counterproductive.
As has already been said, we have discussed the uncertainty around what is happening with the police service at other stages in your Lordships’ House. In the next six-to-12 months to two years, the police service will go through a massive period of change. There is no doubt, as my colleague and noble friend Lord Dear said, that the police service is best when it knows that it is acting with certainty. This will lead to uncertainty. My noble friend Lord Dear is also absolutely right that if you tell certain police forces that this is a pilot scheme, some will decide that it will work and some may decide that it will not. For that reason, we do not really support this particular amendment. We have reservations about it.
My Lords, I have made it clear throughout that I want to see the model that is in the coalition’s programme for government implemented in full. My noble friend Lord Shipley quoted the relevant section from the agreement earlier, including the reference to the “strict checks and balances”. I fear that that term is losing its potency with repetition, but I say again that checks and balances are essential because of the dangers of the concentration of power in the hands of an individual.
The noble Lord, Lord Hunt, said that he hoped to find some sympathy around the Chamber. He certainly finds that from me, but he also finds a little surprise. I do not know whether this was due to relaxing over supper, but he made a very low-key introduction to the issue. Perhaps this debate has come upon us at an unexpected point.
Now that we have seen the Government’s proposals in response to the very thoughtful and powerful points made in Committee, we have seen that the Government have moved, and I am happy to acknowledge that. It is always gratifying, and sometimes disconcerting, to see one’s own name linked with that of the Minister on an amendment, but there has been a good deal of movement. However, there has not been movement on the range of issues about which concerns have been raised, nor in many cases do the government amendments go far enough.
I am speaking personally for myself and for my noble friend Lord Shipley, rather than for the I know not how many who are ranged behind me at the moment—attendance is not bad, actually, for 8.50 pm —but this is, I stress, very much a personal viewpoint. Many of the checks and balances that are needed centre around the police and crime panel’s scrutiny role, on which our amendments at this stage of the Bill, as at the previous stage, would spell out what we believe that scrutiny should comprise.
As for checks, I think that a body needs the ability not just to say politely, “We don’t agree”, nor to say, “and we require your reasons”, but sometimes to say, “No”, if it is to act as a check. When any model is working well, there is no need to use the whole armoury, but I do not believe that it is possible to legislate for harmony and co-operation. One tries to set up the model to encourage such co-operation, but one cannot require it. Mechanisms are needed to provide that no.
Of course, it would be impertinent to suggest that we have identified all the necessary, or even desirable, checks and balances, but I must say that I would feel more comfortable if more were proposed in the Bill. Therefore, as an alternative, I think that we need to look to experience. The noble Lord, Lord Howard, said that we cannot draw general conclusions because of the diversity across the country, but it seems to me that, unless the framework is robust enough to cater for these matters—
With great respect, my noble friend misunderstands me. It is not because of the diversity around the country but because of the nature of democracy, and the diversity that democracy inherently produces, that I do not believe that general lessons can be learnt. That is an important distinction.
My Lords, I would accept that: democracy is quite untidy. Liberal Democrats have often said that it is not a bad thing to have a patchwork, with different arrangements for the delivery of service in different places and to different communities, which may be geographic or may have other characteristics. For instance, with regard to Wales, we have heard that it is important to have similarity because the provision of the service crosses the border. I think that we need to be reassured that the underlying framework, which may then grow different bits, is robust enough to serve the whole of England and Wales.
I tabled an amendment on pilots at Committee, and I acknowledged that the proposals could be approved. For instance, to have an independent review and report would be a good thing, as the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, rightly suggested. He also made the point—this is a question to him—that, if the experience from the pilots was to be utilised, there would have to be a mechanism whereby the Secretary of State, probably, could tweak the arrangements within the Bill. I am not sure that I have found that in his amendment, but he may be relying on the arrangements around commencement; I do not know.
At the previous stage, I asked the Minister whether there was any other mechanism that the Government might suggest for—to use the words that I used then—assessing and evaluating the model, but she did not answer the question. I am not sure whether she was unable to answer it, but for me that question still remains. I understand that there is a concern about certainty, but I do not understand that there is a concern to achieve certainty about a model over which there still hang so many anxieties. Speaking for my noble friend Lord Shipley and myself, we support the amendment.
I confess to being in two minds, having heard my noble friend’s argument for the case, supported by the noble Baroness, but also the objections to the proposed course from the noble Lords, Lord Howard, Lord Dear and Lord Stevens. I can see the force of the objection to the prospect of a limited number of pilots stretching over a number of years, but it is not so much a question of democratic principle being at risk from such an exercise. The concern is around precisely the issue of checks and balances. If it goes through and we have an elected police commissioner, that is relatively straightforward; it is what happens in that context over time that will tell whether the checks and balances that some of us feel are inadequate are sufficient to meet the case. Actually, a limited number of pilot examples might not demonstrate that. The noble Lord has a point in that respect.
To develop a theme that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, advanced, I wonder whether the practice of what is a major constitutional change in the way in which the police service in this country is run could be reviewed after a period of three years. I do not mean on the basis of a number of pilots, but we could take a considered view after three years, say, and look at whether the expectations are being fulfilled. I accept that the Government are genuine in their belief that they have got it right or are getting it right on checks and balances. Without a formal sunset clause, perhaps we could have an indication that that situation would be reviewed and adjustments made, if necessary, around the areas of concern that many noble Lords have voiced about the practice of this new structure, with its implications for accountability and effectiveness, both at local level and in connection with the other concerns about national strategies and the like.
It is less of a formal legislative process that I am suggesting might be considered and more one in which it would be possible to revisit these concerns, taking a broad look across however many authorities will be involved in any new structure and with a view to fine tuning, as it may be, or making perhaps more substantial changes in the light of what will by then be a general experience, which might tell us whether the hopes of Ministers in proposing these changes are being fulfilled. Would the Minister care to consider whether such a process might be acceptable to the Government without necessarily changing the terms of the Bill?
My Lords, I do not support this amendment. I said at Second Reading that some noble Lords might want to propose piloting elected police and crime commissioners because it is a radical change from the current system, but I do not believe that that is what is needed. After we have finished properly scrutinising this Bill, we need to get on with it and to do it. We need to implement this change. People want stronger local political leadership in their fight against crime, and they want it now.
I referred at Second Reading to some research that my noble friend Lord Ashcroft, the founder of Crimestoppers, commissioned, which showed unanimity between police officers and the public in their views on crime. One conclusion that that research showed was that they shared a common view on the lack of local accountability.
Recent public attention has been focused more on the justice system rather than on the policing system. In raising the justice system, I am thinking particularly of the Dowler family last weekend. The reason why I raise this is because most of us have never suffered the kind of violent crime of which that family were victims, and we have never had to testify against defendants accused of crime in a court of law, but their experience resonated with people because it illustrated a wider sense of unfairness felt by the law-abiding. It made people ask who is on their side. Tonight we are not talking about the justice system—we are talking about policing—but through this Bill and through implementing elected police and crime commissioners, we have the opportunity to provide an answer. So I do not want us to wait years to address this weakness; I do not want us to wait years to answer people’s questions. I want us to get on with it. For that reason, I do not support piloting and I do not support this amendment.
My Lords, one reason I so enjoyed 16 years of being involved in the governance of policing was that it gave me the opportunity to debate a range of issues with senior police officers and to disagree with them on a number of occasions. Indeed, I disagree with them on this occasion and that holds no terrors for me because that is one of the things I most enjoyed about it. In case noble Lords suspect that I overstep the mark on occasion, I should tell them that the governance arrangements in Lancashire were, according to the inspectorate, the finest in the country. We had an equilibrium of discussion, if I can put it in those terms, and I would want to have the same sort of equilibrium this evening because there are some strong arguments to be put in favour of pilots.
While hearing the arguments that my police friends and others have advanced, there are some counter-arguments. First, the believers who support this reform have been very few in number. On this major area of change, I think I am right that six people on the Benches opposite, at most, have engaged in supporting this change, apart from the Ministers. With honourable exceptions, people have in general not joined in this debate. I except the noble Lord, Lord Howard, who has indeed spoken out in favour of these reforms. He apparently had a great conversion in 2005. I am not sure whether that was before or during the election of 2005 but clearly there was a great epiphany and a conversion took place.
May I assist the noble Baroness? It was the product of long examination of the operation of the police authorities, which were set up pursuant to the legislation for which I was responsible, and the acute sense of disappointment I felt at their failure to live up to my expectations.
I hear what the noble Lord says and I am sure that that is the case. The noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, has spoken up, as did the noble Baroness, but look at the record. As I say, if six Members on the government Benches—certainly, on the Conservative Benches—have spoken up in favour of the legislation, that is all and it is a very small number for a major change in policy.
It is not surprising to me that that is the case. How could the Benches opposite deny, for example, that party politics will play a much greater role in policing? That is so irrefutable that it cannot possibly be denied. How could they deny that chief constables are going to be subject to much greater pressure on policing issues, both operational and non-operational? No, they cannot refute that. People talk about a protocol but just consider some of the forceful Home Secretaries whom we have had in the past 10, 15 or 20 years. Now consider that some of those Home Secretaries might consider that being a commissioner would be a glorious end to a good parliamentary career. Just imagine some of them now as commissioners. I suggest to Members of this House that they are going to put their views to chief constables in a fairly forceful way.
We talk about “operational” and “non-operational” but, frankly, with that kind of expertise and forcefulness coming from those who could be commissioners in the next few years, chief constables will notice a great difference between the new regime and what they have been used to. They will be subject to greater pressures. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, has already said, thus far we have seen few checks and balances on the powers of commissioners. I am not expecting to see many more, let alone strict checks and balances, so the case for pilots is very strong.
There are even greater arguments in favour of pilots. First, there was no pre-legislative scrutiny, which, for a change of this magnitude, there should have been. It would have made a big difference and a lot of the arguments which we have been having in the past few weeks would have been resolved at that stage. With a constitutional change of this magnitude, to have no pre-legislative scrutiny was, I believe, a great omission. That is one argument. We also know that there was a consultation by the Home Office and that there were over 900 responses. We have never been told how many of those responses favoured what was being proposed and how many opposed it. We can draw from not being told that the great majority of people who responded to the Home Office consultation were opposed. I assure the House that had they not been we would have heard that a great majority were in favour. That, again, is worrying.
As we have gone through the Bill in detail, some very tricky issues have emerged. We have not yet reached the issue of corporations sole, although we soon shall. I know my noble friend Lord Harris will entertain the House with a riveting account of corporations sole and all the difficulties that they will raise. We do not know how they will work. We know that they will lead to problems and to staff issues. That is one area of uncertainty. We know that relations between the commissioners and the PCPs are embryonic at this point in time. We do not know how these bodies will work together. We do not know how the PCPs will be best equipped to undertake scrutiny, not just of the commissioners but of the policing that is delivered in their locality. There has been a great reluctance to give panels the sort of powers that would enable them to have a much more constructive role than the one they have at the moment.
We also know that in some areas we will go back 20 years. For example, we know that there will be no lay involvement in the appointment of deputy chief constables and assistant chief constables. I am long enough in the tooth to remember that when chief constables made these appointments themselves there were enormous difficulties. I for one am not happy to go back 20 years in that regard—at least, not without seeing how it would play out.
We are also being asked to agree to this legislation when the national policing landscape is not yet complete. We do not know how things will play out nationally. We do not know what will replace the senior appointments panel, so we do not know how future candidates for chief officer appointments will come forward. We know nothing about that; there is a complete lack of information at the moment. The framework around senior police appointments is not yet in place. We are being asked to take it on trust. We have not seen any of this. For all those reasons, pilots would make a lot of sense. They would enable the final legislation to iron out many of these issues and to work much more effectively.
What really bothers me is the inflexibility around this, which is driving this legislation. There is a sense that the Government are saying, “We must get this through. We can’t have any deviations or amendments. We mustn’t listen to this; it is all a plot to derail this great reform”. I am sorry but that is not true. There are many of us in this House who care about policing and want to make this work. The noble Lord, Lord Howard, might be surprised to hear this. If there are to be changes to policing, I want them to work. I can see some merit in what is being proposed. I do not reject it out of hand but it can be improved. That is why I support pilots. What bothers me is that I am prepared to be flexible but there is no reciprocal flexibility on the Government’s side. It worries me that the people who are driving this through want to do so with very little change. There has been some change; I see the Minister looking at me. There were changes yesterday. I welcome them and hope that there will be more. However, at the moment the message that has reached me is that there must be no deviation—that this must go through and there must be elections next year. There is a sense that this is being rushed through.
These changes are the most sweeping changes to policing that we have seen in modern times. I am not saying that they should not happen. However, it will be a recipe for disaster if we do not get them right. Policing is too important and sensitive an area to risk courting disaster. To have a pilot—perhaps lasting not four years but two or three—and at least to trial some of these things would do our duty to those who come after us. I am worried that we will introduce things that will irreversibly change the face of policing. Since I do not believe that policing is broken, I shall take a lot of convincing that these changes will be marvellous without at least testing them first. That is why I support pilots.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, conjures up a fascinating prospect of former Home Secretaries and Secretaries of State standing for election as police and crime commissioners. Given what the Minister has told us today with regard to the bar on Members of this House standing for such positions, we can look forward to the possibility of the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne, becoming the elected police and crime commissioner for Kent.
I rather thought that the noble Baroness was inviting me to a contest.
I am sure that if the noble Lord were to move to Lancashire, that could be arranged. Although I think that that would be an interesting and enticing prospect, and no doubt incredibly scary for the chief constable of Kent, I wonder whether the damascene conversion that the noble Lord, Lord Howard, has described to us several times would not have been made easier had his original proposals for police authorities been subjected to a series of pilots. He could then perhaps have discovered at an earlier point that the model he initially favoured was flawed.
My Lords, as a former professional social scientist I welcome the enthusiasm in this House for pilot studies. However, like so much else in life, there is a right place for pilots and a wrong place. I am afraid that the circumstances we are discussing are very much the wrong place for pilots. I hope that your Lordships will allow me to explain why I say this and to do so by reference to the findings of academic experts.
The use of pilots in political or social research is discussed at some length in a book which I commend to your Lordships which can be found in the Library entitled, Research Methods in Politics. The book begins by pointing out that,
“there are times when … a trial run or pilot has considerable advantages. In particular, to test the data collection instruments such as the questionnaire and the sample design”.
Indeed, the Home Secretary herself is a great believer in the use of pilots in the appropriate context. In a speech that she gave about two months ago—I am sure that some noble Lords will have seen it—she announced not one but two new pilots. The first was related to her wish to allow the police to charge more offences themselves. She said:
“We will pilot doubling the number of charges transferred to police officers”.
She added that if the pilot was successful and the scheme was rolled out fully, it could save up to,
“40,000 hours of police officer time”.
In the same speech she announced that the Home Office was working with ACPO to ensure that best practice on domestic abuse processes was effectively shared by all forces. She said that the next step was to pilot these new proposals, and that if the pilots were successful they would be rolled out across the country.
However, the circumstances we are discussing are nothing like those mentioned by the Home Secretary or the academic experts. They are classic examples of circumstances where pilots are not appropriate and lead only to a waste of time and money. According to the experts, the classic example of the inappropriate use of pilots in a political or social context—that is what we are talking about—is to compare jurisdictions over time and/or space, a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Howard. The experts state:
“There are a number of reasons why comparisons can turn out to be meaningless. Most famously, the condition known as ‘too many variables, not enough cases’. This is a reason why experimental control is rarely an option in political science. Additionally, comparative research is affected by two manifestations of the so-called travelling problem: that is, neither theoretical concepts nor empirical measurements are consistent across temporal and/or spatial settings. In other words, they do not ‘travel’. This diminishes the possibility of controlling for the effect of variables other than those of primary interest”.
Translating the jargon, what these experts are trying to say is that it is impossible to make meaningful comparisons between different times and places because there are simply too many factors in play. However, your Lordships do not need academic experts to tell you that the sort of governance arrangements such as those that we are discussing cannot be subject to scientific evaluation.
The introduction of PCCs is based on the belief that giving an individual a clear responsibility for meeting the policing needs of his community and holding him accountable, through the ballot box, for doing so will, by reducing crime and anti-social behaviour, make this country safer. We have not made much of this in your Lordships’ House during these debates but that is what this Bill is all about. This is neither the time nor the place to talk about why I am so convinced that this is the case, but I believe that it is based on empirical evidence.
Perhaps I may remind noble Lords of the dramatic reduction in crime and public disorder in New York that occurred after Rudi Giuliani became mayor in 1994 on a platform of crime reduction.
My Lords, to what does the noble Lord attribute the huge reduction in crime in this country during the previous Government’s administration?
There were many factors, including effective policing. I do not deny that, but the limit in the reduction in crime has not been reached. Many larger reductions—
My Lords, all the indications from preliminary figures are that police authorities are reporting that crime is starting to increase.
I have seen that, and I am sure that we will discuss it on another occasion. However, there is plenty of evidence for the changes that individual elected mayors in crime-ridden cities in America have been able to make when they put their mind to it, and when they provided their police chiefs with the political cover and resources to do the job.
How does the noble Lord distinguish the examples that he has given from those that he said would not be appropriate in the varying conditions in this country? He has just told us that there are too many variables to allow pilots to take place, yet he is citing New York and America as exemplars, and therefore effectively as pilots, for the system that he wishes to introduce to this country. Is that not correct?
This is not about using a particular bit of legislation in particular areas and comparing them in an academic research environment. The examples that I am giving noble Lords are of real change achieved by real chiefs with real mayors in real cities.
The core of the noble Lord’s argument against pilots is that he is cautioning us against the spatial differences between different parts of this country and the temporal differences—because this is a different time. Now he is saying that you can draw from experience 3,000-plus miles away, which is quite a big spatial difference, under a different legal system and so on. The temporal difference is that the improvement under Mayor Giuliani happened a number of years ago. I am not quite sure where this argument is taking your Lordships.
In a circle.
This is not taking us in a circle. There are lessons that can be learnt from experience everywhere. We know this. We are talking now about piloting, as a series of limited experiments, a particular bit of legislation that is to be reviewed by an inspector of constabulary under research circumstances. That is quite different from learning lessons on general principles from experience around the world, rather than from particular bits of legislation.
The main point that I want to make about the proposed pilots is that any change—even change 3,000 miles away—takes time to take effect. It very much depends on relationships between individual PCCs—a point that has already been made—and individual chief constables. These changes and these relationships will take time to develop. One of our issues is with the time it will take to put these pilots into effect. Your Lordships will remember that, some time ago, in a debate in this House about fixed-term Parliaments, many noble Lords made the point that four years was far too short a time to judge the success or failure of the Government. Now we are saying that four years will be sufficient to judge the effect of these new governance arrangements on the level of crime and anti-social behaviour in this country. I am sure that at the end of the four years, people will say that there has not been enough time to judge the changes. Also, some people will talk about the Hawthorne effect: the fact that the pilots have been successful simply because others have studied them. That is another example of how pilot studies can reach misleading conclusions.
For all those reasons, I do not think that, at this stage, a pilot is an appropriate way to judge the effectiveness of the changes. I suspect that what some noble Lords really want is not a programme of pilots but a staged roll-out programme. That is quite different. Although I have serious practical concerns about that, it is not the same as pilots, which are bits of political or social science research. We are now talking about pilots which must be evaluated before rollout begins, which might, as my noble friend, Lord Howard, pointed out, be as long as six years. We are discussing pilots. That would lead to a waste of time and money. It will prove nothing but will lead to dangerous uncertainty in an area of our national life—policing and public safety—where there is a well recognised and overdue need for change.
My Lords, as the Bill no longer contains the Government’s model for directly elected police and crime commissioners, the effect of accepting the amendments would be to delay implementation of that policy until after long and unnecessary pilots and the completion of a review by HMIC. As we do not support the new model, and will seek to overturn it when the Bill returns to another place, we cannot support the amendments. I have always been very clear with the House during Committee that the Government intend to overturn the deletion of the publicly elected police and crime commissioner from the Bill.
The noble Baroness, Lady Henig, referred to the number of speakers from the government Benches. I have had many conversations with colleagues on the government Benches. Having now been in the House for nearly a year, I appreciate that on both the Benches behind me and those in front of me there is an independence of spirit, regardless of party affiliation. I am convinced that if Members on the government Benches felt strongly opposed to what the Government are doing, they would certainly be standing up to speak. One cannot judge the number of speakers as a reflection of support or otherwise for the Bill. When a Division has been called to date on the Bill, government Members have turned out through the Lobby, as they did earlier tonight, expressing their support for the Bill.
I shall spend some time explaining why we do not support the amendments on directly elected police and crime commissioners. We have heard many speeches throughout the course of the Bill so far saying that this is a radical change; that we should pilot it before rolling it out; and that we need to ensure that we all understand how it would work in practice before we roll it out nationally. We still are not clear what happens if some forces go ahead as pilots, leaving the remainder behind. Put another way, on what basis will we decide who will be denied democratic control of their policing—in other words, on whom do we experiment? What about issues that arise across forces? Serious crime does not only occur within the force boundary. Interoperability across forces is key to tackling those issues, but with pilots, there would be two different forms of police governance running alongside each other, likely to cause confusion and delay in working across force boundaries. This would be confusing for police officers and for the public. It would also be unnecessarily costly.
For many changes in policy or process a pilot can be a good thing, as we have heard from some of the contributions tonight. However, it is clear that a pilot cannot work effectively when we are talking about policing governance and democratic accountability, as my noble friend Lord Howard of Lympne pointed out. Equally, we know that senior police officers share our concerns about pilots. We heard from the noble Lords, Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington and Lord Dear, who described this as a risky business. It is a risky business, and I believe that it would create an unequal situation that could potentially be quite damaging. The noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, also spoke for the noble Lord, Lord Condon, in setting out his concerns to the House. I recall that in Committee the noble Lord, Lord Condon, said that this change needed to be,
“resolved in the quickest and best way possible”.—[Official Report, 24/5/11; col. 1698.]
Also, when evidence was given to the Public Bill Committee in the other place, the Assistant Commissioner, Lynne Owens, said:
“My nervousness about pilots is on how you would choose what those pilots are. One of the concerns of the chief police officers at the moment is how it aggregates to the whole. If you were to choose all large forces or all small forces, you might not fully understand the impact”.—[Official Report, Commons, Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill Committee, 20/1/11; col. 106.]
Questions have been raised about the whole philosophy behind the Bill and about the concept of democratically elected police and crime commissioners. I shall not rehearse the strong evidence base for these reforms, having spoken to them at earlier stages of the Bill. They are based largely on HMIC findings, and I set out in Committee that HMIC has already provided more than enough information to justify them. Therefore, I believe that we should not delay these urgent reforms and distract HMIC from its already difficult and important task of inspecting the police by asking it to use valuable and finite resources to evaluate government policy.
To my noble friends who have spoken on this issue—and I understand that people hold very strong views about it—I point out that it was made perfectly clear in the coalition agreement that we would have PCCs during this Parliament. A pilot goes against both the spirit and the letter of the coalition agreement.
However, it is not just Conservatives and Liberal Democrats who have identified the need for reforms to policing governance; I believe that the Opposition support this concept. Only two years ago, when the shadow policing Minister in the other place was the policing Minister, he said that,
“only direct election, based on geographic constituencies, will deliver the strong connection to the public which is critical”.
He went on to say that,
“under the current system, 93 per cent of the country has no direct, elected representation. This is why we have proposed the Green Paper model; so that people know who to go to and are able to influence their policing through the ballot box”.
I fully accept that the former Labour Government, in presenting this Green Paper, were thinking of a different form of direct accountability from the one that we are considering in this Bill. However, the principle of direct accountability was there. In fact, the previous Government twice proposed a form of direct accountability for policing but they did not proceed with it. They encountered opposition, so I am sure they will understand that we have taken this policy forward with the knowledge that this matter has for a very long time been considered to be necessary by Governments of different political hues. This Government have brought it forward and now intend it to proceed.
The coalition Government share the view that police authority governance needs to be changed and that our democratic form of accountability is important. Change is needed and it is needed now. That is why we do not intend to be derailed by the suggestion of a pilot. I have to put it to the House that the real reason for these amendments is opposition to our preferred model.
The bottom line is that pilots would not be a helpful way to road-test the policy. My noble friend Lord Howard of Lympne used the words “wrecking amendments”, although he was cautious in suggesting that that was the motivation behind them. I do not suggest that these are wrecking amendments, but the outcome of such amendments if passed would have the same effect. You cannot have two systems of police governance running side by side. You cannot say to one area that they have a voice in democratically electing a PCC but say to another that they do not. It cannot be said that there is no mandate for these changes; it is set out quite clearly in the coalition agreement.
Questions were raised across the House about review. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, that in the PCC impact assessment we state that the Government are committed to reviewing the new policing governance arrangements in 2017. That post-implementation review will identify what works, what could be improved and what lessons have been learnt. We are not just putting this policy out there on a wait-and-see basis; it has specifically identified outcomes that, in order for it to be deemed successful, will be quite easily recognisable. However, in addition to that, there will be a more formal review so that lessons can be learnt after the PCCs have been in place for five years.
Other Members of your Lordships' House, including my noble friend Lady Stowell of Beeston, raised the question that one hears quite often among the public in respect of our criminal justice system—who is on our side? We believe that these changes should result in the public having much more confidence in believing that the criminal justice system in this country is on their side. As my noble friend Lord Wasserman said, reducing crime and anti-social behaviour is at the heart of this policy. Therefore, it will be evident to the public, and to the rest of us, that the reduction in crime and anti-social behaviour will be a hallmark of the success of this policy.
This House is a revising and improving Chamber. I do not believe that it wishes to wreck the Government’s plans, but I believe that that is what these changes would do. I suggest to your Lordships that, on serious reflection of the impact of these amendments, they should not be pressed.
My Lords, I am sure we would all agree that this has been a very good debate, and I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in it. The noble Lord, Lord Howard, and I would agree that there have been advances over the past 20 years. He said that he thought there was room for improvement. I agree with him, of course. However, I hesitate to agree with him that the need for improvement is such that the current government structure should be ripped up and that a potentially very dangerous option should be put in its place.
I listened with great interest to the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, who talked about public appetite for change. I have seen no appetite whatever for party political police chiefs to come into the UK in the way in which I think this Bill will lead us.
The noble Baroness has given us the good news that noble Lords can stand for election, and we have already speculated on the elections in Kent and Lancashire. Thinking of the West Midlands, if I were fortunate enough to stand, to be selected and to be elected, the idea that I would stay out of operational policing issues when faced with the legitimacy of being elected is naive. An elected police and crime commissioner will become the police chief of a force. Some noble Lords who support this have said openly that that is where they expect the journey to end. That is why we are so concerned about these proposals.
This is rather like Lords reform; I am sorry to refer back to our debate last week. I support reform of your Lordships' House but I disagree with most of the noble Lords who have spoken in its favour, particularly from the Liberal Democrat Benches, because they and Mr Clegg seem to be proposing that an elected House of Lords will carry on in the same way as the appointed House of Lords. That is nonsense. The election of a House of Lords will change the dynamic of this place considerably, and that is what I would expect to happen with elected police and crime commissioners. After all, what is the point of proposing that unless it is to happen? Surely we are not seriously talking about simply taking the police authorities as they are, adding a dose of democracy and thinking things will be great. No. We are on a journey on which elected people will run police forces in the future. I am convinced that that is where we are going to end up, so I think there is merit in testing this out.
The noble Lord, Lord Howard, said that democracy is the enemy of uniformity and that you cannot draw a general lesson. I follow that argument, and I understand that if you are looking at the relationship in, say, four areas between a police and crime commissioner and a chief constable, those are going to be distinctive areas and there are going to be distinct circumstances, but I would have thought that there are still lessons to be learnt that would enable the Government to take note and make adjustments so that if the system were then rolled out it would be in the light of experience. I am not proposing a wrecking amendment. I am not beholden to four years. I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, tabled an amendment in Committee that proposed two years. I would always be open to discussion about this.
The noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, is widely regarded as the architect of all this, and I am not surprised that he does not want pilots. He said that you cannot evaluate this in advance, but he then asked us to take this huge leap in the dark based on experience in some parts of the US. I have yet to hear any convincing argument about why this change is going to be made. Over the past few years, we have seen a dramatic reduction in crime levels in this country. We have seen huge improvement in the relationship between police forces and communities, particularly at the neighbourhood level. Why is this being ripped up to make this huge, potentially damaging change in our police forces and their relationship with the public? I have yet to understand what the party opposite has against police forces that it wants to do this or to hear a coherent argument in favour of the changes.
The Minister said that the coalition agreement provides for this. It does not. The coalition agreement is an agreement between two political parties. It does not have the status of a manifesto. It is very important that noble Lords understand that. I echo the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, and the noble Baroness because my understanding was that this reform was to be accompanied by strong checks and balances. So far, those checks and balances are very weak indeed.
The Minister then said in relation to pilots that we would have different forms of police governance. What do we have in local government? Indeed, the Localism Bill gives us even more forms of governance. I am not an expert on it, but my understanding is that if councils want to, they can go back to the good old committee system—a blessed memory to those of us who remember the allotments sub-committee of Oxford City Council, on which I was not qualified to serve but I have always wished that I had been so appointed. We are well used to different forms of governance within the same structure. I do not see why that should differ in relation to police forces.
I have been a serial culprit as a Minister in restructuring public services. I cannot remember how many NHS Bills I took through in restructuring the health service. The one thing I learnt from that is that it might be better to test ideas out before tearing things up by the roots. In the absence of pre-legislative scrutiny, the noble Baroness had to produce all those amendments on Monday night, after discussions with noble Lords, because this Bill has been constructed too hurriedly. It has not gone through pre-legislative scrutiny and I suspect that more amendments will be necessary when we are able to analyse the full effect of her amendment. There is a very convincing case for some trial and evaluation. I am not going to put this to the vote tonight, but as we move on to further stages of the Bill, I think that in order to resolve differences between this place and another place, pilots might have their place in the sun.
Amendment 7A withdrawn.
Schedule 2 : Chief constables
8: Schedule 2, page 108, line 25, leave out paragraph 2
My Lords, first I must apologise to the House. This is an extremely complicated group of amendments and I am sure that the rapid rate at which your Lordships are leaving the Chamber is an indication of how much people are looking forward to this particular discussion. I also want to apologise for the fact that because it is so complicated I have got the groupings slightly wrong. In this group we should be debating Amendment 84, which is in the next group; Amendments 204 and 205 would more comfortably sit with Amendment 203 at some much later stage, because it is a really quite separate debate; and I am not going to speak to Amendment 25 because some of the other amendments more than cover that point.
Therefore, I am speaking to Amendments 8 to 13, 24 to 28, 30 to 32, 65, 84, 268 and 269, 274 to 290, 294 and 295. These all relate to creating corporation sole status for chief constables and the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and deal with the implications arising from that. They would allow the local policing body to delegate functions to a chief officer, to enable the day-to-day management of police resources without having to create a separate legal identity for chief officers. The amendments also deal with audit implications, in that chief officers do not need to employ a separate statutory financial officer to undertake this function as all audit responsibilities will remain with the local policing body.
The other amendments confirm that chief officers will not be able to enter contracts, acquire or dispose of property and land or borrow money in their own right, but that they could do so under the terms of a delegation agreement from the local policing body. There are also amendments that would deal with the status quo in relation to police staff; they provide that although the employing body is the governing body, chief officers would have direction and control of all staff employed solely to assist the police force. Finally, there are amendments which deal with accounting and audit issues. Again, they reinstate the status quo and provide a simplified system of governance.
This is a brief summary but I want to explain why these are so critically important. We are in real danger here. Without these amendments I fear that we will create, frankly, little understood structures that will prove unworkable in practice. When we come to the review that the noble Baroness has just promised us in 2017—or rather, I fear, several years before that—we will realise that these arrangements are unworkable and we will have to revisit them. What is more, they will produce additional paralysing bureaucracy—something that I thought this Government did not think was a terribly good idea. It will produce unnecessary duplication—again, something I thought this Government did not agree with. What is worse, it will produce confusion about who is responsible and accountable for the £12 billion police budget.
I understand—at least I think I do—that the Government’s motivation in these proposals is to separate clearly the functions of the governing body from that of the force. I am not convinced that that will actually be the end result. On the contrary, I believe the proposals will result in a confused landscape rather than a simplified one. There is a great deal of concern, as demonstrated in Committee in this House, about the whole concept of corporations sole. I am sure that Ministers are looking forward to explaining it to us yet again in a few minutes. At the moment, the Bill, as amended, contains proposals that the governing body—the police commission or whatever it will be called—is a corporate body and only chief officers are corporations sole. But if, as many of us expect, the Bill should revert to PCCs being corporations sole once it returns to the other place, my comments about the principle of using a corporation sole would apply equally to PCCs.
At an earlier stage of the Bill, my noble friend Lady Henig raised a number of concerns about this. The Minister responded with a short list of bodies which were existing corporations sole. These included the sovereign, some but not all bishops, the Treasury Solicitor, the Information Commissioner and the Children’s Commissioner. But the Minister did not answer the questions that had been asked about the powers and the norms and practices in relation to corporations sole. We remain none the wiser and we do not know the answers to questions such as: what laws set rules about corporate governance within corporations sole? We do not know what general powers and duties these laws give the incumbent or what those laws say about the accountability of the incumbent for those powers and duties; nor do we know if any of those laws or any other common practice within corporations sole conflict with what is being proposed in this Bill. We are in a vacuum.
Since the Minister was unable, or perhaps unwilling, to answer these questions, I have tried to do some research. I have to say that it is not possible to find out a great deal about corporations sole. The fact that the information is so scarce rings serious alarm bells as far as I am concerned. A quick search on Google will verify the identity of a number of corporations sole. It also yields some helpful information about the historical context of that. I am pleased to tell your Lordships that the concept is rooted in the medieval church. It was about a desire to separate bequests to the church from those to its priests personally, which no doubt was a very laudable intention.
However, I have to ask noble Lords whether a medieval construct to avoid priests getting their hands on money which was intended for the mother church is something we want for a modern police service. I just wonder where this strange idea came from and why it was suddenly decided that this was the model that we want in terms of governance for a police service in the 21st century.
This medieval background tells us nothing about the powers or norms of practice of corporations sole. I eventually managed to establish that for the most part where people have been institutionalised as corporations sole, it is to enable them to do a specific thing. It does not often seem to be for the purpose of giving them general corporate powers as individuals. But the Bill does not specify that tightly enough. For instance, I understand that bishops are generally corporations sole only for the purpose of holding land and that some of the other bodies are corporations sole only for the purpose of holding things in trust. Where it gives more general corporate powers to individuals, concerns seem frequently to be expressed about accountability and transparency.
I think that it is the Office of the Children’s Commissioner which has most recently been given corporation sole status. When she submitted the review of her own office in September 2010, the Children’s Commissioner concluded that,
“as a Corporation Sole, the Commissioner is not accountable”—
I repeat, “not accountable”—
“for his/her decisions and so can do anything he/she chooses within the remit set out for the role in the Children Act”.
She then talks about some of the pressures in terms of being a non-departmental public body, but I do not know whether that will apply in these cases. She continued that the Office of the Children’s Commissioner,
“is governed by a mix of little accountability and much bureaucracy”.
And that is what the Government want to impose on our police service. I understood that it was supposed to be the opposite but that is what the Government are doing and what this means.
I do not want to reopen the debates on the amendments I moved earlier, but the Children’s Commissioner was led to conclude that:
“The need to … allay concerns regarding proper management and decision-making has led us to conclude that the Corporation Sole model is inappropriate and that”,
there should be,
“a Board to scrutinise the Commissioner’s work and provide strategic advice”.
However, her message is clear; it is an inappropriate model, yet we are going to have it for the police service. Frankly, if we do not deal with this issue now, we shall be saying much the same thing about policing in a very short time indeed. We will have to revisit it, and probably not as far off as 2017.
I am particularly alarmed about the comments of the Children’s Commissioner on the perceived lack of accountability of a corporation sole’s status. Perhaps above all other services, it is essential that the public have confidence in the accountability arrangements for policing, but I am deeply worried that the Bill will achieve the opposite. For this reason, Amendments 8 and 24 would remove the status of corporation sole from chief officers, while Amendments 12, 13 and 30 to 32 would then remove certain generic corporate powers from chief officers, such as the ability to make contracts and acquire and dispose of property.
Aside from my general concern about transparency and accountability, there are also specific issues about who is accountable for public money under the proposals in the Bill. In theory, and certainly under the current arrangements, this ought to be the governing body. That is surely also fundamental to the Government’s rationale in proposing police and crime commissioners in the first place. If we accept that an elected police and crime commissioner should have a mandate on behalf of local people to determine how their taxes are spent, surely we should have transparency of governance, but that is not here under the current arrangements.
This is going to be entirely inconsistent with what will happen in practice under the current wording of the Bill. It envisages that the police fund, both that provided through central government funding and that provided through the police precept of local council tax, would go initially to the governing body. That is straightforward, and so far, so good, but the governing body would then make grants. The vast majority would be a grant for chief officers of police as a separate corporation sole to enable him or her to manage the police force and police operations, although smaller grants might be made to other bodies.
At this point, any funding granted to the police will have passed from one corporation sole to another corporation sole. When that happens, it looks very much as though the funding has passed out of the jurisdiction and influence of the governing body. I do not think that that is what the Government intend, but that is the consequence. The money is passed over and it goes across to a new corporation sole, which is then responsible for it. How will the proposed new governance arrangements safeguard public money? It is not clear that they will because there will be a separate corporation sole.
It is unclear what leverage the governing body is going to have, or even what financial information it can access to influence how the money is being spent. Certainly it will be able to see audit information after it is finalised and published each year because that is a public document, but this is completely useless for exercising any leverage whatever over how the money is used before it is spent. That is a very strange system of accountability. It radically changes the way in which things work at the moment, which enables the governing body to have a clear grip on strategic financial matters. That is achieved through a police authority delegating certain functions to chief officers, particularly those relevant to day-to-day financial management. It retains clear lines of accountability back to the governing body, which remains ultimately responsible and is the auditable body. The mechanism enables a police authority to give the chief officer the freedom to exercise their professionalism in managing force resources, but can restrict or grant this according to local circumstances. More important, it gives the governing body the final say about how public money is spent.
By contrast, the arrangements in the Bill are completely unclear, and it is not at all certain who has the final say. These amendments would resolve the problem by reinstating the ability of the governing body to delegate functions. The other side of creating two separate corporations for one police fund is that it creates two separate auditable bodies and a need to duplicate chief financial officers. That is not sensible, but it is a direct consequence of creating two corporations sole. If it were just a matter of saying that both the force and the governing body needed suitably qualified financial officers, that would be less of a concern, but it does more than that.
The wording in the Bill, by relating the finance post to the Local Government Finance Act 1988, gives both financial officers statutory powers. There will be two financial officers, both with statutory powers, leading to duplication, conflict, confusion and lack of transparency. I am sure that that is what the Government intend, and no doubt the Minister will assure me that that is the case. Having two financial officers is a recipe for confusion and tension, particularly if they deliver different professional judgments. By all principles of good governance, the power to stop expenditure should rest with the governing body, not with a person who is in effect accountable only to the chief operating officer, which frankly distorts ultimate accountability.
The creation of two statutory finance officers also has the consequence of creating two separate auditable bodies in each area for what is in essence one police fund. This is confirmed through some changes to Schedule 16 that reinforce the creation of two separate auditable bodies. Again, I have to ask the Government whether that is what they really want. Do they want two separate auditable bodies? I can think of no other context in which you would audit the same money twice. It has the inevitable consequence of duplicating effort and adding significantly to bureaucracy.
Audit and the other activities that sit alongside it are important tools of financial governance, such as the power of the relevant financial officer to prevent expenditure where it is unlawful and the ability to check how public money is being spent. To ensure that these powers are conducted in a manner consistent with good governance, other public bodies such as local authorities have statutory obligations to establish audit committees. These are usually set up with a degree of independent input to provide a credible check and balance on audit activity. The Bill is completely silent about this requirement for either—not one, but both—of the auditable bodies it establishes. I am tempted to say that this is medieval, but at any rate it has to be seen as a serious flaw in the legislation, which is inconsistent with any modern practice on audit and financial governance.
To resolve these problems, amendments in this group refer to a proper independent audit committee within the police and crime panel; there are amendments that remove references to a statutory financial officer for the force and separate audit arrangements for the chief officer.
I do not want to be accused of being naughty again, but there are also amendments here that deal with police staff and the transfers involved. I know that the Minister will be bursting to come back to this subject when she tables the mysterious amendment that is in the process of being drafted. I shall not burden the House with going through all that in any great detail, but serious complications will be involved in transfers of staff to the new bodies proposed in the Bill.
The Government envisage the majority of assets other than people in any event residing with the PCC, although that is not yet properly reflected in the Bill’s wording. They see the majority of staff eventually being transferred to the chief officer as a corporation sole. It is pertinent here that the key driver for creating chief officers as corporations sole was precisely to enable them to employ and manage their own staff. However, resolving the issue of staff with dual roles will be a source of considerable tension between chief officers and the governing body—a point I referred to earlier. Whether that debate happens before or after implementation, it is a real problem that will take some real effort to resolve in any detail.
I accept that two-stage transfer arrangements are the only way in which the Government will have a fighting chance of implementing any of their proposals by next May. However, they create other significant problems. The biggest of these is the additional uncertainty imposed on police staff about their future. This will occur at precisely the time that the Winsor review is being implemented and other efficiencies bite. As further austerity measures are introduced, they are likely to have a disproportionate impact on police staff relative to police officers, who have more statutory protection against redundancy.
Many of us in this House have received or seen communications from UNISON on behalf of police staff. Essentially, they are alarmed about this transfer process and see it as providing an opportunity to rationalise the numbers of police staff and several opportunities to erode their pension rights. This is not a good time to be testing the resilience of policing in this way and diminishing staff morale.
All these difficulties could be resolved in one sweep: by removing the status of corporations sole for chief officers and broadly reinstating the status quo as to who is responsible. It would also strengthen police accountability, which I understood was the intention of the legislation.
The exact method of doing this and putting in place satisfactory alternative arrangements can be examined through changes to the structures and governance mechanisms proposed through other amendments. However, all the other solutions would rely on creating a corporate body in which employment, contractual, financial and accountability rights and responsibilities are vested. It is after all the most tried and tested model in this country and we know that it works. It is not going back to the medieval church to tell us how best to organise it. What on earth are we doing resorting to other models in the form of corporations sole?
We have no idea whether this would ultimately work in a policing context. We have just heard the Minister speak powerfully against the concept of pilots to see whether it would work. I suggest that policing is not a good area in which to experiment with corporate structures that are so little understood. It is particularly the case when even bodies that are existing corporations sole are expressing doubts about their own governance and accountability and concluding that a corporate body is a far more robust structure.
We know that the arrangements that the Government are proposing would create duplication, bureaucracy and tension, and we have good reason to infer from similar models that accountability in governance would be opaque and suspect. It is astonishing that if the Government’s stated intention was to replace weak,
“invisible and unaccountable police authorities”,
they managed to come up with an arcane replacement of dubious transparency, confused accountability and eroded powers to determine strategic resourcing decisions. Can this really be progress? We should not be creating corporations sole at all. I beg to move.
I support all my noble friend’s arguments. In doing so, I have to say that I struggle with all this. I have tried to understand it; I have studied extremely hard. I would hate, however, to have to be in that police authority environment and explain all this to the police and crime panel, and explain to local people exactly how all this is working out. I would find that extremely difficult. As my noble friend Lord Harris said, this has led to enormous fears among police staff, which is a problem. We should not be increasing insecurity among the people working in the policing environment.
I am almost led to make the point that while the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, and I do not always agree on things, we have one thing in common; both of us, every now and again, are less than fulsome in our praise of the Home Office—rightly or wrongly. I have great concerns about this legislation and what has been drafted. That might not be the fault of the Home Office, but somewhere along the line there are problems with this.
Because of that, the Minister will know that I have written to her in conjunction with my noble friend Lord Harris and the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, to try to put our concerns on the record. We are looking for a meeting with the Minister to try to thrash all this out. It is an extremely difficult and complex area, but it is an important area. If we get it wrong there will be a big impact on a lot of people who might suffer as a result. We want to avoid that. In her response, will she let us know the timescale for her reply to our letter and whether there is a possibility of talking about this in more detail? This would be a productive area to explore further.
My Lords, before the Minister responds, I want to thank my noble friend Lord Harris, who made a powerful speech, and echo what the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, just said. Although the Government have responded to a number of concerns, which is welcome, so far there has been no real recognition of some of the risks of the governance structure that has been put in place. Whether that is because the government lack confidence in it and are therefore not prepared to engage or whether they really do not understand the legitimate concerns, I do not know, but I am puzzled by the response. I know that if I, as a government Minister, proposed something like this, the Conservative Opposition at the time would have attacked very forcefully this kind of proposal.
The corporation sole model is flawed for the reasons that my noble friend gave and in relation to the issue of staff and the bizarre process, now, of staff transfers between the PCC and PCP—with all the uncertainty that that raises. It renders me almost speechless to understand that this bizarre corporate structure is being proposed at a time when the police service is going through 20 per cent cuts. There is a reduction in the number of police officers and we know that some of the most experienced police officers were retired because that was the easiest thing for chief constables to do. We know that chief constables are being taken off the front line and put into the back office because back-office staff have been made redundant.
I pose my only question rhetorically: when will another police reform Bill have to be put before Parliament? If we cannot have pilots, I suspect that problems will arise within about nine months of elected police commissioners coming into being. The public will have serious concerns in the huge powers being given to individuals. Then the noble Baroness will bring forward a Bill to put right the problems that are being identified as we go through your Lordships’ House. If only the Government would pause for just a little time to reflect on these concerns.
My Lords, it is quite right that I have received a detailed and lengthy letter from the noble Lord, Lord Harris, the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, and my noble friend Lady Harris. I am of course happy to meet them to discuss the contents. I have asked officials to draft a reply, which I have yet to see—it has only been received recently. I will do my best to speed that up as much as possible now that we are on Report. Some of the issues raised in that letter are of a very technical nature so I am not able to respond to it from the Floor of the House tonight. I hope that they will accept that I will try to get a meeting organised. I understand that there are issues around this. People want to feel that they confidently understand the position if they are relaying it to third parties.
I begin with this question of the corporation sole. One thing that the Bill seeks is to give chief constables the opportunity to employ their staff. That is at the heart of operational independence. Chief constables will welcome the fact that they have that control. In order for them to do so and also carry out other functions that involve resources, it is necessary for them to be a corporation sole. I remind the House that a corporation is a body that has its own legal personality, distinct from that of its members. This means that a corporation can own property, enter into contracts and take part in legal proceedings in its own capacity. Its assets, rights and liabilities are those of the corporation rather than of its members. Typically, corporations have more than one member. These are of course known as corporations aggregate. Local authorities are one example. However, corporations can consist of only one person—known as the corporation sole. This is so that they can carry out those same transactions that a corporation can carry out—but it is not the individual personally who has the legal responsibility for that, it is in their role as the corporation sole. It would be quite inappropriate—for example, in the case of employment contracts—for the chief constable to personally enter into an employment contract with each and every one of his employees. As a corporation sole, he then has that legal position, rather as a corporation in commercial terms.
I am not quite sure how this works. Does the chief constable of the PCC have to divide their head into two? I understand what the Minister is saying in terms of legal definition but at the end of the day the fact is that the corporation sole is the same person as the individual. Does she not see the huge power that is being given to individuals without any corporate governance structure around it? The House has rejected the sensible idea of non-executives. Does she not see that that is open to abuse? The world is full of examples of how, where individuals have huge power without checks and balances, it leads to one thing: corruption.
My Lords, I understand what the noble Lord is saying, but that is why in other parts of the Bill we have set out clearly what the appropriate standards should be for the chief finance officers: both the chief constable and the PCC will have separate chief finance officers, who should not be combined. If those positions were combined, one could well see that that could lead to the sort of difficulties that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, has just identified. It is important that, as corporations sole, they are quite separate entities. There is a very clear distance between them in terms of that accountability.
Although I am a lawyer, I must confess that I struggle with the concept of the corporation sole. In listening to the noble Baroness outlining the position, there appears to be a dualism here: the chief constable acts in his own right and he also functions as the corporation sole. What happens if the chief constable is unable to function? He might be suspended or incapacitated or—heaven forfend—he might die in office. What happens then? Where is the corporation sole?
My Lords, I will come back to the noble Lord on that point, but my understanding is that the chief constable is the body corporate in the same way as a corporation would be. Although the chief constable or the PCC would be the corporation sole, they carry with them the corporate requirements that would apply in any other situation as far as a corporation was concerned. It is not personal to them; they are not personally legally obliged, for example, to issue contracts in their own name with their own personal liability, so the fact that they may be off the scene for some reason or other, such as the noble Lord has described, does not necessarily destroy the corporation sole as a legal institution. The legal personality—the legal institution—that the corporation sole brings about protects, obviously, the personal liability of the individual concerned, but that would not mean that everything would collapse in the event that the individual was not personally on the scene.
I am looking to see whether the noble Lord perhaps knows where I am coming from on this, but I hope that he does.
I am not sure. Somebody has to take decisions in the name of the corporation sole, and I am not sure whether that concept extends beyond the individual. Perhaps the noble Baroness could write to me about that—upon taking better legal advice than I can proffer.
I am sure that that is not the case.
The point is that it is the legal personality that the corporation sole invests in the chief constable and the PCC. For example, if the chief constable was for some reason unable to carry out his or her duties, the legal entity of a corporation sole would still remain, and whoever stepped in to cover the policing operation while that chief constable was indisposed or was waiting to be replaced would automatically have the protection of the corporation sole. It is the personality of the institution, not something that an individual has personal liability for.
I am not quite sure how I can explain this any more clearly. I feel that it is quite clear in my own head.
You have explained it very well—
But I still do not understand it.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord. I am not a lawyer, as he knows, but I have in a previous existence been a businesswoman, so I am used to dealing with corporate matters per se. Therefore, I feel that I have a clear understanding of what the provision is trying to do.
The amendments by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, to Clauses 5, 19 and 20 and Schedule 16 would limit the police commissioner’s status as a corporation sole to employment purposes only or, alternatively, remove the corporate status entirely. Instead of a corporation sole, the amendments would allow PCCs to delegate functions to a chief officer, which the Bill currently prohibits.
The noble Lord has asked that Amendment 84 be added to this group. I think that the intention of Amendment 84 is to discuss the ability of the PCC to delegate to the chief constable. I get the point that he is making, to get rid of the status of corporation sole and reintroduce the idea of delegation of functions from the PCC to the chief as is the case with the police authority and the chief. This continues the severe lack of clarity between the bodies that results in poor accountability. As I have just said in the beginning of my remarks, it is important that there is clarity and separation between the two. The amendments to Schedules 4 and 16 would remove the requirement for the commissioner to have a qualified chief finance officer on his or her staff.
I will address the amendments on corporations sole first, but I have to say to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, that I do not quite follow his concerns about the medieval basis of this. In this country, we have an understanding of the common law, which is at the heart of our criminal justice system and has been developed over hundreds and hundreds of years. The fact that something has a long history does not necessarily mean that it is not functional. I have to tell the House—and I must admit that I was rather surprised to find this—that I am a corporation sole, as a result of being a Minister of State who is able to sign off public expenditure. I have a particular personal interest now in making sure that I understand every single aspect of this role, so I can assure noble Lords that it is not something that would be regarded as archaic or medieval. I do not see myself in my role as a Minister of State as archaic or medieval. At the same time, we should not denigrate this role, which is widely used—we have already had some examples of it—just because it comes from our ancient history.
The Government are clear on our need to establish chief constables as corporations sole. It is that legal status that allows them to employ staff in their official capacity—a vital function in the context of providing greater autonomy over the day-to-day management of the force.
During our Committee debate, the noble Baronesses, Lady Henig and Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, also tabled amendments to limit the ability of a chief officer to enter into contracts so that it applied to employment matters only. These amendments would have removed the chief officer’s ability to enter into other contracts and agreements unless the chief officer had obtained the PCC’s permission to do so. The Government recognise fears, which have been expressed, that we may have given chief officers too much unfettered power. We agree that the powers that we are giving to chief officers, along with their corporate status, should be subject to appropriate safeguards. We agree that to give chief officers an unfettered power to enter into contracts and agreements, potentially committing the force to multimillion pound deals, does go too far.
In government Amendments 13, 15, 33 and 34, we still believe that in the interests of flexibility, chief constables should be able to enter into contracts other than simply those in relation to the employment of their staff, but we believe that it should be subject to a requirement to obtain the authorisation of the PCC. We believe that there can be flexibility in this; the authorisation could be given in general terms—for example, a PCC could give a general consent for a chief constable to enter into any contract in relation to a particular kind of service, such as provision of forensic services, which are often required as a matter of urgency in an investigation. Or the PCC could give a general consent for the chief constable to enter into any contract with a value less than a specified amount.
I realise that the Minister is introducing an amendment at this late hour and that this is our only opportunity to discuss it, but the provision gives huge power to the police and crime commissioner. It gives a total hold over the chief constable in budgetary terms. I know that there is some tension here between those who think that that is a right way to go and those who do not, but what is clear is that the PCC is in total control. This amendment actually adds to that. That is why it would have been much better for the Government to have constructed a corporate governance model around the chief constables which would have allowed them to have much greater freedom over their own budget. In essence, the construct here is that the chief constable will become the deputy to the PCC. I wish that the Government would come clean on this.
My Lords, that absolutely is not the case because we have listened carefully to what noble Lords have said on this matter. Concerns were expressed, which we looked at carefully, and we have tried to strike a balance here. If I look at the current situation in police forces, in some forces—not all, I hasten to add—it is the practice for the annual budget to be identified and handed over in advance at the beginning of the year. We do not believe that is an acceptable practice at all. We have therefore tried to find a way in which we can enhance the autonomy of the chief constable but at the same time, particularly bearing in mind that the biggest part of the budget will most likely be the employment or staffing budget, make sure that with these powers the chief constable has some checks and balances in here.
Again, on the working relationship with the PCC, one would expect these matters to be discussed so that they could make sure that there were no problems. I have just described one example. It would be quite inappropriate for the chief constable to constantly have to keep going to the PCC to get authorisation for services that are clearly needed at short notice. The chief constable would know exactly what sort of services they were and in initial discussions with the PCC would say, “Look, these are the things that we need to access rapidly. Can we come to an agreement?”, and draw up their own needs, together with the PCC. That would be at the heart of the relationship between those two people.
I believe that in putting in some checks and balances we have gone a certain way to addressing the concerns that were expressed by Members of this House, without constraining the chief constable in a way that meant it would affect them operationally. For example, the PCC could give a general consent for the chief constable to enter into a contract with a value less than a specified amount. If they came to those agreements at the beginning of the contract, this would almost certainly reduce the bureaucracy required. The important point is that the PCC would have control over what the chief constable could do, in the same way that the chief constable can only act, at the moment, within the scope of the delegated authority given by the police authority. It is not as though chief constables have a completely free run on these matters at the moment with police authorities.
My Lords, what is now becoming clear is that political control is to be exercised over the budget by one person, the elected police and crime commissioner, without any effective corporate governance at all. That is the problem with the corporate sole: it is the same person. Of course, I understand that there is the entity of a corporate sole and the individual, but they are the same people. In a sense, the noble Baroness has said, “We have rebalanced this because of concern that the chief constable has too much power over the budget in the terms of the original Bill”, but we are now transferring that to an elected party politician without any corporate governance safeguards whatsoever.
My Lords, if in practice the PCC discharged his or her duties in respect of coming to a practical and non-bureaucratic agreement with the chief constable, I would expect the panel to talk immediately to the police and crime commissioner about the way they were conducting themselves. When the noble Lord talks about checks and balances, this is exactly the sort of thing where one would expect the panel to call that commissioner to account. It would soon become known to the panel if the arrangement between the PCC and the chief constable over these financial arrangements and budgets was causing such a constraint that it was affecting operational activities.
It is not that this is a completely open situation, where nobody would call the PCC to account. Later in the Bill, we have tabled additional amendments that give far more access for the chief constable to the police and crime panel, which would be a very good thing. I am sure that if the chief constable thought that the financial arrangements with the PCC were affecting operational independence or causing problems, they would soon make that known to the police and crime panel.
What could the panel do about it?
My Lords, the whole point is that this is transparent. These are not things done behind closed doors, which nobody else will know about. While the panel is there, doing its job, we expect it to act, if it identifies such a problem, as with any other problem between the chief constable and the PCC that causes operational difficulties on the ground. The panel should then call the PCC to account for an explanation and to resolve the matter.
I do not agree that there is no check or balance on the PCC in this matter if there is a good strong panel. In a way, this reflects what police authorities do today. I understand the point that the noble Lord is making: this is an individual elected person. However, this is not much different from the way in which the police authorities would step in if they perceived a problem in their force area at the moment. I shall move on from this but I am sure that we will come back to it.
The Government’s view is that there need to be clear lines of accountability for the public. That requires the public to know what the respective responsibilities of the PCC and the chief officer are. The current system of delegation does not allow for this. Inspection has shown that sometimes even police authorities are unclear as to where the divide is. HMIC has said in its report on inspections of police authorities:
“It is critical that police authorities maintain clear division between their governance responsibility and the chief constable’s responsibility to lead and manage the organisation”.
Establishing two corporations sole, and prohibiting delegation means that it will always be clear who has which responsibilities. This a positive move forward. However, chief constables should not have unfettered powers, and this is what we have sought to address. Therefore, I hope I can persuade the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment and to support government Amendments 14, 15, 33 and 34.
My Lords, I congratulate the Minister on how she has conducted herself in this, and on her mastery of the niceties of this issue. Having said that, I am afraid I do not entirely agree with her position. She said that I am being unfair—I am sure that is better than being naughty—in complaining that this is a medieval construct. However, it is a medieval construct: it is rooted in the system that sought to avoid priests acquiring property that properly belonged to the Church. I am delighted that the Government have not suggested that we should expand on this medieval construct by, for example, requiring that all chief constables or police and crime commissioners, when they have been elected, be celibate. It might be good in one or two instances but I am not sure that it would be entirely helpful.
The point is that this is still, despite the Minister having discovered that she is a corporation sole, rather a rare construct. The one example—that of the Children’s Commissioner, who has recently been created as a corporation sole—says that this is not a sensible way forward. I do not believe that there is any other circumstance in which you have two corporations sole, one responsible to the other, with two chief financial officers with statutory auditable responsibilities, existing together. I am sure the noble Baroness would tell us if there was such a case. I do not believe that there is a single other structure in the United Kingdom that does that. If I am wrong, I look forward to the noble Baroness interrupting me to tell me. When we have the meeting that she has promised on this matter, perhaps we will be able to go through that in more detail. I appreciate that the Government’s amendments are helpful but they do not solve all the problems.
I do not think that we can take this much further tonight. I was rather tempted to try noble Lords’ patience by dividing the House at this time of night. I am sure that the government Chief Whip would be thrilled if I were to do that as it would reward her troops who have stayed here for many happy hours. However, I do not propose to do so because I take very seriously the noble Baroness’s offer of further discussions. Given the amount of toing and froing between the government Front Bench and the officials’ Box during this brief debate, I rather suspect that the Front Bench is not entirely sure that we have the balance absolutely right. Under those circumstances, it may be necessary for us to return to this matter.
I keep saying that I think it is in the Government’s interest to postpone Third Reading until September to allow for more detailed consideration of some of these points. Otherwise, the danger is that they will store up enormous trouble on these issues. On the basis that the Minister has offered to meet us to discuss the details of this matter, and that we may have the opportunity to discuss it further at Third Reading, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 8 withdrawn.
Amendments 9 and 10 not moved.
11: Schedule 2, page 109, line 13, leave out “chief finance officer of a chief constable” and insert “police force’s chief finance officer”
Amendment 11 agreed.
Amendments 12 and 13 not moved.
Amendments 14 and 15
14: Schedule 2, page 109, line 32, after “not)” insert “, but only with the consent of the relevant police and crime commissioner”
15: Schedule 2, page 109, line 35, leave out paragraph (c) and insert—
“(2A) But the chief constable may not borrow money.
(2B) Sub-paragraph (2)(a) does not require the chief constable to obtain the consent of the relevant police and crime commissioner in order to enter into a contract or other agreement with a person—
(a) by virtue of which the person becomes, or is, a member of the police force’s civilian staff, or(b) which otherwise relates to the person’s membership of that civilian staff (including the terms and conditions of the person’s membership).”
Amendments 14 and 15 agreed.
Consideration on Report adjourned.
House adjourned at 10.32 pm.