Report (2nd Day) (Continued)
74: Clause 20, page 15, line 3, leave out “a person” and insert “an elected member of the Greater London Authority”
My Lords, this is the first opportunity I have had to congratulate my noble friend on her appointment as a Minister in the Home Office. She had a distinguished career in the House of Commons and we were appointed as two of the first four ever political commissioners to the Electoral Commission. That was a decision by the previous Administration, with all-party support. I was immediately impressed by her grasp of the issues and the immense style she brought to the commission. All her fellow commissioners were delighted at her appointment but disappointed that we had lost someone who clearly had so much to offer. I enjoyed working with her on the commission and hope that we can work together in her new role.
My amendments in this group seek to ensure that the deputy mayor for policing and crime is an elected member of the Greater London Authority. I do not understand how anyone could object to that. I thought that the Government wanted people to be elected to undertake these important roles. Having a London Assembly Member as the deputy mayor for policing and crime must be preferable to having some place-person of an incumbent mayor at any particular time if the Government insist that these proposals go ahead.
I see that the Government have moved some way, in their Amendments 89 and 90, in giving the London Assembly the power of veto over the mayor's nominee if they are not a Member of that Assembly. However, that requires a two-thirds majority, so we could have a situation whereby the majority of the London Assembly does not want the person the mayor proposes but that still goes ahead because they have not hit the two-thirds threshold. Could my noble friend not reconsider this and go just a bit further? I beg to move.
My Lords, this group of amendments includes provision for ensuring that the mayor appoints a Member of the London Assembly as the deputy mayor for policing and crime and not just, as the Bill provides, for “a person”. The amendments also provide for the deputy mayor of policing to arrange for,
“another member of the London Assembly”,
rather than any other person,
“to exercise any function of the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime”,
that is exercisable by the deputy mayor.
The Government have also tabled amendments on the London Assembly’s veto power over,
“the appointment of the candidate as deputy mayor for policing and crime if the candidate is not a member of the London Assembly”.
That may act as a small incentive to appoint a London Assembly Member. However, those veto powers requiring a two-thirds majority of votes cast would not be necessary if some of the other amendments in the group that provide that the deputy mayor has to be,
“another member of the London Assembly”,
were accepted. The Government have rejected the idea of an elected deputy mayor for policing and crime in London, but if that is a step too far for them surely they can accept the amendments that provide for that deputy mayor to be a Member of the London Assembly and thus ensure that the occupant of the post has at least successfully stood for election.
In reality, the deputy mayor for policing and crime is the one who has responsibility for policing in London rather than the mayor, who has many other duties and does not have the time to give the post his undivided attention. It is only right that the occupant of the post should be a Member of the London Assembly, not simply “a person” known to the mayor and whose appointment—with a two-thirds majority required in the London Assembly to veto it—the mayor can almost certainly secure. I hope that the Minister will recognise the strength of the argument for these amendments and indicate that when she responds.
My Lords, I will first address government Amendments 89 and 90 in this group. The Government have given this matter a great deal of consideration and I discussed it in some detail in meetings across the House with noble Lords following Committee. There are already some safeguards in the Bill as to the appointment of the deputy mayor in the form of strong disqualification criteria and the requirement for non-binding confirmation hearings. However, it was clear in Committee that noble Lords did not consider this sufficient, so we have given this further consideration, including considering the option of limiting the mayor to appointing Assembly Members. On this specific point, the Government accepted that there were arguments in favour, but we were concerned at the relatively small pool from which the mayor would be able to select the holder of this important post. Instead, the Government have brought forward amendments that would still allow the mayor to appoint a non-Assembly Member but would make the confirmation hearing binding in such a case, giving the Assembly the power to veto the appointment by a two-thirds majority.
Any Assembly Member the Mayor wished to appoint would be subject to a non-binding confirmation, as already set out in the Bill. I hope this will go to the core of the concerns that my noble friend Lady Doocey expressed in Committee. I also hope that the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, will feel reassured that the mayor cannot simply appoint one of his or her friends to that position. In saying that, I thank the noble Lord for his kind remarks. I, too, enjoyed working with him on the Electoral Commission and I look forward to working with him in this Chamber as well. I had better not say more than that because it will not do his reputation on the opposition Benches any good if I say that we are going to work closely in the future. I do not think his Whips would like that too much, but he knows what I mean.
We suggest adding new powers to this part of the legislation because we understand the unique role the deputy mayor will have, if appointed. Of course, it is still for the mayor to decide whether to make such an appointment. We have tried to listen to the concerns expressed in Committee, and I hope that noble Lords who have tabled amendments in this group will be reassured that the deputy will either need to be an Assembly Member or to have the confidence of the London Assembly.
Amendments 75, 78 and 88, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, and my noble friend Baroness Doocey, would prevent the mayor from appointing anyone but an Assembly Member to be the deputy mayor for policing and crime. Several other Peers, not least my noble friends Lord Shipley and Lady Hamwee, were also concerned that the mayor could appoint a non-Assembly Member to be deputy mayor and that this would cut across the democratic principles that this Bill seeks to establish.
The Bill allows the Mayor of London, operating through the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, to delegate the day-to-day handling of policing governance to a deputy. However, in accordance with general legal principles, the mayor will not be able to pass on the responsibility for any delegated work. The mayor will still be answerable and responsible. It is essential to this new governance model that the mayor is always held responsible for the way his or her functions are carried out, whether delegated or not. Clause 20 establishes that the selection must be in line with existing provisions for mayoral appointments. Further essential details, such as the eligibility criteria and terms and conditions for the post, are set out in Schedule 3. The Government agree that more is needed, but we do not think that the solution suggested by these amendments is the right approach. As such, I hope noble Lords will not press their amendments and will support the government amendments.
On Amendments 76, 77 and 81, Amendment 76, in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, would prevent the delegation of functions to individuals other than the deputy mayor. That is a little concerning, first because it would prevent the mayor from being able to split responsibilities as he or she see fit, as everything from typing a letter to paying funds would have to be done by the mayor or delegated to the deputy mayor. Secondly, it would in effect require the mayor to have a deputy. At the moment it is for the mayor to choose whether to delegate to anyone else.
It is important that the mayor, as the elected person with a mandate to make decisions, has the discretion to decide how their office will function. As such, I ask that the amendments not be pressed.
My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for her response, and I of course thank my noble friend Lord Rosser. I accept that the Government have moved some way on this, although I am disappointed that they have not moved as far as I would like. However, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 74 withdrawn.
Amendments 75 to 81 not moved.
82: Clause 20, page 15, line 20, leave out from “(2)” to end of line 23 and insert “(1)(b), exercisable by the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime.
(5) But the Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime may not arrange for a person to exercise a function if—
(a) the person is listed in subsection (6), or(b) the function is listed in subsection (7).”
Amendment 82 agreed.
Amendments 83 to 85 not moved.
86: Clause 20, page 15, line 29, at end insert—
“(f) a member of the staff of a person falling within any of paragraphs (a) to (e).”
Amendment 86 agreed.
Amendments 87 and 88 not moved.
Clause 21: Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime: confirmation hearings
Amendments 89 and 90
89: Clause 21, page 16, line 33, after “etc)” insert “—
90: Clause 21, page 16, line 44, at end insert—
“(6) Paragraph 10 applies in relation to such an appointment if the candidate is not a member of the London Assembly.
(7) Paragraphs 2, 4 and 5 are subject to paragraph 10.”;
(b) after paragraph 9 insert—“10 (1) The London Assembly may veto the appointment of the candidate as Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime if the candidate is not a member of the London Assembly.
(2) The exercise of that power of veto in relation to an appointment is not valid unless the London Assembly—
(a) has held a confirmation meeting in relation to the appointment before the exercise of the power; and(b) notifies the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime of the veto within the period of 3 weeks described in paragraph 4(3).(3) If the London Assembly vetoes the appointment of the candidate, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime must not appoint the candidate.
(4) References in this Schedule to the London Assembly vetoing the appointment of a candidate are references to the Assembly making a decision, by the required majority, that the candidate should not be appointed as Deputy Mayor for Policing and Crime.
(5) For that purpose, the London Assembly makes that decision by the required majority if at least two-thirds of the votes given in making that decision are votes in favour of making that decision.”
Amendments 89 and 90 agreed.
Amendment 91 not moved.
Schedule 5: Issuing precepts
92: Schedule 5, page 115, line 23, at end insert—
“( ) A precept must be issued separately from a local authority’s—
(a) council tax demand, and(b) non-domestic rates demand.”
I am given to understand by my noble friend Lord Hunt that I am not required to speak for more than half an hour or so to these amendments. Ever willing to oblige, I shall endeavour to be reasonably concise and thereby break the habit of a lifetime.
This grouping is slightly odd because Amendments 92 to 100 relate to the financial aspect of the work of the commissioner and the arrangements for the precepts. The other amendments relate to other aspects that are not quite connected. Perhaps they should have been degrouped, but as they are not I will confine myself to the first group of amendments. They cover a number of issues.
Amendment 92 would require the precepts to be levied by the police commissioner or authority, however constituted, separately from the council tax demand and the non-domestic rates demand. That is in the interests of transparency. As the whole case that the Government advanced for the Bill is one of accountability and transparency, it seems sensible that the people who are paying local taxation towards the cost of the police service should be aware of that separately from the ordinary demands that they will get for the rest of the local authority’s services. Separate precepts should be the order of the day.
In addition, however, there is the question of how the precept is derived in the first place. Amendment 93 raises again the question of local authority involvement in the process. Under Amendment 93, the local authority should have the opportunity to review the proposed precept. Other amendments require the police commissioner to have regard to any representations made by local authorities in respect of the precept, and the panel to have the opportunity to amend, rather than simply veto, the precept.
The point is that local authorities have an interest in the totality of the taxation raised in their communities, as do the communities. It does not seem right that a significant proportion of local council tax—I remind your Lordships that it is something like 11 per cent of council tax in England and 15.5 per cent in Wales—goes towards the police service. That is a significant chunk of local expenditure. It is unreasonable to divide into separate compartments what has to be levied and what a local community can be expected to pay. There needs to be an overview and, given that, in the end, the commissioner will take a decision. It is clearly right that the local authority should have an opportunity to contribute to the debate about the precise levy that will be required as part of the overall pattern of expenditure and taxation in the area. Again, in the interests of accountability and transparency, we need to devise a system where those factors are facilitated and not obscured. That is the thrust of these amendments. I beg to move.
That was only four minutes—it really is not good enough. As the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, said, the first part of the test is about the budget and I have amendments on that as well. Amendments 112, 113 and 114 are my amendments in this group. I tabled them, and I think that my noble friend Lord Shipley’s name would have been added to them had he known I was doing this, as he agreed the wording. I associate him with them.
After a discussion instigated by the Minister at the all-party meeting which she held to discuss the protocol—where she talked about the role of the panel as being supportive as well as destructive, or, at any rate, as carrying on the scrutiny function—we had a discussion about what scrutiny meant. I decided to write my amendments to that effect and these three are the result. “Constructive”, “collegiate”, “collaborative” and so on are words that we have been tossing around in debate over the past few days. We have been talking about checks and balances and, to my mind, this is the balance. The words that I have added in as part of the balance are:
“keep under review the exercise by the … commissioner of the statutory functions”;
“undertake investigations”; and,
“support the … commissioner with regard to”,
not just the functions, but specifically:
“the development of his or her police and crime plan and its implementation and the development of his or her budget”.
That is quite deliberate because we need to recognise the budget as the facilitator, the implementer of the police and crime plan. They are so connected as to be inseparable.
I am afraid that I will repeat what I have said before, but the panel cannot be supportive without a major role in both the plan and the budget. You have to start with the panel’s role in the plan and the panel cannot do its supportive job without the tools to undertake it. The Minister has her version in Amendment 107. Although I welcome the warm words here, I think that the panel needs the specific powers. I realise that we are unlikely at this stage to persuade the Government of this, but my mind is unchanged. We are each a product of our own background, and the baggage that I carry is of spending some years in a scrutiny role. Knowing that I have, as it were, the tools in my back pocket, rarely having to be used but always there, is a very important part of the tool-kit, as the jargon goes.
My earlier amendments in this group, Amendments 94, 96, 97, 98 and 100, again are to make the point—which, I suspect, has not been understood—that you cannot just look at the precept, a point that the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, made as well. The precept is the last stage in the development of a budget. There may be a fundamental political difference—I do not want to say fault line—between different politicians as to whether one starts by looking at the precept as taxation, and therefore bad, or as the result of a budget and how you spend the money, and therefore good.
My amendments are not just about the precept but about the heads of expenditure that go to make up the budget and the important tool that the commissioner will have, which is virement between the different heads.
Amendment 146 deals with the need for approval of the budget and spells this out in some detail. It includes the veto of the budget, as distinct from the veto of the precept. In response to a debate on these issues, the Minister said:
“Our intention would be for a series of discussions to be held, not just one blanket meeting at which, for example, the precept or the budget was discussed and a decision taken without the panel having a lot of background information”—[Official Report, 6/6/11; col. 34]—
and so on. Of course that must be right, but stating the intention is a very long way short of giving the mechanisms to the panel to do the job that I have described.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendments 108 and 111 in this group. As my noble friend Lord Beecham said, this is a very diverse group of amendments. The two amendments in my name relate to the functions of the police and crime panel. Amendment 108 revises and rationalises the functions of the panel and Amendment 111 simply removes an existing clause relating to panel functions to reincorporate it in a more rationalised fashion within Amendment 108.
In briefly outlining the effect of these amendments—not too briefly, since we seem to be racing through them, so perhaps I will try to slow down a little—I would say that they are designed to set out a more collaborative approach to the panel working with the commissioner. This includes an essential role in engagement with the public at local level and with police performance at divisional level. My aim is to exploit the strength of local councillors in a way that enables them to contribute constructively to police governance. I emphasise that there is no great gulf between what I, my noble friend Lord Beecham and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, are trying to do in these amendments, and what the Minister is trying to do. She talks about the panel having a supportive role. Others of us see that role as being collaborative and constructive. There is not much difference between “supportive” and “collaborative and constructive”. If I could nudge the Minister just a little further, that would be helpful. It is not a big change, but being constructive and being able to collaborate would help the panel to operate in a more tangible way that I will come on to describe.
I want to give specific functions to the panel in relation to working with the commissioner to develop a detailed police and crime plan, budget and precepting proposals. Again, this is designed to encourage a corporate approach rather than, as might otherwise happen in some areas, a confrontational approach to police governance. My amendments also provide that a panel must hold public meetings, which is ultimately a cornerstone of securing true public accountability. The driving concern behind this group of amendments is the attempt to describe a more co-operative approach to overcome the dangers of polarised political differences or overfamiliar political relationships between the commissioner and the panel that would render governance ineffective.
I appreciate that there is a government amendment in this group that attempts to specify a more co-operative and supportive approach for the panel and the commissioner. It is very welcome, but rather unspecific. This is true of a lot of government amendments; they go in the right direction and their spirit is right, but they are very general. My amendments attempt to put more flesh on the bones, to nudge the Government a little further and to describe in more detail how the panel and the commissioner should work together. I draw noble Lords’ attention specifically to the part of the amendment that covers the policing plan, the budget and the precept. These are key areas in which the panel should be involved not just in scrutinising the commissioner but in contributing to developing the shape of these things. That is what it should be doing and that is what I hope my amendment would achieve.
It echoes some amendments put forward by others which specify a more detailed role for the panel in, for example, scrutinising the detail of the budget. Again, my amendment goes a little further and suggests that the panel should contribute constructively to shaping the budget. As I said earlier, it also provides a key role for the panel in providing a link between local areas and the wider police area. We discussed in earlier debates the need for this more local link, which is consistent with what councillors do and puts members of the police and crime panel in a good position to play a more active role at local level. In this context, two elements are particularly important. First, it will enable panel members to complement the role of the commissioner in engaging and consulting with communities. Panel members can bring views from areas and communities that might otherwise not be heard into the wider policing family. Secondly, it will enable panel members to keep an eye on police performance at a more local level, so that they will be in a position to bring emerging problems to the attention of the panel and the commissioner before they become major.
In practice, a lot of this will happen anyway in areas where the commissioner is good at forming relationships. Where there are good commissioners, good relationships will be formed and the commissioner will want to work with the panel in this way. This will all happen as a matter of course. My concern is about areas where the commissioner will not be good at forming relationships and working with others. Of course, it will be in precisely those areas that prescription will be most necessary. In a sense, we are all looking to the areas where things will not necessarily work well, where problems will arise and where the Government will be forced to say, two or three years down the line: “What a shame we did not put this or that in place”. I am trying to envisage how this will work in practice, how it might best be played out and what we can put in the Bill to make it happen.
I will also mention voting. My amendment specifies that all decisions of the police and crime panel should be taken by majority vote. I am sorry about that: I heard what was said about two-thirds, but I am a great majority-vote person. It is what I am used to and it is consistent with other amendments that I will put forward in relation to veto powers, which suggest that these, too, should operate by a simple majority of the members present.
For me, that has the virtue of bringing consistency to the majority required for all panel votes and will avoid confusion that might otherwise arise by having different voting limits for different things. In later amendments I will discuss why I think veto powers should be exercised through a simple majority. Suffice to say for now that I believe it is entirely consistent with strengthening the role of the panel.
As I mentioned, these amendments put some flesh on the bones and set out how greater co-operation between the panel and commission might be achieved in relation to key functions. While they set out some practical ways in which the role of the panel can be strengthened, to perhaps guard against some of the worst problems that could arise, they cannot entirely cure what I still think is a fundamentally flawed model. None the less, I hope they will be regarded as—and they really are meant to be—constructive suggestions about giving a stronger and more balanced role to the panel.
I speak briefly in support of Amendments 108 and 111 tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Henig. I must say that it is without much hope of any movement, as we have seen most of the evening from the Government. Much of the debate and many of the negotiations between the Government and Peers who have expressed concern in Committee have been focused on checks and balances and getting the role of the panels right. I am grateful that the Government have accepted that a more co-operative approach is needed through the amendment that the Minister is about to put forward, which I welcome.
However, I agree that some greater description needs to be included in the Bill about what a co-operative relationship looks like in practice. I therefore support the more detailed amendments tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Henig. The proposal that the panel should be involved in some of the really key functions brings some important clarity to what this might involve, particularly around shaping the police and crime plan, the budget that will help to deliver it and the precept that will need to be raised locally to support it.
I also welcome the role envisaged for panel members at a more local level in helping to engage with communities and monitor force performance. This, of course, goes back to concerns that the PCC is too big a job to be able to engage in detail at very local level on a consistent basis; and I think it is helpful to suggest that the panel should do so. This would enable it to bring concerns and issues to the attention of the governing body, as well as adding to the sources of information available to the panel to assist in its scrutiny of the PCC. I believe that these are helpful suggestions to assist in drawing out how the role of the panel can be strengthened, and I support them.
My Lords, this has been an interesting debate with slightly curious groupings. I think I should take out my Amendment 109A, which relates to a review by the panel of the police and crime commissioner’s human resources policy. I do not think it belongs here. It might be better taken when we reach Schedule 15.
There is a theme in relation to most of the other amendments in this grouping around the role of the panel in relation both to the public and to the precept. My noble friend Lord Beecham is absolutely right. The precept is a significant proportion—between about 11 and 13 per cent—of the total council tax. We debated this in Committee and I know that when we get our council tax information, we have different leaflets in relation to different bodies. However, my noble friend is right: because of the significance and the fact that this is made by one person, it should be completely separate and completely separately identified. That would discharge more effective public accountability.
In previous amendments, we have debated the role of the PCC, and noble Lords on the government Front Bench have rejected many amendments because, for instance, when it comes to requiring chief constables to appear before the police and crime panel or the equivalent in London, it is argued that that blurs the line of accountability. I think that unless you have completely separate precepts, that also blurs the line of accountability when it comes to raising resources from council tax payers.
My Amendment 96A reinforces the requirement for openness in relation to the precept. I think it quite extraordinary that local authorities are not going to be consulted formally on the precept that the police and crime commissioner proposes to make. The Minister will no doubt say that that can be done through the panel. Of course the panel exists to provide scrutiny, but given the importance of the precept, I think there is a strong argument that each individual authority ought to be consulted as well. I hope the Minister will be sympathetic to that.
My noble friend Lady Henig made some very important points in relation to the panels and the question of public meetings. Her amendments link the panel to local areas. West Midlands Police force, which covers the area from Coventry to Wolverhampton, will have one person to be elected the PCC. There is a risk that some of the great work that has recently been undertaken by the police force to develop links at the local level will be dissipated, and the role of the panel to reinforce those links would be very valuable indeed.
The government amendment essentially states that the responsibilities of the panels must be exercised with a view to supporting the effective exercise of the functions of PCCs. It is a tribute to the draftsmanship of parliamentary counsel that such an anodyne amendment could be put forward. It is, of course, completely meaningless because who is to say whether what a PCP does is exercised with a view to supporting the effective exercise of the functions of PCCs? Unless we find ourselves in judicial review territory, I presume that this will never be tested. If I were a panel chair, I would, of course, always argue that everything I did was about ensuring the effective exercise of the functions of the PCC. I think we should congratulate the Government on their ingenuity, but I hope the Minister will confirm that it is meaningless.
My Lords, if I may deal with that last point first, it is certainly not meaningless. I will come later in my remarks to why I think it is an important addition to the Bill.
In resisting these amendments before the House tonight, I note that many are addressed through proposed government amendments to which I will speak later. I shall begin with Amendments 92, 93 and 95, which were tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, in relation to precepts. Amendment 92 would compel the PCC to bill the public separately from the precept of the local council. I thank the noble Lord for tabling this amendment because I think the effect would be positive. In essence, it would provide clarity to the public about exactly where their money is going and how much they are paying for policing services. However, this is also a matter of proportionality. The debate about hypothecating the local authority’s bill is quite an old debate. I recall having discussions about it on many occasions in the other place. Everybody thought it would be a good thing because there would be more clarity, but nobody has taken it forward, including the former Government, I have to say. To issue separate bills would increase costs, not just in the production of the bill itself but because, if it were separately sent, there would be questions about collection and payment on time which would add cost to collecting the money for the precept.
PCCs will be high-profile figures, and part of the point of these reforms is that nobody should be in any doubt as to who is responsible for the policing precept, strategy and budget. The council tax bill will, as now, clearly set out where the money is going. With that in mind, and looking at the balance of the proportionality of what the noble Lord has put before the House tonight, I feel that the current arrangements will be sufficient. For that reason, I ask him to consider withdrawing his amendment.
Amendments 93 and 95 would require the police and crime commissioner to notify the local authorities in the police area of the proposed precept, and the commissioner would be required to consult with the police and crime panel and the local authorities. The panel already has the power to review the precept, and will be able to reflect the views of the local authorities in doing this. We have already had this discussion with regard to an earlier amendment. Although not exclusively made up of local authority members, the panel will represent every local authority in the police authority area and therefore will be able to reflect the view of the local authorities. For that reason, I see no need for further prescription on this issue.
In addressing the precept, I also refer to Amendment 96A, tabled by the noble Lords, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, Lord Beecham and Lord Stevenson of Balmacara. I understand your Lordships’ view that the views of local authorities should be heard on this issue. However, the police and crime panel membership, with its strong link to local authorities, will be able to make sure that those views are represented in considering the precept. Indeed, this access to local knowledge is one of their strengths. We have not touched on this very much but the representation of local authorities will bring that specific local knowledge to the table. Therefore, I do not feel that this provision is necessary.
The next series of amendments seeks to give the panel a greater role in relation to the budget and the police and crime plan. I reiterate that the Government are fully committed to the model of directly elected police and crime commissioners and it is they who will have the public mandate to develop the police and crime plan and the associated budget. It is imperative that the lines of accountability that run through this reform are clear and that the public know whom they can hold to account for the performance of their police force.
I turn now to Amendments 94, 96 to 100, 146 and 147. First, I will address those amendments tabled by my noble friends Lady Hamwee and Lord Shipley, which seek to give the panel a direct role in the setting of the budget and heads of expenditure. We have already set out provision for the panel to review and to produce a report and recommendations on the precept level set by the commissioner, and in extreme cases, to veto it. This already gives the panel considerable power in relation to the budget that the Government consider proportionate to its role.
Amendment 109, tabled by my noble friends Lady Hamwee and Lord Shipley, concerns the power of a police and crime panel to veto the police and crime plan of a police and crime commissioner outside London. I am clear that setting the strategy for the force must be an unfettered decision of the PCC. This is precisely where its electoral mandate will come into play, and where the public will most visibly see their views and opinions reflected. There is provision in the Bill for the panel to provide recommendations on the plan, which is in line with its scrutiny role. However, the final decision on the plan must rest with the commissioner.
My noble friend Lady Hamwee has tabled Amendments 112, 113 and 114. In relation to Amendments 112 and 113, I note that the police and crime panels already have powers appropriate to the scrutiny role that they will perform. Therefore, I do not see what further value these amendments would bring. In addressing Amendment 114, I am pleased to note that my noble friend’s amendment is in the same vein as the government amendment to which I shall speak now.
Through Amendment 107 I propose to put in legislation an underpinning duty for the police and crime panel to exercise the powers conferred on it by the Bill with a view to supporting the police and crime commissioner in carrying out his or her functions. Notwithstanding the remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, about the drafting, it was something that was, I felt, a little overlooked. That was probably my fault in not bringing forward this aspect of the role of the police and crime panel during earlier stages of the Bill. Therefore I thank noble Lords for the welcome debate and challenge offered by the House in this area. It has encouraged us to look again at this reform and identify how we can ensure its successful implementation.
The noble Baroness, Lady Henig, spoke at some length on day four of the Committee about her proposed amendments to this clause. Primarily, those amendments were predicated on the basis of there being in place a police and crime commission rather than a police and crime commissioner. This is obviously something that the Government do not believe is the correct model—it will not come as any surprise to her to hear that—but I certainly feel there is some common ground here between myself and the noble Baroness. Key to her argument was that the police and crime panel should not just be there, in her words, to do battle with the commissioner. I completely agree. The Government’s intention from the very inception of this policy has been that the panel would be a positive and supportive body, not one of frustration. The panel’s role of scrutiny should broadly be a helpful one, with the aim of improving decision-making. We have looked again at this, as promised, and it will come as no surprise to the noble Baroness that I cannot accept the concept of a police and crime commission and that I will not move on the subject of giving the panel executive powers. I can see that she is not really devastated—that was what she expected me to say. That is not what the model is about, for reasons we have already debated.
The police and crime panel will play a crucial role in this reform. It is there to scrutinise the commissioner’s decisions and actions. It is not the intention that it should do battle with the commissioner. Both parties ultimately want the same outcome: to keep their communities safe from harm. Further, the police and crime panel will hold a great deal of local knowledge and expertise through its membership.
If I may say so to the noble Baroness and to other noble Lords, a lot has been said about police authority membership. Although we feel it is time to move on and to reform this structure, I want to acknowledge that their local knowledge and dedication has been of help and I hope that, in a similar way, members of the panel will bring local knowledge and constructive suggestions and debate to the panel in a way that will be supportive and helpful to the police and crime commissioner. It will be of benefit to the police and crime commissioner to acknowledge this and to create a more collaborative working relationship.
I am most grateful to the noble Baroness for those remarks. At the end of the day we are doing all this for the public; it is for local communities. The reason I put forward my suggestions is not simply to make for better working with the commissioner, but to benefit the public. It seems to me that that is what all this is about. If I have differences with the noble Baroness, it is because I feel that the public will be better served by local councillors who have a constructive role in representing the local community to the commissioner and vice versa and who can play an active and collaborative role. It is in that spirit that I have been putting forward my amendments, not for any other reason than to benefit the public. I am sure that the noble Baroness will appreciate that sentiment.
I do indeed and although we have not been able to agree on everything, I have appreciated the constructive way in which the noble Baroness has brought forward her suggestions, both in Committee and on Report. I know that I have disappointed her in many of my responses, but I hope she will accept that in this change to the Bill I have listened carefully across the House, but particularly to her words. She has chosen her words very carefully, she has had a good point to make and I have tried to encapsulate that in this amendment. Therefore, I propose an amendment to the general provisions in relation to police and crime panels at Clause 29 to reflect the need for the PCP to exercise its powers with a view to supporting the PCC in its duties. The police and crime commissioner will be solely responsible for holding the chief constable to account. However, I accept the noble Lord’s premise that the relationship between the commission and the panel would be one of support as well as challenge.
The noble Baroness, Lady Henig, used the word collaborative to describe the proposed relationship between the commissioner and the panel. My concern with this is that it would ultimately create confusion over who holds the police to account. Therefore, the Government propose to place a duty on the panel to exercise its functions in support of the commissioner. This will mitigate the risk of conflict between the commissioner and the panel without diluting the accountability of the commissioner.
My Lords, as regards the final point, I can only agree with my noble friend Lord Hunt. Amendment 107 is the absolute embodiment of a platitude. It is wholly unnecessary and almost insulting to prospective members of police and crime panels as it appears to assume that there may be a case where their purpose will not be to support the effective exercise of the functions of the commissioner. In the real world, that cannot be the case.
I am very disappointed with the Minister’s response in relation to how the precept is arrived at, although less so in connection with the question of the separate precept. Perhaps I may say that she has a monocular and wholly unrealistic view of how these processes are likely to work. As she did in the earlier debate, she is viewing it from the perspective that all we are concerned about is the budget of the police authority, however constituted, and its precept, as if that were something discrete, separate and completely detached from what is going on in local government in the area in terms of the service aspect where collaboration is clearly essential, the totality of the expenditure and the cost to the local taxpayer. That simply is not the case. If it were to be the case, it would be very much for the worse in terms of effective policing and local government. That collaboration clearly has to be facilitated and the arrangements in the Bill do not effectively facilitate it.
The noble Baroness says that it will be important to have access to local knowledge through the members of the crime panels. But that local knowledge in the case particularly of district council members in two-tier areas will be confined to relatively small parts of the force area. In those areas, there will be perhaps one or two county members and many more from district councils. That will not give the police commissioner a realistic view of what is necessary to be done for the whole force area. It is also asking too much in the case of metropolitan areas for a single individual or perhaps two to speak for the whole authority, which in Birmingham’s case runs into hundreds of thousands and sometimes to very many more than that. The West Midlands has 2 million to 3 million people. Even the slightly expanded number to be proposed later in a government amendment as regards the constitution of the police power will leave people representing very large areas. They will not have the authority of leaders of councils. Given the pressures on them, leaders of councils or elected mayors—I see that the Government will move an amendment for elected mayors to serve on police authorities—will not have the time to devote to what is effectively a scrutiny exercise for most of the year.
In my experience as leader of Newcastle City Council years ago, the leaders met the police authority to discuss the budget in some detail. We had a proper discussion, and the authority and the back-up to do that, which is what is required under the new dispensation. You will not get that, with the best will in the world, from panel members. They will not have the authority to speak for the whole council. They will probably not get the back-up that will be required particularly in the case, if I may say so, of district councils whose resources can be very stretched. We will simply not have an effective relationship between the local authority in an area and its police force. For the life of me, I cannot see what the Government have to lose by accepting the amendments, at least in respect of this obligation to consult with the authorities, as opposed to a handful of members from those authorities who will not have themselves any authority effectively to speak for the authorities which send them there.
This will be a missed opportunity. It will weaken the effectiveness of the panel and it will therefore weaken the effectiveness of the whole police authority. It is ironic therefore that Amendment 107, that the Minister moved, which talks about supporting the effective exercise of the functions of the police and crime commissioner, in fact, by the attitude that the Government are taking to the amendments, will achieve precisely the opposite. An opportunity is being missed to cement a productive relationship in the interests of the whole area and I urge the Minister to take this back, to talk to her colleagues in the other place and see whether she cannot induce them to see some sense. I beg leave to withdraw.
Amendment 92 withdrawn.
Amendments 93 to 100 not moved.
Consideration on Report adjourned.
House adjourned at 10.12 pm.