Report (3rd Day)
Schedule 5: Issuing precepts
101: Schedule 5, page 116, line 2, at end insert—
“( ) A decision to amend or veto a proposed precept must be agreed by a two-thirds majority.”
My Lords, if noble Lords are leaving, may they do so peacefully so that the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, may be heard by the rest of the House?
My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the Chief Whip for inflicting me on the House at the earliest possible moment. I move the amendment with what your Lordships may think is not my customary diffidence, because we have here three excellent amendments to do with the majority required to levy a precept. Mine is probably the least attractive, even to my mind. I am moving for a two-thirds majority to be required to overturn the precept. My noble friends Lady Henig and Lord Hunt have respectively better amendments. Mine is therefore something of a fallback position, which I think the noble Baroness has indicated might be acceptable to the Government—a rare event where I am concerned, which underlines my preference for the other amendments.
Nevertheless, we clearly need a better regime than that contained in the original Bill, which required a 75 per cent vote to overturn the precept. As I understand it from previous debates, there is no provision in the Bill to amend the precept. It is the veto or nothing. Presumably it is then envisaged that there would be discussion between the commissioner and the panel about a revision. All the amendments contain the—to my mind, welcome—addition of a proposal to allow the panel to amend as an alternative to a simple veto. I apprehend that the Minister may not be as willing to accept that, but one lives in hope.
That being the case, I move the fallback amendment, as it were, and leave it to my colleagues to make the even better case for their amendments.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 102 and 104 in the group. As my noble friend Lord Beecham said, they both deal specifically with the majority required to veto the precept, and taken together suggest that it should be a simple majority of the panel members present. I have made similar suggestions in relation to other powers of veto through separate amendments in other groups.
The usual way to decide things in a democracy is by simple majority. I cannot see what is wrong with that principle. My amendments would apply that principle to the veto that a panel could exercise over the policing precept element of council tax. Before I argue for that, I mention that I remain concerned that there will be confusion between proposals in the Localism Bill about excessive precepts and the provisions in this Bill on the policing precept. The public may well be confused about the difference between the power of veto and the power to call a referendum on a precept. They may well also be confused if there are to be two referenda: one on the police precept and one on the council tax.
I welcome the fact that the Government have now tabled amendments to reduce the required majority from three-quarters to two-thirds, but that is still too high and too confusing for the public. They might well have trouble understanding why a referendum will be decided on a majority, but the power of veto cannot be exercised in the same way. The public operate on straightforward principles, and I think that they would find that quite difficult. Of course, a straight majority would also give the police and crime panel a stronger role in contributing to policing governance and would guard against giving too much power to one person.
We have heard a lot in Committee and on Report about strict checks and balances. In practice, these checks and balances remain extremely elusive. The police and crime panel remains very feeble. One way of strengthening the panel and providing a stronger check on the commissioner would be to go to a simple majority for a veto rather than two-thirds. The current proposals are inconsistent with democratic practice. They are better than the original proposals but we could go further in strengthening the panel and fostering a mature relationship between the commissioner and the panel. That is the purpose of my amendments. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have a couple of brief points to make about Amendment 102, and particularly Amendment 104 to which I have added my name. First, I welcome the fact that the Government have shown that they are willing to listen to some of the concerns expressed in Committee and I am genuinely pleased that they have moved to two-thirds the majority required to exercise a veto. I am inclined to agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, that a simple majority might be even better. It would certainly strengthen the role of the police and crime panel, which I think we all agree is essential. Hopefully, when taken in conjunction with earlier amendments about a more collaborative approach, this would guard against too capricious an attitude by the panel, having helped develop the proposals in the first place. I support this amendment but I am concerned about the issues raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, about the relationship between this Bill and the Localism Bill in relation to the precept and referendum arrangements. I agree that this needs to be clarified. I hope that my noble friend the Minister will be able to provide reassurance on this point.
My Lords, we have had a series of debates during the passage of this Bill about the role of the police and crime panel in scrutinising the performance of the police and crime commissioner. The Minister herself has emphasised on a number of occasions the importance of the panel in doing that.
For these panels to do their jobs effectively, they surely have to have a certain amount of leverage. This Bill in effect gives them only two levers; they can veto the appointment of a chief constable, and they can veto the precept that the police and crime commissioner wishes to set. Of course, on other matters it can be consulted and there can be dialogue, but it is very clear from the Bill that the elected party political commissioner can ignore completely any input from the panel unless it exercises the veto. In the past few days we have seen one of the products of a weak regulator, the Press Complaints Commission. That surely shows the problem of having of weak regulators with very few levers. My concern with these new arrangements is that we are establishing police and crime panels inevitably to fail because their influence over elected police commissioners is likely to be limited. The veto in the original Bill was set at a very high level indeed, with a 75 per cent requirement of the members to vote in favour of veto. The Government hinted in the other place that they would be prepared to reduce it and we now see the product of that in the amendment that I am sure the noble Baroness will speak to in a moment.
The question is whether a two-thirds veto is sufficient. Like my noble friends, I do not think it is. To be effective, the police and crime commissioner must surely feel or fear that if he or she were to go too far there would be a risk that the panel would veto his or her proposals. I am speaking here about the precept.
To get a two-thirds majority of the members still places the bar at an impossibly high level. That is why I very strongly support my noble friend and I have tabled an amendment along the same lines calling for a simple majority of those present and voting. The phrase “of those present and voting” is well known to all noble Lords who have taken part in public life. Remarkably, it is not to be found in the Bill. The veto requirement refers to the members of the panel. I very much support my noble friend Lady Henig in wishing to ensure not only that a simple majority is required but that it should be of the members present at such a meeting. I have also laid an amendment to Amendment 103 of the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, so even if the House settles on two-thirds as the majority figure, it ought to be of those members present and voting.
Maybe I have confused the wording of the amendment because I see the noble Baroness perhaps assuming that that is what it says. My reading is that it is two-thirds of the membership.
It is. Why is that? It is normally of those present and voting. It seems to me that simply by not being there you count as an assenter—a dissenter, if you like, from a proposal to veto a precept. It seems rather an extraordinary state of affairs.
I refer the noble Baroness to later amendments where the Government propose that an elected mayor within the area of a police force becomes members of the police and crime panel automatically. I am not arguing about the principle, but elected mayors are going to have many other responsibilities apart from serving on police and crime panels. One can think of a number of metropolitan areas so it is quite likely that under the noble Baroness’s amendment a considerable number of elected mayors will serve on the panels. However, there will be circumstances in which such people will not be able to be present at a meeting of the police and crime panel and because of the noble Baroness’s amendment the numbers relevant to the veto are the members rather than those present and voting. It seems to me a rather extraordinary state of affairs that simply by being away or being ill you add to the threshold that would have to be reached if a veto were to be exercised. I hope the noble Baroness will be prepared to give that point further consideration. It is a very odd state of affairs.
My Lords, I very much welcome the reduction from three-quarters to two-thirds. I think I said at an earlier stage that it can be a bit disconcerting to see that a Minister has her name to the amendment you thought you had tabled. We came in as back-up on this occasion, although clearly on the same day. I welcome it even though it probably only makes a difference of one individual. However, perhaps as important as the proportion is whether it is a proportion of the whole membership or of those present—I will come back to that in a moment—and more important than both is what can be vetoed, which we have debated and will continue to debate.
I know the Government take the view that a simple majority would detract from a commissioner’s accountability through the ballot box. There is a subsidiary argument the other way that members of the police and crime panel indirectly elected are expected by their own electors to have perhaps a greater voice than can be exercised when the threshold for the veto is set so high. As I say, that is subsidiary; it is a different position from the commissioner, but one that may be a little confusing to the electorate of the councillors who make up the panel.
It is right and proper that the calculation should be made based on those present, but I have a couple of questions. I do not know whether this is going to cause the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, a problem, as I am speaking after him, but what would happen to abstentions under his amendment? Where do they count? Some of us—before I get teased about this—are used to abstaining in person in this Chamber. But we need to sort out—
It may help if I intervened at this stage. My assumption in drafting “present and voting” is that you have both to be present and to vote. I do not think that abstention can be taken as a positive vote. I hope that is helpful.
I shall ponder on that. My other question, which my noble friend Lord Shipley may have asked on a previous occasion, is whether, given the importance of the numbers, the Government anticipate providing through regulations procedures for substitutes for members of the panel. Furthermore, is it intentional on the part of those who proposed these amendments that they apply only to the precept and not to the appointments, which is the other candidate for veto? Whatever we end up with should stay the same. I think it is right that a member can affect an outcome by staying away, and I hope that my noble friend the Minister can reassure the House on that point.
I hope that when the Minister replies the point raised on substitutes will be answered very fully. As for the role of the members of the panel in the public’s eye, in the Government’s own words they are there to provide a check and balance should things become difficult and should the public not wish to support the proposals of the commissioner. That might happen midterm; we have all seen this. I can foresee a situation when members of the public may appear and say, “Can’t you do anything? You’re supposed to have a role—complementary, or a check and balance, or both”. I hope that the Minister can answer that in detail.
On members “present and voting”, having been a whip in your Lordships' House for many years, I think everyone will accept that being present and not voting is a very different thing to count or even to make presumptions about. I have known Members of your Lordships' House, who have been in the Palace but who have not been present in the Chamber during the voting, who have formed an opinion, in advance of leaving, that they do not wish to vote, in line with their own whips’ advice. So we must stick to those who are “present and voting”. It would be impossible to determine which way to allocate votes for those who were present and who did not vote.
Given the time of the year, when there will be a whole lot of different activities for elected mayors, members of local authorities and professionals seeking to formulate their budgets, and when historically quite a few people may be down with flu or other illnesses, I hope that the Minister will take very seriously the point made about the simple majority. Otherwise, we could end up in a situation whereby the hopes of the public, raised by the descriptions of the Bill given by members of the Government, will be dashed when they find that there are no checks and balances.
My Lords, in answering I speak to Government Amendments 103 and 192 and I thank the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, who in his characteristic way spoke with enthusiasm to Amendment 103. We note the views of the Local Government Association, which stated that achieving a reduction from three-quarters to two-thirds was one of its top five priorities at Report; the Government have met that condition.
I recall that when a directly elected mayor for London was introduced many argued that the London Assembly would be toothless, and not provided with sufficient bodies to check the mayor. I think the noble Lords would recognise that because of process and its relationship with the mayor, and in spite of not having enormous powers to check the mayor, the London Assembly has involved itself in a process in which the necessary dialogue between the two has continued remarkably well. Schedule 5 to the Bill sets out—
My Lords, I hesitate to intervene but the noble Lord goads me into it. The point is that the London Assembly has never been able to exercise its power in respect of the budget, which requires a two-thirds majority. That is not because London Assembly members feel they have been previously involved enough in the budget process, it is simply the arithmetic. A threshold of two-thirds is already very high.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, perhaps I may say that from my experience the power of the London Assembly is best exercised in conjunction with the press, and today of all days I am not sure that I would want to be saying that any sphere of Government should depend too much on the press.
I take that point. The relationship between a directly elected police commissioner and the police and crime panel in setting a precept is set out in Schedule 5; that is a process, a dialogue in which the final result is the question of a vote on the precept. We see that as the end of a long discussion, a consultation, an exchange of views and detailed information between the police commissioner and the police and crime panel. The date of that meeting will be known well in advance. If there is a sharp disagreement between the police and crime commissioner and the panel, if they have been unable to reconcile their views, that will also be known well in advance. One would expect that meeting of directly elected mayors and others to be well attended and a very important event, not a casual vote in a poorly attended meeting.
One of the reasons for insisting on a two-thirds vote of all those who are on the committee rather than a two-thirds vote of those present and voting is because we are concerned that the geographical spread of those represented should be on the panel and should therefore also be there and voting. I recognise that in the parallel Localism Bill currently being discussed by a number of those who are engaged in this Bill, there have been questions about the Standards Board regime and the extent to which it has been exploited by some parties against others—and I speak with some bitter knowledge of how this has taken place on one or two occasions. So, we do not want to have casual votes, casual accusations, and that is the reason why we have stuck to the two-thirds dimension here. We think that this government concession strikes the right balance and that it is the end of a long process in which, as all those in this House who have served on local authorities will be well aware, our intention is to see the normal process as one of dialogue and reconciliation between all those involved. The vote to veto the precept will be an exceptional occasion under exceptional circumstances. For that reason, we hold to the idea that, if it comes to that, it should be a two-thirds vote of all members of the panel.
Having said that, I hope that the enthusiasm of the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, for Amendment 103 has increased as I have spoken, that noble Lords on the other side will recognise that the Government have moved and that they will now be willing to support the government amendment and withdraw the opposition amendment.
The Minister has prayed in aid the LGA’s claim of a triumph in persuading the Government to reduce from 75 per cent to two-thirds, but it is as modest a triumph as my amendment is modest. Perhaps, under its previous management, the LGA would have been a little less prone to swallow the line, so to speak. However, in reality the position is this. If, as the Minister will be proposing later, you have an authority constituted of perhaps 20 members, it will require, rounding up the two-thirds figure, 14 out of 20 votes to overturn the budget, which seems a particularly high threshold. As we discussed last week on Report, the police commissioner will not be under any obligation formally to consult the local authorities whose areas are covered by the force. The noble Baroness referred to councillor members of that authority as being there to represent the views of their authority, but as I said last week, that is not really an adequate substitute for a proper discussion, particularly as in some cases the members concerned, in order to secure political balance, will not necessarily reflect the views of the majority in control of those councils.
Moreover, as my noble friend Lord Hunt pointed out, the position of the mayor is, frankly, questionable. Given the weight of responsibilities that will fall on elected mayors, either current or those who might conceivably emerge following the referendum and election processes in the Localism Bill, I do not think that they will have the time to spend on seriously engaging, as they will be expected to do, on what is effectively a scrutiny panel. The whole point of the Localism Bill is to vest them with Executive powers, but here they are called upon—indeed required to do so, according to an amendment that the noble Baroness the Minister will move at some point—to be a member of what is in effective a scrutiny panel. If they go at all, I do not think that they are likely to be all that significantly engaged.
I recall that in 1923 Mussolini passed an electoral law of a somewhat unusual nature. It said that a party which achieved a 25 per cent vote in the ensuing elections in Italy would get three-quarters of the seats in the Chamber of Deputies. I am not of course accusing the noble Baroness the Minister of emulating Mussolini, but nevertheless this is somewhat curious arithmetic. I do not think it should commend itself to your Lordships’ House. I take the view that the Government’s concession is exactly that, and any concession these days is welcome. However, this is not as welcome as it could have been if they had gone further and adopted the views of my noble friends Lady Henig or Lord Hunt. In the circumstances, I will not press my amendment and I recommend noble Lords to support the amendment to be moved by my noble friend Lord Hunt.
Amendment 101 withdrawn.
Amendments 102 and 102A not moved.
103: Schedule 5, page 116, line 8, leave out “three-quarters” and insert “two-thirds”
Amendment 103A (to Amendment 103)
103A: Schedule 5, After “two-thirds” insert “of those present and voting”
My Lords, I was rather disappointed that the Minister did not come back to the point about why the vote should not be of those present and voting. That is a perfectly normal, appropriate action and standing order for public bodies. I see no reason why it should not relate to the precept. The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, was quite right in spotting that I should I have put down a similar amendment to the Government’s proposal in relation to the appointment of a chief constable. I have no doubt that that can be dealt with at Third Reading. The substantive point is that there will not always be huge amounts of time—you cannot guarantee that. By not attending, one is effectively voting against the veto. I do not think that that is right. I therefore seek to test the opinion of the House.
Amendment 103 agreed.
Amendment 104 not moved.
Clause 29 : Police and crime panels outside London
105: Clause 29, page 20, line 29, after “area” insert “in England”
My Lords, I do not wish to move the amendment. It is wholly consequential to the parent Amendment 118, which I apprehend will be dealt with immediately after Amendment 117. I have been told that by the Table Office. I hope that I am not misconceived.
Amendment 105 not moved.
106: Clause 29, page 20, line 30, leave out from “panel” to end of line 31
My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment 116. Amendment 106 would effectively remove Schedule 6 on the composition of panels, which I seek to replace with the alternative high-level proposal set out in Amendment 116.
As I indicated in Committee, the latter amendment goes to the heart of the issue about politicising policing. I am very disappointed that the Government’s amendments have not reflected the concerns about political balance as the strength of feeling in the House was evident in Committee. It is fundamental to getting checks and balances right that the political balance of panels is prioritised and determined according to rigorous principles. Crucially, my amendment would ensure that no single political party can dominate the policing panel and its agenda. I cannot believe that any Member of your Lordships’ House would oppose this objective.
The balanced appointment objective currently set out in Schedule 6 is not strict enough in this respect because it muddles where the geographic balance, political balance or skills balance is more important; it invites appointments to be made on the basis of a fudge so that none of the criteria will be properly satisfied. I remain concerned—although, in setting out high-level alternatives, I have not gone into too much detail to address this—that the issue of giving some areas a double whammy of representation through the inclusion of district councils in county areas does little to improve the balanced appointment objective. The whole thing seems unbalanced to me.
If we do not get this right and do not set rigorous principles of political balance, as I said in Committee, we risk the majority of panels going one of two ways: they become either the cheer-leaders of the commissioner if they are of the same political persuasion, or there could be a state of constant warfare between the commissioner and panel if they are of opposite political beliefs. Either way, however, they would be an ineffective check and balance against the commissioner and ineffective at contributing to the better governance of policing. I cannot stress how important all the experiences of police authorities have shown this to be. We must get this right, otherwise all the other safeguards that have been built into the Bill will fail.
My amendment setting out the key principles of panel composition also suggests that the number of co-opted members should be increased. I note the Minister has tabled more modest proposals along the same lines. Naturally, I welcome those up to a point. I agree that we need an increase in the number of co-opted members, but I regret that the Government’s proposals miss the point somewhat because they suggest that some of these co-opted members might be local authority members. I am concerned about this. We have quite a lot of local authority members on the panels already and this would make the important balance considerations more difficult.
The whole point of having co-opted or independent members in the first place is to bring in people who are politically neutral, who will improve the diversity of the membership and who will cover specialist gaps in skills. Although as an ex-councillor I hate to say this, I know too well that local authorities do not have a good record in improving diversity—and we will not improve the diversity of panels by looking to appoint co-opted members from local government.
Equally, it is hardly a secret that independent police authority members are generally widely regarded as among the most able and effective members of police authorities. I am not saying that there are not some very good council members out there too, but independent members bring specialist knowledge and skills to police authorities that are not generally present among councillors. I find it hard to understand what sort of specialist skills the panels will access from co-opted local authority members, and I would like to probe the Government’s thinking in this regard. There is a danger that, in proposing more co-opted members who could be local authority members, we might actually be making an already difficult situation even worse. This needs more thinking through.
I have also included provisions about geographical balance in relation to both local authority and co-opted members. This is to address some current weaknesses in the system, but I am clear that this is a secondary consideration to political balance. My proposals also tighten up some of the provisions currently in Schedule 6 that deal with administrative and procedural issues, but I will not describe these in any great detail in view of time considerations.
Although I have touched briefly on key administrative and procedural matters in these amendments, they only outline the key principles which I believe should be followed in determining the membership of panels. In practice my proposals would probably need supporting by more provisions—either through a separate schedule, or by regulations dealing with more detailed matters such as the resignation or removal of panel members—but the principles are clear. The proposed principles build firmly on what everybody with any knowledge of police authorities has agreed to be one of the most important provisions and one of the most important reasons for the success that they have had, and that is political balance.
If the Government are serious about not putting party politics back into policing with their proposals, the very least they can do is to underline that their intent is to ensure a politically balanced panel. That is what I am trying to do here: to ensure a politically balanced panel and to take the best of the police authority make-up on to those panels because it has proved to be so successful. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am pleased to support Amendments 106 and 116, and I want to add my voice briefly to that of the noble Baroness, Lady Henig. I am concerned that we really do not have the proposals about the composition of panels right at the moment.
In the first place, I feel very uncomfortable about all the powers of mandation for the Secretary of State in this section, and I am rather inclined to agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, that mandation is perhaps the wrong response to the problems that have arisen in relation to panels. It does not sit well with the direction we have all agreed is necessary about strengthening the role of panels to have this juxtaposed with greater central powers to determine how those panels are to be made up.
I am also very concerned about getting the political balance right, and I agree that in being unclear which objective is most important in reaching the balanced appointment objective in relation to panel membership these issues will be fudged, and we will end up with little balance at all. In my time as chair of a police authority and a member of the Association of Police Authorities, we spent many hours working precisely on getting this particular problem sorted out, and indeed we now have a much better system within police authorities than is proposed in this Bill.
I have other questions on this point. How will we know what considerations have been included locally—I stress locally—in reaching the balanced appointment objective? Who is going to check this? What powers exist to do anything about it if it is not balanced? I am very concerned about diversity among panel members. It is important that panels should try to reflect the populations they serve, otherwise the public, and particularly those sections of the public that are usually excluded, will question whether their representatives understand the issues that matter to them. This is especially important in the policing context if we take into account all the experiences, from Brixton onwards, that have taught us that it is vital to give people a voice in how they are policed.
In this regard, the Government’s proposal that there should be more co-opted members is helpful, but I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, that it is unlikely to improve diversity if these additional co-optees are local authority members, as seems to be proposed. We certainly found that in our own police authorities. There is a danger that this will simply be perceived as jobs for the boys—or, for that matter, for the girls—so the government amendment, although welcome, should go further and provide for more independent co-opted members.
My Lords, I am slightly puzzled by the Government’s stance on the question of political balance as far as these panels are concerned. When I was first elected to a local council in the 1970s, it was the customary practice that authorities with a majority for one party or another made sure that they packed the committees. That was the norm whether the authority was Conservative controlled or Labour controlled and, for all I know, it was the same in Liberal-controlled authorities. The Conservative Administration under Margaret Thatcher took the view—on this instance, they were right—that it was better that committees of local authorities, and subsidiary and external bodies to which local authorities appointed, should reflect the appropriate political balance, to reflect the wishes of the electorate.
In constructing these panels, the Government seem to be setting that aside. Why, in the Bill, are they repudiating the legacy of the noble Baroness, Lady Thatcher? Why are they so opposed to having proper political balance to reflect the different strengths of the political parties in particular areas as far as policing and crime panels are concerned? This is precisely an area in which the Government should want to ensure that there is political balance rather than perhaps leading to one-party domination of the way the panels operate.
My Lords, I follow my noble friend on that particular point about political balance. As currently constituted, police authorities are constituted in a way that reflects the political balance in the area that is affected, whether they are metropolitan areas or single-area county police authorities. I do not understand how the Government propose that political balance should be achieved, if at all, on the basis of the Bill.
I moved an amendment in Committee about using the LGA model, which is well accepted across political groups—including the independent group—in the Local Government Association for achieving a balance within the LGA’s internal bodies and its appointments to external bodies that reflects the strength of the different political groups across the whole country. It should be perfectly possible to import that principle into appointments to these panels, at the level of the new structures which are to be created. If it is not done in that way, how is the objective to be achieved—assuming that the Government share that objective? If the Minister is not in a position to explain that at the moment, perhaps it is something that can be further discussed before Third Reading. I am sure that her noble friend Lady Eaton, who is not in her place, will be happy to enlighten her about the consensual approach that we have achieved in the Local Government Association since it was formed around this particular issue.
I welcome the slight movement that the Government have made on potentially increasing the size of the panels, although I noticed that the Secretary of State will be required to approve the numbers. That seems yet another unnecessary intervention. It should perhaps be subject to a minimum requirement but it should be left to the panel to determine. I am glad that it looks, on the face of it, as though we will be doing a little better than the homeopathic dosage of independent or co-opted members that the Bill in its present form provides for. Again, some assurance about how this might work would be very welcome, because the issue of balance is not confined, as other noble Lords have made clear today and on previous occasions, to issues of politics; there is also the geographical issue.
My noble friend Lord Hunt from the great city of Birmingham would not, I think, be content if Birmingham, with its 1 million population, was to have but one member on the West Midlands Police Authority, which might very well be all it would be entitled to, given the number of authorities that would be involved in that organisation. Birmingham would have a population three or four times the size of some of the other metropolitan districts and there are also county areas involved, as well as all the districts in those county areas to be represented. For Birmingham to be represented by one individual, particularly if it ends up with the misfortune of an elected mayor who would be required to serve in that capacity, would be extremely unsatisfactory.
Of course, when it comes to party-political balance, it is quite conceivable that, as already happens in a number of places, the elected mayor does not reflect the politics of the council involved. So, again, you could have an anomalous position, particularly in a large authority, of an elected mayor of a different party, or no party at all, being the sole political voice in that authority, whereas control of the authority may be in different hands, or, certainly, the balance may very well be different.
In addition to those issues of party-political and geographical balance, issues of ethnicity and gender need to be reflected and are difficult to derive, and the provision for co-opted members ought to be a way of proceeding with that. While it may not be possible in the Bill to prescribe how that should be done, it would be very welcome to hear the Minister say for the record that it would be expected that efforts would be made to reflect those considerations about diversity of ethnicity and gender in particular—there may be others—which are sensitive and important. We have a range of issues, of course, affecting minority communities in some parts of the country and, in general, issues such as domestic violence are clearly ones in which a gender balance is required.
It would be very helpful to have a clear steer on that from the Minister on the record, if not in the Bill, so I hope that she will be amenable to answering some of the points that noble Lords have raised and are about to raise—I see the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, straining at the leash to join the debate.
My Lords, I shall interject a question from a slightly more sceptical angle, while understanding where noble Lords opposite are coming from. I can understand how the proposal in Amendment 116 might work in a police authority where there is only one local authority. What I do not understand is how it would work in a police authority such as Essex, where there are, if not quite 17, at least well over a dozen local authorities. I shall give way to the noble Baroness—it may be that the question is for her—but I do not understand how such an arrangement could work without local authorities having their choice taken away from them and being told that they have to choose X or Y.
Perhaps I can explain to the noble Lord that that is precisely what happens at the moment. In a two-tier area such as he is describing—I am familiar with Lancashire—all the authorities have to get together and, in certain cases, agree to put forward nominations in line with the political balance overall. They do this by a process of negotiation. In Lancashire, there are two unitaries to throw into the mix. On many occasions Blackpool or Blackburn have been told to send a Labour member or a Conservative member in order to reflect that balance. I accept that that is one issue; to get an overall balance, every now and again an individual local authority has to contribute to that balance.
All I will say, if I am allowed to treat that as an intervention, is that I found it pretty messy and I would like to know what is to be done in councils where there is no overall control.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendments 121 and 123. I mention in passing that it seems clear that the objective of Amendment 140, on which we might have said some things, has been achieved by Amendment 139.
I share some of the concerns of my noble friend Lord Newton. This is a complex matter that requires further thought. We have had some concern about the small size of the panel, so the Government’s proposal is welcome. We had wanted four co-opted members and 15 local authority members, making a total of 19 altogether. It is important that the panel is not too big—otherwise it might become unwieldy—but it has to be big enough to enable the diversity and geographical requirements to be met as part of the construction of that panel. Otherwise, it will not represent the area that it seeks to represent.
There are two outstanding issues. The first relates to the political balance of parties. It could be possible for a party-political label to be attached to the elected commissioner, and that party could have a massive majority of the local authority representatives nominated to the panel. That is not in the interests of the general public, and there has to be a system of meeting what the noble Lord, Lord Harris, pointed out—that the issue of proportionality must be delivered. Otherwise, the public will not have confidence in the ability of the panel to scrutinise independently and objectively the work of the commissioner.
The second issue that will have to be addressed is that of substitutes. Whatever the size of the panel, the fact remains that if people send apologies some local authority areas simply will not be represented at a key meeting. It would not be sustainable for a debate on the precept level to be undertaken without some councils being present at it. The issue of substitutes has to be urgently addressed. It is entirely possible that there could be an outcome, given the vote that we have just had, where, thanks to a majority of the members of the panel, if people were not present at the meeting, a different result could have been obtained had there been a higher turnout because of the way in which the veto operates. There is then a question of whether telephone or video attendance would be acceptable.
These are not secondary matters; they are fundamental. If a local authority finds that it cannot be present at a critical meeting and yet, for example, a precept is approved that it would not have supported, that is not going to be sustainable even in the short term. The Government will have to come up with some amendments regarding that.
My Lords, I am slightly confused now. Those of us who argued for the “of those present” amendment now see the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, talking about the need for substitutes, without which the right result may not come out. That is a little confusing.
I am standing up because I have a déjà vu about a déjà vu. I remember advising the Minister to talk to the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne, about the way that he achieved the political balance that her Bill seeks to achieve but I believe, from the contributions today, does not achieve. Like the noble Lord, I, too, live in an area where the police authority has a lot of different local authorities—Essex also has many different local authorities—which is a situation that arises across the country. However, the noble Lord, Lord Howard, as Home Secretary, spent a great deal of time achieving a balance to counteract political dominance of police authorities that was unrepresentative of the local community, and ensuring that no one party—rather than no one person—could dominate and pervert the views of the local area.
The proposal before us today puts most of the power in the hands of an individual who may have been one of the people whom Michael Howard, as he was in those days, thought was unsuitable to dominate what was happening in policing, backed up by a system on the panel that will not give diversity. I hope the noble Baroness will be able to assure me that this proposal, rather than my noble friend’s amendment, carries the Michael Howard seal of approval to ensure balance. Although I did not always agree with him when he was Home Secretary, I recollect that he worked very hard to do something that the present Government are busily unpicking. They ought to stop it.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Farrington takes us back to the core of the debate. Of course, the question is: which Michael Howard? I very much agree with my noble friend that the problem we face is that we do not accept that police authorities have failed in the way that the Government say they have. We also do not accept that the police authority should not be the model that might be used to develop the police and crime panels. These issues of political balance and the role of independent members are very important. I should have thought that the model of the police authority was one to be followed.
I know that the noble Baroness has tabled her own amendments. Their intention is to keep the same model as is currently in the Bill but to allow areas to increase their representation by co-opting additional members from existing local authorities or additional independent members, with a cap of 20 members in all. I welcome that as far as it goes. My concern is that I am not sure it is entirely appropriate to give complete discretion to the police and crime panels themselves. If we are preserving any remnant of a tripartite system, it is right for the Home Secretary to lay down through legislation certain minimum requirements for police and crime panels, such as that there should be political balance and a proportion of independent members. That is why I very much warm to my noble friend’s amendment.
The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, raised the issue of substitutes. The problem is that the House has now decided, by voting, that the decision will not be that “of those present and voting”. However, the House has not solved the evident problem that, by making sure the veto can be used only in relation to the number of members, there are all sorts of reasons why it will be almost impossible ever to use it. One thinks of illness. I understand that there is no proposal for how to deal with that. What happens if the local authority is setting its own precept at the time that the panel meets and a member of the panel has to attend? In some areas, we are talking about a large number of local authorities. The idea that a noble Lord can come to the Dispatch Box and say, “Oh, but the meeting time with the PCP will be known and, therefore, no other authority will meet”, is unrealistic. In some areas, we will have a number of elected mayors—the Government are forcing referendums on 11 of the largest cities in England. Presumably, if the government amendment is passed, there will be elected mayors in other cities and boroughs who will already, and automatically, be members of the panel. You could have a situation whereby the attendance record at a meeting of the panel is quite low. It would, therefore, make it almost impossible for the veto to be exercised.
The Government and the House have now decided to reject a sensible amendment by which the veto requirement should be “of those present and voting”. I agree with the noble Lord that this matter has not satisfactorily been resolved. The Government will have to think about this matter between now and Third Reading, because this simply should not stand as it currently does in the Bill.
My Lords, I must confess, for the first time in taking this Bill through the House, that I am genuinely disappointed, because in the government amendments in this group we have tried really hard to address concerns across the House that were raised in Committee about giving more flexibility to achieve balance on the panel. As we know from previous debates, that balance ranges across geography, politics, gender and ethnicity. Of course, among the group of people who the panel can co-opt it is sometimes necessary, because of local circumstances, to co-opt people with particular expertise in an area who will be a useful addition to the panel. By raising the threshold of the panel size to 20, I have gone far in excess of anything suggested in Committee in order to provide those additional co-opted places on the panel so that these matters can be addressed.
Let me establish for the record that paragraph 30(3) of Schedule 6 already places the same duty on a panel to ensure that it represents the political make-up of the force area. This, of course, achieves exactly the same political balance as the current police authority regulations do. Therefore, while there is more scope for these additional nominated or co-opted people to be invited to sit on the panel—there is nothing mandatory about this; the panel can decide whether or not it wishes to go up to that threshold of 20—we have retained political balance based on what already happens in police authorities. The noble Baroness mentioned the attempt by the noble Lord, Lord Howard, to do that. I hope she will accept that we have not departed from that principle in the Bill.
However, I was particularly concerned that noble Lords, in speaking to their amendments, did not seem to be aware that it is not mandatory for co-opted members to come from local authorities. They can, if the panel so chooses, but they need not come from local authorities at all. Later, when I speak to my amendments, I will flesh out a little the fact that where the panel opts to co-opt more people on to the panel to achieve diversity, gender balance and ethnicity balance, the Secretary of State is required to approve these co-options because the panel will, in making that submission to the Secretary of State, be required to demonstrate why these particular people are being co-opted on to the panel. At that point, I would expect there to be a case for balance across a range of gender, ethnicity and expertise—whatever the thinking is behind the panel wanting to make these recommendations. The Secretary of State will then have the opportunity to see that the panel is not filling up those places just with chums—people of a like-minded persuasion or of the same political party. The Secretary of State will want it to be clearly demonstrated that the panel has seriously considered who it needs to add to give a balanced mix to enhance its functioning and to give fairness across the piece.
I welcome what the noble Baroness says, but what if, given the discretion to which she referred, the panel decides not to co-opt? What then?
I hope that there would be a discussion early on on the panel if there was a debate about the need to co-opt. I hope that would ensure that there was agreement on the need to co-opt. We keep trying to drive down to micromanage the panels. I am concerned to give panels the authority and flexibility to get the balance right, based on their judgment of their local needs, without trying to micromanage through the Bill a lot of situations that may or may not arise. With all due respect, we are talking about adults who—particularly the political nominees to the panel—will be there on behalf of specific local authorities. I should have thought that there would be grown-up discussion.
We have tried to get a balance in the Bill. It is important that the panel has the flexibility to co-opt. Raising that threshold to 20 is far in excess of what anyone asked me to do in Committee and more than generous. I am more than happy to stand here and read out the number for every police force area that will now be able, in the main, to co-opt an extra eight to 10 people. That is a huge number of people to get that balance right.
In the noble Baroness’s Amendment 128, does not new subsection (2B)(b) impose a condition that “no such resolution” to have a number of co-opted members may be passed unless,
“the Secretary of State agrees that the panel should have that number of co-opted members”.
What is that if not micromanagement?
That gives the Secretary of State, as I just described, the opportunity to ensure that the panel’s motive is to ensure the overall balance of the panel and to prevent the panel being packed with chums and politically slanted, which noble Lords have been concerned about—we have had a lot of discussion in Committee and on Report about this. Noble Lords have asked whether the members will be of the same political party as the PCC may be seen to have. This gives the Secretary of State the opportunity to look at the motivation of the panel in co-opting people. This is not about the Secretary of State wielding a lot of power in the sense of deciding whether or not the panel co-opts, but about whether the Secretary of State believes that the submissions made have met an objective that the panel has clearly identified.
I seek genuine clarification from the Minister. She referred to the schedule that states that the balanced appointment objective means that the political make-up of a relevant authority has to be represented on the panel. That means that in some parts of the country—Manchester, let us say—all the political representation is likely to be Labour, whereas in other parts of the country, because of the councils that make up the relevant area all the representation is likely to be from another party. My amendment aims to reflect the voting numbers. There are parts of the country in which Liberal Democrats and Conservatives would not get a look-in on the panel because all the councils are Labour, and other parts of the country where Labour would not get a look-in because the councils are all Conservative. What the noble Baroness is saying about the schedules goes only so far because at the moment police authorities are made up on the basis of the voting figures at the last election. In other words, there is proportional representation in police authorities that is not in this Bill. That is the difference, and that is the issue that I am trying to get at with this point about politicisation. The noble Baroness perhaps did not give me credit for what I am trying to do here.
I hate to disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, on this because I know that her motives are well-meaning. That paragraph in Schedule 6 has the heading: “Duty to produce balanced panel”—the Bill very clearly already includes the duty to produce a balanced panel. The noble Baroness describes a situation, and it saddens me to say this, in which there may be councils around the country with no elected Conservatives at all, although that can apply to other parties in other parts of the country. However, what I can only describe as the generosity of increasing the number of people that can be co-opted on to the panel means that I would expect a responsible panel to make absolutely sure that it would look to the additional co-optees to redress that political balance. If that is what the panel puts to the Secretary of State, I can see no reason why it cannot do that. If the motivation is to create a politically balanced panel, Conservatives can be co-opted to the panel to get political balance. I see no reason why what I am doing does not address the point that she is making.
My Lords, the Minister has failed to see the critical difference between the proposals in this Bill and the solution to the problem that everybody in this debate wishes to overcome, which was achieved by the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne. I have yet to hear an answer as to why the proportional representation that was written in to the police authority legislation that we currently have is being done away with. Will the Secretary of State say to authority A: “I am sorry, the system has not worked; you are unbalanced and therefore you will co-opt to balance yourselves”? I am sorry but we have a problem that was fixed and we are now busy recreating the original problem.
My Lords, perhaps the solution to that is that PCPs can also set out their own rules and practices for all other business and procedures under Part 4 of Schedule 6, at paragraph 24. There is sufficient flexibility already in the Bill, combined with raising the threshold to 20 members, that gives the panel the opportunity to get the right balance that this House has called for. I genuinely mean this.
The problem is that there is too much flexibility. The cases have been quoted to the Minister: there will be panels where the political parties in control of the councils will be almost all of one party. The Minister is saying that you can rely on the panel to which these people are appointed to then ensure greater impartiality. This is why we know it will not work. I have said again and again that the Minister will come back in a couple of years’ time with another Bill to put it right, because what she is in fact doing is leading not just to the politicisation of the police commissioner but also the panel, in a way that will be destructive because it does not guarantee either balance or having truly independent members on it.
My Lords, again I am very disappointed that the House is not able to identify the flexibility that the increase in the number on the panel offers. I want to make some progress now. I propose to place in the Library of the House as soon as possible—I hope within the next 48 hours—a comparison of the current system and the new system and how it will affect each police authority in the country. If noble Lords have a chance to analyse that, they will see that the flexibility is there. I take the point of the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, that I am now creating too much flexibility in the Bill. The inference I have taken in previous discussions was that noble Lords wanted more prescription in the Bill and not flexibility. I believe that these matters are best decided at a local level, case by case, giving the power to the panel to decide what is needed. I am genuinely disappointed that that point of what I believe is a very generous amendment on the part of the Government has not been accepted.
Before I turn specifically to the amendments before us, my noble friend Lord Shipley mentioned deputies and how the panel conducts its business. We can consider the views that he has raised today as the Secretary of State has power in Schedule 5, set out by regulation, to see whether in regulation we can address the problem he has just identified. I will liaise with him on progress specifically on that matter.
Amendments 106, 116, 121, 123, 132A and 140 seek to vary the composition of the police and crime panel. Although I have heard the views put forward again today, I believe the series of government amendments that have been tabled will address many of the issues noble Lords have been concerned about, and I invite noble Lords who have tabled amendments in this group not to press them.
Amendment 140, from my noble friends Lady Hamwee and Lord Shipley, seeks to limit the Government’s power under paragraph 32 of Schedule 6 to make regulations applying local government legislation to police and crime panels. As I have said, we will take a look at what can be achieved in regulation but the amendment specifically would mean that the power could only be used to the extent necessary to apply the relevant legislation. I can reassure noble Lords that this power will not be used to a greater extent than is necessary. I will say more about it when I come to the Government’s amendments.
Government Amendments 120, 122, 124, 126 to 128, 130 to 132 and 134 to 137 seek to address, as I have mentioned, the composition of the police and crime panel. I thank—and they may be surprised to hear me say this—my noble friends Lord Shipley and Lady Hamwee and, if it is not going to ruin his reputation, the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, for their input. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, looks horrified. I have tried to listen, across the House, to the points that have been made. There have been some very good points made, particularly in Committee, and I have tried to incorporate them into the amendments I have tabled.
I fully recognise the need to ensure that the police and crime panels are able to represent geographically large and diverse communities. I also understand the significant challenges that local authorities face in achieving this under current provisions in the Bill. These provide for the inclusion of district councils, which previously have not been recognised in their own right, which reflects the Government’s localism agenda but leads to potential issues relating to proportionate representation.
Fundamentally, the Government still believe that the model set out for police and crime panels in the Bill is entirely appropriate and provides for a clear process and structure in establishing such panels. I believe we have created a structure that is sufficiently flexible to meet local structures while being the right size to avoid being expensive and a bureaucratic burden. However, the Government propose to allow areas to opt to increase their representation by co-opting additional members from local authorities—they do not have to come from local authorities—or independent members.
It is still important not to encourage oversized and unwieldy police and crime panels and it was for that reason that the cap was set at 20 members. For example, Devon and Cornwall’s police and crime panel will have 15 members under the provisions originally set out in the Bill; with these new provisions it will have an option to co-opt a further five members. This provision could therefore be used to enable the panel to reflect more directly the geographical representation of the force area. I remind noble Lords that in the Devon and Cornwall force area, Cornwall as a county is a unitary authority. However, we will not prescribe this; increasing co-option will be a local decision. The Secretary of State will retain a role in agreeing to any proposed increase in the number of co-optees, merely to ensure that local areas have considered all the issues arising from their decision, including other areas of balance.
I hope that the Minister can give figures. I understand that there are specific circumstances to do with Cornwall, where it is felt that its representation is overmatched by that coming from Devon. But the figures of interest in terms of reflecting needs and all the communities are for Kent, Essex, Hampshire and, to a slightly lesser extent, Lancashire, because of the difference of size of population and the number of local authorities. I can see noble Lords nodding.
I have said that I will make sure that certainly before Third Reading, and I hope within the next 48 hours, I can write to noble Lords and place a copy of that letter in the House Library showing how this new threshold of 20 will impact on every police force in the country. That will show what the numbers would have been if I had left the Bill unamended with my increase to 20, and what the impact will be after raising the threshold to 20. I hope that noble Lords will be sufficiently encouraged and reassured when they have a chance to compare what the situation would have been in the Bill as previously drafted and the situation as with the new amendment that I have spoken to today.
I thank the Minister for agreeing that we can come back to this at Third Reading.
I have to say that this amendment is a major concession on the part of the Government. It is free to all noble Lords to come back at Third Reading, but I believe that this is a very significant concession, which reflects a lot of the points raised across the House.
The problem is that I certainly, speaking for myself, do not fully understand the extent of the concession. Without being able to see the evidence that the Minister is talking about and to compare the former list and the present list under the amendment with old police authorities, I cannot see the extent of the concession. Given that we have not yet seen this information which will be put in the Library, is it possible to reserve the right to come back to this at Third Reading, if concerns remain? It is difficult to be specific about something that we have not yet seen.
My Lords, I cannot say that the Government will come back to this at Third Reading. I am happy to talk off the Floor to noble Lords who have concerns about this, but this is a major concession. In looking at the exact numbers for each police force area, I remind the House that before I tabled this amendment the ceiling for police and crime panels reflected the number of local authorities plus two co-opted members. For most authorities, we will see significant numbers of co-opted members available to the panel to co-opt, if that is its wish, in order to achieve balance. A significant concession has been made in seeking to address many quite legitimate and important issues raised on the Floor of the House in Committee.
Panels will be required to exercise the power to co-opt additional members in such a way as to achieve the objective that the local authority members represent all parts of the police area and the political make-up of the contributing authorities. They will also need to ensure that all the members—local authority and independent—when taken together, have the necessary skills, knowledge and experience. To ensure that panels do this, any proposal to co-opt will require the agreement of the Secretary of State, who will look purely on the motivation in terms of achieving balance for that co-option. These amendments are considered to address the concerns that have been raised. I believe that the government amendments, particularly that to increase the panel to 20, have seriously addressed some important issues raised across the House. I ask noble Lords not to press their amendments.
My Lords, this is an extremely serious issue. It first raised its head at Second Reading when nearly all the speakers voiced their anxieties about party politics being put into policing and it is a theme that has run right through our discussions since that time. I accept the assurance of the noble Baroness that she is trying to address this, as indeed we are trying to address it. The problem is that many of us, certainly on this side of the House, feel that the noble Baroness’s way of addressing it will not be sufficient.
It is all very well comparing panels in the original Bill with panels now, but the comparison I am interested in is between the panels under the Government’s amendment and the existing police authorities. We have a tried and tested formula under which there is no party political majority on police authorities. All parties are represented. They have worked harmoniously and they have worked effectively. I suggest to the House that one of the reasons why police authorities have not had a high profile is because they have avoided controversy by having party political balance, with people of all parties working together to resolve problems. That is why we have not seen high profile problems and why police authorities have not been noticed more.
This issue of party political balance is important. We have it now. My concern is that we will lose it. It is a concern that the Minister has not addressed. It is not a question of what the original Bill had in as against what it has in now; for me it is an issue of what we have now—which is very precious— and what we will lose under this proposal if we do not get party political balance on our panels. In the past week or two I have been in meetings with police personnel where a group of Members of Parliament were berating a chief constable for not coming out publically to support the Government’s proposals. The aggressive tone of that meeting—I will not go into detail—left me quite shocked. I am concerned that if we do not address this issue of party politics in policing we will have chief constables being put under pressure to do certain things.
This is not an issue about operational or not operational. It is about people saying, “Chief Constable, you are not giving leadership; you are not saying X, Y and Z put forward by the Government”. There will be pressure of that kind and it will be insidious. That is what I am worried about. I have seen it happening already and it will happen more. The Government should be trying to tackle this head on. It they do not, we will undermine the impartiality of our police authorities and put party politics back into policing. That is what I—and many others—worry about. It is why I put so much emphasis on this amendment. It is crucial. It protects something that has been very precious in our policing over the past 20 years. It protects something that is very precious to chief constables. I very much fear that if we put party politics back into policing it is chief constables who will bear the brunt of it. It is for all those reasons that, despite what the noble Baroness has said, I have to test the opinion of the House.