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Police and Crime Commissioners

Volume 754: debated on Wednesday 11 June 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government whether they intend to assess formally the impact and benefit of police commissioners; and whether they intend to publish a report.

My Lords, the best assessment of the impact and benefit of police and crime commissioners will be the one made by voters when PCCs are up for re-election in 2016. The Home Affairs Select Committee recently published its report Police and Crime Commissioners: Progress to Date. From the evidence gathered, the committee concluded that PCCs provide greater clarity of leadership and are increasingly recognised by the public as accountable for the strategic direction they provide.

I am grateful to the noble Lord, but is the problem not that we have, at immense cost to the public purse, minders who mind minders who are minding more minders? Obviously, we have the unwanted police and crime commissioners elected by less than 20% of voters and supposed to be super-minders. Then there are police authorities, the IPCC, ACPO and the affluent Police Federation all making demands on chief constables and invariably inhibiting their command and control authority and responsibilities. How do we expect such a system to function effectively?

My Lords, the Government’s police reforms are working. Crime is down 10% since 2010. We put operational responsibility where it belongs: with the police. We have introduced democratic accountability through the PCCs. The Home Affairs Select Committee report that I referred to found that PCCs’ costs represent the same proportion of the total spending—0.6%—as was spent on the previous system of police authorities.

My Lords, my understanding of the reasons for the replacement of police authorities by police and crime commissioners was that they were to save money—from what my noble friend just said, that saving does not appear to have materialised—and to improve democratic accountability. How does the appointment of the deputy police and crime commissioners that have proliferated across the country, who are not elected and cost a considerable amount of money, meet the objectives that the Government had in introducing PCCs in the first place?

I am sorry but I must disagree with my noble friend. In the old system, of which many Members were well aware, only 7% of the people of this country knew that if they had a problem with the police they should go to the police authority, whereas the latest independent crime survey for England and Wales shows that 70% of the public are aware of PCCs. It is a very effective way of bringing accountability to the police system.

My Lords, I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis, in one respect—it was not less than 20% but less than 14% of voters who voted for PCCs. I hope the Minister will acknowledge that the principal sales pitch for PCCs was twofold: that they would increase both public engagement with the police and the accountability of chief officers. If the Minister were seeking to persuade the 86% who did not vote, would he feel safe and entirely certain that he could point to the part of the glittering collective record of PCCs which shows that those advertised advantages had happened?

It is easy to disparage the work that PCCs are doing. The reforms that the Government are taking through have been made possible because of the accountability of PCCs directly to the public for the work of chief constables in their areas. It is all part of a package. We have a great task ahead of us to reform the institution of policing in this country and the PCCs are part of that process. They represent the democratic accountability, which is an important element of that.

The Minister said that there had been a great fall in the crime rate. Would he publish the figures of how crime has fallen in the areas that have PCCs and the areas that do not?

Crime is falling because the Government are determined to make sure that the police have the resources in the front line to deal with crime. The PCC system allows democratic accountability at local level so that people are aware of the role that they have in making sure that policing in their area is relevant to their needs. That was not the case under police authorities however well intentioned and hard working they were. Police and crime commissioners have made it possible and I applaud them.

My Lords, the Minister has made the point that the test may well come when police and crime commissioners are up for election. Does he accept that an ironic situation could arise where commissioners will be asked to justify undertakings that they have given and which have not been fulfilled, and say, “It is not my fault but the fault of the chief constable”, and the damage that that could do to the system? Can the Minister tell the House the number of chief officers of police who have been dismissed since the system came into force, and in what other circumstances the Inspectorate of Constabulary has been involved?

My Lords, the noble Lord is wrong to assume that those will be the terms under which the election of the successor PCCs will take place. I foresee a considerable interest in PCCs in May 2016; there will be a great deal of public interest in making sure that the people elected to these important posts are in fact the people whom they believe will represent them. As to the figures, I shall be happy to write to the noble Lord but I cannot give them to him at the moment.