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Police and Crime Commissioners

Volume 756: debated on Wednesday 29 October 2014

Question

Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what standards and guidelines are given to Police and Crime Commissioners upon taking office.

My Lords, the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 provides the broad structure within which police and crime commissioners must operate. The legislation is necessarily permissive to allow PCCs to innovate and deliver policing more effectively than the unelected police authorities that they replaced.

I thank the Minister for that considered but short reply. Already between 2012 and 2014, these police and crime commissioners have cost us £9,636,264. That is just in salary and expenses and does not take into account the people who are directly employed by them. The public do not understand why police and crime commissioners were appointed, what they are supposed to do and what they have achieved, but they do know that they cannot be sacked. Does the Minister agree with the Deputy Prime Minister that this is a failed experiment and that they should be scrapped?

I hear what the noble Lord says, but of course 5.49 million people voted to put those people in place. I would argue that they are much more accountable than the police authorities and the local government systems that existed before. As for the comments of the Deputy Prime Minister, of course this was a coalition agreement that was supported through this House, but the Liberal Democrats are entirely entitled to change their mind whenever they choose.

My Lords, it is said that Churchill described democracy as the worst system of government except for everything else that had been tried. Does the Minister agree that the coalition has achieved the converse by the introduction of police and crime commissioners, which is the best system of police governance in England and Wales that could have been invented, except for anything else that you could have thought of?

I respect the noble Lord’s great experience in this area, but we need to remember what the system was before. The previous Government commissioned an HMIC report—entitled, appropriately for the time, Police Governance in Austerity—which found that only four of the 22 police authorities inspected were judged to have performed well in two of their primary functions: setting a strategic direction and ensuring value for money. There has been a change there, and that is to be welcomed.

My Lords, one of the two objectives that the Government set for police and crime commissioners was to save money. In addition to the vast expense of many of these police and crime commissioners appointing deputies, we have also had to have two by-elections—once, tragically, because of a death and once because of resignation—which have cost between £1 million and £3 million. How much money has the change actually saved?

Police budgets overall are reducing, which is not something that we chose to do but was the situation that we were faced with when this Government came into office. It should be said that the police are also overseeing one of the largest falls in crime that we have ever had in recent years. That is to be welcomed. The average salary of a police and crime commissioner is about half that of a chief constable. In many areas, people will regard them as delivering value for money. If people feel that they are failing in their responsibilities, they can vote them out, which they could not do before.

My Lords, the noble Lord mentioned the number of people who voted for police and crime commissioners when the elections were originally held. Will he remind the House what percentage that represents of the people who could have voted?

Yes, it was 15% of those who could have voted. This was a new role introduced to increase accountability, and 15% is a sight more than were present in the smoke-filled rooms to elect the chairmen of the police authorities which existed before.

My Lords, what advice is given to PCCs on the value of high-quality youth services and well supported mentoring and peer mentoring services? What evidence can the Minister cite of consistent investment by PCCs in that vital area to prevent children and young people entering crime?

The noble Earl is right to raise the concern. PCCs can be responsive in local areas in a way that did not exist before. For example, in Northamptonshire, Adam Simmonds has introduced a new victim witness service. In Cumbria, Richard Rhodes has introduced an office of victim services. Those are exactly the type of changes which are responsive to local needs that the commissioners are now delivering.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that I was unable to name any member of a police authority who was not a Member of your Lordships’ House?

My noble friend makes a fine point. Police and crime commissioners, through the press, through discussion and through the elections, are much more widely known and recognised. Therefore, people will increasingly come to them with their issues, to which they can respond.

My Lords, is it not the case that a fifth—it may be more, but it is seven or eight at least; no doubt the Minister can tell us—of the elected police and crime commissioners are under current or recent investigation by the IPCC for fraud or other misdemeanours? Are the Government, or at least the Conservative part of the coalition, still intent on giving PCCs more powers and more responsibilities and doing nothing about the accountability mechanisms?

I thought that when the noble Lord began by speaking about seven or so police and crime commissioners, he was referring to the number of former Labour MPs and Ministers who are now holding those important positions in this country. The reality is that of course they are accountable to the police and crime panels, but ultimately they are accountable to the people who elected them.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that the Committee on Standards in Public Life recently announced an inquiry on local policing accountability, leadership and ethics, which is reviewing how ethical standards are being addressed within the current structures for police accountability, including police and crime commissioners? I declare an interest as chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life.

I was aware that that process is under way and I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Bew, as chairman of that committee. In the context of this, I encourage all Members of your Lordships’ House, particularly those with policing experience, to feed in their views to the Committee on Standards in Public Life so that it can look thoroughly at this issue.