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Police and Crime Commissioners

Volume 762: debated on Wednesday 3 June 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what plans they have to give additional powers and responsibilities to police and crime commissioners.

My Lords, we will develop the role of our elected and accountable police and crime commissioners to shape policing services to local needs and priorities, as they are now doing in commissioning victims’ services, setting out policing priorities and driving reform. During this Parliament we will set out further proposals to enhance collaboration between police and fire authorities.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for his Answer. Given that these police and crime commissioners are elected and accountable and were the flagship policing reform of the Conservative Government, what is the objection to allowing them properly to set the budget of the police service in their area? Why is there an arbitrary cap of 2% on the increase in the precept that they are allowed to impose?

There is a limit because we have to control expenditure. However, the noble Lord makes a very fair point, which is that these are elected and accountable individuals. In Bedfordshire, for example, under the rules permitting a referendum to take place, there was a referendum on raising the precept beyond 2%. That was defeated by two-thirds to one-third just last month on a 65% turnout. I think that demonstrates that we support that principle.

My Lords, as the Government are going to bring forward proposals laying down minimum turnouts in strike ballots for trade unions, does the noble Lord have any proposals to establish minimum levels of turnout to establish the legitimacy of police commissioners?

I just mentioned a turnout of 65%, although of course I accept that that turnout occurred in a referendum. The noble Lord will appreciate that particular circumstances arose in the first police and crime commissioner elections, which took place in November. The role is now established. The England and Wales crime surveys found that awareness of police authorities is 7%, but awareness of police and crime commissioners is 63%. I believe that that will be reflected in the turnout next year.

Does my noble friend accept that this has been a remarkable success and that some of us who were antagonistic to the idea at first have now learnt through our own experience—mine, for example, in Suffolk—that this is a very good way of ensuring that the public have greater control over the part of policing that they should control? Therefore, we should thank the police commissioners for the work that they are doing.

My noble friend is absolutely right and I absolutely agree with him. That is not just the opinion of my noble friend. The Home Affairs Select Committee has said that police and crime commissioners,

“have provided greater clarity of leadership for policing within their areas and are increasingly recognised by the public as accountable for the strategic direction of their police forces”.

That seems a pretty good endorsement.

My Lords, I take this opportunity to welcome the Minister back to his position. Your Lordships will be aware that there is a certain amount of controversy in the Minister’s party about the judicial relationship between Strasbourg and London, which may in the future concern the voting rights of prisoners in Her Majesty’s prisons. Will the noble Lord assure the House that the Government will not permit those in prison custody to vote in elections for police and crime commissioners now or in the future? Given the historic low turnout, that might be described as a new and unique form of insider dealing.

The noble Lord is absolutely right. Of course, he tempts me with one of those wonderful spinning balls to the off stump, and I wonder whether I ought to play it. The Government have made their position absolutely clear on voting rights for people who have fallen foul of the laws of this country and have been imprisoned for that purpose. We believe that there should be no change in that purpose.

My Lords, according to Police Professional magazine, the Home Secretary is so fed up with police and crime commissioners setting performance targets that she has asked the head of the Police Superintendents’ Association to conduct a review. Can the Minister please tell the House if police and crime commissioners cannot be trusted with performance-managing the police, what is the point of having them at all?

Well, they do set the policing plan. But this is one of the things that the Home Secretary has made very clear. When she came in, there was a plethora of targets and quotas that had to be addressed. She said, “Listen, as far as the police are concerned, they have one target and that is to cut crime”. I think that all good police and crime commissioners should follow that example.

My Lords, the Minister mentioned that these police and crime commissioners are accountable. In fact, the reports coming in from the police and crime panels, which are charged with holding the police and crime commissioners to account, suggest that they are underresourced. Will the Government consider funding those panels rather better than they are at the moment?

The funding of the panels and the offices of the police and crime commissioners is a matter for the police and crime commissioners, which they must do and for which they must be accountable in their plan to the electorate.

My Lords, first, I congratulate the Minister on his promotion, which is certainly well merited. Bearing in mind that this appears to have happened in some instances last year, do the Government regard it as being within the existing powers of any police and crime commissioners to prevent or seek to prevent their chief constables from signing a letter likely to go into the public domain expressing concerns about their ability to maintain public safety within their existing or proposed budgets?

I would obviously need to look very closely at the example which the noble Lord gives. I do not have it, in fact. But we would take that very seriously. It is important to recognise that while police and crime commissioners are of course accountable to the public, they are also accountable and available to be scrutinised by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. If there were claims of undue influence of the type that he has alluded to, that would be one route. But I would be happy to look at further details if he wanted to share them with me.

My Lords, is the Minister aware that in New York the police are forced to take part in physical training classes in order to be fleet of foot? Do the splendid, lovely and noble police outside the Peers’ Entrance have to take part in similar classes in this country?

I have to be careful about passing judgment on anybody’s fitness. I was aware that the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police had called for an increase in the rigour of the fitness test for police officers, and I am sure that will be taken notice of.

My Lords, you are testing me today. This is a difficult one. I think the best thing to do is to move on to the next Question.