My Lords, policing in England and Wales has been transformed over the past six years. There has been a step change in the way police forces are held to account. In May, nearly 9 million people voted in the second elections for police and crime commissioners, and I am pleased that one of our number, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, is now one of 41 police and crime commissioners setting local policing priorities and visibly holding their police force to account.
We have enhanced the capacity of the police to respond to serious and organised crime through the creation of the National Crime Agency. We are strengthening the professionalism of police forces through the work of the College of Policing. When things go wrong, we have substantially enhanced the ability of the Independent Police Complaints Commission to independently investigate the most serious complaints made against the police. Much of this transformation has happened over the period of the last Parliament, during which police forces made a £1.5 billion contribution in cash terms to the reduction in the deficit but at the same time continued to cut crime, by over a quarter since 2010, according to the independent Crime Survey for England and Wales.
We are under no illusions that there is more to do. There are still far too many victims of crime, and police forces continue to face many challenges and demands on their necessarily finite resources. We need to drive further reform in order to build more capacity and capability to tackle the scourges of child sexual exploitation, modern slavery, online fraud, terrorism and the many other threats to the peace and security of our communities. The provisions of this Policing and Crime Bill will make an important contribution to that end.
It has long been accepted that the fight against crime and keeping our communities safe are not the responsibilities of the police alone. Police forces need to work closely with many other partners to deliver these shared objectives. Working collaboratively with other agencies can secure better outcomes for the public and at a reduced cost. We have seen some good examples of this in the collaborations up and down the country between the three emergency services. In Hampshire, the police, fire and rescue service and county council have integrated their back office functions, including HR, procurement and property services. In January, a joint police, fire and ambulance facility was opened in the town of Poynton in Cheshire, and in Durham, tri-service community safety responders have been trained to act as police community support officers, retained firefighters and community first responders for the ambulance service.
As welcome as these and other similar initiatives are, it is clear that there is scope for far greater joint working between the emergency services to improve front-line services and deliver greater value for money. Accordingly, Part 1 of the Bill introduces a high-level duty on the emergency services to collaborate to help maximise opportunities for improving efficiency and effectiveness.
However, this is not simply about value for money for the taxpayer. These reforms will also extend the police and crime commissioner model to fire and rescue services. The benefits of a having a single, visible, directly elected individual who can hold the fire and rescue service to account are clear. So, Part 1 of the Bill will also enable a police and crime commissioner to take on the responsibilities of the fire and rescue authority where a local case is made. Police and crime commissioners will be able to take this governance model a step further by adopting the single employer model, which will enable a single chief officer for both the police force and the fire and rescue service to maximise efficiencies through the integration of back- office functions.
Let me be clear: these provisions do not provide for the takeover of one emergency service by another. The important distinction between operational policing and firefighting will be maintained, and the Bill’s provisions will ensure that the funding for the two services, while it can be spent on matters of joint benefit, will continue to be accounted for separately. If the existing and new PCC-style fire and rescue authorities are effectively to hold fire and rescue services to account and drive improvement, they need clear, robust and independently verified information about their performance. The existing peer review arrangements do not satisfy those requirements.
That is why the then Home Secretary announced in May that she intended to bring forward proposals to establish a rigorous and independent inspection regime for fire and rescue in England. As a precursor to that, Part 1 of the Bill also strengthens the existing but dormant inspection framework provided for in the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004. It does so by providing for the appointment of a chief fire and rescue inspector for England, charged with preparing an inspection programme and ensuring that fire and rescue inspectors have the necessary powers to enter premises and obtain the information they need to report on the efficiency and effectiveness of fire and rescue services.
Turning to Part 2 of the Bill, I have already alluded to the significant additional resources we have invested in the Independent Police Complaints Commission to enable it, rather than individual police forces, to investigate all serious and sensitive complaints made against police officers and police staff. The lack of independence in the way serious complaints were investigated was, and is, only one of a number of legitimate concerns that have been voiced about how the police complaints system has operated. The system has been viewed as too adversarial, too complex, too slow and lacking impartiality, given that many appeals are handled in-force.
The provisions in Part 2 address these deficiencies, including strengthening police and crime commissioners’ oversight role in the local complaints system and making them the appellate body for those appeals currently heard by chief constables. We are also simplifying the appeal process by replacing five separate appeal rights with a single review at the conclusion of the complaint. The reformed system will also encourage the timely resolution of customer-service issues by expressly providing for low-level matters to be dealt with outside the formal complaints process.
In moving from a system where the IPCC conducted a little over 100 independent investigations in 2013-14 to one where this figure has increased fivefold, it is clear that the IPCC, too, must change. Following an independent review, it is apparent that the existing commissioner-based governance model is not sustainable—a conclusion shared by the IPCC. In its place, the Bill provides for the appointment of a single executive head of the organisation—the director-general—who will have ultimate responsibility for all case-working decisions. Corporate governance will be provided by a board comprising a majority of non-executive directors. In recognition of these new governance arrangements, we are changing the name of the IPCC to the Office for Police Conduct.
Part 2 also contains some important reforms of the police disciplinary arrangements. I am sure the whole House would agree that it cannot be right that a police officer, knowing that he or she is to be the subject of a serious complaint, can avoid being held to account by resigning or retiring from the force. To address this, the Bill and accompanying regulations will enable disciplinary action to be taken where a serious allegation is received within 12 months of an officer leaving a force. If, in such a case, gross misconduct is proven, the officer can then be barred from serving in any police force.
We believe a 12-month cut-off is both fair and proportionate, but we have listened to the representations from the Official Opposition and others who have argued for this period to be extended. In response, the Government are committed to bringing forward an amendment in Committee that will, exceptionally, allow for proceedings to be brought later in the most serious misconduct cases which are likely to do serious and lasting damage to the reputation of the police force or policing more generally.
Part 3 is designed to create a more skilled and effective police workforce. Police staff and volunteers have for many years worked alongside warranted officers to help keep our communities safe, but the current legislation constrains chief constables in how they can make best use of the staff available to them. To overcome these barriers, the Bill will confer on chief officers greater flexibility in the way they designate operational staff with police powers. Instead of a current prescribed list of powers that can be conferred on police staff, chief constables will be able to designate suitably trained and qualified staff with any of the powers of a constable, with the exception of those expressly reserved for warranted officers. This list of “core” powers, such as powers of arrest and stop and search, are the most intrusive. It is right that they continue to be reserved for fully trained police officers.
Under these new arrangements, it will also be open to chief officers to designate volunteers with powers appropriate to their role. We should be doing more to promote volunteering. If public-spirited individuals want to help keep their community safe by volunteering as a community support officer, or by putting their IT or forensic accountancy skills to good use, they should be allowed to do so. It simply makes no sense that the law enables a volunteer to serve as a special constable, with all the powers of a police officer, but in any other volunteering role in policing they cannot be designated with any powers whatever.
Part 4 relates to police powers. Where there is a well-founded operational case, the Government will act to address gaps in the ability of the police and prosecutors to prevent, detect, investigate and prosecute crime. Accordingly, this part strengthens police maritime and cross-border enforcement powers, and enables the police to retain DNA profiles and fingerprints on the basis of a conviction outside of England and Wales.
Equally, where there is evidence that police powers are being inappropriately used or misapplied, we will act to protect the rights of the individual. The police approach to the use of pre-charge bail is a case in point. There have been too many instances where individuals have been left subject to pre-charge bail for many months—in some cases, years—only for no charges to follow. During this time, they may have been subject to onerous conditions, restricting their liberty and causing added stress. Of course, the police and prosecutors need adequate time to gather and weigh the evidence, but there must be checks and balances so that interference with the rights of individuals who have not been charged or convicted of any offence is kept to an absolute minimum.
To this end, the Bill introduces a presumption that an individual subject to an ongoing investigation will be released without bail. Where pre-charge bail is both necessary and proportionate, it will normally last no longer than 28 days, with any extension beyond three months being subject to judicial approval. As now, the police will be able to attach necessary and proportionate conditions to pre-charge bail. Where these are breached, it is open to the police to re-arrest the suspect but in the generality of cases we do not believe it proportionate to make breach a criminal offence. Those arrested for a terrorism offence and bailed under PACE are, however, a special case. Given the continued draw of Daesh, there is a particular risk that someone bailed in these circumstances will seek to flee the country. Consequently, in such cases the Bill makes it an offence to breach pre-charge bail conditions related to travel. Of course, such a sanction will not, on its own, deter those who are determined to leave the jurisdiction. That is why the operational guidance used by the police has been updated to ensure that information relating to such individuals is shared in a timely and effective way with other agencies to stop travel at the border.
Part 4 of the Bill also seeks to transform the experience of those who have committed no crime but who come into contact with the police having suffered a mental health crisis. Such individuals must have their mental health needs assessed as quickly as possible by a mental health professional in an appropriate place of safety. While significant progress has been made in recent years to reduce the use of police stations as a place of safety, it is clear that in some parts of the country a police cell is too often used as a first, not last, resort. The Bill therefore prohibits the use of police stations as a place of safety for children and young people under 18 and ensures that, in relation to adults, they will be used only in exceptional circumstances. The Department of Health is investing up to £15 million this year in the provision of health-based places of safety but the Bill also affords greater flexibility to use other suitable premises in appropriate cases. We are also reducing the maximum period of detention under Sections 135 and 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 from 72 hours to 24 hours.
Part 6 of the Bill seeks to close a number of loopholes in the Firearms Act 1968 which can be exploited for criminal ends. The Government fully accept that there is a strong case for the codification of firearms legislation but such an exercise will necessarily take some time. In the meantime, the Law Commission identified a number of defects in the law which are open to abuse. It is these that the Bill seeks to tackle. In particular, Part 6 now seeks to provide a definition of “lethality”, define what constitutes a “component part” of a firearm and provide greater clarity for both collectors and the police as to what constitutes an “antique firearm”. Part 6 will also ensure that defence companies and others who require a prohibited weapons licence under Section 5 of the 1968 Act meet the full cost of such licences rather than the cost falling, as now, to the taxpayer. This change does not affect the fees charged to individual firearm and shotgun certificate holders. This part will also enable the Home Secretary to issue statutory guidance to the police on the exercise of their functions under the 1968 Act. This will ensure that the highest standards of public safety are maintained when the police are determining the suitability of an individual to hold a firearm or shotgun certificate.
The legislative framework governing the sale and supply of alcohol is in a rather better state, having been completely overhauled in the Licensing Act 2003. Nevertheless, that is still 13 years ago and it is right that here, too, we seek to update and improve the legislation in the light of experience. Among other things, Part 7 of the Bill will strengthen the powers of licensing authorities to revoke or suspend a personal licence where the licensee has been convicted of a relevant offence. Part 7 will also ensure that powdered alcohol is covered by the licensing regime—something I know will be welcomed by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, who previously raised this issue. I know that a committee of your Lordships’ House chaired by my noble friend Lady McIntosh of Pickering is currently undertaking a post-legislative review of the Licensing Act and I look forward to seeing the committee’s conclusions and recommendations when it reports next March.
Part 8 of the Bill strengthens the arrangements for implementing and enforcing UN and other financial sanctions, including by providing for new administrative monetary penalties and by increasing the maximum sentence the courts may impose following a conviction for breaching such sanctions. The UK currently gives effect to UN sanctions by way of regulations made under the European Communities Act 1972. How we implement UN sanctions in the future is one of the many issues that we will need to work through as a result of the decision taken by the British people to leave the EU. What is clear is that financial sanctions are, and will remain, an important foreign policy and national security tool and, as such, we need to ensure that they are robustly enforced however we give effect to them in this country.
Part 9 includes some further measures to help protect our borders. Establishing the nationality of individuals as early as possible in the criminal justice process increases the prospect of being able to remove foreign national offenders. Clauses 139 to 141, which introduce a requirement on arrested persons and defendants in criminal proceedings to state their nationality, are directed to this end. I can assure noble Lords that the provision in Clause 139 does not amount to another stop-and-search power. In order to exercise the new power, the police must already have arrested the person on the basis of having reasonable grounds to suspect that he or she has committed a criminal offence.
Finally, Part 9 will also strengthen the law to help protect children and vulnerable adults. The amendment to the Sexual Offences Act will ensure that behaviour relating to the live streaming or transmission of images of child sexual abuse is caught by relevant offences in that Act. The new power to issue statutory guidance to local licensing authorities will help safeguard the users of taxis and private hire vehicles. And the introduction of lifelong anonymity for the victims of forced marriage will, we believe, encourage more victims to come forward and thereby help bring to justice the perpetrators of such crimes.
I am conscious that this is a wide-ranging Bill, but its purpose is clear. The measures in this Bill will support the continued transformation of policing by improving efficiency, strengthening accountability and building public confidence. It is only by continuing to drive these reforms that the police will be better able to deliver their core objective of cutting crime and keeping communities safe. I commend the Bill to the House.
In the light of a document suggesting that he had moved to pastures new, I am very pleased to see the noble and learned Lord still at the government Dispatch Box on a Home Office Bill, though whether that is a pleasure he shares only he can say.
In their manifesto for the 2015 general election, the Government said they would,
“finish the job of police reform … enable fire and police services to work more closely together and develop the role of our elected and accountable Police and Crime Commissioners”,
“overhaul the police complaints system”.
The Policing and Crime Bill sets out a number of measures which the Government say are designed to deliver the manifesto commitments on which they were elected.
In their Explanatory Notes to the Bill, the Government say that its purpose is to,
“further improve the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces, including through closer collaboration with other emergency services; enhance the … accountability of police forces and fire and rescue services; build public confidence in policing; strengthen the protections for persons under investigation by, or who come into contact with, the police; ensure that the police and other law enforcement agencies have the powers they need to prevent, detect and investigate crime; and further safeguard children and young people from sexual exploitation”.
There are parts of the Bill with which we agree, including: support for whistleblowers; changes to firearms and alcohol licensing; the introduction of police super-complaints to allow groups and charities to raise concerns over systemic policing issues; changes to police bail; no longer considering police cells a mental health “safe place”; the banning of police cells for children in crisis; and the strengthening of the Independent Police Complaints Commission and the regulation of the police in general.
We also support the closing of the loophole whereby officers can escape disciplinary proceedings by resigning or retiring. The Bill originally provided that disciplinary proceedings could be initiated up to 12 months after somebody had left the force. However, we know from recent experience that it may take much longer for wrongdoing to be uncovered, as, for example, it did over Hillsborough, and the Government have now been persuaded to extend the 12-month limit in exceptional circumstances. As the Minister said, the Government are due to bring forward an amendment on this point in this House. We will want to look carefully at the definition of “exceptional circumstances”.
Other changes to the Bill were secured during its passage through the Commons, following Labour pressure. These included: strengthened inspection powers in respect of fire and rescue services; a new offence of breach of pre-charge bail conditions relating to travel; conferring lifelong anonymity on the victims of forced marriage; strengthening the safeguarding and protection against exploitation of vulnerable people, including children and young people, through the introduction of statutory guidance in respect of the licensing of taxis and private hire vehicles; increasing cross-border powers of arrest and police powers to seize cancelled travel documents; reforming the governance of the Independent Police Complaints Commission; and enhancing the powers of the police to retain the DNA and fingerprints of persons previously convicted of an offence outside England and Wales. Some of these matters still require further consideration, including certain aspects of the future governance of the IPCC and its change of name, and the completeness of the measures in the Bill to combat child sexual exploitation.
However, there are two significant measures in the Bill for which the Government have not made a compelling case. The first is that, although the Bill introduces a statutory duty on police, fire and ambulance services to collaborate, it also allows police and crime commissioners to assume greater involvement in and control over the provision of fire and rescue services where there is local demand. Police and crime commissioners are responsible for the governance of the police, fire and rescue authorities are responsible for the fire and rescue services, and NHS trusts, or NHS foundation trusts, are responsible for ambulance services. If my figures are right, there are 37 PCCs in England, excluding London, while there are 45 fire and rescue authorities in England, comprising six metropolitan authorities, 24 combined authorities, 15 county authorities, and the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority. Twenty-eight FRAs have coterminous boundaries with police forces and five police areas have coterminous boundaries with the FRAs in their area when taken together. There are 10 regional ambulance trusts in England, five of which have foundation status and are overseen by a council of governors, and one in Wales.
The proposals in the Bill that would enable the fire and rescue services to be brought under police and crime commissioners fail to set out any long-term vision for the fire service; do not underpin the independence of the fire service as a statutory body; provide no protection for fire service budgets; and do not address what will be the democratic accountability of the fire service if under the control of the police and crime commissioner. As I understand it, there has been no government Green Paper or White Paper examining the pros and cons of such a change in the governance of our emergency services. The consultation that has taken place has been purely on the process by which a PCC would take over fire and rescue services, and not on the principle of whether they should do so at all. The Bill will allow a hostile takeover of a fire service by a PCC, if authorised by the Home Secretary, but over the heads of local people and without their consent. That will not strengthen the fire service, which has an important role as a separate statutory service
The Bill will enable a police and crime commissioner to integrate the senior management teams of the police force and the fire and rescue service under a single chief officer. The Government’s argument appears to be that doing this will allow the quicker consolidation of back-office functions such as HR, ICT, finance, procurement and fleet management, for example. It is far from clear, though, how chief officers from very different services, who have to tackle their own distinct problems, can oversee the duties of another agency of which they have very little experience. There are good reasons why the fire service has traditionally been separate from the police. In some inner-city areas with a history of tension with the police, the independence of the fire service is important because it means that the service can continue to operate even if there are difficulties or a stand-off with the police. That will be put at risk if the fire and rescue service is increasingly seen as part and parcel of the police service.
We support the increased collaboration provided for in the Bill, and there are already some very innovative and effective examples of emergency service collaboration across the country. In Greater Manchester, local authority leaders have worked with fire, ambulance and health services to oversee excellent examples of joint working and more meaningful integration. Irlam fire station in Salford is one of the first in the country to host fire services, police and paramedics under one roof, which means that front-line officers are working together every day to improve the service to the public. The station also provides vital community health services. Greater collaboration must be led by local need and with local agreement from all parties concerned. A takeover by a PCC supported by the Home Secretary, regardless of what local people want, cannot be right. There are already suggestions that Conservative Party PCCs are being and will be leaned on hard to take over the fire and rescue services in their area.
Forced mergers must not be a smokescreen for further deep cuts to the fire service or the police, particularly at a time when the country faces an unprecedented terror threat. There is a real danger of the fire service being relegated to a Cinderella service to the police, increasing the likelihood and scale of further cuts. There must, at the very least, be a statutory underpinning for the fire service as a service in its own right, and the protection of budgets.
The Bill also gives a major role to police and crime commissioners in the handling of police complaints. This and other measures in the Bill will no doubt provide an opportunity to probe further what the Government think PCCs should be doing in their current role and the extent to which PCCs are, and are not, interpreting their existing role in the same way—a not unimportant consideration if PCCs are to be given the power to take over fire and rescue services. The Government will also apparently come forward with an amendment to give PCCs a different name, presumably where they take over fire and rescue services.
The second issue of concern about measures in the Bill is the proposal to expand the use of volunteers in the police service. The Government do not appear to be proposing to expand the use of special constables or to increase the use of civilian staff, but rather to replace police with volunteers. Issues of concern around training, management and access to data in relation to volunteers have not been addressed. There is clearly a significant difference between using volunteers to add resource capacity to the police and using them to replace some of the 18,000 police personnel axed since 2010. We believe that the greater use of volunteers in the police service is potentially dangerous in the context of cuts being made to police budgets, contrary to what the Government promised in the spending review. Police services in England and Wales are facing real-terms cuts to their budgets in the current year, which will not be made up by the local precept. In this setting in particular, there needs to be much greater clarity on the precise boundaries to what volunteers can and cannot do. The Bill allows chief officers to designate any police powers to civilian volunteers for the first time, except those from a reserved list.
Public safety requires a properly trained, resourced and accountable police service. Rates of serious and violent crime are rising and Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary recently expressed concern about what it described as the “erosion” of neighbourhood policing in the UK. The police and crime commissioner for Northumbria has rightly said that volunteers have an important role to play in supporting policing, but are not to place themselves in potentially dangerous situations. When the then Home Secretary consulted her on her proposals to increase volunteers’ powers, the Northumbria PCC said that she was trying to provide policing on the cheap. Moreover, the public demand it as absolutely vital that essential police functions are discharged by police officers. Many volunteers want to support the work of police officers but do not want to do their jobs for them. For example, the use of CS and pepper spray should be undertaken only by full-time officers who are regularly trained in their usage and importance.
The inclusion of cybercrime figures in the Crime Survey for England and Wales, which I think is due out on Thursday, is set to add 5 million-plus fraud and cyber incidents to the overall level of crime in the UK—an increase of up to 40%. We are now in an era where you are more likely to be mugged online than on the street. Crime is not falling; it is changing. Police funding has been reduced by some 25% since 2010 and police staff numbers reduced by 12,000 front-line officers over the same period. A volunteer army is no substitute for the properly trained workforce that police forces both need to combat crime and know can be turned out in an emergency.
Last January, the Guardian reported that the police are spending 40% of their time on incidents related to mental health. We support the Government’s recognition that police cells are no place for those suffering from a mental health crisis, but banning inappropriate places of safety alone will not solve the problem of why police cells are used in the first place: namely, a lack of beds and alternative places of safety. We need a firm commitment from the Government that there will be a commissioning strategy in the NHS that ensures that alternative places of safety are available for people in this position.
There are also matters that should be in the Bill but are not. One, which the Hillsborough verdict highlighted, is the need for a principle of equality in legal funding for bereaved families at inquests where the police are represented. It is not right that police forces should be spending considerable amounts of public money on hiring lawyers to challenge aggressively at inquests families who are already in grief and who do not have the resources available to ensure effective representation. It is about fairness. The long fight for justice over Hillsborough shows what happens when such fairness is not a key part of the justice system, but this issue extends way beyond Hillsborough. Could the Government confirm that, as they indicated in the Commons, they support the principle of parity of funding and will act accordingly?
The other issue not addressed in the Bill is the previous Prime Minister’s promise to the victims of press abuse and intrusion that there would be a second-stage Leveson inquiry, into the relationship between the police and the press. Now the Government say there might be an inquiry once outstanding legal matters are concluded. Previously, they said there would be an inquiry. This is backtracking, and backtracking without any attempt to give a credible explanation as to why.
Although there is much that we agree with in the Bill, as well as significant areas of concern which I have highlighted, the key reality is that our emergency services cannot keep us safe and be quickly on hand at times of real need and crisis if we continue to have funding cuts. What the services need more than anything, and which the Bill does not address, is a convincing, funded plan for the future which our emergency services feel they can back and get behind. Proposed structural reforms of doubtful merit and the increased use of volunteers are just not answers to this key point.
My Lords, I also congratulate the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen of Elie, on seeing off any potential challengers to his position as Advocate-General for Scotland. However, I am not sure that policing has been transformed in the way that the noble and learned Lord said it had been in his opening remarks. I therefore agree with him that further reform is necessary, and like the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, we support many provisions in the Bill.
We welcome measures to allow further collaboration across the blue-light services, but we are concerned about placing fire services under the control of police and crime commissioners. The policing and prevention of crime and disorder is an enormous undertaking already, without police and crime commissioners being given a completely new area of responsibility. This is a gamble not worth taking. In the same way as the former Home Secretary shied away from police force amalgamations in favour of encouraging the merger of back-office functions and joint tendering for goods and services, we should now draw back from placing the operation of the police and fire services under one strategic lead. Although the savage cuts this Government have placed on police services may have reduced the service to fire brigade policing—only attending when there is an emergency—that is no reason to effectively merge the services at an operational level.
The Government’s proposals to increase the independence of the investigation of police complaints, which thankfully appear to go further than simply changing the name of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, are to be welcomed. Sadly, there is evidence to suggest a culture in the police service, at least in the past, that puts the reputation of the police service before the open and transparent investigation of wrongdoing. We need therefore to carefully consider whether passing decision-making on some aspects of complaints against the police from chief police officers to police and crime commissioners provides sufficient independence. I should at this point emphasise that I am a retired police officer and the provision to allow disciplinary action to be taken after an officer leaves the police service could hypothetically affect me, although not as the Bill is drafted. I say “hypothetically” as, as far as I know, there are no outstanding disciplinary matters against me—he looks nervously at the Benches opposite.
I have sympathy with calls for changes to the Bill to allow disciplinary proceedings to be taken in serious cases beyond 12 months after an officer leaves the service and for the provisions to be made retrospective. The gap is likely to be narrow between very serious disciplinary misconduct and criminal behaviour, prosecution for which is clearly not dependent on whether a police officer is still serving, but, in my opinion, police officers should not be able to avoid being held to account for serious misconduct because they have left the service. We also need carefully to examine the protection given to whistleblowers employed by police services. I am concerned to ensure that, should the matter become disciplinary, the whistleblower continues to be protected.
Increasing the power of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary is also welcome, although the power for the chief HMI, instead of the Home Secretary, to appoint assistant inspectors needs to be looked at carefully. That is fine when the chief HMI is not a retired police chief and the assistant HMI is not a police officer but if in future the previous practice of appointing former chief constables as chief inspectors of constabulary is resumed, I would not be as relaxed about them appointing their own former colleagues as assistant HMIs.
The provision to give police volunteers police powers is as worrying as it is puzzling. Most people can be volunteer police officers, police officers in their spare time. They are called special constables. They receive extensive training and have all the powers of a regular constable. Unless you know where to look, they are indistinguishable from regular police officers—they wear a small insignia on their uniform that depicts their status. Everything should be done to encourage and nothing should be done to discourage people from becoming special constables. To give other police volunteers police powers such as those enjoyed by police community support officers appears to me unnecessary, counterproductive and even more confusing for the general public.
I am not sure there will be much opposition to the abolition of traffic wardens. I would prefer the decision whether to have police officers of a particular rank to be left as an operational decision for chief police officers rather than an executive decision made by the Home Secretary by regulation.
The time limitations being placed on police bail and its strengthening in terms of compliance by the subject are welcome, but the Government need to be aware that the increasing challenge of meeting tight deadlines for investigations against a backdrop of fewer police officers to carry them out will be a real challenge.
Another aspect of recent high-profile cases also needs to be discussed. We intend to bring forward amendments in Committee so we can debate whether pre-charge anonymity should be given to those accused in the unique circumstances of historic child sex abuse investigations. The police and the CPS face unique challenges in bringing successful prosecutions when offences were committed more than a decade ago, and the publicity for those accused but not charged can be devastating. I believe that the concerns of those who fear that other victims may not come forward can be addressed.
We also welcome provisions to protect young adults in custody and those detained who are in mental health crisis but, as the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said, that is provided that National Health Service mental health provision is properly funded to ensure that the gap created by not using police cells is covered by the National Health Service.
The provisions that compel those whom the police believe not to be British citizens to produce their passports again draws the police into the front line of immigration enforcement—a worrying trend already started by the provisions in the Immigration Act 2016. Marine enforcement powers in the Bill, which may not concern many British citizens, raises the potential for scenes reminiscent of Australia turning sinking ships full of asylum seekers away from their shores. That any ship can be boarded, searched and forced into port, if any offence that is an offence in England and Wales has been committed on board, appears disproportionate.
There are other matters on revenge porn and the use of tasers in mental health settings that we in the Liberal Democrats raised in the other place during debates on the Bill, and we wish to debate those issues again in this Chamber.
I apologise for taking so long and for not comprehensively covering the areas that we want to scrutinise in this Bill in my opening, but when the Long Title of the Bill is over 300 words and the Bill itself is over 300 pages, I hope noble Lords will understand why.
My Lords, I draw attention to my entry in the register of interests. This is a long, complex and, as rather too often with the Home Office, an oddly disjointed Bill. It has much to commend it, although “finishing police reform” is probably an overly bold claim, as reform will always be necessary. I welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, to her new brief and look forward to discussing this and other Bills with her. Of course, I shall be sorry to see the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen, leave his position and wish him well in his new role. I note that, as well as opening this debate, he will be responding to it, which is helpful, but I think that he will recognise the two matters in the Bill about which I shall speak this afternoon. They are entirely unconnected but rather important.
I shall start with Clause 37 which concerns itself with the police workforce, then move back to the implications of Clause 6, which is concerned with the amalgamation of police and fire commands under police and crime commissioners. I welcome both ideas.
Clause 37 sets out proposals for the powers of special constables and paid police support staff, including police community support officers, or PCSOs. I was very much involved in the creation of PCSOs, just after 9/11. Although now considered a successful part of the police family, they were regarded then as quite a departure. However, in the decade which followed, ACPO, as it then was, was in talks with the Home Office to go much further and make substantial changes to the police workforce, following a health service model. The idea was to retain a significant number of fully trained and fully sworn police officers—general practitioners, as it were—but to replace some of the existing workforce with paid individuals—not volunteers—who would undertake a restricted part of police duties. That would require a different kind of training, some much simpler, some more complex—the equivalent of physiotherapists, district nurses and anaesthetists.
On one hand, the idea was to bring in people with relevant prior experience—for example, in accountancy and bookkeeping, or with digital skills to work in countering fraud and internet crime. Other ideas included bringing in individuals with significant equestrian or driving skills to work only in the mounted branch or traffic police. The idea even went as far as hiring ex-military personnel to be firearms officers. All these individuals would be hired on short but renewable contracts. These ideas were accompanied by an extension of auxiliary, paid roles to assist detectives and patrolling officers. On the other hand, another part of the package was designed to increase specialist skills in the service by creating the equivalent of advanced practitioner classroom teachers so as to retain and reward key operational staff in the front line, without requiring them to seek promotion. The idea was basically cost-neutral—reduce the cost of policing in some aspects, and increase rewards for handling the most complex and risk-filled of tasks. Despite being discussions with a Labour Administration, these actually seemed rather Tory concepts.
I left the police service before the coalition Government came to power but I am aware that the negotiations between ACPO and the Home Office were discontinued after the 2010 election. However, with one exception, this Bill appears to enable the idea to be re-explored. Having read it, I therefore took the opportunity to discuss this with the then Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Bates, and the Minister for Policing, Mike Penning MP. The idea seemed to be received with considerable warmth. I think most modern PCCs and chief constables would welcome it.
Of course, both Ministers have now left the Government or the Home Office. I was therefore grateful to be able to discuss this again recently with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Keen. I hope it is fair to say politely to the noble and learned Lord that I concluded that his early briefings had not necessarily included these possibilities. My purpose in speaking today is to ask whether the Government are still interested in taking these ideas forward. I would be grateful if the noble and learned Lord could clarify that when he sums up, or perhaps the noble Baroness will write to me if more time is needed.
If these thoughts do find favour, I draw attention to new subsection (9A) in Clause 37(6), which places restrictions on who can be designated to carry firearms in the police service. As far as I can tell, this restriction seems to be about volunteers, in which case I agree: a special constable is not the person to carry a firearm. If, however, it refers to policing support officers—that is, paid employees—to rule such staff out is, I think, a misplaced idea and I will seek to amend the clause during the passage of the Bill, in order to facilitate the kind of alteration of the police workforce to which I have referred. Again, I would be grateful for clarification of that point tonight or in writing before Committee or Report.
I turn now to Clause 6 and, indeed, to various parts of Chapter 2 of the Bill. As I have said, I completely endorse the amalgamation of the command of police and fire services. The chapter contains several references to a chief constable controlling both services, accountable to the PCC. The Home Office guidance notes to the Bill make it clear that these posts would be open to application from both senior police and senior fire officers. Indeed, the Minister informed me that that was the Government’s intention.
I have no quarrel with that—almost. However, I want to draw attention to the fact that not all senior police posts are the same. In doing so, I want to return to a debate in this House in Committee on the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill on 4 December 2013. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor of Holbeach, was then the Minister. The noble Lord, who is not in his place, might remember that this was the debate during which, noting that all four Members of the House who had been Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police were in the Chamber and clearly intent on speaking, the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, enjoined the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, to, “be afraid, very afraid”.
The matter under discussion was the Government’s proposal to open up competition for senior police posts in the United Kingdom to senior police officers from elsewhere. All four former commissioners stated that they did not object to that idea in principle but it should not apply to those posts that held direct responsibility for national security. The analogy with these current proposals is striking. The four former commissioners—and, indeed, the noble Lord, Lord Paddick—were supporting an amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Condon, and I had tabled, with the support of the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller, that would have made a very brief list of police posts unavailable to foreign nationals, on the grounds of national security, precisely because a foreign national could normally not pass security vetting. I refer noble Lords to Hansard for the detailed arguments.
The amendment was not moved but suffice it to say it referred to four posts: the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis; the Deputy Commissioner; the assistant commissioner responsible for national counterterrorism policing—currently termed the Assistant Commissioner for Specialist Operations; and the director-general of the National Crime Agency. I said that the analogy was striking, but it is not exact. In the earlier debate the issue of concern related to vetting. However, it was assumed that any foreign police officer being appointed would have had extensive experience of counterterrorism work. Now the concern is that a fire officer without policing experience would be eligible for this small number of the totality of senior police posts.
I will make two proposals to the Minister. The first is that the Home Office should draw up a list of those relatively few posts in the police which have a specific role in the national security apparatus—mainly in the Metropolitan Police but also in the provinces—and put in the Bill the exemption of those posts from being open to application from anyone without lengthy police experience in a number of ranks. That could include a former fire officer, but only if he or she had had extensive police experience.
The second proposal returns directly to the debate in December 2013 and a lacuna in the regulations around senior police posts which that debate revealed. As I said, one of the points that the four previous commissioners made was that foreign applicants should have relevant police experience. This elicited the surprising response, and I hope the noble Lord, Lord Taylor, will forgive me for paraphrasing, that, with the exception of the commissioner, in the case of any other senior post in the Metropolitan Police Service—the deputy commissioner, assistant commissioners, deputy assistant commissioners and commanders—there was no longer any legal requirement for postholders of these offices ever to have been a police officer. There certainly had been in the past, and this appears to have been just a matter of different legislative changes over recent years having created a lacuna. These Metropolitan Police ranks, for instance, are all listed in another section of the Bill, alongside the equivalent ranks in provincial forces—chief, deputy and assistant chief constables—for which there remains a requirement to have held police ranks beforehand. The noble Lord, Lord Taylor, faced by blank incredulity from the former commissioners and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, stated at the end of that debate that he would check on the matter and return to us as necessary. I am not aware of any correspondence.
I ask the Minister to re-examine this matter and write to me as to whether the Government believe that this simply ridiculous lacuna is an appropriate position for us to find ourselves in. If not, the Bill provides—for a second time, and two and a half years later—an appropriate vehicle for an amendment, and I hope the Government will amend it. If, on the other hand, the Government believe that this situation is acceptable, I will put forward an amendment to challenge that view.
In closing, I stress once again that I am supportive of most of the Bill. However, as events in Nice underline, the need for experienced and brave police officers is a paramount necessity for a liberal democracy. Three weeks after this House goes into recess, 12 August will mark the 50th anniversary of the murder of three police officers in Shepherds Bush. I take this opportunity of reminding the House of that terrible event. The officers were Geoffrey Fox, Christopher Head and David Wombwell, and they were murdered by Harry Roberts and his associates. The police officers, of course, were unarmed. On first receiving information that shots had been fired in the area, the Scotland Yard control room repeatedly asked a car codenamed Foxtrot One One to respond and attend. It did not—because all the occupants of that police car were dead. The controller then asked other cars to volunteer to attend, beginning his broadcast with the unconsciously ironic words, “No answer Foxtrot One One”.
The task of the police does not grow easier or less dangerous. The police need the best support and leadership we can give them. I look forward to the Minister’s response to the various points I have raised in due course. I add that I will not be in the House during September, and I hope that the House will allow me to come back to these issues when we resume in October, should there have been further debate on the Bill during the two weeks the House is in session in September.
My Lords, I congratulate Ministers and their officials on bringing forward such a large Bill in so orderly a fashion. This is a Bill of nine parts; even Gaul was only divided into three. I hope your Lordships will forgive me if I make a number of points from so varied a terrain.
While the Bill addresses licensed premises for the sale of alcohol, we have no mention in it of other licensed premises, which are also vulnerable to criminal activity. We know from freedom of information requests reported in the press that from 2013 to 2014 there was a 20% rise in the number of police call-outs to betting shops. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans, who wished to attend this debate, himself submitted a freedom of information request recently to the Gambling Commission, which reveals a 68% rise in reports of violence against the person at London betting shops over the last five years.
Much of that rise has been linked to the increase in the number of fixed-odds betting terminals, which now account for more than half the profits of high-street bookmakers. Local licensing authorities remain unable to impose conditions on the use of these machines. The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans has asked me to indicate to the House his intention to bring forward amendments in Committee to rectify this anomaly, and he is hopeful of a sympathetic response.
Noble Lords will be aware of concerns raised by the mental health charity Mind about provisions in this Bill, but I am sure your Lordships will join me in applauding Her Majesty’s Government for the very real progress we find in these provisions—if sensitively implemented—regarding the maximum time that cells may be used, the use of a person’s home as a safe space and the exclusion of 16 to 17 year-olds from cells. A statement on a step change in provision from the Department of Health and local authorities where there is no complementary provision would be welcome during the Bill’s passage.
I hope that Ministers will look favourably on proposals emanating from the Children’s Society, the NSPCC and Barnardo’s for an extension in the use of child abduction warning notices to cover vulnerable 16 and 17 year-olds more widely than the very small group to which they currently apply. The Minister may be aware that the organisations concerned are also pressing for all victims of child sexual exploitation and abuse to receive an automatic referral to their local child and adolescent mental health service when they disclose their abuse. It would be helpful to know whether the Government will consider addressing these points during the passage of the Bill.
On quite another point, Part 3 and Chapter 1 of the Bill introduce very important changes for both the rank structure of the police service and the exercise of policing powers towards the population at large. Neither the Explanatory Notes nor the College of Policing review on leadership, which the notes reference, mention the previous wide-ranging review by Sir Patrick Sheehy in 1993, commissioned by the then Home Secretary, now the noble Lord, Lord Howard of Lympne. It recommended a flatter rank structure for the same reasons as stated now. The ranks of deputy chief constable and chief superintendent were abolished from the beginning of 1995, only to be reintroduced in 2002 as the police service was found unable to manage effectively without them. It will be important not to repeat this error. Do the Government intend to extend provisions in the Bill to the British Transport Police and other non-Home Office forces?
On the provision to specify only a set of core policing powers for police officers and to allow chief officers of police to designate other policing powers at their discretion for policing staff and volunteers, I have some concerns. I myself am an officeholder, as, for example, are all my parish clergy; none of us is an employee. The point about being an officeholder seems to have been lost in drawing up these provisions. When Sir Robert Peel brought in major reforms for the policing of Ireland and of London, he none the less applied the ancient office of constable as a key component in the delivery of this new form of policing. For that reason, Section 10 of the Police Act 1996 gives chief constables a power of direction and control over those officers. It is this office, paid or unpaid—hence special constables—that distinguishes them from staff. The bald provisions as they lie in this Bill blur that distinction without, it seems, realising it. The College of Policing review noted a number of contributors questioning the ongoing relevance of the office of constable in such a scheme. It is indeed an argument worth considering, but in that case we should consider it in depth, not ignore it. Mere affirmation is not sufficient.
The value of the reforms of the Police Reform Act 2002—most notably the introduction of police community support officers, which have been a particular blessing on the streets of my diocese—and the later allocation of a core standard set of powers to them, was that they preserved a distinction from police officers. With standard powers, one gets some idea of what a PCSO is meant to do. If all staff and volunteers, for whom issues of accountability and regulation must necessarily arise, will have a range of powers at the discretion of chief officers, who themselves will change every four years or less, what hope is there for public consent and understanding of what these professionals will do? Indeed, I am left wondering what will happen to PCSOs, and neighbourhood policing with them, under these new arrangements. I trust that these points are of some use.
My Lords, I begin by drawing attention to my interests in policing, as set out in the register of Members’ interests. Some of those are straightforwardly commercial; others, such as my work with the Police Federation of England and Wales, which is relevant to the Bill, are non-remunerated.
I am delighted to see that the noble Lord, Lord Bach, has been able to take time from his police and crime commissioner duties in Leicestershire to participate in this debate. The noble Lord is the first Member of your Lordships’ House to become a PCC. I wish him well and hope he will be followed by many more noble Lords in due course.
Much of the Bill before your Lordships’ House this afternoon may be seen as simply the sequel to the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011. I refer, of course, to the clauses which extend the powers of police and crime commissioners, introduced under that Act, and make a number of other useful changes to the legislation under which PCCs operate. As a strong believer in PCCs, I welcome these provisions and hope they will not be too severely mauled in Committee.
As those noble Lords who participated in the debates preceding the passage of the 2011 Act will recall, a good deal of heat was generated at the time by the proposal to replace police authorities with directly elected police and crime commissioners. Re-reading some of those debates the other day, I was struck by the vehemence with which the idea of PCCs was condemned in this House, including by members of the party which at that time was sitting on this side as a member of the coalition Government. Much water has flowed under many bridges since then.
It is fair to say that, today, the introduction of PCCs, although not yet accepted by everyone as a roaring success, is generally seen as having been a positive change in how local policing services are delivered. In particular, it is generally agreed that PCCs have brought the police much closer to the communities they serve; brought a much more holistic approach to crime reduction; encouraged innovation in operational policing and the management of police forces, with the collaboration between forces and joint working with the other emergency services, both facilitated by the provisions of this Bill, being examples of this; and encouraged much more accountability for police expenditure and better value for money.
PCCs have achieved all this while presiding over a significant fall in most types of crime across England and Wales. I say “presided” because I believe that the real credit for the reduction in crime goes not to them but to the men and women of our police forces who actually do the crime fighting. PCCs of course play a part in reducing crime, and it is a very important part. Their role is to make their police forces more efficient and effective by providing them with adequate resources, clear strategic direction and political leadership. However, the real work is done by their police officers, police staff, specials and other volunteers. It is they who deserve the real credit. These are the men and women who, as we will have seen in reports from the United States in recent days and weeks, put their lives on the line for us every day, placing themselves in harm’s way to keep us safe.
In so far as the Bill, in Part 1, makes PCCs more effective by encouraging them to work more closely with the other emergency services and gives them powers to take responsibility for the fire and rescue service in their areas, I commend it. I can see no sensible argument for preventing these services coming together to save money and serve the public better, provided, of course, that the proposal comes from the local community to the centre and not the other way round.
I commend the Bill also for its support for the National Crime Agency. The NCA is, without doubt, one of the most important achievements of my right honourable friend the Prime Minister during her period in the Home Office. In 2010, when she took charge in the Home Office, local policing in England and Wales was governed largely by bureaucrats in Whitehall, while national policing—that is, fighting serious and organised crime that crossed local boundaries—was the responsibility of local chief constables acting together in ad hoc arrangements managed by ACPO. My right honourable friend understood the absurdity of this arrangement and turned it on its head. She gave responsibility for local policing to local people and responsibility for tackling national threats to a new NCA reporting directly to her and, through her, to Parliament. The provisions in Part 9 of the Bill, although hardly earth-shaking, are welcome, because they facilitate the work of the NCA in a number of important ways and will thus make it even more effective in keeping us safe.
I also welcome the provisions in Part 2 dealing with complaints, the work of the IPCC and police discipline. In 2011, when your Lordships debated the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, police complaints and discipline were nothing like the hot topics they are now. In those debates, one speaker after another was at pains to point out that our police forces were the best in the world, including when it came to integrity, and that any change to the arrangements for governing them was bound to make things worse. To make this point, many speakers referred to America. There, they claimed, elected mayors tolerated, if not encouraged, corrupt police chiefs in an unholy symbiotic relationship which the introduction of PCCs would encourage here.
How things have changed since those days. The Hillsborough verdict was simply the most recent of the many revelations during the past five years which have shocked us all out of our complacency about the state of police integrity. The provisions in Part 2 propose changes to the way in which the IPCC operates and the arrangements for dealing with police discipline. These changes reflect the present view that our police are no better than other professionals when it comes to integrity and the handling of complaints, and tough arrangements are needed to encourage best practice and ensure the highest standards of behaviour in public office.
I want to welcome Clause 38 in Part 3, which deals with defensive sprays, already mentioned and a key element in the police’s armoury of less-than-lethal weapons. The clause gives special constables as well as police civilian volunteers unambiguous authority to carry and deploy defensive sprays such as CS and pepper spray. Thanks to the encouragement of PCCs across the country, volunteers and special constables now play a key role in keeping their communities safe. This clause provides these public-spirited men and women with much-needed protection.
There is another short clause to which I want to draw your Lordships’ attention. This one has me a little worried. I refer to Clause 48 in Chapter 2 of Part 3, dealing with police workforce and representative institutions. As I mentioned, I have been advising the Police Federation of England and Wales for the past few years, but I make it clear that what I am about to say is not prompted by the federation; indeed, it is not even supported by the leadership of that organisation.
My concerns stem from my experience as a civil servant trying to make practical administrative sense of legislative provisions which are not always as clear as they might be. Clause 48 places a duty on the Police Federation, in fulfilling its core purpose, to act to “protect the public interest” as well as to,
“maintain high standards of conduct, and … maintain high standards of transparency”.
The core interest of the federation is set out in primary legislation—the Police Act 1919. It is to,
“consider and bring to the notice of the police authorities and the Secretary of State all matters affecting … welfare and efficiency”,
of members of the police forces of England and Wales.
The Bill does not change the purposes of the Police Federation; it simply states that, in carrying out those purposes, the federation must “protect the public interest”. That sounds simple and sensible enough. However, it is not only vague and unhelpful but potentially dangerous, as it could be used by the federation to justify an extension of its remit into matters that are more properly the responsibilities of PCCs, chief officers or the Secretary of State.
This is not the time to go into great detail about the origin of this subsection except to say that it is a recommendation of the independent panel under Sir David Normington, which the federation itself set up in 2015 to review its workings. Normington was concerned to improve the federation’s image and the confidence which the public did or, more commonly, did not have in it. His report therefore recommended:
“The Federation should adopt … a revised core purpose which reflects the Police Federation’s commitment to act in the public interest, with public accountability, alongside its accountability to its members. This should be incorporated in legislation”.
That is the origin of Clause 48.
Looking at the words in the clause, I have no problem with the requirement that the federation should act to maintain high standards of conduct and maintain high standards of transparency. But for the reasons that I have already stated, I have difficulty with the proposal that it should “protect the public interest”. The federation is, at bottom, a staff association and its job is to represent its members. It is clearly in the public interest that it should do so effectively—that is why it was established—and it is clearly in its own interests that it should act, in Normington’s words, to maintain exemplary standards of conduct, integrity and professionalism and retain public confidence. But I do not understand how the federation is to act “to protect the public interest”. This may seem a trivial point and I do not want to say any more about it today, but the wording of this subsection would benefit from further consideration. Perhaps my noble and learned friend the Minister can help me, either when he replies to this debate or at a later stage in consideration of the Bill.
I have spoken so far about provisions that are set out in this Bill. I shall now speak briefly about a provision that is conspicuous by its absence—a provision to give electors a power of recall for PCCs who are clearly failing to perform their duties adequately. This failure to perform may be due to any number of reasons—personal or even medical. The bottom line, however, is that the electorate should not have to wait for up to five years to put things right. I appreciate that this is tricky territory which would need very careful drafting. I know that a power of recall was considered when the idea of PCCs was first being developed, but was rejected because it was felt that it would not command sufficient parliamentary support, particularly in another place. This is something that will need to be considered at some time in the future, whether at a later stage of our consideration of this Bill or in the next policing Bill, which I am sure will not be very long in coming. Having said that, I welcome the Bill.
My Lords, I thank the noble and learned Lord for opening this Second Reading in such a clear way and congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, on her transfer to the Home Office. I wish her luck with that. She will certainly be very busy in this House.
The Bill itself is long, in certain areas very complex, and without doubt very important in the areas it covers. Everyone, both inside this House and outside, has an opinion on policing and crime because they affect everybody’s life.
The last time I spoke in this House was from the Opposition Front Bench as a shadow Justice Minister. Today, as the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, has been kind enough to mention, I speak as the elected police and crime commissioner for Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland, and as the first and so far only police and crime commissioner to be a current Member of either House of Parliament. I am still very new, as I think my remarks will show; some would say that I am still a little wet behind the ears.
It is hardly surprising that no Members of Parliament are police and crime commissioners, because it is forbidden under the 2011 Act, but whether it was deliberate or just an accident, the same rule does not apply to Members of this House. Of course, a number of former and distinguished Members of Parliament and ex-Ministers are current police and crime commissioners, but, as far as this House is concerned, the closest link is probably Councillor Philip Seccombe, who is the newly elected police and crime commissioner for my neighbouring police force, Warwickshire. He is the son of the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, who some of us think has really been running the Government in this place for many years.
I should also make reference to the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, who is in his place opposite me. As I think the whole House knows, he is really the author of the idea of police and crime commissioners—so I was slightly apprehensive when he started talking about a recall provision towards the end of his speech.
My first few months as a PCC have been a learning experience like no other I have known. I am still learning every day, but two things I have become rather more sure about. The first is that the present responsibilities and duties of a police and crime commissioner are full-time responsibilities and duties. If the job is to be done anywhere near properly, it requires a great deal of daily hard work. This is perhaps a point worth considering when the House comes to forming a view on Part 1 of this Bill.
Secondly, I am extremely fortunate that, as I think is widely recognised, the Leicestershire police force has an excellent reputation and track record both in terms of its performance and its financial control. I am also lucky in having a superb chief constable in Simon Cole, who I think will be known to a number of noble Lords. We agree about a lot, but when we do not, we can disagree—I hope—with mutual respect. Of course, the relationship between the police and crime commissioner and the chief constable is the crucial one. There should and always will be some tension in it, but it should be possible to base it on respect and common aims.
There is hardly a part of the Bill that will not be of relevance to PCCs, but it is Part 1, entitled “Emergency Services Collaboration”, that I will speak about today. The duty for the emergency services to collaborate is hard to disagree with. Collaboration between police forces and the fire and rescue service and with the ambulance service is often just plain common sense; much of it happens today and there is a need for more. The true tests of efficiency and effectiveness are the right tests. So far so good, but it is when the Bill moves on to the concept of police and crime commissioners taking on responsibility for the fire and rescue service that it becomes more controversial.
Of course, this is not a compulsory step. Rather, the Bill puts the onus on the PCC to make the case for the options that are open, ranging from a full merger to an automatic seat on the fire authority. The Home Secretary can make the order if satisfied. I agree with the Local Government Association that any transfer of governance must be supported by a comprehensive, evidence-based and well-tested business case that demonstrates how the change in governance improves the fire and rescue service and increases public safety. In addition, it should be subject to independent assessment.
My concerns are threefold. First, following a merger, the poor relation of this event will nearly always be the fire and rescue service. Following Brexit, it is certainly possible that there will be further cuts in public spending, some of which, if the past is anything to go by, will affect the budgets of the office of police and crime commissioners. Both services—the police and the fire and rescue service—have, in my view, been unfairly treated by excessive cuts already, which showed themselves in the case of the police by too large a decline in police numbers. In the case of Leicestershire it is 20%. What is a police and crime commissioner to do in the future when faced with further cuts? Will he or she choose the police who will, with good cause, complain that they have taken enough pain, or will the commissioner pick on the fire and rescue service—a hugely popular service, but tiny in comparison with the police, whose own coffers have already begun to be emptied? In my view, it will often, if not always, be the fire and rescue service which will be the loser.
Secondly, will there be a promise of extra administrative resources for any police and crime commissioner who goes down the merger route? Thirdly, do the Government intend to apply financial and/or other pressures to a PCC who does not want to go down this route? Will it be optional only in name and mandatory in effect? Will the Minister give an assurance that this will not be the case? It really ought to be a matter for the police and crime commissioner in his or her particular area—who, I remind the House, has recently been elected.
Noble Lords will glean from what I have said that I am deeply sceptical about such an arrangement in Leicestershire and Rutland. I have quite enough to be getting on with, thank you: holding the police force and the chief constable to account; trying to make the post of police and crime commissioner—this is a hard job—better and more widely understood and known, by getting out and explaining the role; ensuring police visibility on the streets, as I believe that visibility is a vital part of the connection between the police and the public and is at the heart of British policing; attacking hidden crime, such as domestic violence, which is so unreported, or hate crime which is even more unreported. In the latter case, the number of hate crimes has risen, which is hardly a coincidence in the weeks following the Brexit vote—a decision which in my view will affect policing in this country badly. So my plea to the Ministers, and, of course, to the new Home Secretary, is to give police and crime commissioners the space to do their job on behalf of their communities.
There are two other parts of the Bill that I shall mention briefly. The complaints system is, of course, important for public confidence in the police. The IPCC must be independent in name as well as deed, and any revised system must attempt to shorten the period that some officers have to wait to hear the decision in their case. There are examples of severe illness and worse when these processes take too long.
The House will need to look closely at the pre-charge bail clauses to ensure that the balance is right between the individual and the police. There is genuine concern that there may be an excessive staff requirement for the police. I look forward very much to Committee, when we can take a detailed look at these and other matters.
Finally, I thank my fellow police and crime commissioners of all parties and names for their kindness and support. My local police force, too, has been extraordinarily helpful. Thankfully, there is in this House huge expertise in police matters, which I know I and others can always call on. This is an important Bill that will affect every citizen’s life. We have a duty to give it careful and detailed consideration.