Question for Short Debate
My Lords, first, I thank those noble Lords who have made time to speak in this debate, which was arranged at rather short notice. I think we have all made clear our deep interest in the issues before us this evening on previous occasions, no one more so than the noble Lord, Lord Bach, who is involved so conspicuously in them as a serving police and crime commissioner.
It is surely right that we should return to the issues to assess the current state of affairs at a time of rising crime, particularly violent crime, and falling detection rates. Public anxiety is mounting, intensified by the horror of rampant knife crime, which requires a more determined response at the highest political levels than it has so far received. In these circumstances, all elements of our police service need to be in a position to carry out their duties as effectively as possible, equipped by the Government with sufficient resources to meet public expectations. Confidence that the Government are fulfilling their financial obligations to the police and crime commissioners satisfactorily is not at the moment widespread.
The Motion which is the subject of this debate calls on the Government to establish a review of the role and responsibilities of our country’s police and crime commissioners, who have now been in existence for seven years and face elections for the third time next year. Such a proposal has been made before in this House. It was put forward during a previous debate on these matters last June by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, who it is so good to see in his place on the Opposition Front Bench today. No reply to his proposal was forthcoming from the Government; today we will get an answer, although not necessarily a satisfactory one. The Home Office so often gives the impression that it believes that the commissioners should be left entirely to their own devices—a wholly mistaken view.
What would be the purpose of a review? I suggest that it should make clear to the country, at this time of grave anxiety, the undoubted success that many commissioners have achieved during the short period of their existence. It should also address the problems and difficulties which have emerged, wholly unsurprisingly, as a new set of arrangements for directing the work of our country’s police forces has been put to the test. In examining the problems and difficulties, a review would be much assisted by the authoritative surveys of them conducted by three important bodies: the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the Home Affairs Select Committee of the House of Commons and the Committee on Standards in Public Life, during the period when it was chaired by the noble Lord, Lord Bew. All three have published invaluable reports in the last four years, thanks to which a review could be carried out without much need for fresh research.
A review should have one further purpose: it should make recommendations designed to prevent any recurrence of the kind of scandal that arose from the disgraceful manner in which allegations of child sex abuse against Sir Edward Heath were investigated in Wiltshire between 2015 and 2017, under our new arrangements for directing and overseeing police operations. The scandal illustrates the ease with which a Government can evade their responsibility to institute an independent inquiry, through which injustice would be redressed, after a misconducted police operation has been completed and the PCC fails to establish one. Indeed, this Government have shown an extraordinary determination to go on shirking their responsibility, even in the face of unanimous calls from across this House that they should do their duty. They readily admit that they possess the power to set up an inquiry to enable justice to be done to a deceased statesman. They have damaged public confidence in the system as a whole through their evasion of their duty. They will never hear the last of it in this House.
The Government protest lamely that the introduction of local accountability means that there is no role for them to play, but Mr Angus Macpherson, the Wiltshire commissioner in question, cannot be compelled by local pressure to mend his ways and set up an inquiry. He is retiring at the next PCC elections. It is true that he did not reappoint his pugnacious and utterly irresponsible chief constable, Mike Veale, with whom much of the blame for the disastrous Operation Conifer lies. But that man promptly got himself translated to Cleveland, without being asked a single question about the outcry he had caused in Wiltshire. How foolish his new commissioner looked when, within a few months, personal misconduct led to Veale’s enforced resignation.
Much continues to be expected of the new system because much was promised at its inception. Police and crime commissioners, 40 in number, were created to help make policing in Britain more successful than ever before. The Conservative Party committed itself to establishing them, following a full policy review after its defeat at the 2005 election. The party’s manifesto for the 2010 election stated:
“People want to know that the police are listening to them … We will replace the existing, invisible and unaccountable police authorities and make the police accountable to a directly-elected individual who will set policing priorities for local communities”.
Many believe that police authorities had served their communities better than the bold reforming Tories of 2010 allowed. The calibre of many of the commissioners who took office after the first elections in 2012 attracted severe criticism, not least from senior police officers. The criticism diminished sharply after the second PCC elections in 2016. It is clear that, in several parts of the country, the commissioners now in office have developed successful strategies to cut crime, and shown much imagination in promoting new approaches to policing and increasing the safety of their communities. It is widely held that, if resources were not so straitened, success would be even more marked. An essential task now is to encourage other commissioners to attain the standard of the most successful. Governments normally love disseminating best practice; what is stopping the Home Office doing so in this vital area?
The promise in 2010 of effective local accountability is far from being realised. It will occur only when commissioners have become well known throughout their areas. According to independently produced figures, 56% of people are aware of the existence of commissioners, which means that nearly half the population have never heard of them. How many know what commissioners do and how voters, about three-quarters of whom have yet to cast a vote in their elections, should get in touch with them? The House of Commons committee provided some clear advice on this in 2016, when it said that,
“the value in PCCs making themselves available to meet the public in person cannot be over-emphasised”.
It added that commissioners should put,
“the highest priority on engaging with their electorates”.
How extraordinary that such advice should even be needed.
Little has been heard about the work of the police and crime panels, a central element of the new system that is supposed to hold the commissioners to account between elections. How many people even know of their existence and what they do? There are a number of basic things that, after seven years, some commissioners still need to learn. They include making proper efforts to ensure that the best people become chief constables.
The noble Lord, Lord Blair of Boughton, wanted to highlight this issue in the debate, but cannot be here. He has authorised me to say this: PCCs have had, as an unintended consequence of their creation, an absolutely chilling effect on the number of candidates applying for top jobs. Twenty years ago, long lists had to be reduced to short lists, but now just two or three candidates apply, because they know that the sitting PCC is likely to appoint the sitting deputy constable. This has just happened in a large force, in which the newly promoted deputy has served for 32 years. Is such a chief constable likely to be a source of fresh ideas or possess the capacity to stand up to the PCC where necessary?
I have touched on just some of the many reasons why this country has yet to give its full confidence to our police and crime commissioners. So far, the Home Office has given these issues scant attention. It should now address them seriously. The best way of doing so would be through a short, sharp review.
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Lexden on securing this debate on police and crime commissioners, a subject with which I have been directly concerned for longer than I care to remember and about which, as many noble Lords know, I have remained passionately supportive despite the rough ride they have had in the media and, from time to time, even in your Lordships’ House. As my noble friend has just said, the next set of national PCC elections is due to take place in May 2020. This, therefore, is probably as good a time as any to review the performance of PCCs and to consider any ideas for making them even more effective in keeping their communities safe.
Before we think about changing the way in which PCCs operate, it is worth reminding ourselves why PCCs were introduced in the first place. Before PCCs, local policing—that is, policing aimed at keeping local communities safe by preventing crime and anti-social behaviour—was seen as one of the principal responsibilities of the Secretary of State for the Home Department. The policies and procedures for local policing were therefore set largely by Home Office officials, including myself in the 1980s and 1990s, collaborating with ACPO—the Association of Chief Police Officers—and, to a lesser extent, the Association of Police Authorities. This was seen as the most effective way of providing local policing, because policing was seen not as a local service to be overseen by local people but as a national service to be provided to local people by professionals; that is, by police officers and Home Office bureaucrats under direction from London.
The extent to which local policing was seen as a national responsibility to be managed from London was brought home to me most forcefully in 2010 when ACPO published a response to the new Home Secretary’s proposals for PCCs. In that document, it argued that local PCCs were inappropriate because local policing was,
“a national service locally delivered”.
In other words, chief constables collectively regarded policing as a national organisation like Boots delivering local service through local branches managed centrally from corporate headquarters. The idea of PCCs was to turn this arrangement on its head.
The Act made local policing—that is, keeping local communities safe—the direct responsibility of local people. It empowered them to exercise this responsibility by enabling them to elect a local police and crime commissioner, whom they held accountable through the ballot box for keeping them safe. It became the responsibility of this directly elected PCC to maintain an efficient and effective police force and to hold accountable the local professional head of this force, the chief constable, for meeting the policing needs of the community as identified by the PCC.
I will expand for a moment on the concept of holding the chief constable to account. There is much talk about PCCs holding their chief constable to account. It is interpreted as meaning that the PCC has to act as a sort of auditor, ensuring that the force provides good value for money. Of course value for money is important, but the essential idea underlying PCCs was not to improve value for money but to improve the links between a local community and the police force by holding the chief constable to account for meeting the policing needs of the community, as identified by the PCC. This was a radical idea and it was often lost in discussions about PCCs.
Briefly, the demands on local policing are more or less infinite. They extend from preventing murders to reducing graffiti, from dealing with domestic abuse to ensuring that traffic moves smoothly. At the same time, the resources available to forces to meet these needs are severely limited. The key issue therefore is who decides on the allocation of the scarce policing resources between the more or less infinite number of competing policing needs.
As I have said, in the days before PCCs, these decisions were taken primarily by professionals in London—Home Office officials and chief constables, neither of whom had any real skin in the game because they were unlikely to be members of the communities directly affected. Under PCCs, it is the members of local communities who call the tune. They determine community safety priorities or policing needs and, through their PCCs, it is they who hold their local forces accountable for meeting these needs.
I have made much of this point because I feel that it is not fully appreciated by those who comment on the work of PCCs and who are full of ideas for how to make them more effective. I fear that some of these suggestions, however, run the risk of throwing the baby out with the bathwater and taking us back to central control of local policing.
I have no doubt that there are many ways of modifying the powers and responsibilities of PCCs to make them more responsive to their local communities and more effective in keeping these communities safe. I have made many such suggestions, both in your Lordships’ House through the Select Committee and elsewhere. For example, on the question of responsiveness I recommended the introduction of a power of recall for PCCs. This would give local communities the opportunity to change their PCC if enough local electors felt that this would make things better in one way or another. But recall is an expensive and disruptive procedure, and must be handled very carefully.
I also believe that the present electoral arrangements for PCCs would benefit from review. If the aim of electoral arrangements is to maximise the percentage of the electorate who vote for their local PCCs, might there not at least be a case for using the familiar first past the post system for PCC elections, rather than the present supplementary vote, which many people found confusing in the last two PCC elections and which led to hundreds of thousands of spoilt ballots in the 2016 election?
As for increasing the effectiveness of PCCs in keeping their communities safe, I have always believed strongly in extending the influence of PCCs beyond policing to other parts of the criminal justice system such as the courts and probation service, and even to health, housing and the local environment, each of which plays a key role in preventing crime and anti-social behaviour.
There is also an urgent need to review the relationship between PCCs and the rest of the policing landscape, including the inspectorate, the College of Policing, the National Crime Agency, the Independent Office for Police Conduct, the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners itself. Each has its own mission statement and governance arrangements, and each is understandably trying to extend its influence, reputation and power. Only the Home Secretary can bring these organisations together in one room to decide that they are all moving in the same direction in the most effective way.
Finally, there is an urgent need to review the availability of scientific and technological support services for local forces—particularly ICT services, which have been significantly affected by the abolition of the National Policing Improvement Agency, which occurred when PCCs were introduced. The Home Office, having abandoned the business of providing this service, set up the new Police ICT Company, owned by PCCs collectively, to fill the gap. The Police ICT Company has welcomed this challenge and is up for it, but it needs the political support of the Home Secretary and additional national resources if it is to succeed in meeting its very ambitious and critical mission.
All our institutions can do with a review from time to time. PCCs are probably due for some sort of review about now. My plea is that such a review must be wide ranging and look at the environment within which PCCs operate, rather than simply at the work of PCCs themselves. Most importantly, such a review must not forget the fundamental premise of PCCs: namely, that local policing, if it is to be effective, must meet local needs. This in turn means that PCCs must be responsible primarily to local people through the ballot box.
My Lords, I am in rather a strange position, as I follow my noble friend, whom I consider the godfather of this system, and I will be followed by my friend the noble Lord, Lord Bach, who I am sure is conducting his duties in a most exemplary manner.
However, I would not have started from here. Well over a decade ago and some years before I came to your Lordships’ House, I spoke out in another place against the idea. I did so for two principal reasons. First, it is inimical to the British system to concentrate too much power in the hands of one man or woman. That is why, when we had a referendum on whether we should have a Mayor of London, I voted enthusiastically against the proposition. Nothing has happened during the tenure of three Mayors of London to change my mind. I do not like the concentration of power in in the hands of a party politician when it comes to the police service, in which the whole community must have trust and confidence.
We are grateful to my noble friend Lord Lexden for using this opportunity to rehearse once again the deplorable events in Wiltshire: the traducing of the reputation of a considerable Prime Minister by a chief constable and the utter powerlessness, it would seem, of the police and crime commissioner to call the chief constable to account or even to agree to a proper review. I have always deplored the Government’s weak response to constant calls from noble Lords, including me, to do something about it. I hope that the new Minister, whom I this evening welcome to her duties and who will respond to the debate, will be able to be a little more forthcoming, and will at least say to the Home Secretary, “You have the power to review. Use it, even now, in the case of Sir Edward Heath. It is not too late”.
The proposition before your Lordships’ House tonight is that there should be a review of the role of police and crime commissioners. I have two suggestions for your Lordships; one for the short term, and one for the long. In the short term, the Home Secretary should appoint a senior judge—perhaps a retired Lord Chief Justice, who might be assisted by two former inspectors of constabulary, although personally I should be perfectly happy to settle for a former Lord Chief Justice—to review exactly how the police and crime commissioner system is working and how it should work in future. I accept that it is here to stay in the short term, although I regret that.
One thing that needs to be looked at, because it causes me concern, is who should be eligible to stand for office. I think that former police officers should not. Several have been elected as police and crime commissioners. I do not impugn the integrity or sincerity of anyone, but it must be an extremely awkward position for a chief constable, the chief operating officer, to be subject to the whims of someone who never attained that office but held a more lowly office in a police force somewhere. The whole eligibility criteria need looking at. I hope that will be done as a matter of some urgency. We have the elections next year, and I should like a report to the Home Secretary from a judicial figure or a panel in good time for recommendations to be implemented before the next elections.
However, I would go further, because that is the short term. In the long term, we need a royal commission on the whole role of the police in this country. I am glad to see a former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, indicating some measure of assent—if I have got him wrong, I shall gladly give way. Such issues as how national the police force should be, how local it should be, what its role is in this era of advanced social media and what should be permissible as evidence—we heard a Statement earlier about the new suggested rules for alleged victims of rape—and the whole position of the police force as we approach the second half of the 21st century should be looked at by a royal commission. I earnestly urge my noble friend, who is of course not in a position to give anything approaching a definitive answer, to commit herself to passing this suggestion on to the Home Secretary. The short-term and long-term reviews of the role of commissioners should be considered at the highest level.
We do not want no progress. Even the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, indicated in his honest speech that he believes that not all is necessarily for the best in the best of all possible worlds. His idea has been run with and implemented but not to his entire satisfaction. There is room for improvement. I now await with great interest the speech of the noble Lord, Lord Bach, to see how much room for improvement he feels there is. I say yes to review and yes to review in the short term, but the long term is even more important. We never again want to see the sort of scenes we saw outside the gate of Arundells in Salisbury, when a chief constable took leave of his senses and a police and crime commissioner did not feel able to review what had happened.
My Lords, no pressure then. I declare my interests as the elected police and crime commissioner for Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland and a national board member of the Independent Custody Visiting Association, known as ICVA. I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, on securing the debate and thank him for his elegant and forceful speech.
The subtext of this debate and others like it is a determined and strong campaign by noble Lords and those outside this House to clear Sir Edward Heath’s name from the unfounded allegations made against him. As it happens, I agree. The present limbo is deeply unsatisfactory and grossly unfair to Sir Edward’s memory. Much criticism has been levelled at my colleague, the police and crime commissioner for Wiltshire, and his refusal to set up an inquiry has been widely attacked. However, in my view, he is in danger of being made the scapegoat of this affair. Let me make it absolutely clear: he is not a particular friend of mine and, although it is entirely irrelevant, we are not of the same political persuasion. From my knowledge, which is admittedly limited compared with that of many in this House, I am afraid to say that the real villain of the piece is, not for the first time, the Home Office and the Government behind it. The urgent, and so far powerfully put, argument that the Home Office should establish the inquiry seems both cogent and practical, at least to me. However, in a short letter of response to the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, dated 10 October 2018, the proposition is rejected out of hand. I hope that we may hear something different tonight.
However, if the call for a review of police and crime commissioners and the principles behind them is based on one police and crime commissioner’s refusal to set up an inquiry—I know that of course it is not the only reason, far from it—and they are to be judged on this one issue, even if the police and crime commissioner was in the wrong, although I do not admit that, it would be unfair because it would be like judging a whole Government on the behaviour of one Minister.
Police and crime commissioners have many roles, and while far from a perfect answer to the vital issue raised in particular by the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, many years ago, of making the police accountable to the public they actually serve, perhaps it will not surprise the House to learn that it seems to me that some progress has been made and continues to be made. Police and crime commissioners are, I believe, much closer to those who rely on the police and who largely pay for them than the old police authorities ever were. If that is true, it has to be borne very much in mind if it comes to reform.
It is worth noble Lords bearing in mind that from their very inception, police and crime commissioners have worked under two rather large disadvantages. The first is the point about the democratic deficit. Turnout has been much too low in both of the elections held so far. I am afraid that some of the blame for that, particularly in the first election in 2012, has to be put on the Government. That vote took place, ridiculously if I may say so, in November of that year, which is hardly the best month to introduce a new election of this kind. As I remember it, the Government deliberately refused any expenditure to assist in that first election for a massively unknown role. It is hardly a surprise that the turnout was absurdly low. The turnout was higher in 2016, but again the Government refused to provide for the normal sort of publicity that might be expected for a scheme in its infancy.
Much of our time as police and crime commissioners —I think that whoever was standing in my place would say the same—is spent letting people know that we exist and what we actually try to do. When they learn about it, I have to tell the House that sometimes they are quite impressed. The second burden we face is the very large cuts that have been made to policing over the past nine years or so. It means that too much of our time has to be spent dealing with reductions in the number of police officers and staff at a time of new crimes emerging as well as a growing population. This exists right up to the present time; it has not gone away. Moreover, I would ask the House to be pretty sceptical about Home Office claims that huge sums have been given to police and crime commissioners this year so that the problem somehow no longer exists and never did. By failing to do their duty and increasing the central grant and by leaving it to police and crime commissioners to raise money from council tax, the Government, while I am sure they did not mean to, have ensured a deep unfairness in the system between police forces that will take years to overcome.
In spite of these frankly unnecessary burdens, on the whole, police and crime commissioners have succeeded in changing policing for the better. Let me mention one or two aspects. One is the important strategic role for police and crime commissioners, best evidenced by the statutory police and crime plan that every PCC has to produce. That strategic role for a police force should be and in many cases is now much clearer than it was before. The holding to account role is now more accepted by chief officer teams than it ever used to be, and that too is important. It ensures that the public has a voice—some voice—where before there was little or no voice heard at all. Of course, there is a really interesting but worrying grey area around operational activity; I think it was deliberately intended by the authors of the Act. I would very much like to hear about that from the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, at some stage in future. Most chief constables and PCCs, who are mainly sensible people, work it out in different ways for their own areas.
One real concern—the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, mentioned it a couple of minutes ago—can be put to bed, certainly for the time being: party politics, which would damage the crucial independence of the British police service. There was a worry that it would somehow become a major part and really damage the system; that does not seem to have happened at all. Indeed, it is a foolish police and crime commissioner, of whatever political persuasion or none, who parades their political principles. It would be noticed very quickly and, quite rightly, roundly condemned. It does not happen.
Police and crime commissioners run victims’ services and the independent custody visitor services. As crime commissioners—we sometimes forget that role—they play an important part, with partners, in trying to prevent crime. We all do this in our different ways, and there have been some outstanding successes; we may perhaps hear of some of them later on. Projects are now in place doing great things that would never even have been dreamed of before police and crime commissioners existed.
It is only a few years since there have been police and crime commissioners; it is the very early years. It may not be the final solution to the important problem in a democracy of how the police and public interact, but it is here to stay for a while and we should make the very best of it. I am slightly sceptical whether this is the time for a full review, but in a democracy there can never be harm in looking at projects such as this. I hope that that will happen in a sensible way. I am proud to be a police and crime commissioner and to be working with some outstanding police and crime commissioner colleagues.
My Lords, I am delighted to follow the noble Lord, Lord Bach. The House will have noted his wise words, I am sure. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, for securing this debate, and welcome the opportunity to discuss the role of police and crime commissioners.
I come to this debate as a heretic. At the time this system was established, my party Plaid Cymru did not support the concept, as we were fearful of politicising the police. Consequently, in the first round of elections we did not put forward candidates for the four commissioners in Wales. However, we are a pragmatic party and, having seen how the system settled down, we accepted that it is here to stay and that we should play a full role in the electoral process. As a consequence, in the second round of elections we fielded four candidates, and two of them—Arfon Jones in North Wales and Dafydd Llywelyn in Dyfed-Powys—were not only elected but have blossomed and, according to evidence from across the political spectrum in their areas, are doing an outstanding job.
Their success may partly be on account of their previous experience; I perhaps take issue a little with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, on this. Arfon Jones was for many years operational inspector for the North Wales Police and Dafydd Llywelyn worked for a substantial period as the force’s principal intelligence analyst, before becoming a criminology lecturer in the law department at Aberystwyth. Such experience has been a vital part of the success of both these commissioners. There is no doubt that the police and crime commissioners are actively involved in work across policing and beyond, or that our communities have benefited immensely from their creation. Wales, particularly rural Wales, is a country in which the concept of community really does matter. It is because both Arfon Jones and Dafydd Llywelyn are very much rooted in their communities that they have been so successful. Perhaps I might highlight a couple of aspects of this success.
In North Wales our commissioner took a lead on the issue of modern slavery—a very pertinent issue in, for example, the port of Holyhead. North Wales Police was the first force in Wales to establish a modern slavery unit, and the first police force in Wales and England to appoint a dedicated victim support officer for victims and survivors of this horrendous crime. Arfon Jones has also played a leading role in challenging our communities to think radically about the ongoing problem of drugs and its links with criminality.
In Dyfed-Powys, thanks largely to the lead given by the commissioner, the police force of that area is at the head of the national picture when it comes to tackling fraud and supporting vulnerable people. This work by the Dyfed-Powys Police has been recognised on a UK level as best practice, particularly with the funding of a designated fraud safeguarding officer by the office of the PCC—an asset that not all forces have in place. His office has also just launched new community funding grants for schemes that will have a positive impact on community safety—something of increasing importance.
It is more than evident that PCCs in all areas have worked hard to improve their communities but it may now be timely to review the role of the PCC to ensure that the system remains fit for purpose. Since the creation of the system of PCCs, we have seen the Home Office and the Ministry of Justice passing more and more responsibilities over to them—as of course they should—but regrettably without adequate funding to carry out all those new functions. What we have seen over recent years, in Wales and elsewhere, is an abdication by this Government of their duty to adequately fund the police service. Instead, Westminster and Whitehall have relied on PCCs raising the local tax precept, with 63% of the increase in funding for local police work coming from an increase in such taxation. This is a regressive form of taxation, hitting especially hard those who are on low incomes but not quite in receipt of welfare support. Consequently, PCCs are given the stark choice between increasing the precept and cutting services, neither of which they would need to do if the Home Office addressed the issues with a comprehensive and equitable funding formula.
Rural Welsh forces are particularly handicapped by the gearing ratio: the proportion of total funding that comes from the police grant and local taxation. Welsh forces have an approximately even split between central and local government funding, with local taxpayers in rural Wales contributing considerably more to policing than local taxpayers in urban police force areas. For example, Northumbria Police receives 81% of its funding from central government, while North Wales Police receives only 47.5% from that same source. It is, in my view, essential that when the role of the PCC is reviewed, which I believe it should be, any such review should include the impact of the funding formula on police forces and the need to ensure that more money is made available as more responsibilities are passed on.
The underfunding of police forces in general is the subject of a Private Member’s Bill which I have still loitering in the queue for consideration. I do not suppose it will see much light of day at this stage in the Parliament, but the issue needs to be pressed. However, proper funding should not have to depend on such Back-Bench initiatives. This Government must set up a properly funded system of police and crime commissioners. It behoves the Government to make available the necessary resources in a fair and equitable manner, to enable both the commissioners and the police forces to undertake effectively their very heavy responsibilities.
My Lords, the initiative of the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, gives us the opportunity to again express our concerns at the handling of sexual offences and the role of police and crime commissioners. In my view, far too often the guilty go free, the innocent go to prison and reputations are trashed, as in the Heath case. This is all a reflection of a crisis in the criminal justice system, with the screening out of offences by police forces due to resource limitations. That brings me to the concerns of the commissioner for Wiltshire, whose mistake was to have to put Wiltshire’s funding problems before justice for the falsely accused Heath.
The problem with many of these cases is that they are characterised by, first, the consideration of the availability of compensation under the criminal injuries compensation scheme; and, secondly, the criminal background of many complainants, who see an opportunity to milk the system. There can be no better indicator of this than the Janner case, where any list of complainants is riddled with the names of convicted criminals. I hope that IICSA keeps that in mind as it proceeds with its inquiries.
I turn to this debate. It would be helpful if Britain’s police and crime commissioners were collectively to organise a study on the handling of sexual offences by the various police authorities. I hope they are following some of the more important work being done by IICSA. Concerns over the issues now run deep, so much so that an organisation called FAIR—the Falsely Accused Individuals for Reform—has recently been established to campaign on the issue of anonymity in the handling of sexual offences. Our main supporters include Daniel Janner QC, the son of the late Greville Janner, Sir Cliff Richard, a legend in the world of music, Stephen Fry, the entertainer, Ros Burnett, a leading academic, Paul Gambaccini, the broadcaster, and Harvey Proctor, a former Member of Parliament. At the beginning of July, we intend to launch a national petition and call for a debate in the Commons. This is a struggle that we have to win.
My Lords, I fundamentally support the proposal for a review of police and crime commissioners but I would argue that it does not go far enough and would end where the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, started.
The fundamental question is whether the police and crime commissioners were worth the political capital expended upon them. There are some good examples. I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Bach, is one of them but others have also achieved things. Frankly, the same could be said of police authorities. I do not agree with the analysis of the noble Lord, Lord Bach, that police authorities were not engaged in the public. Often there were more of them, for a start—there were at least 70 members. In the Metropolitan Police there were 23, from memory, and in London they had a chance to engage with more people because there were more of them. They did not cover everyone, of course, but they certainly had a significant opportunity to represent different parts of a great metropolis.
The commissioners have not used the two great powers that they have had well. First, in human resources, they had the power to select chief constables. As the noble Lord, Lord Blair, has said, sadly, because potential candidates believe that the outcome of the selection process is already decided, they have not applied. The referral to two or three applicants is well short because in many large forces of significant power they have had one applicant, the sitting deputy. That is not a healthy position if the reason I have offered is why that has occurred. The second power they had was to use the budget wisely. For example, they could have devoted more than two-thirds of the budget to community policing, but it has never shifted over the past several years. The budget has remained exactly the same and the priorities remain the same. That is not an interference in operational policing but that type of power has not been well used.
The removal of chief constables has not been well handled either. There have been at least five cases where employment tribunals have concluded that the process followed and the evidence offered by PCCs has been so flawed that the individuals have been reinstated. That is not a healthy position.
The selection by PCCs of their own advisers has at times been rather opaque, to say the best, because they have not followed normal public procedures for the selection of such people. That gives rise to the fear that they have been appointed for their political interests and purely political purposes rather than for their skills. That is not a healthy position either.
I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, that we need to look at the selection criteria, particularly the one that he mentioned around police officers. First, there should at least be a time bar of a certain length. In South Yorkshire, the chief constable applied to be a party’s candidate for PCC and would have overseen his own legacy, which is entirely wrong. That is one example, but there are many more.
Secondly, there used to be a convention, if not a rule, that officers could not become a chief constable in a force if they had not had two years in another force at the rank of chief officer. That was a healthy thing. It put in separation and removed too much home-grown affiliation to local political people or whatever. That type of rule should be looked at very seriously.
My final point—I am speaking in the gap so I have only one minute—is that the proposal in the debate is not radical enough. I support the noble Lord, Lord Cormack. It is time that policing had a review. I walked in one day with the Lord Speaker, the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, who reminded me that we had our last review in the 1960s. He named the person who created it. We now observe the 1974 local government boundaries. Criminals do not. We spend £1 billion on police IT in 46 packets. This is not a credible way to deliver a public service that demands to be of high quality rather than anything else. I take the advice that I have been offered. I support the point of the review.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, for this debate and I pay tribute to the noble Lord, Lord Bach—there are always exceptions to the rule. As the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, said, there are other examples of police and crime commissioners doing very good work, but that is not to say that alternatives might not be more successful.
The Liberal Democrats are in favour of greater police accountability but, equally, we believe in holding the Home Office and police and crime commissioners to account for their part in providing a policing service. We have seen recent, justified criticism of the Home Office’s failure to provide leadership in a policing context. For example, as the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, said, in response to the knife crime epidemic the Government’s Serious Violence Strategy is a strategy only in Mintzberg’s post-event rationalisation sense of the word. It is simply a narrative of all the many, various, piecemeal, unco-ordinated efforts of various agencies and pockets of government funding with no clear direction from the Home Office.
We have seen justified criticism of the Home Office over central government funding for the police service, as a couple of noble Lords have mentioned. This is not just about cuts approaching 25% in real terms but about the shifting of responsibility towards local taxation, resulting in those areas most in need of policing services being worst hit by such a shift in responsibility.
We have seen justified criticism of a lack of Home Office involvement in the development and selection of the most senior police officers, as the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, just mentioned. Gone is the previous requirement that no chief constable can be appointed without experience as an assistant chief constable or deputy in another force area. Gone is the Home Office assessment of candidates’ suitability and the grading of candidates for promotion. Instead, chief constables can appoint their own senior officers and police and crime commissioners select their own chief constables. As the noble Lord said, they are almost always the incumbent deputy. Competition for chief officer posts in forces has all but evaporated against the belief that the incumbent will always be selected, having developed a relationship with his or her police and crime commissioner.
As the noble Lords, Lord Lexden, Lord Bach and Lord Campbell-Savours, mentioned, we saw in the Wiltshire constabulary’s investigation of Sir Edward Heath the failure of the police and crime commissioner to launch an investigation into his own chief constable, and then the Home Office failing to hold either the chief constable or the police and crime commissioner to account.
Under the old tripartite system of Home Office, police authority and chief constable, the Home Secretary could and did override the police authority. As police and crime commissioners are allegedly “democratically elected”, they can be held to account only every four years by the electorate. I say “allegedly” for a number of reasons. In places such as Wiltshire there is an in-built Conservative Party majority. An Electoral Commission report in 2016 found that 72% of the electorate knew not very much or nothing at all about police and crime commissioners. With PCC elections costing £75 million a go, plus one by-election so far, and on the last count a 27% turnout, with voters clearly voting along party lines in most places, in what way is this democratic? Even the candidates were overwhelmingly critical of the Government’s arrangements for communicating the views of candidates to voters, with 96% of police and crime commissioners who responded to the Electoral Commission survey saying that they were dissatisfied.
I disagree with the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, in his portrayal of the police service before police and crime commissioners and, in the light of the facts that I have just mentioned, his rather rose-tinted view of the empowerment of local people as a result of police and crime commissioners being established. The noble Lord, Lord Bach, also talked about there being little local accountability before police and crime commissioners. That is not my experience or the experience of the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe. The Metropolitan Police Authority, for example, was open, transparent and very effective in holding the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to account, setting strategic direction and priorities locally.
We are left with a situation where the Home Office has abdicated responsibility for policing, looking to blame others for crime, disorder and a lack of funding, and placing responsibility on police and crime commissioners, who are dubiously elected on small turnouts based on little or no information, largely along traditional party lines. As the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said, placing too much power in the hands of one individual—in this case, the police and crime commissioner—creates the potential for other accountability issues. In one force we have seen inappropriate behaviour towards women being alleged against a chief constable. Vulnerable victims came forward and a case was put to the police and crime commissioner, including details of the victims, and then the PCC passed on all those details to the accused chief constable. Although that chief constable was eventually forced to resign, the police and crime commissioner is still in place.
On the other side of the coin, rather than protecting the chief constable whom the PCC appointed and has a close working relationship with, there have been instances of clashes of personality or politics between incumbent police chiefs and police and crime commissioners. The most high-profile example was Boris Johnson when Mayor of London and de facto police and crime commissioner “losing confidence” in the then Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Sir Ian Blair, now the noble Lord, Lord Blair of Boughton, forcing him to resign.
Arguably less likely with incumbent police and crime commissioners selecting their chief constable “in their own image”, there is a danger that, with only one person responsible for hiring and firing, personality clashes can result in good chief officers being forced out of office, especially in the increasingly likely event that the PCC is replaced but the chief constable, appointed by the PCC’s predecessor, remains.
Liberal Democrats want police boards, with powers similar to those of PCCs and composed primarily of local authority members, to replace police and crime commissioners. With them representing a broad cross-section of constituencies and political parties, minority groups and ideas, and having responsibility for the overall funding and provision of local services, not just the police precept and policing, most, if not all, of the problems with the existing system of police and crime commissioners could be overcome. We would support a review.
My Lords, I too add my congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, on securing this debate and on his powerful and forthright speech.
This is not the first time that we have discussed the role of police and crime commissioners. It is also not the first time that we have discussed the role of the Wiltshire police and crime commissioner in relation to Operation Conifer, which investigated allegations of child abuse by Sir Edward Heath and ended up, in many people’s eyes, besmirching the late former Prime Minister’s reputation on the basis of evidence unknown. The PCC declined to commission a review of the operation, even though it appears that he thought such an independent review of his force would be reasonable. The then Home Secretary declined to exercise her powers to commission such an inquiry on the grounds that it was a local policing matter, when the only thing local about it was the fact that Sir Edward, when alive, lived in Wiltshire. So here we see the advantage of having not one but two elected people in a position of authority over the way a police force conducts its operations: we end up with a difference of view and nothing happening at all, with the interests of the person whose name has been besmirched apparently of no importance at all to either of the two elected individuals concerned.
One suspects that the Home Secretary was determined not to appear to overrule the Wiltshire police and crime commissioner, because the Government had always argued that the accountability of police forces to the public they serve would be enhanced by the creation and election of PCCs. A Home Secretary overruling a PCC, however justified, would hardly be an argument in support of that case. Yet the Home Secretary has the power to give guidance to PCCs about the matters to be dealt with in their police and crime plans. This is in part, no doubt, since police forces have to discharge national and international obligations—determined presumably by the National Crime Agency and certainly by the Home Secretary—irrespective of the manifesto on which the PCC might have stood to get elected and of what the PCC might consider to be local needs and priorities. Can the Minister say on how many occasions the power of the Home Secretary to give guidance has been exercised, what guidance has been given and whether it has been followed by all PCCs?
The Home Secretary also has overall political responsibility for policing policy and national police funding, for which he or she is accountable to Parliament. Yet a police and crime commissioner has an obligation to ensure that their police force is efficient and effective. How can they do that if the funding from the Home Secretary is insufficient and they are in reality, as has been said, restricted over the amount they can raise through the precept?
The issue has been raised today of alleged rape victims having to hand in their phones to the police or risk the police investigation into their case being dropped, and the associated introduction of a standard national consent form to replace 43 separate police forms. It is not clear whether this is being done on the initiative of the police, the Crown Prosecution Service, the Home Secretary or, indeed, all three. But it does not seem to have been driven by elected PCCs, who will presumably have to accept the new arrangement, which is a move to more central control. Or is it not the case that the PCC in each police area will have to accept the new arrangement announced today? Again, perhaps the Minister could clarify that point.
In 2015, the Committee on Standards in Public Life found confusion among the public, chief constables and PCCs about roles and responsibilities, especially in relation to where operational independence and governance oversight begins and ends. The very helpful documentation from the House of Lords Library for this debate includes a research document commissioned by the National Police Chiefs’ Council, containing the experiences of chief police officers—some retired—of their working relationships with PCCs. Those experiences are certainly not all positive; they frequently relate to differences of view over the role and responsibilities of PCCs and chief police officers and the impact on morale within a force where there is disagreement. Included in those experiences are issues about the accountability of PCCs themselves, or lack of it. The police and crime panels do not seem to have any effective checks on how a PCC exercises their powers since the views of the panel can, in almost every instance, be ignored by the police and crime commissioner if they so wish. Likewise, although a police and crime commissioner will not want their force to receive an adverse assessment from the police inspectorate, the PCC cannot be held in check directly by the inspectorate over how they exercise their powers.
Concern has already been expressed today, as well as in the research document, over the power of a police and crime commissioner to dismiss their chief constable, and some figures were provided in the research document to suggest that to date this was more likely to happen when the chief constable was a woman. Previously, the police authority had to secure the support of the Home Secretary if it wished to dismiss its chief constable. Now, a PCC has only to take note of the views of the inspectorate and police and crime panel before proceeding to dismiss. The head of the police inspectorate said in 2016 that the use of the power to dismiss was,
“conspicuously unfair, disproportionate and unreasonable”,
and that he could not understand how such decisions were arrived at. The presiding judges in the case in question said that the approach adopted was, “wholly disproportionate”, “surprising in the extreme” and “a serious error”. As has been said on more than one occasion during this debate, the appointing of chief constables by PCCs also seems to have led to a significant reduction in applications, because of the belief that there is an inevitability about who will be appointed.
As I understand it, there has been some case law regarding the legislation on the roles of PCCs and chief constables. I could well be wrong, but if I am right in thinking that, could the Minister set out what that case law has been, either now when responding or subsequently in writing?
Could the Minister also say whether the police and crime panels, which are meant to provide some means of holding PCCs to account but lack any real teeth, are properly trained, resourced and supported? On average per panel member, what training and resources are provided and what support is given? Is it the same or roughly the same for all police and crime panels, and who makes the decision on what training, resources and support will be provided? Has the level of training, resources and support provided to police and crime panel members increased since the panels were set up, and if so, by how much? How often do police and crime panels as official bodies have meetings with their PCCs, and who has responsibility for spreading best practice between police and crime panels? Indeed, who has responsibility for spreading best practice between police and crime commissioners?
The police complaints system has been changed to give a greater role for police and crime commissioners. I understand that these new arrangements have not yet come into force. If I am right in saying that, what is the reason for the delay? What additional resources will be provided to police and crime commissioners for this apparent addition to their role?
The subject of this debate is whether the Government plan to establish a review of the role and responsibilities of police and crime commissioners. The case for such a review would seem strong. First, there appear to have been differences in some instances between PCCs and chief constables about what in practice, as opposed to theory, their differing roles are and what are the grey areas. Since the PCC draws up the budget then presumably, if the PCC is very precise over how the money being allocated has to be spent, he or she can have a big influence in determining how, and on what activities, the chief constable will deploy their officers and staff. Would the Minister agree that that is the case, and that that is a potential source of difficulty between a PCC and the chief constable—and his or her operational independence?
An objective of a PCC is the reduction of crime and disorder in their area. While closer working with other agencies and bodies is an important way of seeking to achieve that objective, so too must be the priorities for deployment of a force’s officers and staff and their activities. Is that an area in which a PCC can argue that they can get involved, to deliver their objective of reducing crime and disorder in their area? Could the Government comment on that point?
It seems to me that, some seven years after police and crime commissioners came into being, there are enough examples of uncertainty, and indeed disagreement, over the role, powers and responsibilities of police and crime commissioners, particularly in relation to those of chief constables—and also those of the Home Secretary in relation to policing—to justify, and indeed necessitate, a review to examine areas of disagreement, uncertainty and possibly unintended consequences over roles and responsibilities that have arisen since the position of PCC was established.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in congratulating my noble friend Lord Lexden on securing this debate. I appreciate the breadth and expertise of the remarks all noble Lords have made, but I fear that they might require me to write a long letter, as I think time will not permit me to respond to all of them now. I undertake to write and place a copy in the Library. I recognise the depth of feeling among Members of the House on the issues raised. With PCC elections due to take place in a little over a year, the roles and responsibilities of police and crime commissioners will be brought into sharp focus again as the public hold them to account via the ballot box.
The Government have no plans currently for a formal review of the role and responsibilities of police and crime commissioners, but, as my noble friend Lord Lexden pointed out, since their introduction in 2012, the Home Affairs Select Committee has published two reports on their work, including both a recognition of the greater clarity of leadership that they provide and the increasing recognition by the public of their role, their accountability and the strategic direction that they offer. I am not sure that those reports used the phrase of the noble Lord, Lord Bach, who spoke of his friends being “quite impressed” by what PCCs do, but they might have done; I think it was implicit. Those reports, and the report referred to from the Committee on Standards in Public Life, include a number of recommendations about how to improve the effectiveness of the model. I will aim to highlight progress in these areas, but also where there is more room for improvement. I reassure my noble friend Lord Wasserman that the Government have no plans to throw any babies out in any amount of bathwater.
Further evolution of the model means that police and crime commissioners now have responsibility for the fire service in some areas, closer co-operation across blue-light services and commissioning of victim services. As my noble friend Lord Wasserman and the noble Lord, Lord Bach, remarked, this is crucially underpinned by engagement with local communities to ensure that those needs are met.
A key recommendation from the Home Affairs Select Committee in 2016 was that police and crime commissioners should use their convening power to improve service provision. There are numerous examples of how this has developed, including in Northumbria, where Dame Vera Baird has launched the first ever regional strategy to tackle violence against women and girls. The number of forces that have adopted this has now increased from three to seven. Similarly, in Sussex PCC Katy Bourne is leading the introduction of video-enabled justice across five forces, with the potential for further rollout.
The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, and my noble friend Lord Wasserman referred to wider partnership work. Anecdotal evidence suggests that having the police and crime commissioner as the chair of the local criminal justice board brings a welcome local focus and renewed energy to agencies that otherwise do not share accountability. On policy issues, PCCs have collaborated extensively on the links between mental health problems and crime, and in relation to rural crime, which the noble Lord, Lord Wigley, mentioned.
Importantly, PCCs operate in the full gaze of the media and are held accountable for their record by the public every four years. At the 2016 elections, around 9 million votes were cast, which was a 67% increase on the number of votes in the elections of 2012. I hear the concerns of a number of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, about the level of turnout. I think that all noble Lords will share my hope that we will see a further increase in the next elections.
A number of noble Lords have raised concerns about the relationship between police and crime commissioners and their chief constables, including how to address the performance of a police and crime commissioner who might be underperforming, and the impact on chief officer recruitment. The second recommendation from the Home Affairs Select Committee was to strengthen the role of police and crime panels, which provide both support and challenge to police and crime commissioners on the exercise of their functions, acting as a critical friend. A number of noble Lords expressed concern about the robustness of these panels, but, as with other parts of the model, there are now a number of examples where they have taken a constructive approach in challenging the police and crime commissioner in their area.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked how best practice was shared among PCCs, panels and others. Obviously, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners plays a critical role in sharing best practice, as does the similar association for the chief executives and chief financial officers—I will spare noble Lords the acronym.
I am not surprised at the response the Minister has just given, but does that mean that the Government are satisfied that best practice is being properly disseminated and that it is being acted upon, by the bodies she has just mentioned and by individual police and crime commissioners?
The Government are confident that there is a real energy among police and crime commissioners to share best practice. As one police and crime commissioner said to me, that individual and their chief constable have a shared interest in their force being the best it can possibly be.
Turning to chief constable recruitment, the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, in particular, raised concerns about chief officer recruitment. I am thankful to Mike Cunningham, chief executive of the College of Policing, who is doing excellent work in ensuring that the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the College of Policing work together to agree a plan for addressing the key barriers to recruitment, retention and progression.
However, it is not entirely accurate to suggest—as my noble friend did in referring to remarks made by the noble Lord, Lord Blair, as did the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe—that the problems of chief officer recruitment and retention are related solely to the introduction of police and crime commissioners. A report commissioned by the National Police Chiefs’ Council suggests that the tenure of chief constable posts fell very sharply between 1992 and 2002 and has actually been stable over the past seven years. A survey by the College of Policing showed chief officers citing their fear of the risk of dismissal and the reputation of the local police and crime commissioner as elements in their decision whether or not to apply for a role, but coming close behind those reasons were financial considerations, the absence of work/life balance and the existence of an internal candidate.
Given the concerns that have been raised by a number of noble Lords about the need for greater checks and balances in this model, I will undertake to write to my noble friend the Policing Minister, sharing the issues that have been raised.
A number of noble Lords spoke about funding for the police service, including my noble friend Lord Lexden and the noble Lord, Lord Bach. This year’s police funding settlement provides the biggest increase in funding since 2010, with a total increase for the police of over £1 billion. Although I would not want to suggest to the noble Lord, Lord Bach—who I fear is rolling his eyes—that the problem has gone away, or that anyone would suggest that, there is a clear commitment from the Home Secretary. He has made it absolutely clear that he will prioritise police funding at the next spending review. The noble Lords, Lord Paddick and Lord Wigley, raised their concerns about the police funding formula; again, there is a commitment to look at that in the next spending review.
Questions were also raised about the Government’s commitment to addressing serious crime and violence, knife crime in particular. I will put the details in a letter but all noble Lords will be aware that the Prime Minister led a recent summit at Downing Street on that very subject.
Ministers are open to considering a recall procedure and I will raise that with the Policing Minister.
If I may turn to the points regarding Sir Edward Heath and Operation Conifer, noble Lords will not be surprised to hear me reassert that the police are, rightly, operationally independent of the Government and that the Government continue to take the view that they should not seek to influence the exercise of those functions. My noble friends Lord Cormack and Lord Lexden, and the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, raised a number of points in this area. This House has debated on a number of occasions the issues raised by Operation Conifer, and I remain deeply sympathetic to the concerns raised by noble Lords as they seek to defend the reputation of a man who served his country at the very highest level. I reiterate that according to the police’s summary closure report, no inference of Sir Edward’s guilt should be drawn from the conclusions of Operation Conifer.
Finally, turning back to the title of—
I thank the Minister for giving way. There is a great deal of unhappiness around the House, and I think in the Palace of Westminster, about the blight on Sir Edward Heath’s reputation. I had the chance to speak to the civil servant who was most close to him, who agreed that the whole thing seemed utterly ludicrous to anyone who knew him well. There is a disquiet—a feeling of real hurt—about this issue. I stress to the Government that I do not think this will go away, because it could affect other people in the future. I add my support to what has been said.
Unfortunately, we have run out of time but I hear the noble Lord’s concerns.
I look forward to returning to the topic of a review as we continue to widen the role of our elected and accountable police and crime commissioners. I thank all noble Lords for their contributions and, as mentioned above, I will write on those points that I was unable to cover and share noble Lords’ remarks with my right honourable friend the Policing Minister.
House adjourned at 7.49 pm.