House of Commons portcullis
House of Commons
Session 2008 - 09
Publications on the internet
General Committee Debates
Policing and Crime

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairmen: Hugh Bayley, Sir Nicholas Winterton
Austin, Mr. Ian (Dudley, North) (Lab)
Blackman-Woods, Dr. Roberta (City of Durham) (Lab)
Brokenshire, James (Hornchurch) (Con)
Burns, Mr. Simon (West Chelmsford) (Con)
Campbell, Mr. Alan (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)
Cawsey, Mr. Ian (Brigg and Goole) (Lab)
Coaker, Mr. Vernon (Minister for Security, Counter-Terrorism, Crime and Policing)
Dorries, Mrs. Nadine (Mid-Bedfordshire) (Con)
Fitzpatrick, Jim (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport)
Harris, Dr. Evan (Oxford, West and Abingdon) (LD)
Holmes, Paul (Chesterfield) (LD)
Keeble, Ms Sally (Northampton, North) (Lab)
Kirkbride, Miss Julie (Bromsgrove) (Con)
Ruffley, Mr. David (Bury St. Edmunds) (Con)
Waltho, Lynda (Stourbridge) (Lab)
Wilson, Phil (Sedgefield) (Lab)
Chris Shaw, Andrew Kennon, Committee Clerks
† attended the Committee

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 3 February 2009


[Hugh Bayley in the Chair]

Policing and Crime Bill

Clause 1

Duty of police authorities in relation to public accountability
4 pm
Question (this day) again proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
The Chairman: I remind the Committee that with this we are considering: new clause 2—Composition of police authorities—
‘For section 4 of the Police Act 1996 (Membership of police authorities etc) substitute—
“Composition of police authorities
(1) Where a police authority has the same boundary as a local council, that council will be the police authority.
(2) Each police authority established under section 3 shall consist of 17 members.
(3) Where a police authority boundary and a local council boundary are not coterminous, two-thirds of the members of the police authority shall be directly elected by Single Transferable Vote.
(4) The members of the police authority subject to clause (3) above shall be elected once every four years on the same day as all or most of the local government elections in the force area.
(5) Elections per clauses (3) and (4) above shall be voted on by all members of the population over the age of 18 who reside within the relevant police authority boundary and whom are eligible to vote in local government elections.
(6) Where subsection (2) above applies, one-third of the members of the police authorities shall be nominated from local councillors within the police force area.
(7) Under subsection (1) or (2) above, police authorities may co-opt extra members to ensure diversity, experience and expertise.
(8) In subsection (4) above, co-opted members may be—
(a) magistrates, or
(b) any person deemed appropriate by the existing members of the police authority to which outside members are being co-opted.”’.

New Clause 4

Responsibilities of police authorities
‘(1) Each police authority will have the ability to determine its own local precept agreement with the relevant local council or councils as appropriate to its individual requirements.
(2) Each police authority will have the ability to determine its own fiscal priorities in accordance with its individual requirements.
(3) The Secretary of State may not give unsolicited directions to police authorities on local precepts, minimum budgets or fiscal priorities.
(4) Each police authority has a duty to consult with the Secretary of State, and to take account of national policing authorities.
At the time we broke, we were in a middle of the debate, and Julie Kirkbride had the floor.
Miss Julie Kirkbride (Bromsgrove) (Con) rose—
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Transport (Jim Fitzpatrick): Will the hon. Lady give way on that point?
Miss Kirkbride: By all means.
Jim Fitzpatrick: I thank the hon. Lady for giving way. She raised a small point in her comments before we broke that niggled me at lunchtime. She referred to some Welsh forces’ obsession with dealing with speed. I know what point she was trying to make, but does she agree that when investigations show that speed was clearly a contributory factor in the deaths of 700 people in 2007, resources must be directed to ensure that we save lives by restricting something that can be restricted?
Miss Kirkbride: I thank the hon. Gentleman for that point. I am glad that he has got it off his chest, if it was troubling him during lunch. I have a great deal of sympathy with his point. My own family has experience of a fatal road traffic accident, so I know only too well how heartbreaking they can be. I am glad to put it on record that resources certainly need to be applied to traffic and speeding enforcement.
My point, to reprise quickly what I was saying, is that there is a democratic deficit in police representation of all the views in the community. My concern involves exactly such cases as when a chief constable has a bee in his or her bonnet about a particular issue. Accountability from the public’s point of view as to whether that is the correct priority is somewhat unclear. It must go through the police authority, which may be happy with how precious, scarce resources are being spent. Despite the speech made by the hon. Member for Chesterfield, who called for communities to be allowed to raise as much of their own resources as they see fit, resources will always be limited, because the public have only a certain appetite for paying taxes and have other priorities. Policing must live within its means and decide on its priorities. The question is, how do the public make those priorities their priorities, and what accountability is there in respect of the police having to ensure that that happens?
As all parties have agreed that there is a problem of democracy and representation, it is disappointing that the Government have come up with a damp squib after they had suggested that they would do something more exciting. To be fair to the Government, I agree that it is a difficult and complicated area of public services to reform and that we need to proceed with caution. Democracy is highly desirable, but it could have some malign consequences if reform does not proceed as we would like it to.
One of the questions brought out in this morning’s debate was, “If we were to democratise police accountability, how would we organise that?”. The first problem is the police force area. In some places it is very distinct and clear-cut: it is a county force, there is already a county council, everyone sees a community of interest and it becomes much clearer to administer. In my constituency, it crosses county boundaries. It is not obvious that people in Bromsgrove have a community of interest with other parts of the West Mercia force area. It is therefore more difficult to find one person who can speak for everybody and in whom everybody has confidence.
Similarly, that one person who might seem to represent a police force area could, in foreseeable circumstances, be encouraged to inflame incidents to attract votes come the all-important election. That leads to the question of when the elections should be. Should they be tied to other local authority elections? What turnout would we expect, hope or desire to achieve? Were they to be stand-alone elections, turnout would be a worry to anyone interested in democracy, because there is often a disappointing turnout at local authority elections and occasionally even at general elections. If the public had not bought into the idea of electing their police representatives, would they have a proper mandate? How would one try to increase the turnout?
Those are difficult issues. I was interested in the arguments advanced by the hon. Member for Chesterfield. I am sure that he will not be surprised to learn that I do not agree with all of them, but I did think that there was something in the idea of an elected representative representing a smaller area, where there is a more obvious community of interest. Having more than one elected representative in control of a police area reduces the prospects of what the hon. Member for Stourbridge talked about—a single BNP candidate, who has been elected and therefore is sacrosanct, taking charge of one of our primary police forces. That would be an area of interest if we were to proceed down the democratic road. It is disappointing that the Government did not have more ideas. As I said, I sympathise with the reasons why. We might all have to wait for a general election to hear more elucidation from all sides of what we might do with police forces.
In clause 1, we have missed a golden opportunity to allow people, and particularly my constituents in Bedfordshire, to pass judgment on the person whom they see running their police force and delivering policing in their area. When people go to the ballot box, they know exactly which MP they are voting for. If the incumbent MP is a bad MP, people will go to the ballot box and vote them out. Exactly the same would happen if we had an elected chief constable as opposed to an authority.
I do not think that the residents of any of our constituencies would flock to vote for a police authority. I do see them flocking to vote for the person who, along with their MP and councillors, be it a unitary authority, county council, district council or whatever, will make a difference to how efforts to tackle crime are delivered on their streets. Surely if we had one person, a directly elected chief constable, which the Green Paper hinted at but which the Bill fails to provide, policing budgets would also be far more assiduously examined by the person responsible for delivering the services that the budget was to pay for. I am not sure that an authority would have the same attention to detail as there would be under an elected chief constable.
Will an authority be accountable in the same way? There will be no members of the public on it, so it will be a quango. They will all be elected by the senior appointments panel. Will the authority be accountable to the people and, if so, in what way? I ask that because I do not see anyone who wants to make an issue of policing on their streets using this route to do that. They will do it in exactly the same way as residents do it at the moment. They will come to their MP or go to their councillor. They will not think of going to their authority because it will not be giving regard to their views. The regard will be given to the elected person—the MP or the councillors. I fail to see how this clause takes note of anyone who lives in 16 Russell street in Bedfordshire. I cannot see how it takes account of that person being concerned about the fact that knife crime on their street has gone up over the past 12 months.
How will people’s views be taken account of in this clause? Will people have the opportunity to go and stand in front of the people who should have regard to their views? Will the general public have a chance? Will all my residents in Russell street be able to go and stand in front of this authority and say, “Take regard of our views because we want more visible policing on our streets. We do not want you bringing speed cameras to the end of our street when there are knife crimes taking place there.” Is that what the clause will do? I fail to see how it will. We have missed a golden opportunity here and I fail to see why the Government have not grasped it.
One of the reasons that we have been given is that if any other method, or mechanism, were in place, it could politicise the police. The police are politicised; every one of us was lobbied about 42-day detention. Every one of was lobbied over various other issues by our local police. The police have their own representatives who lobby us, politicise the issues and come to speak to us. We want democracy, not politicisation. We want our police to be accountable. They are politicised anyway, so if the Minister’s response is that we do not want to politicise the police force, what does he think about the fact that the police came here to lobby us on 42 days? Is that not politicisation? My police came to lobby me over the fact that they were one of the worst police forces in the country and about what is happening in their police force. Are they not politicising the issue by involving me in it? They are already politicised; we want to make them less politicised, more independent, less accountable to us and more accountable to the individual that people may get the chance to vote for to represent their particular views in their area.
I am sad that this clause is going to stand. I hope that the views of the people will be known through the media and all Members of the House when the Bill comes to its final stages. It is a golden opportunity missed and I fail to understand why the Minister has done that.
Mr. Ian Cawsey (Brigg and Goole) (Lab): I was not going to speak in the debate, but I was sparked into doing so by the last contribution. I mentioned to the Committee earlier on that I chaired a police authority for four years before coming to the House. People should be cautious about running down the road of directly electing the chief of police.
I pray in aid just two simple points. When I chaired my police authority, the chief constable was a chap called Tony Leonard. He was an extremely good chief constable and is now retired. When he came to our area, one of the things he did was to discover that there was a practice going on in our force area—it was going on in lots of other force areas as well—which was to pretend that they were solving crimes that they were not. They were getting police officers to go around jails to persuade already convicted people to cough up to crimes that they almost certainly had not committed, in order to make the figures look better. Our chief constable thought that that was wrong and that we should record the crimes that people report and then the ones that are solved.
4.15 pm
Contents Continue
House of Commons 
home page Parliament home page House of 
Lords home page search page enquiries ordering index

©Parliamentary copyright 2009
Prepared 4 February 2009