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"What I would suggest is create your own experience; don't try to learn from us-seriously."
Alun Michael: I am interested that my right hon. Friend has read the evidence given by Mr Bratton, who went on to say that telling all 43 police authorities that they had to be managed in the same way was an experiment. He contrasted that with the plethora of different ways in which things are done in the States, including the variety of experiences that he had had himself.
Ed Balls: He did say that, and I am glad to receive my right hon. Friend's praise for reading the evidence given to the Home Affairs Committee. I do so on behalf of the shadow policing Minister, who read it in even greater detail.
The question of new panels points to another flaw in the Bill. There is one area in which the Home Secretary has agreed that the panels actually will have power, and it is the one in which we would think an elected police commissioner ought to have legitimacy-the setting of the precept. Rather bizarrely, on abolishing police authorities and establishing the panels, the one power that the Home Secretary gives the panels is to veto any proposal for a rise in the precept by the elected police commissioner. The commissioner will not have the power to set the precept without veto from the panel, and apparently will not be involved in operational policing, so it is not clear what they will be able to do. They will be even less powerful than the police authorities are at the moment.
I will not go into detail on the issue of political advisers, because we have done to death the mistake of the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice in saying to The Guardian that staff of the policing and crime commissioners will not be able to be members of political parties. It is absolutely clear that he is wrong about that and that they will be so able.
The Home Affairs Committee report is very instructive on the matter of operational responsibility. The problem is that one individual will be elected solely on a policing mandate and will stand alongside a chief constable. That makes the definition of operational responsibility very important. As I asked the Home Secretary earlier, what will happen if a commissioner is elected on a mandate of, for example, abolishing speed cameras or introducing water cannon-if the Home Secretary allows that-and the chief constable says, "No, in my judgment that is not required operationally"? Who will decide? I am afraid that the lack of clarity on that issue raises the spectre of politicisation in certain circumstances. That will need to be discussed in Committee, because the Home Affairs Committee was right to say that without a proper definition, a memorandum and a way of getting the situation clear, there is an inevitable risk of politicisation, which is exactly the fear of police chiefs across the country.
The final point that we hear regularly is that London is somehow a model. Of course, in London the Mayor is elected not for policing but for a wider range of powers. He tried to get involved in the hiring and firing of commissioners, but decided that it was inappropriate because it risked politicisation, and had to stand aside for his non-elected deputy to take over responsibility for the matter backed by a police authority of elected members from the Greater London authority with proper powers. The Home Secretary invents reasons why the model that she proposes cannot apply to London, but the reason is that it has been tried there and did not work.
I want to address some of the wider issues in Bill. They cover only one third of the clauses, and our intention, where possible, will be to seek consensus on these proposals. The Bill contains a number of changes to the licensing regime and to powers for councils that build upon, rather than reversing, the licensing reforms of the past decade. If the Bill receives its Second Reading today, we will clearly need to examine the proposals in detail in Committee, but we will support extra powers
to enable local communities and the police to keep public order to ensure that people can enjoy a night out in a safe and secure manner.
We will look into the proposals on drugs in detail, but at this point, we cautiously welcome the temporary banning orders that the Home Secretary is proposing. However, there is a suggestion, in the changes to the role of the advisory committee, of a move away from evidence-based policy making on drugs. That gives us some cause for concern, and we shall need to look closely at the matter in Committee. As we heard from the former Home Secretary, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett), the devil will be in the detail, as it was with the reform of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005. We will look closely at the detail of the proposals in Committee.
We will also probe the details of the clauses on universal jurisdiction in Committee. The Opposition believe strongly in the importance of universal jurisdiction, and we will support the proposed changes to make it work more effectively in each of the relevant areas. We will seek to achieve consensus in Committee, but, as I have said, these measures add up to less than one third of the clauses in the Bill, and as far as the policing issues are concerned, it has been very hard to be the shadow Secretary Of State.
Mark Reckless (Rochester and Strood) (Con): I should first declare that I am a member of the Kent police authority and that I support our abolition. I should also correct the right hon. Gentleman: our chair is not a Conservative. On the issue of operational independence, surely Ministers have made it very clear that there should be no interference by politicians on matters of individual investigation or arrest. Does he not agree, however, that it is quite proper for there to be democratic oversight of the broader issues of strategy and of the setting of budget priorities?
Ed Balls: I fully agree about the importance of that middle tier of political accountability for chief constables. What I and many other experts fear, however, is that if one individual is elected on a direct mandate for policing, it will be very hard indeed to prevent their supposed mandate from crossing operational dividing lines. That does not happen now, because each police authority-half of which comprises independents, the other half of which is indirectly elected-covers a number of areas and often comprises a number of political parties. They ensure that there is a collective sense that operational responsibilities are properly respected. I have no doubt that some elected police and crime commissioners will want to respect operational independence, but I have no doubt that individuals might be elected on a mandate that explicitly crosses that line. Unless that element of the Bill is sorted out quickly, we will end up with an expensive politicisation of policing in this country that will overturn 170 years of policing tradition.
I have looked carefully to find support for the Bill. I have already quoted Sir Hugh Orde and ACPO. I have also quoted the Association of Police Authorities. Police superintendents take the same view, as do Liberty and the Local Government Association. I have spoken on this matter at two conferences where I have urged anyone in the room who supports the proposals to identify themselves to me privately afterwards, because
no one will dare admit to it publicly. As a member of a responsible Opposition, I want to know the arguments, yet nobody will come forward. It is very hard indeed to find anyone who supports this policy.
As a result of assiduous research by our shadow team, however, I have identified three organisations that support the proposal. The first is a think-tank called Policy Exchange. Yes, it is the think-tank that was founded by the Secretary of State for Education, and the think-tank that said that the solution to unemployment in the north was for people to move to the south. Mr Blair Gibbs made the case for these commissioners on behalf of that organisation. He was in fact chief of staff to the policing Minister between 2007 and 2010.
The second organisation is called Direct Democracy, which included in its book "Direct Democracy: An Agenda for a New Model Party" a chapter on the case for independent police commissioners. Yes, that is the Direct Democracy that was founded by the hon. Member for Clacton (Mr Carswell) and by the Tory MEP Mr Daniel Hannan-he who described the NHS as a "60-year mistake". Unfortunately, the chapter in the book was authored by the policing Minister himself.
The third organisation is a think-tank called Reform. In its 2009 pamphlet, it also advocated this policy. Yes, the Reform think-tank is now headed by the former Tory central office head of political research, and it was founded by the policing Minister. So there we have it: a former chief of staff to the Minister, a chapter written by the Minister and a think-tank founded by the Minister. Unusually for the coalition, the Minister responsible for the policy actually supports it, which is quite a turn-up for the books.
Mr Burley: The right hon. Gentleman has been talking about operational independence for the past five minutes. Does he not agree that, when Tony Blair summoned all 43 chief constables to a knife crime summit in Downing street and urged them collectively to do more about knife crime, he was illustrating exactly the way in which politicians could constructively influence the police?
Ed Balls: Of course the hon. Gentleman is right: Prime Ministers should take an interest in these matters, and I am sure that the Prime Minister of the time did that while fully respecting the operational independence of the police. The present Prime Minister is an advocate of individually elected police commissioners; in fact, it was in his 2005 manifesto. It is always good for the Home Secretary to support the Prime Minister if she can, but sometimes, as I know, it is important to say no. I am afraid that, on this matter, she has been remiss in her duties. It would have been much better if she had said to the Prime Minister, "I am very sorry, Prime Minister, but a policy that sounded good in opposition is deeply flawed and unimplementable in government."
"And with local meetings, new elected police representatives, and online crime mapping, people will have more information and more influence over what their local team is focused on."
Ed Balls: As I have said, we are looking carefully at this proposal. We have investigated it in detail, and we have concluded that it is a bad idea because it risks politicising our police and it is a waste of money. The money would have been better spent on police officers on the front line. We had a record number of police officers, and now we are seeing the biggest cuts in peacetime history.
Chris Bryant: Is not the absolute proof that the Government know that these are to be politicised posts the fact that the Bill allows for the Home Secretary to make provision for the candidates for the posts to be included under the terms of the Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act 2000? They will effectively become politicians; they will be party nominees.
Ed Balls: As I understand it, though, the drafting of the Bill has not taken into account the fact that funding needs to be restricted on third-party campaigning. This issue needs to be cleared up and properly brought into line with other political elections. We know that the matter will be politicised by those on the Government Benches, because they have said so.
It is the job of the Home Secretary to stand up for public safety, to fight for police numbers and to resist barmy political reorganisations that get in the way of progress. Instead, we have seen her standing back and giving in to the Chancellor on huge and disproportionate cuts to policing, and being steamrollered by the Treasury into proposing front-loaded cuts. We have seen her stand at the Dispatch Box and recite a script that was written by the Prime Minister before he was Leader of the Opposition, back in 2005. To agree to any one of record police cuts, front-loading of cuts or a risky change to political accountability would be a foolish thing to do, but to sign up to all three at the same time is very reckless indeed. That is what the Home Secretary has done over the past six months in the job. It is time that she got some operational independence and started to do the job that she was appointed to do. She must stand up for our police and our communities, and resist these barmy proposals. We oppose giving the Bill a Second Reading.
Caroline Dinenage (Gosport) (Con): As we saw in the ugly scenes outside this building last Thursday, the police deal with people at their worst, when they are in states of anger, violence, grief, shock and fright, and frequently when they are unpredictable because of drug or alcohol use. Through all that, they have to retain their composure, sense of perspective and humanity. Many of us here today have had the opportunity to go on patrol with our constabularies better to understand the pressures that they routinely face on our behalf.
A Saturday night patrol gave me a unique insight into the diverse range of incidents that a two-man team can be called upon to deal with. As we went from one incident to the next, I was impressed by their patience and professionalism, and their ability to maintain a sense not only of perspective but of humour. I went home exhausted, with a feeling of achievement at just
having survived the night, while they, of course, had to go and do it all again the following day. I have spoken at length to my local chief constable and other police officers about the Bill. Why? Because it is too important to get wrong. No one knows when they will need to call upon the police for assistance, but we do know that, at that point, we will expect them to be there.
Budget reductions are never desirable, but in the current economic climate they are necessary to get the country back on track. Some forward-thinking chief constables might see it as an opportunity to rethink traditional practices, restructure management hierarchies, get the best out of support infrastructure such as HR and procurement, see opportunities for cross-boundary collaboration and information sharing, and run things better and more effectively.
The scope of the Bill is vast, but there are three main parts that I want to talk about, beginning with the proposals on licensing. In a previous life, I sat on the licensing committee of the local council, and local residents would often cite their frustrations with the antisocial behaviour of people leaving bars and clubs late at night. At present, the responsibility of the landlord ends outside the bar or club, and short of ushering customers away from their premises with a plea to leave quietly, they are essentially free to make their money while others are left to clear up the undesirable after-effects.
What taxpayer in their right mind would prefer to see their money pay for police in yellow jackets spending all night dealing with teenagers who have drunk themselves stupid on alcopops, rather than catching burglars, rapists and murderers?
Justin Tomlinson (North Swindon) (Con): Scenes such as those my hon. Friend has just described are all too typical and do much damage to the night-time economy. Does she agree that the late-night levy will help to deliver a safer night-time economy, which will be a boost to the vast majority of law-abiding customers who are all too often put off by the actions of the disgraceful minority?
Caroline Dinenage: My hon. Friend makes a good point. It is important that the levies are imposed only on venues that supply alcohol between midnight and 6 am. That means the responsible pubs and clubs that shut earlier and are managed well, are able to go about their business without any such levies. The funds generated by the levy will be payable to the police and crime commissioners to help to fund the necessary policing, as well as to other organs of local government that address the effects of alcohol-related crime and disorder.
Another positive outcome of the Bill is the reduction in centrally set targets and in bureaucracy. The mass data collection prescribed by the previous Government is one of the biggest frustrations for our police. In Hampshire, it amounts to 130 weeks' worth of extra work per year-two full-time members of staff-just to satisfy the demands of the Home Office. And I have no idea who reads all that stuff. The plea from local police is that this great advance towards common-sense policing needs to be reflected in changes to the criminal justice system. At the moment, our police spend thousands of hours preparing court cases in which the perpetrator says nothing on arrest or at interview but pleads guilty
in the Crown court. All the preparation work was therefore an utter bureaucratic waste of time. There has to be some way of mitigating that.
Chris Bryant: Is the hon. Lady really suggesting that police officers should not do any preparation because they think that someone might plead guilty? What then happens when the person does not plead guilty?
There are clear benefits from increased collaboration between forces, not least improved efficiency, the driving down of costs and the avoidance of reinventing the wheel. Police forces can do a lot with sharing back-office functions and procurement. In Hampshire constabulary there will be collaboration with the neighbouring Thames Valley force on facilities such as dog teams, firearms response, IT and surveillance aircraft.
We also need to ensure that the collegiate approach is backed up with shared local information. So many times, the police talk of the frustrations of the record management system, with local criminal information not being available across county borders, which the bad guys are happy to exploit.
There is a tendency for people to view the police as "them and us," but the police are us; the us that is prepared to deal with humanity at its worst. As both Robert Peel and the Home Secretary have said,
"The police are the public and the public are the police."
In Gosport, our local police work hard to build up trust in traditionally wary neighbourhoods. The Bill starts to recognise that work and build on it, and is joined up in both its approach and its delivery.
Sir Gerald Kaufman (Manchester, Gorton) (Lab): What my right hon. Friend the Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls) has said about the attacks on the strength of the police and about the cuts in police budgets particularly affects us in Greater Manchester, where we have an absolutely excellent local police service that will be severely damaged by what the Government propose.
I wish, however, to concentrate on clause 151, which has been smuggled in to fulfil a Conservative election pledge made in a full-page advertisement in the Jewish Chronicle during the general election, namely the change in the administration of universal jurisdiction in this country. There is no need whatsoever to change the law. To obtain an arrest warrant for a suspected war criminal, it is essential to surmount a high hurdle, and that rarely happens. Such applications are made rarely, and are granted even more rarely. This change in the law would never have been proposed if it were not for the case of Tzipi Livni, the war criminal daughter of a terrorist
father, who was scared off coming to this country because of the danger of an arrest warrant being issued for her. She was jointly responsible for the slaughter in Gaza in Operation Cast Lead in which 1,400 people were killed, including 300 children, in a war in which 14 Israelis were killed, some by friendly fire. It is bizarre that a major change in our criminal justice system is being made at the demand of one of the most discredited regimes in the world.
Mr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): The right hon. Gentleman specifically identifies Tzipi Livni and talks about the accusations that have been levelled against her, but I am sure that he will agree that, as Foreign Minister, Livni would not have had either direct or ultimate command responsibility for any of the alleged atrocities. Will he concede that what he has just told the House is incorrect?
Sir Gerald Kaufman: Of course not. Tzipi Livni is a war criminal and, what is more, she issued a vocal and extreme statement in support of the attack on the Gaza flotilla. She is not wanted in this country-
Mr Deputy Speaker: Order. Hon. Members should know better. I do not want a debate going on across the Chamber from sedentary positions. If Members want to intervene, they should do so in the correct manner.
Sir Gerald Kaufman: The fact is that Israel breaches international law and the Geneva convention every single day. It has just snubbed the President of the United States by refusing to halt the illegal building of settlements-that in itself is a contravention of international law.
Robert Halfon: I thank the right hon. Gentleman for giving way, but I must say that his hatred for Israel knows no bounds. He explains exactly why universal jurisdiction needs to be changed-it is being used as a political football by people such as him who have hidden agendas.
Sir Gerald Kaufman: There would have been no proposal to change the universal jurisdiction law if Tzipi Livni had not been scared away from this country after committing appalling war crimes against the people of Gaza. It is as simple and as plain as that.
As I said, the Israelis have just snubbed the President of the United States by refusing to halt the illegal building of settlements. The Israeli regime uses its powers of arrest without charge arbitrarily. Two Members of the Knesset, including the Deputy Prime Minister, were scared away by the law, but 30 members of the Palestine National Council are currently held by the Israelis without charge. That is not a threat of arrest, but an actual arrest.
Last month, when I was in Jerusalem, I visited three PNC members who are taking refuge from arbitrary arrest by the Israeli police with the international Red Cross. I met and heard the testimony of young Palestinian children who were assaulted by Israeli police-they showed us their scars and bruises-as a result of the arbitrary and illegal way in which the Israeli police treat Palestinians, including Palestinian children. When we met the Foreign Minister of Jordan in Amman, he told us that he had to offer diplomatic shelter to the President of Palestine because when they were driving along one after the other, the President was continually halted at Israeli checkpoints. For all those crimes and many more, the Israelis are answerable to no one. Now, one of the few sanctions on those crimes will be removed. As a result of the Bill, Israeli politicians will be literally allowed to get away with murder.
That comes at a time when the ground is shifting. As I said, the pledge on the measure was made in a full-page advertisement in the Jewish Chronicle in order to get Jewish votes in the recent general election, but there is an upheaval in the Jewish community, as a result of which the across-the-board support for anything an Israeli Government do is no longer available.
Sir Gerald Kaufman: I am well aware what they said, because week after week, I sat in the Chamber at business questions, when the current Deputy Leader of the House rose without fail to say how heinous and unacceptable it would be for the Labour Government to change the law on universal jurisdiction, and how the Liberal Democrats would be totally opposed to any such change. We have an obligation to remind the electors of Oldham East and Saddleworth of the broken Liberal Democrat pledge of 3,000 more police on the streets, and of their broken pledge to oppose any change in the law on universal jurisdiction. Those things will not go by unnoticed.
As I said, an upheaval is taking place in the Jewish community. The attitudes of leading Jews who have been vocal champions of Israel are becoming deeply critical of the current Israeli Government. One of the most active and vocal supporters of Israel has accused them of being in the process of turning Israel into an "apartheid state".
As my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) pointed out, the hypocrisy of the Liberal Democrats on universal jurisdiction is unlimited, as on so many matters. Week after week, their spokesman rose and vehemently opposed a change in the law for which he will vote tonight, just as Liberal Democrats voted last week in blatant breach of their election pledges.
Whatever change in the law the Government introduce for the most craven reasons, Tzipi Livni and her ilk will remain unwelcome in this country. What worries me is that without a valid and operable legal sanction-one currently exists, but the Bill will repeal it-and without the legal deterrent that the Bill removes, disapproval of the presence in this country of Livni, Netanyahu and their cronies will take forms that I and many others deplore.
Mr David Burrowes (Enfield, Southgate) (Con): Is it not a fact that the right hon. Gentleman is at the extreme in his views on Israel? Many of us consider them abhorrent, and Front Benchers on both sides of the House have expressed their support for clause 151. It is interesting that he has used the debate on the Bill as a vehicle to display his political views rather than to debate justice. Does he agree that arrest warrants should be issued when there is insufficient evidence to justify a prosecution, because that is at the heart of this matter of justice, not his political views?
Sir Gerald Kaufman: The hon. Gentleman may wish to behave like a creep to his Front Benchers-I was elected to Parliament not to creep to my Front Benchers, but to speak on behalf of my constituents. Indeed, I persuaded the previous Prime Minister to abandon his proposal to change the law on universal jurisdiction. I went to see him and persuaded him that the proposal was mistaken, and he did not proceed with it. If my Front Benchers do not want to agree with me, that is their business. I state a view that I have stated consistently in the House for very many years, and I shall continue to do so, because it is the Israelis who are in trouble, the Israelis who are turning Israel into a pariah state, and the Israelis who will be overcome by demographic changes-they will be outnumbered by the Palestinians-and this Government are an accomplice to what they are doing. God forgive them.
Tom Brake (Carshalton and Wallington) (LD): I should like to use this opportunity to thank the police for performing the difficult role of policing our country while ensuring that people's civil liberties are observed.
I thank the right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) for mentioning Oldham and Saddleworth, because it gives me an opportunity to tell him that I was there on Saturday on Sunday. I can assure him that the circumstances that led to the by-election are at the forefront of the minds of residents. They are reflecting at some length on what action the Labour party took in the general election campaign, and I am sure that they will continue do so as they walk into the polling stations to cast their votes.
Tom Brake: The hon. Gentleman knows that the Liberal Democrats went to the courts because allegations were made in the Labour party literature that were completely unsubstantiated. They were not just the normal unsubstantiations that one expects from the Labour party, but significant unsubstantiations and-indeed-slurs and innuendoes against the Liberal Democrat candidate.
I was saying that the Bill is principally about elected police and crime commissioners, who will provide the potential to improve police accountability. I believe that it will lead to something that does not exist currently: individuals with whom local residents can identify and hold directly responsible, in electoral terms, for the success or otherwise of policing in their area and the strategy and budget adopted to tackle crime. It is our role-I hope it is the Labour party's role too, but we will have to see in Committee-to improve further on this positive development by ensuring, for example, that elected police and crime commissioners are truly accountable.
An essential ingredient will be the effectiveness of the panels, and one way of judging their effectiveness will be to look at their powers of veto. I seek clarity from the Minister about the power of veto over the appointment of chief constables. I would also like to know why no reciprocal powers have been proposed in relation to the suspension of elected police and crime commissioners should it be necessary.
Under clause 30-I hope the Minister will pick up on this at the end of the debate-an elected police and crime commissioner can be suspended if found guilty of an offence that carries a maximum term of more than two years. The Local Government Association and Liberty have expressed concern about that. Given that an assault on a police constable, for instance, could lead to a term of just six months, why has the threshold been set at two years? Although one would not go to the extent of requiring an elected police and crime commissioner never to have had a parking ticket, they would need to observe certain standards.
Clause 58, to which the shadow Secretary of State referred, provides for elections. I hope that the Minister will address a couple of issues that the Electoral Commission has flagged up. It has said that there do not appear to be provisions enabling the commission to provide advice and assistance to returning officers, political parties, candidates and agents. However, it might be expected that it would do so anyway and that therefore we do not need provisions enabling it. The second issue is whether third party campaigns would have to report any financial expenditure in support of a particular candidate.
On clause 79, the Minister will be aware that one of the big discussions about elected police and crime commissioners has been on how they will balance their essential role of dealing with local crime with their equally essential role of focusing on national priorities, which might not be as visible to the electorate but will
still need addressing. The Minister will have been lobbied by the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children and a range of other organisations concerned about national policing capabilities and the effect on their-perhaps niche-concerns. I am not saying that looking after children is a niche concern-it is an essential priority. I am thinking of other areas, such as business crime. The Minister has covered that brief for many years and, like me, will have been lobbied for years by the business community on the importance of addressing business crime. The British Retail Consortium, among others, has requested that it be covered in the national policing capabilities. I do not know whether that much is necessary, but I would be interested to hear what the Minister has to say about it.
Part 2 of the Bill does not mention the below-cost sale of alcohol, so I hope that the Minister will tell us what is planned in that respect. The principle of the late night levy is excellent, but he will know that the LGA has sought greater flexibility to allow it to take into account the extra costs, but without the additional administration of a late night levy. I hope that he can explain why a late night levy was adopted, rather than providing more flexibility in tackling the full cost of processing licences.
I do not feel the same animosity as other hon. Members do towards the noise from Parliament square. It is an important principle that people should be allowed to demonstrate there, which is why we need clarity on the proposals, particular on the oral instructions given to people. How will that work? How will people know when a formal oral instruction has been given requiring them to comply with a direction not to use amplified noise equipments, tents or sleeping bags, for instance? I also have concerns about the force and forfeiture powers that might be provided to employees of the Greater London authority and Westminster city council.
On the misuse of drugs, the Minister has made it clear that there is no attempt to stop scientists being involved in this process-my hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert) might be tabling amendments on this point. We want to be certain that scientists will be involved, and that policies will be evidence based.
The right hon. Member for Manchester, Gorton made a point about arrest warrants. I understand his concerns, but I think they can be addressed-I hope this will be made clear in the Bill-if the Director of Public Prosecutions is under strict instructions to ensure that any requests for warrants are processed within a very short period. That would ensure that the process is not used as a means of preventing action from being taken simply because it takes too long to consider a matter. I have had discussions with a previous DPP, whose clear view was that requests can be turned around quickly and that they will not get in the way of action being taken when necessary.
Duncan Hames (Chippenham) (LD): It is essential that the role is conducted in a timely fashion. However, does my hon. Friend agree that for the public to have confidence in the arrangement the DPP must be able to exercise his or her role without political interference from the Attorney-General, who is an elected politician exercising a supervisory role over the DPP?
I agree entirely with my hon. Friend. I can assure him that the previous DPP whom I was
talking to would have ensured that there was no political interference of the kind he describes, as will, I am sure, the current DPP.
It is difficult in the time allotted to do justice to what is in the Bill. There are solid proposals that we can improve on-and which I am sure we will debate at length in Committee-for elected police and crime commissioners. There are also some positive developments in relation to licensing that I know local authorities will support. On the misuse of drugs, I welcome what the Minister has said before-and what he may say again today-regarding the important role that scientists will play in making an evidence-based assessment of the impact of drugs. Finally, on the proposals to change the way in which arrest warrants are issued, it remains my view-and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Chippenham (Duncan Hames)-that sufficient resources will need to be provided to the DPP to ensure that arrest warrant requests are dealt with speedily, and are not used as a means of ensuring that appropriate action is not taken. This Bill provides a positive step on policing, and I look forward to debating it in greater detail in Committee.
Karl Turner (Kingston upon Hull East) (Lab): I would like to focus on part 1 of the Bill-on the proposals for directly elected police and crime commissioners. The proposals throw up a wide range of issues and will fundamentally undermine the foundations of policing, ending years of police independence from politicians. There is a great deal in the Bill to which I object, but I want to focus on two particular concerns. First, the implementation of elected police and crime commissioners is an expensive process, coming at a time when our police forces are facing deep and serious cuts. Secondly, the Bill concentrates a great deal of power into the hands of one person-the elected commissioner-and will, in my view, lead to our sacrificing the police's political independence, which has existed successfully for more than 170 years.
The reforms come at a crucial time for the police-a time when they have to absorb the impact of cuts to both the Home Office and local government funding and when, despite the Tory rhetoric, the Ministry of Justice is undertaking a massively underfunded shake-up of the criminal justice system. For those with an interest in crime and justice, these are indeed worrying times. It happens to be a fact that under the last Labour Government, crime fell by 43%, while the chance of being a victim of crime fell to a 30-year low. There can be no doubt that that great achievement was underpinned by record police numbers. That progress is now being put at risk by reckless cuts.
Andrew Percy: The hon. Gentleman talks about police numbers. Will he remind us what happened to police numbers in Humberside in the last year of the Labour Government? If he cannot remember, I will remind him that we saw a fall of 130in the number of officers.
Karl Turner: It is convenient for the hon. Gentleman to suggest such a thing, but the reality of this Government's proposals is that police numbers will fall substantially. He represents Humberside, as I do, and I am sure that he, too, will have heard the concerns of police officers about the risks to which this Government are exposing them. Police numbers will fall as a result.
The reforms are happening at a time when, despite the rhetoric that we hear, the Ministry of Justice is undertaking a massive shake-up of the system. Although the Home Office has claimed that the annual cost of running police commissioners and panels will be the same as the cost for police authorities, we understand that extra costs of £136.5 million will be incurred, owing to the need to hold elections. In addition, there is a further £5 million fund for redundancy payments. It seems that this Government cannot implement any policy without slashing jobs. The Tory manifesto stated: "Policing relies on consent." My fear is that the Bill will stretch the public's consent to breaking point. One has to imagine a situation in which police numbers fall and crime increases, while at the same time the public are asked to shoulder the cost of another level of bureaucracy in the policing system.
I also have grave concerns, as do many others, about operational independence and the politicisation of the police force. The political independence of the police is as important in our democracy as the independence of the judiciary. A crucial principle of UK policing is its operational independence and unwavering commitment to non-partisanship. If policing operations are overseen by someone who is politically motivated, maintaining police independence will become increasingly difficult.
Any change to police force operations must ensure that that independence remains. The Government's proposals will not maintain that crucial division. Although they have stated at every turn that forces will retain their operational independence, I do not feel that their proposals can even remotely achieve that. The political interference begins from the very start of the process, with the selection of candidates. Even if election expenses are capped, prospective candidates will have to invest money and raise their profiles across the force area, as well as picking up issues that will help with their campaigning.
The Government's proposals inevitably restrict the range of candidates to either those who are sufficiently rich or those with party political backing. [ Interruption. ] Hon. Members are making comments from a sedentary position, but that happens to be a fact. The process of electing police and crime commissioners will be fraught with difficulty. It is not beyond the imagination of any Member of this House to see that the sensitive parameters of the commissioner's role and the importance of operational independence may be compromised, as candidates seek popular support on local law and order issues. Besides that, I feel that we are in danger of unrealistically raising the expectations of local communities
about what a commissioner can truly achieve. That will serve only to undermine trust in police forces further.
Once the polling has drawn to a close and the commissioner is in place, there is great potential for further problems to arise. There is an increasing risk that someone who has been elected will be reluctant to make an unpopular decision, regardless of its necessity. A prime example would be on the visibility of police officers, which is a particular concern to me. In my view, an elected commissioner would prioritise highly visible policing, such as policing to tackle antisocial behaviour, while less visible policing, such as policing to tackle organised crime, high-value electronic fraud and paedophile rings, would be left to one side. An elected commissioner would be faced with a stark choice: do they do what is in the best interests of getting re-elected, or do they do what is in the best interests of community safety? The Government's proposals mean that policing decisions will be made in people's narrow electoral interest, and not in the wider national interest. That is a concern supported by Sir Paul Stephenson, who stated that
"we must ensure that this does not become just talking about popular visibility issues".
The powers conferred on the commissioners, such as drawing up the police and crime plan, the firing of chief constables and the control of the budget, will give them a broad amount of control over operational matters. They will get to decide that visible crime such as antisocial behaviour is prioritised over invisible crime such as the criminality I discussed a few minutes ago.
Bearing in mind the commissioners' wide-ranging powers and the party political nature of their election, I also have grave concern about the hijacking of these positions by extremists. Having one person in control of such a vast power, particularly in regard to law enforcement, will naturally attract those from the far right. To dismiss these concerns as "scaremongering" is both short-sighted and inappropriate. Twenty years ago, no one would have imagined the British National party sitting in the European Parliament. Despite not winning a parliamentary seat in this place at the last general election, its overall share of the vote increased.
This Bill poses an important question for the future of this country's policing. We are faced with the choice of abandoning political independence and objective decision making for politicised choices made in the electoral interest. At stake in this Bill is the integrity of our police forces. Chief constables, such as the one in my area, are expressing concern about being forced to make cuts that will impact on front-line services. The Government must decide what they value most: is it to be the ill-thought-out, dangerous and costly policy or will they fund the police properly and ensure that front-line services are not affected?
Mr Aidan Burley (Cannock Chase) (Con): Thus far in today's debate, we have heard some interesting comments about a wide-ranging Bill that covers increasing licensing powers, banning legal highs and ending the disgraceful occupation and vandalism of Parliament Square-a situation that it is hard to conceive would have been allowed to develop had people decided they wanted to set up a campsite on any other pavement or public square in the United Kingdom.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend for giving way so early in his remarks. Is he concerned, as I
am, that the provisions to deal with the Parliament Square encampment will not receive Royal Assent until the end of July, which means that the royal wedding in April could still be subjected to the awful sight of this encampment in Parliament square?
Mr Burley: I share the concerns of my hon. Friend, who makes a good point about the timing of this legislation and the effect or otherwise it will have on the royal wedding. We all heard the Prime Minister say that he hoped the encampment would be gone by April, so I look forward to seeing how this progresses. I understand that my hon. Friend has some ideas of his own, and he will no doubt inform the House of them at a later date.
I would like to focus my remarks on the provisions around police and crime commissioners, the direct election of whom will, I believe, mark one of the most significant and positive changes to policing in our country. The Jack Daniel' s adverts currently on the tube billboards read: "No one built a monument to a committee"-and if they were intended to refer to police authority committees, it is not hard to imagine why. They are possibly the least effective, least visible bureaucracies in the public sector that I can think of-visible to just 7% of the UK public. I believe that the bold changes in the Bill will finally end governance by committee and instead enable transparent and accountable policing in this country.
Opposition Members-not that there are many of them left in their places-have advanced a few arguments against police and crime commissioners today, and I would like to address, in order, the three main criticisms that have come out of the debate. First, the Opposition have argued that commissioners will cost more than police authorities; secondly, they have alleged that PCCs will interfere with the operational independence of chief constables; and, finally, they have said PCCs will do nothing to bring the police closer to the communities they serve. Indeed, the shadow Home Secretary has said that this Bill
"goes against a 150 year tradition of keeping politics out of policing."
Let me first turn my attention to the issue of cost. Implementation costs, which are the price of shifting from police authorities to police and crime commissioners, are expected to be £5 million. The forecast cost of holding elections every four years is £50 million, but the running costs of the police and crime commissioners and their panels are predicted to be the same as for the current police authorities. Opposition Members would do well to remember that when Labour was in power, increased spending of any kind was slavishly hailed as a sign of automatic improvement in public services. They would be well advised to think carefully before voting against this investment, which, contrary to most of the Labour Government's spending, will promote democracy, accountability and thrift.
I cannot recall many Labour Members arguing against the price of democracy when introducing elections for regional assemblies or indeed when it came to Lord Prescott's proposals for regional government, which fortunately never made it through to the ballot box-although if they had, I am sure there would have been a price attached to them.
Where police authorities are invisible, police and crime commissioners will be high profile; where police authorities fly below the radar of public scrutiny, PCCs will be held accountable; and where police authorities are divided, wasteful, bureaucratic and inefficient, PCCs will be firm of purpose and leaner in expense. The reality is that police authorities are a costly collection of committees that are simply no longer fit for purpose. They cost £65 million and taxpayers fund all the generous expenses and allowances that individual members claim. In the light of the rising costs, we simply cannot ignore the value of bodies that fail to hold police properly to account and are invisible to the people they claim to represent.
Government Members need to counter the "scaremongering" myth pedalled by some that election costs for these commissioners will come out of already stretched local authority budgets. This is unfounded and inaccurate: they will be funded by the Home Office budget and, as I said earlier, it is not the intention that PCCs should cost more than existing police authorities. In fact, it is quite the opposite: the intention is to give much better value for money.
Let me move on to the issue of independence. I agree with the Opposition's stance on maintaining the importance of operational independence. For this reason, I was pleased to hear my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice emphasise in September the need to maintain the operational independence of policing. He said that
"someone has to hold the police to account. In my view that should be an elected politician. We cannot have the police answering to no one. Therefore what we are discussing is simply the nature of that accountability; but politicians will be involved in one way or another."-[ Official Report, 14 September 2010; Vol. 515, c. 241WH.]
I believe that, far from interfering with operational independence and duty to act without restraint, I believe that this Bill will serve to improve it. Chief constables will have greater professional freedom to take operational decisions without fear or favour to meet the priorities set for them by their local community through their commissioner.
The Opposition's charge of politicisation is, I am afraid, based on a fundamental misconception. The governance of policing is rightly, and by its nature, political. Deciding where to deploy limited resources is a political decision. Deciding whether to put officers in cars or on the beat is a political choice. Deciding whether they patrol in pairs or singly, on the same side of the street or the opposite side, is a political decision. As I mentioned earlier-I would have reiterated it later if the hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull East (Karl Turner) had accepted my intervention-when Tony Blair summoned all 43 chief constables to Downing street for a summit on knife crime to put political pressure on them to do something about the explosion of that crime, that was political interference, to use the words of Labour Members, with the police. It was entirely legitimate, however, because Tony Blair as a politician democratically representing the people of this country wanted to put pressure on our police to do something about a problem. It is precisely the same principle in the Bill.
Although my hon. Friend is right to mention the influence of the former Prime Minister Tony Blair in the context of the street crime initiative, I
think that members of the shadow Cabinet are concerned about the fact that he intervened in other circumstances where we know he exerted influence. I am thinking of, for instance, the Serious Fraud Office and the investigation into British Aerospace. Will my hon. Friend confirm that Government Members will not accept such actions either?
Mr Burley: I agree. Operational independence is about, for example, decisions to arrest people. No one is suggesting that we should give police and crime commissioners the power that Winston Churchill had in the Essex street siege to order police officers to arrest people, but I think it democratically legitimate for a police and crime commissioner to be elected on a mandate of, for instance, putting more police on the streets where they are visible and accountable, because that is what the public want. Over the past 10 years-indeed, throughout the 1980s and 1990s-there has been a move to put police officers in cars and say to their chief constables and senior officers, "This is my democratic mandate. We want more police on the streets. Tell me how you will achieve it." That does not strike me as interfering with operational independence.
Let me now say something about transparency and accountability, both of which have been criticised by Opposition Members under whose Government any hint of either was lost in the mire of sofa government. Despite costs of between £52 million and £78 million a year, there is scant awareness, and therefore scant accountability, in relation to the authorities themselves, let alone their expenditure. Public input is exceedingly low. A significant proportion of police authorities received a meagre average of three letters or e-mails per week between 2007 and 2010.
"It allows there to be a kind of funnel for public concern. For instance, when I was appointed to this job in May 2008, and given the job title Deputy Mayor for Policing, the post bag at City Hall on community safety went from 20 or 30 letters a week up to 200 or 300. The letters just came and came."
According to Louise Casey's 2008 crime and communities review, only 7% of the public are even aware that police authorities exist. According to MORI, however, 68% of people agree that a single person should be elected by local people to hold the police to account on behalf of the community.
For too long the fight against crime has been caught up in red tape, which has created a gulf between law enforcement agencies and the communities that they serve. The shadow Home Secretary himself said in Cannock that the work of police authorities
"isn't always as visible as it could be. Around police landscape, around accountability, there is more to do".
Establishing commissioners will only serve to improve the alarming statistics that I have mentioned, and to raise the profile of the police force as a whole. It will enable us to turn our backs on a corrosive legacy that
has done nothing to prevent the British public from being misinformed about, and unaware of, how to influence directly the strategy of policing in their areas. It is impossible to conceive that after just one term of police and crime commissioners, only 11% of police officers will still be visible and available, only 7% of the public will know how to contact their police and crime panels, and there will still be record dissatisfaction with the police despite the existence of a record number of them.
Locally elected police commissioners will be transformative. They will ensure that the police concentrate on the crimes that most affect local people's quality of life. The existing top-down, target-ridden culture will be replaced by something altogether preferable: accountability to the public. The Home Affairs Committee's report concludes with the words:
"Police and Crime Commissioners will be judged on whether they succeed in bringing the police closer to the public they serve."
Ann Clwyd (Cynon Valley) (Lab): I oppose clause 151, which is entitled "Restriction on issue of arrest warrants in private prosecutions". I do so as chair of the Back-Bench all-party parliamentary human rights group, of which the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) is treasurer. I hope that my arguments will prevail on him, and that he too will see that to change the position in that regard would be invidious.
Tom Brake: I think that if the Director of Public Prosecutions, having taken on this responsibility, is given resources enabling him or her to process a request for an arrest warrant in a very short time, all the right hon. Lady's concerns may disappear. If they do not go away, will she explain why?
Much of our criminal law is territorial, applying to acts committed in England and Wales or by British people, but we have agreed to prosecute those who commit crimes such as grave breaches of the Geneva Conventions Act 1957, torture and taking hostages here, wherever or by whoever those crimes are committed. That is universal jurisdiction intended by all the countries who accede to it to ensure that there is no international hiding place for perpetrators of grave crime. We have a duty to seek out the culprits, and either to extradite them or to prosecute them here. For example, in 2005 an Afghan warlord, Zardad, was successfully prosecuted in the United Kingdom for torture offences abroad.
In the United Kingdom, it is not only the police who can initiate proceedings; any individual can apply to a magistrate for a summons or warrant to bring someone
to court. The test for the magistrate is whether there is prima facie evidence of an offence on the part of the person named. Many cases involving serious offences cannot proceed beyond that stage without the Attorney-General's consent. I have a little experience of that, having chaired Indict, a human rights organisation which for seven years gathered evidence against Iraqi war criminals, many of whom are appearing in an Iraqi court or have already been sentenced. I have no time to go into what happened then, but in the current circumstances it is extremely difficult to obtain an arrest warrant. It took two years just to discuss the case of Tariq Aziz with the Attorney-General and with Scotland Yard. It was then thrown back to the Attorney-General, and we did not secure a decision. There was a strong possibility that Tariq Aziz, who travelled a good deal, had come to this country, perhaps to spend Christmas with George Galloway, who had spent Christmas with him in the past.
We did not manage to obtain that arrest warrant. English law does not allow arrest warrants to be granted on flimsy evidence, but although our evidence was very strong indeed, we still could not obtain one. Only two of the 10 private arrest warrant applications made in the past 10 years have been granted. Nothing needs fixing, as nothing has been broken.
Mr Slaughter: My right hon. Friend clearly knows what she is talking about. I do not know whether she was as dismayed as I was by the fact that the Home Secretary clearly did not know what she was talking about when she was asked what standard of evidence the DPP would require. Is it the prima facie test, the full code test by the prosecutor, or something in between? Perhaps my right hon. Friend, like me, hopes that the Minister will clarify the matter in summing up the debate. If the answer is a full prosecutorial test, that effectively means that no warrants will ever be issued, because that standard of evidence will not have been gathered at the arrest stage.
Ann Clwyd: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for reinforcing that point, on which I attempted to extract more information from the Home Secretary. I am afraid that I did not get an answer however, and I too hope this might be explained further in the summing up.
The 1949 Geneva conventions require us to seek out and prosecute absolutely anybody suspected of committing war crimes. Similar duties exist under the torture convention, where we also have a duty to apply criminal law uniformly. A special legal or procedural system for those cases that is different from the rest of criminal law could breach that obligation. Victims securing the arrest of visiting suspects fulfil an important rule-of-law purpose. No state inference should bar their access to courts. As Lord Wilberforce said in 1978, the right to bring private prosecutions remains
"a valuable constitutional safeguard against inertia or partiality on the part of the authority".
"a useful constitutional safeguard against capricious, corrupt or biased failure or refusal of those authorities to prosecute offenders against the criminal law".
Michael Ellis: Does the right hon. Lady not accept that many countries with similar legal systems to our own-Canada, for example-have established a similar system? In the Canadian context, the Attorney-General or deputy Attorney-General has to give leave before the exercise of their universal jurisdiction power. Many other countries have similarly fettered the misuse of universal jurisdiction, which has often taken the course of party political or other politically biased purposes, and they have not had any difficulties in respect of the point the right hon. Lady is making. Where Lord Diplock and others refer to interference of the state, they did not apply it to this test.
Ann Clwyd: I hope the hon. Gentleman will seek to catch Mr Speaker's eye, as he obviously has a speech in the making. I have experience of trying to get an indictment against some of the Iraqi war criminals in other countries such as Sweden, Norway, Switzerland and Belgium. The closest we came to getting an indictment was in Belgium, but that was thwarted at the last moment because somebody brought an indictment against Sharon, and the Belgian Government changed the law. Sometimes the pressures can be very different, but we do not have time to go into the details of this now.
Mr Slaughter: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the difference between what is being proposed and what happens in Canada is that in Canada the DPP is entitled to appear and present evidence for or against the issuing of a warrant, but the decision is a judicial one? What is being proposed here is wholly different, although the hon. Member for Northampton North (Michael Ellis) perhaps does not understand that. The decision is made by the state, before the court has a chance to consider the matter.
Senior district judges are trusted to deal with highly sensitive terrorism and extradition cases. They are very highly thought of-I would like to hear anybody say they are not highly thought of-and their role should not be undermined, but that is precisely what the Government are attempting to do. These judges are known to have thrown out cases against Israeli Defence Ministers Mofaz in 2004 and Barak in 2009, plus several cases against Mugabe. Eight refusals out of 10 means the system is already robust enough to weed out illegitimate cases. Indeed, there is not a single example of the current system failing to filter out cases that are an abuse of process. What is the evidence that the judge acted wrongly in the two cases in question? Does the Crown Prosecution Service have a view? Perhaps we will hear.
Some people are, of course, wildly exaggerating the real impact of the current law on them and officials from other countries. We know very well that many people from other countries who are currently in government-Presidents, Prime Ministers, Foreign Ministers and perhaps sometimes Defence Ministers-are free from any arrest warrants of this kind and can travel freely. In fact, absolute immunity applies to serving Presidents, Prime Ministers, Foreign Ministers and so forth, so I do not know what the problem is. It is a problem of the Government's own invention, and I am
sorry my Front-Bench team seems to be going along with them at the moment along with their coalition partner-although the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington might like to indicate whether he has changed his mind again. I think they are misled and we do a disservice to the many people all over the world who have been injured in some way by some of the people who can clearly be identified as war criminals.
Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) (Con): In the eight minutes available to me, I hope to cover two key issues that are of the utmost importance to my constituents: elected police commissioners, and the impact of alcohol in our town centres.
I was grateful to the shadow Home Secretary for addressing in such detail the germination of policy among Conservative think-tanks down the years, as I have spent many a long hour in the twilit, striplit demi-monde of Conservative think-tanks listening to speaker after speaker talk about these ideas while drinking slightly warm orange juice and eating slightly stale croissants. I have to say that it was not initially an issue that particularly excited me. I did not feel inspired by the idea of elected police commissioners.
It was only when I started talking to real people in the real world that I actually began to understand why there was such intense anger and frustration. During the Labour leadership contest over the summer, it was interesting to note that its participants had been agonising and soul-searching as to why the Labour party's core vote has wandered away. Might I suggest that the arrogance over law and order is at the heart of the reason?
I am proud to represent the fourth most deprived Conservative-held seat in the country. There are many hard-working families on below-average incomes who routinely tell me how angry and frustrated they are at the disconnect they perceive between the police and the people. It is a growing gap. That saddens me, and it should sadden the police as well.
I get much positive and valuable feedback about individual police officers at ward level and about individual police community support officers because of the social value they add to their local communities-whether a PCSO in a local school organising football on a Saturday morning or the local beat bobby who looks after a few of the elderly residents, checking they are okay. What I do not get positive feedback about, however, is the overall structure. People do not have a sense that when something goes wrong-when there is an act of social disorder in the street or a theft from the front garden-all they have to do is pick up the phone and someone at the end of the line will listen to their concern and a policeman will appear. That confidence has long since gone. That is a very great shame, as it is fundamental.
"to recognise that the power of the police to fulfil their functions and duties is dependent on public approval of their existence, actions and behaviour."
My constituents do not know who to go to in order to make complaints. The police authority is not a constant presence in their life. In saying that, I do not criticise those well-meaning individuals who from a sense of public duty and public service serve on that authority, but it is a fact that police authorities are no longer fit for purpose. We need the focal point of a figurehead who can bring together all the disparate strands of crime reduction partnerships, community safety partnerships and police and communities together-PACT-meetings. Everything that goes on at a local level needs to be brought together by one individual.
The same people who are expressing concerns about the disconnect between the police and the public are expressing concern about the impact of alcohol on the town centre. It is a sad fact that many elderly people in my constituency tell me that they are too scared to go into Blackpool town centre of an evening. That is a great tragedy because it is their town as much as anybody else's. I understand that when Labour Members brought in their reforms to licensing they wanted to create a continental style café culture. From their Tuscan palazzos, they had observed the intergenerational passeggiata and it had warmed their hearts. I think it is fair to say that the passeggiata and the café culture that they so admire on their summer holidays has yet to make it to Blackpool town centre on a Friday or Saturday evening.
Paul Maynard: I agree entirely. The importance of the night-time economy is much misunderstood. It is not just about vertical drinking establishments, how many stags and hens we can cram into the town centre or about how much alcohol can be consumed. A town such as Blackpool has a much wider range of things to offer. We have an excellent theatre in the Grand theatre.
Andrew Percy: Does my hon. Friend agree that the implementation of the late-night levy will be incredibly effective in helping to address some of these problems? A 50:50 split between the police and the local authorities would mean that that local authorities, on a business improvement district-type model, could work with the local licensees to address the priorities. Most licensees are decent people who try to do a good job. Does he not agree that a 50:50 split would perhaps be better?
Paul Maynard: That is certainly an interesting point, and I hope that it will be explored more thoroughly in Committee. Many of the elderly people who would otherwise be keen to go to the Grand theatre for an evening's show do not do so because they do not want to have to form crocodiles for safety, weaving their way through the town centre to find a local taxi rank because they are scared.
It is also important to understand that alcohol has a social impact. This is one of the great unresolved issues, certainly for me, politically. On the one hand, I believe in freedom of choice and the freedom of the individual. Alcohol is a perfectly legal substance. We should all be able to consume it in moderation, perfectly legally, without the forces of the state interfering with us. On the other hand, it is impossible to be the Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys and not to have a genuine understanding of the social cost of alcohol consumption in such a deprived area.
Some of the statistics frighten me. Some 75% of all the domestic violence in Blackpool is linked to alcohol and 42% of the violent crime takes place in the three town centre wards. We are beyond saturation point when it comes to off-licences. In some of the town centre wards, such as Bloomfield, there is one off-licence for every 250 residents. To me, that is not so much a market as an oversupply. It is a market that is not functioning. We have 1,900 on-licensed premises supporting the hospitality industry. There must be freedom of choice, but there must be an understanding of the social cost of alcohol, too. That debate needs to take place.
That is why I am such a supporter of the alterations to what is known as the vicinity test. I know that many in the alcohol trade are concerned about that change, which will allow many more people to put their views forward on the issues of granting extra licences. It will no longer apply just to the adjacent roads. Anyone from across the town will be able to have their say. That is a vital step forward.
We need a much more mature and wider debate in this country about the role that alcohol plays in our lives. We need to understand how we can balance our freedoms with the need to protect the vulnerable. When I am walking around the streets of Blackpool, I understand why we are the national capital for liver disease, sad as that might be. I can see why we have a problem with domestic violence and violent crime. When I look at the number of alcoholic establishments outside my constituency office and the numbers crowding around of a Friday evening, I see the importance of trying to tackle underage drinking. I welcome the heftier penalties, but they need to be imposed.
It is vital, however, that, in addition to tackling that problem, we recognise that the state can do only so much. We can try to tackle under-age drinking by imposing extra fines and closing down the off-licences that sell to the under-age people, but I do not think that the state can ever tackle issues such as proxy purchasing, where adults go into the off-licence on behalf of the child, or drinking at home.
Unfortunately, there is only so much that the state can do, but none the less I welcome wholeheartedly the provisions proposed in the Bill as a sensible step forward and an example of how localism can work and how local authorities that have imagination and bravery can use legislative implements to improve the lives of their inhabitants. I hope that after this Bill is passed many more of my constituents will feel able to take back their town centre and to go into Blackpool and find out that it is not the scary place they read about in the local papers but somewhere in which they have a stake, as
well as the stag parties, the hen nights and the day trippers. I believe that Blackpool is for the inhabitants of Blackpool as well as for the tourists.
Hazel Blears (Salford and Eccles) (Lab): I welcome the opportunity to contribute to this Second Reading debate on what I believe to be a very important Bill. The issues are close to my heart, not just because, like the policing Minister, I struggled with the tension between visibility, accountability and performance for the three years for which I was policing Minister, but because I know how important those things are to my constituents in Salford and Eccles and to communities across the country.
There is undoubtedly a problem with the visibility and accountability of police authorities. I believe that the public are entitled to know much more clearly who is responsible for setting policing priorities as well as ensuring that chief constables address the issues that are important to local people in an effective way that achieves the best value for money. It is a complex set of tasks for any police service, but over the past few years we have done pretty well. We need to do more, however. Having a safe community not only transforms life for ordinary people but affects business, investment and economic transformation, and that is why it is so important.
Let me make it clear that I believe that if local people are given the chance to elect their police representatives, they will do so sensibly and rationally and that the spectre of their electing an extremist candidate is unlikely. It is the responsibility of people like us, in this House and elsewhere, to ensure that, in any direct elections, we get involved, campaign on a proper platform, reflect the people's priorities, offer political leadership and support our citizens in making their democratic choices. I have always trusted the public and they often-in fact, nearly always-get it right.
I have real concerns, however, about the idea of electing a single individual who is not connected to the rest of the local governance arrangements for the provision of public service. I would be interested to hear from the Minister when he responds to the debate whether he has really considered that issue. Evidence shows that what has worked in policing in the past few years is the integration of services-for example, in family intervention projects and tackling antisocial behaviour-and joint working between agencies, particularly between police and the criminal justice system. On Friday, I visited a new pilot in Greater Manchester of intensive alternatives to custody, which involves embedding police officers with probation and family support workers-again, involving integrated services. Approaches such as the co-location of key staff and the sharing of data have been part of the direction of travel that has led to effective policing.
That is the direction in which all public services are moving. As part of the previous Government, I started the Total Place work to bring all public services together. It is called community budgeting under this Government. I do not mind what it is called, but it is the most effective way to provide services. It is designed to break down barriers, integrate staff, set joint priorities, pool budgets and get more for less. If the move to having a
single, elected police and crime commissioner means setting the police apart from the rest of that system, I honestly believe it will be a seriously retrograde step.
Ms Louise Bagshawe (Corby) (Con): Does the right hon. Lady agree that the call for elected police commissioners came precisely because the public do not feel that the current system, integrated or not, is serving them? Is not there a need for the public to have a single voice?
Hazel Blears: Indeed, and I am about to put forward an idea that would meet many of those concerns. One way of achieving the greater visibility for policing that the hon. Lady talks about would be having a directly elected person in each local authority area who would be responsible for local policing but would also have a duty to operate within the rest of the local public service framework to mobilise all those resources to make communities safer. Those directly elected local commissioners could act collectively at force level to hold chief constables to account and to provide direct, local links to their communities. I am genuinely concerned about the ability of a single police and crime commissioner to be visible and accountable to 2.5 million people across Greater Manchester in communities as diverse as those in Rochdale, Wigan, Stockport, Oldham, Manchester city centre and Salford. I wonder whether the Minister has considered having directly elected local commissioners. There is all the rhetoric about localism, but then this policy of having a single police and crime commissioner for millions of people. That is not localism.
Mr Stewart Jackson (Peterborough) (Con): Is not the right hon. Lady effectively making the case for an elected official for each basic command unit? In such a system there would not be co-ordination between different parts of Greater Manchester, because those people would compete with one another for resources and to work and co-operate with other state agencies. That would be a recipe for duplication, expense and confusion.
Hazel Blears: It is a difficult circle to square and I shall suggest how we might address some of those issues. There is no perfect system, but I do not believe that having a single person who is supposed to be visible and accountable to millions of people will work.
I understand that the police and crime panels, which are to be made up of local authority representatives and which will be remarkably similar to the police authorities that have been criticised for their lack of visibility, will have the power to advise and scrutinise the work of commissioners, but would it not be better if those local representatives were elected and therefore had a direct local mandate and accountability? I am very concerned that there will be a lack of consistency between the plans and strategies of local authorities and the health service, plans on tackling drugs and the possible crime plans of the police and crime panels. The local reps could come together and pool the sovereignty of their elected mandates to consider issues of serious, organised and trans-border crime-issues that are properly the concern of whole force areas. Currently, there is concern that police and crime commissioners will concentrate
almost solely on very local issues, because of the electoral impetus, and that they might ignore some trans-force, serious and organised crime issues as well as national priorities.
It is inevitable that commissioners will be pressed to prioritise local, visible neighbourhood policing. I do not argue against that, as there is no greater advocate in the House than me of neighbourhood policing. Indeed, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) and I drove a culture change through the police service to ensure that neighbourhood policing was properly valued and rewarded. Hon. Members will remember that 10 years ago the sexy end of the police business was going out in the squad car with the blues and twos blazing and a helicopter circling overhead. People thought that was real policing. It was not entirely dissimilar from Gene Hunt's kind of policing and it took a great deal of effort to bring the police back to tackling antisocial behaviour, closing crack houses and tackling prostitution on our estates. That was the really important part of policing for local people. I believe that the police get that now and know that being visible in their communities is hugely important to restoring and improving local people's confidence, but we still need to keep the pressure on to make sure that that happens.
Some crime is not immediately visible to people on the streets, but is hugely important to address-whether it is counter-terrorism, serious and organised crime, the emerging problems of cybercrime, drug enforcement or tackling knife and gun crime. All that work needs to be done. The Home Secretary can talk about the national policing priorities in the Bill, but there is no provision for those second-tier regional priorities. In my own area, Salford, we have just had a fantastic operation called Operation Gulf, which entailed the long-term surveillance of organised crime gangs, using a range of powers-not police powers, particularly, but bringing in, for example, the Department for Work and Pensions to examine tax and benefits fraud, working with the Security Industry Agency, and investigating illegal protection rackets and pubs that have been used for organised crime. All that is not immediately visible to people on the street, but it is tackling those serious criminals who are role models for many of my young people. It is about confiscating their assets, and it is long-term police work that costs money. I worry enormously that a police commissioner will not give that the priority that it needs.
In the short time left to me, I shall say a word about the people whom we ask to carry out all that work on our behalf. We spent a long time trying to get a proper skill mix within our police service, recognising that we do not need fully warranted officers to do every single job in the service. Peter Fahy, the chief constable of Greater Manchester, has been a tremendous champion of work force modernisation. When I met him last week, he was desperately worried that with the very severe cuts that we have to make in such a short period of time, the people who will be most vulnerable are the PCSOs and the civilian staff who, because of their employee status, can be made redundant, unlike police officers.
I worry that we will go backwards, rather than forwards. We have got police officers away from being escort officers, custody officers or scenes-of-crime officers,
and we have got them on the front line. As a result of cutting so quickly and so deeply, we will find uniformed officers again in the back-office doing file preparation or escort duties. That is utterly ludicrous. It is a backward step which will lead to much less effectiveness in our service. Our chief constable must get rid of 3,000 people over the next four years. He has said publicly that that will affect front-line policing. As a result of the speed at which it needs to be done and the arcane employment regulations in the police service, we will find ourselves making the wrong decisions about effectiveness.
The public will judge success not simply by elections. They will judge it by what happens on their streets and in their communities. If they can go to bed at night and not wake up with the fear of being burgled, if they can get up in the morning and find that their car has not been slashed and trashed, that will be the sign of success. Accountability, as commissioners will find, will be a pretty tough thing.
Neil Carmichael (Stroud) (Con): I begin by paying tribute to the police in my constituency, who have been helping to deal with the protests over tuition fees. We have had a few minor actions and in each case the police have demonstrated fantastic support.
It has been a great pleasure listening to the right hon. Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears). She is heading in the right direction, though not far enough and certainly not fast enough. It is right that we consider the question of accountability in the policing of Britain.
Let us talk first about the commissioners. It is important that they are elected, that there is just one of them, and that they are responsible for planning, as outlined in the Bill. The electorate want an interface with a single person who will speak on their behalf and deal with the issues that arise in everyday policing. My one concern about the disqualification list is whether a recently retired chief constable is the right person to be elected as a commissioner. That needs to be discussed in Committee.
I listened carefully to the shadow Home Secretary. He mentioned Councillor Rob Garnham, the chairman of my police authority in Gloucestershire. Councillor Garnham is well known, probably because he has launched a campaign to save police authorities, not because of the work he did as chairman of the police authority. I believe that the membership and function of police authorities are not properly understood by the electorate. We could test that by asking people who they think is on their police authority. Some people would look rather surprised. They certainly would not be able to provide an answer, because the police authority is just not recognised as the equipment for maintaining police accountability.
It is right to introduce commissioners, and it is right to get rid of police authorities. It is also necessary to improve value for money in our police forces, because police authorities have just not exercised that function terribly well. I heard only today just how many police forces buy the same equipment from the same old firm, without going through proper competitive tendering, driving down the price or saying, "If you don't do a better price, we'll go somewhere else." The process is too sloppy, and it needs to be tightened up.
The Bill includes some other interesting areas, one of which is licensing and the role of local communities and local authorities, because it is important to ensure that decisions are properly enforced locally. That is one of the key things. Local authorities already have a useful set of powers, but the question is about ensuring that they are deployed and that the decisions are made to stick.
The Localism Bill will enhance the role of the community, so we need to link it to the Bill before us. We have to engineer a change not just in powers, but in culture, so that local authorities are keen to make decisions properly, to be ambitious, to work hard for their communities and to be ready to make different decisions from their neighbours' and more interesting decisions for themselves.
On the cost of drink, I am sympathetic to higher prices, because it is important that we deal with binge drinking. One can go to France to buy cheap beer-there it is, at LeClerc, the local supermarket. One can also buy lots of cheap wine, so other countries have cheap drink, but the French, for example, do not have much binge drinking. There is something to be discussed, and we need to look at the causes of binge drinking, because it is a cultural issue.
Andrew Griffiths: My hon. Friend knows that 70% of all alcohol sold in this country is sold through supermarkets. Is not the danger that all the measures before us put extra burdens on pubs, which have to deal with the consequences? The Minister will say that supermarkets can be controlled within the late-night levy, but the problem is clearly not supermarkets selling alcohol after 12 o'clock, but people buying alcohol at 6 o'clock in the evening and drinking it before they go out. The pubs and clubs then have to deal with the consequences. Do we not need to tackle binge drinking and supermarkets' irresponsible pricing if we are to tackle the problem of alcohol-fuelled violence?
Neil Carmichael: That is why I am sympathetic to dealing with the problems in supermarkets. My hon. Friend is right: we do have cheap booze; it is bought in bulk; it is consumed in a bingey way, which does cause huge problems; and we have to address the issue.
Robert Halfon: My hon. Friend is making an excellent speech, but following the previous intervention does he not agree that alcohol sold in supermarkets is often bought by people who cannot otherwise afford it? Surely, the only restrictions should therefore be on so-called alcopops and drinks like that.
Neil Carmichael: I thank my hon. Friend and appreciate all the interventions-the two of them, at least-that I have had. He makes a good point about alcopops, and we need to think about that, because we can be too draconian, but I shall make three general points about drinks. First, we have to think about binge drinking and its causes; secondly, we need to look at the role of supermarkets in supplying the drink; and, thirdly, we need to bear in mind the strength of the drink.
Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): My hon. Friend is making some very important points about the balance of responsibility for binge drinking. Does he agree that the burden of the balance of responsibility is placed unduly on the pubs and not sufficiently on the supermarkets? Regulation focuses on the pubs and there is insufficient regulation of the supermarkets. Does he think that this is an opportunity to redress that balance?
Neil Carmichael: Funnily enough, my hon. Friend is absolutely right. When one considers the number of regulations and bureaucratic requirements that a pub has to fulfil, we wonder why people want to be landlords. They do so because they enjoy the job and do a great thing for communities, but they are often discouraged from getting on with the job because of all the work that they have to do. My hon. Friend is right about supermarkets. If we consider the abolition of the resale price maintenance and the relentless march of supermarkets in number and size over the past few years, we realise that supermarkets are not controlled as much as they should be. We need to consider some sort of ombudsman system to ensure that supermarkets have a more responsible approach to drinking.
The other thing about supermarkets is that they are quite powerful. They are able to control price, and supply and demand. We must recognise that. As a farmer, I remember being told what prices my products would be simply because the group of five supermarkets concerned knew in advance how much they would pay. Let us remember that supermarkets have power and let us be prepared to address the question of binge drinking with that in mind. However, we should also have in mind the restrictions and problems that pubs have been confronting over the past few years.
In summary, let us be confident about the role of the commissioners. Government Members think that they are a great thing and one Labour Member obviously supports that direction of travel. We must accept that our police authorities do not set the world on fire in discussing policing policy, and we must think very carefully about value for money and ensuring that police forces are much more responsive to people's needs. Is it not simply right for local communities to feel that they are being listened to? Sometimes just the act of listening can lift a huge amount of confusion and alarm from local communities, who are often bewildered by other more complicated arrangements for expressing themselves. The Bill is good. It is the right kind of measure and it is consistent with localism and with law and order. Above all, it is consistent with setting a useful agenda for responsible behaviour in our society.
Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab):
The hon. Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon) was absolutely right in saying that the hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) was making an excellent speech. He did make an excellent speech-not just in his comments on alcohol-related crime, but in what he said about procurement-and it is a pleasure to follow him. If ever there is a vacancy on the Select Committee on Home Affairs, I hope that he will apply to join us because his speech was really excellent. I will speak very briefly, as all hon. Members must, and will make just four points. I agree with much
of the Bill, as many of its provisions reflect the Home Affairs Committee's recommendations in the previous Parliament.
As the House knows, 50% of crime in this country is alcohol related. All hon. Members who have spoken on that subject have talked about the effect that alcohol-related crime has on local communities in their town centres, and the enormous amount of police resources that have to deal with it. The Government have taken a very important step in terms of licensing. I was reassured during my intervention on the Home Secretary when she said that the Government would continue to consider the issue of minimum pricing. Tonight's speeches reflect the fact that there is concern not necessarily about the pubs and clubs in our town centres, but about the supermarkets.
If one goes to Asda or Morrisons-I am not suggesting that hon. Members on either side of the House may choose to do this; the Chamber may be about to empty-one can get 36 cans of lager for £18, or about 50p a can. [Hon. Members: "How do you know?"] I do not drink alcohol, but one of my researchers looked into this over the weekend. There is no doubt that it is cheaper to buy alcohol in supermarkets. As we heard earlier, people get tanked up before they go out because of the very cheap cost of alcohol there. I am glad that the Government are doing something about minimum pricing, and we look forward to seeing what they do.
Andrew Griffiths: Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that when one can go to a supermarket and buy a can of strong lager more cheaply than a can of Coca-Cola, that sends out an extremely damaging message to young people? That is why so many young people are pre-loading. Before they go out for an evening, they drink far too much, and we see the effects on our high streets, in our police cells and in our emergency units.
My second point is about drugs. The Government are taking absolutely the right powers in the Bill to be able to ban legal highs. Mephedrone-commonly known as meow meow-has been a big problem. The Select Committee heard very eloquent evidence from the mother of a young girl who had died as a result of a legal high. It was clearly taking too long to ban such substances, so we warmly welcome putting into the hands of the Home Secretary the power to be able to bring a statutory instrument before the House to deal with these matters.
Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): On the subject of drugs, does the right hon. Gentleman share my concern that the Bill has some suggestion of weakening the role of scientific input? I am sure that that is not the Government's intention, but does he agree that it might be helpful to secure that aspect and to ensure that in the case of any temporary bans, there are at least some scientific suggestions before the decision is made?
My final point concerns police commissioners. Two members of the Select Committee are here-my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak (Steve McCabe) and the hon. Member for Cambridge (Dr Huppert)-and other Members have spoken about this. There was no agreement in the Committee on whether elected police commissioners were a good idea, and we therefore put it to one side. We were more concerned with producing a report that would be helpful to the House before this debate and would enable Members to look at the implications and practicalities of elected commissioners.
The Committee asked the Government and the House to note three points, the first of which-it was mentioned by the hon. Member for Stroud-was whether it was desirable for a chief constable who was serving in a certain area subsequently to stand for the post of an elected commissioner. We thought that there should be a cooling-off period so that if the chief constable for Leicestershire, for example, wanted to be a commissioner he-it is a man at the moment-could not do so until his whole term of four years had expired. There was unanimity on these points. We hope that the Government will consider this and that others will do so if they are lucky enough to serve on the Bill Committee.
The Select Committee's second point concerned the cost of commissioners. I noted the exchange between those on the Front Benches about special advisers. Of course, I accept what the policing Minister has said. We need to be very careful about costs, especially those associated with the crime panels. I do not agree that those bodies should be elected, but they should be representative. As the Select Committee said, they should comprise those who have already been elected to represent district areas. It is important that they are as representative of the local community as possible, with the right to appoint independent members to deal with the issue of gender and ethnicity balance, which may be lacking in relation to elected representatives.
The final point relates to operational independence. The hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) is not here, but he is the Committee's leading expert on operational independence. The Committee felt that the time had come for a clear definition of where the responsibilities of the commissioner begin, where those of the chief constable end, and where those of the Home Office impact on the new responsibilities. We suggested not a Magna Carta, but a charter or a memorandum to set out those powers and responsibilities. We think that this is an appropriate time for that so that there is clarity. I hope that when hon. Members discuss this matter in Committee, they will find a way forward on such a memorandum of understanding.
Every local authority is different: Leicestershire is different from Bedfordshire, Bedfordshire is different from Cambridgeshire, and Greater Manchester is different from Birmingham. This is not Gotham city-I am sure that you were a fan of Batman and Robin, Mr Deputy Speaker. Commissioner Gordon will not put the light up in the air so that Batman-the equivalent, I suppose, of the chief constable-comes rushing forward to solve the crime. If only it were as easy as that. I am sure that there would be mobile phones in any new series of Batman. The fact is that these are complicated issues.
If we take the party politics out of this matter and analyse the discussions that we have had today, including the contributions of my right hon. Friend the Member for Salford and Eccles (Hazel Blears) and other hon. Members from both sides of the House, I am sure that we can make some progress. I hope that progress can be made in Committee on accountability and on the other important issues that have been mentioned today.
Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): It is a pleasure to speak in this important debate on a Bill that will fulfil many Conservative manifesto commitments, namely electing police commissioners and tackling the antisocial behaviour that is caused by excessive drinking in some of our towns. It is a pleasure to follow the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee for the second time in a week. I found myself losing concentration thinking how wonderful it would be to be able to summon Batman to tackle the crime in our towns, but I sense that that solution is not possible.
I will start with the less high-profile measures in the Bill and leave police commissioners for the end of my small amount of time. Even areas such as mine, which lack a large city and its attendant problems, face the problems of alcohol-induced antisocial behaviour in the early mornings; people finding back routes home from the pub that take them past people's houses, where they disturb people with their noise; and people's frustration when they are not allowed to object to a licence because a vicinity test does not quite work. The reforms on those matters are greatly to be welcomed.
We must be careful that in the well-meaning attempt to tackle these problems, we do not create a different problem or use the proverbial sledgehammer to crack the nut. An example is the late night levy, which is an important measure and a great tool for councils. My understanding of the Bill is that if a council such as mine introduces the late night levy, it has to do so for the whole borough. My seat contains three towns, so all three towns would be included and not just the one where there might be a problem. We could therefore end up imposing a provision that is not required on establishments that are completely responsible and in areas where there is no issue to be tackled. Perhaps that point can be addressed in Committee so that the words achieve what we want them to.
Police commissioners, as the hon. Member for Blackpool North and Cleveleys (Paul Maynard) said, are not something that one reads about and at once thinks, "Oh, marvellous." People do not come to our surgeries and say that they want a police commissioner by May 2012. However, when one works through the ideas and looks at the problems that we are trying to tackle, it is clear that constituents feel divorced from the police. Perhaps unfairly, they think that the police are not accountable to them and are not doing what people want. In comparison, people are usually quite happy with the safer neighbourhood team with which they associate. There is a general view that the police are happily sitting behind desks or racing around in cars, rather than doing policing. That is a real problem that we need to tackle, because we all believe in policing by consent.
No one is arguing that we do not need some kind of authority or body to hold the police to account. We would not want to leave it to the chief constable to do whatever he felt like. We all accept that there have to be policing priorities. We cannot have police everywhere doing everything on every issue all the time. It is right that when difficult choices have to be made, there is some democratic accountability.
No Member has argued tonight that police authorities are a great success. I imagine that most of my constituents would struggle to name a single member of their police authority, and I do not recall an election leaflet saying, "This guy's been on the police authority for the past four years. Hasn't it been terrible? You should vote him out because of his record on that". It just does not happen.
Nobody appreciates or values what police authorities do, and despite the costly newspaper that appears through my door every so often, nobody really understands what on earth they are for. There is a vacuum, and I cannot imagine that the way to fill it is through each district electing its own commissioner and all of them coming together to try to agree on something. I cannot see that working. The right answer has to be to elect an individual whom the public will recognise. People will understand that that is the person who is there to be accountable and to whom they can complain. That is the person to blame, who can set the strategy that the police force will follow. People will know that if it does not work, they can vote that person out four years later. That has to be the right way forward.
I do have some concerns about the electoral system for police commissioners included in the Bill. It is a bit strange that we will have a referendum next year to decide how we elect our MPs, yet we have jumped almost to the other side of that debate in the Bill. I might have preferred us to use the same electoral system for commissioners as for MPs. That would be far more understandable for the public.
I understand the argument that the method proposed will ensure that we do not end up with an extremist person having a commissioner's power by mistake on a flukily low vote, but frankly, I would trust the people of Derbyshire not to end up in that situation. Those of us who represent a seat where there are British National party councillors can be a little nervous about that, but we can trust the people to elect a responsible person as commissioner. They will see that it is a very important job, and it will be valued, so I do not think people will do unfortunate things with their vote.
I wholeheartedly welcome the Bill. It meets a whole load of the promises that we made at the election, and it will be a great step forward in bringing the police back closer to the people. We should all welcome that wholeheartedly.
Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Amber Valley (Nigel Mills), which is becoming a regular occurrence. We seem to be making quite a habit of it.
I am not sure that I share the hon. Gentleman's views on police commissioners, because I believe, as Conservatives used to believe, in the old maxim, "If it ain't broke,
don't fix it". That is why I have real doubts about police commissioners. I invite any Conservative Member to show me a recent inspection report that raised major concerns about the functioning of police authorities. I am not saying that there are not things that we could deal with, but there have not been major concerns.
Even if there is some merit in the idea, I should like to know what the hurry is, especially at a time when we have so many other matters to contend with, such as massive cuts in the police budget, increasingly violent demonstrations, renewed terrorist threats and, I believe, a likely explosion in crime, especially if the Secretary of State of Justice gets his way and we have reduced prison capacity and reduced community justice budgets. I do not see the urgency at all. The Home Secretary said earlier that the money is not coming from police budgets, but surely the question is why she thinks she has any money to fritter away on non-essentials at a time like this.
I can see the reasons for the London arrangements in the Bill, because the Mayor doubles as the commissioner. However, little thought seems to have been given to the situation in other parts of the country that could also have powerful directly elected mayors. What will be the situation there, especially if there is a fundamental disagreement between the mayor and the commissioner? If I read the Bill correctly, a commissioner could well be nearly six months into his or her first term before their first policing plan was signed off. That does not sound like a model of urgency or efficiency. What would happen if a chief constable were profoundly to disagree with elements of the plan? That could be a recipe for stalemate.
We want the public to feel more engaged with the process, but, as I read the Bill, the police and crime commissioner will determine the manner in which their response to any recommendations on or criticism of their plan is published. That obviously means that they could choose to bury the parts to which they do not want to give exposure. Equally, I understand that they will be allowed to publish the plan itself as they see fit. If the idea is to ensure that people become more engaged with this process, I would have thought that the commissioners should be urged to publish the plan in a way that guaranteed maximum public access to it, rather than in the way that they see fit.
As this Bill begins its parliamentary route, we still have no idea what the salaries or pensions of the police and crime commissioners will be. Nor do we know anything about the salaries of the chief executives or the chief finance and accounting officers, but if they are anything like their equivalents in Birmingham, those people are going to be earning salaries greater than that of the Prime Minister, and I am not sure that that would be very smart at a time like this.
I welcome some of the measures in the Bill, particularly those relating to licensing powers. It is a good idea to give communities greater input and to listen to their representations and calls for the review of a licence. I shall be interested to see how that works, however, because my experience of licensing authorities is that they do not always pay anything like sufficient attention to local communities. I also welcome the doubling of the maximum fine for those who persistently sell alcohol to under-18s, and the increase in the period of suspension of the licence for premises involved in that activity. What most people want, however, is for the licence to be permanently revoked from premises that are persistently causing trouble and selling alcohol to under-18s.
I am slightly worried by what might be an unintended consequence of the powers for licensing authorities to impose conditions on a temporary event notice on environmental or health grounds. In a place such as Birmingham, that could result in the local authority tying good, honest charity events up in ridiculous bureaucracy and red tape. That must surely be an unintended consequence of the Bill that we would not wish to see.
I think it was the hon. Member for Stroud (Neil Carmichael) who referred to clause 15, which covers the power to commission the supply of goods from any source. That sounds good on the surface, but what will be the safeguards against illegal favours or monopoly arrangements? That is not the sort of thing I want to see. I also wonder about the powers in clause 16 for the commissioner to appoint persons who are not on the staff of the local policing body. I am sure that that is intended to deal with joint appointments, but it could be a consultants' charter. I notice that clause 22(3) gives the Home Secretary the power to intervene if the budget is set too low and could endanger public safety. If this is such a good Bill, and if we can be so confident about the performance of police and crime commissioners, why would she have to take a power like that? It suggests to me that the Government have their own concerns about this matter.
For me, the centrepiece of the measure is the wrong policy at the wrong time, which, I fear, will lead to the wrong outcomes. The Government's focus should be on preventing a rise in crime, helping victims and safeguarding our communities. It should not be on political experiments that waste money, risk politicising the police and take attention away from the need to bear down constantly on violent offenders and career criminals.
Robert Halfon (Harlow) (Con): I welcome the Bill and the debate. I have four substantial points to make: where there is direct democracy and policing elsewhere in the world, it works; we must do more to support special constables; we must tell the truth about crime in our statistics; and universal jurisdiction must be reformed so that the Director of Public Prosecutions has control over issuing warrants.
We have rehearsed the arguments about police commissioners this evening. I am a passionate support of the policy because I believe that local people should have some say in the policing they want for their neighbourhood. The public want that-they are unhappy with police authorities. Extremist groups have not taken control of the police in north America, where there has been no great backlash against democracy.
I want mainly to speak about special constables. I have long believed that we must do more to support them and make them into a reserve force, like the Territorial Army or reserve firemen. Since 1997, the number of specials has fallen dramatically from 20,000 to fewer than 14,000. I have tabled three early-day motions on the issue-1160, 598 and 520. I also raised it at business questions last Thursday, and welcomed the Leader of the House's response.
I am grateful to the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, who previously agreed with me in the House that there is huge untapped potential for recruiting more specials, who are in many ways like neighbourhood watch: a genuinely local force and a vital source of community intelligence.
One suggestion is to allow councils to discount council tax for those who become specials. That would act as an incentive and fit in with the Government's big society proposals. The Association of Chief Police Officers supports the idea and Southampton city council has already trialled a scheme, which offered special constables a rebate rather than an up-front discount on their council tax. However, because of the legal uncertainties, the process took months and was only a one-off. At the end of the debate, I intend to table an amendment to clause 10(3) to make such action much easier for our colleagues in local government.
Under the new duty to co-operate, I would like the Bill to clarify that local authorities are free to co-operate with police forces, if they choose, by exempting special constables from council tax, or, at the very least, offering them a substantial discount. That does not have to be expensive. Essex is lucky to have nearly 700 specials. If each was offered £100 off their council tax bill, it would cost the grand sum of £70,000. Given that the public sector spent £10 billion in Essex last year, £70,000 is not an astronomical sum. I hope that the Minister and colleagues will be able to consider my amendment.
We must tell the truth about crime in our statistics. There is huge bureaucratic and political pressure to say that crime is decreasing. Everyone wants to believe that things are getting better. However, the tragedy is that that translates into immense personal pressure on individual police officers not to record crime because if they go out on the streets and find criminals their statistics look worse and worse. I recently met the Home Secretary and the chief constable of Essex to discuss crime in Harlow, and the chief constable made that point powerfully. One solution is to record two sorts of statistic. An innovative proposal is to use the Australian system and distinguish between crimes that the public have reported and those that the police have discovered.
Imagine if instead of one single box for recording crime, where everything gets jumbled and mixed together, we had two boxes. In the first box we could measure crime reported by the public, police officers and PCSOs, and in the second we would measure crime proactively discovered by the police. If the number of the latter crimes increased, we would not worry unduly, because it would mean that the police were doing their job, patrolling the streets and uncovering the hidden criminals who are disrupting our neighbourhoods.
I sincerely hope that when we consider that reform, we consider how to free our police officers from the immense political pressure to say that crime numbers are coming down. I welcome the reforms to public information, such as crime maps, which the Government are pushing for, and measures such as clause 89, "Crime and disorder strategies", and clause 34, which contains the duty to liaise with local people. However, I hope that the Minister considers the Australian system of recording crime.
Finally, I believe that universal jurisdiction must be reformed so that the Director of Public Prosecutions has control over issuing warrants. Currently, the process
for private prosecutions is being abused-it is used as a political tool for campaigning and point scoring-but the purpose of our justice system must be justice, not media campaigns. Therefore, I welcome clause 151, which will ensure that universal jurisdiction cases proceed only on the basis of solid evidence.
Mr James Clappison (Hertsmere) (Con): Does my hon. Friend share my concern that there is evidence that the current process was abused in the past, and that it got in the way of peaceful discussions and an understanding of different points of view?
Robert Halfon: My hon. Friend is exactly right. The problem is that the current arrangements have been used as a political tool. A disproportionate number of arrest warrants sought for war crimes are directed at Israeli officials and politicians. It is worth remembering that Israel is a democratic country with the rule of law, and that it has a thriving judiciary and a Supreme Court that often rules against the state in cases with sound legal bases. If we want to promote peace in the middle east, Israel's leaders must be able to come to Britain for talks with the British Government. The current misuse of universal jurisdiction actually hinders reconciliation efforts. That applies not just to Israel-for example, I understand that an arrest warrant was issued against Henry Kissinger.
In conclusion, I am hugely supportive of the Bill. The more democracy, the better. I hope that the Minister and colleagues consider my amendment on special constables and reforming the flaws in our crime statistics, but I welcome the Government's reforms, especially on universal jurisdiction and elected police commissioners. The Bill is in the same vein as all the Government's policies and can be summed up in four words: power to the people.
Stephen Lloyd (Eastbourne) (LD): I pay tribute to many who have spoken this evening, including my hon. Friend the Member for Harlow (Robert Halfon), who made a number of rational and intelligent suggestions in respect of the Australian system that I have not heard before, which I commend.
I also pay tribute to the police force in my constituency. I work closely with it, and spoke with the operational commander on Sunday morning. The force is swift, efficient and effective, as it has been for quite a few years, and it is very targeted, so it is no surprise that crime rates have gone down.
I support a charity called Families Fighting for Justice, which came to my attention in a rather unusual way. A constituent of mine sadly suffered two tragedies in her family-her children were brutally murdered-and as she went through that process, she felt that the system supported the perpetrator far more than the victim. I need tell no one in the House how appallingly bleak it must be for any parent to lose a child, but to lose two is beyond compare. Through meeting her I did a lot of research and came across the charity Families Fighting for Justice. I do not agree with everything it wants, but a number of the issues it is interested in and has been pushing concern the flippant guilty pleas that change
just as a person gets to court. This Bill could begin to address issues where perpetrators have been perceived as getting away with murder-to coin a phrase-and level the playing field more. Speaking on behalf of Families Fighting for Justice, I think that the Bill is taking a step in the right direction for people such as my constituent who have been through such tragic circumstances.
I fully support the Bill. The key thing is that it will improve police accountability, allow the Home Secretary to react quickly to the constantly evolving criminal narcotics industry and tackle some of the root causes of antisocial behaviour. It covers some broad strategic issues that hon. Members on both sides of the House have tackled, but I would like to concentrate on antisocial behaviour, which might be seen as a relatively minor issue. I come from a family of police officers-an uncle, grandfather and great grandfather were policemen. So there has been a considerable number of policemen in my family. If it is any consolation, they are mostly supporters of the party of my coalition colleagues-but bless them. They are relatives, and I love them dearly.
I have always supported and had a great interest in the police force. I suppose that I might be termed as being on the robust wing of the Liberals. I am aware, as all MPs are from their constituency experience, that antisocial behaviour is appalling, particularly in disadvantaged areas where it is possible for one close or cul-de-sac to contain just one or two families who make life a misery for everyone. I have always been very strong on that. In fact, I was supportive of the broken window policy started in New York by Mayor Giuliani a few years ago through an elected police commissioner. He started dealing with crime at its root causes-for instance, broken windows and graffiti-and coming down on them very hard. As a result, the bigger crimes also began to reduce.
Antisocial behaviour in all its forms, especially at night, can be devastating for those it affects, which is why I am glad that part 2 of the Bill will amend the Licensing Act 2003 to shift the balance of power from pubs and clubs to local authorities and, more importantly, local communities. As is well known, a significant proportion of antisocial behaviour has alcohol at its root. I was stopped yesterday by a constituent in Eastbourne, which I hasten to add is a paragon of peace-it is also the sunniest town in England, so hon. Members should visit it in their holidays and spend all their money there. Over the weekend, I was walking around my constituency, talking, meeting and listening to people-as we all do-when I was stopped by a chap who works as a street pastor. He goes out late at night working with others, helping people and being there for young people, old people and middle-aged people in case of trouble. He told me that he once came across a young woman of about 16 or 17-lord knows how she got hold of the alcohol-who was comatose. Fortuitously, the ambulance arrived within 20 minutes or so, but this man, who is an experienced older man and former pastor, said, "Stephen, frankly, if the ambulance had been another 30 minutes, if there had been a hold-up, she probably would have died."
Henry Smith (Crawley) (Con):
My hon. Friend makes a powerful point. Not so long ago, I went on patrol with my local police in Crawley on a Friday night and into
the early hours of Saturday morning. I was astounded to discover that, I would say, nine out of 10 of the incidents that we responded to were alcohol related.
Stephen Lloyd: My hon. Friend is absolutely right, and I thank him for his intervention. The overall statistics show that well over 50% of violent crimes involve alcohol. It is absolutely shocking. A number of colleagues talked about the cheap price of alcohol. The right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) declared that he did not drink cheap drinks or what-have-you-I am sure that he does not, and neither do I for that matter-but there is one cider in particular called White Lightning. I know of shops in Eastbourne where, sadly, it is used by young and old people specifically to get absolutely blitzed, and I am sure that there are similar shops in every town in the constituency. Given the damage that White Lightning causes, and especially because of its price, it is commendable that the Bill is beginning to look at such issues seriously.
A key part of this Bill comes back to antisocial behaviour. The more that we can give the power back to the people-back to the local authority-to challenge those establishments where alcohol is freely served and abused, the more that life will be made easier for many constituents around the country. I go back to the fact that it is often the smaller, perhaps less notorious aspects of crime that can cause so much damage. Antisocial behaviour is one of those, and it is clearly linked to alcohol. The changes in licensing will make things more efficient and, crucially, will give power back to the people. Those provisions are highly sensible, and I commend the Bill to the House.
Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con): I am delighted to follow the speakers who have recently been addressing the House. I completely support and commend the Bill. I intend to refer in the few minutes available to a couple of its clauses, but it strikes me very much that the Bill as a whole tremendously empowers people in our country, drawing power away from the state. As such, it is to be highly commended, and I congratulate the Minister on that.
The handful of Opposition speakers-and it is a small number-who have spoken on the issue of universal jurisdiction and the safeguard in the Bill have confirmed why it is so necessary to improve the law on universal jurisdiction as it stands. This issue is not just about Israel: the Chinese Trade Minister has apparently been threatened with arrest because of the current provision, as has Henry Kissinger. There have been difficulties in Europe with Donald Rumsfeld's freedom of movement, and I believe that White House staffers have been threatened with arrest in Spain because of the principle of universal jurisdiction. I am given to understand that even the former Prime Minister Tony Blair has had a large number of petitions levied against him in the International Criminal Court, so this issue is not unique to the United Kingdom or Israel. It is an area that has needed reform for some considerable time.
The principle of amending the law on universal jurisdiction is in no way about stifling meritorious complaints. However, where jurisdiction is very wide, as it currently is in this country, it will tend to act as a
magnet for complaints that are rooted in political vendettas, regardless of their merit. Universal jurisdiction has tended to mean that high-level consultations and meetings have been disrupted, and at times even cancelled. London has a long-established and important reputation as an effective venue for warring parties around the world-indeed, it has a cherished ability to act as such, serving as a diplomatic hot spot.
Henry Smith: My hon. Friend makes an important point. Ironically, universal jurisdiction is getting in the way of diplomatic efforts to engender peace and in the way of peace talks and discussions, particularly in this international venue that is London. The Bill's provisions are thus absolutely correct.
Michael Ellis: I am grateful to my hon. Friend for that intervention. There have been literally dozens of examples in our recent history where London has been a centre for the negotiation and conclusion of important international agreements between warring factions, and we are in danger of losing that ability because universal jurisdiction has been misused, misapplied and inappropriately applied as a means of pursuing political vendettas. All that is required for the proposed changes is the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions-it is, incidentally, already required in certain other routine prosecutions-which would enable the system to withstand attempts to exploit the law for settling political scores. I very much welcome that provision.
Other important provisions are designed to deal with the encampment on Parliament square. The Prime Minister has said that he would like to see that encampment done away with; the Bill will achieve that, although it will be some months before Royal Assent is granted. Having looked at the existing laws, I take the view that law is already available on the criminal statute book, which could be applied to remove the encampment in time for the royal wedding in April. Members will be fascinated to know that I have in mind the Vagrancy Act 1824.
"Every person wandering abroad and lodging in any barn or outhouse, or in any deserted or unoccupied building, or in the open air, or under a tent, or in any cart or wagon, and not giving a good account of himself or herself... commits an offence."
Members might be interested to know that this Act is not as obsolete as its antiquity would tend to imply. It is, in fact, a piece of legislation that is used regularly around the country. I myself have prosecuted people for this offence in relatively recent times, in my former guise as a member of the Bar.
Claire Perry (Devizes) (Con): I thought my hon. Friend was going to say that he had been moved on under the terms of the Act, so I was grateful that he finished his sentence. I am delighted that he has found a potential wrinkle to help us to clear the encampment outside this building, which I think disgraces the motherhood of democracy. Does he agree that although we all share the commitment to freedom of speech and the right to protest, this is simply an eyesore that we have tolerated for far too long? The provisions on this issue are important and should be welcomed.
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