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Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill
|©Parliamentary copyright||Prepared 19th January 2011|
Publications on the internet
Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill
Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
James Rhys, Committee Clerk
† attended the CommitteeChief Inspector Chris Sims, West Midlands Police Force Ian Loader, Professor of Criminology and Director of Criminology, All Souls College, Oxford University Rick Muir, Institute for Public Policy Research
The Chair: Good afternoon. May I ask our three witnesses to introduce themselves briefly for the record? At this stage, I shall just say thank you very much for coming. We have many important questions to put to you, and I hope that you will be able to answer them succinctly so that we can cover as much ground as possible. Would you like to kick off, Professor Loader?
Chris Sims: I am chief constable of the west midlands, formerly chief constable of Staffordshire, and lead for the Association of Chief Police Officers on forensic science, counter-terrorism interoperability and bureaucracy.
Rick Muir: I am the associate director for public service reform at the Institute for Public Policy Research. I authored a book about police reform, touching on some of the issues relating to accountability, about a year ago.
Q 5858 Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab): Thank you, Mr Chope. Good afternoon, everyone. May I start by asking the question that I asked this morning? Obviously, we have an important Bill before us. All of us are united in the desire to improve the ability of the police to tackle offending and also to reduce reoffending. As a start, could each of you say how you think the proposals in the Bill improve the prospect of reducing crime and reoffending, or say whether there are aspects of it that in your view may be a hindrance to that objective, which we all have?
Ian Loader: There are three reasons why, broadly speaking, I am in favour of the principles that animate this Bill. First, the idea that you think about policing reform under the rubric of a notion of democratic accountability is, broadly speaking, one that I favour. It seems to me that, if you look back over the history of these matters over the last half century, we have gone through a period where we thought that professional police officers knew best and it could just be left to them to get on with things as they saw fit. We have gone through a decade or so of trying to run the police from 10 Downing street, and a broad move to try to reorganise the police under the rubric of local democratic accountability seems to me to be important.
Secondly, I think that, as a matter of democratic principle, local policing priorities should be determined by a body or bodies that are democratically accountable to local citizens rather than by unelected public officials. This Bill goes some way, although not all the way, in that direction for reasons that I could go on to discuss. Again, the idea that that democratic responsiveness and decision making should be local rather than national is one that I broadly support.
There is a third reason why I think that the idea animating this Bill is a good one, which has to do with the state of our political culture. I do not need to tell the people in this room that Britain’s political culture and its institutions are at a low public ebb in terms of trust and confidence. In that context, you can either go on as you have been going on before or you can seek to experiment with new ways of trying to reconnect politics—broadly conceived—and public services with the public. In that context, it strikes me that this proposal, the commissioners proposal, is best understood as an experiment in local democracy. You can think what you like about experiments in local democracy; I happen to think that experiments in local democracy are, broadly speaking, a good thing.
Having said that, I will say one more thing and then I will stop. If I was starting with a blank slate and I was trying to give practical effect to those principles, I would not have gone with the commissioner model. One reason is just the scale; it seems to me that it is hard to say that a commissioner for Devon and Cornwall, or for Thames Valley, can be described as “local” in any meaningful sense. There are other ways in which you could have done this. It might have been better to try to replicate the Mayor of London model, but of course
My personal preference would have been for locally elected police authorities, but the Government have chosen not to go down that road, and we are where we are. Broadly speaking, the principles that animate the Bill are the right ones, but I am not convinced that this is the best way of giving practical effect to them. Although, given that that is where we are, there are things that the Committee may want to attend to in terms of how one mitigates the potential risks and maximises the potential advantages.
Chris Sims: My answer is not dissimilar. The proposals have the potential to better connect policing with the people that it serves locally. The risks that Ian mentioned are in ensuring that local is properly represented locally, that the full mission of policing, which involves many things that are not visible or clearly obvious to local people, is properly taken into account and that there are proper checks and balances in how the accountability system operates.
Rick Muir: I agree with both those contributions. We need to strengthen local accountability in policing, so I certainly do not support the status quo. I have argued that local accountability needs strengthening largely because police authorities are not visible enough and not connected enough with the priorities of local people to perform that role effectively.
However, we need to distinguish between the different questions here. One is a question of formal accountability, which is proposed to be dealt with at force level. The other question is the issue of the responsiveness of the police, which is a wider issue. Actually, that is the issue that the public are most concerned about. They are concerned about whether the police are responsive to their concerns. If they ring up, do the police respond quickly? Do the police deal with their problems adequately? The commissioner model does not tackle the whole set of issues around responsiveness, which is key to improving public confidence in the police. Those issues are dealt with at the neighbourhood, town, borough or city level.
However, it is important to sort out formal accountability, because you essentially need someone to hold the chief constable to account. If we have chief constables, and if we have forces along the lines that we have them at the moment, you need somebody to set the priorities and so on. So I am in favour of strengthening accountability. Rather like Ian, I do not favour the commissioner model, because introducing an elected element to the force level is quite remote from local people’s concerns, because some forces are very large. There are also risks involved when you hand power, particularly in policing, to just one individual.
My first preference was to do something involving strengthening the accountability of the local police to local government. I know that there are issues of coterminosity—we are all familiar with that—but I think that there was a way to do it. I would have preferred to go down that track.
My second preference would have been for an elected police authority, and only then would I have gone for the police commissioner model. So it is not my ideal model, but it is right to strengthen local accountability.
Q 59 Vernon Coaker: What you said about accountability and whether this is the right model is interesting. I would have a lot of sympathy with that, because I have always made the point about the force level against the neighbourhood or community level.
I want to move the debate on. It seems that there is a tension, because you have a police and crime commissioner responsible for policing and yet part of what we are talking about is reoffending, which is criminal justice. I am not sure what the role of the police and crime commissioner would be with respect to that. It is dangerous to go down the route of the commissioner’s being in any way responsible for any sort of influence on the criminal justice system. I know, however, in terms of confidence and what happens locally, that how the criminal justice system responds after the police have done their job has as big an impact. Do you have any comments on that?
Rick Muir: We need to make the criminal justice system more responsive. A lot of the issues with that system are around ensuring that, for example, offender management is more locally managed and more integrated into local services. That is very important. I do not think that that should be done at the level of the police commissioners. I think that would work much more effectively if it was done with local authorities.
I am in favour of localising the criminal justice system in the sense of offender management and the probation service—that would be a very positive thing—but I do not really see a role for the commissioner in that.
Chris Sims: There are two pivotal relationships. One is with the formal end of the criminal justice system, and the other is with the local authority end of community safety. To be successful, the commissioner will need to build bridges with both. As Rick has said, the softer end of the formal criminal justice piece is probably the most important. I do not think this would necessarily be about connectivity with courts or Crown Prosecution Service decision making. The parts of the criminal justice system that are more about deterrence and local punishment seem really important, and the commissioner would need to make those connections. Again, that will be made very difficult by the scale the commissioner will be operating at.
Q 60 Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): Professor Loader, you referred to the model in London. What do you think the role of the Mayor or the appointed chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority has brought in terms of improving the accountability of policing in London?
Ian Loader: Not being a resident of London, I am not in a position to answer that in any detail. I think the model in London is a better one, first, because policing is not the Mayor’s only responsibility, so there is a connection between the Mayor and other strategic priorities. The broad principle—there are some suggestions that this is amended in relation to the Bill—that some elected figure is responsible for setting strategic priorities and policy direction for a public service seems to be at least one of the ingredients you want to have in place to generate more citizen-focused and responsive policing.
I accept the points that have been made about scale, and what follows from that is that that arrangement is not the only thing that needs to be in place, because the scale is too large in terms of local responsiveness. However, having a democratically elected figure setting strategic priorities seems right at the level of constitutional principle. It also seems to be one of the mechanisms through which you create locally responsive policing.
Q 61 Clive Efford: The submission from the Greater London authority says that “the Bill gives the MPS”—the Metropolitan Police Service—“Commissioner significantly more powers and the local elected policing body significantly less than at present.” Would you see a Bill that does that as being a progressive or a regressive step?
Q 62 Clive Efford: The evidence we are getting is pretty consistent in saying that the Bill effectively gives police commissioners fewer powers than the democratically elected body in London currently has in its hands. If we are seeking to enhance the role of democratically elected representatives from communities, why would we step back from what we have already achieved in London?
Chris Sims: That is a new angle on the issue to me. If you are interested, I think mayors are really important. One of the challenges for many of us would be how the commissioner works not with a single mayor, but with multiple mayors. Again, to consider the public’s point of view, the public are looking for local figureheads, and there is room for confusion. With a force like West Midlands, mayors have been proposed for Birmingham and Coventry, and they will clearly be very significant figures. There may be a public identification issue about where the police and crime commissioner fits, when that commissioner does not have a clear territorial mandate in the way that mayors have in Wolverhampton, Walsall and so on. The issue about mayors is perhaps slightly at a tangent.
You have a chief constable responsible for the same area as the proposed police and crime commissioner. You have a chief executive in the council and you have chief fire officers. They have both operational and strategic responsibility. You have a Mayor of London representing nine million Londoners. You have the President of the United States who in theory represents 300 million Americans. I do not quite understand the objection in terms of scale to having a figurehead that represents an area of that size.
Chris Sims: It is not simply scale—it is scale and diversity of local government area. Apologies for talking about the west midlands. There are 2.6 million people in the old county boundary of the west midlands, which now has only fire and police with any relevance to that boundary. There are seven local authority areas, including Birmingham, which is the biggest in Europe. Other than the fire chief, I am the only person who operates cross-border. The reason that I am able to do so is because I run an essentially devolved organisation in which local chief superintendents, on my behalf, manage local service delivery aligned with their partners. So it is not simply
Q 64 Mr Burley: I am sure Ian has got his own answer, but just so that I understand you, Chris—it is not that you would disagree with the principle of your role as the figurehead of the police for the whole of the west midlands; it is the support network underneath.
Chris Sims: That is true, but in the ideal state that we all want to see, they are creating dialogue, they are engaging and forming relationships across seven very diverse local authority areas. That will be significantly challenging for an individual.
Q 66 The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): Democratic accountability is obviously a serious issue. While the notion of having it at a lower level might be attractive—to take the example Chris Sims gave of the west midlands—would the chief of the west midlands be happy if your operational commanders underneath you were answering to a democratically elected mayor or some other individual, and how would that cut across your own command in the force? In the end, given that we have 43 forces on the existing boundaries, does not somebody have to appoint the chief, set the budget and the priorities, and should not that person answer democratically?
Ian Loader: I have no objection to that. It comes back to the question that you asked. The point is about what is necessary and what is sufficient. A mechanism of democratic accountability at some level—given that we have Thames Valley, and Devon and Cornwall police forces, and chief constables for those areas—is a necessary ingredient for making the police more responsible. But a single figure? Partly, it is about trying to take a view across the force and think about resource allocation decisions between very different parts. Take the Thames valley, where I live. The policing needs of Woodstock are not quite the same as the policing needs of Witney or Slough. It is about taking some kind of strategic view of how resource allocation decisions are made. At the same time, it is not going to be the be-all and end-all. You don’t necessarily expect a police commissioner for Thames valley to have their finger on the pulse of the particular policing needs of the boroughs of Slough or Reading. You need to ensure that there are mechanisms that get at that element of local responsiveness. It might well be that that is where members of local police and crime panels play a very important role in making this work on the ground.
This relates to a number of other questions that have been asked. Part of the uniqueness of this—I am no constitutional historian—is that as a country we have never created an elected public office to create a single public service. In that sense, what is being proposed here is a unique constitutional experiment. It strikes me that
In the Bill, the Government have taken the view that you cannot write in detail how those mechanisms are supposed to play out from the Home Office, other than saying that there will be a statutory responsibility to develop those connections and that it is for the commissioner to decide how to do that. That comes with a risk. There may be commissioners who mess that up and who get it wrong. Hopefully, there is a mechanism in place on the ground to make sure that they do not. Let us not, however, get away from the fact that making sure those connections and relationships are developed and work on the ground—they might look different in different places and that might just be fine—will be crucial as to whether this proposed reform delivers the improvement in local policing that the Government think it will.
Q 67 Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): I want to return to the example of the west midlands as an area with seven local authorities to deal with. If we accept that this is an experiment in local democracy and that its genuine intention is to try to address a perceived deficit in democracy, accountability and policing, how successful do you think it will be? If you end up with umpteen elected mayors dealing with one chief constable, one commissioner with, presumably, a whole host of councillors underneath, who may well have their own, much more localised, views about what should happen, what are the risks of democratic confusion? How, given the Bill that we have, would you seek to head off that risk?
Rick Muir: I think there is a risk of that, particularly with the new mayors that are being proposed in the major cities. The key thing is that these are all figures with a direct personal mandate. We know that the Mayor of London is a significant figure. We saw that with the issue around Ian Blair’s position. A person with a personal mandate has a huge amount of power and legitimacy. If you have mayors in the cities representing smaller areas, and they have to work with this police commissioner, who also has a personal mandate, there is the potential for conflict. That is why I would have rather done this at a smaller level—at the borough, town or city level, rather than at the force level—and worked through local government to try to do that. Then, some of these new mayors would have had a much greater role in policing. As Ian was alluding to, all the evidence shows us that the connection at the local authority between the police, the local authority and all the other services, through CDRPs and so on, is very important in reducing crime. That is why I think accountability works better at that level than at force level.
Clearly, you need something at force level—you need something better than what we have at the moment. It needs to be more visible, and we need to ensure that the
Q 68 Mary Macleod (Brentford and Isleworth) (Con): I want to push you a bit on whether too much power is placed in one person. Having one person as police and crime commissioner makes the accountability link strong. It is a significant role and mandate—for example, under the Mayor of London. I wanted your view on whether having one person makes that person more accountable. They are elected, so the public can always say, “No, you’re not doing the right things, you’re not doing enough, and we’re going to get rid of you.”
Ian Loader: I can see why the Government have got themselves into this position. One reason might simply be that in a world of celebrities and culture, people will be more interested in an election for an individual than an election for a committee. If you want to generate public interest and debate on the elections, you’re better off doing it like this than generating an elected police authority. I can see that there is logic to that.
You can also see the logic in creating a job where people have sufficient authority—and, let’s face it, a certain amount of power—as it will attract people of a certain calibre, who want to do it and develop expertise and knowledge in the policing field. That might be all to the good. However, with it come certain risks. One is dislocation from the locality. That is why we have the local police and crime panels. That relationship is going to be important. You might also say that there is an oddity in creating a figure to make the police accountable, then creating another body to make that figure accountable to them. It can create that sort of problem.
It also means that the relationship between the local elected police commissioner and the chief constable is going to be very important to how it works, for the following reasons. There are all kinds of advantages in holding elections around policing, as I have indicated. There are also certain attendant risks—basically, you may create 41 mini arms races, with candidates falling over one another and promising that they will be the toughest on the local crime problems, and that if they are commissioner they are going to knock the chief constable into shape. They will promise to do things that, once elected, they cannot in practice possibly deliver.
There is also a risk, it seems to me, that if you hold elections purely around policing, some of the dangers of what de Tocqueville once called the tyranny of the majority could manifest themselves big-style. Therefore, one needs to think carefully about how to create checks and balances in the system, in the relationship between the elected police commissioner and the chief constable. I do not think that the Government have got it right, and it is something that could be improved.
The situation, if I understand the Bill correctly, is that the elected police commissioner will prepare a local policing plan that the chief constable has the capacity to veto under clause 5(8). However, the elected police
If I were to do anything about it, I would remove the power to veto the local policing plan from the chief constable. If you are serious about making policing democratically accountable and placing the strategic priority-setting goals in the hands of an elected figure, the chief constable should not have a veto. You might want the chief constable to be closely involved, and you might want to include a statutory obligation to consult, but I do not think you need to go so far as a veto, especially if the veto comes with the attendant risk of being sacked for exercising the veto. I would remove that veto, but I would stiffen things.
If I have another worry, it is that there will be a bit too much coming and going of chief constables. That is not the best way to get those checks and balances right. What you want, it seems to me, is an elected public official who sets the strategic priorities, and a chief constable who can say on the basis of their professional authority and expertise, “I don’t think this will run,” or, “You can’t do this,” or, “You can do this, but it won’t reduce crime,” and so on, without fear of being removed. I think that you need to find a way of putting in place a few more substantive safeguards in relation to the power that the commissioner has to remove the chief constable, because I do not think that that balance is in quite the right place.
Chris Sims: I would like to comment on something connected. The most important safeguard that I would look at is not about local matters and performance, but about ensuring that there is a balance in delivering the full requirements of the police force. The strategic policing requirement, which sits as part of the proposed legislation, is potentially the most important part. As ever when you talk about policing, we focus, inevitably, on the local and the uniform, and most of the plan tends to be about that. However, a great deal of my resource is, quite properly, directed at the high-level, sensitive areas of the policing mandate. They are not visible to the public and are, quite properly, not part of everyday discussion, but it would be absolutely disastrous if they were squeezed out by an over-emphasis on locality. The real and biggest question for me is making sure that there is a proper balance in the national part of policing delivered by the 43 forces and the local part of their mandate. If we lose that balance, I think it would be a really dangerous place to be.
Q 69 Diana Johnson (Kingston upon Hull North) (Lab): At the outset, in the response to Vernon Coaker’s question, the words “experiment” and “potential” were used. I am anxious that when Governments make decisions, they should be based on the evidence available to inform that decision making. Previous Governments have been criticised for not doing that.
What do the panel think about piloting, in certain areas of the country, this model of having a commissioner alongside the moveable feast that we have in localism and what is happening in local authorities and other public services? What are your views on that?
Rick Muir: In the previous report, I recommended a more gradual and nuanced approach to it, so that different areas could try out different models and we could see how it goes. I think that, across reforms to public services, that is very important. The best public service reforms are ones that are incremental rather than wholesale and rapid. You learn from your mistakes and you can then make adjustments and move in a more evolutionary way. I certainly think that that would be a good way to go.
Q 70 Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): That leads to my point. My question is about the power of the chief constable on this; I would like to explore their powers compared with the current position a bit more. Schedule 2 describes a chief constable as a “corporation sole”, which I do not believe they are at the moment—they do not have the power to hire staff. Paragraph 7 has an interesting sentence:
Chris Sims: That part of the legislation deals with an anomaly that exists at the moment: in effect, I am the chief executive of a big organisation, but I operate in the name of the police authority in everything I do. The police authority is the employer and the recipient of grants that enters into contracts and so on.
It is partly correcting the anomaly and partly recognising that if all the powers—or more properly, the responsibilities—that the police authority currently has were vested in the new commissioner, all that person would be doing would be sitting, signing contracts, looking at procurement processes and so on. I honestly do not think that the intention of the legislation is to draw the commissioner into that sort of accountability.
Chris Sims: No, but I run an organisation of 1,400 people, so therefore I have contract experts and human resources experts who do that for me. If you vested that power in the commissioner, the danger is that you would begin to have to accrue resource to mimic that which is currently within the police organisation.
The one thing I have been impressed with is the resolve that this should not cost more. If you did not do that, it would end up costing more because immediately the commissioner would be required to have banks of legal financial personnel expertise in order to discharge responsibility. I honestly do not think that is quite what the legislators intended.
There are 3.5 million people unregistered to vote in the UK. The Electoral Commission has done research into what type of person is unregistered. They are black and ethnic minority people, young people, people who live in social housing and council housing, people who live in houses of multiple occupation and people in deprived areas—in other words, the very victims of crime who we are talking about and whose lives will be influenced by the legislation we are passing.
Those people are not even on the register to vote, so in considering the task of exciting them to vote, the Electoral Commission will have to go back one step further. At a time of central Government cutbacks—electoral registration funding is not hypothecated; it is up to local government to decide how much money it puts in there—there is a need to look at the issue of registration, otherwise you may get the tyranny of the majority or the tyranny of the registered versus the unregistered.
I also think that there is a desperate need for the Electoral Commission to give ward-by-ward figures to local town councils, county councils, Assembly Members and Members of Parliament on what the registration rates and levels of turnout are in their ward. At least if they are armed with those figures, they can say that they need to strengthen this voice in this ward because they are unregistered or they do not turn out to vote.
We need to excite those people. The Electoral Commission has failed to do that over the past five or six years, despite the fact that there are new powers under the Electoral Administration Act 2006. In addition, despite the fact that there has been tens of millions of pounds of extra funding, registration rates have not greatly improved. So give us your views please on registration, the Electoral Commission and ensuring that they are not neglected.
Rick Muir: I agree with the tenor of what you are saying. It is important for the reason you gave surrounding the question of who the victims of crime are. Within police force areas, there are likely to be more victims of crime in deprived areas and most offences are likely to take place in those areas. They also tend to be areas that have lower turnouts at elections and so on.
As part of that, we do not want to end up in a situation where, for example, an elected police commissioner has an incentive to focus on those parts of the force area that are more likely to vote and turn out at elections than others, because they are likely to be the more wealthy areas. So I do not quite know how you deal with that.
Clearly, boosting registration is one way of doing it. Of course, chief constables and sensible police commissioners will want to make sure that everybody in their area gets a decent policing service and that there is not an electoral tendency to police the leafier areas because they are more likely to vote. I do not know whether it is likely to go that far, but there is some risk of that.
Ian Loader: I think you raise an important issue. It is clearly something that the Electoral Commission must take seriously. I think the question of turnout for the elections will be very important to the credibility and legitimacy of the people elected to be commissioners. If we get to the point where it is going to happen, clearly a great effort needs to take place among the political class in general to encourage as many people to turn out as possible.
Having said that, some of the issues that you have raised may not be ones that can easily be dealt with between now and May 2012. It raises an issue that Rick alludes to. There is a danger that if you democratise local policing, it will start to drag resources away from those areas of towns and cities where the need for policing is greatest because levels of crime victimisation are greatest. In this context, you can deal with that by trying to make the elections as representative as possible. You can also deal with it by trying to think more imaginatively about what kind of office the elected police commissioner’s office should properly be.
One possibility is to treat them—I was going to say “just like an elected politician”, but this is the wrong room in which to say that. You treat them as someone who will stand on a manifesto, get elected, think that it is their task to implement the manifesto for the next four years and get themselves re-elected in four years’ time. You could supplement that by treating the office—I think that there is a real case for this—as being not just about doing that but about being a kind of fulcrum and a catalyst for organising citizen engagement and public deliberation around policing issues, so that reaching out to those very constituents who are not registered becomes part of the job of being an elected police commissioner.
If you want to make sure that that happens, rather than just relying on those who are elected to do it, I think the way to do it is to put in place much more stringent and robust consultation stipulations when you think about what the commissioner has to do before they come up with a local policing plan. That would be, I think, a better way of getting at the problem you have identified than hoping that the millions of people who are not registered to vote suddenly get themselves registered so they can take part in a police commissioner’s election.
Chris Sims: This is absolutely not my territory. Any thought or suggestion that any chief constable would skew decision making in order to balance some electoral undertaking is absolutely anathema to any chief constable.
Q 74 Dr Huppert: Can I just clarify what you mean by that? It is an interesting comment about how you would adjust your operational activities in response to electoral commitments. Presumably, the point of a commissioner is that they make some electoral commitments about the sort of policing that they would like to see.
What do you think would be acceptable? Could they run on a platform of saying, “I would prioritise such and such types of crime” or “I will do such and such”, or are you not actually interested at all in what they say they will do?
Chris Sims: This is where the plan is important. The interface between my operational control of the force and the political input of the commissioner is through the agreement of the policing plan. That is why it is so important that it is an agreement rather than an imposition, because the agreement allows my professional judgment to sit against the political judgment of the commissioner to create a pattern of local policing for the force area.
Chris Sims: No. I see them as the person with the legal responsibility to agree with me the plan as to how policing will operate in the force area, but obviously not to be the person who moves resources about, makes operational decisions or is accountable for those operational decisions, because that person is me.
Rick Muir: All this raises an interesting question about what will happen when these people are elected and turn up, having run on manifestos saying, “You’re going to have a police officer on every street.” When they come across the chief constable and the legal parameters, there are going to be some arguments. It will be very interesting.
We just have to go through that process but, as Chris said, it is important that there are those checks and balances and that the police have finally agreed. In an area such as policing, it is important that the independent, professional judgment is alongside the political priorities.
Q 76 Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): I should like to take that further forward. Picking any example causes a problem, but say that I was—heaven forbid—the west midlands police commissioner in two years’ time and I said, “Don’t want speed cameras. I don’t think that they work. We will do speed reduction through education and perhaps flashing signs in accident black spots.” Would not that be a case in which someone could say, “Yes, that is something that we could do”? Would that be crossing the line or do you think that that is roughly where a commissioner could be?
Q 77 Nigel Mills: Say I said that, and you thought that it was completely ridiculous and mad. Would that be a time when you were trying to agree with me or would you be trying to create a public debate? I am trying to understand what the interaction would be. Would you reject a police plan just because it had that in it?
Chris Sims: No. I am sure that the police plan would have a balance. It must be looked at as a balanced document. As for the example that you chose, it is a question of the use of financial resource and research into the ability of cameras to save lives. There is a professional view and there is a political view. We do our best to try to bring them together. In the end, I am running the force. It is my job to protect the people, and I will need to do the right thing for people in the west midlands.
If I had just recently been elected and was in that situation, I would really want to force you to change your position. I am wondering how you envisage you will deal with a situation when someone with a clear electoral mandate is saying, “Look, this is the whole purpose. The police Minister has brought in the Bill to make you more accountable. He has given me all this power. Here is the plan that the people want. You find the resources to get it implemented.” How on earth will you be able to say no?
Chris Sims: I have clear vocational lines of what I believe policing is about. I will not cross those vocational lines. I have given 30 years of service to policing, and I would absolutely make sure that the people in the west midlands were safe and as well served as I could make them, because that is my role.
Ian Loader: There are two tensions running through this discussion. They seem inescapable. They cannot be wished away; it is not as though they are being invented by the Bill. One is a tension between some kind of democratic accountability and input on the one hand, and a chief constable or any other police officer’s professional judgment on the other. The other tension is between what you call a policy decision or a strategic priority and what you call an operational decision. It is just a myth to think that you can somehow write all that down at this moment and wish all such problems away.
They will be problems, and the wager the Bill is making is that we put in place mechanisms for making sure that such things can be managed and worked through on the ground. You can probably do no better than that, other than to make sure that the Bill puts in place an architecture that has the appropriate checks and balances to enable the commissioner to say, “I’ve been elected on this mandate. You need to do this” and the chief constable to say, “That’s nonsense”, or “That goes against 30 years of my policing experience”, or “I don’t think it’s good for you to take away a policing resource from this problem to that problem because this is a problem here”, without being sacked. That seems to be the nub of it. You cannot come up with some document that says what is policy in operations, what is input and what is professional judgment. You have to put in place the right kinds of political arrangements that make it more likely that these things are going to be worked out for the good of citizens on the ground.
I am not so convinced that a pilot is what is needed here. When I said that I thought this was a democratic experiment, what follows is that you treat the whole damn thing as an experiment. You need to be prepared to see what is working and what is not working as it unfolds and to rectify mistakes as and when they arise. It may be that, for all kinds of reasons, democratically
There comes a point where if you believe in democratic politics you have to trust that institutions and actors inside local democratic politics can find a way of working these things out, and you just need to put in place mechanisms that create the appropriate checks and balances inside the system.
Q 80 Clive Efford: It is okay saying we are all committed, as we are, to the democratic principle, but it is not consistent then to say, “You can have a manifesto with knobs on, but the final person who will have a say over the plan is the unelected chief constable.” What is the point in participating in that election if you write a manifesto, and all the local press and local media pop down to the chief constable’s office and say, “Do you agree with any of this?” and he says, “No, it’s a load of rubbish”? What is the point? Do you have any comment on that?
Q 81 Vernon Coaker: This goes to the heart of it. We are discussing a Bill that is completely silent on that. The argument was first whether you should try to define “operational independence”, and what was said was, “No, that’s a bad thing.” The operational independence of the chief constable, Mr Sims, is fundamental to the democracy of our country, yet we have a Bill before us that is a leap of faith. It does not define operational independence at all because it is too difficult, or we are not sure that we can do that. The Select Committee on Home Affairs then looks at the issue and says, “Instead of operational independence, what we need is a memorandum of understanding, because it will give the protection that is paramount if the chief constable is to operate as he sees fit, and not do things because the police and crime commissioner says he should.”
If the Committee does not have a definition at some point soon, we need a draft that gives us an indication of what a memorandum of understanding would look like. Otherwise, the Committee and Parliament are being asked to make one of the most fundamental changes to how the police service in this country is governed without any idea of what a memorandum should be or what a definition should be. I therefore ask both witnesses whether they think the Bill should say something more particular about operational independence. Should we have something more in primary legislation about what a memorandum of understanding should include, so that we are much clearer about what the police and crime commissioner and the chief constable can or cannot do, and about that division? Otherwise, the sort of situation described by Mr Mills and Dr Huppert will happen all the time. What do the witnesses think the Bill should do to resolve that fundamental point, which goes to the very heart of what we are discussing?
Chris Sims: I believe—I think this is the belief widely held by the Association of Chief Police Officers—that an MOU is probably not the right style of document for this purpose, and that we should be looking at something akin to a code of practice that is associated with the legislation and viewed by Parliament simultaneously with the primary Bill.
Let me mention two of the constituent parts that would be important. I have already mentioned the strategic policing requirement, and that should be rooted in the code of practice, so that the national and inter-operability issues are absolutely squarely part of the deal, and not simply a reference point. The other player, I think, in this is the chief inspector, Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary. Let us not forget that HMIC, the third member of the tripartite accountability structure, is the Home Secretary’s adviser on policing. Where there is a log jam between chief constable and commissioner—and we must be careful that we are not creating an expectation of that; I still go into this with an optimism that this can be worked through, but let us go with the scenario that we have created—HMIC has a really important part to play as the one that can validate the professional judgment and take a view above, potentially, the two parties, to help create the agreement that is required. I think that should be a code of practice.
Q 83 Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): I represent a north Wales seat, and you will probably recall that we had a fairly controversial chief constable by the name of Richard Brunstrom, who was a great favourite of the Daily Mail and The Mail on Sunday in particular. He had very strong views. I hate to think of the sort of candidates that would come forward to stand for election if Richard were still there. If we had someone equally controversial, how would you see the balance working? I am quite concerned about the sort of people who might be motivated to stand for election. Richard had very strong views on cameras, drugs and a whole host of issues.
Rick Muir: Well, there could be a clash. I think in most cases, the idea that you agree a joint policing plan between the two of you will work fine. As the chief constable said, people should approach this with good will. There may be cases where there is an irreconcilable clash, but that would have to be dealt with. I think it would be quite rare. As for making sure that good calibre people come forward, it is the responsibility of political parties of all kinds to make sure that they have good quality people as their candidates in the election, and that they take it very seriously. That is not something you can legislate for. It is something that political parties and civil society have to generate.
Ian Loader: I do not think you can decide whether this is a good or bad idea on those ad hominem grounds. You can get quirky, odd people elected Prime Minister; you do not, on that basis, ask whether the office of Prime Minister should remain.
Ian Loader: I have been thinking about this question of whether you need some kind of code of practice, or memorandum of understanding. I may not be clever enough to work this through, but I am not quite sure what would go in it. What is animating that is the idea that you can legislate for all this, so that on the ground, everything will run totally smoothly. As it happens, I think that on the ground, mostly the relationships will work out reasonably well. All kinds of facts will shape that. Even if you are an elected police commissioner, if you are sensible, you do not go around publicly waving your mandate in the face of the chief constable, provoking them to disagree with you. Chief constables in this country are still sufficiently symbolically powerful figures to ensure that publicly falling out with them is not a smart bit of business if you want to be re-elected in four years’ time. None of that is an argument for not getting the right checks and balances in place, but I think that is the best that you can do, rather than try to prescribe in detail what is possible.
We have been going round the policy/operations track for about 25 years. I am just about old enough to remember when the Greater Manchester police authority wanted to abolish the police band, and Jim Anderton said that whether chief officers blow a trombone or not is an operational decision and nothing to do with the police authority. There are so many difficulties. It seems that everybody is clear—and the legislation does not allow it—that nobody wants an elected police commissioner to go round telling chief constables, “Arrest x, y and z,” or “Police demonstrations in this kind of way.” The job is principally limited to the setting of strategic priorities in a plan. That does not mean that there will not be conflict between the chief officer and the commissioner on what should properly go into that plan, and what it means in terms of the allocation of resources. That is what democratic politics is about—finding mechanisms for trying to enable that conflict to be resolved.
Q 85 Mr Burley: I want to ask a question on operational responsibility. First, on the point that democratising local policing would draw resources away from poor areas, I see that as a big red herring. The equivalent for an MP would be for me to not answer letters from constituents in poorer parts of my constituency, not hold surgeries in their parts of town, and not hold public meetings. If anything, one would want to do that even more to try to extend one’s mandate and majority. I hope that the PCCs would do the same.
Coming back to operational independence, I want to run a scenario past you that I have put to several other people, receiving wildly differing answers. I would be interested in your views. It strikes me that in 18 months’ time there will be 43 people elected in this country on a similar mandate: put more police on the streets. Day one, they are in their job, they sit down with Chris or the other 42 chief constables, and say, “Right. I believe it is part of my democratic mandate, on which I have been elected, to get more police out on the beat. I want them out of the cars and patrolling more. I do not want them patrolling in pairs; I want them patrolling individually.” Would you see that as a legitimate part of their democratic mandate, or are they encroaching on operational independence?
Chris Sims: There is a clear line there. The democratic mandate is to demand of me, as chief, a style of policing that maximises street presence. There is absolutely no problem with that at all. Developing and sharing a plan with the commissioner to explain how I am going to enable that to happen raises no problem. If the conversation then gets into, “I want two people in that car instead of one” or vice versa—absolutely not. I must have the ability to deploy my people, because professionally that is what I have been trained to do. In that example there is a clear demarcation.
Chris Sims: That is absolutely mine. However, on agreeing a plan to maximise visibility of policing as part of the big picture, the answer would be yes. If you come to me and say, “I want a single patrol on the high street between x and y,” the answer is absolutely not.
Q 87 Mr Burley: If there is a general strategic direction that I want to impress on you as chief constable, and my view is that policing in pairs is less accessible to the public—they do not like going up to them—and is doubling resources, and I think the best way of maximising street presence is through a policy of not patrolling in pairs any more, do you see me as having the right to ask you to put that in the plan? Or is that totally your operational decision?
Q 88 Nick Herbert: This goes to the crux of the matter. I wonder if I might probe a bit more. Was it not the case that Boris Johnson stood on a mandate—it was in his manifesto—to put uniformed officers on public transport? I think that there are two questions. First, was he formally able to do that, or was such a decision an operational matter for the commissioner of the Met? Secondly, did he not sit down with the commissioner of the Met and decide that that was a good idea, which meant, therefore, that the mandate did mean something, even if it formally crossed that barrier on operational independence? [Interruption.] No, the new commissioner.
Rick Muir: I think that I disagree with what the chief constable said. It is a policy issue. One of the motivations behind doing this is that in decades gone by, people would find out that things were happening, such as their local police stations were closing down, and they had no say over them. There was this move away from more visible policing towards patrolling by car. Neighbourhood policing was a political plan that was
Chris Sims: I just think that that is factually not true. Yes, there was a national discussion on neighbourhood policing and some agreed national models that ACPO drew up, but its operation was driven by 43 chief constables. Each force has its own policy. It is a good example, because the spirit of it is appropriately driven as a national structure, but operating it as a policy has to be part of the deployment of resource and sits with the chief constable.
Q 90 Mr Burley: But there is an historical essence in there, which Rick alluded to, which was that 10 to 20 years ago, there was a policy-type decision to put police in cars, because it was thought that the chance of them walking down the street and catching a burglar in practice was about the same as winning the lottery. It was seen as a waste of police resources, so they decided on rapid response. The police retreated from the streets. Then the public said, “Actually, we think that there is a deterrent effect in them walking down the street that might prevent that burglary, so we want them back on the street.” That is where my point comes from. We have a lot of people standing on this mandate of, “We want to get the police back on the streets.” I am interested in Ian’s views on that.
The other example I would use is the Tony Blair knife crime summit. A senior politician called all the chief constables to No. 10 and said, “Politically, I want something done about knife crime.” Is that not a legitimate use of political pressure to interfere with operational independence? You might argue that we need to do something about knife crime, but as a politician, you want something done.
Chris Sims: No, I am sorry, but you have missed the point. It is the difference between setting a strategy and controlling the tactic. I worked closely with the last-but-one Prime Minister on the street crime initiative, and I led nationally on its co-ordination. At no point in all of that deliberation, which was a very centrally driven mandate, did a politician attempt to influence the tactics being employed by police.
Ian Loader: What your example says to me is that this Bill is not creating a problem that does not already exist and has not already existed for some time. There have been national key performance targets since 1994. There has been a whole history of central Government interference. It is not new. My hunch is that the Committee could waste an awful lot of its time writing a big, long list of things that it thinks are operations and a big, long list of things that it thinks are policies, when, actually, that stuff has to be worked out on the ground in situ.
Q 91 Steve McCabe: Coming back to that for a second, I possibly agree with you that none of this is new. I think that that must be right, but, listening to Commissioner Burley, there is a risk that his expectations are very different if he believes, and Rick Muir seems to agree with him, that he can say, “I have a mandate to say that you won’t patrol in pairs, because this would be a better use of resource.” You think that may be the case. What if he also thinks that you do not all need stab vests, or you do not all need a particular piece of equipment? Is it not just as reasonable for him to think that that is an efficient use of resource? Is that not slightly different from your usual problem, because we have created a whole new institution that expects to have far greater power to demand of the chief constable what even a Prime Minister could not demand in the past? Is that not where it is slightly different? There is a huge expectation of this Bill and of police commissioners and what they will be able to do. If the Government create them and chief constables nobble them at every turn, presumably the Government will think that the Bill has been a failure.
Ian Loader: The first thing that comes to mind is that we already have local policing plans. So, presumably, such issues must come up on the ground every time that a police authority and a chief constable negotiate the local policing plan. To the best of my knowledge, chief constables and police authorities up and down the land are not quibbling about whether the use of Tasers on a demonstration, or having officers work in pairs or wearing stab vests should go in the local policing plan. There is already a bit of collective wisdom and experience of doing this stuff.
What is changing—we should not underestimate this, because it is an important change—is the author of the policing plans and the mechanisms through which those people get into the position they are in. In other words, we are electing them directly. That gives them a connection to citizens. Presumably, therefore, they will have the disposition to say, “I can do this, because I have been elected to do it”. That does not currently exist.
At the risk of repeating myself, I think it is more valuable not to think, “Oh no, how do we get the policy-operation distinction to work?”, but to put in place the right kinds of checks and balances for the relationship between the commissioner and the chief constable to enable a conversation, because it will have to be a conversation, to take place on the ground between commissioners and their forces.
Some of that is related to the things that Chris has said—all that stuff about a lot of effective policing being invisible and, therefore, not being a vote winner. We have to find a way to inject that into the discussion of local policing plans, but there is a crunch. If people cannot agree, who makes the decision? For my money, it should be the elected police commissioner, and I think that is what democracy is about. Along the way, you want to ensure that the elected police commissioner is involved in a close and sustained conversation with chief constables. The Bill has not gone that far. Perplexingly, the Bill gives the chief constable a veto.
Q 92 Mike Crockart (Edinburgh West) (LD): I agree with what Mr Loader has said about spending an awful lot time reinventing the wheel by coming up with a defined list of what counts as operational and what
Rick Muir: I guess I differ from Ian on the code of practice. Having a code of practice would be important, because we have muddled along in a very British way, without defining operational independence for the past 50 years. There have been various judicial decisions, which have framed how people see the roles of the chief constable and of the police authority. It is all about balance between professional judgment and independence, and democratic accountability. We are shifting the balance towards democratic accountability by having that personal mandate.
When that happened in London, there was lot of confusion about what the Mayor could do and what the commissioner’s role was. As we are doing that, it is worth erring on the side of caution. It would be best to set out and flesh out a bit more what sits under the different roles. Erring on the side of caution, I support the ACPO proposal for a code of practice.
The Chair: Okay. We are likely to lose a quarter of an hour, because there will be a Division between now and 6 o’clock, and we do not have any injury time. Vernon, do you want to ask about the Home Secretary’s plans?
People are right to say that the police and crime commissioner will, essentially, focus on local priorities in order to be elected. To be fair, the Government have recognised that. Somewhere along the line, chief officers in the police service have told Ministers that that is a real issue, hence we have clause 79, which introduces a strategic policing requirement. Does the panel agree that the requirement does not go far enough?
My understanding of the clause is that the chief constable must have regard to the strategic police requirement that is published by the Home Secretary. Would it not be more effective if it were not only the chief officer who had to have such regard, but also the police and crime commissioner? I know that the police and crime commissioner can advise on what should be in the strategic requirement, but that is not the same as being required to have regard to it once they have done so. The Home Secretary is saying that these are important strategic issues. What are your views on whether requiring the police and crime commissioner as well as the chief constable to have regard to that would help to overcome some of the difficulties? People are promising a police
Chris Sims: That would be helpful. I almost take the position that that particular part of the Bill cannot be too strong. It is not just about dealing with the serious end of the policing mission; it is also about working cross-boundary, and collaborating tactically and strategically. All that needs to be part of a framework in which the commissioner must set decisions. Is it right that, as soon as you have elected someone, you have codes of practice that bind their behaviour? That is your issue, not mine.
It is right that it would be catastrophic if the commissioner took office and believed that there were absolute local scope with the resources that sit within the force, and that nothing mattered other than putting officers out on street corners and so on. Somehow we have got to think of a mechanism that ensures recognition by both chief constable and commissioner of the need to balance between the service and protection ends of how we operate.
Rick Muir: I agree. It would reduce the scope for disagreement for a start—it would set out the expectation that policing isn’t just about vehicle crime, burglary and all this, but about all the other things that we know it’s about. We know that one of the great gaps that we still have is the regional level and the cross-border stuff, so that would be fine. It would mean that everyone’s expectations were clear—everyone would have to take that seriously.
Ian Loader: Me too. It seems peculiar that you would have one actor in the system who had to attend to local, national and cross-border policing concerns and another actor in the system who wouldn’t have to give any regard to those national concerns. The question is what is the best mechanism is to ensure that both those actors are attuned to both those dimensions.
Q 94 Nigel Mills: I did. One of the issues that we’ve been around the houses with a bit is how you get in the local links and accountability when you have one person with a larger region. It looks like the police and crime panels are the fix for that in the Bill. It looks to me to be positive that you are bringing an individual from every district council into this, which is a bit of progress from the police authorities, which can be made up any old how, as far as I can tell. Do you think that has gone far enough and got the balance right, or could something different be done there to try and get the local influence in?
Ian Loader: In relation to the police and crime panels, I think their balance is probably about right, although I have not given the question as much thought as it clearly deserves. They will clearly be important in making sure that one gets that relationship between the commissioner and local force areas. But let’s be clear also that that’s not the only relationship that will matter
Chris Sims: The panel is really important. It is the only actual expression of locality in the way that the commissioner operates. If I can boringly go back to the west midlands, it is the only opportunity potentially for people in Coventry, Wolverhampton or Walsall to have someone linked tangibly to the process. It’s really important.
The thinking around the panel developed in parallel to the thinking on the commissioner. It has been clear that the panel’s duty is to hold to account the commissioner, not the chief constable. That will be quite a difficult tension. I have a really important relationship with my local authorities, so I appear before Birmingham city council in effect to answer to it and to take questions from it. That’s an important part of what I do. I would not want the existence of the panel to form a barrier between my role in working with local partners.
Chris Sims: Both. But I try to get before the council at stages as well, so that I can field questions on my police initiatives. Birmingham city council is keen to continue that relationship. Policing is so important, I don’t think Birmingham would always want to work through an intermediary. I think they would want to speak to me, and I would not want to work back through an intermediary because the relationship with local authorities is really important. I have not quite got my head round where the panel sits in that. It does not feel absolutely right to me.
Q 96 Vernon Coaker: To build on that, I would appreciate hearing the comments of any of the witnesses about the policing and crime panels. Notwithstanding what the chief constable said, it is very unclear to me whether the police and crime panels have been designed to scrutinise the work of the commissioner or hold the commissioner to account, or what the role of the police and crime panel is. I do not understand where the idea of two independent members rather than what the police and crime panel thinks is appropriate has come from. I do not understand what powers the police and crime panel has, other than the very limited powers in the Bill. It has a power on appointment—not to say anything about the sacking, the commissioner can just sack the chief constable without reference to anybody—and a power to veto the precept, and all of that on a three-quarters majority. It would seem, from the size of the majority and the limited powers that the police and crime panel has, that it is not regarded as something that is there to do very much.
We then get into whether we are going to recreate the police authority. Does the panel have any views on what the police and crime panel should be about? What powers should it have? What do you see the function as? Is it a scrutinising function, a holding-to-account function or a reviewing function?
Q 97 Clive Efford: There are certain circumstances in which the Mayor’s office or a commissioner might have to withhold information from the local police and crime panel. Do you envisage any difficulties that those circumstances might create?
Q 98 Clive Efford: For instance, they might be party to information on national security that they might have to withhold from the panel. Will there be any difficulty scrutinising the commissioner in circumstances where the panel cannot have the information?
Chris Sims: There is a little sub-strand in this about what information the commissioners can have if they have not been vetted. If we are choosing a national security example, a bigger question might be about the chief constable withholding information from the commissioner.
Rick Muir: Scrutiny or accountability? I think both, really; that would be my view. It is very important. We have the chief constable, who has operational responsibility, and the commissioner, who sets the priorities. I think you would want the panel to scrutinise both, because there will be operational decisions that the chief constable makes that politicians should not decide but will want to scrutinise afterwards, such as how an operation has been run. In many ways that happens now; there is post-hoc scrutiny of decisions and reviews, and that would be useful from—
Chris Sims: Sorry, can I interrupt? That is where I think there might be some confusion, because the local authority has a scrutiny role, particularly around community safety, which the seven local authorities I work with exercise. I do not think that they would want to give that up in favour of the panel.
I think some of this has to be worked through. The panel feels like a really honest attempt to root the commissioner in the locality and create stronger links between local authorities, where they are multi-local authorities, and the commissioner. Mr Coaker’s point is right: there is a series of specific functions, but probably not enough about the general role.
Ian Loader: That is my feeling, too. It seems uncertain, at the moment, whether the local panels will have some kind of limited scrutiny role in relation to the commissioner—in which case, apart from anything else, you might struggle to find people who want to go and sit on them, rather than do other things—and whether you can find ways of actually trying to sew them into mechanisms for delivering accountable local policing. The trick is clearly to do the latter and not only the former. I am unclear, at the moment, whether the Bill’s provisions do enough to ensure that what happens on the ground is the latter and not the former.
Rick Muir: Personally, I have never supported independent members. Because I am a democrat, I think that these functions should be performed by elected people. I know there are arguments; people always say, “These are some of the best people on the police authority, and it is very important for diversity,” and all the rest of it. Those are considerations, but it is a democratic body. If we want more diversity, it is up to political parties and others to ensure that they are putting forward a diverse range of candidates and so on. I do not really buy the argument for independent members.
Chris Sims: In the regime that we are leaving, independent members have added an awful lot to police authorities, in terms of skills and representation. It almost goes back to the previous question about understanding the role of the group before understanding its composition. The democratic challenge, which, again, I do not fully understand, is the ability of the commissioner seemingly to appoint people to undertake significant roles. Of all the pieces in this, the least democratic seems to be the ability, once elected, simply to choose people that you are going to get to do stuff. That is what I am not sure about.
Ian Loader: I am with Rick. There are all kinds of good reasons of principle why there should not be independent members involved in this, apart from the possible exception that if there is a rationale for co-opting, it should be for trying to access groups of the population who are demonstrably not being represented through the electoral process. That goes back to the point that was made earlier.
Q 101 Clive Efford: There are several points. Should it be the role of the chief officer or the commissioner to determine neighbourhoods, for the purposes of engaging with local communities to determine what police priorities they should apply?
Chris Sims: Here, we are entering the substrata of accountability, where neighbourhood priorities are driven upwards from community. Clearly, there is an issue of ability to deliver, which is for the force, but actually, I think we have made huge headway in allowing local priorities to be set by local people. I would not expect—
Rick Muir: Clearly, what is wanted is, I think, exactly as the chief constable said. We have made huge strides in this area, having beat meetings with local people and setting those priorities in local wards. We do not want any reversal of that at all, and that is not my understanding of the Bill. We must defend that. There might be issues about defining what a neighbourhood is, but that has to be determined now at some level, through negotiation with local authorities, the force and so on. So I am not so concerned about that.
Q 105 Clive Efford: Earlier, you were flummoxed by my quotation from the Greater London authority, about it being perplexed that this diminishes the amount of power delegated to the elected representatives. I would like just a simple answer: is that a good thing or a bad thing? If it is in the Bill, is it good or bad?
Clive Efford: We have an example of an elected representative in London. We have a democratically elected police authority, and the Bill reduces the number of powers that it has. That is in the submission to the Committee. Is it good or bad that the role of the elected representatives is diminished?
Ian Loader: I will go back to the point with which I started. We are having a discussion about how to mitigate the risks and maximise the potential benefits of a model I would not have started with. My preference would have been to have a directly elected police authority, and in so far as this diminishes that—[ Interruption. ] Members might say, “Now you tell us,” but I told you that at the beginning.
Could I perhaps move on to the provisions around clause 140, and ask for some advice about those? Police officers have the right to use reasonable force—effectively state-sanctioned violence—and presumably have an extensive period of training in order to do so. Could you comment on how hard it is to judge reasonable force, how much training is required and how appropriate it is for non-police officers to do such things?
Chris Sims: “State-sanctioned violence” is possibly the silliest term that I have heard in a long time. The framework for this is common law, and common law
Q 108 Dr Huppert: Sorry, perhaps I did not put the question very well, for various reasons. I am not criticising officers in any way; I am trying to understand how hard it is for them to do that, and whether you have concerns about people who are not trained officers having the ability to use reasonable force.
Chris Sims: Actually, no. The whole point about the test of reasonableness is that it takes into account the training, and the context in which the decision is made. What would be reasonable for a trained officer is different from what would be reasonable for an untrained member of the public. Ultimately, it is the court that makes the judgment as to whether what has been done is reasonable.
It is a little bit like the argument that we have had: how far can one legislate for every eventuality? The answer is that this is a test that covers a million and one varieties of human interaction, and has, I think, stood us all, as police and as citizens, in pretty good stead.
Q 109 Nigel Mills: I have a couple of differing questions. First, Chris, have you ever found it tricky to walk the line between doing your job and getting into politics? There can be an argument about whether you should ever use fixed cautions for knife offenders, or for some other thing that is topical. Have you ever struggled to stay on the right side of that line? Have you ever felt that you might have made a mistake and crossed it?
Chris Sims: It has always been clear in my mind where the boundaries sit. Not everyone might agree with my definition, but I have always been really clear about that. I have dealt with some politically contentious areas—not least when Mr Coaker was in office—around DNA, which is a reasonable example. I have always been clear that it is not for the police to determine retention periods, but it is for us to advise Ministers on consequences and the manner in which legislative change is made. I think that that is a reasonable example of where the issue is very politicised, but a police officer has to understand what the proper boundaries are.
Q 110 Nigel Mills: Do you think that this change to commissioners will help you toe that line to a certain extent, in that if there is a political problem the commissioner can deal with it, and if it is operational it falls into your domain? Or do you think that it will make no difference in that sort of situation?
Chris Sims: I sort of doubt that things will easily present themselves in that neat way. Most things that you encounter have both a political and an operational dimension, and they have to be dealt with as a single entity.
Chris Sims: But that goes back to previous answer. Professionally, I think that I have the right to comment on consequences. It is not for me to determine what levels of taxation are or what apportionment of taxable revenue comes in my direction, but I have a professional voice about the consequences of those decisions, and I am reasonably clear on that.
Rick Muir: I do not want to live in a society where chief constables are gagged from talking about difficult issues, on which their professional views are important. They are not decision makers on those issues, but they have a view. I have never bought the argument that they should just stay quiet on some of the big national debates. If they have a professional view, let us listen to it as part of the public deliberation, and Parliament will make the decisions. That is how it works.
Chris Sims: I always think that there is some difficulty in charging for service in general and about how a charge is administered, what expectations it generates and where it does or does not fall. There are a whole series of businesses operating. Do we charge Tesco for dealing with a shoplifter or do we not? I think it becomes very difficult, and you would have to find real clarity in making exceptions. In a way, over the years we have generated a different piece around the policing of football matches, but that is with a very narrow definition of what a chargeable activity is and what is not. I think that would be really difficult to do around licensed premises.
Q 115 Mr Matthew Offord (Hendon) (Con): To elaborate on the previous point, is there anything that you would like to see in the Bill—particularly in the police and crime plans—from an operational perspective?
Ian Loader: Some of these I have mentioned already. If it were me, I would remove the chief constable’s veto over the policing plan. I would reintroduce substantive safeguards that meant it was not so easy for a commissioner to dismiss a chief constable. That is potentially quite dangerous and needs the Committee’s serious attention. I would introduce much more stringent and robust requirements on commissioners to consult widely, not least among those who might not be registered to vote in the election, when they go through the process of preparing the policing plan.
Rick Muir: As I said, a code of practice, or something that elaborates the issue of how we understand the two different roles, is very important. I think a policing plan should be agreed between the two, just to contradict Ian, but I also buy what he says about thinking through how easy it is to dismiss a chief constable. That is an area where it is proper that a commissioner should have the ultimate power to do that, because that is what gives the commissioner some teeth, but thinking through the exact safeguards around that—it is not something that can be used lightly—is very important.
Q 117 Steve McCabe: May I briefly go back to Nigel’s question about treading this political line, which I suppose builds on what you have just said? If we were to see a number of chief constables either sacked or choosing to go early as a result of well-publicised difficulties with their commissioners, would that suggest that the political line had been shifted by this legislation? Would that be a reasonable conclusion?
Rick Muir: I guess it would. We are shifting the line. The balance is shifting towards what you could call politicisation. One person’s politicisation is another person’s accountability; they sort of amount to the same thing. It is all about balance, and about the safeguards and how that works out. So, yes, we are shifting a line. Do I think that it is more likely in this context that there will be more fluidity and more changes of chief constables? I think probably yes, but I do not think it is going to be dramatic. We are not going to see it increase vastly, but over the course of years we probably will see a bit more mobility, because we have created this new dynamic in the systems.
Chris Sims: We surely ought to judge the impact of the change in terms of the service given to the public, not the number of notches of chief constable departures. If we are serious, as I know collectively we are, then we ought to think about what difference it makes to people.
Q 118 Chris Ruane: Bridget Phillipson has had to leave, but she asked me to ask the following question. What are the advantages and disadvantages of introducing these new governance arrangements at the same time as police forces are being required to make significant financial savings? Is it easier or more difficult to implement those changes in a time of decreasing budgets?
Chris Sims: There is a particular issue that I raised with the Select Committee last week, which is one of timing. The most difficult year we face is 2012-13, in terms of the financial challenge, and that year creates an overlap of governance that will present a real challenge about how the police authority, and then the commissioner, takes a long-term, concerted view about some of the decisions. That apart, it is really important that both the commissioner and the chief constable adapt really quickly to a world of much more limited discretionary choice in the way in which policing is delivered. Any commissioner who stands on an agenda of novelty and growth will find quite a difficult opening few months when financial circumstances determine that a lot of that is not going to happen.
Rick Muir: If serious candidates are standing for this office, they will be people who have to take into account the fact that resources are very constrained. If they go around promising milk and honey and so on, it will not
Serious candidates will come forward, the political parties will select candidates, and there will be serious independent candidates. There will also be the crazy candidates, obviously. We put it in the hands of the public to make wise decisions, but candidates must be cognisant of the situation, which also applies to local authorities, at present. Local parties standing in elections are aware, for example, that there will have to be significant cuts in the next four years, so they do not promise too much in their manifestos.
Ian Loader: That is right. It just struck me that one of the potential advantages of this being a police-limited public office is that it precludes making a populist move and saying, “I am going to cut money from this in order to spend more on policing.” That may well be to the good, so I echo those points.
In the current environment, one needs to be cognisant of the costs of all of this. People need to be careful that they are not throwing money at this reform when it could be more usefully spent elsewhere. At the same time, if you are going to make this work on the ground, you have to make sure that when commissioners are in place, they have the kind of staff that makes it possible for them to do their job effectively. I sometimes think that, basically, people throw the “why are you spending money on this in a time of austerity?” argument around because they think that something is a bad idea, and that is a stick to beat it with. If they think that something is a bad idea, they should argue the case on its merits, and not use that argument.
Ian Loader: That is part of the point. If you are going to take localism seriously, you have to accept the consequence that national Government have to let go of responsibility for certain kinds of things on the ground. If you want to create a political culture in which there are effective institutions other than Parliament and Government Departments, that is the consequence. That
Ian Loader: That is true. Speaking as a criminologist, I think that one needs to remember in the context of this discussion that the police are important but, ultimately, marginal to the question of how to produce safe societies. If people are going to go around— [ Interruption. ] I accept that you will never get politicians to accept that, but it happens to be true.
Rick Muir: It is good that we are getting away from a world where policing is run from Whitehall and targets are set in Whitehall. We all know the problems with that. The previous Government moved away from it and went towards the single confidence target. It is right that all parties are now moving away from that kind of central interference in local policing, which creates all kinds of inflexibilities. It does not work. If you are going to move away from it, you have to have some kind of locally accountable figure or figures about whom the public can then say, “If crime goes up in Manchester, it is their fault. Let us not go to the Prime Minister.”
British Governments always suck back power because the media say, “Crime is up. It is the fault of the Government.” You need to create figures at a local level in health, in education—across the piece, actually. If you are going to localise, you need locally accountable people whom the public can hold to account at that level. Otherwise, you will always get Whitehall sucking everything back, because the media will blame it when things go wrong. Policing is one area where we are starting to crack that through this kind of change.
The Chair: Parkinson’s law has applied—you have perfectly filled all the time. I conclude by thanking our three witnesses for responding so positively to probing questions from colleagues. The Committee will meet again on Thursday at 9 o’clock, when we will hear from more witnesses.
|©Parliamentary copyright||Prepared 19th January 2011|