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Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill
|©Parliamentary copyright||Prepared 26th 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 Committee
Vernon Coaker: May I begin, Mr Howarth, by welcoming you to the Chair? The two Chairs under whom we served during the evidence sessions are away, but it is very good to be here under your chairmanship. I also say good morning to the rest of the Committee. I have debated with two or three of the Government members of the Committee a number of times, so I know that this will be an interesting exchange in the best spirit and traditions of the word.
The amendments would establish pilots. One of the premises behind the Bill is that crime and policing are in crisis. However, figures released just last week continue to show significant falls in crime. The figures to September 2010 show that recorded crime is down by 7%, and that is on top of—the Association of Police Authorities briefing tells us this—a 30% fall in crime year on year over the past decade. According to the most recent British crime survey, crime is at its lowest level for three decades. It dipped below 10 million offences with a 9% fall last year to the lowest level since comparable records began. We also learn from the APA that figures showing confidence in the police are rising, although they are still not high enough—none of us would say that they were. The Government’s Bill says that change is needed, and although hon. Members will see from our amendments that we accept that the status quo needs to be examined and changed, we do not accept that the measure is made necessary because of a dramatic crime problem or a major problem with confidence in the police.
Although some of the witnesses from whom we heard last week said that they did not believe in pilots, it is important to note that hardly any of them supported what the Government are doing. When the Minister responds to the debate, it will be interesting if he will tell us who supports their actions—apart from himself, the whipped Government Members sitting behind him and a couple of people around No. 10 Downing street. In other words, why is a pilot not necessary?
So many people support a pilot that it is a given that we ought to conduct one. When hon. Members talk to their local councillors, police authorities and everyone else, I do not think that they will find that their constituencies are full of people demanding the introduction of police and crime commissioners. In fact, I have not heard one person demanding that—I do not know whether anyone else has. Perhaps the Government’s deliberate ploy is to sneak this through without anyone realising what is happening. No one has come to my surgery to say that there is a problem, so let us hold the pilots and see whether people want these measures.
Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that it is even more important to have these pilots in Wales, where many areas of government, such as local government, health and all the partnerships that help to combat crime, are devolved? We need to learn lessons prior to full implementation, especially in areas such as Wales.
Vernon Coaker: I agree with that. The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice is responsible for policing in England and Wales, so I want him to tell us who in Wales supports what he is doing. According to the submissions that we have received from Police Authorities of Wales, it is totally opposed to what the Government are doing, yet the Minister ploughs on because he thinks that he knows better. This is an important point, because if there was huge pent-up demand and people were saying, “We would have better policing on our streets and we would improve how we tackle crime if only we had police and crime commissioners,” there would be no need for pilots.
I would have thought that those who have opposed the scheme in their written submissions to us would welcome pilots so that they could find out whether they were completely wrong. Authorities either oppose what the Government are doing or have real concerns about it. I would suggest that Surrey police authority does not support the Government—it has real concerns about or opposes the scheme. Staffordshire police authority’s submission will be of interest to the hon. Member for Cannock Chase, who will have read it and will, no doubt, have received correspondence from the authority. That excellent document expresses opposition to what the Government are doing. The police authorities of Lancashire, West Yorkshire, Greater Manchester, Chester, Dorset, Devon and Cornwall, and Avon and Somerset, as well as Police Authorities of Wales, have all written to say to the Government, “You’ve got this wrong.” They say one of three things: that the model is wrong; that they have real concerns; or that the Government should not be doing this.
A pilot would give the Government an opportunity. It would allow the hon. Member for Cannock Chase to say to Staffordshire police authority, “Don’t worry. I think you’re wrong, but I’m not determined or arrogant enough to say that I’m right and you’re wrong. We’ll have a pilot and then let’s see who’s right.” That would be a good thing for him to say to the police authority, given that it is totally opposed to what the Government are doing. Every member of the Committee needs to understand this issue.
I know that the Minister is in favour of the scheme and that he thinks it is right—he is not doing this for fun—but I ask him, in all sincerity, given that virtually every person who has given evidence or who has written to the Committee believes that what the Government are doing is wrong, how is it possible that they are all wrong and he is right? Amendment 102 would give us an opportunity to test his argument. Let us see whether all the people who have written to us have got it wrong and whether the Government have seen the light because the establishment of PCCs will transform policing in this country.
Chris Ruane: My hon. Friend has given a comprehensive list of those opposed to the scheme. If there is no groundswell of opinion among professionals, what is the Con-Dems’ true reason for advancing the scheme? The only evidence that we have heard in favour of it so far has come from a few odd—and most of them are odd—Liberal Democrat councillors. What is the Con-Dems’ true reason for pushing the issue so strongly?
Members of the Committee might not have noticed this, but pilots are now even more necessary, following the withdrawal of amendment 7. That Liberal Democrat amendment was originally going to be the lead amendment of the third group on the selection list. We would have supported the interesting proposal that it put forward, so it is regrettable that it has been withdrawn. If Liberal Democrat Members do not wish to return to it, we will. Liberal Democrat members of the Committee are part of the Government, yet the fact that they tabled an amendment stating that a referendum should take place in every area means that they have similar concerns to those that lead me to say that there should be pilots. In a sense, that amendment was an attempt to determine who was in favour of police and crime commissioners. It would have let local people have their say, because there is no groundswell of opinion.
I will be interested to hear why the hon. Member for Cambridge has withdrawn amendment 7, although I know the real reason—the hon. Member for Cannock Chase, to whom he is talking, has done a good job. However, I do not believe that the hon. Member for Cambridge woke up yesterday and thought, “My God, I have made a terrible mistake. That amendment I put down simply did not make sense and I will withdraw it.”
I ask your indulgence, Mr Howarth, because while I am talking about amendment 7, it is directly relevant to amendment 102 and pilots. Where is the groundswell of opinion? The hon. Members for Cambridge and for Edinburgh West clearly wished to test where there is support for police and crime commissioners, which is my point. That support could be determined through a referendum in which local people could vote to say, “Absolutely. We want police and crime commissioners in our area. Goodness me, Cambridgeshire would be so much better with a police and crime commissioner.” Alternatively, it should be determined by holding pilots in the areas that are demanding them.
The Chair: Order. I am loth to interrupt the hon. Gentleman’s flow, but he must speak to amendments that have been selected, rather than ones that have been withdrawn. I understand why he feels the need to make his point, but he must now concentrate on the amendments before us.
The withdrawal of amendment 7 makes amendment 102 even more important, because the pilot would test the operation of the clause with respect to PCCs. We have suggested that the pilots should take place in two or four police areas, but the Government could have three or six. No doubt—this is why a pilot could take place rather than a referendum—queues of authorities will demand to be part of the pilot schemes, although it would be interesting to know how many.
Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): May I put forward the suggestion that the Liberal Democrats have withdrawn their amendment because they have been convinced by our argument and they intend to roll behind us and support amendment 102?
We are considering an extremely important change. I have found virtually no one—whether a chief constable, a police authority, the Local Government Association or an organisation—who supports the plans, and I challenge any hon. Member to do so. Against the army of people and organisations that are opposed to the idea, one or two support it. That is why we should run pilots, because we can then test the system and see whether they are wrong and the Minister is right.
Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend aware that Northumbria police authority volunteered to pilot an alternative model in a submission to the Home Affairs Committee? It suggested a number of alternatives to the Government’s proposals. Given that a police authority is clearly willing to pilot an alternative, surely the Government should look again at the proposals and consider that.
Vernon Coaker: My hon. Friend makes a good point. As I understand it, Northumbria announced that it was willing to make changes and to improves, but in the way that it wanted to, rather than according to the model that has been set out. One of the important things about a pilot—Northumbria is a good example, and others may want to come forward—is that local people and the local authority would decide that they wanted to participate. I would have thought that the Government’s localism agenda would support pilots, because local authorities would be demanding to be part of the change, testing the system for the Government, and being at the forefront of the radical change that everybody wants, even if they do not realise how good it is. The localism agenda fits well with the amendment that we have tabled.
Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Is my hon. Friend as perplexed as I am about the apparent inconsistency in Government thinking over these matters? In the area of local government, the Government are obviously determined to have directly elected mayors. In that scenario, they are prepared to have shadow mayors, so that people can see what will happen and how it will work, iron out difficulties, then subject it to a main election. In this situation, they take an entirely different approach: they impose the election first and leave us to find out the results and problems as a consequence. Where is the consistency in what the Government are trying to achieve?
Vernon Coaker: My hon. Friend makes an excellent point: there is no consistency. When I address the need for a pilot, I will make the point that he has made about arrangements. A police authority will introduce the budgets and policing arrangements for the new commissioner to take over in May 2012. Some of the
What does the Minister think is going to happen nationally? What will be the consequence of moving from one system straight into another, with no shadowing or transition arrangements and no real clarity in the Bill about what will happen? People in police authorities and police forces up and down the country are really worried about the management and structural changes that are going to take place without any evidence about the consequences or any certainty. My hon. Friend makes the point that the Government know there is a problem in that respect, which is why they have shadow arrangements in place for mayors, to iron out problems and look at difficulties.
We know, as I have said, that all the police authorities that I listed, along with the LGA, oppose the measure. The APA, Liberty, Justice and the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children oppose it—the list goes on. Last week, the police officers who gave good evidence to us were very professional and said they would do their duty, and of course they will do whatever the Government put in place. However, the response to the Bill from the police service in terms of support is deafening. I do not meet many police officers in private who think this is a good idea. I am speaking not only about all the police authorities but about police officers themselves.
I do not often object to political debate. Many Members may wonder what I am talking about, and may not agree. [ Interruption. ] That is good to know. Some of us have suggested pilots or have tabled amendments looking at different models of accountability. It is wrong to frame the debate, as is sometimes done, as if those who oppose the measure are dinosaurs or are not progressive, or simply want to defend the status quo. There are good reasons why people oppose it. They think that it lacks clarity or could have unforeseen and unintended consequences. It is wrong to say that those people believe that everything about the current system is perfect and works as well as it should, or that we could not do better. Where there is virtual unanimity in opposing what the Government propose, a Committee of the House and Members of Parliament ought to recognise that. The Government should not just plough on regardless. That is the point of the amendment. I will come to some of the other problems that must be addressed, as I am interested to hear what the Minister has to say, but that is the point of the amendment. Let us see whether what has been said and my concerns are wrong.
The police and other organisations are not the only bodies discussing the measures. My hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Sunderland South mentioned Northumbria police authority. Ian Loader and Rick Muir both support improvements to democratic accountability and say that the current system is wrong. In their evidence to us, they said, “Yes, we agree with direct elections and with the need to change, but we don’t agree with this model.” As my hon. Friend said, Northumbria and other places might pilot a different model to test whether a single individual at the top or
Even those who support the Minister on the issue of direct elections say that his proposed model is wrong and that he needs to think again and change his mind. Why does he not use a pilot to see which model works best? I have heard him expound the virtues of localism on many occasions and talk at great length and with eloquence about how important it is that local people make decisions. Why is he imposing structures from the centre on the local level irrespective of what local people tell him? Because what they say to him does not fit his point of view. That is not localism; it is central diktat.
When I was a Minister, and the Minister and the Under-Secretary were in opposition, they used to accuse me of knowing better than local people. It is amazing how things change. I distinctly remember being asked, “Why does the Minister think he knows best? Why does the Minister ride roughshod over local opinion? Why doesn’t the Minister test some of what he’s saying and see whether it actually works?” The amendment provides an opportunity for them to put into practice what they said just a few months ago when they were in opposition.
Is it really the case that a few months into a new Government, all the rhetoric that we heard about localism and central diktat has now been put in the dustbin, and that they are determined in power to impose on—[ Interruption. ] The Under-Secretary shakes his head. Let local people decide what they want for their own area. The Bill will not do so. It will impose on them a model of police governance that the Government think is best, irrespective of what local people, local authorities and local councils say.
Chris Ruane: I thank my hon. Friend for giving way for the third time. One of the supposed reasons why the Con-Dems are proposing the measures is to get power closer to the people in the name of localism. Could there be more sinister reasons? We have seen in many Departments that the Con-Dems are changing what measurements and figures are collected and collated. Within policing, they have already downgraded the figures for antisocial behaviour and told police forces that they do not need to collect those figures any more. They are manipulating the figures and saying that they are passing them down.
If the measure takes off and police commissioners are put in place, I can see a time when we as national elected representatives will table questions on antisocial behaviour and crime and Ministers—perhaps the Ministers here today—will answer that those figures are not collected centrally any more. This power is being devolved to the regions. Ministers will do a Pontius Pilate and try to wash their hands of national control of crime in this country, because they know that the economic agenda that they are putting forward will increase crime.
The Chair: Order. I remind Committee members—although these many months in, I should not need to remind them—that the purpose of an intervention is to make a brief point, usually a single point, and not a mini speech.
To be fair, there is a real issue about central versus local. When we provide things locally, the Government always say, “Oh my God, we’ve given away all our power and everybody is asking us what we will do, when we have no responsibility for it”. There is therefore a real dilemma, and my hon. Friend is right: if we give something away locally, sooner or later, when we ask questions, the Government will get it back because they will not know what the answer is. It is a real problem.
We are suggesting that there should be pilots; I have set out the context for them and why we need them. However, there are a number of important points that the Minister needs to answer. First, we could see through the pilots whether politicisation of the police, which some people say is something to be concerned about, is just a myth or a handy argument, or whether there is real truth in that claim. I say that because people really are worried about the politicisation of the police.
Let me make a serious point to the Minister. Operational independence, or “operational responsibility” as Patten called it, is crucial. I know that the Minister accepts that, but he needs to ensure that a draft code of practice, or memorandum of understanding, is made available to the Committee.
We have tabled new clause 2, which we will come on to discuss. However, if we are talking about a pilot to test politicisation, there should be a code of practice, as the Select Committee on Home Affairs discussed. I believe that the Minister himself has said that a code of practice needs to be considered. If the Government are considering establishing a code of practice or a memorandum of understanding that sets out the responsibilities of the chief constable vis-à-vis the police and crime commissioner, a draft of that code should be made available to the Committee so that we can look at it and see what we think of it. Although it would not have the force of legislation, it would give us an idea of what might actually come to pass.
As I have said to the Minister, politicisation is a big issue with respect to the Bill. The code of practice would help, but so would a pilot. In fact, the code of practice could be tested in the pilot. Members of this Committee, some of whom serve on the Home Affairs Committee will know from the evidence that they have received about the debate that is taking place about the need for operational responsibility. The hon. Member for Edinburgh West was a police officer and he knows the fundamental importance of operational responsibility. That is why a code of practice was suggested by the Select Committee. Should such a code not be made available to the Committee? Should a draft not be produced, or suggestions about what might be included in it? If there is no time to do that now, the pilots would be a way of developing that code. Where is the code of practice and what is the Minister’s answer to the claim about politicisation?
The pilots will also give us an opportunity to test the issue of local accountability. Many of us are concerned about the fact that the Bill creates a force-wide commissioner. For example, there would be a force-wide commissioner for the whole of Devon and Cornwall, an area which, according to the APA, is 180 miles wide—good luck to the commissioner there. Dyfed-Powys police cover an area of 10,000 sq km. There are 2.5 million residents in Greater Manchester and there are 25 parliamentary constituencies in the west midlands.
The Minister has made a fundamental error with respect to democratic accountability. If he piloted different models as, according to my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Sunderland South, Northumbria has suggested, he would be able to test them. The Minister has got it fundamentally wrong. I challenge any member of this Committee to stand up and say that any of their constituents have come to them and said, “As my MP, I want you to tell my police force in Staffordshire”—or their police force in Derbyshire—“that its fraud policy is completely wrong, its collaboration arrangements are completely wrong.” They do not come to us about that; they come to us about youths at the end of their street, noisy neighbours, drug dealing in the local car park and other such issues. The model proposed by the Minister is flawed, as it represents the wrong level of democratic accountability. He could pilot different models and see whether I am wrong and he is right.
The Minister may say, “The shadow Minister has got this completely wrong, because he does not understand that in the Bill there are all those local accountability arrangements. All those things that will happen and all those things will establish local democratic accountability. If the shadow Minister understood that, he would realise that there will be the PCC at the top and all of those other people underneath. Those people would tell the PCC about things locally, and the PCC would be able to sort it out and things would be fine.” I would not believe him, and I do not think that most people would do so either. I think most people, and many Government Members, too, think that there is a problem with the size of the areas that PCCs will cover.
In my area of Nottinghamshire—again, we could test this with a pilot—somebody living close to Leicester will not see a PCC as relevant to the policing of issues local to them or to issues local to somebody living in the north of the county, which is virtually in Sheffield. It is just not tenable or feasible, yet the Minister says that we do not need pilots and that we do not need to test this; we can do it because he is right and everybody else is wrong.
Chris Ruane: The Minister is aware that the 42 or 43 police authorities in England and Wales are grouped into families, which are likeminded, of equal size, and with equal socio-demographic profiles. Does my hon. Friend think that there should be at least one pilot in each of those families? The PCCs might be right for police authorities of a certain size, but not for others. We need a pilot in each family to get a picture before we have a national roll-out.
Vernon Coaker: That is absolutely right and it is the point of the amendment. The Minister is so convinced that he is right and everybody else is wrong that he does not see the need for pilots and he does not see the need to test what he is saying. The Minister knows best. He knows that Devon and Cornwall would do better with a
Steve McCabe: Does my hon. Friend appreciate that in the west midlands, which has the second largest force in the country, the elected PCC would need to speak to 7,000 people every day of the year to have any sense that he is in contact with the population he represents?
Vernon Coaker: I did not realise that, but it is an interesting fact. The Minister will say that it does not matter, because it is not the job of the PCC to talk to everyone and it is not the job of the PCC to know every community.
Provisions in the Bill put in place the PCC, but do not supersede the existing accountability arrangements. If that is the case, where is the clarity—as the president of the Association of Chief Police Officers has said—in what is supposed to happen? There is none. All the Minister does is make pronouncements. He does not explain to the Committee, “This is what the PCC will do; this is the relationship with local authorities; this is the relationship with local people.” He says, “The PCC will be responsible for the strategic direction of policing in the area.” Frankly, most people will throw their hands up and ask what on earth he is talking about. That is why pilots are important, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak suggested, with big rural forces or an urban force. If the proposal were piloted in areas with a huge force, it would be possible to test it and see whether it was right or wrong.
On Second Reading, the Home Secretary spoke about the PCC and criminal justice. The PCC is responsible for the strategic direction of policing, but what about criminal justice? What is the relationship? Do we need to say anything about what influence the PCC would have? In my experience, some of the dissatisfaction is not because of the police; it is because of the criminal justice system. People have or have not gone to court, something has not happened in court, or something has broken down—and the police get frustrated about that, too. In response, the Home Secretary seemed to say that it was necessary to look at what the relationship would be between the PCC and criminal justice. What are we saying, actually? Again, if the proposal were piloted, we would know whether the establishment of a PCC made a real difference to confidence, with respect to the police, or whether the problem was not with the police, but with the criminal justice system and how that operated.
I would like the Minister, in his response, to talk about the relationship between the PCC and the criminal justice system, and about whether there is clarity that proves there is no need for pilots. We need pilots because, to me, it is clear how totally unclear the Bill is on the relationship between the PCC and police and crime panels. The Minister’s silence is completely deafening. What is the purpose of police and crime panels?
I know the Minister gets frustrated with all this, but we are talking about a huge change. The president of ACPO and the police, in their neutrality, have said that the Bill is unclear. The only thing that is clear is its lack of clarity, but we should not make huge changes without clarity. It is perfectly reasonable for me to say, “Pilot something”, in order to test it and see what the consequences will be. The relationship between the PCC and the PCP is not clear, and I will return to it in a minute.
Steve McCabe: Is not the real difficulty of police and crime panels, as one of the witnesses suggested, that that process has been developed in parallel? It is becoming apparent that the Government developed the proposal as an afterthought, having realised that putting one commissioner in charge of 2.6 million people would be ludicrous to defend as an exercise in localism and accountability.
Vernon Coaker: That is absolutely right, which is why there is a lack of clarity about the role of police and crime panels. The provision looks as if it was bolted on to the Bill, because the Government decided to establish police and crime commissioners and, exactly as my hon. Friend has pointed out, then thought: “Goodness me, we will really be attacked over one person looking after a whole area—we need a police and crime panel.” However, the relationship between the commissioners and the panels is unclear.
No doubt, the Minister will tell us that we do not need a pilot, because of what the role of the police and crime panels is vis-à-vis that of the police and crime commissioners. He can say that he is perfectly satisfied that a pilot is not needed, because the way in which the police and crime panel will be able to veto the precept, with the requisite three-quarters majority, is fine. What is the quorum, by the way? It would be interesting to know that, or whether there is no quorum.
In the appointment of the chief constable, the police and crime panel has a veto, with the requisite majority, although we do not know how that will work. Supposing that the police and crime commissioners are established, how will it work if one decides to sack the chief constable? We have no idea of the consequences of that, but we are giving police and crime commissioners the absolute power to do that, and police and crime panels will not have any power of veto. If a police and crime commissioner does not like the chief constable, he will have to go through the various procedures, but in the end that will be his decision. Unless I have read the Bill incorrectly, the police and crime commissioner is omnipotent. I would like the Minister to tell us exactly what the police and crime commissioner’s powers are and, again, whether we need a pilot to test whether there is any danger in the prospect of the police and crime commissioner exercising such powers.
I have spoken at length on those points, but they are real issues relating to why a pilot is needed. It might seem unclear to the Committee what the answers are.
I may have misled the Minister. So that he does not correct me for saying something wrong in Committee—I have read the Bill again and I own up if I get something wrong—I think that I said that the police and crime commissioners do not have to have regard to clause 79. After re-reading the Bill, I think that they do.
Will the Minister explain, on the provisions in the Bill on police and crime commissioners and strategic matters, why he thinks that a proper balance will be struck between the local policing requirements and the strategic national policing requirements? Is it not better to test in a pilot whether that is the right way forward? There is a real danger, and we need to see how the system will operate. If somebody is elected on a mandate to pile more police on the street, or to do this or that, we need to see how that will work vis-à-vis a chief constable, who may understand the need for such policies and give them the priorities that they deserve, but who will also want to give priority to sexual violence, counter-terrorism, domestic violence, fraud, economic crime and collaboration with other forces. Do we not need to see how that works, before we allocate all such powers for every single police force in the country? As I have said, we need a pilot to test the local versus the strategic.
On an earlier point about elections, there is a need for pilots to see how they will work. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak talked about the importance of transition. Surely the Minister understands the real nervousness and worry that exist on that matter. Will a pilot not help us to see how the transition from our current arrangements to an elected police and crime commissioner would work?
Everyone can think of their own area. We have a police authority, which exists up until March or April of next year. Perhaps the Minister will tell us when he expects the police authorities to finish. We know that we have the elections in May 2012. What does he expect to happen? The police authority currently sets the budget and the precept, so we need a pilot to see how this will work.
When will the police authority exists until? Perhaps the Minister will tell us when the police authority will end. The election takes place in May 2012. When does the police commissioner take over? What happens to all the staff and resources? Are the staff sacked or do they move on? What happens to all the property, the debt and the various arrangements that the police authority has taken on board? When it comes to the changeover point, will the police authority have to have an account of what the police and crime commissioner wants to do? Again, there is no clarity in this. The Minister can say that he will lay out what should happen in regulation, but surely if we had a pilot we could see whether the system worked or whether it led to confusion.
A pilot would also help us to see how the elections would work. We would see who was prepared to stand, how much interest there was, how many people rushed
Steve McCabe: Would a pilot not allow us to test out the costings of the measure? As far as I am aware, no information has been produced on that. The figure of £50 million appears to have been agreed for the comprehensive spending review. A pilot would enable us to test out whether the costings for the election are accurate, given the variety of areas and sizes of force covered. It would also enable us to find out whether or not people understood the Government’s decision to have a first-past-the-post or an alternative vote system depending on the number of candidates. I personally think that that could be a recipe for confusion.
Vernon Coaker: My hon. Friend makes a good point as to why there is a need for a pilot. First, we would see how the Minister’s proposed electoral system would work. Secondly, we could test out some of the costings, over which there has been some dispute. We could see whether or not the Minister’s costings are accurate. For example, we know that figures of £50 million and £100 million have been bandied about. Just as an aside, at a time when police officers are being cut, it is amazing that the Government can find money for this. When the Minister responds, he may want to say that there is no need for a pilot, because the costings are absolutely secure. He may lay the figures on the record, so that they can be analysed and scrutinised by everyone.
Let me conclude by saying that at the end of the day, what we all want—I know that the Minister wants this as well—is to see crime reduced even further. We want people to feel safer on the streets and for them to have appropriate and proper influence over policing in their area. On the need for pilots, the Minister is almost messianic in his belief that if we have police and crime commissioners, all those things will be achieved. What the Minister has failed to properly demonstrate in a way that convinces all—or many—of the professionals and interest groups is that he is right and that they are wrong. In saying why he disagrees and disapproves of the pilots, the Minister needs to tell the Committee why he believes that we do not need to test this and why we do not need the pilots.
In arguing against the amendments, the Minister should tell the Committee that having police and crime commissioners will reduce crime, make people feel that they can influence their policing and tackle some of the problems that he says exist. However, the Minister has not made the case. He has asserted the case, but that is a totally different point. I have said this before, and he has heard me say it: he needs to argue the case and not assert it. He is asserting the case for police and crime commissioners against all those people whom I listed at the beginning of my contribution who are against it. He is not arguing the case. All those people have lined up and said that the Minister has got all this wrong. I am saying that he should pilot it and prove it one way or the other, or win the argument. When he responds, I want him to argue the case and not assert it, because all we are getting at the moment is Government assertion, not argument.
Steve McCabe: I want to make a couple of brief comments in support of the amendment. My hon. Friend the Member for Gedling is absolutely right. The difficulty with these proposals is the speed with which the Government have approached them. If they are a good idea, it would be perfectly possible for the Minister to take people with him and demonstrate the merits of the proposals. The difficulty that we have in dealing with the legislation is the speed with which it has been introduced, because there is virtually no evidence to support some of the main elements of the proposals. The witness sessions that we had did not do much to support the Government’s case. The difficulty is fundamentally that this has been done too quickly.
The proposals look like change for the sake of change, which is hardly a Conservative philosophy. In fact, one would have thought that that was almost what the Conservative party existed to avoid. However, here the Conservatives are rushing into a radical set of changes—the provision is quite liberal in that respect—without bothering to think through the consequences. I do not know whether the difficulty is that the Bill is an example of coalition thinking, but we would certainly do a greater service to the police and the public if the provision were to proceed at a more rational pace.
I do not—I have not heard a single Minister explain this—understand what the hurry is. So many issues are confronting the police at the moment in terms of funding problems. For example, as part of major changes to the West Midlands police, it has had to undergo an exercise called Project Paragon, which has involved rearranging the basic command units into much larger local policing units in anticipation of some of the funding issues that will arise. The force is currently locked into that cycle of change. On top of that, it has discovered that the funding problems that it will have to contend with are much greater than it had originally been led to believe. The force is now looking at whether there will have to be a Paragon 2, as it tries to accommodate further problems.
That is what the police have to deal with at the moment, and they are doing so in a situation in which, because of the freeze in recruitment, there is already some evidence of rising crime. On Saturday night, we had a major piece in the local Birmingham paper about a police officer reporting a rise in burglary to a local tasking group. He was struggling to deal with it, because of the number of officers lost to the recruitment freeze. Given that, the issue of the Olympics and the continuing problems of terrorism, it seems a funny time to embark on a massive structural change for the police without explaining in more detail how it will work and what it is designed to achieve.
Another thing in the Bill that surprised me is that the London model looks a lot better, at first glance, than the model proposed for the rest of the country. However, the more I read it, the more I cannot understand why such different conclusions are reached for London and for the west midlands. Other than the London Mayor already existing and having certain responsibilities, I am not entirely clear how that decision was arrived at. It seems strange that everyone is required to pay taxes and council tax, and that the Government insist that their interest is accountability—the public having a greater say in policing and accountability for policing—and yet London is being offered a much more democratic model than the rest of the country.
In London, the Mayor is able to influence policing in accordance with all the other concerns of the electorate. He can take such matters into account and give advice. In Birmingham, for example, we could have a powerful directly elected mayor, but he would not be able to influence the police agenda at all, because he would be faced with an equally powerful police and crime commissioner who had all the cards in his hand. That is another example of the Bill not being thought through. That is a reason for pilots—
Steve McCabe: My point is that, had we had a pilot, we would have been able to test the London model against a different model for different parts of the country. As it is, we will move full steam ahead into the arrangements and, if there are problems and inconsistencies, they will emerge only once the scheme is up and running, by which time will be either engaged in firefighting or having to live with the consequences of an ill-thought-out proposal.
Similarly, we are not clear what police and crime panels are designed to do. They look like an extra grafted on to the proposals when the Government realised that selling their ideas would be increasingly difficult. It is astonishing how a Government who talk about efficiency, reducing bureaucracy and regulation, and promoting localism have ended up with a situation in which we have an extremely costly police and crime commissioner and, in addition, police and crime panels. Originally, we had a police authority. Now we have an extra layer in the bureaucracy, without any idea what it will cost or what benefit it will bring. Once again, piloting would have allowed us to look at the possible issues.
The final part that we are being asked to support that should have been tested out, and which the Government might come to regret more than anything else, is the introduction of an incredibly complex change in the structure and management of our policing without any idea of the cost. The Government spend every day of the week telling us that they are obsessed by the deficit and with saving money, but we have no idea what the salary of police commissioners will be, whether it will be the same throughout the country and whether it will be based on the number of people whom the commissioners purport to represent. There are no costings.
There has been no attempt to engage the electorate who will be asked to vote on the proposals in whether or not they are a good idea. We know nothing about the pensions. We know nothing about what costs will have to be added for people who are part of the police and crime panels. It could make the reorganisation of the national health service look like small beer. It could turn out to be an extremely costly proposal, which will work entirely against the interests of the public.
Mark Tami: My hon. Friend makes a powerful case for pilots. Although the Government said that they will not have special advisers and so on, is not the experience from directly elected mayors that they collect an ever-growing bureaucracy around them? My hon. Friend is entirely right: we must look at the financial cost, and surely pilots are the best way of doing so.
Steve McCabe: I entirely agree with my hon. Friend. I know that it came up on Second Reading, but I am not clear what clause 16 is wholly about. My fear is that it could become a consultant’s charter. Obviously, it is exactly the sort of thing that we should test before we get into the full-scale introduction of the plan because no one knows who the people will be, how they will be appointed, what duties they will be appointed to do and, above all, what they will cost. To introduce a radical change to our model of policing without identifying its financial implications and without giving people a chance to understand what the change will mean suggests that the Government do not have much confidence in their own proposals. They do not want pilots, because they do not want people testing out the ideas and looking objectively at what is happening.
That is the fundamental flaw in the Bill, and it is why we should at this stage ask the Minister to think again. If the ideas are good, it should be possible to defend them. If the measure is not a case of simply taking a gamble with the policing of our country, it should be possible for the Minister to justify it. At least he should have no fear of a phased introduction, which will answer some questions as the plans unfold.
Bridget Phillipson: I am grateful, Mr Howarth, for the opportunity to serve under your chairmanship. I wish to make a few points, following on from the compelling case put forward by my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak, in support of piloting such a fundamental change to policing in England and setting out the dangers.
I genuinely do not understand why the Government are putting forward such an idea. The evidence does not back it up. We have not received evidence to support what they are planning to do. Again, I can only agree with my hon. Friend. It seems to be change for change’s sake. I am not convinced of the benefits of such a provision for local people. Why do we not try pilots first? If local people are so convinced that the measure will improve accountability and the service that they receive from the local police force, let us try it. Let us hear what they say, and we can come back and look at it again.
I wish to refer briefly to the local differences and variations that are important for us to consider. We have not received sufficient clarity about them and I do not consider that the Government have really addressed them. Northumbria force has nearly 1.5 million people in the area, with 16 MPs and 400 councillors. My constituency shares a border with Durham, which has an entirely different police force. It covers a population of about 600,000, seven MPs and 179 councillors. It is not clear that we will see an increase in accountability. What might work in Northumbria, if piloted, might not work in Durham or vice versa. Arguably, such a pilot might work better in a smaller force. A force the size of Northumbria, which stretches from the border with Scotland to Durham covers a huge, geographic area with very different communities—urban, rural and with different needs.
What local people want when policing is being dealt with in their area are solutions to the very local problems that they face, whether it is antisocial behaviour, vandalism or dog fouling I am not convinced that someone who lives in Berwick, Alnwick or Morpeth could sufficiently
If we had a pilot, we could also look at how existing partnership arrangements work. I certainly do not have a clamour of local people saying to me, “I’m desperate for a directly elected commissioner.” They say that they absolutely want solutions to local policing problems, but many of the steps that we have taken in my area address that, with a multi-agency approach. For example, when someone has a problem with an antisocial tenant or a family on an estate that continually causes huge problems, that is dealt with in a co-ordinated way by housing, the local provider, the council and the police. I am concerned that the new arrangements will jeopardise the effective local partnership working that we have in Sunderland.
We need to see the case for the new arrangements. If they work, fantastic, but can we not try them to see if they work, to see whether local people believe that there is an improvement or whether they have less to say than before? At the moment, local people in my area can directly approach their local councillor, and he or she can take the matter, whether it is a particular family or a particular issue—fly-tipping, for example—to a local multi-agency problem-solving group. The groups do not deal exclusively with crime, but with the whole range of problems that an area faces, including crime, the criminal justice system and some issues that people regard as a blight on their lives but are not necessarily crime per se. The councillor who takes the issue forward can ultimately raise it with the police authority; the method is effective. Why, therefore, rush to this hasty, ill-considered approach, which has no support, without considering the damage that it could do to existing local partnership arrangements, particularly on issues that perhaps are less prominent but that really affect people’s lives, for example child protection and domestic and sexual violence? Will the police and crime commissioner be desperate to get votes off the back of fouling and litter, to the detriment of the less visible but incredibly important aspects of policing that sometimes are little understood but make a real difference and, in some families, save lives?
Visibility has been put forward as a reason to move to police and crime commissioners. In its submission to the Home Affairs Committee, Northumbria police authority stated that it carries out surveys of how local people view its work, and that between 2005 and 2010 there was an increase in visibility, in local people being aware of the police authority’s role and of what it could do, and in their feeling that the authority met their needs. If that is the case, why not look at improving the democratic accountability of police authorities, pushing to increase both accountability and visibility, without suddenly moving towards a completely different system? Why not pilot the alternative model of an independent police board that Northumbria police authority put forward in its submission, to see whether that works and whether it is the role that we see for police authorities?
My final point is on cost, and my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak has covered the matter well. The cost is not clear, but if, through the pilots, we decide that the benefits outweigh the cost, let us proceed. If local people feel that it makes a difference to their lives and the cost is worth it, let us proceed. However, at a time when my constituents are facing huge cuts to policing budgets and damage could be done to front-line policing, I am not convinced that the change would be a priority for them. We talk about democratic accountability, so why can my constituents not have a say as to whether they would rather the money be wasted on pointless commissioner elections, or be spent on bobbies on the beat, which face being cut? I can tell hon. Members which they would prefer, and it would not be pointless elections.
Through the pilots, we could establish whether the new approach offers value for money, and we cannot establish that now because we do not have accurate costings. The briefing from the House of Commons Library suggests that it could be an additional cost, estimated at £136.5 million over 10 years. In our straitened financial circumstances, I can think of a far better way to spend more than £130 million, and that would be in maintaining front-line policing and the often unseen but very valuable work that police forces do. Before we press ahead, I ask the Government to reconsider and look at the evidence to see whether the new approach offers value for money or whether the solution simply does not fit what they are trying to achieve.
I am a great believer in “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it”. I am at a loss to understand why the Con-Dem Government chose to push forward—or ram forward—this Bill at such an early stage in this Parliament. Consider all the problems that have accrued from the biggest international recession the world has seen since the 1930s, and the economic and social impact that that has had on this and other societies. The Government have chosen to focus on a massive change—the biggest we have seen in policing organisation for decades—and to push it through at speed as a top priority. I am not saying everything in the garden is perfect—there need to be changes at the edges—but if things are not broken, why change them in such a drastic way?
If changes are to be implemented, we should have pilots to monitor the changes. I mentioned the 43 police forces in England and Wales in my earlier intervention. In my constituency in the Vale of Clwyd, we have the North Wales police authority. It is one of the best functioning police authorities in the country. Out of the 376 crime and disorder partnerships in England and Wales, we were the third best in my county of Denbighshire. I fear that the system that we have in north Wales will be upset if a police and crime commissioner is thrust on us. His or her priorities may not be the priorities of my community. I mentioned that the 43 policing authorities are grouped into families. We need pilots on geographical areas. We also need to pilot different models. We should pilot a model that includes a list of things that the commissioner should do. A commissioner should visit other areas—I think we are going to visit that later. The commissioner should ensure that the articulate middle
We need a pilot in which it is specified that the commissioner must visit every community and listen to them, especially the communities that may not articulate their concerns. In such a pilot, the commissioner would go to the most crime-ridden communities at least two or three times a year and attend to the people verbally and orally rather than in writing. They would go out at grass-roots level to see what those people’s concerns were and address them. If that is not specified, there will be a logical willingness on the part of the police and crime commissioner to go to the communities that elect him.
I fear the implementation of the legislation now—without piloting—at a time of massive economic and possibly social unrest. We have seen the figures today—gross domestic product has fallen by 0.5%. I think we are heading for a second recession, and we all know the consequences of recession—an increase in crime levels, especially among the young. The Government have made other changes—abolishing education maintenance allowances and the future jobs fund—affecting the very cohort that tends towards criminality. Those young people could be tempted to go back to a negative way of life instead of a positive one.
We must consider the timing of the introduction of the legislation and not rush. We need pilots in different geographical areas, using different models so that we can learn which is best. We might have different types of police commissioner and different rules in different areas of the country.
Again, the pace, temper and tone of the measures, which are being rammed down people’s throats without any pilots, will lead to poor legislation. The No. 1 concern of people in my constituency is not the structure or who is at the top; it is who is at the bottom dealing with them and their problems. As Rick Muir of the IPPR articulated in his evidence:
“the public are most 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.”––[Official Report, Police Reform and Social Responsibility Public Bill Committee, 18 January 2011; c. 48, Q58.]
Rick Muir was one of our key witnesses last week. Those are his concerns, and I echo them. If the police do not address issues on the ground, they will not win public confidence. According to Rick Muir, who is an expert on the subject, they do not do so at the moment, so let us tinker around with the system. Let us have pilots—hopefully in my area, if the Committee accepts our amendments—that deal with ensuring that police commissioners go to the communities that need them. The measures are totally rushed and flawed. We might learn from past rushed legislation: legislate in haste and repent at leisure.
A long time ago, I was sitting in the Public Gallery watching a young, up-and-coming rising star on the Labour Benches debating with the then Secretary of State for the Environment, Michael Howard, who is now Lord Howard of Lympne. The up-and-coming rising star on the Opposition Benches was Tony Blair. I am sure that he was fired by the same passion as the hon. Member for Gedling.
The hon. Gentleman’s case for pilots, which is really a case against police and crime commissioners in general, rested first on the suggestion that there is no crisis. He and other hon. Members asked what problem we are trying to fix. I do not think that hon. Members have understood the importance of our agenda to decentralise power in this country and release the grip of the centre and the Home Office over policing matters that should be local. To do so, we must enhance local accountability. Otherwise, we would effectively be allowing the use of capture.
Although the hon. Gentleman points to falling crime figures as evidence that the system is not broken, he did not attend to the figures showing that in spite of the fact that confidence in the police is rising, which I welcome, it is still too low. Roughly half the public—less than half—do not have confidence in the police. In particular, a recent opinion poll conducted by a reputable consumer research organisation found that one third of those members of the public who come into contact with the police are dissatisfied with their performance. No organisation can be satisfied or complacent with such a level of consumer dissatisfaction. Our contention is that there is an important need to rebuild the bridge between the police and the local public, and having direct accountability for the police, to give the public a greater say, is the right way in which to do so.
So we do not accept that there is nothing broken in the system. The hon. Gentleman did not seem able to make up his mind about whether he supports the status quo—he seems to be having it both ways. At times he seemed to be arguing—and certainly Labour Members argued—that there was nothing wrong with the system. The hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak has said, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.” That has been his repeated line.
We know, however, that when the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson) was Home Secretary for that brief and glorious tenure, he said that police authorities were sub-optimal. He conceded that they were not fit for purpose—he failed entirely, of course, to set out how they should be reformed.
Are Labour Members and, in particular, the Opposition spokesman saying that police authorities should be reformed? If he is saying that they should, we are entitled to know how. The force of his criticism of our proposals is affected if he agrees that they need to be reformed but just does not like the way in which we are doing that.
I am not saying that there are not matters that we could deal with, but there have not been major concerns. The problem is that the measures are too big a solution to a problem that is not clearly identified.
Nick Herbert: I am happy to answer that directly, and doing so takes me to my next point, because Opposition Front Benchers have also asked who supports the provisions. The first groups of people, whom the hon. Gentleman adduced in evidence of opposition to the measures, are police authorities. It is hardly surprising that police authorities, which the Bill will abolish, are not jumping with joy about the measures. Suggesting that they oppose the measures does not present a strong case.
By the way, that has not stopped a large number of the police authority chairs, who are publicly expressing opposition to the provisions, preparing their run for office as elected police and crime commissioners. Such chairs include two prominent Labour party representatives who chair major Metropolitan police force areas. We look forward to their having the courage publicly to declare that they intend to run.
In response to the point made by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak, the problem is that, contrary to what he has said, police authorities are not performing properly. First, they are invisible to the public, so no one knows who the members are. I defy anyone to go to a public police authority meeting and ask people who the chair of their police authority is. I have done so on a number of occasions, and I have never found that people knew who they were. Cabinet Office research in 2008 found that only 7% of the public even know what a police authority does.
Bridget Phillipson: I draw the Minister’s attention to a survey that was conducted in 2010 on behalf of Northumbria police authority, which identified that 88% of those surveyed knew about the existence and role of police authorities. Clearly, 88% of those surveyed in my area knew, so I am not clear what his case is.
Nick Herbert: I would take a close look at that survey evidence. Without pre-judging the issue, if the survey were conducted by Northumbria police authority itself for one of its publications, I wonder whether the authority got the answer that it wanted and how many people responded.
I want to answer the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak on the performance of police authorities, because here is a serious point. In Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and the Audit Commission’s recent survey and study of police authorities, only four out of 22 authorities inspected were performing well in setting strategic direction and ensuring value for money. A careful reading of that report will not lend confidence on either side of the Committee—perhaps underlying the fact that the Opposition do not think that police authorities are fit for purpose—that police authorities,
Steve McCabe: I want to return to the Minister’s point about visibility. He has told us his second reason. His first reason for abolishing police authorities and instituting this paraphernalia is that most people do not know the members of their police authority. I asked a group of constituents on Friday night to name the Conservative home affairs team, but they were unable to do so. I am terribly sorry to report that they were unable to identify the right hon. Member for Arundel and South Downs, although in fairness they recognised the Home Secretary. Two of them were able to mention another member of the team. On that basis, would it be reasonable to conclude that we need to change the home affairs team, because it clearly has a visibility problem?
Nick Herbert: I am wounded by the hon. Gentleman’s intervention. Were I to be allowed to remain in office for years, that position could be improved. If the public were asked to name their local MP, particularly long-standing and distinguished MPs, as we see facing us—I cannot count myself among that number—I think that the recognition would be much greater. Survey evidence backs that up. People know their local MP; they know how to get hold of them; and ultimately they have a choice whether to keep them in office.
That takes me to my next point. The Opposition’s case seems to be that the public did not want these positions. According to the Opposition, there was no demand for police and crime commissioners. However, in the survey evidence we know that there is a demand for greater democratic accountability for policing. The public are quite clear about that. It would be surprising if there were not demand for a greater say.
Nick Herbert: Yes, the survey was conducted by the Association of Police Authorities, which cannot be charged with having an interest in that outcome. I am particularly grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s previous intervention. The survey was conducted by Ipsos MORI, a reputable polling firm. It found that 68% of the public like the idea of better and democratic accountability for policing.
Nick Herbert: I would not have another, if I were you. My judgment is that the public want a greater say over policing in their area, which can be achieved in lots of ways. It can be achieved through the greater development of community and neighbourhood policing, which was
I do not believe that we differ from the Opposition to the extent that the hon. Member for Gedling has suggested, because, when he asked me who supports the principle, he implied that the policy is absolutely friendless and that nobody supports it. I want to adduce the support of somebody whose backing for the policy of direct accountability for policing I particularly value. It is somebody whom I am sure that the Committee will grow to love and respect. It is the hon. Member for Gedling, who, just two years ago, said that
“under the current system, 93 per cent of the country has no direct, elected representation. This is why we have proposed the Green Paper model; so that people know who to go to and are able to influence their policing through the ballot box.”
It was a different form of direct accountability, but it was direct accountability, which, of course, the hon. Gentleman did not mention in his speech. The previous Government twice proposed a form of direct accountability for policing, and they dropped it twice. They did not even pilot it. They simply encountered opposition and ran out of nerve. That is the wrong approach.
The Government share the view that police authority governance needs to be changed and that this democratic form of accountability is important. The difference is that we are determined to see it through. That is why we will not be derailed by the suggestion that there should be a pilot, because the real reason for that is not that Opposition Members think that it is a good idea. They did not really make a good case for it. Their entire case rested on opposition to this form of accountability, yet we know that, just a couple of years ago, they were standing up and proposing it. How convenient it is for them to have changed their minds so quickly.
We need, therefore, to reflect on the fact that the public have already had their say to this extent. It is an established principle in this country that, when political parties stand for office and place policy proposals in their manifestos, they are entitled to implement their programme. That is what the public expect. Indeed, there is a great row if parties do not implement their manifesto policies. [ Interruption. ]
Nick Herbert: The Liberal Democrats had a commitment to introduce directly elected police authorities, and that has been shaped into a coalition agreement to have directly elected police and crime commissioners subject to strict checks and balances. This is a perfectly straightforward point, and I am amazed that hon. Members are so astonished, as though this is news to them. It is important that they understand it. There is a dual mandate, from both parties, to have greater accountability in policing. We have two parties saying in their manifestos that there should be democratic accountability in policing, and another party, which twice proposed it before giving up when it ran into opposition.
Steve McCabe: Before the Minister leaves that point, I want to say that that was about as tenuous as one can get. First, will he accept that the parties stood on different manifestos? The Conservative party wanted directly elected individuals. It is reasonable to suppose that, if one voted Conservative, that is what one was voting for. If one voted Lib Dem, one was voting for a different form of election altogether.
Secondly, is it not also the case that, if the responsibility of parties is to implement their manifestos, the proposal is flawed, because it was not in either manifesto in the form that the coalition now proposes? The problem is that the coalition has come up with a new plan that was not subject to any electoral mandate.Nick Herbert: The mandate is to have greater democratic accountability for policing. That is what both parties stood on. Of course, we have a coalition Government and, therefore, an agreed programme. The coalition agreement was that we should have a directly elected individual, subject to strict checks and balances. That is why the police and crime panels policy was developed.
I notice, by the way, that Opposition Members were not opposing the idea of police and crime panels outright. They were merely sniping at the policy, saying that they did not know what the PCPs were for. No doubt we will debate that later. The checks and balances are important.
I want to deal with a couple of the other points that hon. Members made along the way. The issue of Wales was introduced by the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd. Policing is a reserved matter. It is the responsibility of the Home Office to oversee policing in England and Wales. Nevertheless, we have taken great care to seek to protect the Welsh devolution arrangements in relation to wider community safety matters, which are devolved. I have therefore had several meetings, as have officials in my Department, with the Welsh Assembly Government and Ministers, to seek to reach an agreement that respects the particular position in Wales.
Nick Herbert: The Ministers in the Welsh Assembly Government are loyal Labour members and toeing the current party line, which is to oppose this form of democratic accountability. I do not know what their
The Chair: Order. I have been trying to allow some latitude on sedentary interventions, but it is getting a little out of hand. Conducting our proceedings in good order needs to be in the forefront of everyone’s mind from now on.
Nick Herbert: I am grateful for your protection from the unbridled barracking from the Opposition Whip, Mr Howarth. I repeat that I have no problem agreeing that Carl Sargeant does not support the policy on police and crime commissioners, but we have been having sensible discussions about how these arrangements should apply to Wales—I wanted to reassure the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd about that. They include ensuring that a Welsh Assembly Government representative is appointed to the police and crime panel. I hope that, even though he does not agree with the policy, he will concede that we have been respectful in the way in which we have sought to address the issues around the devolved arrangement with Wales.
I want to remind the hon. Member for Gedling of what two of the people who gave evidence to the Committee said last week, since he mentioned their contribution. First, I do not agree that it was overwhelmingly the view of those who gave evidence that police and crime commissioners were a bad idea. I heard the two academics speak broadly in support of the idea of greater local accountability, albeit with reservations about this particular model. I heard a powerful intervention from the victims’ commissioner on the importance of building that bridge between the police and the public and representing the views of victims. I also note that the chairman of the Police Federation, who wisely kept out of the debate on how governance of policing might be changed, said that in his experience pilots were only precursors to the actuality of the reform and that they were a cause for delay—I agree with that. I also strongly agree with the victims’ commissioner, Louise Casey, who said that rather than running pilot schemes,
Transitional arrangements were raised. I want to reassure hon. Members that we are fully addressing the transition. I am chairing a transition board, on which there are representatives from police authorities and chief constables. The Bill provides for transitions, and we shall deal with those when we reach the relevant debate.
I do not think that the transition argument is one that merits our having pilots, but I want to make this broad point. In a sense, we have already had a pilot, which took place in London. It seems to me that the introduction of the Mayor in London, with responsibility for the governance of policing, was a good policy, and it was one that, I remind Labour Members, they proposed when in government and hon. Members on this side, or at least Conservative Members, opposed. I think that we were wrong to do so. The policy has been a success. Londoners like it. They like the greater say that they have over policing, and I am sure that they would not want to reverse it. In addition, we have learned lots of lessons from the way in which policing governance has changed in London. I would argue, in response to the concern expressed by the hon. Member for Gedling that we are discussing an untried model, that to an extent it has been tried in London and therefore we can safely roll it out across the country.
I want to respond to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak, who said that it would not be possible for a single individual to represent the electors in the west midlands, because the West Midlands force would cover 2 million electors—he did not say that, but I am telling him that that is the number. I do not think that he would support the break-up of the West Midlands force into smaller units, so we have the situation in which the force is that big, and the chief constable has to work across that number of electors.
However, the Mayor of London has responsibility for policing with a far bigger electorate than any of the other force areas, even the big mets in the rest of England. He has responsibility for 5.6 million electors. I do not think that those electors feel disconnected from the Mayor and unable to express their point of view. We know that the volume of complaints to the Mayor increased. Therefore, simply citing the number and suggesting that it means that the individual cannot get around all those people completely misses the point. The direct line of accountability gives the public the knowledge that they have someone to whom they can go, who will answer to them. The reason why that person will answer to them is that they are elected and responsive. We should not be quite so disparaging of the idea that they will be elected. I rather disagreed, if I may say so, with the tone of the hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South, who talked about pointless elections and a waste. We need to be careful not to show contempt for the electorate in this respect.
I believe that the public can be trusted, that they do know best—that point was made—and we can trust them by giving them the say in these elections. Were we not to proceed on a national basis, we would potentially create an uneven pattern across the country. That would prejudice a very important component of the reform, which I want hon. Members to understand. This is an exchange. We are seeking to reduce the burden of direction on police forces from the centre—from the Home Office and from others—and to do that, we have to exchange it for stronger local accountability. My concern is that if we reduced that burden without stronger local accountability, we would allow an element of producer capture. It would make the police more remote from the people, not less; it would give the people less of a say, not more, and it would therefore be a great mistake.
For all the reasons that I have given, I believe that it would be a mistake to accept the Opposition amendments. Hon. Members made many particular points that we shall come to later, because they relate to the detail of the Bill. We can certainly talk about the potential future role for police and crime commissioners and the criminal justice system, but that would not be picked up in a pilot because it will evolve over time anyway.
I absolutely disagree that the relationship between police and crime commissioners and police and crime panels is unclear. These are important checks and balances. The functions are set out in clause 28 and we can debate those properly at the relevant time. The provision is all about giving local authorities a voice. Individual local authorities in an area such as Northumbria will have a stake in the governance of policing because the unitaries that are, for example, in Northumberland will each have a representative on the police and crime panel. That answers the point about the extent to which we can ensure that those who are responsible for the governance of policing have a connection with the local area. That is one of the reasons why the developments on police and crime panels are important.
I disagree that police and crime commissioners will solely focus on local issues, although it will be a good thing if they do so and respond to local concerns. We are proposing that there will be strategic policing plans, for which the police and crime commissioner must hold the chief constables to account. That will reflect national and strategic policing priorities. I strongly disagree that there is a problem with the idea that extremists will stand. That is a complete red herring and I am happy to debate that any time. The idea was shot down in terms by Opposition Members when they were in government and made their own proposals for these elections. If we consider the performance of the British National party at the last general election or in local elections, it shows that it could not possibly poll sufficient votes to gain a constituency of the size that police and crime commissioners would be standing for, which would have a minimum of 400,000 electors. That is simply not a good argument and we should be wary about even airing it and giving it publicity because it does not deserve it.
The hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd said that he feared that the articulate middle classes would dominate the agenda of police and crime commissioners. Let me say this to him in response. It is true that crime affects the poorest in our society disproportionately. Hon. Members on my side and I are motivated to introduce this reform by a real concern about levels of crime and a desire to ensure that they are reduced because they particularly impact on the poorest. My driving ambition is to secure a better performance for the poorest in society. I do not accept that police and crime commissioners would behave in a way that ignores their constituents, any more than hon. Members ignore constituents in parts of their constituency just because they think that they did not vote for them. We can disagree about the effectiveness of the provisions and the merits of pilots.
Nick Herbert: I am going to end. I say to Labour Members that they should not misunderstand or misconstrue our motives. Our motives for introducing this reform are to ensure a better fight against crime and to help the poorest.
Vernon Coaker: To start with the last point, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak did not question any individual Committee member’s desire to reduce crime. Everyone accepts that the Government want to do that. No one thinks that the Government are deliberately introducing a reform that will worsen the situation. My hon. Friend’s point was that he believes that the opposite will be the case. It is a bit unfair—and uncharacteristic—of the Minister to suggest that my hon. Friend was saying that the intention of any Committee member was to worsen the situation, or that he was questioning anyone’s motives. That was not my hon. Friend’s intention.
May I deal with some of the points on pilots? I just want to say good luck to the right hon. Gentleman. I was in the Home Office for a few years, so we will see whether he lasts longer than me. I was trying to work out how long I was there, but I cannot remember.
I shall make a couple of points. First, in defence of myself on the mandate point, interestingly, I did what I am accusing the right hon. Gentleman of not doing. When I met with universal disapproval not just from self-interested parties but from a range of different bodies, I listened to what they said and was convinced by their arguments. The right hon. Gentleman does not believe in pilots, because he believes that he knows better and that the reform will make a difference. I was convinced by people that, notwithstanding the point that I had made, I did not know better. People change their minds.
I am slightly concerned that sometimes in politics we do not listen and change our minds when the evidence is put before us—we all do it and then we all get criticised for it. Then, when we change our minds, that is described as a weakness. All of us should reflect on that, because if that is the case nobody will ever change their mind or speak their mind, because all they will be worried about is what is said in the future.
If I ever get back into the position that the right hon. Gentleman is in, there are two things that I would not do. The first would be not to use things that people have said in different circumstances against them, because I realise now how things change and how people take different points of view. The second thing relates to pilots. The right hon. Gentleman was in opposition as we are now in opposition. Now that we are in opposition it is clear to me, having drafted the amendments on pilots, that any Opposition of any type or party need more resources to do their job than they get at the present time. I just want to put that on the record, because it is quite an important point.
I am absolutely astonished by the right hon. Gentleman. To be fair to him, he is usually intellectually rigorous, but the idea that the Government got a mandate from the British people at the last election to introduce commissioners—one individual who is directly elected—is complete and utter nonsense. [ Interruption. ] We lost the election; someone just said, “You lost”. Absolutely, we did lose. However, the Conservative party did not win and neither did the Liberal Democrat party. It is all very well for the right hon. Gentleman to say that they cobbled together a deal after the election to come to an agreement about directly elected commissioners being a single individual, but to use the argument that he used—that the British people voted for what he is proposing—is simply and utterly not the case at all. So to pray in aid the British people for this reform is frankly absolutely astonishing and I am amazed by it.
We want pilots and the right hon. Gentleman responded to the issue of pilots, but again it was all high-level stuff, saying, “We are looking at what the transition will mean, we will look at what the accountability arrangements will be, we are looking at and trying to understand”—it is all about having high-powered arrangements in place to look at what the arrangements should be. They are not actually answers. The clarity that each and every one of the stakeholders is demanding was not there at all in the Minister’s answers. It was the stock-in-trade answer, “Yeah, that’s a fair point to make and we’re working on it”.
Nick Herbert: The hon. Gentleman knows perfectly well what I said. I said that he was raising specific points that relate to later clauses in the Bill and we will come to them and debate them, whether they are about the police and crime panels or transition arrangements. I was simply avoiding going outside what I think are the terms of the debate on these amendments, which are about pilots, and being drawn into a discussion that—assuming we ever get there—we will have later in the Committee.
Vernon Coaker: Mr Howarth, you would rule me out of order if I went on to the next group of amendments. I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman has prepared at great length for the next group of amendments. In that group, we have put forward an alternative model of police authority governance for consideration by the Committee. We actually laid amendments that produced another model. My hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Sunderland South also talked about Northumbria being willing to host another pilot. All I am saying is that we have proposed an alternative. I am astonished that the hon. Gentleman has accused me of not laying an alternative, because we laid an alternative specifically so that he could not say that we have not laid an alternative; yet he now accuses me of not laying an alternative. We have tabled a shed-load of amendments that detail a different model, and we will consider those in the next group.
I am, again, astonished that the hon. Gentleman has frankly trashed the police authorities by saying, “Well, they’re police authorities. What do you expect them to say?” With his own police authority, and with the police authority of every hon. Member, one could argue, putting one’s views to one side, that, because the police authority has a vested interest and argues against this reform, pilots are not necessary. Why would turkeys vote for Christmas? My police authority is made up of dedicated people who have spent years working in policing, and they are sincere and genuine in their belief that this is a bad reform.
I asked the hon. Gentleman to reflect when he argued against pilots. It is fair enough to say that he does not agree with police authorities, but it is not fair to go on to say, as he did, “Well, they would disagree with the Government’s proposals.” On reflection he might concede that they are more sincere and genuine in their opposition than that.
With these amendments on pilots we are seeking to address some of the issues with PCCs and some of the issues that will come up later in the Bill. The Minister is quite right to say that we will be listening very carefully, because he has now said that he will not answer the points here about transition, cost, elections, collaboration, and other such things, because they will come up as we go through the Bill. We will look very carefully at that. With the reassurance that the Minister has given us that we will deal with some of those issues and address some of the specific points that I have made, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 362, in clause 9, page 9, line 28, leave out from second ‘the’ to end of line 30 and insert ‘local police and crime panel will secure, or contribute to securing, crime and disorder reduction in the panel’s area.’.
Vernon Coaker: For the convenience of the Committee, many of the amendments in this huge pile are consequential amendments. At its heart, this group seeks to replace the model of a single person being responsible for the role that the Minister envisages for the PCC. The fundamental point is to make the PCC the chair of the PCP. The PCC would still be directly elected, but the PCC would be encapsulated with the PCP. In other words, those two bodies would be merged. The Minister could, of course, keep the two separate and enhance the role of the PCP, but through this set of amendments we seek to address the concerns that people have with one person being responsible for the police commissioner role for the whole of an area. The model is a positive one.
Moreover, I know that the big society is in trouble, but the House of Commons Library research paper on police reform and social responsibility shows the results of a big society survey. It asked half of the participants whether they supported the following statement:
“Currently the general public do not directly vote people on to the police authority. One suggestion that has been made is to replace these authorities with a directly-elected individual who
In response, 32% expressed support for that version of the statement, 37% were opposed and 32% were either neutral or answered “Don’t know”. Again, that is hardly a ringing endorsement of the Minister’s proposals.
Finally, Devon and Cornwall police authority—I do not want my examples of police authorities to be dominated by big, northern conurbations—has said that it will be the responsibility of the PCC to both collect and represent the views of all those people living within the force area, but how can that possibly be done by one person? How can one person sitting in, for example, Exeter, represent the views of a community in west Cornwall?
The amendment addresses that particular problem. Such areas are too big for one individual to act as the police and crime commissioner. However, if we made them a chair of the police and crime panel, that would start to address the problem. They would chair a panel of representatives that, according to the Government’s proposals, will be composed of at least one person from each of the local authorities in the police force area. Every single authority at every single level would therefore have one person on the panel. It will have a minimum of 10, or more if there are more local authorities within the area, plus two independent members who will be co-opted on to it.
One of the criticisms of the Minister’s proposals is that one person cannot cover the whole area, but linking the directly elected individual to the police and crime panel—I am trying to help the Minister—would maintain direct election and that person would still be responsible to the whole of the area through the ballot box. They are linked in to each of the areas—across, say, Devon and Cornwall, Wales, West Yorkshire, Merseyside and so on—much more tightly through the police and crime panel and the representative on that panel.
The Minister has asked me for an alternative and I am offering him one. It goes some way towards the direct election that the Minister wants, but also—particularly in amendment 107—helps to ensure that there is the local linkage that is so important, which my hon. Friends have mentioned. That proposal merits consideration, because it overcomes a number of problems, in particular how the services of local authorities, which are so important to the reduction and prevention of crime, will relate to the work of the police and crime commissioner. That is totally unclear to me in the Bill. If, instead of being a stand-alone figure, the PCC is part of the police and crime panel they will be able to talk to each of those local authority individuals who are part of the PCP. They will be able to discuss what is happening in their area and what needs to be done with respect to the services that are being provided, and they will be able to make a real difference there. A real concern is how the PCC will link to the local services, but my proposal overcomes that problem.
I talked earlier about people in Nottinghamshire who live very close to Leicester at one end of the county and very close to Sheffield at the other end. In a police and crime panel where all the functions of the police and crime commissioner and the police and crime panel are married together, they will be able both to work out the strategic plan for the whole of the police force area and to ensure that there is the local input, which is so important for the policing of an area.
The democratic accountability problem that the Minister says will be addressed as a result of direct election is still there. I continually point out to the Minister that it is the wrong level of accountability; in other words, having somebody at only a force-wide level does not address the local democratic problem in the sense that our constituents see it as a problem. In their particular village, town or area, they would know that through the police and crime panel representative for their area their views would be fed directly in to the police and crime commissioner.
That is nearer to what the hon. Member for Edinburgh West and the Liberal Democrats put forward at the most recent election. I know that that proposal concerned direct elections to the police authority en masse, but it is a closer model to the one on which he fought the election. He knows full well, although he will not say so in the Committee, that my arguments about the need for such decisions to be made by a group of people rather than an individual are dealt with in some ways by amendment 107. It addresses many of people’s real concerns about the one-person model, particularly regarding problems such as politicisation. It is much more difficult to believe that politicisation of the police will occur if control is exercised on the police and crime commissioner through the police and crime panel. It is much more difficult to believe that people will be so concerned about operational independence or operational responsibility vis-à-vis the PCC and the chief constable if the operation of that directly elected individual is through chairmanship of a police and crime panel rather than as a stand-alone figure.
For such reasons, the amendment is a genuine attempt to provide an alternative, and to give the Minister a different model so that he can at least start to address—as he will have to, specifically—the very real issues of linkage between one person and local communities. Why is having a directly elected chair of the police and crime panel to work with to deliver the greater accountability the Minister wants not a better model than what he is proposing?
Chris Ruane: I shall make a short speech to support my hon. Friend’s proposal for directly elected chairs of the panel. For a PCC to succeed, he needs local government buy-in. I mentioned in my previous contribution that Denbighshire, of the 376 crime and disorder partnerships, was third, and it was able to obtain that position because of co-operation with the local authority.
Given a problem on a council estate with a young lad or group of young people, the issue is not just for the police but for the local housing and education authorities and social services. Only by sitting round a table together can they face such problems in the round, drawing up
If a PCC—especially if newly elected, on a party political ticket—tries to force his philosophy down the throats of local government authorities, which might not be of the same political persuasion as him, that is a recipe for disaster. Working in partnership, getting the balance right and increasing co-operation will enable the PCC to fulfil his or her functions. The Conservatives and Liberal Democrats are not offering a policy for co-operation, but for confrontation. We definitely need local government buy-in, which the model proposed by my hon. Friend will allow us to achieve. I hope that the Government will listen.
Mike Crockart (Edinburgh West) (LD): I shall outline why we, as Liberal Democrats, oppose to such a model. The fundamental problem with what the hon. Member for Gedling said is that the Bill’s proposal is not a one-person model, but one person with significant checks and balances. The model in the amendment poses significant questions about legitimacy and accountability. On a police and crime panel, an elected police and crime commissioner, with a significant mandate in a police area with possibly millions of votes, would have only equal prominence with a representative appointed by a local authority. How would that equalise the legitimacy of all the members of the police and crime panel? How could police and crime commissioners, elected in such a way and with a potentially huge mandate, realistically be held accountable for being unable to push through the priorities on which they were elected? It leaves them in the situation four years down the line of saying, “I tried my best, but ultimately I simply did not have the power to push through the priorities that you wanted.” Where does that leave the electorate? Having identified priorities and having elected someone to push those priorities though, the system will effectively rob the elected representative of the ability to deal with those priorities.
Nick Herbert: I am trying to understand whether the support for the model is now the policy of the Labour party. It was certainly offered by the hon. Member for Gedling in the spirit of a genuine attempt to arrive at some new form of governance that he thought would work. Perhaps this is a probing amendment. Perhaps the hon. Gentleman will explain it to me one way or another. He certainly told the Committee earlier that the reason why he was tabling the amendments was to avoid the charge that he had no alternative model of policing governance. We must therefore take his attempt at face value.
We are discussing the model of governance that the Labour party now proposes. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh West briefly but effectively explained the absolutely key flaw in the proposal. An individual would still stand for office in an area such as the west midlands or Northumbria. They would stand on a mandate, but possibly be wholly unable to deliver it because in office they would only be the chair of a committee. The other members of the committee would not be elected, but nominated by local authorities, yet they would have an
I drew attention to the weaknesses that HMIC has identified in relation to the key role of exercising governance in relation to ensuring value for money. The proposal would have none of the advantages of creating the office of a directly elected individual such as we have seen in the Mayor of London, who can then set up an executive office to give him the necessary support and focus. It would also confuse the clarity of the governance arrangements that we have introduced under the Bill, which are to separate the police and crime commissioner from responsibility for holding the force to account and assuming all the responsibilities of the police authority. The police and crime panel will be a scrutiny body, which will hold the police and crime commissioner to account.
The amendment would undo the separation that is so important for the purposes of transparency and proper accountability. It would be a step in precisely the wrong direction for governance. It would undo the real advance under the Bill, which is that district councils will have a voice in the governance of policing for the first time. They will have a say on police and crime panels, which they do not have under existing police authorities.
The hon. Member for Gedling has proposed the worst of all worlds. It is not surprising that such a model was rejected by the previous Government. He was at great pains to explain why it was so important to learn from mistakes and how he had learned from the mistakes of the previous Government. I accept that, of course, yet he does not seem to have noticed that the model was rejected by the previous Government because it had all the flaws that I have set out.
Furthermore, over the past few weeks, and again today, we have heard a lot from Labour Members who have outlined their objections on the grounds of cost, for instance, to the democratic reforms that we have introduced. The hon. Gentleman is now proposing a model with a directly elected chair of the police authority, so the election costs will be precisely the same. Although he is complaining about the costs of this legislation, Labour proposes a model that introduces exactly the same cost. Let there be not one further word of criticism from the Labour party about the cost of our reforms because it has now proposed reforms that have exactly the same election cost, which is the first key point.
Secondly, the costs of the Labour model will actually be greater than ours. We have said that PCCs and panels together must cost no more—other than the election costs—than existing models of police authority governance. By keeping authorities in their current form with all the paraphernalia of allowances that police authority members claim, the hon. Gentleman’s model will cost more than the existing model of police authority governance. He has proposed a more expensive model of policing reform than the one that we have proposed.
Opposition Members complained that extremists would be elected to these positions. What is to stop an extremist being elected to the chair of a police authority? Opposition Members complained that a single person could not possibly represent a whole area. How could a chair of a police authority represent a whole area? Every single
Vernon Coaker: Well, that was an astonishing statement by the right hon. Gentleman. Let me give one example. Speaking of a directly elected individual, he says that the extremism argument is complete nonsense when applied to his model. When I get up and say that we can have one directly elected individual for the force area, he says that extremism is a real risk. It is exactly the same. It is one individual being elected for a force area. The right hon. Gentleman says that the extremism argument does not apply to his own model, yet it applies to my model, which is exactly the same as his—one individual for the whole force area.
Nick Herbert: This really is not hard. I reject the arguments about extremism, cost of elections and the individual not being able to represent an area of a certain size. The hon. Gentleman was the one who was advancing those arguments. I am now making the point that he is proposing a model in which all of his own arguments apply. I want to understand why he has proposed a model of policing governance that includes all of the factors that, just a few minutes ago, he was so roundly criticising.
Vernon Coaker: The right hon. Gentleman is usually a lot calmer that he is at the moment. What I am proposing is a model that tries to address some of the real concerns that individual associations and groups have with the idea of one person being totally responsible for a whole area. What our proposed model seeks to do is overcome some of those problems. The right hon. Gentleman puts forward the notion that he is right and they are wrong. If we have a situation in which one individual is the chair of the police and crime panel, it is the one model that can be used to overcome some of the points that individual associations and groups have made to us. That individual, working with the police and crime panel, has, for example, the local linkage to local authorities and local communities that the right hon. Gentleman’s model, in which the PCP and the PCC are separated, does not have.
Nick Herbert: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for giving way in the spirit of debate over these measures. I am trying to understand his position. He proposes a directly elected chair of a police authority, so does he agree that there will be an election cost that will be exactly the same as the cost for the election of a PCC? Can he explain how he can simultaneously criticise us for introducing a model with an election cost, and yet propose one with the same cost himself?
Vernon Coaker: We have discussed previously the difference between being in government and being in opposition, so the Minister knows that the Government, unless the Whip has not done his job properly, will vote through their proposals. I am, however, doing exactly as the Minister and his hon. Friends have done—I have heard them do it.
We fundamentally disagree with what the Government are doing, and with the concept of PCCs. We do not think that that is an appropriate way forward, and we recognise that to be a real Opposition we have to try to improve the legislation, raise issues that outside people and bodies are raising, and propose alternatives. We are proposing some alternatives and suggestions that people have made, to try to improve what the Government are doing.
The Minister can totally disregard everything that the Opposition say, but I know that he will not. He will not vote for our proposals, but he will reflect on them, and when he goes back to his Department he will say, “This wasn’t a very good point, but that was a reasonable one. What are we going to do about it?” He will reflect on what the outside bodies have said. However, if I did not come up with any alternative to what the Minister was proposing, he would say, “You’re clueless. You’ve got no idea. You present no alternative. All you’re doing is defending the status quo.” So either I face the attack that the Minister has just made on me, or I face the attack that I am clueless.
That is the reality, and the Minister knows that. Our alternative might not be the best model, and there are many others that we could put forward, so in that spirit, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment, but I wish to press amendment 107 to a vote.
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