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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
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
James Rhys, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
Good afternoon, Mr Howarth. We had a good discussion this morning. There are differences between the Government and the Opposition, but many issues were raised and points made in a way that aids the Bill. I know that we will continue in that vein.
This is a probing amendment that tries to understand a bit more about the relationship between the police and crime commissioner and the different areas that they represent, and how that will work. If the amendment were enacted, depending on the definition of a neighbourhood, the PCC could do nothing but attend public meetings. If they were somewhere in Devon and Cornwall and went to a public meeting every quarter in every ward, that would be hundreds of meetings. As much as I want to see PCCs become much more accountable at neighbourhood/ward/local level, even I think that would be unreasonable. Nonetheless, we have tabled the amendment to try to understand a little bit more about the Government’s thinking with respect to gathering information from police neighbourhoods. I know that the definition is left loose to be defined by the chief constable—I think that is right, and it is important to understand that.
The second part of the amendment deals with the need to encourage the views of the victims of crime and their families to be expressed. I have heard the Minister say that an important part of the function of the PCC is to gather information from victims of crime. We all say it, but it would be interesting to hear the Minister say how that is going to be brought about in practice. The relevant part of the Bill is clause 1(5)(b), which says a police and crime commissioner has
If we turn to chapter 3, we find a great list of things that the PCC is required to do. However, there is very little detail about how that is to happen, so it would be interesting to hear some details from the Minister.
How does the Minister envisage the PCC keeping in touch with local neighbourhoods? What specifically does he think is going to happen to enable that? If it is not quarterly meetings—as I said, that would be unreasonable—what is a reasonable way in which the PCC could make himself accessible to local communities? For example, my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak has made a point about the public not knowing the home affairs team. The Minister quite reasonably said that generally a high number of local MPs are recognised by their constituents. How does the Minister envisage that a police and crime commissioner responsible for a big area will be accessible to local communities if they do not hold quarterly meetings? On of our earlier amendments, which was defeated on a vote, said that the area was too big for one person. If the model is to have one person, it is legitimate for the Committee to want to understand a bit more about how it will work.
There is a responsibility to consult on police and crime plans and to receive feedback, but how will that happen? How will somebody concerned about crime in an area contact the PCC? To use an example from Devon and Cornwall, if the PCC’s office is in Exeter and someone in west Cornwall wants to contact them, will they write or phone? What is expected to happen then? How will they feel a connection with the PCC, so as to overcome the democratic deficit and the problem of accountability that the Minister has identified?
Visibility is an issue. The Minister is right to point it out, and it is why I made the point that we were not keen to defend the status quo. Police authorities have struggled, some more successfully than others, to raise visibility. Is he confident that the police and crime commissioner will be sufficiently visible, other than through the ballot box? Again, some forms of visibility involve the person’s name, but I think that the Minister wants more than that. If the commissioner does not hold meetings, how will they be visible? If the Minister does not agree with quarterly meetings, does he think that they should occur once a year or every six months? I am not trying to be smart about it, but there is a problem. What sort of visibility and accountability is he seeking to bring about by establishing one commissioner for a big area?
Chapter 3 gives the commissioner various functions. It is not clear exactly how one person will do all of them. Consulting on police and crime plans includes many different things. How will crime and disorder reduction grants work? Who will get them? How big will the budget be? I accept what the Minister says—I understand that the commissioner cannot dictate from London how that will happen—but what is the purpose of co-operative working if quarterly meetings are not held?
Our amendment deals with information and consultation. It is not clear to us exactly how information for the public will work better than it does at the moment. We have suggested quarterly meetings. As I said at the beginning, it is a probing amendment—we do not necessarily think that that is a sensible use of the commissioner’s time—but it raises other issues.
Each elected local policing body must produce an annual report, send it to the relevant police and crime panel and make arrangements for it to be published. Police authorities already publish annual reports. How will it make a difference to publish those annual reports and send them to a police and crime panel? There is a
How is that going to happen? In a way, that is meaningful to Mr Smith in the middle of Plymouth dealing with somebody in Exeter, or, in my own constituency, somebody in Arnold dealing with the main police station in Carlton. How will it happen if we are not having meetings in a different way?
Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): My hon. Friend has raised a genuine concern. I do not doubt that the Minister is sincere, but I have great trouble in understanding the scale of the change. In the West Midlands force, in the Birmingham area alone, local policing units have been broken down to constituency size. If we were to replicate that across the West Midlands force, we are probably talking about at least 20 LPUs with about 75,000 people in each one. When I go to a local police tasking meeting, I usually see a well-attended meeting with perhaps 25 to 30 people, although the police probably notify perhaps 2,000 people that it is going to happen. If the measure is to be representative and genuinely getting in touch with everyone who has an interest, how will it be managed on such a scale?
Vernon Coaker: My hon. Friend makes a very good point. It is a difficult question, but it is constructive. I am sure the Minister will see that the detailed and practical questions that we are now asking about this part of the Bill are part of the scrutiny process. Given that we lost the vote on amendment 107 this morning—we will vote later on clause 1 stand part—and given the Government’s intention to have one individual in this position, it is important that we test the issue. I have said it is a probing amendment—I will not press it to a vote. If quarterly meetings are not held, how will the new model ensure that local people’s opinions are taken into account, so not only can the police and crime commissioner say that their opinions are taken into account but our constituents feel that they have some influence or say in a way that has not happened before.
Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South) (Lab): If we accept that there is a problem with democratic accountability—I am sure that the Minister’s intentions are genuine—we run the risk of building up local people’s
Vernon Coaker: That is an extremely good point about building expectations, but then disappointing people if we cannot fulfil the expectations that they were encouraged to have. The Minister will be aware that if we are not careful, we will build a huge bureaucracy to try to overcome the problem. Chapter 3 is about publishing plans, consulting on them and ensuring that information is available. All those things are very worthy, but they will end up costing a fortune and the PCC will have to employ a significant number of people. At least the face-to-face contact that we are talking about is relatively cheap, apart from the cost of travel. People only have to put up a poster saying, “We will be in this hall on this date. Please come and talk to us.” It is difficult to see how some of the things that are proposed will happen in practice.
I would be interested to hear how the Minister believes that PCCs will help with giving victims of crime more of a voice. We all think that there is much more work to be done in that area. There is no doubt that often—not always, but often—people who have been a victim of crime feel as if their concerns and their voice have not properly been heard. Sometimes the problems that they have had and the hurt that they have experienced mean that whatever anyone says, it will be difficult for them to feel that the system has responded to them adequately. Given the aim that the Minister has expressed, which I support, how does he envisage that a PCC will improve that situation? What does he think will happen that will make a difference? I think that it is about more than just being elected.
There is a further point. If we are talking about face-to-face meetings, as the amendment proposes, whom does the PCC meet who properly reflects the views of victims? How does the PCC know that the people they meet or contact speak for the majority? How do they know that they are a legitimate voice, rather than just an individual voice? I have said that this is a probing amendment, but it is extremely important. The heart of the problem is that the model that the Minister and the Government have established involves single individuals covering what are sometimes massive areas. The Government believe that that is right to improve accountability, but the fundamental question is, given the Government’s intention to legislate in this way, how will those individuals relate to particular communities and localities?
All the proposals are set out in chapter 3. Clause 1(5)(b) cites the functions of the commissioner conferred by chapter 3, which is a massive chapter, and includes worthy ideals and aims to which none of us could object: giving proper information to people, getting back to them, ensuring that they have the statistics that they need and so on. How does the Minister envisage
The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): I appreciate the spirit in which the hon. Gentleman has moved the amendment, and the importance of ensuring that PCCs attend to the views of both the public and victims. That is the twin purpose of the amendment. I do not think that there is any disagreement between us about how important it will be for these new elected representatives to do that. The broad answer to his question is that we can fully expect these new representatives to take all the steps that they judge necessary to engage in this form of communication. There is no reason to expect that they will not, and there is the real issue, which he mentioned, of the extent to which we should be prescriptive in the legislation and say that the newly elected people should do certain things in certain ways.
If we think about our own position as Members of Parliament, no one tells us how often we should have surgeries, how often and where we should hold meetings in our constituencies or to which groups of people we should pay attention. There is nothing written in law, nor is there a code of practice or any guidance. So what is it left to? It is left to the judgment of the individual Member who, when first elected, will look at what his or her predecessor of whichever party did, and fashion his or her own arrangements, looking at what other Members of Parliament do, which will vary from constituency to constituency. The kinds of activities that I engage in, in representing my Arundel and South Downs constituents, are rather different from those that the hon. Members for Birmingham, Selly Oak or, especially, for Vale of Clwyd engage in. There will be some similarities with surgeries and so on, but there might also be some very different forms of activity. It is all left to our judgment.
What puts the pressure on us as individual Members of Parliament to respond in a certain way is the accountability that we have, the fact that we are elected and the sense that we are put in these positions by the people and have a duty to respond to our constituents, even if, in fact, the formal duty of a Member of Parliament is to vote on laws in this place. It is widely seen that Members of Parliament have a broader role, and for many that will be to consider the implications for re-election should we not do those things. However, I think that most Members of Parliament are driven by more than that, by conscience and by a desire to do the job properly.
We are also driven by public demands, by the number of e-mails and letters that we receive, and by the public wanting to see us, which we try to facilitate. I think that all hon. Members will agree that the volume of that demand is growing considerably. That is not the case, however, with police authorities, and that goes to the problem: police authorities are invisible. A series of freedom of information requests was recently made to police authorities by the think-tank Policy Exchange, including requests for information about how many letters and e-mails they had received over the past four years, from members of the public, not from the force
Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): The Minister seems to be obsessed with the public knowing exactly who the people are. In my North Wales area, we had a chief constable who everyone knew extremely well, and who was referred to as the mad mullah in the Daily Mail and various other tabloids. I would think, however, that most people in North Wales would struggle to name our current chief constable; I happen to think that he does an excellent job. I am sure that most people throughout the country could not name their chief constable, but that does not mean that those chief constables are not doing a good job. Notoriety does not necessarily mean that chief constables are more open to the public whom they defend.
Nick Herbert: I think that I understand the point that the hon. Gentleman is making, but I am not going to be drawn into a discussion about the previous chief constable of North Wales. We would be here for a long time if we did so, tempting though it might be. My point is simple. If the public do not know who bodies and individuals are, it is unlikely that they will correspond with them, and the evidence is that they do not.
Steve McCabe: I am curious about the correspondence point. I am willing to accept that it is one measure of how well known an organisation is, or perhaps how well it does its job, but is there any comparable information for the same period in the same area showing how many people complained to an MP, a councillor, the Independent Police Complaints Commission or the local police themselves? Surely, in order to have some understanding of the numbers, we must be able to compare them with something.
Nick Herbert: It would be useful to obtain that information. Perhaps we could ask the Library to do so for us. I would particularly like further information on what I am about to discuss. However, I think that it must be clear to us that the number of letters that Members of Parliament for the west midlands get and the number that the force is getting would exceed that by a huge margin.
In London, when the Mayor was introduced, as the deputy Mayor for policing has said, there was a substantial increase in the volume of correspondence received from the public by the Metropolitan Police Authority, because
Bridget Phillipson: On the issue of people contacting the representative of the police authority, it is a challenge for all of us as Members of Parliament, as it will be a challenge for the new commissioners, to ensure that it is not simply a case of responding to correspondence from those already in a position to engage. Our challenge is to reach out to those who might not have a voice. The difference here is that the person involved will be seeking an electoral mandate. Some of the most vulnerable in our communities are often not registered to vote, but their voices should be heard. I am thinking particularly of crime. Victims of domestic violence, for example, are often unable to make their views known publicly, but those views should be made known, and it is important that the commissioner engages with vulnerable groups when drawing up the plans.
Nick Herbert: I fully accept that. I do not seek to make the argument purely on complaints; it is about something much wider, namely how police and crime commissioners will engage proactively with the public.
It would also be instructive to discover how the Mayor and the deputy Mayor go about their business in terms of engaging with the public, seeking their views and so on. Again, it goes back to our debate earlier today. We have a model in terms of what is happening in a large area of London. The Mayor, deputy Mayor and MPA must have a programme to facilitate such engagement, and it would be instructive for us and for future police and crime commissioners to learn how they go about it, particularly because the force is so big.
I do not think that we disagree about the importance of such activity. I will take the two issues in turn. First, on the question whether the police and crime commissioner should have public meetings, I am sure that a PCC will want to do so; I just do not think that we need to prescribe it in legislation, for all the reasons that have been set out.
Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): If the commissioner does not have face-to-face meetings with the public, how does someone who is functionally illiterate—something like 15% of the UK population is functionally illiterate—get their voice across to the commissioner? They may live in an area which has a massive crime level. They cannot put their words in writing because they cannot write. They cannot send e-mails because they probably do not have computers. How do those who are disconnected and disadvantaged in society get their voice across to the commissioner?
Nick Herbert: No doubt that person would attend meetings, or they would be represented by interest groups and people who support them. How would they get in touch with us, as Members of Parliament? Let me make it clear that I am not disagreeing about the value of public meetings. I do not think that it is necessary to prescribe in legislation that there should be quarterly meetings? Why quarterly? Why not have monthly meetings? Some police and crime commissioners might want to
There is an area in which we have been more prescriptive, and that is in relation to the requirement on forces—not on police and crime commissioners—to conduct regular beat meetings. It is our long-standing view that there is a particular value in ensuring that the police have regular meetings in their local area and that the public know about them, so that the public have the opportunity to meet the police. I saw the power of that some time ago when, along with the members of the Select Committee on Home Affairs, I visited Chicago and saw its community alternative policing strategy and its meetings that were clearly of value, especially in areas in which there had been tension and in which minority groups felt that they had not had attention paid to them. Subsequently, we saw the growth of such a policy among police forces in this country.
We can debate that issue when we get to clause 34, but it is also germane to this set of amendments. It does not say how they are to obtain the views or where, and it is not completely prescriptive about the time period—it would be unwise for it to be so. I hope that hon. Members see that we have put in place provisions, where they are necessary.
Vernon Coaker: That is the $1 million question—the size of the neighbourhood and how often views are obtained. I realise that quarterly meetings are ridiculous, which is the point that I made earlier. Although I appreciate that such a matter has been put in the Bill, it does not alter the fact that at some point or other—notwithstanding localism and police and crime commissioners being locally accountable through the ballot box—the Minister will be asked how he knows that the system is functioning well and that clause 34 is working. It may be when he is assessing the police and crime commissioners, or it may be when we get to clause 34. I accept that it is a dilemma.
Nick Herbert: We will be keeping an eye on the effectiveness of the legislation. I am sure that there will be scrutiny by all sorts of bodies, including the Select Committee. I note now that when legislation is passed, we provide updates on how it has gone. The test will, of course, be in the success of these positions of police and crime commissioners. There is much to be optimistic about given the experience of London.
Including the provision that police and crime commissioners should also obtain the views of the victims of crime has been an important development. Hon. Members will know that that was something that the victims commissioner particularly praised in her evidence to the Committee. Again, why be so prescriptive about that? Is that not something that police and crime commissioners are bound to want to do anyway? Here, we wanted Parliament to send a clear signal to these newly elected individuals that thinking about the victims
Chris Ruane: If the Minister is not going to prescribe the ways in which they should do it, will there be a prescription that they must report back on a regular basis on what they have done? If we do not have some form of accountability on connectivity between the commissioner and their communities, they will play to their natural audience—the audience that selects them. The Minister has asked how we, as MPs, connect with ours. In total, 5,000 people have visited me in the House of Commons. I have sat them down on the Terrace, bought them a cup of tea and listened to them. I have 50 surgeries a year. My Welsh Assembly colleague, who is a Labour colleague, also has 50 surgeries. I have 200 visits a year. That is how I connect with my community, and I can prove it. Will the commissioner be able to prove it?
Nick Herbert: When we come to clauses 11 and 12, the hon. Gentleman will see that the police and crime commissioners must publish specified information for the public and set out an annual report. The function of the police and crime panel will be to scrutinise all that and ask questions. I expect that members will ask questions such as, “How much have you done in terms of obtaining the view in such and such an area?” The individual members of the police and crime panel will, of course, have a particular interest in their area.
and one of the functions is to obtain the views of the victims of crime. There is sufficient provision in the Bill for regular beat meetings for the police and for obtaining the views of the victims of crime, and we have transparency arrangements, which mean that all the reports about what they must do have to be produced by the police and crime commissioner. Indeed, if a criticism were to be levelled at the policy, it would be that it is highly prescriptive about what a police and crime commissioner must do each year. We took the view that the public need the information to be able to hold the person they have elected to account, and the police and crime panel will need that information, too.
There is plenty of provision in the legislation. I do not think that there is any disagreement between us about its importance. We live in the age of accountability and transparency, so everything that the police and crime commissioner does will be seen. All the papers and so on will be seen, because the principle of transparency is embodied in the legislation. We live in a world where access to new technology makes communication much easier. Not everybody has access to it, but the numbers are growing, which is something that they will have to have regard to, just as we do as MPs. With the use of the web, e-mail, Twitter and Facebook, I am confident that police and crime commissioners will be able to put in place innovative arrangements to secure dialogue and engage with the public.
Vernon Coaker: That is quite helpful. It demonstrates some of the problems between the desire to have localism and the recognition that if we do not prescribe some things, then we are not quite sure what will happen. If something goes seriously wrong, it will not be the police and crime commissioner’s head on the block, so there is a tension there, but I understand the way in which the Minister is trying to reconcile that.
It is interesting to note that there are 28 order-making powers in the Bill, according to the Library. I am not sure whether that is a high or a low number for a Bill of this size. The Minister has made the point that one of the order-making powers concerns the information that police and crime commissioners will be required to issue. Our debates are important, because the Committee can at least try to influence the Government’s thinking on what those regulations should include. If we look through chapter 3—given the fact that the Minister is trying to promote the localism agenda, and, to be fair, he touched on it at the end—there are a significant number of “musts”, which effectively mean that the Minister is expecting the police and crime commissioner to do certain things.
Wherever arrangements are put in place and whatever model is finally passed by Parliament, I re-emphasise the Minister’s point about the importance of new media in contacting different groups, in particular the groups that do not always participate. People sometimes scoff at Twitter and Facebook, and there are sometimes issues around them. If used properly—for example, if the police and crime commissioner were to establish that—there would be an effective way to get information out to people instantaneously. When the Minister considers how the police and crime commissioner might relate to and connect with many more people than happens at the present time, the use of new media would be effective in doing that.
There is a place for face-to-face meetings, but the question of how many there should be is difficult. I agree that that cannot be prescribed, which is why we only put it as quarterly in the amendment. There is a case, given what I have said on new media, for face-to-face meetings as well. It has been an interesting debate, and I know that the Minister and others will take into account the points that have been made as they try to ensure that this aspect of the Bill works as it should. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
There is no need to spend long on this particular amendment. I was intrigued when I read the Bill—I am sure that everyone has noticed this—about why the words “in particular” were put in there. Why is it that those functions are “in particular”, and what are the other things that the PCC should not have particular regard to? It may sound a trivial point, but there is a list there. It is important, because the chief constable is held to account “in particular” for those things. What are the other things, which are not on the list, that they are held to account for, but not in a particular way? I do not understand it.
What I expected in the clause was that it would say, “The police and crime commissioner will hold the chief constable to account for—” with a catch-all part at the end, such as “anything else that is regarded reasonable
Nick Herbert: The purpose of the words “in particular” is to ensure that the list of functions, which the PCC is holding the chief constable to account for, is not exhaustive. If the words “in particular” were not there, the chief constable could only be held to account for those functions by the PCC. Equally, it would not be practical to draw up a complete list of every function that chief constable might have. This precisely follows how police authorities work at the moment, where there is not an exhaustive list. We might have introduced a general provision for the PCC to hold the chief constable to account for the exercise of his duties. Instead, we have tried to set out, in particular, the principal duties for which the chief constable will be held to account, but it is not an exhaustive list.
A good example of such duties is complaints, which we have discussed, and how a force deals with those. I am not sure whether that is covered by subsection (8), but it is an important function of the police force. It might be argued that it comes under the general provision of effectiveness and efficiency in relation to arrangements with local people.
Vernon Coaker: I do not quite understand the Minister—it is the first time in almost three and a half hours of debate that I am not sure what he is saying. He said that the list is not exhaustive, but if we look elsewhere concerns might be covered, and so on. I will beg leave to withdraw the amendment, but I want him to reflect on it.
Nick Herbert: Of course I will. I am not explaining myself well, but my point is that if we remove the words “in particular,” it makes the list narrower not wider; the police and crime commissioner could hold the chief constable to account only for those listed functions. The forces will have other, unspecified functions and if we want, we can sit in Committee and keep thinking of all the things that the police force does.
I used the example of complaints, and clearly we want a PCC to hold the chief constable to account for how a force deals with those. If we were to remove the words “in particular” and not have a general provision that the force must be held to account for the exercise of its functions—which is, effectively, what this is—the police and crime commissioner would not be able to do so. That is the straightforward point; that is why the list must be non-exhaustive and the words “in particular” are included.
Vernon Coaker: We are going round a bit. I shall leave it there, Mr Howarth. I repeat, however, that I am not sure whether it would not be better to take out the words “in particular” and have a catch-all phrase. I
Nick Herbert: I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point; we do not disagree about what we want to achieve. I am certain that the parliamentary counsel will have advised us to draft the Bill in this particular way. I am happy, however, to examine the drafting to ensure that we are fulfilling our intention and that there is no lacuna. I do not believe that there is; that is not the advice that I am being given, but we will take the opportunity to pay attention to the hon. Gentleman’s comments.
Vernon Coaker: That is very helpful and constructive. Sometimes such points seem almost trivial, but in the full glare of publicity or in a court they become fundamental. A big argument might ensue about a couple of words. With the Minister’s assurance that he will ensure that there is no unintended consequence or lacuna, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
The amendment is similar to many others in that it probes the powers of the PCC to hold the chief constable to account. It is proposed in a similar fashion to those that have just been debated, which were tabled by the Labour party, to challenge whether the list in subsection (8) deals with all the relevant duties of the chief constable.
I think we can agree that a key function of police and crime commissioners must be to increase the engagement of local people with their local police forces, as is expressly set out in subsection (8)(e). One of the major points of engagement between local police and local people is the process for dealing with complaints against the police. Indeed, the main time I see people in my surgery in relation to the police is when the interaction that has already taken place between police and public has failed, and either a complaint has been made formally or is about to be made.
It is clear that in a structure where a police and crime commissioner exists that would be the correct person to look at how that complaint is dealt with. To be clear, he or she would not be responsible for the individual complaint, but must surely be involved in monitoring the complaints process. It is one of the key points of interaction between public and police, and to exclude the PCC from scrutiny of that process would be completely wrong.
“The Authority would therefore propose that the complaints handling function, currently under the direction and control of the chief constable, becomes one of the functions of the PCC.
I could not put it better myself. In particular, the point they make about giving a level of independence to the handling of complaints is an important one. I know there are many people who do not complain, precisely because they feel there is no point because of the lack of independence. There is a perception of its being an old boys club looking after its own. I stress that is a perception and not a reality, because I have significant professional, although not personal, knowledge of the complaints procedure. It is, nevertheless, a perception that has to be addressed. The adoption of this power by the commissioner would go some way to do that. I accept the point that it is not an exhaustive list, as the Minister has said, but the power to scrutinise the complaints procedure is central to the engagement between police and public. I would like to suggest that is something that the PCC should do in particular.
Nick Herbert: We are in much the same area of discussion that we were with the amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Gedling. The question is whether we can rely on the general provision in subsection (7) to ensure that the PCC will hold the chief constable to account for the exercising of his functions in how to deal with complaints, or whether a specific provision should be made in the non-exhaustive list in subsection (8), so that the PCC must in particular hold the chief constable to account for the way that complaints are dealt with. I have already said that we will go back and look at the drafting between subsections (7) and (8).
There is force in my hon. Friend’s argument that if there is to be this non-exhaustive list, which brings out particular duties that the chief constable has, complaints are a particularly important area—we know that it will be important for a PCC to ensure that complaints are dealt with properly. I do think that there will be a migration of complaints from the force to the police and crime commissioners themselves. That was the experience in London, and it will increasingly be the case. Indeed, the whole approach to complaints will change because of the visibility of the police and crime commissioners.
I entirely understand the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh West. It seems reasonable, and I want to reassure him that, as drafted, the Bill definitely allows under the general provision in subsection (7) the police and crime commissioner to hold the chief constable to account for such functions. There is no doubt about that. It certainly allows it. There is no lacuna, as drafted. The only question is whether we want to draw particular attention to the handling of complaints in that way.
There is also reassurance under paragraph 145 of schedule 15 in that we have amended section 15 of the Police Reform Act 2002 so that it will apply to police and crime commissioners in the same way as it currently applies to police authorities. Commissioners will be under the same duty to keep themselves informed about the handling of complaints and conduct issues raised
However, I have already said that I shall consider the concern of the hon. Member for Gedling about the use of the words “in particular.” I shall be very happy to reflect on whether they would add something to the signal that we want to send about the importance of complaints and whether they should be added to the non-exhaustive list. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh West will be reassured by that commitment. I do not think that the amendment is necessary, but can I go away and discuss with officials the extent to which it would add something by being included in the Bill?
Mike Crockart: I thank the Minister for his comments. Given his commitment to look at the matter again, I am massively beginning to feel better. [Hon. Members: “Ah!] Thank you. It is lovely. I stress that such matters should be taken seriously. I press my right hon. Friend to consider that but, given what he has said, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Again, there is no need to delay the Committee too long. I suppose that it is a continuation of our debate on functions. We have tabled the amendment because such issues are obviously important. However, such things could be automatic. The compliance with the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Race Relations Act 1976 might be automatic legal obligations that do not need to be specified as functions. Diversity has been raised as a worry in respect of police and crime commissioners and, as we know, is an issue for us all. We all want human rights respected. We all want diversity encouraged and the proper enforcement and implementation of various race relations measures.
The amendment is a probing amendment. It goes along the lines of similar debates that we have had on the previous two amendments about whether such a measure is needed, and whether it is implicit in other legislation that such duties are automatically held to account under the two laws or whether there is a need for such functions. It is amazing how the inclusion of a couple of words such as “in particular” causes more issues to arise in respect of what is actually meant than anything else. I notice that one or two hon. Members
There is a real problem with the way in which the measure is drafted. The hon. Member for Edinburgh West drew attention to his particular concern. I am not sure what the answer is to my own question, about whether the measure needs to be in the Bill or whether there is an automatic application of the Acts to everyone, and I shall be interested to hear the Minister’s comments.
Nick Herbert: Many of the arguments that we discussed in relation to the complaints procedure apply here. The first point is that clause 1(7) requires the police and crime commissioner to hold the chief constable to account for the exercise of all his functions, and it is a question of judgment as to what should be put in the list of functions, which I have already said we need to consider. The police and crime commissioner will hold the chief constable to account for the exercise of his functions under the Human Rights Act 1998 and the Children Act 2004, and there are statutory functions in any case.
On the commissioners’ duties, the intention behind the Bill is to ensure that the commissioners are subject to exactly the same duties as police authorities, and there is no intention to change that. In some legislation those duties are imposed on all public authorities, and since police and crime commissioners are public authorities they are included, whereas in other legislation the bodies to which it applies are listed, and the Bill replaces references to police authorities with references to police and crime commissioners. I assure the hon. Gentleman that it is my intention that his specific references to the Race Relations Act 1976, the Race Relations (Amendment) Act 2000, the Disability Discrimination Act 2005, the Equality Act 2006 and the Equality Act 2010 will be captured within those duties.
There is a specific issue in relation to the Race Relations Act and the Equality Act, and I will be tabling an amendment to be debated in the Committee, to ensure that any gaps in the equality and diversity provisions, which the Government take very seriously, are addressed. I thank the hon. Gentleman for reminding the Committee how important it is that the new model pays due regard to that. Diversity is an issue that has been raised in relation to police and crime commissioners, and there are many ways other than the statutory means by which we propose to deal with that.
One opportunity for ensuring that diversity issues can be dealt with is the appointment of two independent members to the police and crime panels. That is one reason why I was persuaded that it might be a good idea to have independent members on those panels, as we have on police authorities at the moment. That might provide an important opportunity, as a potential route to tackling diversity issues that have not otherwise been addressed by the nomination of councillors to the police and crime panels.
Chris Ruane: I am pleased that the Minister has reserved places for two independents, but will it be specified what type of person they will be? All the people on the panel could ended up being middle-aged,
Nick Herbert: Unless I receive a tap on my shoulder, I can be pretty certain that we have not specified that. The appointment of the independent members will be a matter for the councillor members to decide, and we can come back to that when we talk about how the police and crime panels will be drawn up. The debate on what kind of members should be independents is interesting, and it might be valuable to have them as people who can help with diversity, as is the case in a number of police authorities, where particular attempts are made to ensure that the authority can pick up on the issues. Indeed, I have just approved the extension of the appointment of police authority members in certain areas for precisely that reason, in order to take them up until the point at which the legislation will introduce PCPs.
There may be other reasons why it is a good idea to have independents, such as their particular expertise in relation to policing and so on. There is, again, an issue about how prescriptive we should be about that, but I think that we should have a further debate about it when we come to the PCPs.
Nick Herbert: They will be independent members. The point is that they will not be elected councillors, which is the case with police authorities at the moment. We have said that it is for the panel to decide, based on the skills and experience of the members—those are the considerations that we have set out. When we issue the general guidance on the legislation—assuming that it will be enacted—we may want to indicate the kinds of members that PCPs may wish to appoint. I think it would be perfectly proper for the Home Office to discuss that. We should also take account of the views expressed in this Committee and throughout the passage of the Bill. Independent members of police authorities are currently appointed by the authorities themselves, so there is no change to that procedure.
Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): Does the Minister share my concern that one of the problems with police authorities is the number of independent members who are not accountable in any way? Would it be more sensible for representation to be based on other councillors? Alternatively, and to provide balance, perhaps independent members should not be able to vote so that we can have democratic accountability.
Nick Herbert: Actually, I am rather grateful for your protection, Mr Howarth, except to say that I look forward to that debate. I have been caught once again between the devil and the deep blue sea of the ardent local democrat and others who wish to check local democracy. I will, of course, try to strike a careful and reasonable balance. I observe your stricture, Mr Howarth, so let us have that debate at a future point.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Gedling for his amendment. I have indicated that we need to table a further amendment to make sure that we comply with the duties, so I am grateful to him for drawing attention to that. In that spirit, I hope that he will withdraw his amendment.
Vernon Coaker: I thank the Minister for his helpful response. It feels as though I am on a bit of a roll—we have discussed whether the drafting of the phrase “in particular” is right, and now the Minister has mentioned a further amendment. In opposition, that counts as a win away from home. I will not get carried away about other things, but the serious point is that I am grateful to the Minister. I understand the point about listing everything, but the debate about what should or should not be in that particular clause is important, as is the issue of diversity and so on. I am therefore grateful to the Minister for saying that the Government will table an amendment, and I look forward to seeing it in due course. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Vernon Coaker: The amendments seek further clarity from the Government about the relationship between the police and crime commissioner and the chief constable and about operational independence. The amendments mention the oath, and it was interesting for me, and would be interesting for the Committee, to find out what the attestation is. If you will indulge me, it is only a few lines, and it is important and interesting to hear it:
“I…of…do solemnly and sincerely declare and affirm that I will well and truly serve the Queen in the office of constable, with fairness, integrity, diligence and impartiality, upholding fundamental human rights and according equal respect to all people; and that I will, to the best of my power, cause the peace to be kept and preserved and prevent all offences against people and property; and that while I continue to hold the said office I will, to the best of my skill and knowledge, discharge all the duties thereof faithfully according to law.”
It is an important issue, and the Government recognise it, but there is real concern that the relationship between the police and crime commissioner and the chief constable is such that there will be—whatever the protestations of the Minister and the Government—interference with operational independence. For good reason, the allegiance that an officer swears is not to the Government, but to the Crown—we all understand that—and the final words are “according to law”. The Government are sincere in their desire that chief constables will be able to operate effectively and professionally without interference and in accordance with their own judgment. Indeed, the Bill tries to make that clear, but every single witness and officer is, when spoken to in private, concerned about the relationship between the police and crime commissioner and the chief constable.
An important starting point is actually the definition that the Patten report used with respect to Northern Ireland, which stated that it was much better to talk about operational responsibility and not operational independence. Given the policing issues in Northern Ireland—you will remember the responsibilities that you had as a Minister, Mr Howarth—the Chief Constable being operationally responsible is important, and the Patten report has made a huge difference in that area of our country.
Bridget Phillipson: My hon. Friend is no doubt aware that, in the report published by Home Affairs Committee, it was recommended that the concept of operational responsibility should be clearly set out in a memorandum of understanding. Given that it is a new concept for policing in this country and that we want to avoid, if the commissioners are brought in, any major disagreements that could lead to damage being done to their relationship or to policing in the community, it is important to clarify those aspects.
Vernon Coaker: My hon. Friend is a member of the Home Affairs Committee, as are several other members of the Committee, and I will refer to that report and that important point in a minute, but she is absolutely right.
It is much better to talk about operational responsibility and not operational independence. The police should not be in a situation where they are not accountable at all. That is the point that Patten made—the phrase “operational responsibility” means that those having responsibility for the police are not independent of everyone, but are accountable for what they do. The Patten report was excellent, and it has helped enormously in Northern Ireland. The use of that terminology has changed policing there and is something that we might reflect on here.
The purpose of our amendments is to say to the Government that there is not enough in the Bill that is certain, clear and emphatic about the division of responsibility between the police and crime commissioner and the chief constable. Every person to whom I speak is concerned about a police and crime commissioner being elected on local policing priorities. The hon. Member for Cambridge raised the example of a police and crime commissioner who says, when standing for election, “We should get rid of Tasers—I don’t believe in using them,” and is elected on a mandate for that. Other examples can be made up—one might be elected on a mandate of not believing in such-and-such a way of policing demonstrations, or in kettling and the use of horses.
I cannot see anything in the Bill that sets out what a police and crime commissioner can or cannot say when standing for election. All those things might be said, and if a commissioner is elected on such a mandate, what does he say to a chief constable who turns round and says that Tasers are an appropriate use of technology to tackle certain issues occurring on the streets? As the hon. Gentleman has pointed out, the police and crime commissioner might say, “But I have been elected on a mandate not to use them.”
I am sure that the Minister will argue that the police and crime commissioner will not be able to do that, as those are operational matters for the chief constable. That is all right in Committee Room 9 at 5.20 on a Tuesday. I can only say that out there in Exeter, Cambridge, Birmingham, Liverpool or Cardiff, when the police and crime commissioner meets the chief constable straight after an election, what is currently in the Bill does not do enough to enshrine that independence, which is part of the purpose of our amendments.
Chris Ruane: May I give a further example of what is perhaps a populist cause that a populist candidate for commissioner might stand on, which is the abolition of speed cameras? That is very popular, and a candidate would probably get elected on that ticket, especially in north Wales, where they were pioneered. Even if the statistics proved that the cameras saved lives, the person elected with that mandate would be able to declare that he would abolish them in north Wales. Where does the buck stop—with the commissioner or with the chief constable?
Vernon Coaker: Again, that is a further example of the points that I made. The Minister’s stock answer is that this is not a problem, as the Bill clearly lays out that they are matters of direction and control, which are down to the chief constable. Everybody we talk to asks what will happen, and the Minister cannot just assert his view; he has to take on our argument that the Bill is not clear.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Houghton and Sunderland South said, and I see members of the Home Affairs Committee all around the Committee Room, a recent report of the Home Affairs Committee stated:
“We recommend that the concept of operational independence should continue to apply in respect of the important work of the police in detection and law enforcement, including arrest, but that the concept of operational responsibility be developed and clarified in a memorandum of understanding between the Home Secretary, Chief Constables and Police and Crime Commissioners. It is important that arrangements are made for parliamentary scrutiny of the terms of any such memorandum and subsequently its impact on police work. The police and not politicians must, as now, be solely responsible for individual decisions with respect to arrest and investigation.”
I know that the Minister agrees that it is for the police to decide on investigations, arrests and so on. The Home Affairs Committee is one of the most highly respected and important Select Committees in this House and the Minister has to take its point on board—well, he does not have to, but I would advise him to do so.
When the chief constable of the west midlands came to give evidence, I specifically asked him whether he thinks that it would be important and helpful to the Committee and to Parliament if such a memorandum of understanding or code of practice, as some prefer, were published. Part of the purpose of the amendments under discussion is to inform the Minister of our belief that it is important that, at least at some point in the Bill’s progression through its House of Commons stages, we are informed of what the Minister and the Government expect to see in a draft. I know that it would be a draft of a draft, but it would be important for every member of the Committee to know whether he accepts the recommendation of the Home Affairs Committee. Perhaps he could specifically state whether he agrees that there should be a memorandum of understanding on this matter.
I apologise if the Minister has already said that he accepts that point. If he accepts that there should be such an undertaking at some point in the future, does he not agree that it would be extremely helpful for the Committee to see that code, a draft of it or a draft draft of it, so that we get some idea of what we can expect to be the responsibilities of the chief constable and the PCC? It would also give us an idea of the interface between the two of them, one being a professional police officer in charge of a police force, and the other being a PCC elected solely on the basis of a manifesto in which anything may be included.
Bridget Phillipson: My hon. Friend makes a compelling point, and I think we all want to minimise the risk of disagreement. Disagreement would arise in a minority of cases, but where it does arise it is important that it can be resolved quickly and without detriment to the local community.
The president of ACPO raised the issue of someone being elected on a mandate of putting more bobbies on the beat. If that meant that officers were pulled out of
Vernon Coaker: That is an interesting example, and I do not know the answer to that question. At what point is it an operational matter, and at what point is it something on which the PCC can say he does not think the police force is doing enough? Let us say that somebody is elected on a manifesto of bobbies on the beat and says, “This is what I’ve been elected on. I don’t want officers in sexual violence units or domestic violence units. They can be more effective in helping people across this police force area by being out there on the beat.” I do not know how you then square that circle. The president of ACPO and every chief constable is concerned about that particular issue. The Minister says that there is no need to worry, because it is clarified in the Bill. Yet that has not satisfied any one.
There is no definition of direction and control. We will have a legal battle over what that means. There will be a PCC saying that they have the right to do something and a chief constable saying that they do not. What happens in such circumstances? How is that circle squared?
Steve McCabe: Might this be a way forward for the Minister? The Government believe in the right of recall for Members of Parliament. Why does the Bill not make the same provision for a police commissioner who makes such a mess of the job that he entirely disappoints the people who have elected him and makes the operation of policing virtually impossible?
Vernon Coaker: That is a very good question and, again, I will leave the Minister to answer it. The Minister knows that when the original proposal was made for elected police and crime commissioners a couple of years ago, the Opposition policy at the time was that if an individual was elected whom the Minister or the Government regarded as unacceptable for whatever reason, there would be not only a power of recall once somebody was elected but the opportunity to demand that the election be run again. I know that is the case, because we had a debate with the Minister about it at the time. I can see from his face that he agrees with me; he thinks that that was daft and so did I, but that was the policy at the time. I will leave him to answer the issue of recall.
Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con): The hon. Gentleman has just said that the amendment is important. Does it not strike him, even on first reading, that its drafting allows a considerable degree of latitude for dispute? For example, at the moment it is worded:
that could put him under breach of his oath. Even the exploration of an issue about which the chief might come back and say—to coin a phrase used by one of the
That was a good point and if, after discussion with the Minister and Government lawyers, the hon. Gentleman wanted to advance a better amendment to deal with the problem that he sees as a result of his legal experience, we would all be grateful. He made the point well that even with the amendment there is still cause for confusion, for debate and for uncertainty. We have tried to tighten that up and to test the Government regarding their intention to address the problems of direction and control and the competing mandates between a chief constable and a police and crime commissioner.
Michael Ellis: What happens with police authorities now? Is the hon. Gentleman not concerned that the existing police authorities open up the same avenue for dispute in the way that he has specified? This is much more democratic.
Vernon Coaker: It may be the case that a legal dispute can take place between a police authority and a chief constable; that goes without saying, because one can have a legal dispute between anybody. I am saying, and the ACPO and many others have said this, that the concern is where one individual is directly elected on a mandate. That is not the case with police authorities; as the hon. Gentleman knows, they are not directly elected at present. The difference is if a directly elected individual has put out a manifesto and a series of promises to a force area saying that they will do certain things, and that individual is competing with somebody else who wants to be elected as the police and crime commissioner in that area, who has promised other things. One can imagine another leaflet going out where people try to outbid each other in order to be elected as the police and crime commissioner, which leaves us with the problem of the mandate.
Clearly, there are arguments and priorities and all those sorts of things. However, an elected person cannot currently say, “Look, this is what I was elected on and I’m going to do this regardless of whether you think it is possible or even whether you think it is a good idea or not.”
Steve McCabe: I want to see if I can understand the matter a bit more clearly. The hon. Member for Northampton North is objecting to the use of the words “must not ask.” It might be that his legal training is coming into play. However, as a non-legal person, I would have thought that if he was saying that it is okay to ask, he is actually saying that it would be all right for the commissioner to push the chief constable as far as he could. Is there not the likelihood of creating an intimidatory relationship, which is the very thing we do not want to happen?
Vernon Coaker: My hon. Friend is absolutely right. The measure has the potential to be an operational and legal nightmare that will confuse the lines of accountability and create a very real danger within our system.
We disagree with the creation of police and crime commissioners, but the Minister’s intention is to increase democratic accountability, whether that is right or wrong. There is no doubt that the issue of operational independence and the ability of the chief constable to be operationally responsible, without interference from a politician directly elected on a mandate, is of fundamental importance to all of us and to all of the people who have given evidence. The Minister’s response on the issue—saying that it is dealt with in the Bill and there is no problem—simply will not do. People do not accept that point.
I finish by saying that, through the amendments, we are attempting to tighten up the legislation and do something about the danger and tension that there will be. At the very least, I urge the Minister to put before us as soon as possible a draft document, so that we can see the sort of code of practice—the memorandum of understanding—that the Select Committee on Home Affairs has said is so important. Notwithstanding whether the Minister agrees with me that the matter should be dealt with sooner rather than later, does he agree with the Home Affairs Committee that a memorandum or code of practice should be introduced?
On the issue of operational independence, I am concerned about some of the detail of the measure and I hope that the Minister can offer some assurance that those matters will be looked at carefully. I am sure that anybody who stands to be elected as a police commissioner will be motivated by the right reasons, as anyone who stands for public office will make sure that they fulfil their duties properly and do their best by the people who have elected them.
If I were looking to be elected as a commissioner, I would campaign very much on the ultra local issues that matter to people, such as antisocial behaviour. There would be nothing wrong with that. We want people to be responsive and we want politicians to listen to their local communities and make sure that they adequately address people’s concerns. I am fully aware
As I say, I am confident that whoever is elected will discharge their duties properly and do their best to make sure that they address the wide range of policing that goes on in an area. It is not simply about the front-line response; it is often about the delicate and difficult work that officers do in specialist units and in relation to, for example, counter-terrorism. That is why it is all the more important that a chief constable can say to the elected individual, “Yes, I accept that you were elected on a mandate to put more police on the streets, but I feel it is more important to safeguard child protection services within police teams.” The chief constable has a professional job to do and should be able to say to the elected commissioner, “I am afraid that’s an operational matter; I can’t fulfil that”, even if it means that the commissioner cannot fulfil the mandate that they stood on.
I have made the only point I want to make. It is brief, but I hope that the Minister will tell us what help the Government will ensure is available, so that when such individuals are elected, they look at the broader range of policing in their area and do not simply focus on certain issues. Those issues may matter, but they are often raised by those who are most able to make their views known. That is not simply by those who are articulate; it is sometimes the “fearful safe”, as we heard in the Home Affairs Committee. With people who are most in need of help and support from the police service, it can be the same as it is with Members of Parliament. I am all too aware that sometimes people who would benefit from the support and help of a Member of Parliament do not contact them. Clearly, we all want to improve on that and do everything that we can to reach out to all our constituents, and not simply to those who are able or willing to make direct representations to us.
The Government need to look closely at operational independence, so that the risk of disagreement between the chief constable and the commissioner can be minimised. Therefore, if we have this system, it should work, and we should not constantly be dogged by disagreements and public spats, which, in the process, would damage the local service that people receive.
Steve McCabe: Earlier in the debate, the Minister said that there was no fixed way for an MP to do their job, using that as an example of how people may approach things differently. I think he was talking particularly in the context of consultation and engagement with the public. It is true that no particular qualifications are required to be a Member of Parliament—[ Interruption. ] The Minister is being very smart, but I missed it. So, there are no fixed qualifications, or requirements about how to do the job. In reality, for the vast majority of Members of Parliament, until they reach the Minister’s exalted position, their responsibility is solely to the electorate as they carry out their job.
In this case, however, we are talking about someone with a much wider responsibility. The Minister and I might slightly quibble about the range of the West Midlands force, but we both agree that it serves a population of more than 2 million. My electorate is
We took evidence from witnesses, and although quite a number of them said that the issue of operational independence was not particularly new, there was no agreement between them about how to safeguard it. In fact, the chief constable found himself at odds with some of the other witnesses, as well as the hon. Member for Cannock Chase, when they were trying to understand how to safeguard operational independence in such a situation.
Mark Tami: If our previous chief constable in north Wales were still in post, I could imagine a candidate standing with the intention of reining him in, taking a confrontational view and changing priorities on which he did not agree with the chief constable. Is that the model we want across the rest of the country?
Steve McCabe: That would be a fear of mine. I do not think anyone who opted for election with the idea of settling a score or reopening an issue on which they were unable to succeed the first time would necessarily have the best interests of the community at heart. Equally, if I were a Conservative Minister, perhaps I would not be thrilled at the prospect that chairs of police authorities I have just abolished are likely to end up running the show. I am not sure that their instincts would automatically make them desperate to fit with the ambitions of the Minister for Policing.
As with other things in the proposals, we cannot afford to wait until it is happening to discover if there is a problem. If we create a crisis in a major police force because we have not thought through these problems in advance, it is too late. Surely the onus is on those proposing the changes to show that they have at least considered the eventualities and the things that might go wrong, and that they have answers to those problems. Perhaps the Minister has the answers, but he has not so far been willing to share them with people who have the concerns. That is not to say that the plan is entirely wrong or that there cannot be new ways of working, but he must share the doubts expressed by others. Surely, at this stage of Committee, it is reasonable to give us some understanding of how he thinks he would deal with the problems.
Chris Ruane: The interplay between the chief constable and the commissioner is crucial. There will be clashes on policy, personality and, perhaps, politics, if the person elected with a political mandate tries to ram it
Have the Minister and his team given any thought to recall, if there is a clash between the commissioner and the chief constable, and the commissioner is not doing their job? It is being considered for MPs if they are not doing a good job. As MPs we are analysed on the net with theyworkforyou.com, which says how many times an MP has spoken, what Committees he is on, how many times he has attended, what his interests are and what he has been active on, so we are accountable there. The Minister referred to MPs and accountability, but we are accountable, and there are moves afoot to make us accountable through recall if we do not do our job. Have the Minister and his team given any thought to what would happen if a commissioner was not up to the job? We should not have to wait for four years. This is an important issue, especially for those who have been affected by crime. We should have recall of a commissioner who is not doing a proper job.
Nick Herbert: This is an important debate because it goes to a key issue that has arisen in relation to this legislation. I understand this is a probing amendment in order to open up the issue of operational independence. If the hon. Member for Gedling is shaking his head and proposing a substantive amendment, I think it gives rise to some serious issues, changing quite fundamentally the current balance in relation to the functions of the chief constable and the authority that holds the chief to account.
I want to repeat what the Government have said in the House, outside and in terms to the police: there is no intention on the part of the Government to interfere with the operational independence of the police. It is common ground that the police should be operationally independent. The question arises of what we mean by that and whether the Bill changes anything in the current arrangements.
First: what do we mean by operational independence? Strictly, operational independence is held to mean that, in Lord Denning’s dictum, the police are accountable only to the law, in the sense that no politician should, for instance, be able to tell a police officer whom to arrest. That goes to the issues that the hon. Gentleman raised in relation to the oath—that is, the independence of a sworn officer, his allegiance to the Crown and the exercise of his functions as an officer. Nevertheless, it is widely agreed that that definition of operational independence is very narrow, and that the police must be held to account by someone. In the end, a politician or a group of politicians will have to decide how much money a police force is to receive; will have to provide an input of the views of the public; will have to set the priorities of the public and so on.
The hon. Gentleman is right that the question whether operational independence is the right definition, or whether we should move to a definition of operational
The service itself is not asking us to define operational independence. It has sought, through debate such as this and discussions with the Government and more widely, an answer to the sort of perfectly fair questions raised by hon. Members. What happens if a politician who has a responsibility for the police stands on a platform of saying, “I would like the police to do something”, and that starts to cut into an operational matter? He could stand on a platform and say, for instance, that he wanted more community policing. A police and crime commissioner who is standing for office is very likely to say that he is committed to that and that he wants more of it within the available resource. Given that that appears to cut across a decision on deployment, that is a commitment for the chief constable to make.
Nick Herbert: If the hon. Gentleman will allow me to develop my argument, which is important, I will give way. This is a grey area, which is precisely why the Committee would be unwise to try to define it too closely and why I do not wish us to do so.
Nick Herbert: May I just complete this point, then I will give way to both hon. Gentlemen? I will illustrate it with a couple of examples. The Mayor of London stood for election on a platform of seeking to deal with knife crime and to put uniformed officers on public transport. It could be argued that both proposals cut across the operational independence of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner because they related to deployment. It is for the commissioner to decide when he undertakes a knife crime operation in London under Operation Blunt 2. It is for him to decide how to deploy officers on public transport. The commissioner sat down with the Mayor and devised a way to give effect to what the Mayor sought to do, because he recognised that the Mayor had a mandate, and that there was public concern about such issues. Had there been a dispute about that, it could have gone to the courts. There is a series of cases—there were some high-profile ones in the 1980s—that went to court because police authorities fell out with
Let me give a further example to hon. Members. A few years ago, the then Prime Minister, Tony Blair, became very concerned about street crime. He convened a street crime summit. He summoned—[Interruption.] This is a really important debate, so I should like hon. Members to pay attention. I am seeking to answer the points that hon. Members have made.
Nick Herbert: I will give way in a second. I particularly want to draw this example to the attention of hon. Members. Tony Blair effectively summoned chief constables to Downing street and told them that something had to be done about street crime. It could be argued that that cut across their operational independence. They then went away and had to deploy a resource—at the time, they were given the resource—to deal with street crime. Any one of those chief constables could have argued that it was not right to be arraigned by the Prime Minister. It is possible to argue that the Government, through the Home Secretary, have a wider duty that enables them to talk to chief constables about this kind of thing, but it almost certainly strictly cuts across the operational independence of the police.
In most cases, therefore, these issues are settled by sensible debate and accommodation between the chief officer and the authority. The last point that I want to make before giving way to hon. Members is that we do not propose any change in the Bill to the functions of the chief constable and the police and crime commissioner that affects the issue of operational independence. It can be argued that there is a different kind of change because the elected individual—the police and crime commissioner—will be a more powerful person than the authority with a mandate. However, there is no change in the powers and duties that the commissioner has to secure an efficient and effective force, in relation to giving the chief constable control and direction of the force. Those are the established legal principles that apply to police authorities and chief constables at the moment. Every day, there are discussions between police authorities and chief constables as to what that means. There are often little skirmishes and wrangles, but that is the reality under the current system. It is a reflection of the tripartite arrangement, as between the powers of the centre—the Home Office—the powers of the chief constable and the powers of the police authority.
We have no intention of dismantling the tripartite system. We intend to rebalance it and to end the distortion of the centre, which means preserving the same principles of operational independence that have governed us until now.
The point on which I really wanted to intervene involves something that the hon. Member for Cannock Chase, who is a supporter of the Bill, has said. During
Nick Herbert: No, I do not think that that suggests a problem. The issue already exists. We have exactly that situation in London: the Metropolitan Police Commissioner has decided that single patrolling is a good idea—
Nick Herbert: That is exactly the point. It is extremely unlikely that any sensible chief constable would take such big decisions without discussing them with the police authority, even if a police authority did not have a formal role.
Conversely, it is unlikely, if a police authority or an elected individual such as a mayor had a particular policy, that the chief constable would not wish to discuss that sensibly in order to implement it. If the chief constable felt strongly that it was fundamentally wrong, he would have to make that point to the elected individual. Ultimately, it could become the subject of a dispute. Such decisions have resource implications, and the function of the elected individual, as with police authorities, is to set the budget and the plan and to appoint the chief constable in the first place. That is the existing position.
I would like to challenge the hypothetical argument that has been made, because we cannot allow it to run on: the idea that someone who runs for elected office is bound to want to denude all the specialist, less visible units under his command of police officers, so that he or she can put them out on the streets. Can someone tell me if that is what has happened in London? Has the Mayor attempted to denude specialist units? It would be perfectly legitimate for the Mayor and the deputy Mayor to have the discussion with the commissioner about how certain units should be resourced. I have no doubt that the commissioner would hold that the force is under his direction and control and, ultimately, that decision is his.
The whole point of accountability is that someone should be able to have that conversation and ask questions. I should point out that in its report “Valuing the Police”, the independent inspectorate of constabulary raised the question of whether some of those units were overmanned.
Mark Tami: Surely the police commissioner is likely to stand on a platform of change in some form or other. Few people stand on the basis of leaving things pretty much as they are by saying, “We think things are going quite well, so we’re not really going to change anything.” Clearly the Minister is not actually listening to me, so I do not know whether it is worth—
Mark Tami: I reiterate that a commissioner is likely to be elected after promising change. There might well be a bidding war among candidates over how far that change will go and the areas in which it will take place. It is possible that soon after the commissioner is elected, he will take a more confrontational approach. He will say, “I have the mandate for this change,” regardless of whether the chief constable sees it as being within his operational requirement. If that is not defined, surely the clash will be more difficult.
The Chair: Order. I asked the hon. Member for Cannock Chase for brief interventions. I am not sure how many different ways I can put this before it sinks in, but I appeal to Members to make interventions brief and to try to stick to a single point. If anyone wants to make a speech, there is plenty of scope for them to do so. Perhaps Members should consider making a speech rather than a very long intervention, because from here on in they will not be allowed to intervene in such a way.
It might come down to a judgment that we will all exercise about whether candidates standing for office who make unrealistic pledges will be found out in the course of public debates about their proposals, and how the public will react to that. I believe in trusting the public. I think that they see through pledges that are not realistic or grounded, particularly if comment has been made. Somebody making unrealistic pledges about the number of officers on the street would have to answer all sorts of questions about whether they would actually deliver that. That might lead to a wider debate about the nature of the candidates who stand.
The fundamental point is that we are not trying to alter the existing position or the balance between police authorities and chief constables. I do not see any evidence from London that the measures give rise to such catastrophic problems that they call into question whether such democratic accountability should be introduced at all. It is true that it gives the public a greater voice, and I make no apology for that. Part of the purpose of the reform is to ensure that the public have a greater voice and feel that their views are being reflected. However, it is important that we maintain the principle that the chief constable is not an employee of the police and crime commissioner and cannot be directed or controlled by the PCC. The balance that is achieved through such separation is maintained.
Chris Ruane: The Minister challenged us to give examples of politicians interfering with chief constables or telling them to put bobbies on the beat. I think that he asked us to give examples from London. The example that I can give is the Prime Minister himself, who used the figure of 11% in relation to bobbies on the beat without any regard for specialist units—child protection, fraud, counter-terrorism—and with no appreciation or respect for those brave officers.
Nick Herbert: That is a poor point. Following the former shadow Home Secretary’s departure to become shadow Chancellor, I advise the Opposition to abandon that point, because it resulted in the chief inspector of constabulary arraigning the right hon. Gentleman about claims that he made on the Floor of the House about the independent inspector’s report. The report says—it is worth a read and I urge every hon. Member to read it—that the visibility and availability of police forces is, on average, 11% of force strength, and that that is too low. It is not us saying that it is too low, although I agree, but the independent inspector. That is being caused by the draw of officers into specialist units and the growth of regulation. The inspectorate suggests that that needs to be reversed and I agree.
There is a serious point about the way in which some specialist units are resourced. Such decisions will be precisely those that will be exercised by chief constables in the future because they are, at least in part, operational matters relating to deployment. PCCs will also be involved because they set overall budgets and plans. A PCC would want to have a discussion with a chief constable about how resources were allocated within the force, and any sensible chief constable would engage in that discussion. Any sensible police and crime commissioner would listen very carefully to what the experienced chief constable was telling him about the importance of those units.
I go back to what I have been saying. What elected individual would dismantle domestic violence units or missing persons units? Over the past few weeks, we have seen the most appalling case in relation to a missing person, which turned out to be an awful murder. The public are very concerned about missing persons. Domestic violence has been a growing issue. I do not accept that a credible elected individual who stands for office and seeks to oversee a force would be persuaded that it would be sensible to dismantle those units, given all the opprobrium that would fall on him. In any case, he would not have the power to do so, because direction and control come under the responsibility of the chief constable.
These are important issues because it is important that we reassure the police service that there is no intention that the reform will cut across operational independence. It is also important that operational independence is not used as a fig leaf to prevent chief constables and forces from being properly held to account. My concern about how the hon. Member for Gedling has drafted his amendment, in which he brings into play the oath of constable, which arises from common law, is that as a way of achieving the operational independence that he seeks, it would come dangerously close to giving the chief constable a free rein to act as he or she wishes. I do not think that that is the hon. Gentleman’s intention, but I am advised that that is the danger of the amendment. It is not the right way to try to define operational independence, and I repeat that the police service has asked us not to make such provision in the Bill.
The hon. Gentleman asked specifically about the Home Affairs Committee’s proposal for a memorandum of understanding about how the relationship would work. I have been discussing a protocol to govern this arrangement, rather like the one being drawn up in Northern Ireland. I have already said on the Floor of the House that a memorandum of understanding would
A number of recent issues have raised the question of where responsibility lies between the chief constable, police authorities under the current model and the Home Office. One very important example is the use of water cannon. Some chief constables were suggesting that the deployment of water cannon would be entirely a matter for them—I agree. If water cannons were to be permissible in this country, I think that it would be for a chief constable to decide. Such an operational decision should always be a decision made by a chief officer, not a politician. However, I think that a chief constable who took that kind of step would be very unwise if there had not been previous discussion with their police authority about the use of water cannon and the authority had then agreed to that use. Such previous discussion is required for the use of force such as Tasers, and some authorities do not permit the use of such force. Furthermore, the Home Secretary has pointed out that the use of water cannon has to be authorised by the Home Secretary in the first place. There is no definition of operational independence that says that these decisions are only for chief officers.
In the real world, no chief constable would ever want to take such a step without ensuring that his or her own police authority agreed with it because, frankly, it requires political imprimatur to take such a decision. Indeed, we find that the Home Office has a role in authorising the use of such equipment. The Home Office has an ongoing role in the governance of policing in a number of areas, another good example of which is surveillance.
Steve McCabe: I do not think that we are talking about the same thing. The Minister quite rightly describes a situation of a chief constable seeking approval for an action that he thinks is justified, which I understand. The conflict that we are worried about is when the commissioner wishes to impose what he thinks is a political mandate, but the chief constable does not agree. As the Minister pointed out earlier, the chief constable can be sacked by the commissioner, so he is not exactly in an equal position.
Nick Herbert: I pointed to the real-world example of what happened in London. I accept that the commissioner of the police in London—effectively the chief constable—resigned, although that was not over a disagreement about deployment; it was simply that the Mayor had lost confidence in that individual. I happen to think that the Mayor was reflecting the view of Londoners and I do not think that most Londoners disagreed with that decision. The Mayor was absolutely entitled to exercise that view, and that was a strength of the system, not a weakness, because the system had previously not allowed the view of Londoners to be expressed because the then Home Secretary appeared to be determined to keep that particular individual.
While I doubt that many Londoners disagreed with that decision, they were happy about the decisions taken by the Mayor and the commissioner on knife
Nick Herbert: I might be wrong, but my judgment is that the decision to remove the commissioner was broadly welcomed in London. That is certainly my recollection. If hon. Members have any polling evidence to the contrary, I will be happy to have a look at it, but my view is that the Mayor, who had just been elected to office, was entitled to deliver his promises and to take such action.
Clive Efford: The Minister has just explained that the Mayor for London was elected on a campaign to tackle knife crime. He then went on to say that, quite rightly, with the commissioner for the police the Mayor then implemented the policy. However, earlier on, when the right hon. Gentleman referred to the knife crime summit that Tony Blair held, he suggested that that was a criticism and an interference in the operation of the police. Will he explain his position? There seems to be a contradiction in the two views.
Nick Herbert: I am sorry; they are not contradictory at all. I was saying that in both cases we could argue strictly that the politicians concerned—the Prime Minister and the Mayor—were cutting across the operational independence of chief constables, who are free to decide how to deploy the resource in their force to deal with issues such as knife crime. In both cases sensibly, the chief officers had the conversation with the elected politician and discussed how to implement the proposals.
The hon. Member for Gedling was Minister with responsibility for the police for a longer period than I have been, but he will know—as I already do—that there are plenty of occasions when we have discussions with chief officers about policing issues. I am referring mainly to national policing issues, but in some cases we discuss local policing issues with ACPO leads on particular areas of crime. My hon. Friend the Member for Old Bexley and Sidcup, the Minister for Crime Prevention, has had such conversations as well, and the chief officers discuss such issues with us. I am sure that they did so with the hon. Gentleman, too. There would have been occasions when what the previous Government were doing could have been cutting across the operational independence of chief officers by demanding that certain things were done in certain ways, but they were the elected Government with the responsibility to ensure efficient and effective policing and to keep the public
I am arguing that when things go wrong there are established procedures and ultimately things can go to the courts, as they have in the past. In the main, such matters are settled by sensible British compromise. We need to be very careful not to interfere with that. ACPO asks us not to interfere. However, I want to address the concerns about operational independence, and I agree that a memorandum of understanding would be a helpful development.
Mr Aidan Burley (Cannock Chase) (Con): In the past half-hour of debate there has been an assumption that, in some way, elected politicians might make their decisions on where to prioritise police resources for political reasons and politicise the police, whereas chief constables would always make decisions based purely on operational requirements. However, when Sir Ian Blair was first appointed to his post in London, he stated that one of his top priorities was to crack down on middle-class drug-taking. I remember thinking at the time that that could not be a priority for London. Is it not the case that actually senior police officers have been making political decisions for years, and that these changes will actually bring policing back to the people because they will have someone representing the concerns of the many, expressing those concerns to the senior police officers at the top.
Nick Herbert: I stand by what I said, which is that the proposals give the public a greater say—a greater voice, and that voice will be heard. The reform attempts to do that in a way that does not cut across the conventions and the legal position of the chief constable and those who hold the force to account. The bigger problem, actually, has been that chief constables have tended to look to Whitehall and Westminster for such political direction, when what the tripartite arrangement should have achieved until it was distorted was that chief constables were attending to the views of local people. That is the change that we wish to introduce.
Dr Huppert: Does my right hon. Friend agree that the proposals might be better than the current position in less assertive police authorities such as Cambridgeshire? What often happens at the police authority is that members are told that there is an ACPO directive on some issue, which they must follow.
Nick Herbert: I agree with my hon. Friend. I said that there is always a danger of chief constables hiding under the fig leaf of operational independence. There is certainly that danger where police authorities may not be strong or self-confident enough to hold chief constables properly to account. The dangers do not all go the way that hon. Members suggest they do. They can go the
The hon. Gentleman’s amendment, while well-intentioned in provoking a debate and seeking to establish the importance of operational independence, would be a serious mistake in handing too much power to chief constables through the device of the oath.
Chris Ruane: We have only ever had one example of an elected representative to oversee policing, and that is, as has been mentioned, in London. The first action of the elected representative was to chase out the chief constable, with whom he disagreed. What message does that send to the new commissioners—“If you want, you can go and chase out chief constables”? And what message does it send to the chief constables? “Mess with the Tories and you’re out.”
Nick Herbert: I am not sure it was wise of me to accept an intervention from the hon. Gentleman. Police authorities already have the ability to appoint and dismiss chief constables. Police and crime commissioners will have that ability, too, subject to the checks and balances that we have set out. That is part of the reassurance that we have given on operational independence. We have put in place measures—I am sure we will come to this in later debates—that will be some kind of check against capricious decisions being taken by the elected individual. We have again wanted to reassure ACPO about that.
So, I want to reassure the Committee that the Government have thought about the issues very carefully. They are being extensively debated outside this place. It is right that they should be debated here, but the amendment would be the wrong way to secure operational independence. For that reason, I urge the hon. Member for Gedling, in spite of his good intentions, to ask leave to withdraw it.
Vernon Coaker: It has been a good debate. There is clearly a difference in the Committee. The Minister, for all the reasons that he has just articulated, believes that the new model will not create any more difficulty than can be overcome by a good deal of common sense, stiff upper lip and away we go—all sorted. We are moving into a fundamentally different environment with directly elected people in every police force area, as I have said, with a mandate. To get elected, people will make promises. Other people will make promises. There will be a manifesto competition. When people are elected on that mandate, they will seek to implement it. The Minister says that that is not a problem, because they will sit down and talk about it and come to an agreement. He quoted a couple of examples of when that had happened, including in the 1980s.
The fact of the matter is, there is a very real problem here. We have heard evidence galore that there is a very real problem. The Home Affairs Committee has said it is such a problem that there needs to be a memorandum of understanding. The police prefer a code of practice, but it amounts to the same thing. The Minister clearly
I will conclude my comments, because we have more amendments to debate. One of them points out the real dangers of the situation and the conflict in two separate parts of the Bill that will lead to tension between the PCC and the chief constable over who controls and directs personnel.
Steve McCabe: Is not the problem with the Minister’s response that he has based his argument on the fact that we are dealing with the familiar problem of police authorities and operational independence? He bases his argument for the Bill’s provisions, however, on the fact that he is going to do something radical, new and different that will empower PCCs. He is sweeping away police authorities and introducing a much more powerful body. How can he use one argument to justify his defence when his argument for the Bill is the exact opposite?
Vernon Coaker: The point is that each area has somebody with a mandate who has been elected as a result of making certain promises. The Minister must be worried about that, otherwise there would be no need for a memorandum of understanding or a code of practice, and the existing arrangements and good, common sense would be okay.
The Minister did not respond to one point. It is important that an elementary draft of the memorandum of understanding or code of practice should be placed before the Committee and Parliament, so that we can look at what the Minister, along with his officials and based on discussions with others, is trying to put together to help to resolve the tension. This debate is important and I would like to test the opinion of the Committee on the amendment.
Would the Minister say a little more about the staffing arrangements that he expects for the PCC? We have made reference in the amendment to the possible need for a staffing plan, and it would be interesting to know what salaries he expects. From my reading of the Bill I understand that the PCC must appoint a chief executive, a chief financial officer and so on. What does the Minister envisage as the salary of the commissioner himself? Is £120,000 the accurate staffing figure for a PCC? What salaries does he expect for the chief executive and the chief financial officer? Will there be a maximum budget? Will staffing be regulated? Is there a limit on the number of staff that a PCC may have, or does that depend on circumstances? I am not clear about where the budget comes from and how much they can actually have.
I also want to raise some issues that have been mentioned by a number of organisations. One is diversity, which the Minister addressed earlier. We need to have diversity within this structure. If a PCC establishes an office that functions well, what does he envisage happening to those staff when the PCC stands down or is not returned? Would all the staff working for the PCC automatically be made redundant? As he knows, there is a concern about the loss of expertise in such circumstances. I am trying to find out a little more about the staffing structure for the PCC.
Mark Tami: The cost is a very important point, because we are told by the Government—I do not know whether they still cling to this ludicrous point—that it will not cost more than the present system. As I said earlier, I think the cost is likely to mushroom with the number of people working for PCCs. We will see that money is spent on that, rather than on front-line policing, which is what we want.
Vernon Coaker: That is a fair and interesting point. It is not clear what we are talking about in terms of cost. How many people can be employed? What are the salaries? What is going on? There is no clarity. I want to give the Minister the opportunity to include in the Bill something about staffing; something about costs; something about how many staff will be employed; something about where that budget will come from; and something in answer to the other questions about the transition.
Nick Herbert: I welcome the opportunity to respond to the question of the salaries of PCCs. The salaries have not been set in the Bill. We have made it clear that we will take advice from the SSRB on the level of these salaries. That was the established practice when new posts were set out under the previous Government, and the Home Secretary has just written to the chairman of the SSRB to ask for advice on that matter.
There was speculation as to the size of the salaries, because, for the purposes of providing the regulatory impact assessment, we had to indicate what the salary might be to work out what the costs of the new organisation would be. That is all in the regulatory impact assessment, but that was in no way setting any kind of benchmark or indicating that the Government’s view was that that total amount of £120,000 per annum, which included the cost of national insurance and so on, would be given to police and crime commissioners.
Steve McCabe: The Minister is right that the previous Government used the SSRB, although not, as I recall, for elected posts. Will the public know beforehand how much the commissioner they are being asked to elect is going to cost them? Will that decision have been made and will it be available to the public before the election, or will they find out after they have made their decision?
Nick Herbert: It will certainly be available to the public beforehand, because it would not be right for the directly elected police and crime commissioners to be able to set their own salary in the same way that Members of Parliament have salaries set centrally. We felt that it was right in relation to police and crime commissioners. [ Interruption. ] I perhaps should not have opened that particular can of worms—or vale of tears.
I reaffirm that it is absolutely the determination of the Government that police and crime commissioners and police and crime panels together should not cost more than the existing arrangements. With having to deal with the deficit and to ensure that public spending is properly controlled, it is important that they do not.
Mark Tami: As I understand it, the Government do not include the cost of election in the figures. That is clearly a cost, and one cannot pretend otherwise. Why is that not included? Even the Government would accept that it will cost more than the present system.
Nick Herbert: I was about to go on to say that I am talking about the running costs of the police and crime commissioners. I have always conceded, including on the Floor of the House on several occasions, that there will, in this democratic reform, be a cost to holding the elections, and I will make several points about that.
First, our estimate means that the provision that the Chancellor gave, which was in addition to the amount that the Home Secretary secured for policing, for the election in 2012 means that the £50 million that has been provided will not come out of police force budgets.
Secondly, it is a one-off cost every four years, which averages out at some £12.5 million a year. To put it in context, that is less than 0.1% of police spend every year. Those figures are all set out in the regulatory impact assessment.
Nick Herbert: No, that is not factored into the costs of police and crime commissioners, so that would have to be dealt with separately. We are talking about the costs of PCCs, and whether the running costs would be more than those of the police authorities. We are determined that they should not be. The third point—
Nick Herbert: Just hold on. My third point, on the cost of holding the elections, relates to the proposal from the hon. Member for Gedling for directly elected chairs of police authorities, which we heard this morning. The cost of those elections would be exactly the same, so I do not think that that was ever a strong argument from the Opposition. It is actually an argument against democracy; it says that we should not have an election simply because of its cost. That is a very poor argument indeed for democrats to advance. It is now a doubly poor argument for the Opposition to prosecute, because their policy would involve exactly the same cost in holding an election for a directly elected chair of a police authority.
Steve McCabe: I just wanted to seek a bit of clarity from the Minister. If I understood him correctly, it is his expectation and wish that the costs should not be any greater than the current ones. I am not clear where in the Bill there is any mechanism to prevent the cost from rising. Does he have a plan for reserved powers or capping? It is all right to wish it, and I share his wish, but things happen that we do not foresee. What will happen if the costs rise? How will that be stopped?
Nick Herbert: Let me come directly to that important point. In designing the policy, we considered carefully whether it would be right to set a limit on the amount that the police and crime commissioner could spend on the organisation, which gave rise to a number of issues. First, there are differing costs for the different police authorities—costs that relate not only to their size. Secondly, that assumes that police and crime commissioners would continue to exercise all the functions that police
The bigger point, however, is whether the answer is to cap those costs, as the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak suggests. We all agree that we must bear down on administrative overheads, but is it best to prescribe that in the legislation, which I think would be difficult? Alternatively, is it best to do as we have done, and to have transparency—to reveal the costs by providing that they must be published and scrutinised by the police and crime panel, so that the public will know? Of course, there will be league tables of the police and crime commissioners, showing how much they are costing.
Journalists will raise serious questions about the overheads of the organisation. Any police and crime commissioner who sought to increase the overhead would have to explain why that money was being taken from the policing budget, and they would be scrutinised by the police and crime panel. In the current environment, the public expect answerability on costs such as these, as they have had in the House, as we all know; transparency will allow that. It will be very hard for a PCC to increase costs in a way that is out of tune with what the public want, and in a way that appears to be denuding the policing budget.
Mark Tami: So what the Minister is really saying is that he hopes that the police and crime commissioner will not exceed the costs, but he is not prepared to put any mechanism in place to ensure that that does not happen.
Nick Herbert: This goes to the heart of a new approach. The hon. Gentleman subscribes to the bureaucratic accountability that we seek to sweep away from our public services. We subscribe to a new politics, which uses transparency and strong democratic accountability and answerability to achieve the same effect. Our proposals will be far more effective, revealing this information, holding people to account and giving the public a say.
Let me put this back to the hon. Gentleman: what say do the public have at the moment, and what ability do they have to control the costs of police authorities? Absolutely none. They do not know who these police authorities are. They have no control over the budget whatever. When it comes to these elected offices, they will have a very close interest. Different candidates will stand, I have no doubt, on a platform of seeking to control those costs. The democratic accountability will be sharper and the cost control will be greater, and hon. Members should see that.
Steve McCabe: I am extremely grateful to the Minister for giving way, and I do not want to prolong this. It is one thing to argue that transparency and the threat of the newspapers will hold down costs but, as he has argued all day, we are talking about a new body with new responsibilities that may have far more complaints to deal with. It will certainly have to deal with much
Nick Herbert: That should be a matter for local determination. Let the PCC argue that; if it is a good case, the public will accept it. The PCP will issue a report. Those people do not have a direct relationship with the PCC, and they do not stand on the same electoral platform. They are appointed by their local councils, and they will scrutinise and make a judgment. If a PCP issued an excoriating report, saying that the PCC had put up costs excessively, that would be very difficult for the PCC to justify to the local media and his electorate. Equally, if the PCP says, “There is a perfectly reasonable case for this”—if what the PCC actually did was institute a new unit or a new programme of engagement, and it accepts that that is a good use of public money—it is likely that the local electorate will accept that, too.
We are not setting up anything that will give rise to a problem. We are actually giving the public a greater say in all those matters. It is important to note that police governance is not cost-free at the moment; there is a cost to police authorities, and that will read across. We are talking about standing up an organisation that collectively spends £13 billion a year. Of course there has to be some overhead, but I think we all agree that it should be reasonable and minimised.
PCCs will have broader responsibilities than authorities. They are police and crime commissioners. They will hold a budget, devolved from the Home Office, for engaging in crime prevention measures and so on. We are determined that, in spite of their broader responsibilities, they should continue to be able to exercise those within the same budget as authorities. So we are proposing, to coin a phrase, that they deliver more with less.
Nick Herbert: On the issue of staff, which the hon. Gentleman raised in one of the amendments, there is no prescription in the Bill on what staff should be paid. That is a matter for the PCC—again, scrutinised by the panel. Secondly, if a PCC stands down, the existing contracts of the staff would stand.
Chris Ruane: On the issue of police staff, does that include the commissioner’s independent advice? Where will the commissioner get his advice? If he goes to the police authority for it, it will be the same advice that is given to the chief constable or the panel. How many people will be his advisers, and how much will that cost? Will they be independent?
Nick Herbert: I am not sure that the hon. Gentleman understands the position. Police authorities are going. The police and crime commissioner replaces the police authority. The police and crime panel exercises scrutiny and holds the PCC to account. The police and crime panel is drawn from local councillors and includes two independent members. I am not sure that he understands the structure, or that I understand his point.
Chris Ruane: My point is about where the commissioner will get his advice. Knowledge is power—he needs an independent source of knowledge to challenge the chief constable. In the House of Commons, our knowledge comes from Parliament, not from the Ministries or Departments. Our advice from the House of Commons Library is independent and it costs a heck of a lot. Where will the commissioner’s advice come from and how much will it cost?
Nick Herbert: Police authorities have staff at present. What used to be known as clerks of police authorities have become known as chief executives, and they provide advice to the authority. The police and crime commissioner will wish to have staff. We will make transitional arrangements for the passporting of staff from existing authorities to PCCs in the first instance, then we will come to the transition arrangements.
It will be up to PCCs whom they appoint. We are determined that such appointments should be on merit and should be politically restricted posts. That sends an important signal that we do not wish staff to be political advisers or people who are exercising party functions; they should be professional. The PCC will receive advice from his or her own staff—that is the first point. Secondly, the PCCs will certainly receive advice from the police and crime panels. Such panels will exercise a formal scrutiny role of PCCs, but will have a relationship with them. Thirdly, PCCs are free to obtain advice from anybody. They may appoint non-paid advisers if they wish—we have not said whether they have to do so, it is entirely a matter for them, but I am sure that they would find that useful. There is flexibility for the PCC to employ staff as he or she sees fit.
I am confident in responding to the hon. Gentleman about the matter of existing staff maintaining their contracts if a PCC were to stand down under any of the procedures that we have set out, because staff will be employed by the PCC in their corporate role, which is precisely why we are creating a corporate entity. The PCC’s rights and liabilities as an employer will pass automatically to the successor and there will be no change in the employment status of staff as a result of the transition. I hope that I have addressed the key concerns.
Mark Tami: Does the Minister not see a situation arising in which, particularly if a new commissioner has come in and defeated the sitting commissioner, there could be issues with some of the staff, perhaps including close advisers? Would such staff have opportunities to move outside the organisation—to be transferred elsewhere—if the new commissioner did not feel confident to maintain that arrangement?
Nick Herbert: Two positions are provided for in the Bill in relation to a chief executive and a chief finance officer, thus ensuring proper governance of the corporate entity around the PCC. The PCC will then employ staff, some of whom will no doubt be on long-term employment contracts, others of whom will be on short-term contracts as policy advisers.
An incoming PCC may wish to bring in some staff to provide advice on particular issues. That will be up to them, but such advice would be scrutinised. Again, principles of transparency would apply, which the PCP
I hope that I have addressed the concerns that hon. Members have expressed. The proposal is highly prescriptive in the way in which is seeks to amend the schedule, and it would not be the appropriate way to achieve the clarification that the hon. Member for Gedling wants. I hope that, on the basis of what I have said, he will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
Vernon Coaker: I intend to withdraw the amendment. However, I do not share the right hon. Gentleman’s optimism. I share the view of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak, on the matter of somebody being a new police and crime commissioner, then worrying about what will happen to staffing in four years’ time. I think they will recruit. The chief financial officer or the chief executive and the question of what their salaries will be was not mentioned. Other people will be included. Chapter 3 refers to a large number of responsibilities that the police and crime commissioner will be required to take on. The Minister and I differ on the cost, and I would be extremely surprised if the cost came in anywhere near the existing level.
The Minister needs to be very careful. He might not like the £120,000 figure but, as he said, that figure is in the Home Office documents that accompany the Bill and it is the figure that everybody is quoting. He will have a real job putting that one back into the box. On the last point on political advisers, what the Minister is talking about is active political activity. According to the legislation, someone can still be a member of a political party and be a member of the commissioner’s staff.
Nick Herbert: May I ask the hon. Gentleman to accept, first, that we are not setting the salary at £120,000 a year. That is not our intention. As a former Minister, he will know that we have to complete these impact assessments to say what the costings are. That is why the figure appeared. However, it will be for the SSRB to determine. Secondly, it is our policy intention to prevent political advisers from being appointed by police and crime commissioners. If he has a proposal to improve upon the drafting to achieve that—that is not a straightforward matter—I would happily consider it.
Vernon Coaker: I will have a look at that. On the issue of the £120,000, it would have been helpful if the Minister said what he has just said about that figure a bit more loudly a few weeks ago when the Bill was published.
|©Parliamentary copyright||Prepared 26th January 2011|