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Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill
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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
Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Benton—first, good morning, everyone—I do not know whether the Minister has written to you. He very generously agreed that a code of practice was needed in line with the recommendation of the Home Affairs Committee. I have mentioned it a couple of times in Committee and the Minister knows how important I think the code of practice is—even a draft draft. Has the Minster indicated to you whether he intends to produce a draft just for laying on the table—nothing else—for reference during Committee sittings, or whether it will be available on Report?
The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): Further to that point of order, Mr Benton, as I indicated, we have begun work on a code of practice and we need to discuss it with the Association of Chief Police Officers. I did not give an indication about the timetable. I appreciate and am certainly reflecting on the points that the hon. Gentleman is making, but it is not something that we can rush. I repeat that the code of practice will not go into the detail of operational independence, or attempt to define it, but will set out the roles of the Home Office, chief constables and police and crime commissioners as determined by the Bill. It will evolve as the Bill goes through this House and the other place. I cannot give any further indication about the timing at the moment, but, as I said, work has started and I am reflecting on the points that the hon. Gentleman has made.
Vernon Coaker: Further to that point of order, I thank the Minister for that helpful reply. I simply want to put on record the importance that we attach to seeing the sort of the thing that the Minister thinks is appropriate, even if it is a draft of a draft. But I thank the Minister for his helpful response.
When I finished speaking on the Bill on Thursday, the Minister was kind enough to say that he had nearly lost the will to live. I see that as a challenge. Arundel is a very nice place and I look forward to a by-election there. It has a very nice tea room.
On Thursday, we explored the role of the Mayor as the single person at the head of the Metropolitan Police Authority, the role of the chief officer, and how their relationship will be constructed in the Bill. I have some questions, although I will not detain the Committee for as long as I did the other day. Most of the arguments were set out, but one or two questions need to be clarified. I take note of the fact that we are waiting for a code of practice, which will define to some degree the respective responsibilities and roles. As I pointed out on Thursday, not the Mayor but the Metropolitan Police Authority holds the chief officer to account under the current arrangements. The argument that police and crime commissioners should be rolled out across the country because the creation of the Mayor and the new arrangements in London have been a success is fundamentally flawed. That has been demonstrated by what happened on Thursday when the Metropolitan Police Authority discussed the very important issues of undercover policing, phone tapping and the future of policing in London.
That shows that the Mayor does not perform the function of holding the chief officer to account. The Government have to put up a stronger argument about the role of the chief officer in being responsible on police and crime to the Mayor or the individual appointed by the Mayor, rather than to an elected committee that is responsible to the communities that its members are elected to represent.
On undercover policing, issues have been raised about undercover officers entering into personal relationships with members of the organisations that they are investigating. If an elected Mayor of London objects to sex outside marriage, where do we draw the boundaries between the activities of those officers and the moral principles and approach taken by an elected representative with very strong views? That highlights one danger of chief officers of the Metropolitan police being forced to respond to one individual, which is a strong argument for having a Metropolitan Police Authority, with a range of individuals, including elected members, from various backgrounds. I do not know whether the code of practice will do this, but the Minister should set out how to deal with circumstances in which there is a clear conflict between those in operational control and an individual with a very strong personal view, which could arise.
There are examples of the individual in the Mayor’s office who chairs the Metropolitan Police Authority having transgressed and overstepped the mark. Although he was not criticised for a breach of the code of conduct for elected members of the Metropolitan Police Authority,
“he should have sought advice from MPA officers before issuing a press statement relating to an ongoing police investigation;…his actions in speaking to a person arrested in a criminal investigation were extraordinary and unwise; and…there is a risk that frank and full discussion of operational matters between senior MPS officers and the MPA Chairman could be inhibited in future if Mr. Johnson were to make public his reaction to operational briefings on critical incidents as a matter of course.”
“the MPA, MPS and Mayor’s Office jointly consider the adoption of a protocol to cover the management of information by senior police officers, senior members and officers of the MPA and the Mayor in relation to critical incidents.”
We clearly have concerns about how the roles of the chief officer and the Metropolitan police will interact under the provisions in the Bill. When we heard evidence from Lynne Owens from the Metropolitan police, she expressed worries when we questioned her about whether the roles needed more clarity, and said:
“On operational independence, we absolutely support the Government’s desire to strengthen local accountability and local democratic accountability, but our nervousness relates to how that will amalgamate to deal with the national functions—counter-terrorism, protective services and major crime investigation. While the drafting of the legislation talks about having regard to a strategic policing requirement, you can absolutely understand the pressure that a locally elected politician may feel to the very visible, accessible parts of the policing that we think are very important. There is, however, another side to policing, which is not always visible or easily explained to the communities. It is when you exaggerate it to a country-wide model that, if the Bill is not strengthened, there could be issues in how we service some of the most critical incidents. We would lose the balance in our model.”––[Official Report, Police Reform and Social Responsibility Public Bill Committee, 20 January 2011; c. 105, Q200.]
The other day, the Minister said that ACPO was asking for such matters to be set out in too much detail. It would be interesting to hear ACPO’s current position. In response to the consultation document, “Policing in the 21st century”, it set out some areas where it believes that the police commissioner, being responsible to an individual—
Clive Efford: It has a great deal to do with clause 4. It is about how the police commissioner is held accountable to an individual, the Mayor, and how he will report to the Mayor—and that is what we are discussing. ACPO referred to:
“PCCs dismissing Chief Constables because they were previously appointed by a political rival and helped his/her direction rather than dismissing on the grounds of sustained and evidenced failed delivery”.
ACPO raised such issues about the relationship between the chief officer reporting to a single individual. It is only fair that we ask for them to be put on the record to clarify how ACPO has altered its position, and it would
Nick Herbert: Good morning, Mr Benton. We are debating clause 4, and the hon. Gentleman wants to open up again many of the wider points that he made about the role of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner when he spoke to the amendments at the end of last week. The Committee does not need to revisit them, but I shall respond to him briefly.
The clause restates the position under the Police Act 1996 that the commissioner of the Met shall have direction and control of the force, and it is important that we do not upset that balance. However, it provides that the commissioner can employ police staff in his official capacity. That is not the case at the moment, and gives rise to an anomaly and confusion. It is worth the hon. Gentleman reflecting on the submission that has come into the Committee from the Metropolitan Police Service about clause 4. On the provision allowing the Metropolitan police to employ its police officers and staff, it says:
“This is a measure the MPS strongly supports and has suggested for some time. This will enable the Commissioner to ensure he has the appropriate level of both policing professionals and business professionals to support him in leading and managing the MPS.”
The hon. Member for Eltham raised operational independence and the issue of phone hacking. The Mayor is guarding against exactly what I am guarding against as a Minister, which is crossing the line and interfering with operational decisions. It is a matter of judgment, and I will not repeat all the actions taken to ensure proper scrutiny of phone hacking—such as inquiries of the House or the renewed inquiry being conducted by the Met, on which the acting commissioner made his position clear last week, when he said that no stone would be left unturned.
The hon. Member for Eltham addressed issues wider than the terms of the debate. However, the whole point of our arrangements is to enhance democratic accountability in London—we are not just accepting the status quo—so that in the future the Assembly’s police and crime panel will bring the police and crime commissioner or the Mayor before it to answer questions. The panel could, of course, ask about such things. The Bill, therefore, makes possible the holding to account of the police and crime commissioner in London that the hon. Gentleman seeks.
Finally, the hon. Member for Eltham raised an issue about the strategic policing requirement, which he confused with the memorandum of understanding that we discussed under the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Gedling. However, the strategic policing requirement will be covered under subsequent clauses. We introduced it following consultation with ACPO, to ensure that police and crime commissioners paid proper attention to national policing priorities. Now is not the appropriate moment to discuss such matters, because we will do so fully under later provisions.
Clive Efford: I have one or two points for the Minister to clarify about the relationship between the Mayor and the commissioner. The schedule raises similar issues to the ones we discussed the other day, on the use of similar staff to advise the Mayor in holding the chief officer to account. For instance, if the chief officer wants to dispose of a piece of property, and he is reporting to the Mayor, where does the Mayor obtain information on whether that is desirable? That comes back to independent scrutiny. I know the Minister addressed the issue the other day, but it is raised in this schedule as well.
There is also the issue of the Mayor’s office being responsible for liabilities involving staff who are employed by, and are answerable to, the chief officer. That opens up the Mayor’s office to open-ended liabilities for the actions of staff who are appointed and employed by the chief officer. Clause 4(3) states that those staff are
but the liabilities come to the Mayor’s office. There may be an explanation for that—that that is normal and expected procedure—but as the commissioner is gaining more operational independence in control of assets and staff than is the case currently, will the Minister explain the intentions behind the clauses that refer to staff liabilities becoming the responsibility of the Mayor’s office?
Nick Herbert: This schedule, as the hon. Gentleman is aware, sets out the detail and gives legal effect to the practical position of making the commissioner employed in law. On his later question on liabilities, the schedule provides for the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime to assume the responsibility for using the police fund to cover damages and costs incurred by or against the commissioner in legal proceedings arising from the acts of a member of police civilian staff. That is consistent with existing provisions on legal costs arising from the acts of police officers in the Police Act 1996.
On his question on the police and crime commissioner in London, first, the PCC has the power to ask the chief constable for a report. That is under clause 36, which we will come to. Secondly, the PCC can employ staff to help him make the decisions concerned. I hope that that answers both of the key questions that he asked on the schedule, which otherwise just gives effect to the technical changes in clause 4.
Vernon Coaker: Good morning, Mr Benton. Welcome back from Strasbourg; I did not say that properly in the point of order we started with. I know that you had an exciting, interesting and informative time with the work that you were doing. I am very pleased about that.
It is a shame that the public gallery is not packed to witness the nerves of steel of the Government Whip. I preface this by saying that if any hon. Members are absent for a serious reason, I apologise, but when I was a Government Whip, I would not have let the vote be won with a majority of only one. His ministerial colleague was also counting. That was a good start. When in opposition, those sorts of things are massive victories.
Clause 5 concerns the issuing of police and crime plans by the police and crime commissioner. Amendment 438 proposes having a single plan in each year. When discussing the clause, the Minister and his colleagues clearly thought, “What we need is a police and crime plan that will set out the direction for four years, and then we won’t have any messing in the planning period. The PCC will come in and put down a police and crime plan, which will not be changed until after the next PCC election.” That idea sounded really good, but then people questioned the numerous issuing and variations that might take place.
Vernon Coaker: A double dip. The PCC would, no doubt, have to issue a varied plan. My point is that the Minister wants a police and crime plan at the beginning of four years, with a bit of tweaking here and there, but not much change. Under the clause, however, there are numerous possibilities for the plan to be varied, which I understand; it is much better to have a police plan every year rather than every four years. [ Interruption. ] The hon. Member for Amber Valley may intervene if he wants, but unless I am very much mistaken, there will be so many variations that the plan will change anyway. How many variations do there need to be before it becomes a new plan? Can the Minister outline the scale of variation?
I do not want to get into a stand part debate, but the Minister will recognise, notwithstanding the point made by the hon. Member for Amber Valley, that the PCC can not only change the plan, but can issue a whole new one. The Minister also recognises, therefore, that a new plan may be required. He must set out how he has decided that one plan every four years is the appropriate time scale. What sort of variations will be needed and on what scale?
The clause states that the plan may be introduced at any time. Does it mean what it says? Would the PCC be able to introduce a plan and then issue another one two months later, or a month before the election? Will there be some guidance on time scale? I know that the Minister will take this point seriously. Under the Bill, the commissioner can stand for two terms. Imagine that I am a PCC who is standing for election. Three months before it, I decide to have a new police and crime plan, which I think will appeal to the electorate. My police and crime plan thus becomes a manifesto. Has the Minister considered that problem?
Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): Would not the hon. Gentleman’s proposal for an annual plan leave every commissioner doing that, because they would have to have a plan for that year, which, presumably, would start on approximately 1 April, which is the start of the election period?
Vernon Coaker: That is a reasonable point, which I accept. The possibility of the plan being seen as an election manifesto would be much smaller if it was made a year earlier and seen as an annual process, or a normal part of doing things, than if someone who has to produce a plan only once every four years sat down a couple of months before an election and said, “I know. I will rewrite the police and crime plan.”
As the Minister often says, and he is quite right to say this, such things are sometimes a matter of judgment. However, we are making primary legislation here. If the Minister does not think that that is a problem, there may need to be some guidance to ensure that it is not a problem. If the hon. Member for Amber Valley believes that that is a problem with my amendment, in that someone might come out, in the final year, with something with the election in mind, it might also need to be addressed by guidance. If he sees that as a problem with my amendment, he should also see it as a problem with the subsection, and one that needs to be addressed.
My first point is to ask why the Minister believes that a plan for every four years is sufficient. My second point relates to the problem of a police and crime plan issued just before an election being more of a manifesto for re-election than a police and crime plan. My third point is about variation. I know that the question is difficult to answer, but what sort of variations does the Minister expect, and how many?
Another reason that I think an annual plan is much better is that one can imagine a police and crime commissioner flushed with the excitement of success following their election to the post establishing, or trying to establish, a police and crime plan that may not have the depth expected compared with one produced by a police and crime commissioner who has had some experience in the job. I know that there will be consultation with the police and crime panel, but I wonder whether there will be any constraint on the police and crime commissioner.
Going back to the matter of strategic policing, I know that under clause 79 the police and crime commissioner will have to have regard to the strategic policing requirement, but is the Minister satisfied that the Bill is strong enough to ensure that the police and crime plan will reflect some of the strategic, national priorities; and that, if those priorities change, the Bill is strong enough to influence the police and crime commissioner to vary that plan? I know that the Minister has written “have regard to” in the clause; is that phrase strong enough? I do not want to get into semantics here and debate whether “take into account” would be better. Who knows? I know that we get into semantics. I simply want the Minister’s assurance. His reading a statement into the record is sometimes helpful—if an issue arises later, what he says in Committee is referred to.
On my amendments regarding the annual plan—I do not know whether hon. Members have noticed this—subsections (6) and (7) contain quite a significant process for the police and crime commissioner to go through to vary a plan. I know that the Minister is keen and is genuinely trying to reduce bureaucracy, but there are countless processes here. Before issuing or varying a police and crime plan, there are about seven things that commissioners have to do. If they then decide to do it, there is a number of other things that they are required to do as well. Is that for every single variation to the plan that the police and crime commissioner wants to make, or is there a threshold? Do colleagues see what I mean? Again, without going into semantics, and I am making this up as I speak, if someone just wants to put in a couple of commas and an “and”, would they have to go through all of those processes? Of course, if it is a massive change, clearly they would, but what sort of seriousness of change or variation does the Minister expect would be required for those processes to be gone through? They are clearly quite significant changes.
Lastly, will the Minister comment on the Government amendment? I will come back to that, but I am interested to hear his comments on my questions and I will respond when he has responded to my points.
Nick Herbert: I hope to be able to reassure the hon. Gentleman. First, let me clarify that the Bill allows the commissioner to issue a plan for five years—not four—to cover his four-year tenure and then one more. That enables the force to have a plan to deliver against in an
Amendments 438 and 461 limit the issuing of a plan to once a year and would take away the police and crime commissioner’s ability to respond to the changing circumstances in emerging public priorities. The rest of the group of amendments would have a similar effect, by removing the power to vary a plan once it has been issued.
For too long, policing plans have simply been documents that sit on a shelf gathering dust. That, combined with the fact that police authorities currently do not even draft, and therefore truly own, the plans, means that the plan is relegated to the pages of history, or can be, as soon as it is published. The plans are currently produced annually—that is why the hon. Member for Gedling has tabled his amendments—but with a three-year outlook. That is neither strategic nor able to reflect the shifting priorities. Tying the PCC’s hands to one fixed plan for 12 months simply continues the lack of responsiveness for which the current system is known.
It is significant to compare this with the system in place for London, because the Mayor is not limited in the number of times he can vary or reissue one of his strategies. He can do so as many times as he sees fit, subject to the constraints of statutory consultation requirements. That goes to the point that the hon. Gentleman made about what he considered a potentially onerous burden in clause 5(6) and the hoops that the police and crime commissioner would have to jump through before varying the plan. If a key plan, which was consulted upon and which went before the police and crime panel, is varied, it is important that we have safeguards to ensure that it cannot be varied unilaterally by the police and crime commissioner. In London, flexibility allows the London mayoral strategies to be reactive to needs and shifting priorities, just as policing plans would be under our new model. Conversely, some of the current mayoral strategies are those put in place by the previous Mayor. It is that kind of flexibility, with the potential for continuity, that the Government aim to achieve with their new requirements for police and crime plans.
We are attempting to design a framework that allows the police and crime commissioner to deliver their democratic mandate, not Whitehall’s. Clause 7 already provides that the plan must cover how the PCC will spend their money. If they have not varied the plan sufficiently to allow the public to see what they plan to do in their force area, the police and crime panel has the powers that we have given it to check the PCC’s actions.
True accountability results in policing that is not simply delivered by consent but via the active participation of the citizen, as we have seen today—potentially—in the launch of our street level crime maps. I should tell the Committee that that site has had 10 million hits already, which shows the level of demand for such engagement in how priorities are set.
Nick Herbert: Well, the demand has been huge. One of the questions asked was how much interest there would be. There is huge interest—that is the point I need to make—which is why street-level crime mapping is such a powerful tool for accountability. Can the Opposition confirm that they support it?
Vernon Coaker: My reason for intervening is that, as the Minister knows, we introduced street mapping at ward level. I cannot remember who it was—perhaps the Minister himself—but, when the computer crashed because of popularity, one of the then shadow Home Office team said it was an appalling indictment of the Government that they could not even get a computer to stay on despite the number of hits. That was just for information.
Nick Herbert: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his intervention, but I point out the substantial difference between ward-level and street-level crime information. Yes, the previous Government introduced ward-level information about local crime, but that told the public little about what was going on. Street-level crime mapping, which gives the public information about every recorded crime in their street or neighbourhood, as well as incidents of antisocial behaviour, is a new, direct and powerful form of information and accountability. I am glad to know that the Opposition support it, which I take from the force of the intervention.
Nick Herbert: As the hon. Gentleman might know, street-level crime mapping has existed in one or two US cities over the past few years. They do not report any adverse impact on house prices; they regard it as an important form of accountability. One study, in Redlands in California, found that there was no detrimental impact on house prices. I do not believe that to be a concern.
As I said this morning, however, and am happy to repeat in Committee, we cannot sweep crime under the carpet. Crime is the problem, and transparency must be the order of the day. The public are entitled to know about crime. Such knowledge helps to reflect the priorities set by elected representatives. The force of the Government amendments is to ensure that such priorities are reflected in the strategic policing plan.
In conclusion, it is essential that commissioners are able to give effect to the wishes and needs of the people who have elected them and to respond to issues of sufficient urgency, whether local or national. New situations might arise that ought to be reflected in a variation to the plan. The measure simply gives the commissioners the power to do so, subject to all the proper checks—so that they cannot do so without consulting properly. Providing the power to vary the plan allows for flexibility, so restricting it to a year would be a retrograde step which moves away from the flexibility as introduced in London.
Vernon Coaker: I thank the Minister for his reply, which was helpful about the five years point, which I had not properly understood from reading the Bill. The clarification was very helpful, because it overcomes the potential problem I had identified.
I understand the Minister’s point, but the variation process laid out in the Bill will be quite time-consuming. He did not really answer my question about the level of seriousness of the variation that would require a police and crime commissioner to go through the whole process laid out in primary legislation. I do not intend to press the amendments to a vote, because I know that he will reflect on the points made. However, the process is potentially bureaucratic and unhelpful to his objectives.
The other thing that the Minister ought to reflect on, which I should have said in my opening remarks, is that the role of the public in issuing the plans is not clear. He may want to provide clarification on a later group of amendments or at another time, because the clause mentions that all sorts of people will be consulted on any variation to the plans, but does not set out specifically what the role of the public will be. Having made those comments, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Vernon Coaker: Amendment 457 would change the process for issuing police and crime plans. The Bill states that the police and crime commissioner will issue the plan, and that before doing so, he must prepare a draft, consult relevant chief constables, send it to the police and crime panel, have regard to any report or recommendations from the police and crime panel, and give a response.
Under the amendment, as is the case for the issuing of policing plans by police authorities, the chief constable would be required to draft the police and crime plan and submit it to the police and crime commissioner, who would send it to the police and crime panel for its recommendations. The amendment would also mean that the PCC had to publish reasons why individual recommendations from the PCP had or had not been accepted, and that the PCC could not issue the police and crime plan without the agreement of the chief constable.
I will not speak for too long, Mr Benton because I wish to speak in more detail on later amendments, but I hope that you will bear with me as there is some criss-crossing in the Bill’s provisions, as we found in earlier debates. I want to hear the Minister’s comments on my concerns about what the police and crime plan will contain, as set out in clause 7. Clause 5, which relates to the issuing of the police and crime plan, seems to imply that the first draft of the plan has to be prepared by the chief constable, if the police and crime plan requires that, and clause 7(1)(b) states that the plan includes
I do not know about other hon. Members, but that strikes me as close to the subject of the policing of an area and to the deployment of police. If that is the case, clause 7(1)(b) is relevant to amendment 457, because if the police and crime plan includes that matter, the chief constable should surely prepare the first draft. That is a significant point: without rehearsing other points and
I am pleased to see that the hon. Member for Edinburgh West is clearly concerned about the issue raised by the amendment and by others. The Government Whip has a marvellous attitude to that, and the various amendments tabled by the Liberal Democrats are remarkable, especially as not many of them are probing amendments. If the Liberal Democrat members of the Committee were in opposition, they would press their amendments to a Division. The hon. Member for Edinburgh West has tabled an interesting amendment on the need for the PCP to be consulted much more rigorously in drawing up the draft, and I would be interested to hear his argument.
Government amendment 52 would delete the existing subsection (8). Can the Minister tell us whether it was a mistake to include that provision in the Bill, or was it just a change of mind about the chief constable having to agree to the plan or any variation? Was it a drafting error, or has there been a major change of policy? Government amendment 52 is significant in that respect.
That provision will be significantly changed, so that the chief constable will not have a veto over the police and crime plan or any variation. That raises a fundamental point, which I am sorry to labour, but it is important. The police and crime plan under clause 7(1)(b) includes
Patrolling in pairs; specialist units here, a specialist unit there; non-specialist units; officers on the street; uniformed officers—is that what it means? That is the only way it can be read. How many officers are supposed to be here or there? If that is what is included, the Government amendment suggests not only that the chief constable does not prepare the police and crime plan—the PCC does—but that the PCC can include the policing of the area, and the chief constable has no power to stop it, because of the Government amendment.
That subsection goes to the heart of the Bill. There is a serious point to be made about these amendments, which I do not want to labour. I have condensed the issue to the fundamental point at which these amendments are driving. I am interested in hearing what the hon. Member for Edinburgh West has to say about the amendment and any wider points that he may wish to make from his professional experience on the inclusion of clause 7(1)(b) and the police and crime plan, and whether it makes his amendment even more important. I will leave it there and respond when others have spoken.
Mike Crockart (Edinburgh West) (LD): Amendments 17 and 18 centre on the interaction between the PCP and the PCC, which is central in the new organisation of democratic accountability of policing decisions.
into that consultation process. There was, unfortunately, a drafting error with amendment 18, which has been withdrawn. It was supposed to delete provisions on the process of sending draft plans and having regard to and making responses to reports and recommendations. We are trying to move the PCPs on to a level playing field with the chief constables and ensure that the panels are involved at a much earlier stage.
I accept that there is a difficult balance to be struck. The balance of power should reside with the PCC, who will, by that stage, have received a democratic mandate for their plans. However, the PCP is an important part of the checks and balances to ensure that that power is used effectively and efficiently. That is not just in the exercise of a scrutiny role of the police commissioner. Indeed, in an earlier Committee sitting, the Minister himself made the point that the police and crime panel will offer key aid to the police and crime commissioner, informing them of local opinion, especially in areas that are exceptionally large, both geographically and numerically. The amendment seeks to use that local knowledge and experience as a valuable resource, rather than as an afterthought, and tries to put the consultation required of the police and crime panel on an equal footing, as I said previously, with that required of the chief constable.
Nigel Mills: I can see what my hon. Friend is trying to achieve. My concern is that his amendment would create a consultation before a draft plan was available. If I were on the panel and was consulted, without a draft in front of me, I would be chucking ideas in rather than thinking strategically. On the other hand, I think the provision in the Bill will mean that the chief constable and commissioner work together to produce a draft plan. I get to look at what is in there and give my feedback, then receive a response to my comments. That seems slightly better than the process proposed in my hon. Friend’s amendment.
Mike Crockart: I thank my hon. Friend for his comments. However, that really is the point. There is a difference between a consultation requirement for a chief constable and an afterthought in drawing up the plan. There is extensive local knowledge in local authority areas, which needs to be taken in at an earlier stage to ensure that the plan reflects the aims. I accept that there is a process in the Bill that might end up with a published plan being amended to incorporate that knowledge, but why not take that step further? Why not incorporate that knowledge at an earlier stage and bring it on board at the point at which some meat is being put on the bones of the plan? We should not forget that we would effectively already have a draft plan in the manifesto of a PCC candidate who stood for election.
If it is right and proper to consult chief constables, presumably on what is practical and on the consequences of choosing one action over another, it is right that the police and crime commissioner should consult the police and crime panel. I wish that the bodies created by the Bill had different abbreviations so that we could actually use them. There are two different PCPs—the police and
Nick Herbert: As my hon. Friend said, amendment 17 would compel the police and crime commissioner to consult the panel on the plan before it is published. The Government’s position is that the Bill already makes adequate allowance for the police and crime panel to make representations on the content of the police and crime plan.
Clause 5 includes a requirement for commissioners not only to submit a copy of the plan to the panel in advance of publication, but to have regard to any of the panel’s reports or recommendations, and to provide the panel with a response, which must be published. I hope that my hon. Friend will agree not only that that achieves the aim of adequate consultation, which he seeks, with a panel, but that it goes above and beyond the basic requirements of consultation. The amendment would therefore duplicate an existing function, because we are providing for effective consultation anyway. The chief constable gives PCCs professional advice on how they should address local needs, and that is why the chief constable is consulted before a draft is sent to the police and crime panel. It should be an agreed draft that goes to the panel, but—and now we come to the force of the amendments—the chief constable should not have a veto over the plan.
On that basis, I hope that my hon. Friend, who has raised an important issue, will agree that the requirements for consultation are already in place, but phrased differently. I am happy to confirm that there must be proper consultation with the panel. That is the whole purpose of ensuring representation of local authorities in the governance of policing, and it is important that the panel can be effective.
The hon. Member for Gedling tabled amendments 457, 458, 459, 460, 474 and 475, which would place the responsibility for drafting the plan for a force area on the chief constable, not the police and crime commissioner. That would be a big step backwards. It would reflect the status quo, but there is a problem with the status quo. As I said in response to the previous group of amendments, the police authority does not own or consider it owns the plan and, along with the other weaknesses of authorities, that culminates in the general sense that the chief constable is really the sole person in charge and that the police authority is working to him. That is an ineffective relationship and it is why we want to clarify responsibilities.
The police and crime commissioner with a direct mandate for the people should work with the chief constable in drafting the plan—a point to which I shall return—but, ultimately, it must be the police and crime commissioner with the direct mandate who has the responsibility for issuing it, so the balance of the
One of the effects of the stronger governance that we seek to introduce, while protecting operational independence, with a chief constable still exercising control in the direction of the force, is that police and crime commissioners will drive things such as value for money rather more strongly than police authorities have been able to do. That should be reflected in their ability to set the plan.
Amendments 438, 461 and 477 would remove the discretion that we want the police and crime commissioner or the Mayor’s Office for Police and Crime to have with regard to plans and their variation, so we are back to the point about limiting the plan for one year. I have already explained why that would be wrong. Amendment 477 would make the police and crime panel rather than the commissioner responsible for setting a strategic direction for the force, which is not right. The strategic direction must be set by the elected police and crime commissioner. The panel is there to scrutinise those decisions and to give a voice to local authorities. The proposal would upset the balance fundamentally, and I do not think that that is what the hon. Gentleman intends. We know his preferred model is a directly elected chair of a police authority, although we have not heard too much about that this morning. However, I intend to remind him of it at every moment.
Amendment 99 would eliminate the chief officer’s veto power over the final draft of the police and crime plan. I think that I understand the hon. Gentleman’s intentions in tabling the amendment. As drafted, the clause confers more power on the chief constable than the police and crime panel, because plans would not be issued without the chief constable’s express consent. I agree that such a provision would push the balance of power too far in favour of the chief constable, which could severely inhibit PCCs’ ability to deliver on their electoral mandates. That was not the Government’s intention.
We intend the PCC and the chief constable to draw up the plan together. That was the purpose behind the provision, but when we published the Bill, it was pointed out that the drafting provides a de facto veto for the chief constable. All members of the Committee will agree that that is not desirable, because the elected individual would be unable to implement the police and crime plan if the chief constable said, “No, I don’t agree.”
In practical terms, the chief constable and the PCC will sit down and agree matters, as they have in London, as we discussed last week. It is important, however, that the drafting does not provide for the exercise of a veto by chief constables. That is why we have tabled Government amendments 52 and 53, which will require the PCC to consult the chief constable on the final draft or variation of the plan before it is issued. Such provisions will replace the veto power, but will not alter the status quo. Chief officers will be consulted at both the drafting stage and on the final version of the plan, which I hope they will find acceptable. The measure strikes the correct
Finally, amendments 459 and 476 seek to clarify the original language of clauses 5 and 6, emphasising that the commissioner or the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime cannot issue a plan without the chief officer’s agreement. That would not have any effect on the meaning of the clauses, so I object to the proposals on that basis, and for the reasons that I set out when explaining the Government amendments.
Nigel Mills: Government amendment 52 requires the commissioner to consult the chief constable before issuing or varying the plan. Clause 5 (6)(b) effectively requires the commissioner to consult the chief constable
Am I right to think that such a consultation would be on the final draft, before the plan is published? Does that mean that the PCC should consult on the drafting and send it to the police and crime panel, which will raise some issues, and a few variations will be made? Then there will be a formal window for the chief constable effectively to say, “Yes, I’m happy with the variations”—or get to comment on them at least. Is that the significance of amendment 52?
Nick Herbert: Yes. There is a distinction to be made between providing in the Bill for the formal process of consultation to ensure essential safeguards and providing for what will happen in practice. In practice, there will be lots of informal consultation in drawing up a plan. The PCC will sit down with the chief constable and discuss how the plan should reflect his policing priorities and the chief constable will say, “Yes, but we have defined operational requirements; I need to deploy resources in the following ways.” That process will be exactly the same as the process in London, in which the Metropolitan Police Commissioner sat down with the Mayor of London and discussed how to give effect to the Mayor’s strategic priorities on knife crime and putting uniformed police officers on the street. The distinction is between informal and formal processes that provide the safeguards that we seek to introduce in the Bill.
I hope that I have cleared up the matters that the hon. Member for Gedling raised. The Government’s intention is clear, and our amendments are important. I hope that the Committee will understand that it is not our intention to give the chief officers a veto over the plan, and I believe that we have got the balance right.
Vernon Coaker: I hope that you will allow me briefly to respond to the Minister, Mr Benton. As he knows, we oppose the creation of police and crime commissioners and we have said that if the Government were minded, they could consider a couple of other options. One would be to merge the police and crime commissioners and make them the chairs of the PCPs. The other, as in many of the amendments, would be to strengthen the role of the police and crime panels to give them more power over the directly elected individual. No doubt the Minister will have fun at different times with that, but there are different ways of doing it.
Nick Herbert: Will the hon. Gentleman confirm for the record that he put his proposal for directly elected chairs of police authorities to the vote, and therefore indicated that he wished to press that matter and support it? It was not a probing amendment.
Vernon Coaker: We are confronted with a Government determined to have directly elected individuals so to say, “This is a better way of doing it” seems a perfectly reasonable thing to do. When it is rolled out and there are problems, as there will be, we will hear people saying, “Perhaps we need to increase the power of the police and crime panel to scrutinise the police and crime commissioner”, or indeed, “Would it not be better if they were chair of the panel?”
Nick Herbert: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman—I am seeking refuge in the Chair—but may I press him on the matter? Does he believe that the status quo is acceptable? If not, why did he introduce his proposal for directly elected chairs only now to run away from it?
Vernon Coaker: I am not running away. I am simply explaining the context within which that amendment was moved, which, as the hon. Gentleman knows, is important. The big problem, as I have said to the hon. Gentleman on numerous occasions, is that the accountability problem is not at force level but at neighbourhood level, and the Bill does little to address that.
I accept the Minister’s explanation of Government amendment 52. Perhaps he would like to confirm whether it was an error or an unintended consequence. If the hon. Member for Edinburgh West wants to press amendment 17 to a vote, we will support him. However, I suspect that he will not press it. He will need to be careful with his contributions and about how far he can go in opposing the Government. He will be in interesting company—the public face and the private face. But we will see what happens.
The hon. Gentleman made a point that has not been answered by the Minister. He talked about consultation before a draft was prepared. As we all know, the problem is not consulting on a draft but consulting on what should be in the draft. How many times has a member of the Committee been presented with a draft paper that hardly changes from draft to implementation? We all know that if we want to influence a plan or document, we have to get in before it is actually drafted. Call it the draft, draft, draft or whatever. That is what the hon. Gentleman was getting at. He is absolutely right. The Bill does not say anything about that. The Minister’s protestations are not sufficient to answer the hon. Gentleman’s point. I suspect that he had permission to table the amendment on the basis that he would not press it.
Amendment 457 for me is the key amendment, notwithstanding the other bits of fun that we have had with the others. I will press it to a vote—I want to test
Nigel Mills: As the hon. Gentleman is thinking of pressing amendment 457 to a vote, can he explain whether it was an error or an unintended consequence that his revised drafting means that there would be no consultation on a variation plan?
Vernon Coaker: It can be either. The fundamental point is that if the amendment and its principle are accepted, the Government will of course make sure that it is consistent with every other part of the Bill. With that, I would like to press amendment 457 to a vote.
Amendment made: 52, in clause 5, page 5, line 29, leave out from ‘commissioner’ to end of line 30 and insert ‘must consult the relevant chief constable before issuing or varying a police and crime plan.’.—(Nick Herbert.)
Vernon Coaker: You always worry when you are there, Mr Benton. I know that the Minister was thinking, “My God, I am going to lose a Government amendment by a process.” Ministers can see their whole future career disappear in front of them because they have not checked whether they have missed a point. I have done it myself, so I know exactly what the Minister was thinking about.
The amendment is a brief one, and it is a probing amendment. It would mean that the PCC must review the police and crime plan in the light of any of Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary reports or recommendations. Is the amendment necessary, or is it already a part of the Bill? I would just like the Minister’s comments, because it is important that HMIC has some influence, perhaps at a strategic level. I just wonder whether the amendment is worthy of consideration, or whether the provision is already contained in the Bill.
Nick Herbert: I appreciate the spirit in which the hon. Gentleman tabled the amendment, which is a probing amendment. First of all, let us agree that any recommendations by the inspectorate of constabulary are important. I am determined that the inspectorate continues—indeed evolves—in its role as a fierce advocate of the public interest, issuing reports on an independent basis. However, the reforms are about replacing bureaucratic accountability with democratic accountability. We need to be careful about placing statutory requirements on the various bodies in the reformed governance arrangements, and not doing so unless we need to. I believe that the pressures of democratic accountability will be quite enough to ensure that the police and crime commissioner reviews their police and crime plan at suitable junctures, changes it as necessary and pays attention to the inspectorate’s proposals without making it a statutory requirement.
There is a further assurance. The police and crime panel will receive any inspectorate of constabulary report that relates to the force, and clause 85 makes the necessary amendments to the Police Act 1996 to give effect to that measure.
I completely understand the intention of the hon. Member for Gedling, but we do not need to insert another statutory requirement. If a recommendation made by the inspectorate is not acted on by the police and crime commissioner, the inspectorate, the police and crime panel and, above all, the public will be there to judge that and to bring to light such failings.
Vernon Coaker: The Minister’s reassurance was a perfectly reasonable point. He stressed that any recommendation made by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary is obviously saying something important—it is the inspectorate—and due weight should be given to any such recommendations. With that read into the record, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment made: 53, in clause 6, page 6, line 41, leave out from ‘Crime’ to end of line 43 and insert ‘must consult the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis before issuing or varying a police and crime plan.’.—(Nick Herbert.)
Clive Efford: Most of the main issues were debated under the previous clause. Some, however, relate specifically to London and I know, from my own experience as a London MP, how events in London can impact on local policing, altering policing plans. There are major events almost from day to day. During the student demonstrations here at Parliament, I bumped into my own police safer neighbourhoods team in the House of Commons.
Being in the capital city has major implications for the delivery of policing plans at the local level, because other factors can impinge. That can happen anywhere but, in a capital city, we are more open to it. That is, therefore, important when we are consulting. In particular, the members of the policing and crime panel will have widespread experience of local policing in their constituencies, as will the representatives of the local communities. They will have experience of how such things affect the police in London and will want to see something in the plan that gives them some confidence in the commitment to local people that we can deliver at the local level.
The Minister mentioned the street crime maps, which are welcome. Such information in police maps was pioneered under the previous Mayor and continued by the current Mayor. The development down to street level has to be welcomed. However, having looked at the maps briefly, something must be followed through. Giving people information about the level of crime in their area is an important part of the democratic process of holding the police service to account, but if we do not give people information about how the police are clearing up the crime, we are just giving a lot of negative information. People will also want to see information about the performance of the police in catching the burglar who has burgled so often in their street. Information about the level of crime is important, but so is the extra information for reassuring the public.
London has some major responsibilities in national policing, which can have implications for the resources available for local policing. Where London has that special responsibility, that should be clarified in some way within the police plan. I know that when there is a major incident such as 7/7 all police plans are torn up and the police must respond. We cannot plan for those incidents, in the sense that the police are required to respond to whatever major incident has occurred. That is a given; but as regular extra demands are made on the Metropolitan police does the Minister envisage some way of addressing them in police plans, so that there will be some sort of contract between communities and the police?
With that in mind, clause 7(c) refers to resources for police plans, and that is another grey area, with respect to the overlap between what is made available in the Metropolitan Police Service budget for local policing, and what is used for national policing responsibilities. I have raised that issue before with the chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority. That is an issue for
Nick Herbert: The hon. Gentleman made two broad points about London. Clause 6 gives the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime the duty to produce a policing plan, in line with other mayoral strategies in London. I believe that the street-level crime mapping to which he referred—I welcome his support for it—will produce an additional new source of information for Londoners, which will enable them to hold the police to account at a local level. The website police.uk also provides information about the local neighbourhood policing teams and how to get hold of them.
The response to the pilot study involving 7,000 people, which was done by the National Policing Improvement Agency, was positive. People particularly valued the provision of the information. So there is a lot to be optimistic about in relation to the enhanced transparency and accountability that will result. The work has revealed that last month there were 35,000 antisocial behaviour incidents in London. There is great public concern about antisocial behaviour, and what is happening will assist with focusing on those incidents and the police’s contribution to dealing with them.
The strategic policing priority, to which the Mayor and the Police and Crime Commissioner must have regard, is important. We framed it in consultation with the Association of Chief Police Officers. Of course, the Metropolitan police have always had national policing responsibilities as well. When the Home Secretary was the police authority for London, there was a single point of governance and matters were easily dealt with. Everyone agreed that that should not continue. Whatever our disagreements about points of detail, the general view is that devolution of power to the local level—let us call it that—is desirable.
That of course means that clarity about how resources are spent is necessary. The Government provide significant resources to the Metropolitan police, reflecting the fact that they police the capital and have wider responsibilities. That includes £200 million a year in national, international and capital city grant. Significant additional resources are provided to the Met and that will continue. I accept the point that it is important, as far as possible, in the spirit of transparency, to be clear about how resources are being deployed in relation to local matters and the wider responsibilities on which the Home Secretary and not the Mayor holds the Met to account.
The Chair: With this it will be convenient to discuss the following: amendment 478, in clause 7, page 7, line 42, leave out ‘chief officer’s provision of policing’ and insert ‘police force’s performance’.
Vernon Coaker: The general aim of these amendments, as the Minister will understand, is to constrain the PCC from being able to demand too much detail on the operational policing that will be agreed in the plan. Amendment 477 would provide that the PCP sets out the police and crime objectives. I am interested in the later group of amendments, 19 and 20, tabled by the hon. Member for Edinburgh West and his colleague, the hon. Member for Cambridge. Although not going as far as my amendment, they clearly reflect the concern of the hon. Member for Edinburgh West all through the Bill—in the previous debate and the one we are having now—that the PCP does not have enough power and that if we are not careful, it will be a toothless tiger when dealing with the work of the PCC.
In setting out the police and crime plan, amendment 477 would require the PCP to set out the objectives. There is a lot of good sense in that. One of the continuing dilemmas and tensions through the Bill is how one person could set the police and crime objectives—especially with street mapping—for the whole of north Wales, the whole of west Yorkshire, Devon and Cornwall, and Thames valley. We could go through all the forces. Unless those objectives are very high level—things no one could disagree with, such as “We must keep people safe, we must deal with any crime where it occurs, and we must do our best to reduce crime”—how can one person set them?
Once we start trying to drill down to the detail, the police and crime plan needs local input. I know that point is included in the next set of amendments, but that is why the hon. Member for Edinburgh West has tried to improve the Bill. He believes that the PCP needs to be much more involved, and he will speak for himself when we come to the next group. I have gone a step further and said that the panels should set the police and crime objectives, rather than the PCC, which overcomes the problem.
The other amendment of particular importance is 478, which asks, “What do we actually want the chief officer to report to the police and crime commissioner about?” Under the Bill as drafted, the chief officer would report to the PCC on the provision of policing. Amendment 478 would change that so that the report was on the performance of the police force, because that is what
The Minister is keen to ensure that the correct barriers exist and that there is no crossover and so on. The amendment would help him, because what does the provision of policing mean to people? It means where the police are—where they are deployed. If not, what does it mean? What anybody at any of our surgeries would want to know from the police and crime commissioner is whether the model used has reduced crime in their area. They would not go to Government Members, or to my hon. Friends, and say, “Excuse me, Mr Herbert or Mr Wright, can you talk to me about the provision of policing in my area?” They would say, “Crime’s going up around here—what’s going on?”
Even using his own model, the Minister is not driving at the Government’s intention, which is to get people to focus on crime. That is the whole purpose of street mapping, which we started, although I accept that, as the Minister said, it was at ward level and that it has been drilled down closer to people at street level. How are our forces organised to deal with crime? The amendments would take us away from the real problem throughout the Bill about the responsibility of the PCC vis-à-vis telling the chief constable what he or she should or should not do.
I would have thought that amendment 478 provided clarification. I do not agree with the Minister, but I understand why he objects to the PCP setting the objectives, because that would drive a coach and horses through his model. However, I will not understand if he does not at least concede that amendment 478, on police force performance, has a point in that it gets much closer to the nub of what he wants from the police and crime commissioner, which is also what all our constituents want. I shall be extremely interested to hear the Minister’s response to that amendment, although I know what his response to amendment 477 will be.
Amendment 478 makes more than a semantic point; it would completely change the focus of how the PCC holds the chief constable to account. Not only would that be so in a proper sense, but I would totally agree on the accountability of the chief constable. I am not concerned about the provision of policing, which is a matter for professional judgment; I am concerned about whether deployment, or the way in which policing is provided, reduces crime. That is what I am interested in, and that is much more in tune with what the Minister is attempting to achieve in the Bill than the way in which the clause is currently drafted. I shall be interested to hear what the Minister has to say.
Nick Herbert: If I may so, the hon. Gentleman is all over the place. He spoke very half-heartedly for amendment 477, which would compel PCPs to produce their own set of police and crime objectives. Why? Outside London, the PCPs will be appointed bodies,
of the police and crime commission. The hon. Gentleman’s contention is that the focus should be not on how the chief officer is providing policing, but only on performance. He did not set out with any great clarity the difference between the two. It seems absolutely right that the plan should specify the totality of policing on which the chief officer is reporting back. Those measures are reporting requirements, and do not have to cross operational independence.
Of course, the chief officer should have to report for the totality of policing. That is what effective scrutiny is about. I understand that the hon. Gentleman’s intention under the amendment is to narrow matters, but such an argument has not been set out. He did not really make the case for a distinction between performance and the totality of policing, and I do not believe that the proposal has great force. He is coming back to operational independence. Although we have covered that, no doubt we will continue to discuss it. I say again that it is our intention to protect it. The clause would ensure that the plan reflects the reporting arrangements and, given their importance, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw the amendment.
Vernon Coaker: I shall withdraw the amendments. The Minister said that I am all over the place. That is interesting, given that when he was making the point, for the first time many of his colleagues were nodding in agreement with me and disagreeing with him. However, I shall leave that matter. It is not enough just to assert the case. The right hon. Gentleman asserted that I was all over the place, but most people understand that there is a real difference between deployment, which is essentially the provision of policing, and what people really care about, which is whether crime is going down in their area.
Nick Herbert: I said that the hon. Gentleman was all over the place in relation to his proposal to give police and crime panels the power to set objectives. I do not detect agreement in the Committee on that issue. Indeed, I am sure that my hon. Friends agree with me on all matters in respect of the Bill. The hon. Gentleman is confused about the proposal. Perhaps he will deal with it when he returns to the amendment.
I do not intend to push amendment 477 to a Division. I am just interested in what the role of the police and crime panel would be. I am not the only one who has issues; when we discuss the next set of amendments, the Minister’s hon. Friends will be asking him to clarify the role of the police and crime panel. I shall not push amendment 478 to a Division, but most people understand the real difference between the provision of policing and measuring a police force’s performance. With those comments, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Mike Crockart: Briefly, the amendment is intended to probe the extent to which the Secretary of State will be able to intervene in local police and crime plans under the Bill. As it stands, although the Secretary of State will be able to give some guidance on what might be included in the plan, she should not be taking the extra step of stating how those things should be dealt with. The Liberal Democrats welcome the focus of the Bill on removing central direction and interference in policing decisions, which has taken place to an ever greater extent over the past few years, and that is why we must be certain about what we mean by “give guidance”. I have tabled probing amendments to seek some clarification on the limits of that power.
Nick Herbert: My hon. Friend’s intentions in tabling the amendments are clear, and I appreciate the spirit in which he has moved them. Amendment 19 seeks to limit the scope of the guidance that the Secretary of State will be able to give regarding police and crime plans, while amendment 20 seeks to ensure that the police and crime panel is listed as a statutory consultee in the event that such guidance is issued. I do not believe that the amendments are necessary.
Regarding amendment 19, the clause as currently drafted does not confer any power on the Secretary of State to issue guidance concerning how the matters listed in a police and crime plan should be dealt with. As I have said before, we do not consider that the legislation will be used to set out every detail. The clause allows the Secretary of State to issue guidance, setting out the matters that should be dealt with in a police and crime plan, and nothing more than that. My hon. Friend’s goal in tabling amendment 19 will be achieved in the clause’s current form.
Moving on to amendment 20, the panel already has a key role in finalising a police and crime plan, as set out in clauses 5 and 6. That includes being consulted and, if the panel’s comments have been ignored, the commissioner will have to explain why. If the panel feels that the process has been exhausted, and wants to see information on a matter that has not been covered, it will have the power to bring the police and crime commissioner
I would like to be clear that that does not mean that the Secretary of State should state what crime types the plan should cover—that is for the police and crime commissioner to do. What we are talking about is guidance that relates to headings and information that the police and crime commissioner should cover, such as information on how they will use their funding and what their objectives are.
The Government are clear that police and crime commissioners and chief constables are the most vital consultees in the event of issuing regulations governing the police and crime plan. Commissioners will be required to draft the plan, and chief constables will put it into practice. The police and crime panel’s task is to scrutinise and advise on the plan, not to draft it or put it into action. Therefore, to list it as a statutory consultee is unnecessary.
I hope that that provides an explanation. I have also said some things about the scope of the plan, and I hope that that will be important on the record as a statement of the Government’s intention, so far as the headings that it should apply and the level of detail are concerned. I hope that my hon. Friend will be able to withdraw his amendments on the basis that his concerns have been recognised.
Mike Crockart: I am grateful for the clarification of the Minister’s intentions. It is important to be clear that the Secretary of State cannot direct the police and crime plans, and that local democratic accountability is left unchanged. It is often useful to get such intentions laid down clearly, and I am grateful to the Minister for doing so. On that basis, I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Vernon Coaker: May I ask the Minister a couple of questions about the clause? I am not a negative person; I think that there is some merit in giving such grants. The Minister will have found, as I have, that a small amount of money often makes a huge difference. It is incredible how small an amount can make a difference.
Vernon Coaker: Actually, that is one thing I wanted to ask. Will the Minister say more about where the grants come from and how much he envisages they will be? What is the process? Will it be publicised? Many of the next few clauses will just be passed, but I do not
Nick Herbert: It is important to note, as I said before, that the Bill creates elected police and crime commissioners. They have been deliberately named, because we seek to place on them a wider responsibility for crime reduction and community safety in their area. That means that we wish those bodies to be able to receive grants from central Government and allocate them to secure the crime and disorder reduction set out in clause 9.
Currently, Government community safety funding gives grants to local authorities in that respect. The change is that some of the grant may be paid instead to the elected PCCs, who will then determine how it should be spent. We are currently determining the grant allocation for the next financial year, ahead of the introduction of police and crime commissioners, and will give further clarity about the level of the grants and how they will be determined. I am sorry that I cannot give any further information about the grant amounts for the time being. We must reflect that devolved arrangements already exist in London, so separate arrangements will be made for allocation of the grant in the capital. We intend to make the announcement shortly.
Vernon Coaker: That is helpful up to a point, but a lot more work clearly must be done. I understand that the Minister’s reply lacks its usual depth because work is still being done and the amounts will not be clear yet. Did I understand him to say that some of the grants being given at the moment will be retained centrally and some given to the local policing body, or is it the intention to give everything to the local policing body? Is that part of the policy still being worked out, or did I misunderstand him? As I said, I will not press the clause to a vote, but will he clarify that point?
Nick Herbert: It will be clarified when we make further announcements about the next financial year. Some grants for certain specific things in the broad field of crime reduction will continue to be made from the centre by the Home Office and some may continue to be allocated directly to local authorities, but from 2012, some will be allocated to police and crime commissioners. We are currently considering how that should be determined between those three areas. I would be grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s understanding that it would be better if I did not try to prejudge our announcement.
The clause is important because it enables the transmission of grant to the PCCs. It will give them a broader function than police authorities have, because such authorities do not currently disseminate grants in relation to community safety. The provision creates a broader function and a wider responsibility in ensuring community safety—working with community safety
Vernon Coaker: I agree that if we are to establish PCCs, such a function will be important. Without making a political point, it will be difficult to have a reasonable amount of money for all three arms that relate to the clause, which will be important. I am glad that the Minister has said that we have to retain some money centrally—there is no question about that.
We shall discuss local authority grants when we come to the next clause on co-operative working. Such grants are essential and have already been significantly reduced with respect to crime reduction work. I, too, agree that it will be useful for the local PCC to have a sum of money to use, and I am grateful for the Minister’s comments.
I shall refer briefly to the amendment and then make a more substantive point about the clause. Amendment 101 concerns other responsible bodies in the force area being more fully involved in the preparation and implementation of the police and crime plan. I understand that there is nothing specific in the Bill to require the commissioner to involve such bodies, which I am sure would not be the Minister’s intention. The amendment is probing and I shall not press it to a vote, but it is essential for all the responsible authorities that we know in our local areas to be involved in some way.
One of the worries that people have about the Bill is that it will undermine partnership working at a local level. The Minister has talked about PCCs at a force level, and he will know that one of the Bill’s other recurring themes is how that single individual relates to local areas. Part of that concerns the PCCs’ relationships with the police and crime panels, and the police and crime panels’ relationships with individual local authorities in their own areas. The responsible authorities include all the various partners in an area. It would be helpful if the Minister indicated, so that it is on the record, how they will be involved. What role does the Minister envisage for such people, who should have a part in bringing about the police and crime plan? That is important, because my big criticism of the Bill is that whatever we say about accountability, the real issues are at a neighbourhood and local level.
Crime and disorder reduction partnerships—or community safety partnerships as they are known in Wales—have been one of the most successful steps in
Nick Herbert: I can reassure the hon. Gentleman. First, I am sure we agree that it is important that crime commissioners and the community safety partnerships and others work together to ensure community safety. That is certainly our intention. Securing that will be achieved through the clause, and I shall explain why.
The amendment proposes two changes to clause 10(1). It would require members of community safety partnerships to co-operate with police and crime commissioners in respect of functions under section 17 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 as well as functions under section 6 of that Act, and it introduces a specific requirement on those agencies comprising community safety partnerships to co-operate with the police and crime commissioners in the preparation and implementation of a police and crime plan.
I shall deal first with the reference to section 17 of the 1998 Act. I am advised that it would have no legal effect. Section 17 does not confer any functions that could be the subject of co-operation as envisaged by the amendment. Instead, it requires the bodies named in the section to exercise existing functions in a particular way, namely with due regard to the likely effect on crime and disorder. That is a separate legal duty, which will continue to apply to the named bodies, and we are applying it to police and crime commissioners under paragraph 109 of schedule 15. The reference to section 17 in the amendment does not add anything to the Bill. I hope that the hon. Gentleman will note the care with which we have drafted the legislation.
I turn to the substantive second element of the amendment. It does not add anything of substance to the general duty to co-operate set out in subsection (1). It places a reciprocal duty to co-operate on police and crime commissioners, the Mayor’s Office for Policing Crime and the responsible authorities that comprise community safety partnerships within the force area—NHS primary care trusts, the probation service, the police, fire and rescue authorities, local authorities. That is clearly set out.
Clause 10(2) also requires police and crime commissioners and other criminal justice agencies to make local arrangements to work together effectively. We expect police and crime commissioners and community safety partnerships to work together, focusing on achieving outcomes for their communities. I believe that that kind of joint working is vital.
It is important to see clause 10 in the context of other measures in the Bill to advance joint working, such as the grant-making powers that we discussed earlier, provisions to elevate crime and disorder partnerships to a force-wide level, and the commissioning of reports to examine any element of those strategies. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s wish to ensure co-operation between community safety partnerships and police and crime commissioners. I am confident that we will achieve that with the duty for co-operative working under clause 10. The amendment would have no effect and is unnecessary.
Vernon Coaker: May I say good afternoon to my legal adviser, the hon. Member for Northampton North? I should be particularly interested if he has anything to say on this aspect of the Bill. I am sorry, Mr Benton—the meaning of that comment will have totally passed you by, as you were not here this week.
That is a classic response. The Government are saying, “There is a problem here, but we will put that in and then let the lawyers argue about what “appropriate” is afterwards”. Clearly, there was a concern about that wording and I am not surprised, because I have spoken to senior legal figures and one in particular, who told me that this issue is of quite considerable concern, in terms of what it might lead to as well as what is actually in the Bill.
Clause 10(2) refers to “criminal justice bodies”. If I was trying to be fair, or rather if I was trying to look at things from the Minister’s point of view, I could see why we would say, “Well, look, the elected person needs to come to some arrangement with probation staff and the youth offending teams”. We can see, from that point of view, that the logic is, “Well, you’ve got people causing a problem in an area”. We have already said that sometimes the problem with confidence in policing is that people blame the police even when they have arrested someone. Sometimes it appears to people that the criminal justice system has not functioned as effectively as it might have done; somebody reoffends or whatever, or probation does not look after somebody properly in the community. The police seem to get the blame. So if I was trying to be fair I could understand why the clause might say “probation”, “youth offending teams”, and so on, although I understand that even that has caused concern.
However, in clause 10(2) the Government propose that an elected person, with a political mandate, would not only be able to make “arrangements” with youth offending teams and probation staff. Clause 10(4) says:
I am sure that the Minister will say, “My intention is that there will be appropriate arrangements”, but what on earth has an elected politician got to do with prosecution? That is quite a fundamental point that we spend a good deal of time debating. However, the Bill says quite clearly that, where appropriate, “arrangements” are made with a prosecutor. What on earth is that about? What on earth are appropriate “arrangements” between a local politician and:
I know the Minister’s intention and the Government’s intention in this clause is to deal with their frustrations with the criminal justice system, but essentially what we are starting to see in this clause is not only a police and crime commissioner but the beginnings of a criminal justice commissioner.
I must say to the Minister that that is quite a serious point. It is not, as the Bill has defined it, a criminal justice commissioner, but it is moving towards an elected politician having some sort of influence over the criminal justice system. It is not just a matter of the commissioner saying, “What’s happened about that individual’s probation? The service hasn’t done a very job of looking after him. He’s reoffending on the streets. He’s causing problems. Our crime figures are going through the roof. The police are frustrated.” It is about prosecution and the courts.
I have no idea what arrangements would be appropriate between a prosecution service and an elected politician responsible for policing. The division between those who enforce the law and those who prosecute individuals is a fundamental part of our democracy. I have heard countless Members of Parliament say that our democracy is based on the important principle that politicians play no part in how the law is interpreted and prosecuted by the courts or in what the courts do.
The Minister will say, “Things will be done as appropriate. The Bill doesn’t mean what you say,” but that is exactly what it means. The Crown prosecutor for Nottinghamshire, where I live, and the police and crime commissioner, whoever that is, will have to make arrangements. The clause does not say that they can make arrangements, but that they “must make arrangements”. It is not a case of their saying, “Let’s have a look and see where an arrangement might be appropriate. If we think it’s appropriate and we think we can do something, let’s do something.” They positively have to go out to make arrangements.
There is a fundamental point of principle here. I do not properly understand why the clause is drawn as widely as it is. I do not want to misquote the Home Secretary, but she said at some point that the police and crime commissioner’s role vis-à-vis criminal justice was important. That is a step towards an elected politician having some influence over the criminal justice system, which many hon. Members would find inappropriate.
I will be interested to hear what the Minister has to say, but I and every senior legal person I have spoken to think that even if this provision is not a problem in this place, there will be huge problems in the House of Lords, when various people with much more legal knowledge than me, including barristers of all shades of opinion, look at this provision and say what its implications are. I think there will be real problems. I will listen to what the Minister has to say and then respond, unless anybody else has something to say.
Nick Herbert: The hon. Gentleman raises an interesting issue. First, I hope he will reflect about which side of the argument he and the Opposition wish to land on regarding the importance of devolving decision making in the criminal justice system where possible and achieving what we might describe as joining up justice.
There is a growing view, which is shared by professionals in the system, that it is really important that agencies do not operate in silos but co-operate at local level if we are to achieve the better outcomes that we need in the criminal justice system. Effective partnership working at the local level is important in reducing reoffending, achieving efficiencies and driving out costs in the criminal justice system. Indeed, the failure to integrate agencies’ responses in the past has resulted in a fragmented criminal justice system that does not provide a seamless service for the public, victims or anybody else.
I detect a shared ambition among professionals in the system, who think, contrary to the impression that the hon. Gentleman was giving, that to try to achieve those greater synergies and a more holistic system is exactly where we should be going. Some examples of best practice happen when agencies work together at local level. I will give two examples.
One important area in which we have reduced pressures on police time and reduced cost is the development of integrated case management handling in London. The Crown Prosecution Service and the police have co-operated to shorten times for case preparation and reduce cost. That has brought about savings and reduced the call on police time. The inspectorate of constabulary, in reporting on that, considered that it was an important model that could be developed elsewhere. It has been achieved precisely through such joint working. I do not believe that it has compromised the independence of the CPS, which remains accountable to Ministers through the Attorney-General.
None of us disagrees about the fundamental importance of the independence of the judiciary and of independent decisions about prosecution. Nevertheless, at the local level we already have local criminal justice boards. They are non-statutory bodies but they are places where the leaders of local criminal justice agencies come together and try to set local strategic priorities in relation to the
There are two issues. First, these are non-statutory bodies, and secondly they overlap with community safety partnerships at the strategic level. The Government’s view is that we should not be prescriptive about how the arrangements might evolve at the local level. However, in creating police and crime commissioners, with a broad strategic role in relation to community safety, it does not make sense to shut them out of local arrangements for the criminal justice system—because partnership working is so important.
That is why we made it clear in the document “Policing in the 21st century”, and in the summary of consultation responses and next steps published in December, that the Government still see a role for police and crime commissioners with respect to the wider criminal justice system, to bring about an efficient, effective service for victims, witnesses and the wider community. We shall explore that as further reforms develop. We have been explicit about not wanting to shut the door on the possibility that police and crime commissioners could have a wider role in the criminal justice system.
The force of the clause about which the hon. Gentleman expresses concern—clause 10(2)—is simply that the elected police and crime commissioner, or the Mayor in London, should co-operate with the criminal justice bodies as appropriate. The word “appropriate” is used precisely so as not to allow a line to be crossed in relation to such things as the independence of the judiciary. The hon. Gentleman did not name the concerned senior member of the legal establishment he alluded to, but I shall be happy to have a conversation if he wants to tell me privately who it is after the sitting. No member of the Government seeks to trespass on the independence of the judiciary or prosecution decisions. However, everyone—including, I believe, senior members of the judiciary—agrees about the importance of joint working, at national and local level.
The second example that I want to give is about London. The Mayor is clear that the wider function would be welcome, and seeks an involvement in the efficient operation of the criminal justice system. I do not know whether the hon. Member for Gedling has visited the Heron wing at Feltham young offenders institution, but I encourage him to do so. My hon. Friend the Member for Brentford and Isleworth and I visited it recently, with the Mayor of London. The Mayor has invested in better rehabilitation on that wing, which provides mentoring for young offenders. The results are impressive, driving down reoffending rates. That outcome involved an elected local politician acknowledging the potential—perhaps his responsibility—for an elected figure responsible for policing and community safety to recognise that other elements in the criminal justice system closely affect the safety of Londoners. Widening the responsibilities of the Mayor in this respect makes a lot of sense—to the Mayor, too—and the initiative has great support on the ground. The subsection gives it effect.
I end where I started, in the same spirit in which the hon. Member for Gedling moved his amendment and in which we have conducted the entire debate. I urge him and the Opposition generally not to get on the wrong side of the argument. There is huge potential for greater, joined-up working at the local level and it would be unwise to close off the potential role of the elected police and crime commissioner.
The House can take decisions down the line about how we wish to see the role evolve, which will depend on how reforms of the criminal justice system evolve. There should be open debate as we move along, but the ambition to allow such a form of working is sensible and the right direction of travel—simply to ensure that at the local level people co-operate, which is all the provision allows. I urge the hon. Gentleman to reflect on that and to see that no threat to the independence of the judiciary or of prosecution decisions is intended or made in the provision.
Vernon Coaker: The Minister tells me not to get on the wrong side of the argument, but that is why I spoke carefully when making my points. Of course people want to see local arrangements and, by having effective local arrangements, we can often deal with things that impact directly on people’s confidence in policing in an area or on the general safety they feel on their streets. I gave the example of probation and how, sometimes, people find it difficult to understand why a particular individual who is on bail or whatever does not seem be effectively monitored. There are all sorts of issues. I quite agree with him that people might want to see such more effective arrangements being made. That is an absolute given.
The Minister referred to all the various bodies bringing people together so that we do not have a situation in which everyone seems responsible but no one actually is. I understand all those points, so it is not a case of being on the wrong side of the argument. Equally, I could say to the Minister that he needs to be careful that he does not get on the wrong side of the argument.
The clause is extremely important, and I point out only that part of why we debate issues in Committee is to understand what the Government are saying. However, I know that there will be real problems with respect to the clause, because it is not totally clear that its drafting gives effect to the Minister’s desire to protect the independence of the judiciary and prosecutorial system. That is all I was saying.
Michael Ellis (Northampton North) (Con): Is it not more than reasonable to read into the provision, where appropriate, the appropriateness of an independent judiciary being maintained and the inappropriateness of departing from that principle? Would it not be perfectly reasonable for the clause to continue to be drafted in the same way? It covers, does it not, the concern of parliamentarians and this House not to interfere in the judicial process by referring to the appropriateness of conduct at all times? Also, is it not right that there is already appropriate conjunction between elected officials and the criminal justice system in certain respects—certainly with regard to the efficiency of that system? For example, the Attorney-General is an elected official. Historically, the Lord Chancellor is not an elected official, but he is at the moment, in as much as he is appointed as a Member of
Vernon Coaker: The hon. Gentleman should make a contribution because his points are reasonable. Someone who is elected might of course want to look at the efficiency and effectiveness of the courts; they want to ensure that there is the best value for money, and I agree with that. It is also the case that appropriateness is in the Bill. I point out only that the Government are saying—the Minister confirmed this—that the Bill deals with the police and crime commissioner with respect to the police, but what the Government really want, and will come back to, is a criminal justice commissioner. They want exactly the same set-up to operate in the criminal justice system as in the police, and they do not believe that they have won that argument yet. I alert people to that issue, because if we are not careful the distinctions will blur in a way that is not consistent with how our democracy works.
I am highlighting at great length that what is incorporated in the clause is, essentially, the Government trying to have a halfway house. They are saying, “How can the Opposition spokesman be against effective working at a local level?” That is where the public are and it is what they want. They are frustrated by how the criminal justice system works and feel that they do not have an effective voice, and the Minister should be on the side of that. As I have said time and again, people are frustrated with the criminal justice system, but it is a leap from that to saying, “At the moment we can have arrangements, but in the end what we want is a criminal justice commissioner,” which is what the Bill tries to move towards. I predict that in a year or two the Government will come forward with plans for a criminal justice commissioner. If they do not, I will buy the Minister a pint.
Nick Herbert: I would hope that the hon. Gentleman might buy me a pint anyway, but I thank him for taking my intervention and I urge him, if he has not already done so, to discuss the issues with the Mayor, and in
Vernon Coaker: Tim Godwin is doing an excellent job as acting commissioner, and I know that he thinks that way—and I know that the Minister and all of us would wish Sir Paul Stephenson well in his recovery— [Hon. Members: “Hear hear.”] My point is that I am not diametrically opposed to better, more effective arrangements, because I have said time and again that it is the criminal justice system with which people are sometimes frustrated. The debate that we have had on the clause has been useful in significantly highlighting how the Government are moving, and I will leave it there. The debate has been interesting, as was the contribution from the hon. Member for Northampton North, who understands my point about how we ensure that the division is effectively and appropriately maintained.
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