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Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill
|©Parliamentary copyright||Prepared 2nd February 2011|
Publications on the internet
Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill
Police Reform and Social
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
James Rhys, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee
Mike Crockart (Edinburgh West) (LD): It is clear that democratic accountability in policing decisions is taking a huge leap forward in this Bill, but there are two aspects included within that phrase, “democratic accountability”. It is the second aspect—“accountability”—that amendment 21 relates to.
“Accountability” entails a requirement upon the electorate to judge whether an elected individual, in this case the police and crime commissioner, has performed well during their term in office. In exercising that judgment, “information is power”. I use that phrase quite deliberately, because it was used by the Minister this morning on Radio 4 in relation to the enhanced local crime figures that are now available. This amendment relates to the availability of information to people, so that they can make the judgment on the police and crime commissioner, and in particular on whether they have delivered on the manifesto on which they stood.
The major things that people are assessing would be the performance of the PCC and, of course, the performance of the chief constable and his force. I want to focus on the word “necessary”, to probe exactly what is meant by that and to what extent “necessary” information actually applies.
It would be useful to have a judgment of what is “necessary” considered by someone other than the PCC. Amendment 21 would place that responsibility on the police and crime panel, which seems a sensible place to put it, although that is open to debate. However, the important point is that it would be somebody who is not directly looking at a potential imminent re-election, because somebody who is in that position might skew what they feel is “necessary” to publish at that point. The essence of the amendment concerns the definition of what is felt to be “necessary” information and who should be—
Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab): On what the hon. Gentleman has just said about people standing for re-election, does he think that there is a danger that their behaviour might be skewed just before they stand for re-election?
Mike Crockart: The hon. Gentleman tried to make that point this morning. What counts against that point is the necessarily long term of the police and crime plans. The police and crime plans are put in place for a long period, whereas an election is only some way off.
Of course, the publication of what would be “necessary” information is open to debate and to different views about what information might be “necessary”. The purpose of the amendment is to explore that idea and to see whether there is a need to pin down what information would fall within that category of “necessary”.
I thank my hon. Friend for the way in which he moved the amendment, and I understand the issues that he is trying to raise. I believe that it is true that “information is power”, as I said this morning when we launched the new street-level crime mapping. I can report to the Committee that the website—www.police.uk—was receiving 300,000 hits a minute earlier today, which is the equivalent to 18 million hits an hour. That almost certainly breaks all records for hits on a Government website. It is now back up—it is hardly surprising that, facing an unprecedented level of demand, it ran a little slowly at some points.
Information is power and the Government are fully committed to the transparency agenda, as we demonstrated this morning. We want to ensure full transparency of police and crime commissioners and forces. We have introduced a Freedom of Information Act requirement on the Association of Chief Police Officers, which will apply later this year and ought to apply to its successor body. We want to ensure that that principle runs through the new architecture of the governance of policing.
I fully recognise my hon. Friend’s intention to ensure that the police and crime commissioner will disclose to the public all relevant information necessary for the public to assess their performance and that of the chief constable. That, I am sure, is common ground.
It has been argued that there might be occasions when police and crime commissioners would be less than willing to disclose information and data that might question their efficiency and effectiveness, or those of the chief constable. That challenge confronts all elected politicians. At the same time, a police and crime commissioner seeking to replace a chief constable could publish bits of information casting doubt on the chief constable’s performance.
Vernon Coaker: The Minister has made an extremely important point about the potential—not necessarily the likelihood—of the police and crime commissioner putting out detrimental information. Will he be more specific about how the Bill will safeguard against that happening? He might need advice from elsewhere, but it would be helpful to know where exactly in the Bill that safeguard is.
Requiring the police and crime commissioner to consult the police and crime panel before information about performance is published would therefore be an unnecessary layer of bureaucracy. My contention is that the Bill provides police and crime panels with ample powers to scrutinise the actions of the commissioner in the public interest. Clause 13 places a duty on the police and crime commissioner to provide the panel with “any information” that it
I was discussing clause 29, which gives the panel the power to require the attendance of the commissioner or members of their staff. That would provide the opportunity for an open discussion between the panel and the commissioner on any issue that the panel deems appropriate, ensuring the transparency of the scrutiny process and that the panel’s questions are dealt with in a timely manner.
There are other necessary checks and balances. The inspectorate of constabulary will have the power to inspect forces and report back to the public with objective and robust information on which informed adjustments can be made about the effectiveness of the force and the police and crime commissioner. Subsections (1) and (2) and clause 93 allow the Secretary of State to require the publication of specified information by a police and crime commissioner or a chief constable. Those powers
To return to the point raised by the hon. Member for Alyn and Deeside, a breach of the duty that Parliament places on public bodies is judicially reviewable. I do not know what other remedies he would propose if police and crime panels or police and crime commissioners were not to comply with any of those duties—sending them to the Tower or something else—but perhaps he can tell me, and we can no doubt consider the issue further with the Justice Secretary.
Information is power, and it is important that, as we seek to reduce bureaucracy, police forces do not confuse the requirement for information, which is important in helping us to judge their performance, with a bureaucratic obligation. They should provide information, but that is not the same as saying that they should be performance managed. The Government seek to draw a distinction between the two.
I am absolutely clear that forces must provide information. Police and crime commissioners should also be able to provide information. The combination of the powers in the Bill is sufficient to ensure that level of transparency, and I hope that the Committee agrees. I hope that my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh West will be reassured and feel able to withdraw his amendment. None the less, I welcome his attempt to raise the profile of this important issue.
Mike Crockart: I welcome the Minister’s statement and particularly his use of the phrase “all relevant information necessary”, which points to a more relevant meaning for this part of the Bill. If all the powers in the Bill are used to ensure that that level of information is furnished, I am sure that the accountability that I seek can be achieved.
I have not counted all the “musts” in this chapter—I would not be as cruel as that, and I know that the Minister does not believe in central direction—but there are quite a few. There are five in this clause, although I have no doubt missed one. To be fair to the Minister, there will always be a tension for a Minister between allowing a local police and crime commissioner to do exactly what they want and thinking that commissioners must do certain things—otherwise, how will we know what they are doing? That tension will always exist, and I do not say that as a criticism, because it is just a statement of fact. There is a tension between those of us who think there needs to be a managed context and
In discussing the clause, which deals with annual reports, the Minister has laid out a number of things that it is essential for the police and crime commissioner to do in the important annual report, which, unlike the policing plan, will clearly be produced every year, otherwise it would not be an annual report—I did not get where I am without knowing things like that.
I want the Minister to explain an important point. As always with such clauses, as you will know from your experience, Mr Chope, the devil in the detail is when the clause refers to something else, as when clause 12(3) refers to clause 28(3). Clause 12(3) states:
Presumably, the panel gets the annual report that is produced under clause 12 and has a meeting in public to discuss it. Is that one public meeting about the police and crime panel’s action plan? If it is one public meeting, is it a public meeting of the panel, or is it a meeting of the panel to which the public are invited at which they can contribute and ask questions about the action plan? If it is one public meeting, is that not insufficient for an action plan, which lays out all the different things contained in the annual report and which must report on the exercise of the body’s functions—in other words, the PCC’s functions—in each financial year?
The annual report is clearly very important, because the Minister has put so many “musts” in it. There is therefore very important information that should go to everyone in Devon and Cornwall, Surrey, North Wales, Sussex, West Yorkshire and South Wales with details of the progress made, yet it is not clear exactly what is required of the annual report. The requirement should surely be more public-facing meetings in respect of the action plan. That goes to the heart of the problem and the way in which the Bill is set out. As I understand it, the action plan is produced and the police and crime panel must organise a public meeting at which the action plan is discussed and to which the police and crime commissioner must go. That is one public meeting.
The Bill requires one public meeting to hold the police and crime commissioner to account for all the progress made—or not—on the policing and crime plan. Frankly, that is inadequate. It will not be the Minister’s intention, but if he is looking at “musts” within the context of clause 12 and what is required by clause 28(3), it is not sufficient in terms of public involvement.
The hon. Member for Edinburgh West and I have a concern, which we will come to later, about the relationship between the police and crime panel and the police and crime commissioner. That is a fair concern. There is also a concern about what it means to actually engage with the public and how we get the views of the public over and above the one or two who may turn up. I will leave the Minister with that, and I look forward to his response.
Nick Herbert: The point is that we should be setting a minimum requirement. The hon. Gentleman is right to say that the dilemma throughout is how prescriptive to be. To what extent should we write it into primary legislation that these devolved bodies should do certain things? My view is that there is a minimum expectation that they should be required to meet, and the provision of information is included in that. In my view, it was right to specify that every elected local policing body—in other words, the police and crime commissioners or the Mayor—must produce an annual report.
In the same way, the Bill says that regular meetings are to be held by the police to fulfil the Government’s promise that regular beat meetings will be available to the public, but we are not being prescriptive about the period or how those meetings take place. We are pointing to best practice. Yesterday, we published examples of best practice and how it could be delivered. However, the police do not need or want to be told the period in which they should hold the meetings, and we want to move away from the idea that they are held in draughty church halls with no one coming. We want to move to innovative ways of engaging with the public, which the police are increasingly doing. However, it is right to set the minimum requirements, so that the public can know that there is a core expectation.
What we are discussing is analogous to a public company that holds a meeting that shareholders can attend once a year. As we know, those meetings can be quite significant events for public companies. They are an opportunity for smaller shareholders, in particular, to arraign the board of public companies. What I am saying is that the public meeting that is organised by the panel is necessary, but it is not sufficient in terms of engagement. There are other ways in which we specify that there should be engagement.
Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): I want to understand further the analogy with shareholders. Will it be possible for the public—I suppose that they are stakeholders in this situation—to vote against the annual report in the same way as people at a shareholders’ meeting?
Mark Tami: Funnily enough, I am not. Will the meeting be like most shareholders’ meetings, where, as the Minister has made clear, they can harangue the board, which then goes off and does whatever it wants to do anyway and takes no account of the small shareholders who turned up to make their point?
Nick Herbert: We are providing the ability of the shareholders to vote out the chief executive—or the chairman, actually. That is probably a better equivalent for the police and crime commissioner. They will have that power. I think that the hon. Gentleman understands the analogy that I was seeking to draw.
I will return to my point. It is necessary that this single meeting is held, so that there can be public discussion in one place of the annual report. It is not sufficient as far as wider consultation and engagement are concerned.
Mr Aidan Burley (Cannock Chase) (Con): Is it not the case now that police authorities have no such requirement to have any public meeting any year at all? Therefore, even having one is an improvement on the current situation, because there is currently no requirement to have any public engagement of this description.
Nick Herbert: The problem is that no one knows who their police authorities are, because there is not that level of awareness about the police authority. That will not be the case in relation to these positions, which will be high-profile positions. People will be elected, and the electorate will want to hold people to account for the promises that they make, for the performance of their police force and, indeed, for the wider delivery of the community safety obligation.
We are making other provisions, one of which states that the panel can, if it wants to, meet in public more often than is provided for. Under clause 29(1), the panel can require the police and crime commissioner to attend before the panel and to answer questions, and provisions in clause 14 include arrangements for obtaining the community’s views on policing. There are plenty of other measures in the Bill that ensure that the police and crime commissioner engages, and any sensible commissioner will want to ensure that they have arrangements in place for communicating what is happening to the public and for hearing the public’s views. They would be unwise if they did not do so, and I understand that that is what the Mayor does.
The hon. Member for Gedling started by saying that we should be careful of too many “musts”—he proposed counting them—but he suggested that there should be more “musts,” in that we must be more specific about the number of meetings that should be held. So, how many should there be? If not one, should it be two, three or four? What number would he specify? I do not really think that he wants to specify a number, but he has raised an interesting point about how prescriptive
Vernon Coaker: Police authorities are required to have public meetings, but no doubt someone will know the definitive answer. This is an interesting debate, and I take the point about the tension between prescription and localism, but interestingly the Minister started by saying that the prescription in the Bill is a minimum requirement, notwithstanding the fact that he then found out that numerous other clauses allow him to do certain things. The phrase, “a public meeting of the panel,” does not lay out the Minister’s intention, which is not only to have the police and crime panel, but to get to the public, which is the whole point of the crime mapping that he has done today.
Vernon Coaker: I thank the Minister for the challenge: it has only just occurred to me that I should have tabled an amendment about arranging a public meeting of the panel in each of the local authority areas that make up the participating authority. That would have been a sensible amendment, and I should have tabled it, but the Minister has challenged me and I have put it on the record—it was not bad off the top of my head. The serious point is that the tension in the Bill relates to the remoteness of the police and crime commissioner. The Minister will say that that is overcome by the fact that they have a democratic mandate every four years and will be kicked out if they are no good, but it is reasonable to require that the action plan be discussed in each of the local areas that make up the force area.
Vernon Coaker: I beg the Minister’s pardon—the annual report. That requirement would be appropriate, and it could be considered with respect to the Bill’s other provisions on consulting the community. It is perfectly reasonable for both us and the public who make up a force area to expect the police and crime commissioner to discuss the action plan at a level that is less remote than that of a huge force. I thank the Minister for his response, and I am interested to see where this goes.
However, a legitimate question that people will ask about that is: how does the Minister anticipate that being done? Similarly, when the Minister is obtaining and collecting the views of communities, what process does he expect the police and crime commissioner to go through? What is the role of the police and crime commissioner vis-à-vis the police and crime panel? What is the role of local authorities? We get a lot of words that say, “These arrangements must do this”, but what does the Minister believe will happen as a consequence?
The Minister will correct me if I am wrong, but I note that consultation of the community includes the business community. The Bill states “ratepayers”. In respect of consultation and arrangements for obtaining the views of the community on policing, does that include the business community? Also, when the Bill states, “relevant ratepayers’ representatives”, does it also mean residents groups? I am struggling to understand what “ratepayers’ representatives” means. Again, I am not nit-picking on semantics. Does the Minister mean residents associations, or does he mean ratepayers associations? I would be interested in some clarification on that question.
I am also interested in why subsection (6), tucked away at the end of the clause, would omit subsections (6) to (10) of section 96 of the Police Act 1996. I wonder whether the Minister will regret omitting all that. One of those subsections states:
“If it appears to the Secretary of State that arrangements for a police area are not adequate for the purposes set out in subsection (1), he may require the body or person whose duty it is to make arrangements for that area to submit a report to him concerning the arrangements.”
The matter goes back to some of the debates that we have had about “musts” and localism versus prescription. Section 96 of the 1996 Act, and particularly the provision that I have just congratulated the Government on including, is important. The Home Secretary should have the ability to ensure that the arrangements in place are sufficient for the aims to be met. The Minister may regret leaving out those subsections, unless their powers are replicated somewhere else in the Bill to allow such intervention by the Home Secretary when he believes that arrangements are inadequate.
Under an earlier clause, we discussed where the public fit within the new model, with regard to getting and listening to their views. In an answer to me on clause 12,
Nick Herbert: I do not think that those are the strongest points that the hon. Gentleman has made, but I will try to address them. He tried to draw me into how a police and crime commissioner should make arrangements for consulting the public before issuing a policing power or levying a precept. Although it is important that PCCs consult the public, I will not be drawn into that discussion. It is nonsense to suggest that Parliament should prescribe how they obtain the public’s views. On balance, it is legitimate to require in statute and the law of the land that they do so—it would be unwise for them not to—but I do not think that it is necessary to be drawn into how they should go about it.
“the persons or bodies who appear to the elected local policing body for that area or district to be representative of persons subject to non-domestic rates under sections 43 and 45 of the Local Government Finance Act 1988”.
The hon. Gentleman asked why we have omitted the subsections that, in current legislation, enable the Secretary of State to intervene if the consultative arrangements do not come up to scratch. The fundamental difference is that the police and crime commissioners will have a mandate from the public and therefore a connection with them. They will, therefore, be much more strongly motivated to consult than a merely appointed body would be, so I think that it is enough to place a duty on PCCs without being prescriptive. We have been clear about where the Secretary of State should continue to have powers to intervene, but such powers involve issues relating to serious failure or situations in which the Secretary of State must prescribe an approach relating to policing requirements and so on. We will come to that. I do not think that the measure falls into that category. I am grateful for the hon. Gentleman’s comments about the provision urged on us by the victims’ commissioner to consult victims of crime. That is important, as my hon. Friends have pointed out.
Vernon Coaker: I suspect that at some point, the Minister will be drawn into it. The fact of the matter is that the 1996 Act included such a measure not because the Secretary of State desired to intervene, but because a reserve power was needed to intervene where it might be necessary. I am not saying that because the police and crime commissioner is elected for four years he will be motivated all the time by the fact that he was elected. Many who work for police authorities are immensely motivated and public-spirited citizens, and they spend a
I shall leave it there. However, I suspect that when the Minister or his successors start getting complaints from Members of Parliament about things working less well than expected in their areas with respect to seeking the community’s views on policing, they will start looking around for a power to intervene.
Steve McCabe: There is not only a risk that members of the public may feel that they have not been properly consulted or that the legislation does not reflect the aspirations that the Minister attributes to it. What will happen to non-domestic ratepayers? Business crime is enormous, but I am not clear where in the Bill or the clause are provisions to protect non-domestic ratepayers, who are currently protected.
Vernon Coaker: The Minister was saying that all these things are protected, whether community or business. Like my hon. Friend, I have serious doubts about it. Subsection (6) takes away any possibility of the Minister involving himself if he thinks that the arrangements in an area are inadequate, on the basis that it will not matter because in three years’ time there will be an election and people can get rid of someone if they think that he is not doing a good job. In the meantime, however, he will have to put up with it.
Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): We are talking about the voice of the business community. A shopping centre in my constituency pays £670,000 a year in business rates. That is equivalent to the rates income from 670 houses. Does my hon. Friend believe that the voice of the business community will be heard when it comes to Government plans?
Vernon Coaker: As both of my hon. Friends have said, the voice of the business community is essential. Whatever happens under clause 14, its voice must be heard loud and clear. Notwithstanding the Minister’s localism agenda, I hope that he will ensure that that is the case.
The amendment will prevent an unintended consequence of the clause, which would have prevented the deputy Mayor for policing from preparing a police and crime plan. The amendment will ensure that only three functions of the Mayor in respect of policing may be delegated to the deputy Mayor for policing. The first is the determination of police and crime objectives. The deputy Mayor for policing will be permitted to prepare them, but I ask the Committee to note that responsibility for issuing or varying a police and crime plan remains with the Mayor. The second will be the requirement to attend meetings of the police and crime panel when requested to do so. It is the Government’s position that that qualifies as day-to-day functions of the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, so it is right that the Mayor should have the option of delegating that.
Nick Herbert: Yes, I am happy to confirm that. The provision will enable him to delegate the functions, so that the deputy Mayor can go, but there are bound to be circumstances in which the police and crime panel wants the Mayor to attend, and I think that then the Mayor would be well advised to go. It might reflect very badly on the Mayor if there were a major issue for which he was not willing to answer, just as at the moment the chief officers appear before the Greater London authority, not because they are required to but because they judge it is wise to do so.
The third function is the preparation of the annual report to the police and crime panel. The Mayor will remain responsible for issuing that report, but will have the option of delegating its preparation. Matters that remain the sole responsibility of the Mayor will be the issuing of the police and crime plan and the Mayor’s functions in connection with senior officer appointments and suspensions. Those matters, we judge, are so fundamental to the role of policing governance that it is right that the individual with ultimate democratic responsibility should retain direct responsibility for them.
It is clear to me that the amendment will provide the right balance of responsibility between delegation and retained powers for the Mayor of London. In conclusion, although we want to ensure that powers can be delegated as appropriate, Londoners will clearly understand, and it will remain the case, that it is the Mayor who is the elected figure, and the buck will stop with the Mayor. I believe that that is the case now. Under existing legislation proposed by the previous Government, the Mayor can, as we discussed last week, delegate the chairmanship of the Metropolitan Police Authority. In my view that will continue to be the case. Londoners will expect the buck to stop with the Mayor, because that is who they vote for.
Clive Efford (Eltham) (Lab): I have some comments to make on the amendment and some that relate more widely to the clause as a whole. If we are to have a clause stand part debate I can deal with the matter briefly.
Clive Efford: I am grateful for your guidance, Mr Chope. I accept that the clause, if left as drafted, would make us question what the point of the deputy Mayor is, because it would appear that there is little left for the deputy to do if all the responsibilities in subsection (7) remain with the Mayor. Those restrictions still leave some limited powers for the deputy Mayor, and my concern is about whether that suggests that although the vast bulk of the responsibilities stay with the directly elected Mayor, there is potential for some confusion about who is absolutely responsible for policing in London and who is ultimately accountable to the people of London.
To take a current example, the chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority is, as I have said before, a high-profile figure who does most of the media interviews on policing issues. If the Mayor has taken the trouble to delegate the responsibility for policing to a deputy, it follows that the deputy will have lots of day-to-day responsibilities for and contacts with the police, and will therefore know the detail that the Mayor of London will not, because of his wider responsibilities for transport, housing and all the other policy areas. The deputy Mayor will therefore do many of the interviews, and he will be the public face for the Mayor’s office in its function as the body responsible for scrutinising the Metropolitan police.
I would be grateful to the Minister for his response on this. Is there any probability that the public will become confused about whether it is the role of the Mayor or of the deputy Mayor to be responsible for scrutinising the Metropolitan police? Will he also expand more on how the deputy Mayor will function, given the restrictions placed on him by his not being delegated the responsibilities listed in subsection (7), even after the clause has been amended? It seems to me that, if there is any point in delegating responsibility to a deputy Mayor, the bulk of the responsibilities must be delegated, as is now the case, with the Mayor having delegated virtually everything to the chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority. What will be the exact purpose of the deputy Mayor, given the restrictions that are placed on him by the clause, despite the amendment that will reduce the extent of those restrictions?
Nick Herbert: I thought that the hon. Gentleman made a bit of a meal of that. He cannot have it both ways—his judgment is either that too much or that too little will be delegated to the deputy Mayor, and I was not clear what he was arguing. He ended by saying that the situation will be confused in the eyes of Londoners, but that will not be so under the current arrangements. Londoners are well aware that the Mayor will have ultimate responsibility, as the person whom they elect. It so happens that the deputy Mayor is elected to the Greater London authority, although we have established that that need not be the case.
Londoners perfectly understand that the concept of appointing a deputy is about the delegation not of responsibility, but of the exercise of the day-to-day functions. In exactly the same way, a police force has a chief constable who ultimately has responsibility, and his deputies take on specific functions so that the force can be run effectively and the day-to-day functions do
Clive Efford: To come back to the Minister on amendments 54 and 55, if I sounded confused, it is because I am. I apologise if I did not make my point very well, and I will have another go. The position of chair of the MPA is currently a very high-profile position. There is a lot of media interest in police issues, as demonstrated by the meeting of the MPA last week. It is therefore reasonable to assume that the position of deputy Mayor with responsibility for policing and crime within the Mayor’s office will have a similarly high profile.
Given that that is the case, and that so many responsibilities remain with the Mayor, my question is whether there is a possibility for confusion in the minds of the public that the deputy Mayor, rather than the Mayor, would be fulfilling the role similar to that of the chair of the MPA. It is clear that the Mayor does not currently have that day-to-day input in policing matters, as is envisaged in the Bill. The Mayor will appoint the deputy Mayor, who may be high profile but will not have all the responsibilities that the current chair of the MPA has. Is there the inherent possibility in the Bill that confusion will be created in the minds of the public?
My other point is that outside of London—we have referred to this before—the PCCs are directly elected. Although they can delegate, under clause 18 they are limited in what they can delegate to someone to represent them in pursuit of their various functions and duties as police commissioner. The lines of communication and responsibility are much clearer outside of London than the arrangement in London with the Mayor and deputy Mayor looks likely to be. The other point is that it is the directly elected person who is clearly responsible outside of London. In London, we have the possibility that the Mayor could delegate to someone who was unelected. The coalition and the Conservative party have made a great deal out of the principle of the accountability of those who have been elected. Members of the London assembly have made the point that that principle does not follow though in the appointment of the deputy Mayor, because that person could be neither directly elected through the assembly nor democratically accountable through a local authority or any other body. We may return to that in the future.
If the principle of democratic accountability is important, it sends a strong signal if we require the person delegated by the Mayor to be his deputy to have a democratic mandate as well. What we have at the moment—both I and others have suggested this—is inconsistent with the arrangements that we have outside of London. On the issue of the delegation of responsibilities, we have seen
Steve McCabe: I have been looking at the matter since my hon. Friend has been trying to get clarity. I want to check that I understand the position. As amended, does the measure now mean that the deputy Mayor can issue a police and crime plan so that he or she could determine the police and crime objectives?
Clive Efford: As this is not my Bill, I shall leave it to the Minister to respond to that question when he replies to my comments. There is potential for great confusion in the setting-up process for the Mayor and a deputy. The deputy will have only part of the function. They will probably be a high-profile individual, but they will not be accountable for all the things for which the public will expect them to be accountable. I will be interested to hear the Minister’s thoughts on such matters, and also on the view that, given the consistency of a democratic mandate, the person should be drawn from those who have some sort of democratic accountability.
Nick Herbert: The hon. Gentleman is asking the same questions that he asked last week—and that I answered last week. I shall not dwell on such matters, but I said to him last week that, under the existing arrangements, it is possible for the nominated chair of the MPA, should the Mayor choose, not to be an elected person. There is no change in the proposal. It so happens that the current deputy is a member of the GLA, but that is not necessary under the Bill and there is no change.
The crucial point is that the Mayor is the police and crime commissioner, and remains the police and crime commissioner. He has the accountability and the mandate from the public. He can delegate day-to-day functions to the deputy Mayor, and the deputy Mayor can take those functions of the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime. That makes sense, given the Mayor’s wider responsibilities, and I have not heard anyone suggesting that it does not make sense. However, certain key things are issued in the Mayor’s name and must therefore remain with him, as I set out in response to the previous amendment. The plan is part of a mayoral strategy, so it must be issued in the Mayor’s name.
I am delighted that the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak is taking such a close interest in the governance of policing in London, and the answer to his question is yes. I have explained the difference. It is not a recipe for confusion; it is a recipe for the sensible delegation of day-to-day functions to an individual. That person does not have to be elected because a mandate goes through the Mayor. As I said before, the buck stops with the Mayor. Londoners know that. With respect, no one is confused, other than the hon. Gentleman.
Clive Efford: Proposed new subsection (2A) of section 95 of the Greater London Authority Act 1999 refers to the powers of the Secretary of State to give direction in relation to the Mayor’s budget. Given that everything else in the clause seems to refer to things that are in place but change references to the Metropolitan Police Authority to the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, that measure seems to alter the powers of the Secretary of State. If I am wrong, I apologise, but the provision states that the Secretary of State may not give a direction to the authority
Nick Herbert: Clause 23 will amend sections 95 and 96 of the 1999 Act. Those sections currently give the Secretary of State the power to set a minimum level for the budget requirement of the Metropolitan Police Authority to which the Greater London authority must adhere when calculating its precept. The clause ensures that the same power will be available in respect of the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime when it replaces the Metropolitan Police Authority.
We believe that the Secretary of State should have the power to ensure that the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime sets the budget at a level that will not put the public at risk. However, in line with the Government’s commitment to reduce interference by Whitehall, it is right that that power is exercised only if it is necessary. In addition, and as with clause 22, clause 23 will allow the Secretary of State to intervene and give direction only if they are satisfied that an order is necessary to prevent the safety of people within the Metropolitan police district from being put at risk.
I understand that the clause preserves powers to protect Londoners but ensures that they are reserve powers to be exercised according to the conditions that I have set out. I hope that that provides the hon. Gentleman with the explanation that he seeks.
Nick Herbert: In introducing this group of amendments to clause 24, I am correcting an error in the way in which the Bill amends section 46 of the Police Act 1996. At the moment, section 46 allows the Home Secretary to pay police grant to all the police authorities in England and Wales. In the case of the Metropolitan police, the grant is paid to the Greater London authority on behalf of the Metropolitan Police Authority. The intention of clause 24 is to ensure that grants can be paid in exactly the same way to police and crime commissioners and to the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime—via the GLA in the latter case.
As far as the Bill as a whole is concerned, the intention is to leave the policing arrangements in respect of the City of London unchanged. The common council of the City of London is currently charged with the governance of the City of London police and the Bill does not change that. It follows that section 46 of the 1996 Act must continue to apply to the common council so that the Home Secretary can continue to pay it police grants.
Unfortunately, the drafting of clause 24 has the unintended effect of removing the common council from the reach of section 46 of the 1996 Act. The amendments simply correct that error by including in clause 24 references to “grant recipients” and by defining that term so as to include the common council, police and crime commissioners and the GLA acting on behalf of the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime. For those reasons, I hope that the Committee will be able to accept these drafting arrangements.
Vernon Coaker: That is helpful. The Minister mentioned the common council with respect to the City of London police and explained that the amendments clarify what happens, as I understand it, with respect to the grant paid to the Mayor and then through to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner. Will he clarify how the payment of the grant will work for police forces outside London? Is the situation exactly the same as it is now? Obviously it will not be, with the police and crime commissioners, but one assumes that the route will be the same. The Minister talked about the City of London police and the Metropolitan police, but it would be helpful if he clarified that the situation is the same for forces outside London.
Nick Herbert: As the hon. Gentleman knows, because he was Police Minister, the grant is paid to authorities and it will now be paid to PCCs, so there is no change there. It was never our intention to interfere with the governance of the City of London police, and I do not believe that there is a desire to do so in any part of the House, which was why I wanted to correct this drafting error.
Nick Herbert: The amendments are closely related to the group of Government amendments to clause 24. I explained that the Bill does not change the role of the common council of the City of London, which currently acts as the police authority for the City of London police, and that we need to retain the existing powers for grants to be paid to the common council in respect of that role.
Clause 25 amends a range of provisions dealing with sources of funding that are currently available to police authorities, with the effect that they will in future be available to police and crime commissioners and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime. The clause as drafted has the unintended effect of removing the common council from the reach of the two relevant provisions—sections 47 and 48 of the Police Act 1996—that allow Ministers to pay grants for capital expenditure and national security purposes. Without the amendments, the common council would not be able to receive those grants in the future, but the amendments cure that error.
The amendments also make it clear that the grants will be paid to the Greater London authority on behalf of the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, as under the current arrangement for the Metropolitan Police Authority. I hope that the amendments will be accepted.
Amendment 497 goes to the heart of some of the debate. The Minister will continue to chide me for suggesting different models and different ways of doing things. Earlier, we suggested that, if we were to have direct elections in the whole country, making the directly elected person the chair of the police and crime panel would be one way of resolving some of the tensions. Another way, of course, would be to increase the power of the police and crime panel vis-à-vis the directly elected individual.
The amendment to schedule 5 suggests another way in which the police and crime panel, made up of all those representatives from local authorities, can have more say over the precepts—or have the say. That is important, because the panel can then have a say over budget requirements. We can therefore ensure that the directly elected police and crime commissioner and the panel work more closely and effectively together. That would be an important step forward.
We tabled our own amendment about the veto power available to the panel on the issuing of the precept. Our amendment 495 changed the majority from three quarters to two thirds, but it was not selected, because the hon. Members for Cambridge and for Edinburgh West had tabled amendments to do the same thing. Essentially, we have a recurring theme—not just from me, but from our Liberal Democrat colleagues—throughout the Bill. The hon. Member for Edinburgh West, with the support of his colleague from Cambridge, has tabled amendments addressing the lack of power or involvement of the police and crime panel. The panel can veto a precept, but it must do so with a three-quarters majority—before the Minister points out the drafting error in our amendment, I shall point it out to him.
The point is that the three quarters is almost saying to the police and crime panel, “We’ll give you a veto, but we really hope you don’t use it.” Two thirds is used elsewhere as a legitimate estimate of the feeling among the members. On the Greater London authority and other bodies, the two-thirds majority is generally used as a barometer of the opinion of a panel or authority.
The Minister might want to answer my next question in the stand part debate, in which I want to make another couple of points. Does he envisage a quorum for police and crime panels? Does the three-quarters majority mean three quarters of the total membership of the police and crime panel, or three quarters of the people who come to the meeting?
If the panel is to mean anything, if it is to be anything other than a talking shop, if it is to scrutinise properly and hold the commissioner to account, it must have power. It has only two major powers: one is vetoing the appointment of the chief constable; the other is vetoing the precept. If we establish a barrier that is so high that under any normal circumstances the panel will find extremely difficult to get over it, we have to question whether the Government are serious about providing it with such powers.
Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): The hon. Gentleman makes a powerful case. I want him to think about the numbers, because the panels will generally be made up of 12 members. To have a bare majority would effectively require six with a casting vote, and seven in a simple situation. Two thirds would require only one
Vernon Coaker: The hon. Gentleman makes a reasonable point. The judgment about what is fair and reasonable in the operation of the proposed model is made when the legislation is introduced. I think that three quarters is too high a threshold, and that one or two is significant. Obviously, if the number were one, the committee would be small, so that would be a significant proportion of that committee. I hope that the Minister will tell us whether the measure relates to a quorum or whether to an ordinary meeting of the panel and whoever turns up, in which case two thirds could be two out of three.
The amendment is supported by the Local Government Association. I am not sure of the Minister’s views on the LGA; I know his views on police authorities. The LGA has said clearly that it would support the amendment. I want to return to that issue and deal with it at greater length when I respond to the debate.
Will the Minister explain one further point? What happened to the proposal to hold a referendum on the precept? I am pleased that it has disappeared, but there was a suggestion in the early stages that there would be a referendum, although it was not clear whether it would be proposed by the PCC or by the police and crime panel. People have asked me, “What happened to the referendum?” I have had to answer, “I don’t know, but I will ask the Minister to enlighten us.”
Nigel Mills: I want to ask the hon. Gentleman about amendment 497. As I read it, in a committee with a membership of 12, three or four members, depending on how many were present, could block the issuing of a precept proposal. Is that what the hon. Gentleman intends? In general, we have said that a 75% majority would be needed for the panel to block something, but in the amendment, 75% would be needed to issue a precept, which strikes me as creating potential for deadlock every year.
Vernon Coaker: The amendment does not try to create deadlock; it tries to say that either the PCP has a realistic power that it can use, or the legislation constrains that power to such an extent that it does not have it, because in practice it would not work out. The veto on the precept is one of only two real powers held by the police and crime panel. It can consult, review, publish its thoughts, tell everyone what it thinks and let everyone know if it does not agree with the police and crime commissioner, but that is all rhetorical rubbish. At the end of the day, if the panel is to mean anything, it has to have some power to hold the commissioner to account. That will be the thrust of the whole debate when we come to clause 28, which is about police and crime panels and their role vis-à-vis the commissioner.
The matter now is about the issuing of a precept. What power do we want the police and crime panels to have? Panels should, under amendment 497, be the bodies that issue the precepts. If that is not acceptable,
Mike Crockart: I am afraid that I am going to disappoint the hon. Gentleman immediately by saying that my amendment is a probing amendment, aiming to gain further information from the Minister about the factors that were taken into account when choosing the three-quarters hurdle for allowing the police and crime panel to veto the commissioner’s proposed precept.
I spent some time, but not a great deal, looking for other examples where a 75% majority is required. I did not find any, but I found an example of a similar sort of power in the case of the London assembly, which can veto the Mayor of London’s budget with a two-thirds majority. I am happy to be corrected if I have missed something, but I am not aware that the London assembly has, at any time, chosen to pick a fight with the Mayor because of the lower threshold.
We will return the composition of the PCPs in later amendments, but at present, as my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley has said, we have 12 members. My amendment would move us from a position of needing nine members to vote to veto a precept to one in which we would need eight. I do not think that that is necessarily a huge change, but it would slightly alter the balance of power between the panel and the commissioner, and would bring the powers more into line with what is used successfully in London. It would allow panels to scrutinise the work of the commissioners more robustly. As I said, I seek clarification from the Minister about the factors that led to the decision to choose a three-quarters majority for the veto rather than any other figure.
Nick Herbert: There are two sets of amendments to schedule 5, but they all seek to amend the provision that a police and crime panel may, with a three-quarters majority, veto the police and crime commissioner’s proposed precept. I shall deal first with the amendment tabled by my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh West. It seeks to alter the necessary majority for a vote—something which the hon. Member for Gedling also addressed. We all agree that there should be checks and balances on the level of precept. It is desirable that it should not be set too low, thereby risking public safety, nor should it be unnecessarily high and needlessly take money from the public. The primary check is the fact that the police and crime commissioner will be directly elected. He or she will be directly accountable to the public for ensuring that an adequate policing service is provided, with the best possible value for money.
It will be for the commissioner to set out his views on the precept when standing for election—that was certainly the case in the London mayoral election in relation to policing—and to answer to the public should a different
Vernon Coaker: Will the Minister clarify what he has said? I do not properly understand it—it is not his fault, but mine. If the police and crime commissioner sets a rate and the police and crime panel turns it down, in what circumstances would a referendum be held? Why would the commissioner hold a referendum if it was his own precept? Would he go for a referendum in order to say to the electorate, “I wish to increase the precept by 25% more than the Government say I should, and if you say I can, that’s fine”? Is that what the Minister is saying?
Nick Herbert: Schedule 5 to the Localism Bill enables the public, through a referendum, to veto an excessive precept rise. That will apply to all precepting authorities, including police and crime commissioners once they are in place. “Excessive” will be defined by the Secretary of State, subject to the approval of the House of Commons.
The Localism Bill will require the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government, whether or not he chooses to determine excessive rises for a given year, to lay a report before Parliament on or before the date on which the local government finance report for the year is approved by resolution of the House. Typically, that happens early in February. Under the Localism Bill, it is envisaged that if an authority set its council tax at an excessive level, it must make substitute calculations to derive a budget that would require an increase in council tax that was not excessive. That provision would take effect if the excessive increase in council tax were rejected by voters in a referendum.
The process for police and crime commissioners must be consistent with that broad framework once the precept is set. However, schedule 5 to our Bill sets out how the precept is to be set in the first place. It enables the Secretary of State to set out by regulation what is to happen should a panel veto the commissioner’s proposed precept. I can set out that procedure at a later stage should the Committee wish. We have two checks. One is provided by the police and crime panel, which can veto a precept. The other is provided through a referendum, should the rise be excessive according to the requirements set by the Secretary of State.
Vernon Coaker: I understand what the Minister is saying. Perhaps he will tell us who pays for the referendum, and how it is triggered. Notwithstanding the minimum budget requirement, if I lived in Nottinghamshire and wanted to pay more in my rates for policing so that we could have more police on the street, could I trigger a referendum on that on the basis of localism?
Nick Herbert: The referendum provision, as the hon. Gentleman knows, replaces the principle of capping, which was applied by the previous Government in relation to precept rises judged by central Government to be excessive, for the protection of local taxpayers. The principle, which stands in the Localism Bill, is that we substitute the current centralist and bureaucratic lock with a democratic one. Although the Secretary of State has to say what constitutes an excessive rise, the decision to accept it rests with local people, whereas capping is instituted wholly by the centre and local people have no say.
Mark Tami: In north Wales, the chief constable of the police authority ran a campaign to increase part of the council tax, looking at what every penny equates to—[ Interruption. ] 10p bobbies, as one of my hon. Friends says. Would that sort of campaign be possible, or even allowed?
Nick Herbert: It would be allowable if that is what local people decided in a referendum. If the rise exceeded the level set by the Secretary of State, the referendum would be triggered and the decision would then rest with local people. That is the fundamental difference between the new position and the current one, in which local people are shut out of the decision and the Secretary of State unilaterally decides whether a rise is excessive. Under the provisions, the decision would be with the people. By giving the decision over to a referendum, local people would have a say, which would make it clear whether they supported the increase in the precept, and whether they wished to pay for it.
Nick Herbert: I am not sure what the hon. Gentleman means. With a referendum, someone would have to make the case for why they thought it was a good thing. In this case, that might be the directly elected police and crime commissioner, who wished to set that higher level of precept on the basis of a consultation that they had conducted with local people, and who would argue that they should vote for the rise. In spite of the commissioner’s mandate, they will not be able simply to set an excessive precept without some kind of check, and two checks are provided, one by the police and crime panel, which can veto a rise, and the other by the democratic lock of the referendum. We can discuss the detail of the matter, but it is important to understand that there are significant checks on directly elected commissioners in respect of potentially excessive precept rises.
Chris Ruane: The average cost to a police authority of a referendum would be £750,000. Imagine that all 43 police authorities chose a referendum. Would that be a wise use of scarce resources and funding?
Nick Herbert: I doubt that we would be in a situation where all 43 authorities were holding referendums, but that goes to the wider question of whether we think it is right to give the people a say. I think that we all agree that if we give the people a say in a new form of election, there will be a cost in holding that election; we
Nick Herbert: I do not remember, but that is a really good point; I should have listened the first time. I am sure that the more industrious of my hon. Friends will tot up the number of referendums that were promised by the Labour party in its general election manifestos. I think it is about five, but I am ready to stand corrected if somebody can arrive at the right number.
The Labour party did not say how those referendums would be funded. It is a bad argument to suggest that we should not give people a say because of the cost. It is not an argument that we can safely make when we are advancing a democratic reform, which the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak did with such conviction last week.
Steve McCabe: The Minister is far too kind. Is there not a distinction between referendums on major constitutional issues of the kind that his hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase might be thinking about and a referendum in which, according to the evidence that Hampshire provided, there is a 1% predicted rise in precept that would bring in £1 million, but may cost £750,000? To encourage that type of referendum up and down the country would surely be tantamount to wasting public money.
Nick Herbert: The knowledge that a referendum would have to be held is something that a police and crime commissioner would have to take carefully into account before setting a precept that he was aware was likely to be judged excessive by the Government. But we should not forget that if it went to a referendum, the police and crime commissioner would already have the challenge from a police and crime panel; that is what the panel is there to do. We should reflect on the fact that capping is very unpopular with police authorities.
I receive many representations about capping. It is worth repeating that the problem with the current arrangements is that people claim to have the support of the public in setting a high precept rise. At the moment, the police authority is not directly elected and has no mandate. There is no way of ensuring that the local public support any kind of rise, and some of the rises in precept over the years have been considerable.
We stand by the position that the democratic lock is the right one, but it is in addition to the panel’s ability to veto precepts, which we are discussing now. A key question raised by the amendment is whether the threshold
The difference in percentage may sound significant, but it is not so significant when it comes to the numbers of votes. There is a rationale for setting a higher threshold of three quarters for police and crime panels compared with the GLA, for instance, which has a threshold of two thirds. The rationale is that the GLA is a directly elected body and therefore its ability to veto, which, as my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh West pointed out, has not been exercised, is drawn on a democratic mandate. There is therefore legitimacy in its challenging the precept decision of the Mayor.
On the police and crime panel, its members are nominated from local authorities. They may be elected councillors but they are nominees to that panel. They do not have a direct mandate themselves. That is not the function of the panel. We have to take care about not handing the members of the panel a significant power to cut across the local mandate of the police and crime commissioner, who would have a clear mandate in respect of what he or she intended to do about the precept, and to strike that mandate down when they have no mandate themselves. The ability to levy what is effectively a local tax to pay for policing is, of course, a significant one.
Chris Ruane: I thank the Minister for giving way once again. If the police commissioner was elected during a “high” for a political party—let us say it was the Conservatives just after the last election—and he had a good mandate, and the police and crime panel was elected at a later date when the national Government were unpopular and that panel was of a different political persuasion, would that not be a recipe for petty political infighting, which would not serve the people in a police authority area?
Nick Herbert: I want to correct the hon. Gentleman in one respect. The police and crime panel is not elected. There are nominees who will be drawn from local authorities, which will have their elections at different times. I take the hon. Gentleman’s point, however. One of the things that I think there is a collective desire to ensure is that party politics does not feature in a police and crime panel, in the same way that it is largely excluded from police authorities. It is right to give local authorities a stake in the governance and scrutiny of police and crime commissioners. We cannot legislate for that, but that should be our ambition.
The reason why the three-quarters threshold has been chosen is that, in my view, there should be a higher threshold given that the police and crime panel is only nominated and given that its members are exercising a very significant power. That power is to reject the local tax—the precept—that the police and crime commissioner has established in relation to policing. That explains the difference in the threshold and that is why I think that it is right to have a higher threshold.
Chris Ruane: I thank the Minister for giving way yet again. He says that police authorities, in the main, do not operate on party political grounds and that is entirely correct. However, if we are going to a new system under which the commissioner will be elected on a party political ticket with a party political mandate, he will go to that policing panel on a daily basis, saying, “This is the way we’re going to do it”. That is a recipe for the party politicisation of policing. It is a recipe for disaster.
Nick Herbert: I say that because the hon. Gentleman’s argument might very well be a reason why a higher threshold is necessary, so as to prevent a group of people from behaving in the way that he has described—playing party politics by seeking to reject a precept increase that was established by an elected police and crime commissioner.
There would be a problem—would there not?—if the members of a police and crime panel, who had not been directly elected themselves, decided for party political reasons to strike down a precept that was established by somebody who had a mandate. Again, that is a reason why the bar should be set at a very high level. It seems to me that the position in London is rather different, because of course the Mayor of London and the GLA are elected at the same time and, as I have pointed out, the members of the GLA are directly elected.
So I appreciate the spirit in which these amendments have been tabled by hon. Members and the rationale for their asking whether there should not be a two-thirds threshold. The hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd made the same points. I hope that they will all have had an insight into the Government’s thinking in establishing the threshold at three quarters and that they will also reflect on the point made by my hon. Friend the Member for Amber Valley, who questioned how much difference having a higher threshold would actually make.
Nick Herbert: Yes, I apologise to the hon. Gentleman for not clarifying that before. It is three quarters of the membership of the panel, although it is open to the panel to set rules on the quorum if it wishes to do so. That is my understanding of the position.
Vernon Coaker: So the Bill will say that it is three quarters of the membership, but it will also say that if the PCP wants to, it can make regulations or rules to say that the quorum will be six and so veto the precept.
Nick Herbert: I will give the hon. Gentleman some clarification. The panel can set rules on having a quorum for other matters, but on this issue—the power of veto on the precept, which is so fundamental—it is three
Vernon Coaker: I am sorry to be pedantic, but irrespective of how many people turn up, if a panel has 12 members, nine have to attend and vote for the precept to be vetoed, because nine is three quarters of 12.
Nick Herbert: We got there. I hope that that addresses amendment 40 and I hope that Opposition Members will reflect on my point, as I will certainly reflect on theirs. There is a distinction between what the PCPs are doing. It is worth noting that this power of veto being given to the PCP was not in the original proposals. We added it on the basis of the consultation exercise that we conducted and the views that were expressed about wanting to augment the powers of PCPs.
The Government have already moved in that respect. That is a fundamental difference between what we propose in this Bill and what was originally proposed. We must, however, be careful before moving further, because of the issue about the mandate of the PCC. I hope that the Opposition will withdraw the amendment and think about their position. I will, of course, reflect on their comments, too.
I think that amendments 497 to 502 were linked to the larger group of amendments, which we have already discussed and which attempted to pave the way for maintaining a police authority within each force area and establishing a directly elected chair for each office of PCC. It is a pleasure to hear the proposal of the hon. Member for Gedling for directly elected chairs of police authorities, but I have already set out why that is a seriously bad idea.
Vernon Coaker: It will not be the last time we hear it. It does not embarrass me and I do not feel upset or at all sad about it. I cannot remember the procedure, but I want to make sure that we can vote on amendment 40 if the hon. Member for Edinburgh West withdraws it. What the Minister has said about this amendment is really disappointing and I do not think that the hon. Member for Edinburgh West is convinced by what the Minister has said. A recurring theme all the way through the Liberal Democrat amendments has been that the PCPs do not have sufficient power. Amendment after amendment, including amendment 40, is about trying to increase and strengthen the role of the PCP. What it means, to be frank, is that the PCP will be a toothless watchdog, because it will not have any power over the PCC. That will be a shame.
Nick Herbert: Can the hon. Gentleman really stand up the argument that having a threshold of three quarters, so that nine votes will be required to veto the precept, means that the PCP will be toothless—I completely reject that accusation—while eight votes would mean that it was not? Is that his serious contention?
Vernon Coaker: Yes, it is, if the amendment is taken in conjunction with amendment 40, which is why I mentioned it. Other amendments to strengthen the powers of the police and crime panel have been tabled by the Minister’s hon. Friends the Members for Edinburgh West and for
Although the Minister might say that there will only be one or two votes in it, the threshold that has been set will effectively mean that it will extremely difficult—given that the three-quarters rule applies to the total membership irrespective of how many members attend a meeting—for a PCP to veto the precept put forward by the PCC. I know that the Minister does not like this—it is a point of difference between us—but I say again that he wants PCCs to be omnipotent on the basis of their democratic mandate but, notwithstanding that argument, I think that PCPs should have effective powers to hold PCCs to account. The amendment would be one way of achieving that, but the Minister refuses to move. In my view, that will make the PCP a toothless watchdog, and I think his hon. Friends the Members for Edinburgh West and for Cambridge agree with me. I will withdraw the amendment, if by doing so I do not scupper amendment 40. Mr Chope, will you advise me on that matter?
The Chair: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for asking for my advice, which is that if he withdraws amendment 497, it will be open, because we are also considering amendment 40, to the hon. Member for Edinburgh West or any other member of the Committee to move amendment 40 formally, and we can have a Division on it.
Vernon Coaker: I think that the Minister has helped in that what he said in his explanation about referendums and in the debate on earlier amendments will answer the point that I am going to make. I would like, however, to have clarification and to make sure that I am right. I refer to schedule 5(6), “Next steps if veto”. Paragraph (2) says:
I was also struck by what the Minister said: it is a serious point if the panel vetoes the precept set by a directly elected commissioner. Is it therefore also the case that under the discretion laid out in regulations, the Secretary of State, the Home Secretary or whoever can veto the decision of the police and crime panel? In other words, can the Home Secretary turn around and say, “The police and crime panel has vetoed the precept. It was completely wrong of it to do that, and I am going to exercise my discretion to say that the precept the police and crime commissioner proposed was perfectly fine, and you’ve got to accept it”?
The Secretary of State will be able to set out by regulation what will happen should a panel veto the police and crime commissioner’s proposed precept. The PCC will be required by regulation to propose a precept by 21 December in the year when that precept is raised. As required by the schedule, the PCC must make that proposal to the police and crime panel. The panel will be required by 15 January the following year to review the proposal and make recommendations, which may include vetoing the proposal. Should the panel decide not to veto the commissioner’s proposal, the commissioner may set either the proposed precept or an amended precept in line with any recommendations made by the panel. Should the panel veto the proposal, regulations will require the PCC to consider its recommendations by the end of January and make an amended proposal to the panel, which must take those recommendations into account.
The panel may then make recommendations within 14 days that can include rejecting the proposed precept. If it does not reject the precept, the regulations will allow the PCC to set either the proposed precept or an amended precept in line with the panel’s recommendation. Should the panel again reject the proposal, the PCC may still set the precept. However, in those circumstances, regulations will require the panel to propose an alternative precept, setting out its reasons.
Regulations will require that the precept, when set by the police and crime commissioner after this process, must take into account the views of the panel. If the commissioner does not set the precept proposed by
No matter what happens, the police and crime commissioner must set a precept by 1 March. If that precept is excessive, the commissioner must calculate a substitute or default precept that is not excessive. Regulations will require that the PCC require that in consultation with the police and crime panel.
Where the precept is excessive, the local councils in that force area must arrange for a referendum to be held by 1 May that year, unless another date has been defined under the powers in the Localism Bill, which is also before the House. Should the referendum be successful, the precept set by the commissioner will be raised. If the referendum rejects the proposal¸ the substitute calculation will be raised instead.
The measures will fix the timings for setting a precept. An incoming police and crime commissioner elected in May will not be able to raise a new precept until the following April. That is right, as to send out a new bill mid-year would waste millions of pounds of taxpayers’ money.
The processes enable police and crime commissioners to make the key decision setting the precept on the basis of their public mandate. However, it sets out some clear and important checks and balances in the form of panels’ vetoes and also a public referendum. It is important that we set out the procedures that have to be followed when there is a fundamental disagreement between the panel and the police and crime commissioner. We cannot just provide for the permanent exercise of a veto because that would result in a position when a precept might not be set. We have to set out a procedure, and I believe that the procedure under which the police and crime commissioner has to have regard to what the panel is saying is the right one.
Nick Herbert: The hon. Gentleman will recall that I said that that is the level set by the Secretary of State in relation to rises for all precepting authorities. The Secretary of State will set the level that he regards to be excessive, in the way a capping level is set at the moment. It is not a subjective test. It is set precisely by the Secretary of State each year and he judges what an excessive rise that year would be. I hope that I have answered the hon. Gentleman.
It is worth repeating that the principle behind our approach is that the police and crime commissioner has a directly elected mandate from the people, and we must set out how to deal with a deadlock quickly and with the public interest at heart. We have to set out a procedure to deal with the situation in which the police and crime panel and the police and crime commissioner could otherwise not agree. That is a function of seeking to give force to the checks and balances and to ensure that the police and crime panel is not the toothless watchdog that the hon. Member for Gedling wrongly suggests it will be.
Vernon Coaker: I am sure that the Minister is glad that he could read out that explanation. I understand the point that, in the end if there is a veto, we must have a mechanism by which we arrive at a position where a
The right hon. Gentleman does not like my description of the police and crime panels as a toothless watchdog, but will he ask his officials to reflect on the process that has been put in place to ensure that a budget can be set? It is a perfectly reasonable function. Of course, a budget has to be set. However, will the Minister check that the process does not ride roughshod over the PCP’s views? Will he try to ensure good governance? The police and crime panel may have a very real desire to stand up to the police and crime commissioner, notwithstanding the mandate. It may believe that he is wrong. Having heard what the Minister has just said, I am not sure that the process will ride roughshod over the PCP, but it is important that he checks matters to make sure that the clause does not have the consequence of delivering the police and crime commissioner the precept that he wanted, even though the police and crime panel vetoed it.
Nick Herbert: I understand exactly the point that the hon. Gentleman is making. This is the first opportunity that he has had to hear the procedure for deadlock. It is inevitably not straightforward to understand first time round, so we must set it out in some detail. It is important that if we arrive at a deadlock, we do not put in place something that could actually effectively wholly override the veto. I understand what he is saying. He has the opportunity to reflect on my explanation of the procedure, and to come back to it if he has further concerns, but I hope that he will agree that such an approach is sensible.
I will be brief. The change is simple, but the amendment is probing—I want to make that clear, up front. It is intended to show a possible inconsistency in what is required of PCPs and PCCs in the process of considering a draft police and crime plan.
At present, clause 5(6)(f) requires a police and crime commissioner to publish a response given to a police and crime panel—that is, a response to any report or recommendations made by the panel. However, the Bill
Nick Herbert: I welcome my hon. Friend’s probing amendments in the spirit in which he moves them. In that, we consistently demonstrate the durability of the coalition, to the infuriation of the Opposition.
I can fully reassure my hon. Friend. I recognise the importance of ensuring that commissioners are properly held to account in the exercise of their duties, and publishing reports and recommendations made by the panel on how the commissioner carries out the duties will help the public to understand what is happening in their area. It is important for transparency.
Vernon Coaker: We have some more amendments. Depending on what we hear, I may want to move one or two of them as well. We will see what happens. That is one problem with tabling amendments that appear on the amendment paper; it is always possible to withdraw them. I thought that some of the Liberal Democrat amendments had merit. No doubt the Minister will agree and include them on Report, but we will see.
I would like a fairly lengthy clause stand part debate, hence my withdrawal of my earlier amendments. Much of what I would have said while discussing them can be
Amendment 288, along with my other amendments, contends that if that is the model we want, we can deal with some of its problems, consequences and issues by extending the power of the police and crime panel. It is there for all hon. Members to review. The amendment would allow the police and crime panel to do some of the things that the hon. Member for Edinburgh West has been keen for it to do.
Alongside amendment 288, which I will discuss in more detail during the clause stand part debate, amendment 309 would require the chief constable, not just the commissioner, to attend the police and crime panel. The Liberal amendments seek to extend that requirement not just to the chief constable but to other officers of the force. I know why; the hon. Members for Edinburgh West and for Cambridge have the same issues as I do. They are worried that the police and crime panel will not be able to require local police officers responsible for neighbourhood policing, where the accountability gap occurs, to attend the panel. Their localism, neighbourhood and pavement politics agenda requires them to want local police officers, inspectors and so on, as well as other ACPO officers where appropriate, to attend police and crime panels.
I am interested to know what that would mean. I will be corrected if I am wrong, but would it mean that an ACPO officer responsible for trafficking or knife crime could be asked to the police and crime panel? I am not sure. Perhaps the hon. Member for Edinburgh West can clarify it when he moves his amendments, if he intends to move them.
In some amendments the Liberal Democrats agree with me in requiring the chief constable to attend the police and crime panels. Yet again, there is an outbreak of agreement between us and the Liberal Democrats on principle and on our view, if not on the vote, but we shall see.
If the PCC decided to employ a part-time cleaner on £5,000 a year, do you really suggest that the panel must review, investigate, and prepare reports and recommendations about that, or is the drafting slightly over the top?
If the Bill goes through in its current form, Derbyshire will set up a police and crime panel with a PCC, and the Amber Valley councillor might be on the police and crime panel. He might come to the hon. Gentleman and say, “Our panel has got no power; it is a toothless watchdog. What are you going to do about it?” He will have to reply, “Not only is it a toothless watchdog—I voted for it.”
Steve McCabe: If the PCC in my area employed a cleaner at £100 or more a week, I would want to know what he or she was cleaning. I would want to know who had authorised that employment and how exactly it had come about, because I cannot imagine, in this day and age, that that would be a wonderful use of time, unless the PCC had a very fancy suite of offices.
Vernon Coaker: We will see whether the councillor in Amber Valley who is responsible agrees with that comment. I look forward to the debate that the hon. Gentleman will no doubt have with the appropriate councillor on the police and crime panel. With those few brief remarks, I shall listen to what other hon. Members have to say, including the Minister, and respond accordingly.
Mike Crockart: As I was saying, the amendments are fabulous and they are proposed in a probing manner. The hon. Member for Gedling has pointed out that he does not have access to Government lawyers to ensure that his amendments are drafted in a particular way. That situation also applies to us. With these amendments—as with many others—we are trying not to come up with a prescriptive list of who should be able to be called to police and crime panels. They are meant to aid debate about who the police and crime panel needs to be able to call to ensure proper transparency and scrutiny of the relevant police and crime commissioner, which seems a reasonable thing to do in Committee. At present, the police and crime panel has powers to call only the police and crime commissioner and his staff. In the main, the amendments seek to extend the list of powers, but it would by no means make it extensive or prescriptive. It is open to debate whether the police
The intention is not that the panel would cross-examine the operational work of the chief constable, or scrutinise their decisions; that is obviously the role of the police and crime commissioner, and we do not seek to double the administrative burden or somehow create a second police and crime commissioner within the police and crime panel. Rather, the desire is that the panel would be able to discuss with the chief constable the actions and decisions taken by the commissioner, to gather the chief constable’s perspective and better understand any operational implications. Actions taken by the commissioner will inevitably impact on the chief constable’s work, so acquiring an understanding of the chief constable’s experiences will be crucial to the panel’s work, as will understanding the effectiveness of the commissioner’s decisions in achieving the desired results.
Although some chief constables might be willing to attend panel sessions voluntarily, it might be necessary for the panel to have the ability to enforce attendance by chief constables, so that it can fulfil its role. If that provision were not in the Bill, the panel could find itself scrutinising the commissioner’s work without access to critical information. Similarly, a situation could arise in which some panels were given access to the input of their chief constable and others were not.
Amendment 26 recognises that some of the detail that the police and crime panel might wish to look at may fall below the level of a chief constable’s knowledge. We must remember that chief superintendents are often the main divisional commanders, and their division might map more closely to a constituent’s local authority area. Indeed, proposals are currently being debated in Scotland that would see a single Scottish force with 32 operational divisions mapping exactly on to local authorities. In such a situation, it might be more important to question a chief superintendent who dealt with a specific part of a police and crime commissioner’s area, which, as we might find a similar situation in some of the larger English police services, could be a reasonable and useful extension of the police and crime panel’s scrutiny powers.
Amendment 28 mirrors the power that I have just described for the Metropolitan Police Service. It would enable the police and crime panel to carry out its work more effectively by giving it greater access to officers in that service.
Amendment 49 deals with ACPO. In the Bill, the London assembly’s police and crime panel has the power to summon only the police and crime commissioner and not senior police officers. The amendment would enable the panel to require the attendance of police officers of ACPO rank to more effectively carry out its work. At the moment, ACPO is completely unaccountable, and although we welcome the extension of the Freedom of Information Act to the organisation, the amendment would allow officers in ACPO to be called before the panel to answer questions relating to their work in
Steve McCabe: Without trying to score any cheap political points, the thrust of the hon. Gentleman’s amendments appears to be that the police and crime panels have been too tightly drawn and that, as a consequence, they might not achieve all that is desired or intended of them. Am I right to make that assumption? And is he asking the Minister to provide a bit of latitude, so that the panels can serve the function that he thinks they are designed for?
Mike Crockart: At present, there might not be the full information available to a police and crime panel to carry out its role of effectively scrutinising the police and crime commissioner. Debating these amendments raises the question of what other information they might need to fulfil that role. As I have said, I have not produced a prescriptive list, but the amendments flag up an area that we think merits another look to see whether more information can be made available to the police and crime panel.
Nick Herbert: I will start with amendment 288, which was tabled by Opposition Members. As the hon. Member for Gedling has suggested, amendment 288 intends to increase the powers of the police and crime panels. However, I encourage hon. Members to look at the wording of the amendment:
I will deal with amendments 24 to 26, 28, 48 to 49, 291 and 309, which my hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh West has discussed, as a group. We must establish the right functions between the role of the police and crime panel and the role of the police and crime commissioner. It is for the police and crime commissioner to hold the chief constable and the force to account. In looking at the powers of the police and crime panel, the Government have taken care to ensure that chief constables do not find themselves looking two ways, both to the police and crime commissioner and to the panel. They cannot be answerable to two bodies. That is why it would not be right to empower the police and crime panel to hold the chief constable or the
When we were developing our policy and shaping our proposal for police and crime panels, the chief officers to whom we spoke expressed concern that, were the powers and functions of police and crime panels to become too wide, they would effectively end up answering in two directions, which would be problematic. We wish to preserve the integrity of those relationships. I understand the force of what my hon. Friends are saying, but I am loth to allow a direct link between the panels and the chief officers, because it could create confusion.
Dr Huppert: I am glad that my hon. Friend has highlighted the fact that it would be wise for a chief constable to appear before a panel. I hope that he agrees that an assistant chief constables or similar ranks might also be wise to do so and certainly should not be excluded from it. Will he tell us about ACPO’s accountability?
Dr Huppert: The idea is for officers to be accountable to someone in the exercise of their roles within ACPO. My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh West suggested one mechanism—that they should be accountable to their home authority or home force—but that may not be the best route. Will the Minister consider some way of making ACPO officers accountable?
Nick Herbert: My hon. Friend knows that it is my strong view that we need to ensure greater accountability in relation to ACPO. The current proposal is that it will develop into a new professional body. We are considering the recommendations made on that aspect by Peter Neyroud, former chief executive of the National Policing Improvement Agency and former chief constable of Thames Valley police. It is important that such a body, a professional institute for policing, should be accountable. In my view, it should encompass national accountability but be locally accountable to reflect the role of police and crime commissioners, which would give some accountability for what ACPO leads were doing or saying.
I understand my hon. Friend’s concern that policy can effectively be set by an ACPO lead. The question of accountability then arises. If it is about operational matters, it should be for chief constables to decide, but other areas may need an element of political oversight, which depends on the nature of what is being determined. The Government’s position is clear. It is part of our reform proposals that there should be greater accountability for ACPO.
Turning to amendment 23, I appreciate my hon. Friend’s desire to ensure that police and crime panels are required to submit decisions of police and crime
On the basis that I have addressed the issue related to amendment 23 and the other amendments tabled by my hon. Friends, that they understand my concerns about achieving the right formal responsibilities of the police and crime commissioner and the police and crime panel and that Opposition amendment 288 is crackers, I ask hon. Members not to press their amendments.
Irrespective of the fact that the Minister and his colleague have said that amendment 288 has not been drafted as well as it might have been, the reality is that the police and crime panels are toothless. That will be a recurring theme in the clause stand part debate, when we get to it, and something that I will repeat. The hon. Member for Edinburgh West, notwithstanding the reassurances that were provided following his remarks, has concerns as well, otherwise he would not have tabled amendment after amendment to strengthen the powers of the police and crime panels.
There is an issue about the relationship between the police and crime commissioner and the police and crime panel. My amendment 288 seeks to address that, as do the other amendments that I have tabled. The Committee will clearly not accept those amendments, but they are none the less important.
I will withdraw amendment 288. Will you provide me with some guidance, Mr Chope? I am willing to withdraw amendment 309 in preference to amendment 25, which is exactly the same but which I think has got it slightly better than my amendment. Can I press amendment 25 to a vote after withdrawing amendments 288 and 309?
The Chair: If the hon. Gentleman seeks leave to withdraw amendment 288, and the Committee agrees to that, it is open to him or any other member of the Committee to suggest to the Chair that another amendment be pressed to a Division. He does not need to withdraw amendment 309, because it has not been moved.
The Chair: If the hon. Gentleman wishes to press amendment 25 to a vote, it is open to him to do so, but we will not have a Division tonight, because it is an amendment to clause 29. I will record the hon. Gentleman’s wish to have a vote on that, but we will not vote in this instance.
Vernon Coaker: That is helpful, as it will give all of us time to reflect on amendment 25 and try to understand exactly why hon. Members might not wish to vote for their own amendment. I place on the record that I want to press amendment 25 to a vote while hon. Members consider its merits over the next two days.
|©Parliamentary copyright||Prepared 2nd February 2011|