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Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill
|©Parliamentary copyright||Prepared 4th 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
The clause is important, which is why I want to talk about it for a few minutes. I disagree with the Minister about police and crime commissioners, but I understand his arguments. People will have opinions and judgments about the matter. There is a flaw in the drafting. “Weakness” is a better word than flaw, and there are certainly weaknesses in the Bill with respect to the role of police and crime panels, and I am not sure that that aspect has been as carefully worked through as some of the others. There is clearly a tension between the desire to allow the police and crime commissioner to have huge discretion and freedom to operate without restriction and, at the same time, to be able to say, “That’s probably not quite right. We need some restraint on the police and crime commissioner and a review of his activity, so we need a police and crime panel.”
We shall debate the composition of the panels under schedule 6, as the way in which they have been established shows recognition of the force in the argument that one person representing huge geographical areas presents something of a problem, and the police and crime panels need to be able to deal with it. It is not clear to me what the Government want to achieve with police and crime panels. Is the panel to be a bit of a review and scrutiny body or will it be holding the police and crime commissioner to account? What will be its role?
I ask the Committee to reflect on the drafting of the clause. Apart from sitting down and discussing what has happened, what will the panel do? As the Minister knows, I am not the only one who asks such questions. His hon. Friends, the hon. Members for Cambridge and for Edinburgh West, have tabled amendment after amendment throughout the Bill seeking clarification
Subsection (2) enables a review of the draft police and crime plan by the police and crime panel, after which it can make a report or recommendations. It cannot do anything else. It can have a good discussion, tell the police and crime commissioner what it thinks and then the police and crime commissioner can totally ignore it. The Minister will say that that is fine because, if that takes place in 2012 when the first elections take place, there will be no need to worry because in 2016 it will be possible to vote the person out. I am not sure that scrutiny of the role of the police and crime commissioner will be as effective as people expect.
Let us imagine a scenario in 2012 in which a meeting of the police and crime panel is called under subsection (3), at which the new police and crime commissioner is present. That is not the best example to cite as the meeting will be set up to discuss the annual report and the panel would have to have been in office for a year. Under subsection (5),
When it has done that, it can make reports or recommendations; it cannot do anything. It cannot say that the police and crime commissioner has got something wrong. If that was in 2012—the Minister says, “Don’t worry, the public will decide; it is democratic accountability.”—the public would have to wait until 2016 to vote out the police and crime commissioner. In 2013, an annual report would be made available to the police and crime panel by the police and crime commissioner. The panel will have to arrange a meeting to discuss the annual report, and then—what a staggering power the Minister has included in the Bill—it can review it and make recommendations; it cannot do anything. It cannot say to the police and crime commissioner, “You have got it wrong. Change it.” Well, it can say that, but he or she can totally ignore it.
Under subsection (6), the panel can publish the report or the recommendations and send them to the local authority. There is no power—no teeth to the provision. There is no challenge to the police and crime commissioner.
Dr Julian Huppert (Cambridge) (LD): When the hon. Gentleman was a Minister, did he pay any attention to Select Committee reports? Select Committees have the power to publish reports, but they do not have the power to do very much.
Vernon Coaker: Select Committee reports can do all sorts of things. For example, they can hold Ministers to account for their decisions in the House of Commons, in the full glare of publicity. They can also cause votes to take place. [Interruption.] Will the hon. Gentleman bear with me? Of course Select Committees can cause votes to take place. They can propose a change to a particular piece of legislation or to the way in which something is conducted. Members are influenced by Select Committee reports. They read them very carefully and sometimes take up their policy challenges, argue for them in the House of Commons and sometimes even put forward legislative change themselves as Back Benchers. Because they are influenced by those reports, a legislative
Vernon Coaker: It may be scrutiny, but let me say what is really going on. The hon. Members for Cambridge and for Edinburgh West are tabling amendments There will be discussions about their amendments. Members will say, “Why are you putting down those amendments. Just make the points. Don’t formally put down an amendment.” The Whip will say to them “If you want the Minister to put something on the record, I will do so, but do not put down amendments.” That is what will have happened in the discussions that have taken place before the Bill even arrived. The hon. Member for Cambridge shrugs, but I will bet him—[Interruption.] I will leave it there.
Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend agree that the reason why the Liberal Democrat members of the Committee are tabling these amendments is to put clear or opaque yellow water between them and the Tories?
Police and crime panels have a veto over the appointment of the chief constable and over the precept with a three-quarters majority. Those seem to be the only two real powers that the police and crime panel has, other than the publication of reports and so on. Even so, the debate in which the hon. Member for Amber Valley made a couple of contributions was about whether the three-quarters majority itself meant that the power would be used only in exceptional circumstances.
Nigel Mills (Amber Valley) (Con): Is that not a bit of a shift for the Labour members of the Committee? We had a long debate over many years about abandoning the committee system in local government and replacing it with mayors, strong leaders and cabinets, which largely meant that back-bench councillors could do very little on a council. Is this a sign that Labour Members are shifting their policy back towards that more committee-based system rather than strong leadership?
Vernon Coaker: No, not necessarily. I am glad that the hon. Gentleman made that point, because I was just coming on to elected mayors. Clearly, the hon. Gentleman and I are concerned about the role of elected mayors on police and crime panels. I am pleased that he has raised the issue. He will have read schedule 6 carefully, and of course he will know that there are proposals for a further 10 elected mayors, subject to a referendum, in
If I am an elected mayor in one part of a police force area—let us say I am in Devon and Cornwall or Derbyshire and I am the elected mayor for Heanor or Ilkeston. I choose them at random. The mayor has to be the member for the participating authority, so he or she goes on to the police and crime panel for Derbyshire. Let us say that I am democratically elected in Ilkeston, Heanor or perhaps Amber Valley on the basis of promises made about policing in my manifesto, and I answer to the police and crime panel. In Derbyshire, there is one with a democratic mandate but no power. The police and crime commissioner also has a democratic mandate, according to the Minister. In such circumstances, whose democratic mandate has more legitimacy? Is it the person who is directly elected for a particular area or the person who is elected across the whole force area?
I am in favour of the localism agenda, but there is an issue about elected mayors. It is not necessarily the fact that they should not be on the police and crime panel, but there needs to be greater clarification about what actually happens. In West Yorkshire, there may be three or four elected mayors who are automatically part of the police and crime panel—elected on mandates in Leeds or Bradford to do certain things on policing. If the police and crime commissioner says, “I am not doing that”, but the elected mayor says, “But I have a democratic mandate from the people of Leeds or Bradford”, whose democratic mandate carries the greater legitimacy? The Minister might point out that such matters were covered in the Bill—there will be regulations or some such thing. I do not know. But it is difficult to understand how it will actually work.
The much maligned police authorities have also raised such concerns. The Minister thinks they are turkeys who would not vote for Christmas and are not necessarily the best voices to listen to. I will take a couple of examples of local people at random. I have chosen Surrey, so that I cannot be accused of bias, to make my point about police and crime panels.
“we believe the Panel should…have a remit beyond that of watchers watching the person watching the chief constable—to include an element of scrutiny of policing performance against local, regional and national plans and…be responsible for standards, complaints against the PCC and compliance with good governance principles.”
“welcome the provision for every local authority to be represented on a Panel. However, the Panel can only offer advice and scrutinise the Commissioner’s actions, rather than the performance and actions of the Chief Constable and Force and as such the strategic link between policing and local authorities is severely undermined.”
Chris Ruane: It is important for me and my hon. Friend the Member for Alyn and Deeside, as Welsh MPs, to make this point. As I have already informed the Committee, my crime and disorder reduction partnership is one of the most effective, being No. 3 of all 376 partnerships in the whole of the UK, because of the marriage between the local government and the police. If genuine concerns are expressed—not by politicians, but by the professionals—they deserve to be explored and treated with respect.
Vernon Coaker: That is an important point. The Minister will say, inadequately in my view, that the commissioner has a duty to co-operate. I agree with my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd that the crime and disorder reduction partnerships are exceedingly important. I understand that there is no requirement in the Bill for the representative from the local authority to be the person who is responsible for crime and disorder reduction within a local authority area, which, if that is the case, the Minister might reconsider. Everyone who works in this area is concerned about the undermining of those local partnerships, where there is real accountability on what people want.
Having made those brief remarks, I will listen to what other hon. Members and the Minister have to say. May I, however, ask for clarification from the Minister about subsection (10), which states that a “local authority” means
In Nottinghamshire—I use that example because I know it, but this may apply in other parts of the country—there are the district councils and the county council, but Nottingham city council is a unitary authority. It is not clear to me from the Bill, but I am sure that it is the case that subsection (10)(a) does not exclude unitary authorities such as Nottingham. It would be helpful if the Minister put that on the record and pointed out where it is laid out in the Bill.
Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): I am worried about the clause, because it reveals the flaws in the Government’s thinking. It seems to be an afterthought, which suggests that the Government lack confidence in
That is central to the issue. It is hard to see what function police and crime panels will fulfil and how well equipped they will be, and it is clear that doubt about commissioners’ effectiveness is responsible for the add-on.
I am struggling to come to terms with what the Government are trying to do, and cannot see how this works. The police and crime commissioner produces the annual report, which is his attempt to tell the public how well he has fulfilled his function of holding the police to account, and how well he has been doing the things that he got elected on, but he is not required to go to the public and explain his annual report. There is an intermediary now—the police and crime panel, which no one has elected.
The panel is required to step into the middle, hold a meeting and question the commissioner in public. If this is about public accountability and about people feeling that there is some democratic control over the police, why are the public not invited to directly question the commissioner? After all, he is the person who stood for election and made promises. What is under scrutiny is whether he has fulfilled those promises, so why is there not a direct relationship between his report and the public’s ability to question him? I do not think that the proposal is rational. This is the penalty for having an afterthought and trying to create functions subsequently for the panel.
The Government have been at pains to say that this is not an attempt to politicise the police and to rule out the concerns of others but, as schedule 6, paragraph 7 states, there is an expectation that the panels should reflect the political balance of the areas that they represent. There are not enough safeguards in that, however, to guarantee that the public get a fair deal. What happens if the same party controls both the commissioner and the panel? An overt element of political bias is being introduced directly into the monitoring and control of our police, and I do not see anywhere in the Bill any safeguard against the risks of politicisation in that scenario. People would want to know about the things that the police have been queried on in recent times, such as the use of undercover officers and officers who are not serving under the immediate commander for operations, and we would not want to think that an element of political bias could keep that information from them.
Equally, if the panel is really there to be the local face of public involvement I wonder why we have given it such limited powers. I think it was De Grazia Associates
In fact, having read the clause I am not at all clear whose responsibility it is to establish the police and crime panels. The clause makes it clear that they have to be established, but in the case of multiple authorities working together, who exactly is the person who must take responsibility for ensuring that a panel is set up? It is not clear in this legislation that anyone has that direct responsibility. It seems to me that in a situation where several authorities are arguing about the cost of establishing panels, the venues in which panels could meet and who would pay for the running costs of those meetings, it would be perfectly possible for there to be a long period of delay without anyone taking responsibility for establishing a panel.
Then there is the question of who is entitled to serve on the panels. As far as I can see, there are no restrictions on convicted criminals or former prisoners serving on them. So, in the interests of law and order—[ Interruption. ] It seems to me that in the interests of law and order what has happened is that we have a Government who are quite happy for convicted criminals to stand as police and crime commissioners and for prisoners to vote to elect those commissioners, and now there are no restrictions on criminals serving on the panels. No wonder clause 14 requires the police and crime commissioner to take a special view of the plight of victims. That is understandable, because this Bill sounds like a criminals’ charter rather than anything that is particularly motivated by the interests of ordinary people.
I am not sure what happens when the members of the police and crime panel do not feel that they are being given adequate information. That is an issue that we spent some time debating in our previous sitting. The hon. Member for Edinburgh West had tabled some amendments on it. He was concerned about the lack of information available to panels and the fact that that lack of information might make it quite difficult for the public to feel that they could play their proper part. It would help if the Minister informed us of the circumstances in which the commissioner or the Mayor’s office will have the discretion to withhold information from the police and crime panel. I am sure that there might be circumstances in which the commissioner or the Mayor’s office would regard certain information as sensitive. However, unless we know what the guidelines about the withholding of information will be, it seems to me that the commissioner or the Mayor’s office will be at liberty to supply only the information that suits them. That will make a mockery of the system.
It is not clear in clause 28 who is responsible for monitoring the running costs and the expenditure of the panels. It is also unclear what will happen if there is evidence that a panel is exceeding the costs of a previous police authority. The Government say that they do not want that to happen, but in this day and age most of us would accept that it requires more than just the Government not wanting it to happen to ensure that it does not
The provisions are intended to be an exercise in transparency and accountability, so I am not clear why it is okay for the panels to be appointed as they will be. The argument for doing away with police authorities is that they are not sufficiently democratically accountable—that people who serve on them are appointed as a result of an indirect election and are not, therefore, the right people to represent the public’s views.
In the clause, however, there is nothing about the democratic legitimacy of police and crime panels. In this day and age—particularly under a Government who are obsessed with the idea of holding elections and referendums at every opportunity—I should have thought it would not be beyond somebody’s wit to devise a system to ensure, at least, that such panels had the approval or endorsement of local people.
At present, I understand, the panels will mirror the current arrangements for police authorities. They will largely be made up of people who are elected to some kind of local council structure, who will then be indirectly selected or seconded to the panel. The proposal is supposed to be an exercise in democratic accountability, but one of its main elements mirrors the system that the Government are setting out to abolish, which does not seem to make a great deal of sense.
In addition, I am unclear about the roles of police and crime panels—perhaps there will be further explanatory notes. I was struck by the memorandum that the Committee received from Linda Belgrove of the Essex police authority, who expressed her concern about the lead roles that are currently played by people who serve on police authorities. She mentioned, for example, lead roles in relation to young people and children, and diversity and fairness. I am not sure that anyone on the police and crime panels is charged with such responsibilities, which are an element of existing police authority work that I should have thought the Government would have supported.
I took part in an Adjournment debate recently with the Minister on the particular issues that affect young people in their dealings with the police. It is important that any body that is responsible for monitoring and scrutinising the behaviour and performance of the police should include individuals who are delegated to focus on specific—perhaps vulnerable—groups who may come into contact with the police.
Finally, I am interested in the composition of the panels. The best example to illustrate my concern was provided in evidence from Staffordshire police authority. It pointed out that the provisions will mean that the smaller an area is, the greater its influence will be over the monitoring and scrutiny of the police. It states that the police and crime panel
Steve McCabe: I certainly think that the Government should consider the difficulty that the measure poses. It seems ridiculous that there is no account of population. The whole basis of the argument is a belief in creating greater democratic accountability, but actually a distortion is being created so that there is a greater say for a smaller population than for a larger one. [ Interruption. ] I missed that aside, but I am sure it was good.
I think that there is a problem. What the provision will mean in the west midlands is that an area such as Birmingham—possibly the largest and most diverse of the seven authorities covered by the West Midlands force—will have less say than, say, Walsall, which, with all due respect to Walsall, does not seem the best way to ensure democratic fairness and accountability. Certainly, as my hon. Friend the Member for Vale of Clwyd said, it is not consistent with the views that the Government seek to impose on the country in other legislation that they are trying to force through Parliament. That again suggests that the Bill is not entirely coherent.
The clause reveals all the difficulties and dilemmas that result from creating a parallel system of accountability, which is being done because the Government do not have confidence in the first place in their initial proposal for police and crime commissioners.
The clause specifies that a report should be made but not that it should be published or distributed. Knowledge is power, and if we are serious about empowering the communities in question we need to give the relevant knowledge to people, especially in the poorest communities, which are the communities most adversely affected by crime. Functional illiteracy levels across the country are something like 15% to 17%, but in the poorer, most deprived communities, they can rise to 35% to 40%.
We must take great care about how we communicate the key information in the report to those people. The average red-top is aimed at someone with the reading age of a 10-year-old. We do not want jargon or big lengthy words that those people cannot understand. Has the Minister approached the Plain English Campaign for help?
It is no good just saying “It’s on the web”, because the digital divide exists, and that will not suffice in poor neighbourhoods that may not have access to computers. Clause 28 should specify the aims and objectives of the whole police authority area, including for neighbourhoods suffering high crime levels. The clause states that a public meeting should be arranged for the annual report. To look at that from the north Wales perspective, it is 120 miles from the tip of the Llyn peninsula to Alyn
The need for the chief constable and senior officers to attend those meetings has also been raised. Those officers have the level of detail and knowledge to answer the public’s questions, so that needs to be specified in the Bill. Without that, the Bill will be weakened and watered down. We know what will happen. The public will be there, they will be angry about crime levels, they will ask specific questions, and the commissioner or the panel will say, “We’ll get back to you later.” It needs to be fully addressed in public, and that can only be done if those key officers are there. Those are some of my concerns, and I hope the Minister will address them.
Nick Herbert: Good morning, Mr Benton. We have had an interesting debate about the principle of police and crime panels. The Committee will not be surprised that I disagree strongly with the premise articulated by the hon. Members for Gedling, and for Birmingham, Selly Oak, that police and crime panels do not have a proper role, or that the role has not been thought through. On reflection, I am sure they will see that the right balance has been achieved.
It is absolutely clear that police and crime commissioners will replace police authorities. The PCCs will be directly elected, they will have a mandate from the public, and they will have the executive power, which enables them to set the plan, appoint the chief constable, set the budget, raise the precept and hold the force to account. That much is clear. The two questions are: what are the checks and balances on that directly elected individual, and what is the role of local authorities within the police force area? The PCPs are a good answer to those questions. In a sedentary intervention, the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd posed the question, “Who guards the guards?” That is exactly the right question. It was Juvenal who said it originally: “Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?” That is what the hon. Gentleman wanted to say.
Nick Herbert: The hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd has not picked up the fact that that is the origin of the phrase, “Who guards the guards?” It is exactly the right question because, in spite of having a democratic mandate, nobody disagrees with the argument that checks and balances need to be put in place. It is the same principle that gives rise to the separation of powers in the United States. All of us agree that we need some checks and balances, and the police and crime panels are the answer to that.
Nick Herbert: No, I do not. That is why I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for translating the phrase. He is a worthy role model for plain Welsh— although plain Welsh may be an oxymoron. In the same way, some suggest that military intelligence is an oxymoron or, for that matter, Conservative intellectual, but that is another matter. The serious point is that we all agree that there should be checks and balances, which is what the coalition—
Nick Herbert: I want to place on the record my admiration for the Welsh. The hon. Gentleman might guess from my surname that a little bit of Welsh blood courses through my veins and informs my love for the Principality.
I want to go back to the serious point about the balance we have achieved. We must take care not to cut across the democratic mandate of the elected police and crime commissioner. What checks and balances do we set up to achieve such a watching function and not to prevent police and crime commissioners from fulfilling their mandates? I disagree with those who say that the police and crime panels are toothless and do not have sufficient powers. Hon. Members should note the powers we are giving the panels before suggesting that they are not sufficient.
The panels will have the right of veto on the precepts and on the appointment of the chief constable, which must be approved by a three-quarters majority—we have already discussed that. Panels have the ability to review the draft police and crime plan and to make recommendations to the police and crime commissioner, who must have regard to those representations and respond to them. The panel will make reports and recommendations about the annual plan produced by the commissioner, and it must hold public meetings to answer such questions. It must review and make recommendations on the annual report. All reports and recommendations to the commissioner by the panel must be published. [ Interruption. ]
If I might interrupt the hon. Member for Vale of Clwyd, the answer to his question is that all reports and recommendations to the police and crime commissioner by the panel must be published, and a copy sent to all local authorities in the force area. Subsection (6)(a) and (b) includes a specific requirement that the reports be published.
Chris Ruane: I am glad that that provision is included, but should we go further? Should a copy be sent to every neighbourhood watch, residents association, church and school, asking them to disseminate it? Knowledge is power—if you disseminate those reports, you disseminate the knowledge and the power.
On information, the panel will be able to require any papers in the possession of a police and crime commissioner except operationally sensitive papers. The panel can require the commissioner to attend a hearing to answer any questions on their functions. In the event of the commissioner being incapacitated or resigning, the panel will appoint an acting commissioner from the commissioner’s staff. Panels will receive administrative support provided by the lead authority, and they will also have a role in complaints about the commissioner and in chief constable dismissals.
The panels are bodies with the function of scrutinising the police and crime commissioner and holding the commissioner to account. My hon. Friend the Member for Cambridge made the point that Select Committees exercise considerable influence by publishing reports.
Nick Herbert: Will the hon. Gentleman wait a second? The panels have considerably more powers, as I have suggested. Their first role is scrutiny. They should have sufficient powers to exercise that function and, in some cases, such as the precept and the appointment of the chief constable, considerable powers to disagree with the police and crime commissioner.
Chris Ruane: The Minister said that the information will be sent to local authorities and that it will be up to them to distribute it more widely. Local authorities’ budgets are being cut by 29%. Is it fair to ask them to do the dirty work of the legislation? Should the Bill not specify that it is up to the commissioner or the police and crime panel to disseminate that information, and should the funding not come from their budgets rather than those of hard-pressed local authorities?
Nick Herbert: The police and crime panel is a scrutiny body made up of representatives from the local authority, and it simply is not sensible to specify that every single decision must be disseminated as the hon. Gentleman suggests. Of course there will be considerable local media interest in the key decisions taken by police and crime panels, particularly where the panel is critical of the police and crime commissioner. We all know that, and we all know that such information can be disseminated in many ways. Frankly, that is a time-wasting red herring.
Nick Herbert: I am not going to give way, because I want to make some progress and deal with the second key role of police and crime panels, which is to ensure that local authorities in the area covered by a police force continue to have a stake in the overall governance of policing. Establishing a police and crime panel can do so. It is important that every council in the police authority area can nominate an individual to serve on the panel. In the case of a city, the city mayor will serve on the panel.
I believe that we are making an advance. For the first time, district councils will be able to nominate one of their number to serve on a police and crime panel. That is not the case at the moment. District councils are shut out of the governance of policing. Given their roles in community safety, it is important that they should be part of the new arrangements. In many respects, it is a step forward—it certainly is for them.
The hon. Member for Gedling asked about unitary authorities. I can confirm that every council will be represented. The Bill does not use the term “unitary authorities” because that term is not used anywhere in legislation. The Committee might enjoy this explanation:
“In statutory terms, a unitary authority is simply a district council that has no county council over it, or a county council that has no district council under it. All unitary authorities are either county councils or district councils, and the Bill covers both in clause 28(10).”
The long and short of it is that unitary authorities are included. I hope that that reassures the hon. Gentleman. We will come to some of the details about police and crime panels in our consideration of later amendments, but I conclude by flatly rejecting the idea either that things have not been properly thought through or that we have not achieved the right balance. There is always room for debate about the detail. I welcome that, as I have done during the consultation. The Government have taken notice of the views expressed on several matters and adjusted our proposals accordingly. It is right and proper that we should do so responsibly.
The key point, which Opposition Members have still not understood, is that it is the police and crime commissioners who have a mandate. That requires us to think again about the panel’s wider role. We cannot allow it to become a police authority, as it would create confusion and conflict, and result in unelected people being able to strike down the decisions of an elected individual, which would not make sense. That is why the Opposition’s proposal for a directly elected police chair is such nonsense.
Vernon Coaker: I thank the Minister for his reply and his clarification regarding unitary authorities. I had thought that that was the case, but it was helpful to be given that definition, which I have never heard before.
The Minister’s point about the inclusion of districts is a good one, and it is an improvement. However, he has set himself against virtually every police representative organisation and every police authority in the country. The problem always comes down to the Minister not accepting what the police authorities say to him, and they all say that the checks and balances of the police and crime commissioner vis-à-vis the police and crime panel is neither sufficient nor clear. I am not satisfied with the points that he has made; there is a point of disagreement between us.
At the end of the day, within all the recommendations and reports alluded to by the Minister, there are only two real powers that police and crime panels have. The first, as the Minister said, is the veto on the issuing of a precept, and the other is the veto on the appointment of the chief constable. The police and crime commissioner, as the Minister says, replaces the police authority, and we all understand that. The police and crime panel has been set up to provide some sort of check and balance to the police and crime commissioner. My contention is that that seems to have been a bit of an afterthought, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak said, and we need to do something about it. The panel does not have sufficient powers properly to hold the commissioner to account. I repeat: it is a toothless watchdog. It does not provide panel’s scrutiny and review function with sufficient powers, notwithstanding the point that the Minister made about the democratic mandate.
I take it that the Minister means that when we come back to the question of composition, he will return to the issue of the other people who will be on the panel with a direct democratic mandate, which he has not yet addressed. However, there is a point of disagreement between us on clause 28, and I would like to test the opinion of the Committee.
Mike Crockart: This group of amendments deals with the membership of the police and crime panel. It would give effect, in particular, to paragraphs 6 and 7 of the schedule and the appointment of local authority members. Those provisions deal directly with making the arrangements of the panel such that, as far as is reasonably practicable, the local authority members of a police and crime panel represent all parts geographically of the relevant police area and the political make-up of the participating authority or authorities. Under the Bill, there are several circumstances in which that could be difficult to achieve and the amendments have been tabled to provoke debate on what changes could be made to deal with such problems. I make that point, because I have tried to keep the amendments as simple as possible with the strict intention of debating what a police and crime panel should look like.
In general, a police and crime panel would currently have 10 members from participating local authorities. As the number of authorities increases, that number of members could increase to allow each local authority to have an extra member. However, a problem would emerge when we near the point at which there are 10 participating local authorities or even more. In that position, we would reach the maximum number and would have one member from each participating local authority from that point onwards, with no scope to deal with geographical equality and political party representation under paragraphs 6 and 7 of the schedule.
The amendment would increase the number of members from local authorities and introduce wriggle room—not a huge amount, but by a certain number of members to equalise representation. Let us take the West Midlands
Under the present arrangements, three members would be left to deal with political and geographical make-up. That is not a lot of members to deal with the issues of balance that would be left. As has already been said, Birmingham is by far the largest authority area, with a population of more than a million, whereas the smallest has only 200,000. There is a distinct need to deal with the geographical make-up of that police and crime panel. There is also a need to deal with its political make-up because the potential membership of five Conservative and two Labour members does not necessarily meet the political make-up of the voters within those seven local authority areas. There are significant numbers of Liberal Democrat councillors, for example, in a number of those. In fact, Liberal Democrat members make up a quarter of Birmingham council. So there are distinct challenges in trying deal with those two problems with only three members.
My amendment would, therefore, increase that number to five members and increase significantly the opportunity to gain political and geographical balance. It would make it far easier to give extra representation to Birmingham to ensure more effective geographical representation on the police and crime panel. The most extreme example would be the Thames Valley force area, where there are 18 local authorities. I will not go through the list, but there is a large variation in size between them. As it stands, the panel would consist of 18 members, one from each authority. The amendments seek to ensure that there is always a minimum of an extra two members. In the Thames Valley example, the membership would be 18 under the Bill and there would be no opportunity to address any of the issues that could flow from that.
I do not want to create a huge, overburdened and unwieldy police and crime panel so I do not propose having large numbers of extra members to try to achieve direct proportionality. But adding an extra two gives some opportunity to deal with some of the issues. There would always be a minimum of two extra members to help to balance the panels better. Each panel would have a minimum of 12 members. The purpose of the amendments is to raise the issue rather than present a definitive solution. The aim is clear—to come up with a system that is better able to ensure that the criteria in paragraphs 6 and 7 of schedule 6 can be met.
Vernon Coaker: That was a helpful contribution. It is not that they have not all been helpful, but I thought that one was especially helpful. It was a genuinely probing amendment. All the amendments we have tabled have been intended to provoke debate about whether the number of members should go up or down or how
The hon. Member for Edinburgh West is right. Is it right for an authority with 150,000 people and another with 30,000 to be covered by one person? Should it depend on the population number? It is administratively easy to say that it should be one for each district, county or unitary authority, but does that achieve the Minister’s objectives? The issue needs to be reflected on.
Similarly, the number of independents is two. I understand, and agree with, the Minister’s desire for the inclusion of independents, but I do not know whether two is the right number. How was that figure arrived at? I do not want to be pedantic—if the figure was three, I could have asked how that was arrived at, too—but it would be interesting to hear the Minister’s thoughts. Although in a later amendment we will argue that independent members should not be allowed to vote, they bring interesting perspectives, skills, experience and qualities that may not otherwise be included.
Steve McCabe: I thought the Minister was a bit dismissive of this point when I raised it in relation to clause 28. The danger with this kind of representation is that it would be possible for the police and crime commissioner to choose which representatives of the police and crime panels he would try to appease. It might be for political reasons, or simply for population reasons, because it is easier to satisfy smaller groups than larger ones.
Vernon Coaker: That is an important point, and the Minister needs to address it. The amendment tabled by the hon. Member for Edinburgh West raises the issue of political balance. Paragraphs (6) and (7) are the relevant parts of the schedule. Paragraph (6) states:
Again, without wanting to get into semantics, what is meant by “the relevant police area”? At the moment, the district counts as the relevant police area, but this country’s geography means that that will vary.
How will that happen? I understand the Bill’s aspirations—that is why the amendment that I have tabled is a probing one—and the importance of this particular part. We do not want political dominance, because that would result in politicisation, but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak says, how will that be brought about other than by wishing it to happen? There are issues in relation to population, political representation, geography and political balance.
I return to my hon. Friend’s point. On the relationship between the police and crime commissioner and the police and crime panel, it is very important to ask whether the commissioner would try to appease one member in particular if that member represented a
Vernon Coaker: I am sorry; I apologise to the Committee if I was straying. I was trying to get at how the composition of the panel, as reflected in the various amendments, would impact on the schedule. I will leave those matters there. However, it is important to achieve that geographic and political balance in composition, and in the number of members who are independent and represent an authority. Perhaps the Minister could say something about that.
Amendment 504 deals with people under 18 being on the police and crime panel. I might come back to the matter on Report, but it is an important aspect. I do not expect the Minister simply to say, yes, he accepts that. However, I am sure we agree that the involvement of young people in police and crime panels is important. I do not know if it is necessary to specify that two members of the police and crime panel should be under 18. However, there ought to be a way to say that the involvement of young people in police and crime panels is important. Notwithstanding our disagreement about the legislation, such a provision would help improve it, even if it were not specifically in the Bill. Will the Minister say something about that?
Nick Herbert: First, to offer clarity, I will set out what the Bill provides in relation to the make-up of panels. It provides for each panel to have at least 10 members drawn from the local authorities in the police area, with at least one member from each authority. Where the number of local authorities in the police area is fewer than 10, some or all of the authorities will have to appoint more than one of their members to the panel to make up the total of 10 local authority members. Where the number of local authorities in the police area is 10 or more—that is true of 10 of the police areas in England—they will appoint just one member each to the panel. It follows in that case that the number of local authority members of the panel may exceed 10, and will be equal to the number of local authorities involved.
In Wales, there will be an additional member on each panel appointed by Welsh Ministers. That additional member will have to be an elected representative of a constituency in the police area. He or she could be a Welsh Assembly Member, a councillor or an elected mayor. At present there are no elected mayors in Wales,
We have been at pains to respect the devolution arrangements in Wales. I have discussed these matters with the Welsh Assembly Minister, Carl Sargeant, and officials have also had extensive discussions on the issues. A legislative consent motion is proposed in the Welsh Assembly to give effect to them. We are standing by the principle that policing is a reserved matter. We wish to introduce police and crime commissioners in Wales, but recognise that community safety is a devolved matter, so we wanted to make special arrangements for Wales. It should be noted that that requires the legislative consent motion to be passed for those to take effect.
Our priority is to create a structure that is sufficiently flexible to meet local structures. In cases where there are only two local authorities in a force area, we wanted to ensure that there were at least 10 members, providing critical mass and a body representative of the force area. It would clearly not have made sense to have a tiny police and crime panel. In addition, one of our key aims was to ensure that a member of every local authority in a force area sat on the PCP. That is why the provisions are flexible enough to allow that to occur, regardless of the size of the force area. The key principle is that every local authority should be represented.
My hon. Friend the Member for Edinburgh West has tabled an amendment that proposes that 12 members from local authorities be appointed to the panel to ensure what he describes as greater geographic and political balance. The Committee needs to reflect on that. The right principle is that every local authority should be represented. We have to take care about creating arrangements that allow for additional local authority members and, therefore, complexity and argument. The right principle is that every local authority should be able to nominate the councillor of their choice, to reflect the political balance in the authority. A wider question arises as to whether it is right that the PCP should reflect the political balance of the whole area, when it may cut across the wish of each elected local authority to nominate someone according to the balance in that local authority. This is not a straightforward matter. I would like to reflect on my hon. Friend’s amendments and the feasibility of achieving a wider political balance in the force area as a whole.
Vernon Coaker: That is extremely helpful, because there is an issue here, which is why I said that the amendment was helpful. This is not easy. Given the model that is being set up, it is reasonable to say that there will be one member from each authority, but that will not necessarily achieve what the Minister wants in the Bill. There is a real point of principle here, and we have not got it right. On the other hand, I do not know what the answer is.
Nick Herbert: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for the nature of his intervention, because I agree that it is not straightforward. We have to get this right. It would not be wise to require a local authority to nominate a councillor of a different political party from the one that it wishes to nominate. That would be a recipe for real trouble. Equally, I took the force of the point that
Amendments 292 to 306, which were tabled by the hon. Member for Gedling, propose that there should be eight local authority members and seven co-optees or independents on the panel. I will not dwell on them, because that is more in the realms of returning to the existing police authority model. The hon. Gentleman tabled them as probing amendments. He asked me to carefully consider amendment 504, which requires that two of the seven co-optees to the panel be aged under 18. The existing proposal is to just have two co-optees or independents on a panel. My immediate reaction is that it would not be right to require one of those to be
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