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Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill
|©Parliamentary copyright||Prepared 9th 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): Having had the benefit of three hours of contemplative reflection, I have seen the error of my ways. I accept that being a candidate in a contest to become a police and crime commissioner would render a member of a police authority incapable of functioning in their authority role, for which they would receive a significant allowance. Such a situation would not make sense, so I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Nick Herbert: Welcome back to Committee, Mr Chope. I have given the Committee notice of the amendment, which relates to disqualification criteria for candidates. We discussed the issue to some extent when we debated the conditions under which a police and crime commissioner should be suspended.
At present, the disqualification criteria are limited to those who have served a sentence of three months or more, which is the same relatively stringent test that applies in local government elections. However, I have reflected on a general agreement—it is certainly the
Under the amendment, any person convicted of an imprisonable offence at any time will be permanently disqualified from standing as a police and crime commissioner. I emphasise “an imprisonable offence”; the amendment does not suggest that the person has to have been sentenced to a term of imprisonment. That is a very high standard that is unprecedented for a UK election. The position, however, is unprecedented, too, and the nature of the post demands a higher standard. The standard is higher than any that has been suggested in either Government or Opposition amendments. It is a stringent measure, but it is right, so I hope that the Committee will understand why I tabled the amendment.
Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab): Good afternoon, Mr Chope. The Minister has tabled a good amendment and it would be churlish of me not to say so. Under the original drafting, a person would be disqualified from being elected had they been sentenced to a
Whatever our differences about the role of the police and crime commissioner, this debate is not about whether the model is right, but about the model working as well as it can and the position having credibility if it is set up. All of us would want that, whether we agree with the model or not.
We cannot overestimate the importance that members of the public will put on the integrity of the person who is standing for police and crime commissioner; it would be inconceivable not to have the most stringent test for a PCC. I am pleased that the Minister agrees and has brought forward the amendment. The test is stringent, because it includes
I have a couple of questions for the Minister. Just to be sure that I understand—this might sound idiotic, but I will ask it anyway because it is important—is it obvious when someone has a record that disqualifies them, or would someone ever have to make a judgment about that? For example, I suppose an enhanced criminal record check would make it obvious whether someone had received some such sentence. Are we talking about that sort of thing? Would the information come up automatically as a result of such a check? Would someone standing for the post of police and crime commissioner make a statement about whether the test applied, or would the returning officer require some sort of enhanced criminal record check to verify what was said by the candidates? In the vast majority of cases, what they said would be true, but would that be part of the
Secondly, my understanding of the Bill is that someone standing for police and crime commissioner must be 18. Is that at the time the person agrees to stand for police and crime commissioner, or by the time of the election? I think it is at the time someone decides to stand.
Also, is there anything before us that refers to 18 or 19-year-olds standing for the post of police and crime commissioner? Does the amendment refer only to the criminal records of people who are over the age of 18, or does it refer to a criminal record that someone may have got before the age of 18? Does the Minister know, or can he get some advice, about that? There is a difference between adults and juveniles—I think we would all agree on that—but someone could have been sentenced for an extremely serious offence at 17 or 16 and decide, perhaps a few years later, to stand for that post. I do not want to damn everyone and everything, but will the Minister say whether the amendment refers to the criminal records of under-18s, or just to those of over-18s? Also, who regulates that?
Nick Herbert: Those are all important points, and I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for making them in Committee. On how we will know whether someone has a conviction, we propose not a check but a declaration on nomination. That will be provided for in regulations. I am open to discussion on whether there should be a formal check, or whether that declaration is sufficient. I think that people who wanted to stand for the office but knew that they had a criminal conviction would know that it would almost certainly come out later, so they would not stand. However, if there is a strong view to the contrary, I will certainly consider the issue.
On the age requirement, a person needs to be 18 or over when they are nominated for the election, not when they are actually elected. The provision will apply to any youth offences, and we need to go back to that. The test is very stringent. With all the debate that we have had—there was the suggestion that the test relating to suspension was not stringent enough, and so on—I do not think that we can agree to such stringency but then say, “They may have committed a relatively minor offence when they were young.” Well, an imprisonable offence is not likely to be so minor. We apply a test of that standard to police officers, and we are consciously applying a much higher test to police and crime commissioners in a way that is not done for a person in any other elected office.
It is true that in other elected offices we allow the public to forgive people and say, “You made a mistake.” Somebody can be open about it and the public can judge. We might have allowed that democratic check: let the public decide. I think that the Committee has taken the view, which is shared by ACPO, that because this post involves supervising a police force, there should be an automatic disqualification. Otherwise the individual is susceptible, in that they are not subject to the same standard as the people whom they are holding responsible for the efficiency and effectiveness of the force. In agreeing to the amendment, we need to be conscious that it is a very stringent test indeed. I am certainly not minded to make it any more stringent for precisely the reasons that the hon. Member for Gedling suggests.
Vernon Coaker: I thank the Minister for that reply. I am grateful for his clarification on under-18s. As the Minister knows, very serious offences may be committed by under-18s, but I understand the point he made about the provision applying to any imprisonable offence committed by an under-18. He makes the point very well—this agrees with the point that I am making—that the necessity of the credibility and integrity of the person being above reproach is such that the test has to be the same as for a chief constable, or indeed any police officer. It is simply not tenable to have it otherwise.
I am not sure what the view of the rest of the Committee is, but I think that there is a need for the Minister to reflect on the checking points. It is inconceivable that somebody would stand for such a high-profile position and not expect it to come out that they had been guilty of an imprisonable offence; it is extremely unlikely. The problem is that it is not certain that no person who was guilty of an imprisonable offence would stand and then be found out; then, there would be all the kerfuffle and rigmarole of having to run the election again, with all the cost and disruption that that would involve. However, it is probably worth considering how easy that would be. Criminal records checks for all sorts of things are almost a matter of course.
Vernon Coaker: I can hear some mumbling from my legal adviser. If I heard correctly, it might already be an offence knowingly to make a misleading statement, as I might say as a pupil barrister. I see nodding from across the room. My hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak, makes a good point. If it is a criminal offence, perhaps that needs to be made explicit when people are giving in their nomination forms. If it is not—or even if it is—perhaps the Minister needs to consider whether a check is needed. It would be churlish and silly not to recognise a good amendment—an amendment that goes further than the one that we tabled in the next group. I welcome the Minister’s amendment.
Nick Herbert: I agree that the need for amendment 548 is negated by the Government amendment to which the Committee just agreed, which reduces the threshold. The hon. Gentleman’s other two amendments are not desirable for different reasons. They effectively give the police and crime panels too much power in vetting candidates. I hope that he feels able to withdraw those amendments, too.
Vernon Coaker: I apologise, because progress may be a bit bitty this afternoon, as we have debated many of the principles in part 1, apart from those in one clause. Under the disqualifications—my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak mentioned this—why is membership of the House of Lords not a disqualification for holding office as a police and crime commissioner? What is the reasoning behind a lord being allowed to become a commissioner?
Vernon Coaker: I am trying not to be irritable, but I know that. That does not alter the fact that clause 68 —“Disqualification of person holding office as police and crime commissioner”—does not discuss whether
Chris Ruane (Vale of Clwyd) (Lab): I will make a short speech. It may look like an intervention, but it will be a speech. I want to ask the Minister why MPs, Assembly Members and MSPs are forbidden to stand? Have they got to resign before they put their name forward? Can they stay as an MP, put their name forward, get elected, then resign? What order do they have to do it in?
Nick Herbert: The position is that people will be disqualified by the fact of their holding the office, but not by the fact of their standing for the office. They will have to resign their office once they are elected to another. If the hon. Gentleman is thinking of standing—we encourage him to do so, because we would have a good run in the by-election in his constituency—he would have to resign on taking up the office.
Nick Herbert: These are minor drafting amendments to the provisions that cover the timing of elections for police and crime commissioners. They do not change the meaning or the effect of those provisions in any way, but they clarify one point. Subsection (3) deals with the postponement of an election. It provides that the day to which the election is postponed will be treated as the day of the election for the purposes of legislation governing elections. As drafted, subsection (3) uses the term “relevant provision” to refer to that election legislation, and subsection (5) defines “relevant provision” as
The term “election enactments” does not appear in clause 58, which instead uses the term “relevant provisions,” which it defines as including all the necessary legislation.
Steve McCabe: The Minister gave an exceedingly clear explanation of amendments 563 to 565, but is it intended that the election of a police and crime commissioner will be a special event, or will it be coupled with other elections—for example, will it be held on the same day as council elections? Has he given that any thought, and will he explain his reasoning?
Nick Herbert: Yes, we propose that the elections should be held on the same day as local elections in May 2012. There are a couple of obvious good reasons for that, one of which is that it will reduce cost. I know that the hon. Gentleman will particularly want to secure that.
Vernon Coaker: The clause is extremely important, as are the amendments. As the Minister will know, considerable worry has been expressed about the fact that a police and crime commissioner may be elected on the basis of local policing priorities, but that the strategic national
Strategic national priorities include many things that we would all regard as essential for police forces to tackle. For example, domestic violence, sexual violence and trafficking are all national priorities and matters that we regard as extremely important, but would a police and crime commissioner with a local mandate campaign or stand on the basis of such issues? Our amendment would deal with that tension, and the Minister is aware of the problem.
Under clause 5(5), the commissioner is required to have regard to the strategic requirements laid out by the Secretary of State. I accept that but, when the police gave us evidence—I apologise if I am wrong—it was interesting that Assistant Commissioner Lynne Owens and Chief Constable Chris Sims both said that there was a need for much tougher and stronger words to be used in the Bill to make it even clearer that strategic national priorities could not be ignored by police and crime commissioners.
People argue locally for police on the streets to do something about the kids in the park, drunken behaviour and neighbourhood crime. I am sure that each and every one of us has had people in our surgeries asking us to talk to the police and local authorities about what are real problems and what can be done about them. Behind the scenes, what is done by the specialist units that work closely with local partners on many other matters is just as important as neighbourhood policing, but would commissioners, in standing for election, have that as high up their list as we would want?
“We welcome the Home Secretary’s ability to issue strategic national policing priorities, and the requirement of Chief Constables and PCCs to ‘have regard’ to them, but we are concerned that these matters are unlikely to feature as priorities for locally focused and accountable PCCs and it is unclear as to how ‘regard’ to them will be enforced…Issues such as domestic violence, or crime suffered by those who do not or cannot vote…or crimes on which there are arguably either relatively high levels of public tolerance…or low levels of public knowledge…are important but largely absent from public debate. We share Chief Constables’ concerns that these issues will not”
I do not want to dance on the head of a pin or play semantics, but will the Minister reflect on the phrase, “have regard to”? I am worried about those words. I propose “take into account”, although I am not sure that that phrase is strong enough. When we were drafting the amendment, we tried to find words that were stronger than “have regard to”, so we came up with “take into account”. However, we can have regard to, take into account or think about something, yet do absolutely nothing. It is not clear to me how everything will be monitored and overseen, so that we can be sure that a police and crime commissioner, as well as the chief constable, will have regard to strategic priorities.
I alluded to the other side of the coin this morning. Might chief constables with an assertive police and crime commissioner, who has just been elected on local policing priorities, feel constrained about how much regard they can have to the national policing priorities when they are worried that that commissioner might say, “But that is not what I want”? I do not want to go back to the argument about sacking and so on, but chief constables might be concerned about what a police and crime commissioner will do if they do not follow the local policing priorities. I wonder, therefore, whether “have regard to” is strong enough.
Steve McCabe: What happens in the final year of a police and crime commissioner’s first term of office might be even more alarming. That might be when the pressure of an election demands much more in the way of possibly conflicting local priorities. Is that not the danger point we need some guarantees on?
Vernon Coaker: I think that is true. We get it both ends—someone flushed with the excitement of an election victory demanding that the chief constable does all sorts of things, without regard to the national priorities, or as my hon. Friend suggested, someone running up to an election, also with a macho-type approach, because they want to appear to be in touch with local people.
Let us be frank, some of the strategic national priorities are things that are not at the front of people’s minds and things about which a chief constable has to be pretty strong and stand up for, such as the policing of Traveller sites or support for women in refuges. Giving resources to such groups is not always the immediate priority that galvanises an electorate. That point is very serious.
I have more points to make on the three amendments, two of which are mine and one of which has been tabled by the hon. Member for Edinburgh West. I will not try the hon. Gentleman, but he is clearly worried about how the strategic policing requirement will be put together by the Secretary of State. Who will the Secretary of State get advice from? Subsection (3) states that advice must be obtained from
The last amendment before us is one that the National Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Children requested. This is just one example of where we can put one particular thing in the Bill with respect to the strategic policing requirement. We could have made eight or nine different amendments to take up different issues that are hugely important and some of national importance. None of us here would disagree with the requirement to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. Everyone would agree that that is a really important function and a national policing priority.
“As the Government has acknowledged in the policing White Paper, there are cross-cutting issues which are of such importance that they cannot be left to the local democratic process alone. Although local police priorities should reflect the needs of the communities they serve, the NSPCC believes there is a risk that the needs of vulnerable children will not be identified as a priority by all elected Police and Crime Commissioners.”
That is one example. Charities, voluntary organisations and statutory organisations that represent, for instance, people who suffer from domestic violence could no doubt have requested the same amendment. We have read of the horrific cases of internal trafficking and trafficking from abroad. All of us would want to see that tackled and we would want to do all that we can to prevent it. We could include something with respect to that in here. Would that be seen as a priority by a local police and crime commissioner?
Mr Aidan Burley (Cannock Chase) (Con): The hon. Gentleman has alluded to an important area. There is a delicate balance between competing priorities. It could be argued that everything is a priority. We can see one of the problems in the situation described. We all get complaints from constituents that there are not enough police on the estates and streets and so on. Perhaps that is because too many officers have been sucked into specialist units. This is a counterweight to their being sucked into those units as a result of Whitehall direction.
Vernon Coaker: That is an interesting point, which goes to the heart of what is meant by front-line policing. I take the point that the hon. Member for Cannock Chase has just made. There is of course a balance between visible officers and those performing other roles. It is difficult. Let us have a more general philosophical debate about it. Policing is much more complicated in the modern world. The police deal not only with criminal behaviour but with social dysfunction and failure, which they would not have dealt with in the past. Communities often dealt with such problems themselves. Hence there is a big increase in the workload of the police that people like my dad, when he started, would not have had. They just policed criminal activity, not antisocial activity, as they are expected to do now.
It is relevant to what the hon. Member for Cannock Chase has just said and to our discussion of the clause and the amendments that society demands that we have specialist units and officers. At some point in the future, when the hon. Gentleman is sitting where his hon. Friend the Minister is sitting, and there is a debate on domestic violence, child protection, trafficking, fraud or internet crime, every single MP and outside organisation will say, “Isn’t what we need a specialist officer who has the skills to deal with those particular problems?” While visible front-line policing and an officer patrolling the streets is an important part of our police force, do we not need those specialist officers as well? So is it not the case that the tension that to which the hon. Member for Cannock Chase has drawn attention exists? I agree that people demand visible officers on the street, but I also know that, to tackle some of the most serious crimes, which we all want dealt with, there is a need for specialist units and specialist officers.
Mr Burley: This is a very important debate, and I appreciate the tone in which it is being conducted. My point is that it is a balance. I am not saying that we do not need these specialist officers; I am just saying that it will always be a balance with finite resources, where
Vernon Coaker: That is the case that the Minister will make. I am reflecting the concerns that I and many people have, including senior police officers, who think that, if we are not careful, we will move too far the other way from where the hon. Gentleman thinks we are. Although the Minister has tried to draft the Bill to take account of that concern, it is not strong enough to prevent that from happening.
Mark Tami: Is it not the case that too often in the past we have seen something tragic happen and formed an organisation to take account of where things have moved on, whether it is the internet or something else? There is a lack of joined-up policing, such as one police force not passing information on to another force or a lack of overall co-ordination. That is why we end up with a special group.
Vernon Coaker: I agree with that. That is the point that the NSPCC is trying to make, which led to amendment 556. If the Bill goes forward as it is currently constructed, there is a real danger that the balance of the joined-up work of the specialist units, which are helping to protect children, will swing too far the other way. My hon. Friend is right. We have to avoid a tragedy happening, after which all hell breaks loose and everyone demands new units, with more specially trained officers and so on to tackle what has occurred. There is a danger that the Bill, in seeking to give local priorities to these newly elected PCCs, will undermine some of the work on delivering the strategic national priorities, which the chief constables believe is necessary.
Nick Herbert: This is an important debate. My hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase was right. HMIC, in its report “Valuing the Police”, explicitly said that the problem has been the draw of officers away from visible and available roles into specialist units. It identified a number of reasons for that. One was bureaucracy and another was management of risk. The report concluded that the proportion of officers who were visible and available—some 11% on average—was too low. Does the hon. Member for Gedling agree with that and understand that there is an issue, as my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase said, of officers being drawn away from visible and available roles, important as specialist roles are? HMIC is saying that the balance is wrong.
Vernon Coaker: I do not deny the need always to look at the balance between visible officers and specialist units and bureaucracy, and at how police forces are organised to deliver what we all want. I have talked about the need to liaise with HMIC with respect to other parts of the Bill so it would be silly not to look at what HMIC has said. The reason why this is a necessary debate and these are important amendments is that, in
I want to ask some further questions during the clause stand part debate about the Secretary of State and how he or she will compile this new national policing requirement and what the document will entail; but with those few opening remarks, I will see what other members of the Committee have to say and then respond to the Minister.
Nick Herbert: These amendments are about the strategic policing requirements, which are not about the priorities or responsibilities that may be important in general. Of course, police and crime commissioners will want to take those seriously. The strategic policing requirement is about threats and policing capabilities that cannot be assessed locally because they are cross-boundary in nature or issues of national importance such as national security. The fundamental principle here is that police and crime commissioners will be responsible—as police authorities are—for holding the chief constable to account for the totality of the policing of their force. We want forces to remain vertically integrated; we are not trying to top-slice national responsibilities off forces or make some kind of top tier of police force who are accountable to anyone other than the local authority that should hold them to account for the totality of their performance. That is a fundamental principle of the existing system and of our future system.
However, many crimes cross force boundaries. I have often talked about the paradox of policing in the past—that the centre has paid insufficient attention to these national policing issues and yet been too ready to interfere in the local. It is important to reflect on the fact that there is a problem under the existing system.
Mark Tami: There is always an argument about whether enough central funding is given to police support and how much money comes out of the area police force. What would the priority be for the police commissioner? Would he say, “The crime is not really here. I’m not too bothered about what comes in and what goes across and causes a problem in someone else’s area”? Where would the priority be, for instance in the case of ports?
Nick Herbert: These are exactly the sorts of issues that I am seeking to address here—those crimes that cross force boundaries. We have to accept that there is a problem at the moment. Under the existing system, some of these threats are insufficiently addressed, so we should not characterise the problem as one that is about to be created by the elected police and crime commissioners. As the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police reminded us in a speech a few months ago, there is still a serious gap in our tackling of serious organised crime. We would address that gap, partly through this provision, but also through the creation of the national crime agency, the subject of a separate Bill. A new problem is not being created by the fact that police forces will be
The strategic policing requirement will be a statement that describes the collective capabilities that police forces throughout England and Wales will have in place to protect the public from serious harm and to maintain national security. It will focus exclusively on those policing functions that aggregate to the national level, such as protecting the public from terrorism, organised crime, public disorder and civil unrest, and the management of civil contingencies and critical incidents.
Nick Herbert: I will come to that issue. The hon. Gentleman suggested in relation to amendment 166 an insufficiently strong duty on chief officers to have regard to the strategic policing requirement. That phrase is commonly used in legislation. It does not mean that the chief officer has to follow the requirement blindly, but he cannot depart from it without good reason. It is a strong legal provision.
I accept that ACPO has expressed concern about whether the duty is sufficiently strong. I discussed it with Sir Hugh Orde at lunch time today and undertook to check back with our legal advisers about the nature of the duty. I have not had time to do that before our discussion on the amendment today, but I am currently advised that the duty is sufficiently strong that chief constables would be required to follow it and not depart from it without good reason. It seems strong enough to me. Under the hon. Gentleman’s proposal the chief constable would merely have to take the strategic policing requirement into account. That suggests that the chief officer would merely have to treat the requirement as one of a range of factors that he should take into account without attaching any particular weight to it. I believe that it would be a weakening of the duty.
The hon. Gentleman also referred to the role of police and crime commissioners. He acknowledged that we have already made specific provision under clauses 5(5) and 6(5) that police and crime commissioners should have regard to the requirement when determining local resourcing decisions through their police and crime plans, and that police and crime objectives should include the police force discharging its national or international functions. The existing provisions will therefore enable police and crime commissioners to work with their forces to balance local priorities and pressures with their national and international responsibilities and ensure consistency in how they are delivered.
Amendment 556 would specify child safeguarding within the strategic policing requirement. That goes to the hon. Gentleman’s question whether the particular list of offences he referred to would be included in the requirement. Clause 79 provides that national threats may include
“a threat to national security, public safety, public order or public confidence that is of such gravity as to be of national importance, or…a threat which can be countered effectively or efficiently only by national policing capabilities to counter the threat”.
It will base the assessment of such threats on the professional advice from chief officers and police and crime commissioners, and in consultation with other partners. We have already started discussions with the Association of Chief Police Officers about the strategic policing requirement.
It would not be right or appropriate to judge in advance what the threats may be without listening to that professional advice. That is the right way to proceed, but on the specific issue of child safeguarding, provision is made elsewhere to safeguard the welfare of children. Under section 11 of the Children Act 2004,
The Bill amends that provision to provide that police and crime commissioners will also discharge their functions having regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. The hon. Gentleman’s concern has therefore been addressed.
The strategic policing requirement is an important provision in the Bill. I do not agree with the suggestion—or accept the premise of the argument—that police and crime commissioners will focus on local policing issues to the exclusion of all others. However, the provision might allay concern over that happening, because chief constables will have to comply with the strategic policing requirement and they will be held to account over it. In particular, given the nature of the threats confronting us, which can cross force boundaries, the provision will help to ensure that police forces work together. That is the right approach as long as we have 43 police forces—or about that number—which is certainly the Government’s policy, despite the best efforts of the hon. Member for Gedling to change the position.
Mark Tami: What would happen if an elected police and crime commissioner said that he did not view a matter as being a priority—something on which resources should be spent? If a stand-off arises, how will it be resolved?
Nick Herbert: First, the chief constable has to have regard to the requirement; as I have said, the police and crime commissioner has to hold the chief constable to account for that. Secondly, the Home Secretary has back-stop powers. Under clause 95, which is titled “National and international functions”, the Secretary of State may direct police and crime commissioners.
Mark Tami: As the Minister said, things are not absolutely perfect already. I know that these are more minor matters, but although we gave increases to the police, the chief constable of South Wales police spoke about whether he would still have enough resources to police football matches and motorways, so even at that time there was a threat that such functions might be withdrawn. There were already problems, albeit not as serious as the national issues.
The Bill considerably strengthens existing legislative provisions to ensure that national issues are addressed. In the past, we had only strategic policing priorities, which were not much used and not especially effective, but we will have strategic policing requirements, which is a significant difference. The Bill is a recognition that threats, including the terrorist threat, mean that police forces must work together. It is also a recognition that although we wish to keep the 43 forces, they should work together. As I said in a speech a couple of weeks ago, the era of 43 police fiefdoms is over.
Vernon Coaker: First, it is fair to say that we do not live in heaven on earth. There are problems with the existing system. The Committee’s duty is to scrutinise the Bill to see whether it might lead to unintended consequences, or whether improvements will be made. One of the most important things that the Minister said was that he met the president of ACPO, Sir Hugh Orde, at lunch time and discussed whether the duty is strong enough. The Minister is not certain about that, but he is asking for it to be checked, which is extremely helpful. I do not know whether there is a stronger legal phrase.
In addition, the Minister clarified, for all those children’s organisations and others outside this place who are concerned about child protection, that the amendment is not necessary. Existing legislation achieves the same effect, and it was reassuring that the Minister clarified that the Bill will insert a provision relating to police and crime commissioners in the 2004 Act.
It is okay for the Minister to say that he does not accept the premise on which the amendments were tabled, but many people question whether the Bill goes far enough to ensure that the balance between local, national and regional is maintained. It is fair enough for people to voice such concerns, and members of the Committee should consider them.
Vernon Coaker: Because in the model that we propose, alongside making the chair the directly elected chair of the police and crime panel, the panel would have increased powers to hold the police and crime commissioner to account, rather of us having the unfettered single individual for whom the Bill provides.
We have had a helpful debate on the amendments. We will continually return to such matters because a tension still exists. Perhaps, following legal advice, the Minister will find that there is a stronger form of wording than “have regard to”. If that can be achieved, it will help us all, but I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Vernon Coaker: It would help the Committee if the Minister said a bit about the process by which he expects the new document—the strategic policing requirement—to be set out. Does he think that Parliament will see the document—I am not necessarily suggesting that it should be subject to the affirmative procedure—and that it will be involved? Given that the Minister has discussed national threats and counter-terrorism, perhaps Parliament should see it.
How will agencies such as the Serious Organised Crime Agency, the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre, and the National Policing Improvement Agency fit into the strategic policing requirement? Will the Secretary of State have discussions with such bodies to agree what should be set out in it? It would be interesting for us to debate at some point how the Minister is going to overcome the gap between the local and force level, and the national level.
The Minister is right that we all support the retention of the individual forces, but the merger debate—whatever its rights or wrongs—was about trying to address a problem at a regional level. When we are talking about tackling problems such as serious and organised crime, it is collaboration at a regional level that is important. I will be interested to know how the Minister thinks the gap in the current structure will be dealt with, whether by existing agencies or the national crime agency, which I believe is due to come into being in 2013, subject to legislation.
Steve McCabe: I shall raise a couple of brief points about the clause. I want to deal with the issue of consultation, when the Secretary of State obtains advice from representatives of the chief officers of police and representatives of local policing bodies, which I presume is the commissioner’s office. I notice that again an opportunity has been missed specifically to include police and crime panels, even though there is an additional element in the clause that says that the Secretary of State can consult other persons as she thinks fit.
One of the issues that has run throughout our scrutiny of the Bill has been that when there are complex forces—such as West Midlands police, which covers a large geographical area and has a diverse community—there is doubt about whether the police commissioner themselves could hope to represent adequately the full spectrum of needs and opinion of that area. I know that the Minister sticks to the idea that police and crime panels are there simply to scrutinise the commissioner, but during the debate on them, we also touched on the question of whether they could provide a slightly broader perspective of local needs and interests. If the Secretary of State is going to consult on drawing up a strategic plan, she may, at least when we are dealing with complex forces, want to consider people such as police and crime panels, who may have something to offer.
On the question of how the plan will be drawn up, I presume that the sort of things that the Minister has in mind are problems such as the potential for cyber attacks, complex computer fraud and other kinds of terrorist activities. I am not sure how any force would be able to cope with those problems if we took the advice of the hon. Member for Cannock Chase and turned them all into PC Plods, because that would cause a bit of a difficulty. We should be arguing for the retention of such areas of specialism.
Steve McCabe: In the past, the hon. Gentleman has pointed out that it is inefficient for police officers to patrol in pairs, and that if he had his way, he would insist that they patrolled on their own. He also said today that he thought that the balance on specialism was wrong and that the specialisms that my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling was discussing were squeezing out police efficiency. I am simply making the point that the Minister intends such a contingency to deal with specific problems that would require a degree of specialism, and that might be harder if the hon. Member for Cannock Chase were to get his way.
I was really asking whether the Minister envisaged specifying in the strategic plan any minimum requirements that a force would have to retain to be equipped for dealing with such national priorities. Is that the kind of thing that might be in the plan? Presumably, for a hard-pressed force to know exactly what might be demanded of it would be difficult, if it were engaged in a process of readjusting its priorities. To be fair to the hon. Member for Cannock Chase, the force might seek to do that by squeezing a number of specialisms out of its system. Would the force be able to meet the strategic plan, if the plan were to specify some minimum requirements?
On the same basis, I was interested to hear the Minister’s comments about the age of fiefdoms being over. It occurred to me, however, that a hard-pressed police force, knowing that a plan from the Secretary of State can be called upon when emergencies happen, might be tempted not to spend sufficient resources on particular specialisms, safe in the knowledge that, if specified in the plan, another force might have to be called upon. In which case, the force could leave the onerous task to the other force.
The example I have in mind is that of a large force neighbouring a smaller one. The smaller force might be tempted to scale back the number of murder inquiry officers or reduce training. It might be tempted to do the same with computer specialists or armed response officers. That would be perceived as extremely unfair by local taxpayers.
Mark Tami: Recently, we have had a tragic case in the Raoul Moat situation. Although firearms officers from a neighbouring force were used, a public outcry followed about why that resource was not available locally. Giving the proper resource tends to be reactive, rather than a plan thing.
What would happen if a force faced a conflict in priorities? It need not be a conflict, but the police and crime commissioner might take the line referred to by my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling, about putting
My final question is about the philosophy of what is proposed. The whole essence of what the Minister seeks to do in his approach to policing is tackling what he sees as the centralising tendency of which the previous Government fell foul. He has, at various times, made that case. Having engaged in a political experiment to set up underfunded forces with political commissars in charge of them, the forces might eventually reach a stage when they are not doing the very things that the Government had anticipated. It is possible that they will take off in a direction that the Minister does not foresee. Under proposed new section 37A(1),
What is to stop such documents becoming a succession of central directives? Perhaps that will not happen with the right hon. Gentleman because he has a different philosophy, but what about his successors? What is to stop the documents becoming a succession of directives that increasingly centralise the demands on the police and prevent the individual opportunities that he says are the whole purpose and spirit of his police reforms?
Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South) (Lab): I should like to make some points, many of which have already been touched on, concerning the balance that must be struck between local priorities and the Government setting national direction. We all appreciate the importance of local priorities. We hear about them each time we hold a constituency surgery. Constituents write to us expressing their worries about crime and disorder, and about antisocial behaviour. However, it is important to recognise the valuable national direction that the Government have given in areas such as domestic violence and child protection. That is not to say that local forces did not already do good, valuable work, but sometimes when the Government make it clear that they expect certain offences to be taken seriously and that time and resources should be put appropriately into dealing with such crimes, that sends a clear signal to local police authorities and to chief constables that action should be taken.
Bridget Phillipson: No, of course not. The Minister has been clear about the direction that he envisages for policing in this country, and I have some disagreement with him on that. While it is important that the Government are clear about their direction, it is vital that local people have input into policing in their area. The right hon. Gentleman has talked, including at the weekend, about front-line policing and the drift of officers at
That is not “front line” in the sense of looking out of the window and seeing the officer patrolling. If I were a victim of such a crime, I would expect a response from someone who was properly qualified, skilled and sensitive to such issues. Specialist units are important in allowing officers to develop particular expertise that allows them to deal with particularly difficult crimes. We do not have to go back too far to find cases in which police officers, when called to deal with domestic violence offences, would say, “It’s just a domestic. No crime has been committed.” I am glad that we have come a long way since those days, but it is important to examine why that has occurred. I am pleased that there has been a societal shift, which is hugely important. Clearly, pressure has been brought to bear by a range of organisations so that police forces ensure that policing reflects their communities, which means dealing with crimes that can be hidden and are often not as visible as, say, a gang of youths kicking a football at the end of the street.
We need to be careful that we do not end up with a false dichotomy between front line and specialist units. I am not sure, either, whether the benefits of those specialist units have been properly considered. Perhaps the Minister will ask the inspectorate to do some research on that. Do cost savings result from the work that goes on? For example, if a specialist unit is able to go and lift a repeat offender, put them before the courts, see action taken and a prosecution brought, does that mean that police officers are not frequently called out to the same address, time and time again? That costs money, and not only to the police.
Steve McCabe: I wonder whether we have been sidetracked by specialist units in this debate. It is as if we are only discussing some elite element of the organisation, when perhaps we are also discussing specialist tasks. For example, in my constituency, police officers meet people who are about to be released from prison, check where they will be staying and point out that they will call to check up on them. That seemed to have a dramatic impact on the reoffending rate in the early days of release, which is a major problem, as the Minister will know.
Bridget Phillipson: I am grateful to my hon. Friend, who makes an important point. It is certainly my experience in my force area that police officers call on repeat offenders who have committed a wide variety of crimes, to make clear to them that that the police are here, that they will take action and that bad behaviour will not be tolerated. I know that that has been particularly important in tackling antisocial behaviour in communities.
Returning to the issue of visibility, the question is: visible to whom? If someone is a victim of an unpleasant or difficult crime, which is not well understood by the public, they are not necessarily reassured by two police
Mark Tami: Does my hon. Friend accept that the specialist units are not set up only because someone is sitting in an office thinking, “What shall we do today?” Specialist units are set up because previous ways of addressing those problems have not worked.
Bridget Phillipson: I absolutely agree. It is important to point out that these units have not come into being for no good reason. It is in direct response to incidents that have required increased resources, to lead to a more co-ordinated and appropriate response. Some of the crimes that are dealt with by specialist units, whether it is fraud, domestic violence or child protection, require a different kind of response from the uniformed response when someone reports a crime immediately. That has come about in direct response to local need and provides great local benefit. Unless someone directly receives services from that unit, they may not understand the important work that goes on there.
Steve McCabe: Does my hon. Friend recall that the investigation of rape was dramatically changed in this country as a result of the exposure of Thames Valley police during a rather famous documentary? It became abundantly clear that those officers were unable to deal with rape because they had no specialist skills in that area.
Bridget Phillipson: Of course, Mr Chope. My point on the clause is that there are issues of national importance that have been dealt with in a variable manner by some forces. The example given by my hon. Friend makes very clear the variability that can sometimes arise in local forces. I am not suggesting that the Government say prescriptively to local forces, “You must deal with this kind of crime in this kind of way”, but a clear signal had been sent in recent years from the Government that forces should perhaps change the way in which they approached the investigation of certain crimes and make sure that specialist officers were able to respond appropriately.
I will draw my comments to a conclusion, but I reiterate that, while much is made of the inspectorate’s report on the availability of police officers at any given time, the figure that the Minister often refers to is an important one. Perhaps the Government could look at the impact of the changes that have been made in recent years and the improvements that we have seen, and
Chris Ruane: On strategic planning at a national level, I feel that the coalition Government do not fully appreciate the work done by the units. I spent 25 days with North Wales police on a police parliamentary scheme. I visited many units, including the helicopter unit, the dog unit, armed response, port police and traffic police. I spent a whole day—sometimes two or three days—with each unit, and they did fantastic work. They are responding to strategic national initiatives. We need to apprehend terrorists at the port. We need to respond in a timely fashion with our armed response units. We need to reduce the number of road deaths every year. When I have been out with those brave officers, such as the traffic police, they go to the most stressful situations we can imagine, where there have been multiple deaths on the motorways, dual carriageways and country lanes. They deal with the death of children or sometimes the death of whole families. To say that they are wasting their time responding to Labour Government initiatives is wrong. They are brave people doing excellent work.
I spent two days with the port police at Holyhead. Again, they were doing excellent work combating the trafficking of drugs and child and adult prostitutes. They are responding to national targets and doing a great job. The North Wales police helicopter has saved dozens of lives. We are not talking about people twiddling their thumbs. They are professional people doing a professional job. If they read extracts from today’s proceedings, they would think that the Government do not have much faith in them. The Minister needs to praise them for the work that they do.
My niece’s partner was murdered. The family liaison officer came from another police force, and the help and support that that officer gave my niece was absolutely critical at that time. Government Ministers and members of the Committee need to pay tribute to the excellent work that the officers do and not just rubbish them.
Nick Herbert: It was that contribution that was rubbish. There was no intention—there has never been any intention on the part of the Government—to rubbish, belittle or underestimate the importance of specialist units. Of course they are important parts of what police forces do, but that is a quite different question from the extent to which they are resourced, or resourced efficiently. The inspectorate raised that issue when it pointed out that there was a problem with visibility and availability, which vary between forces. That is a crucial point, because some forces have higher visibility and availability than others. If we can bring up the standard to that of the best forces, we would improve visibility and availability within existing resources.
The hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak asked whether the requirement is a back-door route to centralisation. I am not often accused of being a centraliser, but his point was whether it might be used in that way in future. It is important to understand that the strategic policing requirement, as stated in the clause, will set out “national threats” and the
Domestic violence is an important issue. No one should underestimate its significance—I agree with what the hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South said to that effect—but it is not envisaged that domestic violence constitutes a “national threat” within the meaning of that phrase in the clause. One might as well argue that antisocial behaviour, which people regard as an incredibly important issue, is a national threat. They are both problems that police forces must deal with, but the clause relates to crimes that cross force boundaries and that therefore require interoperability on the part of forces.
We should have a collective understanding of what we are talking about on the strategic policing requirement. It is not any kind of attempt to interfere in local policing matters, which is the difference between the strategic policing requirement and the strategic policing priorities that were set under existing legislation.
Vernon Coaker: I understand what the Minister says up to a point, but one of the definitions of a “national threat” in subsection (6) is a threat to “public confidence”. I think that trafficking, domestic violence and sexual violence greatly affect public confidence. The Minister is not correct that such matters do not affect public confidence, but if he saying that that is the case, public confidence should not be listed in the subsection.
The intention is clear. The provision relates to crimes that require a national response, but that response will be delivered by individual police forces. We need to take care before taking the requirement into areas that are about significant crimes that are committed in local areas and that require local responses entirely from an individual police force, irrespective of the actions of neighbouring forces.
On the concern raised by the hon. Member for Birmingham, Selly Oak that the provision might be centralising, I say again that it is acceptable for the Secretary of State to make such an arrangement because we will strengthen the local accountability of policing but not interfere in matters that should be for local determination. In that sense, the provision rebalances the proper role of the centre—not to interfere in the local, but to pay more attention to areas where police forces need to co-operate more.
Steve McCabe: I have no doubt about what the Minister is saying about the purpose of the provision. However, a future Secretary of State who is unhappy with the performance of police forces—it is not long since that happened—could use it to bring in requirements that would have a centralising effect, and that would be a diktat from the Secretary of State.
Nick Herbert: I repeat to the hon. Gentleman that it would have to be done in relation to a national threat. We have seen with respect to the terrorist threat the development of policing capability across forces. It is perfectly possible to argue that that cuts across the normal local operation of forces, but the threat is regarded as sufficiently serious to merit it—I do not think that there is any dispute about that. That, together with serious and organised crime and other issues that cross force boundaries, is the kind of territory that we should be talking about. That is the purpose of the clause, and it has been drafted in such a way to ensure that it meets the threshold. It is not intended to license a foray by a future Secretary of State to return to the bad centralising ways of the previous Government through the abuse of the provision. However, I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for guarding me against that possibility.
The hon. Member for Gedling asked—it seems a very long time ago—who should be consulted. That is covered in subsection (3), which states that the Secretary of State must obtain the advice of people who represent the views of chief officers of police and those who represent the views of local policing bodies—police and crime commissioners. As far as our consultation is concerned, we are already discussing the issues with relevant people, including SOCA, and it is important that we do so. The provision will not require a statutory instrument, so there is no proposal for formal parliamentary scrutiny, but this is something of sufficient interest that we would consult on the requirement.
The hon. Gentleman asked how we will ensure that forces collaborate. Clause 90 will place duties on police and crime commissioners to ensure that they collaborate and set up provisions for collaboration agreements. My view is that we are going to strengthen the requirement in the Bill to ensure that forces collaborate so that we will have 43 forces that are vertically integrated and responsible for policing in their own areas. Police and crime commissioners will be responsible for the totality of policing and for holding forces to account by ensuring that there is interoperability and minimum standards for issues that cross force boundaries and when national threats exist. I think that that is the right and appropriate balance, and I think it is a welcome, novel and important legislative development.
Vernon Coaker: We have had a pretty good debate. We talked about the term “national threat”, and one could argue that many things will constitute a national threat if they undermine public confidence. It is important that things such as the cross-boundary tackling of trafficking or prostitution, which are national threats and that undermine public confidence, are included in any strategic policing requirement.
There is no formal role for Parliament, as the Minister confirmed, such as through an associated statutory instrument. However, given the importance of the document—I am not sure what the Minister was
That definition does not cover SOCA, CEOP, the NPIA or the future national crime agency. If we are considering a strategic policing requirement, I should have thought that it would be important to include such bodies. However, perhaps I have misinterpreted the clause and the Minister can clarify the situation.
Nick Herbert: The strategic policing requirement relates to police forces and there is a requirement for the chief constable to have regard to it. The agencies that the hon. Gentleman mentions have national functions, so they do not have to be subject to the requirement. We shall certainly consult them as we draw up the requirement, and they will be part of the solution, because in each of their particular areas they will play their role to ensure that harm is prevented.
Mark Tami: On a point of order, Mr Chope. Will you guide me on the best way in which to raise with the Minister the decision that has just been made in the Welsh Assembly Government to reject the order that would have laid the basis for police and crime panels?
Nick Herbert: Further to that point of order, Mr Chope. It is extremely unfortunate that the Welsh Assembly has rejected the legislative consent motion. Police and crime commissioners will be introduced in England and Wales, as provided in the Bill, because that is a reserved matter. It will not now be possible, however, to apply the special arrangements in relation to the involvement of the Welsh Assembly Government. They have cut off their nose to spite their face by playing politics, which I deeply regret.
On the functions of Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, what is the intention behind clause 84(2), which removes the requirement for inspectors of constabulary to report to the Secretary of State? The intention might be that inspectors will report for the benefit of the public at large, which I can understand, but should not the Secretary of State be concerned about what is stated in HMIC reports? Reporting for the benefit of the public is fine, but presumably the Secretary of State will receive the report anyway.
Will the Minister explain why HMIC’s power to inspect police authorities has not been replicated in its functions to inspect local policing bodies? Is the Minister’s view that that is unnecessary when that body is subject to democratic accountability? I am struggling to understand why it is felt that something of such importance to the delivery of policing is not relevant enough for HMIC to inspect, although police authorities are. I shall be interested to hear the Minister’s responses.
Nick Herbert: The purpose of the clause is to ensure that the inspectorate of constabulary becomes independent of police forces and of the Government. In the past, the inspectorate has enjoyed quite a close relationship with both. In the spirit of transparency, proper governance and accountability—the themes running through the Bill—we are sure that it is right for the inspectorate to be a fearless body that serves the public and ensures that forces are delivering on efficiency, effectiveness and value for money.
That is the basis of the changes we set out in the Bill. That is why we made the change about reporting to the Secretary of State. One provision still ensures that the inspectors must send a copy of their reports to the Secretary of State—in answer to the question of the hon. Member for Gedling, of course they will still do that—but we are seeking to change the previous practice whereby the inspectorate had a close relationship with the Government. Indeed, the chief inspector of constabulary was the Home Secretary’s formal adviser on policing.
It is important for us to set up proper governance arrangements, and for there to be confidence that the inspectorate is acting in the public interest and is, therefore, separate from police forces and the Government.
Nick Herbert: We want to ensure that we move away from the practice of the inspectorate exercising any kind of performance management of local policing, whether by accident or design. The reason is that the police forces will be accountable to the police and crime commissioners for delivery at a local level. We do not want the inspectorate to judge whether the police and crime commissioner has been successful, because that is for the public to do. I want the inspectorate to judge the effectiveness of the police force, and for that professional opinion to inform the public’s judgment of the police and crime commissioner.
Again, we are trying to achieve proper distinction between roles. We are ensuring against the inspectorate becoming a body that confuses the importance of revealing what is happening and, therefore, producing reports upon which elected officials can act, with managing performance, which I do not think that the inspectorate should do. That close performance management, by any of the national bodies, has created such interference in the delivery of local policing. We need to achieve a change, so that we give the professionals the space and discretion to do their job, but hold them to account for the delivery. That is what we seek to achieve in the new arrangements.
Vernon Coaker: I wonder whether the Minister would like to comment on the fact that, under this clause, local policing bodies will be able to introduce charging regimes with respect to inspections that they ask for. Will he explain to us why he is introducing this charging regime?
Vernon Coaker: I may have got the wrong part of the Bill, and I apologise if that is the case and I appreciate the honesty of the Minister, but it is my understanding that there is some power for inspectors to levy charges. If I got the wrong part, then perhaps we should just leave it there. On reflection, it might be in clause 84, so I should have raised it then. I apologise for that; I spotted my own mistake, so the Minister and I have both been honest with each other.
Vernon Coaker: Again, this is an important clause. It introduces schedule 11, which deals with crime and disorder strategies, which in turn have formed an interesting part of our discussions on part 1 of the Bill. I wonder whether the Minister could explain his thinking about why it is the case that police and crime commissioners are not members of the community safety partnerships. Why not? If they are not members of those partnerships, has the Minister envisaged how they will know what is going on? The Minister might say that they will do so through the police and crime panels and he might add, “If the hon. Member reads the schedule, it does say
It might be that the Minister should consider one other suggestion that people have made in respect of the membership of the police and crime panel. The Minister will say it is a matter for local discretion, and such like, but the councillor who has lead responsibility for community safety might be the most appropriate person to be on the police and crime panel. In that way, there would be a link between the police and crime commissioner, the police and crime panel and the community safety partnership. If that is not the case, there will have to be another means by which that can happen.
I think this is quite an important part of the Bill. The Minister knows that, whatever our discussions and disagreements about accountability, one of my great concerns is that I do not believe that an accountability problem exists at force level. It often exists at neighbourhood level, and as the police and crime commissioner is not required to be a member of the community safety partnership, there is a real issue of how we plug that gap to overcome the possibility to that deficit, and ensure that the commissioner is plugged into those partnerships.
Nick Herbert: My general response to the hon. Gentleman is to agree about the importance of community safety partnerships and the role that PCCs should play in that regard. As I have said before, PCCs having a wider responsibility for community safety is important. We made this change because it is not practical that the PCC should be directly represented on each partnership. If we take the example of Thames Valley, which has the largest number of authorities covered within a force area, it would require 18 different partnerships. The powers are set out in the clause to bring these partnerships up to force level. Others may attend in relation to local police representation on those panels, as happens now.
There are provisions in the Bill, as the hon. Member for Gedling noted, for acquiring information from the partnerships. The role of the police and crime panel is also important, because each council will nominate a member to that panel. It may well make sense that the lead councillor on community safety in each area sits as the representative on the PCP. That sounds like a sensible arrangement, but it should be determined at a local level—we should not prescribe that. Our general philosophy on these local arrangements for partnerships is to be less prescriptive and to allow arrangements, which work for that local community, to evolve at the local level. We do not stand in the way of the lead councillor sitting as the representative—there is clearly a lot of sense in that—but I do not wish to prescribe it. I want to put on the record that the strong engagement of a PCC with community safety partnerships will be very important, but that is not the same as saying that they have to have formal representation on them.
Vernon Coaker: I accept what the Minister says, but as this model rolls out, the relationship between the PCC and the PCP in community safety partnerships will be important. If we are not careful, there will be chief constables with an office, police and crime commissioners with an office and staff, police and crime panels and community safety partnerships. Making all that link together will be interesting.
“makes provisions for the Secretary of State to require the responsible authorities comprising a Community and Safety Partnership to submit a report on any matter relating to the exercise of their functions. This power is transferred to the relevant policing body…The power must be exercised in a reasonable and proportionate manner”.
Can the Minister explain that? Is it unreasonable for me to ask what is “reasonable and proportionate”, or is it just what it says? Is it just for them to determine at a local level what is reasonable and proportionate and we will see what happens?
Nick Herbert: Yes is the answer. They must behave in a reasonable and proportionate way. As for the hon. Gentleman’s wider point that we have police and crime panels, police and crime commissioners and community and safety partnerships: we already have police authorities and community and safety partnerships. It could be a great deal worse, because under his proposal, we would have police authorities with elected chairs and community and safety partnerships. We therefore have to recognise that local authorities have an important and continuing role, and that the governance of policing is related to that, but separate. That is why it is important to have a police and crime panel as well as community safety partnerships. There are clearly opportunities to ensure that the same individuals are involved. The cost of the police and crime panels should not be the factor that the hon. Gentleman fears. We are making provision for the cost of a scrutiny officer, but I do not see why police and crime panels as a scrutiny body should be costly bodies because their responsibility is not to hold the force to account, but to scrutinise the police and crime commissioner.
Vernon Coaker: That was a reasonable answer, as well as proportionate. The reason why I asked the question is that there is some trouble ahead with the provision, and I just wanted to flag up some of the issues. We will see what happens.
Steve McCabe: I have a couple of simple matters that I want clarified. The idea that forces will be encouraged to collaborate seems to be a good thing. Are existing collaboration agreements specified under legislation, which the clause will change or will such agreements be new? I apologise to the Minister for not knowing the present position. What is the difference between the sort of informal arrangements that exist between police forces that are usually agreed at chief constable level and a formal collaboration agreement? Why the need to specify such arrangements in such a way?
Am I right in assuming that a collaboration agreement could mean that one force can accept responsibility for a particular area of work, such as a drugs squad, with an agreement that it would actually do the work over both force areas? Is that the sort of thing that is envisaged?
Is it possible under an agreement for one force to agree to a set of activities that it will be responsible for over both force areas? What will happen if the police and crime panel, for whatever reason—good or bad—objects to the collaboration agreements? Will it have power to do anything? The most obvious reason that I can think of for an objection would be if it thought that the agreement was not equitable for its force area and that it had been given a poor deal.
Given that a police and crime commissioner is elected to represent the public interest in a specific force area, what would happen if the public vehemently opposed an agreement that was not specified in the election period, but implemented by the police and crime commissioner and the chief constable afterwards? Would there be any redress for the public who were opposed to it or would they have to settle for what they had until the four-year period was up and the commissioner was up for re-election? If that were the case, is that not an example of the public having less influence than they might have at the present time and not having more influence through the office of a police and crime commissioner?Nick Herbert: That was ingenious of the hon. Gentleman, but such an effect is not the case. Let me clarify the position. Clause 90 and schedule 12 bring the existing legislation on police collaboration agreements, which is provided for in section 23 of the Police Act 1996, into line with the introduction of police and crime commissioners, and the key role that they will play in driving collaborative working in the interests of efficient and effective policing. Not all members of the Committee will agree about the importance of collaboration between forces. In its report, “Valuing the Police”, which we have already discussed today, the inspectorate made it clear that collaboration has not proceeded at a fast enough pace. It is important that this is driven not only in the interests of securing greater value for money but to secure more effective policing.
We want to strengthen collaboration arrangements, because it is important to ensure once again that police and crime commissioners are not going to focus purely
Mark Tami: I agree with the Minister about the failure of sharing. The Minister was leading the fight against police mergers, and patting police authorities on the back—obviously he is doing something else on their backs now, but that is a different thing—but police forces have not really taken on board the need to share, and in fact fiefdoms still very much exist in a lot of forces.
Nick Herbert: I agree with the hon. Gentleman in so far as I do not think that collaboration has advanced, and that was the force of what I said recently in my speech to the City Forum. I said that we had to make progress, and I drew attention to the provisions in the Bill.
Let me briefly explain the difference that clause 90 makes in relation to the revised arrangements for collaboration agreements, which is what the hon. Member for Gedling asked me about. All the revisions are in response to advice that we received from the police service. First, by introducing proposed new section 22A, the clause replaces the current requirement for separate collaboration agreements between police authorities and between chief constables with a single agreement that can include them both, with the addition that other parties—for example, local authorities—may be included.
Secondly, it sets out in proposed new sections 22B and 22C a strong duty for both police and crime commissioners and chief constables to collaborate where it would be in the interest of efficiency or effectiveness. Thirdly, it introduces in proposed new section 23FA a new power for the Home Secretary to specify by order particular policing functions that must be provided collaboratively by all forces, supporting the service’s call for a stronger co-ordinating drive from the centre on collaboration in areas of strategic importance. It remains the case that police and crime commissioners are responsible for the totality of policing in their areas.
Vernon Coaker: The issue is not just collaboration between forces, which is important, and the Minister is right to try to drive greater collaboration on back-office functions and other policing functions. Is there anything in the arrangements that tries to deal with the gap that has always existed between the national and the local? The merger debate was about trying to introduce a regional tier, whatever the rights and wrongs of it. Is there anything in the collaboration arrangements whereby the collaborative arrangement between some police forces to provide operational capability can link more effectively to, for example—in 2013—the national crime agency? The lack of regional capability in the national agencies has often been the problem.
Nick Herbert: That goes back more to the debate about the strategic policing requirement. In future, the national crime agency and other agencies can be part of collaboration agreements, so that answers the question directly.
I agree with the hon. Gentleman about the importance of closing the gap. We may have disagreed in the past about force mergers, but the reality is that they will not happen. I do not believe that the current House of Commons would vote for force mergers. Even if we, the Government, took the view that forced mergers—compulsory mergers—were a good idea, and we do not, I do not believe that there is support for them.
It is essential that we move on from that debate and recognise that 43 forces will continue to exist—by and large, and excepting one or two voluntary mergers which might take place. Therefore, we must address the areas in which it is important that the forces collaborate more effectively, to improve value for money and to secure more effective policing. The provisions are sensible and will enable that. I hope that we will see, even before the legislation is passed, collaboration proceeding at a greater pace than it has until now.
Steve McCabe: I recognise the clear logic in what the Minister is trying to achieve, but if he intends to retain 43 forces, by and large, at what level will he continue to insist on collaboration? It would be possible, by insisting on a high level of collaboration, to come perilously close to reducing the number of forces. What is to prevent that from happening as a result of the measures in the Bill?
Nick Herbert: I doubt very much that the public have a problem with the idea of their forces collaborating, in particular on back-office functions that members of the public never see, but even on certain operational functions, such as the specialist units we were talking about.
I landed at Luton airport recently and a police vehicle outside was marked “Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire Protective Services”. I was not a supporter of a merger between the Bedfordshire and Hertfordshire forces, because it did not have local political consent. For that reason, a merger was never a runner in my view, and so I would not be drawn into enforcing mergers that I did not think were accepted by at least one of the counties and their local political representatives. However, nothing need stop those forces collaborating more closely in such areas. I think that that would receive public support, in particular if it could save money and ensure that the front line is protected.
I do not have a problem with stronger collaboration and I do not believe that the public do either. What the public want to see is local political accountability, and they fear a loss of such accountability. The creation of more distant units underlay much of the public anxiety about ever-larger police forces, which is why I thought that the previous Government were on the wrong track.
Vernon Coaker: Can the Minister reassure the Committee as to whether the new measures increase civilian powers, or leave them exactly the same? My reading is that the powers remain the same, but I wonder if that is the case.
Vernon Coaker: We are coming to the end of part 1, and there are one or two points that I wish to make. It would be churlish of me not to congratulate the Minister on clause 92, which ensures that the existing powers of the Secretary of State to give directions to failing police forces or police authorities continue to apply in relation to police forces, and to police and crime commissioners. I searched the Bill to find where the Secretary of State had the power to step in, should all else fail. I thought that the Minister was so localising that he would desperately be trying to avoid that, and felt sure that I would not find such a provision. But then we reach clause 92 and the Secretary of State retains the power to give directions.
Vernon Coaker: I do not think that it is localism in the way that the Minister would want, but it is a sensible provision and I just want to congratulate him for ensuring that some power is retained centrally. I have gently chided him as we have gone through the Bill, because at some point or other, when all hell breaks loose, the crisis arrives at the Home Office and everyone is running around, I am afraid that they will not say that, under the localism agenda, things are not down to him. TV cameras and everyone will be queuing at the Minister’s door and the Home Secretary’s door asking what they are going to do about it. They will be able to go back to clause 92 and say, “We have some power left to us. Thank God for that.”
in other words, the Minister is getting rid of the requirements for crime statistics and such things. I suppose they are not much use. I then think, “My goodness, the Minister will not require crime stats. He is not going to require reports to find out what is going on”, but then I remember clauses 92 and 93, under which the Secretary of State retains powers to require certain things.
We read under clause 93 that the Secretary of State can require different things from the chief constable. I am not about to ask a stupid question, given what the first part of the clause states, but can the Minister confirm that the Secretary of State will still require crime statistics to be collected nationally so that we can know what is happening with crime not only at a local level, but nationally? Is it the right hon. Gentleman’s intention that there will still be a national collection of crime statistics even though the Bill states that a chief officer “may” be required and so on? It is important that the position is clarified.
Nick Herbert: Yes, I am happy to reassure the hon. Gentleman. It is essential that we have such information and that the public have confidence in the information. That is why we have asked the national statistician to conduct an independent review of the crime statistics to see if we can arrive at a measure that will command the support of both sides of the House. I want to take the opportunity to say to the hon. Member for Gedling that there have been fierce exchanges about crime statistics over the past few years, and the Government are absolutely genuine in their wish to move on and see whether we can arrive at an agreed measure.
The national statistician has asked the Opposition for meetings to discuss her review, and it is my earnest hope that we can arrive at a measure that has cross-party agreement and addresses the particular deficiencies regarding the recorded crime figures and the British crime survey. That would considerably aid public debate. The hon. Gentleman and I have had this exchange briefly before in a Westminster Hall debate, but I want to repeat it because I think it is important.
Those statistics are not the only means by which the public are going to find out about crime. A week ago, we launched national crime mapping. Since the launch of police.uk a week ago, the website has received 310 million hits. It has a hit rate of 15,000 to 20,000 a minute, which is the equivalent of 900,000 to 1.2 million hits an hour. The public appetite for localised crime information is immense, and that is another means by which we are going to provide information that the public can value and trust, although I reiterate that that is not the only means. National crime statistics remain important, and we must try to build confidence in them. I urge the hon. Gentleman and the official Opposition to join the process of reaching an agreed measure so that we can stop the partisan debate about the statistics.
Steve McCabe: Personally, I think it would be good if there were consensus about crime figures; I thought at one time that there was, and it would be good if there were now. Will the Minister specify the form in which
Nick Herbert: Yes, that is specified and standardised, and there are registrars in each force. Separately, there are other initiatives, as well as the review by the national statistician. The inspectorate has been looking at what exactly is collected. There are issues related to antisocial behaviour and how that data are collected. It is time that we look again at all of that and ensure that what is being collected properly reflects the reality of crime at the local level.
Mark Tami: Does the Minister agree that we have to try to avoid what happened, for instance, when the previous Government widened the category of what was considered violent crime by adding to it? The then Opposition tried to exploit that by saying that violent crime had suddenly soared.
Nick Herbert: I invite the hon. Gentleman to move on from that kind of debate. [ Interruption. ] It is exactly why I hope that we will achieve an agreed measure, as there were changes in the way in which crimes in certain categories were recorded, which gave rise to considerable confusion. There is also an issue regarding the recorded crime figures as a whole, and there are deficiencies in the British crime survey concerning its ambit. We all recognise that, which is why there is an opportunity to move on from precisely that kind of partisan point. We are trying to reach an agreed measure, and it would be a good idea if we did.
This is a minor amendment to correct an error in clause 94. Section 53(2) of the Police Act 1996 requires the Home Secretary to consult persons representing the interests of police authorities before making regulations. Clause 94 of the Bill will replace that with a requirement to consult persons representing the views of police and crime commissioners and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime. In the Bill, the existing requirement to consult the common council of the City of London, in its capacity as a police authority, has been unintentionally removed. The amendment reinstates such a requirement by adding a reference to the common council in the appropriate place. Heaven forfend that the Government should forget the common council of the City of London.
Nick Herbert: Take two. The amendments will correct minor drafting errors in relation to the extension of the Secretary of State’s back-stop powers with respect to national and international functions to all police forces. By replacing the word “obligations” with the word “functions” it ensures that consistent terminology is used throughout the legislation, which will remove any possibility for confusion.
In addition, amendment 73 revokes section 96B to the Police Act 1996, which requires various other provisions in the Act to be read in a way that takes account of the national and international functions of the Metropolitan Police Authority. The amendment’s effect is to ensure that the authority’s duties to hold the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to account, to issue policing plans and so on, extend to its national and international functions as well as to its local policing functions in London.
Vernon Coaker: I understand that in omitting section 96A to the 1996 Act, clause 95 extends the provisions regarding national and international functions of the Metropolitan police to all police forces and their police and crime commissioners. Will the Minister explain the policy intention of such an extension and its consequences?
Vernon Coaker: The clause relates to schedule 14, which sets out the provisional arrangements on moving from the current police authority model to the new model of police and crime commissioners and police and crime panels. Without being technical or going into huge detail, a significant number of important practical arrangements have to be made on moving from one model to another, and they are laid out in schedule 14.
The Minister will know that many people have raised serious concerns about the transition. They have talked about whether there is a need for shadow arrangements or for further consideration by the Government. He will know that the Association of Police Authority chief executives have written in. If I may chide the Minister, I do not know whether he holds them in a little more regard than the members of the APA. I will not read out the whole submission, but the chief executives have raised major transition issues that they state are not addressed in the Bill, including that
“the need to prepare for the arrival of commissioners will need to be balanced with the local sovereignty of discretion commissioners are intended to have. In the meantime, strategic planning activity must continue on a local, regional and national basis. This involves some major organisational change programs and collaboration schemes under which parts of the police estate, IT, procurement, infrastructure etc. are being re-positioned…It appears the policy intent is to allow commissioners to exercise their functions in a way that they consider best meets local requirements”,
However, they think that such important matters need to be considered, and it is worried that if irreversible decisions are made on primary legislation, the secondary legislation will be a problem, however it is drafted.
APA chief executives want to avoid police authorities trying to second-guess what police and crime commissioners will want to put in place. In the run-up to police and crime commissioners taking over, there will be a tension about how far difficult decisions might be made that police and crime commissioners would not have made. There is a need for the Minister to look at the move from one system to another, and at whether the various
Nick Herbert: The APA chief executives have been very helpful in discussing those policy issues. They are represented on the transition board that we have set up to look at such issues. I will certainly take their suggestions or comments very seriously as we develop the transfer schemes, and as we work with police authorities to do that. Those schemes will have to be approved by the Secretary of State, and powers are provided in the Bill to ensure that. I am confident that we will meet the concerns that the chief executives have set out. As I told the Committee earlier, the work on the transition arrangements has already begun.
This is a technical amendment to clarify the application of existing legislation to chief officers after the Bill comes into force. As the Committee knows, we do not intend to change the fundamental powers and duties of chief officers, but we will change their legal status by making them corporations sole, so that they can employ staff in their official rather than in their personal capacities. Without this amendment, the change in legal status could lead to doubt as to whether the many existing references to chief officers in legislation continued to
Vernon Coaker: Schedule 14 contains references to politically restricted posts. In an earlier debate, the Minister made reference to this issue. I do not want to go into the debate here, but there remains an issue with that, and I am reflecting on it in the way that the Minister encouraged me to. I highlight that point.
Nick Herbert: I am happy that the hon. Gentleman is reflecting. As I said at the time, if he thinks there is a better way to prevent police and crime commissioners from employing political advisers, I would be happy to consider it. I want to make it clear that it always was the policy intent—it was in the Bill and our response document—that PCCs should not have political advisers. I am grateful that the Opposition have recognised that, because for some considerable time they were continuing to allege that that was going to be permitted under the Bill. We decided that it should not be so permitted. That is important, because of the nature of these positions.
Vernon Coaker: He has spoilt it there, the Minister. He has moved on and taken what I was saying to the extreme. I was saying that there was an issue on politically restricted posts, which I said I was willing to look at. I did not say what the Minister has just said. We will leave it there, Mr Chope.
Vernon Coaker: On a point of order, Mr Chope. Can you give any guidance? Schedule 15 is a massive schedule, which I have spent many hours reading to try to understand it. I am sure my hon. Friends have too. Is it in order to ask the Minister to explain why schedule 15 has not been moved, so that, when I am reading it again tonight, I can better understand why I am not wasting my time?
The Chair: On that last point, if a clause is removed from a Bill, the whole Bill is reprinted before it is reported to the House. That applies to schedules as well. On the point of order from the hon. Member for Gedling, there is no scope for debating a schedule that has been withdrawn, unless it is not the wish of the Committee that the schedule be withdrawn, in which case we can have a vote on it.
I should point out that clause 99, which gives effect to schedule 15, relates to minor and consequential amendments. It would not be good use of the Committee’s time to consider each amendment individually, which is why we think it better to table a new clause and schedule giving effect to the revised provisions.
I am happy to debate the new content when the new clause and new schedule are tabled. The change is to assist the Committee, and I reiterate that the amendments are minor and consequential. I somehow doubt that the hon. Gentleman intended to speak to them in any case.
Vernon Coaker: My long experience suggests that minor and consequential amendments are minor and consequential 99.9% of the time, but somewhere, usually, is tucked away something quite significant. However, I will leave the matter there.
Vernon Coaker: Just for clarity, does defining crime and disorder reduction negate anything to do with clause 79, on the strategic policing requirement? The question is serious. Is the clause stating only what “crime and disorder reduction” means wherever it is mentioned? Does it have any broader definition?
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