Policing: Police and Crime Commissioners - Home Affairs Committee Contents

1  Introduction

Q 1  The Government's proposals

1. On 26 July 2010, the Home Secretary, Rt Hon Theresa May MP, introduced a consultation paper that she said set out "the most radical reforms to policing in at least 50 years". She stated that police reform was a priority "because for too long the police have become disconnected from the communities they serve, been bogged down by bureaucracy and answered to distant politicians instead of to the people".[1] The consultation paper, Policing in the 21st Century: Reconnecting police and the people, included as one of its principal proposals the introduction of elected Police and Crime Commissioners. This followed a pledge in the Government's coalition agreement, which stated: "We will introduce measures to make the police more accountable through oversight by a directly elected individual, who will be subject to strict checks and balances by locally elected representatives".[2]

2. Both the Conservative and Liberal Democrat manifestos contained proposals to reform the current system of Police Authorities. The Conservative manifesto stated: "We will replace the existing, invisible and unaccountable police authorities and make the police accountable to a directly-elected individual who will set policing priorities for local communities".[3] The Liberal Democrat manifesto stated that they would "give local people a real say over their police force through the direct election of police authorities" and "give far more power to elected police authorities, including the right to sack and appoint the Chief Constable, set local policing priorities, and agree and determine budgets".[4] The previous Government proposed replacing councillor members of Police Authorities with directly elected members, but decided otherwise after strong representation from a number of organisations, including the police and our predecessor Committee. Members of this Committee hold widely differing views about the desirability or otherwise of the current proposals, but this inquiry has been held in a constructive spirit so as to determine how these proposals can best be delivered.

3. Currently, responsibility for policing is shared between the Home Secretary, Chief Constables, and Police Authorities, under the tripartite structure established by the Police Act 1964. The idea behind this structure is that the Home Secretary is responsible to Parliament for the overall efficiency and effectiveness of the police in England and Wales and the maintenance of minimum standards of service, Chief Constables are responsible for the operational effectiveness of their forces, and Police Authorities set the strategic direction of the force and hold Chief Constables to account.[5] Under the Government's proposals, directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners would replace Police Authorities, which would be abolished. The Government also proposes to introduce new bodies—to be known as Police and Crime Panels—in each force area to scrutinise Police and Crime Commissioners.

4. The consultation paper includes several other proposals for policing reform. We have focused on Police and Crime Commissioners at this stage because the Government has stated that the Bill relating to them will be introduced by the end of November 2010. In due course, we expect to announce further inquiries into the other proposals set out in the consultation paper, including the establishment of a National Crime Agency.

The scope of our inquiry

5. The consultation period for Policing in the 21st Century closed on 20 September 2010 and the Government is expected to publish the 800-plus responses at the same time as the Bill. The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice, Rt Hon Nick Herbert MP, told us that not only had the Home Office "undergone quite an extensive period of pre-consultation"—that is to say, informal consultation with stakeholders before the formal consultation process began—it would "welcome continuing responses and engagement with these proposals after the end of the formal period and as the Bill is introduced".[6] This report is intended to inform the discussion and scrutiny of the Bill as it makes its way through Parliament. Therefore, and given the time constraints imposed by the likely timetable for the Bill's publication, the report focuses mainly on the proposals for Police and Crime Commissioners as set out in the consultation paper, rather than discussing in detail the other structures that the Government could have adopted to improve the connection between the police and the communities they serve. The terms of reference for the inquiry can be found in the annex.

6. The Government's proposals for Police and Crime Commissioners relate to England and Wales; policing is a devolved matter in Northern Ireland and Scotland. Our report also relates principally to England and Wales, although some of the issues discussed are also relevant to the rest of the United Kingdom.

7. We heard oral evidence from eight witnesses, and received 25 written submissions, which are listed at the end of the report and published on the Committee's website. We are grateful to everyone who contributed to the inquiry. We also held a general oral evidence session on 27 July 2010 on policing, which has informed this report.

1   HC Deb, 26 July 2010, col 723 Back

2   The Coalition: our programme for Government, p 13 Back

3   Invitation to join the Government of Britain: The Conservative Manifesto 2010, p 57 Back

4   Liberal Democrat Manifesto 2010, p 72 Back

5   For further detail, please see Home Affairs Committee, Seventh Report of Session 2007-08, Policing in the 21st Century, HC 384-I, p 68 Back

6   Oral evidence taken before the Home Affairs Committee on 27 July 2010, Policing HC (2010-11) 362-i, Q 1 Back

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Prepared 1 December 2010