Examination of Witness (Question Numbers
11 January 2011
Q143 Chair: Mr Brake,
my apologies for keeping you waiting so long. Things have changed
since you were last on the Home Affairs Committee and we stuck
Tom Brake: Indeed,
I'm on the wrong side of the table, Chair.
Q144 Chair: Indeed,
I'm perhaps getting very lax in my old age, but welcome back,
in a different capacity. We're here to explore your party's views
on the changes that have been proposed to police funding as part
of our inquiry into police funding. Do you think there will be
a reduced range of activities that the police will have to undertake
as a result of the coalition's proposals? You didn't hear the
evidence obviously of the two chief constables. They said there
would be changes, but they maintain that they can keep the service
going. Do you think police officers will be doing less?
Tom Brake: Well,
I think the public's expectation will be that the police will
continue to deliver the same range of activities, whether it's
dealing with antisocial behaviour or dealing with child protection
issues. What I think may change is perhaps the way some of these
police activities are funded, and therefore I welcome the fact
that in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, for
instance, that it's going to be possible to levy a night levy
on businesses that are perhaps causing a disproportionate percentage
of problems in town centres. So I welcome that.
If I can just give perhaps one other example,
in my constituency there has been a particular large oil companyI'm
not going to name nameswhich has required a disproportionate
amount of police time dealing with drive-outs at one of their
garages where, in my view, it can't be beyond the wit of that
particular company, which is highly profitable, to find a way
and means of internally dealing with that issue rather than requiring
large amounts of police time to deal with it.
Q145 Chair: The Liberal
Democrat party has always been very keen on having more bobbies
on the beat, and I'm sure if we examine some of your literature
that's what you call for. Does it worry you that the chief constables
are now talking about a reduction in actual police numbers? Is
that a concern to you?
Tom Brake: It is
a concern. Clearly I think everyone around your table would agree
that having more officers patrolling, more officers available
is a good thing, but I think at the same time that it is quite
possible, bearing in mind I think the figure that Mr Burley quoted
earlier of the 11% of officer time that's spent visibly patrolling,
for the police to organise themselves in such a way that there
are more officersmore than the 11%. Therefore even within,
I would hope, perhaps a smaller manpower that they would still
be able to deliver the same, if not indeed an improved presence
on our streets.
Q146 Chair: I went
with you when you were on the Committee to Carshalton Police Stationit
may have been Sutton Police Station, I can't remember.
Tom Brake: Sutton.
Q147 Chair: If you
went to one of those police stations after these proposals were
implemented would you see fewer officers involved in the kinds
of things that we witnessed and we were very pleased to see?
Tom Brake: I am
pleased to say that they've secured a number of additional officers
as part of an arrangement within the Met within London, but in
the next few months it is possible that, for instance, the arrangements
for the safer neighbourhood teams, with the one sergeant, two
police constables and three community support officers, it wouldn't
surprise me if those are reviewed and, for instance, there may
be now a case for perhaps one sergeant managing two ward teams.
I suspect that is the sort of change that we will see. So, broadly
speaking, people will see the same presencepolice constables,
community support officers patrollingbut perhaps with fewer
senior officers in control of those individual teams.
Q148 Mr Burley: Just
on the issue you raised of, if you like, companies being more
responsible for the costs that police incur, something that has
always confused me is why more burden isn't placed on football
clubs to pay for the costs of policing the games? I live in Fulham
and we see every Saturday huge numbers of officers and horses
drafted in to police a match at clearly great cost to the police
and extraction of officers from elsewhere in London. Given the
amount of money that premiership football clubs make surely now,
in this climate, is the time to ask them, perhaps, to start to
pay more towards the policing of their profit-making enterprises
on a Saturday afternoon.
Tom Brake: I agree
entirely with the hon. Gentleman.
Q149 Mark Reckless:
Mr Brake, the Liberal Democrats have a strong tradition of local
accountability and democracy, and I just wondered what your thoughts
were on the oversight panels and how they'll link in with the
elected police commissioners? Would you see them as holding to
account, in a sort of ex-post critique, what the commissioner
is doing or do you think they can work with the commissioner to
ensure that district and BCU level of accountability?
Tom Brake: Mr Reckless,
are you talking in relation to the crime panels?
Mark Reckless: Correct.
Tom Brake: My view
of the crime panels is that they will have a fundamental role
to scrutinise what the elected police commissioner is doing. I
would have liked to have seen the arrangements piloted. I think
it would have been helpful perhaps to have seen in a small number
of different parts of the country different policing arrangements,
different sizesrural versus urban, for instanceand
to have had those arrangements piloted so that we could see that
the panels are able to scrutinise effectively, while at the same
time not being able to block the activities of the elected police
commissioner. That is the very difficult balance that has got
to be achieved between the two.
Q150 Mark Reckless:
Would it be possible for them to help the commissioner to scrutinise
Tom Brake: Yes,
that undoubtedly will be one of their roles and I think another
very important role for them will be to ensure that the issues
of each locality are properly taken on board by the elected police
commissioner because that, I believe, presents one of the biggest
challenges to elected police commissioners. They will be dealing
with, in some cases, very large areas, urban, rural, and suburban,
with very different policing needs, and the elected police commissioner,
this single person, will have to be kept well appraised of what
is happening in all of those different areas, and there I think
the panel has a very important role to play.
Q151 Mark Reckless:
And with possible provision for two co-opted members, would you
see scope for them helping to reflect the political balance and
voting strength across a force area and perhaps give a more proportionate
outlook to these panels?
Tom Brake: It is
down to the elected police commissioner and the panel to make
those decisions. I think having proper district or regional representation
on the panel will help to address that because that may reflect
the political balance across that particular area.
Q152 Lorraine Fullbrook:
Can I ask, Mr Brake, have you and your committee identified any
back office savings that you believe could be made?
Tom Brake: Thank
you, Madam Fullbrook. I'm likely to receive the same barrage I
think as did Ed Balls earlier, in that we are quite dependent
on the report that the HMIC has produced, which is very clear
in identifying a number of administrative changes and mergers
that can be achieved in the back office, whether it is IT functions
or human resources functions, and my committee would certainly
expect those to be proceeding apace. There is a separate issue,
I suppose, in terms of force mergers and what savings might be
derived from that source. Clearly, that is a very difficult political
issue, in that historically force mergers have been opposed by
If there was ever going to be a time when politicians
would perhaps understand the reasons why force mergers may be
required, I think now is the time. I think there may well be a
case for presenting an argument that identifies what savings might
be derived, for instance, through that route as opposed to what
savings might have to be derived by reducing the number of frontline
officers. I think we can then have a debate about that and I suspect
that most people will plump for having more frontline officers.
Q153 Lorraine Fullbrook:
Would you be satisfied with collaboration of police forces rather
than mergers? From personal experience, I have the Lancashire
headquarters in my constituency of South Ribble, and I fought
a campaign against the merger of Lancashire and Cumbria. A huge
part of that was the start-up cost of a merger, which within 12
weeks had gone from £2 million to £24 million, not to
mention the council tax disparity. Would you be satisfied with
collaboration of police forces?
Tom Brake: I'm
not seeking and nor is the Government to impose any force mergers.
If there is a call for it locally
Q154 Lorraine Fullbrook:
I was asking a personal question here.
Tom Brake: If there
is support for it then, yes, I would support it. But at the same
time if the demand is to make savings through collaboration, clearly
that is welcome as well. In a London context, for instance, where
we have 33 borough command units, it would be possible in my view
to maintain the individuality of each borough command unit and
maintain the relationship between local people, local politicians,
the local council and other partners without necessarily having
33 borough commanders. I imagine that is something that the Met
are considering as perhaps a way of maintaining frontline servicesmaintaining
the link, the local accountability but perhaps taking out some
of those senior management costs.
Q155 Dr Huppert:
Mr Brake, when police forces have to make savings they will clearly
have to make some sort of prioritisation. Do you have any opinions
as to what aspects of their services are more important and which
are less important?
Tom Brake: Yes,
that was an interesting exchange earlier. In terms of what police
forces should prioritise, there are a couple of things I'd like
to mention that are internal to the police. The first one, which
came out very strongly from the HMIC report, was that very few
senior police officers currently believe that there is a need
for senior officers to have financial and management skills to
address the budget reductions that they are going to have to make.
So an internal challenge, I think, for the police is to deal with
that, because budget cutsthe collaboration that's been
talked about; that sort of back office savingthat's not
something that happens by itself. It happens because people are
willing to take the tough decisions, are willing to knock heads
together and to make things happen. So I think that is an internal
challenge for the police.
In terms of what the police should prioritise,
I am strongly committed to the principle of local panels or ward
panels deciding at a very local level what their priorities should
be, because those are the priorities that the local community
wants. I've just come from a meeting with James Brokenshire about
neighbourhood watch. Certainly in my area, a neighbourhood watch
representative sits on the ward panels, and therefore they and
their members have direct input into that process. So that is
something that I think should be continued, and I welcome the
fact that in the coalition agreement there is a clear steer that
these meetingsthe borough meetings for the public to have
input into that processare going to be maintained. At the
same time, we need to maintain the national priorities that are
delivered currently by SOCA, soon to be the National Crime Agency.
So in terms of priorities I think we're probably,
in answer to the earlier question about which tasks the police
were going to stop doing, I think my view is they will continue
to maintain the same, or should continue to maintain, the same
range of activities, but they will have to do more with less,
and that again comes down to mergers, collaboration, and amalgamation.
Some forces have taken the police who deal with antisocial behaviour
issues, and merged them with staff from the local authority who
are dealing with the same thing, to get some economies of scale
and make sure that there is no overlap between their activities.
Q156 Steve McCabe:
Mr Brake, as I understand it you are here in your capacity as
the co-chair of the Lib Dem committee on home affairs.
Tom Brake: That's
Q157 Steve McCabe:
Can I ask in simple terms, how does the policy of your committee
on savings differ from the coalition's policy on savings?
Tom Brake: That's
a very interesting question, and one which we are working on the
detail of in terms of the answer because clearly, as a party,
quite rightly we are committed to the coalition Government and
delivering the coalition Government programme. But at the same
time, as the Liberal Democrats, we have a different agenda, we
have different issues that we want to push, and we are aware that,
for instance, the coalition programme is a programme which is
agreed, broadly speaking, until the end of 2011, perhaps some
way into 2012. Beyond that point, there are additional new policies
that the coalition Government will have to agree.
Q158 Steve McCabe:
But the CSR goes to 2015, so presumably you've gone beyond 2012.
Tom Brake: But
in terms of the coalition programme, Mr McCabe, if you look at
what the coalition partners have agreed in terms of the programme
they're going to deliver, that runs until, broadly speaking, 2012,
and beyond that, we will need to put in place a new range of agreed
policies between the two parties. Our committee will be pushing
to ensure that there are policies from a Liberal Democrat perspective
that we are comfortable withnew policies that we want to
see adopted by the coalition Government which will be rolled out
from 2012 onwards.
Q159 Chair: You must
be very pleased that the coalition Government's agenda on civil
liberties is very much a Liberal Democrat agendafor example,
the abolition of control orders, the reduction of the detention
period, the closure of Yarl's Woodnot the closure of Yarl's
Wood, the prevention of children going to Yarl's Wood. Are you
conscious of having that disproportionate influence over the way
in which the coalition Government operate?
Tom Brake: Clearly,
we're very pleased with what the coalition Government are doing
in relation to civil liberties, although in relation to control
orders, clearly, we don't know the detail.
Q160 Chair: Have
you been consulted about it? Is this something that Ministers
would ring you up about, since you are the chairman of this joint
Tom Brake: I have
had a number of meetings with the Home Secretary on this issue,
so yes, we have been very actively consulted about it and had
input into that process.
Q161 Chair: So do
you expect them to be abolished?
Tom Brake: I expect
control orders to be abolished but I expect in their place an
alternative package and measures which, from the civil liberties
perspective, and in my view from a security perspective, are going
to be more effective than what currently exists.
Q162 Chair: Do you
expect the detention period to be reduced to 14 days?
Tom Brake: The
Home Secretary is on record saying that she personally wants to
reduce it to 14 days, so I am confident the coalition Government
will agree that that is going to go down to 14 days.
Q163 Chair: Since
most of your civil liberties objectives have been achieved in
the first 12 months is there anything left that you'd like the
coalition Government to do?
Tom Brake: Well,
there's still a lot on the agenda. There are some issues around,
for instance, fingerprinting of children in schools. There are
issues to do with CCTV. There are a number of other issues where
I think we can identify common ground that both partners in the
coalition Government would want to push.
Q164 Chair: Are you
satisfied that you are carrying your majority partner in all these?
It's not just the smaller partner trying to run the Government's
civil liberties agenda?
Tom Brake: Civil
liberties are not just a Liberal Democrat issue. If you consider
the number of senior Conservative MPs who are in the same position
in supporting the changes, whether it's David Davis, Kenneth Clarke,
Dominic Grieve, and indeed new Members such as Dominic Raab, these
are Members who have expressed very strong views about control
orders and the need to get rid of them. So I don't see this as
being a particularly Liberal Democrat policy agenda. It's more
one for the coalition as a whole.
Q165 Chair: When
you were sitting on this Committee, you were instrumental in getting
the Committee to look at the G20 protest because you were part
of the protests.
Tom Brake: I was
an observer, Chair, at the protest.
Q166 Chair: Of coursea
very distinguished observer. In fact, the issue of undercover
police officers was raised by you in the Committee during one
of the sessions, so are you surprised at the turn of events regarding
Mr Kennedy and the fact that he was an undercover officer for
so long and suddenly he's giving evidence for the defence.
Tom Brake: I'm
surprised that he's done a U-turn in terms of which party to support
in the case, but I'm not surprised that there are undercover officers
acting in that way. What we found at the G20 inquiry was that
having been given initial assurances by Bob Broadhurst in front
of this Committee that there were no undercover officers active
at the G20 during the demonstrations. Subsequently, we found out
that the City of London had 25 officers deployed on that day,
or those two days, and what we now find out is thatand
this is perhaps even more concerningthis particular officer
who was working undercover, as I understand it, had been seconded
to ACPO, or to an agency that worked for ACPO, yet the lead officer
for public protest or policing of public protests, Sue Sim, is
on record saying that undercover officers should not be deployed
at events like the G20. Yet we have someone working, seconded
to an ACPO-related organisation, who is doing exactly that. So
I think it's time for ACPO to do what they haven't done yet, which
is to publish some guidance on what they think it's appropriate
for undercover officers to do when they are active at a public
Chair: I'll be writing
to the commissioner to clarify the comments he made to our predecessor
Committee following the questions that you raise.
Q167 Mr Winnick:
Of all the Back Benchers on the Liberal Democrat side, I can't
help noticing that you seem to be the most enthusiastic of the
Government's supporters, and I'm just wondering if there's a sort
of growing love-in where possibly by the next election you will
be fighting on a joint programme.
Tom Brake: I don't
think there's any prospect of that whatsoever. And I can finish
my answer there.
Mr Winnick: Duly noted.
Chair: Mr Brake, thank
you very much for giving evidence. We are most grateful. I am
sorry again that you were kept waiting so long to give evidence
to us. Thank you very much.