The Lord Speaker (Baroness D'Souza): My Lords, I regret to inform the House of the death of the noble Lord, Lord Croham, on 11 September. On behalf of the House, I extend our condolences to the noble Lord's family and friends.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Browning): My Lords, when the Government came to power, we were borrowing £1 for every £4 we spent. We must reduce the budget deficit. The police funding settlement is therefore challenging but manageable. The Government are clear that savings need to be made while protecting front-line services, and the most recent report from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary shows that forces are working hard to do so. It is largely a matter for individual forces how they achieve this, but the Government are playing their part, including through a new package of policies that will cut bureaucracy, which could save up to 2.5 million police hours per year.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Where is the Government's growth plan, I wonder? Turning to the Question, surely it cannot be the case that a reduction of 16,000 police officers will not have an impact on front-line policing. Will the noble Baroness acknowledge that the cuts already made are already impacting on front-line services, and will she respond to recent research by the London School of Economics showing that the proposed police cuts are likely to undermine forces' ability to stop crime rising?
Baroness Browning: My Lords, the noble Lord should step back from the brink. From where we sit, we are peering into the abyss because what we inherited has made this necessary. As a member of the former
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I have to say that noble Lords will have to get over this and face the reality, which is what we have had to do. Forces are focused on protecting front-line services. I have read many comments from chief officers who, I acknowledge, have a difficult and challenging task, but they are going to put the front line first and are rising to that challenge. The most recent report from Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary, Adapting to Austerity, sets out a summary of force work plans for the spending review period which states that the number working in front-line roles was expected to fall by, on average, just 2 per cent over the two-year period between March 2010 and March 2012. I have every confidence that chief officers will ensure that the front line is protected.
Lord Imbert: My Lords, do Her Majesty's Government expect the British police service to lose its global reputation for being the most accountable, well governed and respected service in the world? If so, do they really care?
Baroness Browning: My Lords, not only do we care, but we have every respect for the work done by police forces every day. However, it is time to look at how the police are deployed in these times of austerity-the very title of Her Majesty's Inspectorate's report. We have to challenge, as senior police officers are doing up and down the country, the way forces are deployed. For example, we see in the recent report that, astonishingly, there are more front-line police officers on duty on a Monday morning than on a Friday night. Surely that has to be challenged. Surely there are ways better to deploy forces to protect the public and the front line, and to ensure that we maintain the important reputation that the noble Lord is so familiar with.
Baroness Browning: My noble friend is absolutely right. Indeed, it is very encouraging to see the way in which forces are using technology, and combining across force borders, by mutual agreement, to share in it to improve the way they serve the public.
Baroness Smith of Basildon: My Lords, I would like to ask the Minister about her comments on protecting front-line services. Indeed, the Prime Minister himself said that front-line services would be protected. Will she then explain to me how that equates to the response in the county of Essex, where 24-hour police stations will no longer exist as a result of these cuts, and where half the police stations are going to be closed? Is that protecting front-line services?
Baroness Browning: My Lords, these individual matters in individual forces are for individual decisions taken by the individual chief officers for good reasons when
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Baroness Browning: I sense from my noble friend's question how she felt about seeing that scene on television. I have absolutely no reason to believe that it was anything to do with lack of policing, but I am very happy to write to my noble friend with more details about the background to that incident.
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, will the Minister comment on the view that, given the scale and speed of the Government's reductions in police budgets over the next two years, most members of the public to whom Members of your Lordships' House speak would rather see the money put into what the noble Baroness referred to as "numbers" of staff than into some newfangled American scheme to elect police commissioners? Surely the Government could have been patient with their pet scheme and protected the public from the cuts they are imposing?
Baroness Browning: My Lords, the noble Baroness and I have had many discussions along these lines during the course of the Bill, the later stages of which are being considered today. I totally dispute the point she is making; the money for this is not coming out of the police budget. I remind her that there were many times when the previous Government spent money on elections, which they thought were extremely worthwhile. Nobody suggested at the time that democracy was something not worth paying for.
The Minister of State, Foreign and Commonwealth Office (Lord Howell of Guildford): My Lords, to mark the international day of democracy, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary will issue a Statement reaffirming the United Kingdom's support for more open societies, political freedom and democratic values across the world. We will encourage our bloggers at posts overseas to discuss democracy issues in their countries to promote greater public awareness and use a variety of digital communications to highlight our work in supporting democracy worldwide.
Viscount Montgomery of Alamein: My Lords, I thank the Minister for that Answer, which was very informative. Is he aware that the Inter-Parliamentary Union has 157 member countries and is in fact the United Nations of parliaments? Its principal purpose is to promote the cause of democracy worldwide. It is currently wrestling with the emerging democracies in the Middle East and north Africa.
Lord Howell of Guildford: I am indeed aware of the IPU, which does excellent and valuable work. It reinforces the causes and activities not only of Governments but of all kinds of organisations, non-governmental and governmental, in promoting democratic values.
Lord Ryder of Wensum: My Lords, in view of the fact that every piece of legislation which comes to your Lordships' House has been automatically guillotined in the other place, can my noble friend and his right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary spend a little of democracy day trying to persuade their colleagues to stop this miserable practice in the interests of better Parliament and for the sake of true democracy, to which I gather from my noble friend's reply the Foreign Secretary clearly adheres?
Lord Howell of Guildford: I am asked whether I can comment on that. I can't and, in fact, I won't, because these are matters not only for usual channels but for managers of business in both Houses. I add a general point: I think that it was Mr Churchill who said that democracy was the worst system except all others. It is certainly not perfect; it can be constantly improved. We try in both our Houses to do that, but how it should be done is not for me to advise.
Lord Triesman: My Lords, I welcome the fact that the Foreign Secretary will make the Statement that has been promised. Like the noble Viscount, Lord Montgomery, I have looked at the IPU's plans. It has encouraged parliaments and Governments around the world to organise activities for tomorrow, particularly directed at young people and students and focusing on democracy and human rights. That is obviously resonant given the events of the year-the growth of democratic demands and the Arab spring. While I am delighted to know that people who are in post around the world will be twittering, could we be told what events have been organised by the Government for young people and students, as the IPU suggests and at the request of Ban Ki-Moon, and where we might learn about them on any government website?
Lord Howell of Guildford: I could not speak about the detail of youth organisations, but it is obvious that vast numbers-billions-of young people need to be encouraged in the values of democracy throughout the world and we play our part. On specific propositions on the website and elsewhere, I shall have to write to the noble Lord.
Lord Alderdice: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that the celebration is not just about our own historic past and the contribution that this great country has made to democracy, nor about encouraging democracy in other parts of the world-extremely
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Lord Howell of Guildford: Yes, of course I agree with my noble friend. There is great wisdom in what he says. Democratic values need to be constantly reasserted. Democracy lies in the responsibility of each individual. I think that it was Edmund Burke who said that society only works if there is a policeman within each of us. So it is with democracy. If democratic ideas are implanted in each generation, there will be democracy. It is about a lot more than votes and party politics.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: My Lords, I apologise to the Minister for implying in a previous intervention that he was wrong in saying that the grant to the Westminster Foundation for Democracy had increased. In fact, depending on which start date one takes, he and I were both right as to whether it had increased or decreased.
Lord Foulkes of Cumnock: That is my kind of apology. However, in view of the greater demand and the plans that the Westminster Foundation for Democracy has, particularly in relation to the Middle East and north Africa, will he and his colleagues in the Foreign Office and the Department for International Development give sympathetic consideration to increasing the grant for the coming years?
Lord Howell of Guildford: I am in an extremely generous mood and I want to say to the noble Lord straight away that he was indeed half right, just as I was. The facts are that the budget for the Westminster Foundation for Democracy was cut last year-and unfortunately the year before, which I think that must have been under another Government; I am not sure. But this year there was an increase of 3 per cent. We support this very strongly indeed. I must tell the noble Lord that the level for next year has not yet been set, but his enthusiasm for it has been noted in the work we do in building democracy and supporting this organisation.
Lord Tebbit: My Lords, will my noble friend assert the democratic principle very strongly this week by telling the foreign judges in Europe that it is up to this Parliament to decide whether prisoners in jail should have votes, and not for a bunch of foreigners to decide it for us?
The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord McNally): My Lords, the Government want to encourage everyone, young or old, to engage in the democratic process. We all have a role to play. On voter registration, for example, the Government are exploring how online services might be deployed, and across government we are looking at ways of promoting consultations and information on youth-friendly media.
Lord Roberts of Llandudno: I thank the Minister for that reply. Does he agree that it is essential that young people feel that their community belongs to them, so that they have a sense of ownership and a voice in shaping that community? In order to achieve this engagement in their communities-and I declare an interest as patron of the youth for democracy campaign, Bite the Ballot-could they not take leadership courses and engage in voter registration there? Young people could have far greater influence than older people on the youth element.
Lord McNally: My Lords, I will take back to the Cabinet Office the suggestion of specifically recruiting young people to encourage other young people to register. The Cabinet Office has been consulting with youth groups to develop detailed operational policy for individual electoral registration, including ways in which to tackle under-registration. Additionally, the independent Electoral Commission runs public awareness campaigns to encourage voter registration ahead of all major election events.
Lord Beecham: My Lords, can the Minister explain how the Localism Bill's abolition of the duty to promote democracy will encourage more young people, or indeed any people, to engage with democratic institutions?
Lord McNally: I am not sure whether that particular part of the Localism Bill will have an impact in the way in which the noble Lord implies. As I have just indicated, the Government are taking a great deal of care and attention, particularly about individual registration. Going back to the original Question, we are taking particular care to try to ensure that young people register to vote.
Baroness Howe of Idlicote: Will the Minister assure me that there will be young apprenticeships available for young people which will in fact enable them to give some of their time to the sort of projects suggested? I think that there is rather a dearth in the number of young apprenticeships available for young people.
Lord McNally: On the contrary, my Lords, one of the things I think this Government can take pride in is the funds that they have made available to extend
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Baroness Knight of Collingtree: My Lords, does my noble friend agree that it would be appropriate to pay tribute to the former Speaker of this House, who initiated and carried through a very wide programme of sending Members of this House to talk to schools, colleges and places where there are very many young people? Does he not agree that she did a great job in that regard?
Lord McNally: Indeed, and if I may say so, it is almost the mirror image of what my noble friend suggested in his opening question. The previous Speaker's outreach programme allowed Members full in years and experience to go and speak to young audiences, not only about this House, but about participation in politics. As one who participated in that programme, I must say that they were most enjoyable meetings, and since they were usually compulsory for the school that was hosting them they were better attended than some political meetings I have addressed.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, there was an important democratic initiative earlier this week, with the publication by the Boundary Commission of its initial proposals for new parliamentary constituencies. Members of this House, all of whom are young at heart, have a close, appropriate and legitimate interest in these matters. Can the Minister inform the House why this material has not been made available for all Members of your Lordships' House through the Printed Paper Office in the normal way, and can he give a clear assurance to the House that this disparagement of this House will be corrected immediately and certainly before the House rises tomorrow?
Lord McNally: I have heard this bubbling away on the other Benches. I will certainly look into it. I know of no reason why it is not available in the Printed Paper Office. I assumed that it was available immediately. Indeed, if I may say, one of the things that I would like to see is legislation in this House that would make every Member of this House interested in boundaries and elections.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, I first declare an interest as the founder and president of the Citizenship Foundation, which works with over half the state's schools in trying to educate the citizens of tomorrow. It is at present part of the Government's policy-albeit it is out to consultation-to remove citizenship as a compulsory component of our education. Would he not accept that today's democracy is fiendishly complicated; the output of Parliament is unbelievably complicated; and if we really want young people-particularly less self-confident and less able young people-to identify with democracy, take an interest in it and own it, we cannot afford at this point of all times to abandon citizenship?
Lord McNally: I pay tribute to my noble friend's commitment to the concept of the teaching of citizenship and note what he says about the importance of keeping
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The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Department for Communities and Local Government (Baroness Hanham): My Lords, the planning system that we inherited is very bureaucratic and does too little to encourage sustainable development or community involvement. Rather than imposing targets or blueprints from above, this Government are changing things so that local people and their councils can decide what they need and how they accommodate it. Our reforms will create sustainable growth by working with people, not against them, and not at the expense of the environment.
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Minister for her reply. Of course we need more affordable homes, but I am not interested so much in the arguments as in the basis, or evidence, on which the Government are putting forward their proposals. Can she give the House the evidence for their proposals or perhaps put them in the Library? Can she for example confirm that 80 per cent of all planning applications are approved and that there are extant planning permissions, right now, for 330,000 houses, which have just not been built?
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I think it is probably correct to say that 80 per cent of planning applications are approved. It depends how long it takes for them to be approved. I believe that over 3,000 applications have been outstanding for well over a year. It is also true to say, I think, that as far as democracy is concerned, over 80 per cent of planning applications are considered by officers, something that was dictated by the previous Government. They do not have the democratic input that one would like. Somewhere along the line the local community is getting left out on this, and we need to put that right. It has been said that the land for those houses-I think the number is 240,000 rather than 300,000-amounts to about one year's need in this country at the moment.
Lord Waddington: Does my noble friend accept that some of us on this side of the House are finding it incredibly difficult to accept that it is right to turn the planning system on its head and create a presumption in favour of development?
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, the presumption in favour of development is set against the background of local plans. Those are being created, although some have not been completed. However, the presumption is there to ensure that decisions are taken with reference
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Lord Howarth of Newport: My Lords, will the noble Baroness the Minister advise members of the National Trust and the Campaign to Protect Rural England actually to read the draft national planning policy framework before they allow themselves to be co-opted in a hysterical campaign of denunciation? Will she also take this opportunity to reaffirm a national commitment, which is lacking in the draft, to prioritise development on brownfield land? Will she undertake that the Government will allow reasonable time for local planning authorities to complete or to update their local development frameworks before the new policy is brought into operation?
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I am extremely grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Howarth of Newport, for raising this issue about the campaign that has been waged by both the National Trust and one of our major national newspapers. It has been both over the top and extremely personalised, which makes it very difficult for people to answer their attacks. That, I think, is well off the line. Nor do I understand it, because English Heritage itself-in the form of my noble friend Lady Andrews, who is not here at the moment-has already confirmed that the planning policy as it stands does not affect heritage at all but simply confirms the previous Government's position on this as well as our own: that all aspects of our heritage are extremely important and that they will be protected through this new system. We expect brownfield sites to be developed, largely in town centres. Town centre planning, and development in town centres, is important, but we will not rule out, and the plan does not rule out, the fact that in some circumstances, particularly in the countryside, there may be a reason why some green land-not green belt land but greenfield land-may be appropriate to build on.
The Lord Bishop of Exeter: My Lords, I noticed that, in her reply, the noble Baroness referred to local councils, but is she aware that in many rural areas the issue is not the planning powers of local councils but the not infrequent disjunction between the outcomes of local community planning processes and the constraints of wider spatial strategies? I can think of examples in my own diocese where coherent and cohesive community plans for local regeneration and redevelopment have been turned down on grounds that appear from a local perspective to be remote, abstract and incomprehensible. Is she aware of just what a negative and depressing impact this can have on local initiative and community well-being, and could she give an assurance that the Government do intend to address this aspect of planning law reform?
Baroness Hanham: My Lords, I think this aspect will be much encouraged and much improved by the Government's proposals for neighbourhood forums, orders and areas. The right reverend Prelate has said that this does not conform with-or that there have
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Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lord Freud, I beg to move that the Welfare Reform Bill be committed to a Grand Committee. This is a question of business management, for which I am responsible.
Although the House is regularly called upon to agree commitment Motions, such Motions are normally taken formally because they are the result of an agreement among the usual channels. On this occasion, however, the usual channels have not been able to agree on the commitment of this Bill, despite protracted discussions. As a result, and because there appears now to be no prospect of reaching an agreement in this case, the question does need to be put to the House.
This is a matter I have taken not lightly but only after full consideration. In coming to a view on the Motion, noble Lords should be aware that if this House is to have reasonable time to scrutinise each
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That has been our practice for more than a decade. This Session, however, we are on course to have the lowest proportion of Bills sent to Grand Committee since 2001-02. That simply is not a sustainable position. If too large a proportion of Committee stages are taken on the Floor of the Chamber, that has to be, practically, at the expense of the amount of time that the House can debate each of our Bills. If the House is to have reasonable time to consider each of the government Bills, a further Bill needs to be considered in Grand Committee.
Welfare Bills have been considered in Grand Committee before; indeed, under the previous Government that was the case. The Companion sets no conditions on whether a Bill should be considered in one forum or the other. Colleagues will recall that the Goodlad group on working practices recommended that all Bills should be considered in Grand Committee but that Report and Third Reading be taken in the usual manner in the Chamber, where Divisions may take place.
I have taken soundings on this matter from around the House. Overall, bearing in mind the Bills currently before the House and those that are yet to reach it from another place, I believe that the Welfare Reform Bill is the best candidate for scrutiny in Grand Committee. It merits the more in-depth, informal and technical approach and the more, shall we say, paper-friendly reading from outside offered by the kind of facilities available in the environment of a Grand Committee.
I hope that it is noticed that I am stressing Grand Committee, not the Moses Room, where I understand there would be some concerns about a Bill of this nature being considered. I fully recognise that a number of noble Lords who use wheelchairs and have other mobility restrictions would find the Moses Room difficult, and I therefore discarded that as an option. I want to ensure that as many Peers as have an interest in the Bill, whatever their mobility or access issues, are able to play a full part. I am also concerned that those from lobbies who brief noble Lords, who may themselves have mobility issues, should also be able to attend and observe our debates. I know that they are broadcast from both the Chamber and Grand Committee but it is clear that members of the public treasure the opportunity to attend in person.
I have already asked the Director of Facilities to discuss with Members which Committee Room layout they would find the most convenient and to take account of the likely number of participants and observers and their full needs. I am confident that the end result would be significantly more convenient for everyone than would be the case if the proceedings were all in this Chamber.
I am aware that there may be concerns among those who are lobbying colleagues at the moment that Grand Committee does not work. I have been there many a time. It was introduced to facilitate the proper scrutiny of Bills in this House, and it does work.
As the government Chief Whip, my advice to the House is that this Bill should be committed to a Grand Committee for its Committee stage, with Report and Third Reading following on the Floor. This will ensure that the House as a whole has sufficient time to devote all its views to Committee-stage scrutiny of the Bill, as well as being able to give proper time to the other Bills still awaiting consideration over the remainder of the Session. I formally invite the House to commit the Welfare Reform Bill to Grand Committee. I beg to move.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: My Lords, this is a very grave situation. It is unusual for the usual channels not to be able to agree on a way forward in dealing with legislation. Colleagues in this House will know that I have a reputation for being very open in my negotiations and that I am always ready to conduct those negotiations in a friendly and charitable way. It is a role that I perform not just for my own party but with an eye on and a mind towards the whole House. I am frequently lobbied by others outside our grouping to approach these matters in that way.
I am deeply concerned about this Motion for several reasons. I see it as a first step towards a fully regulated House. I do not think anybody wants that; we certainly do not and I am sure most noble Lords do not want it either. I have tried to offer options on days in Committee. It is also an open secret that we were prepared to discuss splitting the Committee sessions of the Bill between Grand Committee and the Floor of your Lordships' House. I thought we were making steady progress towards that objective. So far this Session we have agreed to commit eight Bills to Grand Committee and we were prepared to negotiate on a further two. That is the largest number since 2007-08.
I am seriously concerned about the ability of all noble Lords to participate in the proceedings on this Bill. The noble Baroness has rightly drawn attention to the shortcomings of the Moses Room. Those shortcomings are just as apparent on the Committee Corridor. Several colleagues have told me in clear terms that the rooms upstairs are not much better and that a lot of furniture will need to be moved to facilitate those who have difficulty with mobility and to enable lobby groups and those who are interested in the Bill to participate and observe proceedings.
We should take the Motion away and continue negotiations. There is no rush. In my view the Bill needs around 68 to 70 hours of Committee time. That is how long it had at the other end and that is how long we should spend on giving it fair consideration in your Lordships' House. If that is to be the case, it would occupy around 15 or 16 sessions in Grand Committee. My last offer on this was to suggest that the Bill be considered on the Floor of the Chamber for some eight days and in Grand Committee for the remainder, to deal with those technical and difficult issues that are tucked away in schedules at the back of the Bill.
The Government have got themselves into a muddle with their legislative programme. I have said that at the Dispatch Box before and I repeat it today. This is a two-year Session at the beginning of a Parliament, and part of a five-year fixed-term Parliament. We have
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Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I have been open to negotiation and received just the word "no". I welcomed the offer of the Opposition to engage in discussions about splitting the Bill between the Chamber and Grand Committee. However, the negotiation was one in which the Opposition said no to the Government. The offer of four days on the Floor of the House and as many as the House wished to spend in Grand Committee was turned down. This has to be balanced against the needs of other Bills, which will also attract great attention around the House from people who feel passionately about and have great expertise in all the issues.
In response, I shall refer to one or two of the points that the noble Lord raised, and I shall try to do so fairly briefly. This is not a step towards regulation-just the reverse. This is the House regulating itself. It is self-regulation to avoid full regulation. It is not the case that Grand Committee has been used effectively in the past few years. I note the careful way in which the opposition Chief Whip referred to a number of Bills. The numbers of Bills in Grand Committee in recent years are as follows. In 2007-08 there were 10 in Committee of the Whole House and 12 in Grand Committee. In 2008-09 there were nine in Committee of the Whole House and six in Grand Committee-that is 40 per cent. In the following years the figures were 36 per cent and 33 per cent of Bills in Grand Committee. We are at an all-time low in agreements from the Opposition to put Bills into Grand Committee.
I would have liked to have been in a position where we did not have to sit in the first week of October during the Conservative Party conference. We debated this in June, when I made it clear that the failure to put another Bill into Grand Committee would mean that this House would have to sit for longer in order to give proper consideration to Bills. On that day the Leader of the Opposition said:
"I know that next week my noble friend the Chief Whip will wish to enter into further conversation with the government Chief Whip to see how we can secure other Bills in a Grand Committee of this House". -[Official Report, 16/6/11, col. 1031.]
We had those discussions but the result was that the Opposition refused to allow the Government to split
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Lord Grocott: My Lords, this is a very unfortunate day for this House. For the first time in the past decade we find ourselves having this kind of debate over whether or not a Bill should go to Grand Committee. I would hope that even at this stage the government Chief Whip would agree to go away and have wider discussions if necessary, involving the Convenor of the Cross Benches if that has not been done already, across the House.
I need to say to her that the House may have inadvertently misunderstood the noble Baroness, or she may have found herself misrepresenting the position to the House, but the Goodlad committee did not say that all Bills should go to Grand Committee. It said that Bills should go to Grand Committee except for controversial Bills, emergency Bills and constitutional Bills. I do not think that anyone can seriously argue that this is not a controversial Bill. The Government have got themselves a problem which the noble Baroness betrayed a little in what she said. She was saying that we have got to deal with all the Bills that come from the Commons. That number of Bills, and the degree to which they are controversial, is not an accident or event caused by a third party; it is a decision made by the Government at the highest level, of which the noble Baroness and the Leader of the House are an important part. We have an unprecedented two-year Session in which there has been a very high proportion of constitutional Bills and controversial Bills. It is astonishing that we have got to the position where the Government simply cannot accommodate the Bills. The Government should have had a shorter legislative programme. Why are we considering today a Bill for fixed-term Parliaments that establishes five years for each Parliament? Why could that not have been done next year? It would have saved us no end of time if we had had that Bill next year instead of this year.
I want to try to be constructive. Perhaps I may simply put it to the government Chief Whip that I am sure there is room for flexibility. Anyone who has ever found themselves in her position knows perfectly well how difficult it is. Why does she not have discussions with my noble friend and others? I am sure that there is at least one Bill left in the Government's legislative programme that could be carried over to the next Session. It would require the approval of the House but I am quite sure that if it was a sensible proposal the House would carry over one of the Bills to the next Session, which would enable us then to have proper time on the Floor of the House, where this Bill should be, for proper consideration.
I just appeal to the noble Baroness. This is a really unfortunate road on which she has embarked if we are going to have these kinds of debates every time a decision has to be made on whether a Bill should be committed to a Grand Committee or considered on the Floor of the House. She should at least consider
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Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, perhaps I may respond briefly to the noble Lord, Lord Grocott. Anyone can call a Bill controversial-that is true. I remind the noble Lord that we agreed that the very controversial Extradition Bill would go into Grand Committee-there are very good precedents-as did the Welfare Reform Bill and the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Bill. There is a clear impact on other Bills if this Bill does not go into Grand Committee.
Baroness Lister of Burtersett: My Lords, the noble Baroness will be aware of the consternation that is being expressed by disabled people about this decision. I have been copied into an e-mail to the noble Baroness. Noble Lords have received a number of e-mails. There is both a practical and a symbolic significance to this decision. I am new to this House and I do not know the ins and outs of where Committee stage is taken, but disabled people feel that their democratic right to observe the proceedings at the Committee stage is being severely curtailed by any decision to take the whole of the Committee stage off the Floor of the House. It has been accepted on this side that some of the Committee stage should be taken in Grand Committee, but there are clauses in the Bill that are highly controversial. It is not just about experts coming in; it is about people who feel that their lives or livelihoods are at stake.
Baroness Campbell of Surbiton: My Lords, normally I would not come in on the next day after participating in a very lengthy and big debate the night before. I generally need 24 hours at home to recover. However, this morning I was woken by several phone calls from disabled people who told me of this proposal and urged me to come in to speak. I feel compelled to be here. I am deeply concerned at the noble Baroness's proposal. I had understood that the technical parts of the Bill would happen outside the Chamber-and we can live with that. However, the new proposal that takes us completely away from the Chamber unfortunately makes it tremendously difficult to have access, not just for disabled Peers to participate effectively-it is much easier in here-but for disabled people who are following this debate online or on the TV and who come here to brief us. It will be almost impossible for them to do this. Yes, a few can come into the room, but it will be more difficult.
Perhaps more importantly, not to be able to test the opinion of the House-I know it is not often done in Committee-on one of the most significant pieces of legislation for disabled people in my adult life is deeply disturbing. I ask the noble Baroness the Chief Whip please to reconsider.
Baroness Thomas of Winchester: My Lords, I am afraid to say that I disagree with the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell. I believe that the Bill should go to Grand Committee. The last Welfare Reform Bill was quite controversial-I remember it. We had days and
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We must not forget that this Chamber is constantly interrupted by Statements. Noble Lords opposite, quite understandably, want every Statement going. We hardly ever turn down a Statement, which means that every Committee in the Chamber is interrupted, sometimes for several hours, by Statements. This pushes the time on and a lot of disabled people, me included, find it very difficult to stay late. We will probably find ourselves in a situation where there are a handful of noble Lords in the Chamber debating something important quite late-well after 9 pm. For all those reasons, Grand Committee is, on balance, the best place for the Bill.
It was very good to see so many noble Lords taking part in the Bill. Yesterday it was terrific that we had a really long debate; it does not always happen. Welfare reform Bills usually have a small number of experts, but this time there were masses of noble Lords, which was very welcome. However, if we can be accommodated in a suitable room upstairs, including wheelchair users and people such as me who have mobility problems, alongside members of the public and pressure groups, and we can have quite a number of days, I believe that the best course is to have the Bill in Grand Committee.
Lord Laming: My Lords, there can be no dispute in the House that this welfare Bill is a very important Bill. Everybody, I am sure, agrees with that. It is important for literally millions of our citizens out there-indeed, some of our most vulnerable citizens-so it needs to be scrutinised properly and we need to do our best to get the Bill right so that it meets its objectives. Yesterday there were some 50 speakers at Second Reading, which demonstrated very clearly the degree and range of interest in the Bill.
During the years I have had the privilege to be in your Lordships' House I have always been immensely impressed by the arrangements that we call the usual channels. I have never been a member of the usual channels, but I have always been impressed by their efficiency and skill in managing business, including, I have to say, some complicated Bills and some very controversial Bills. I am sure that I am not alone in feeling sad that the usual channels have not been able to reach a consensus on how this important Bill is to be handled. I hope that I am in order in making a plea on behalf of the Cross-Benchers that we get back to effective use of the usual channels, because I am sure that that is the best way to manage the business of this House. Let me repeat that the business of this House in these Bills is extremely important, not for parliamentary reasons alone but for the impact that these Bills have on the lives of our citizens.
Lord Phillips of Sudbury: My Lords, in an effort to be conciliatory, would it not be possible when considering putting a Bill into Grand Committee to allow the House to vote that, in so doing, the Grand Committee shall have the right to vote? Obviously, the main difference between being in Grand Committee and being here is that Grand Committee does not have the right to vote. Would that not be a way of easing the problem we now have?
Baroness Farrington of Ribbleton: My Lords, will the noble Baroness the Chief Whip please accept from me that the last suggestion, well meant though it was, would, from my experience as a Whip, be a bit of a nightmare? Having said that, I support my noble friend Lord Grocott and I say to the noble Baroness that, as well as the issue of the number of Bills, there is the fact that some of the Bills in this extra-long parliamentary Session have actually been two or three Bills wrapped up, described as one Bill and then-to shock-horror from the Government Benches-have taken a long time.
I suggest two things to the noble Baroness. This is unseemly. It would be much better if the usual channels could have regard to what has been said in the Chamber and look at the position again. Quietly, behind the scenes, the government Chief Whip could look at some of the Bills about which she is concerned, considering not only my noble friend's suggestion about carryover but a little surgical removal of extra Bills that have been slotted in to suit her friends in government which could well wait a short time.
Lord Kilclooney: My Lords, it appears that at the moment, the usual channels have not succeeded. I fear that this will not be the last time. It is the logical conclusion of shortage of time arising from the greatly increased membership of this House. Much more time will be required for other debates as well. We are told that Her Majesty's Opposition said no during discussion through the usual channels. Were the Cross-Benchers consulted? Did they say no, yes or nothing? We are also told that the Moses Room is unsuitable and that we must go upstairs. What would be the cost of adapting the rooms upstairs?
Baroness Grey-Thompson: My Lords, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Campbell, and feel very strongly about this. I have no doubt that appropriate access will be made available for Members of your Lordships' House who are in wheelchairs. My real concern is for members of the public, disabled people, who will really struggle with not being able to access these recordings and information if the debate is held outside the Chamber. For us to offer proper scrutiny and for the public to be able to understand and brief us, it is important that debates are held in an environment to which disabled people have access. It is virtually impossible for disabled people to come to London because of issues with public transport while we have legislation that allows only one wheelchair user to travel per train. We are doing them a great disservice by not having this debate in the Chamber.
Lord Corbett of Castle Vale: My Lords, behind the niceties and pleasantries of these exchanges, the simple fact remains that the Government are seeking to impose their will over the Opposition just because the Opposition will not dance to their tune. That is the fact of the matter. To clarify what are the differences between the two sides, as I understand it-I hope that the noble Baroness will correct me if I am wrong or confirm it if I am right-the Government wanted four days on the Floor of the House for the Bill and the other days in Grand Committee. The Opposition wanted eight days
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Lord Lucas: My Lords, I do not find myself distressed by this debate. It does no harm for people like me, who grouse about the usual channels, to be reminded what a useful service they are and why we do not want this to happen too often. We have had the Education Bill in Grand Committee. It has not been a happy experience. I agree that it is, by and large, an uncontroversial Bill, although there are certainly some twitchy bits to it. To have the Moses Room filled by the 50 people who take a specialist interest in the subject and to have no room for people to drop in-to participate in small bits of it or to take a general interest in the Bill so that they are informed about it when they think about what they want to do at Report or to develop their ideas-prevents the House doing its job properly. I am not clear how we could adapt the accommodation upstairs to allow room not only for the 50 specialists who are there all the time but for another 50 of us to drop in to enjoy it and for 100 or so of the public, including people in wheelchairs, to participate as well. I do not understand how we can physically adapt ourselves to that, and I would be grateful for help on that point from my Chief Whip.
Lord McKenzie of Luton: I remind the House that I had ministerial responsibility for the last two Welfare Reform Bills, which, as has been explained, were taken in the Moses Room. However, the scale and scope of those Bills was nothing like the Welfare Reform Bill before us at the moment. This is not our description, it is the Government's description. The Government have said that this is a landmark Bill, the biggest change in the welfare system since the 1940s, and how important it is for the future of our country. That is the Government's position. Therefore, it deserves enough time on the Floor of the House.
Anybody who listened to the debate yesterday would have noted that a big aspect of the Bill, recasting DLA into a new system, has caused real consternation in the disabled community, with millions of people potentially affected by it. For their sakes, if nobody else's, we need to make sure that we can debate that in this Chamber so they have the best possible access. We did agree a split of the Bill, mostly on the basis of what was tabled by the Government; I think there was one adjustment we wished to make to it. We have co-operated. As my noble friend Lord Corbett says, we are talking about just four days. If that is what divides us we should take this away, rethink and get back to the usual channels.
Baroness Anelay of St Johns: My Lords, I think we have covered all the issues because I am hearing the same arguments again. The arguments are keenly felt and I do not undervalue them but it is right that I should be able to respond to those points.
Obviously my greatest concern is about those who wish to ensure that there is proper access for all Peers, particularly those with mobility issues, and also for those who wish to watch, hear, understand and read. I am assured that there is more space for wheelchair users upstairs than downstairs, for both Peers and members of the public. When bringing visitors here, I am all too keenly aware of the difficulties for members of the public in getting upstairs to watch the Chamber.
I was concerned by the presumption that those who wish to follow our proceedings will not be able to do so properly unless they are in the Chamber. All the proceedings in Grand Committee are webcast-I know because I watch them-and they are all recorded in Hansard. There is no difference in accessibility through the internet or paperwork between the Chamber and Grand Committee.
There is an allegation that the Government have too much legislation. I remember making the same allegation against the Opposition when they were in government but I agreed to controversial Bills going into Grand Committee to ensure that all Bills could have time for proper consideration.
There was a comment about the importance of scrutiny of Bills. Scrutiny by Members of this House is valuable, and valued by me, wherever it takes place, whether it is at the Dispatch Box opposite, on the Cross Benches or on the Back Benches behind and in front of me. It does not matter whether it takes place in this Chamber or in Grand Committee-the arguments are as strong wherever they may be made.
The point has been made that there is little difference between us, and that is precisely the case. The Government made an offer which the Opposition rejected. Our offer was to ensure that there was a reasonable split between Grand Committee and the Chamber-a split that would have meant that Peers who are interested in all the other Bills have a proper opportunity to consider those Bills as well. I am convinced that it is right to ask the House to take a decision on this matter.
The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Browning): My Lords, this Government are committed to radical police reform, to ensure that the police are first and foremost accountable to the public. This is, of course, not new: there is a consensus among the parties in favour of the democratic reform of police authorities, albeit differences of view about the best model. In Committee in the other place, the Opposition, too, proposed directly elected policing governance, albeit only chairs of police authorities. This Bill seeks to establish clear and democratically accountable leadership for police governance, but amendments in this Chamber removed those provisions.
I am proud to be a Member of a House that is known for revising and improving Bills. However, the amendments that removed the Government's provisions did not try to increase local accountability of the police. They said that the status quo should be preserved and that the chair of a police authority should be called a "police and crime commissioner".
However, apart from this instance, this House once again demonstrated during our proceedings how much value it adds as a revising Chamber in a truly meaningful way. I thank Peers across the House for their very constructive and conscientious contribution to those debates. There has been some very thoughtful and considered debate both in this Chamber and in meetings outside. The Government have listened carefully, with well over 100 amendments made to this Bill as a result.
The numerous amendments tabled by Peers emerged from the recognition that there is indeed consensus that the status quo will not suffice; that the public do not know that they have somewhere to go to make their views on policing known; and that the public want the police to be subject to greater accountability. Let me be clear: these amendments were also born out of an appreciation that the model that the Government proposed initially could be improved. Peers rose to that challenge and for that we are grateful.
I will touch on just a few of the many improvements that this House has helped make to the Bill. We have strengthened checks and balances and the powers of the police and crime panel, most obviously by lowering the veto threshold from three-quarters to two-thirds.
We listened carefully to the debate on operational independence and, as a consequence, placed the vital policing protocol on a statutory footing. We reacted to points of detail on important issues which we agreed could have been clearer and so introduced a requirement on PCCs or the MOPC in London to hold chief
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There is now also a requirement on the police and crime panel to hold confirmation hearings for the appointment of the chief executive and the chief finance officer. We have inserted a power for the London Assembly to veto a non-Assembly candidate for deputy mayor for policing and crime. We have strengthened transparency arrangements by obliging forces to release information, not just reports.
We have placed a duty on PCCs and community safety partners to have regard to one another's priorities, and we have altered the composition of police and crime panels so that the necessary flexibility to achieve political and geographical balance is achieved. We have returned to the democratic principles that have guided this reform and removed the two-term limit on PCCs. Finally, after quite a bit of lobbying, we are allowing noble Lords to stand as PCCs, should any choose to do so.
The collective will of this House has been made known to Members in the other place. They have listened to us and in all but one respect have agreed with us. However, in one key area they have disagreed with us.
I come now to the most pertinent argument I must put to noble Lords today. The other place-the democratically elected Chamber-has now put the model of a single elected individual to us, not once, but twice. The first time, this House saw fit to reject that model. But our elected colleagues have disagreed with us and have put that model to us again for approval. I do not believe that it is for this Chamber to override the will of the people's elected representatives when it has been put forward so clearly.
I turn now to my noble friend Lady Harris. I am sad to see that my noble friend feels that the amendments that Peers have successfully pressed for and that the other place has agreed are not sufficient for her to agree to the elected Chamber's will-296 to 220 votes is not an insignificant amount of democratic will, particularly when one considers that the origin of the proposal is a coalition agreement on the back of a general election.
By voting for these amendments, we will be respecting the will of the elected representatives of the people, and respecting our precious democratic tradition as a revising Chamber that has significantly done its job and improved a key government reform with more than 100 amendments. I therefore hope that the House will vote for the government amendments to stand part of the Bill.
In reflecting on the debate in this House the Government also tabled a further set of amendments that were considered and agreed by the other place,
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As many noble Lords will be aware-and many in this House are involved in policing-November is a key time in the business planning process for the forthcoming financial year. It is vitally important that the PCC is involved as early as possible in planning and setting the budget for policing in their area. November is the ideal time for them to identify and be part of that planning for the following financial year.
A November election is also important in this first round of elections for police and crime commissioners. It would remove much of the party politics to which noble Lords have referred during the course of our debate. When other elections take place, party politics start to consume not just the representations made to the electorate but the media, both local and national, and it is difficult for people to have a full understanding of what the first elections are about and of the candidates standing for them.
A November election would allow both local and national media to focus any coverage on the reason for the elections-what they intend to do, what the role of a police and crime commissioner would be-and, most importantly, the candidates. This would be very important for those candidates who do not have the support and the organisation of an organised political party behind them. We genuinely want to see good candidates-I have made this point before in the course of our deliberations. Political parties will of course field candidates, but among the pool of good candidates I believe there will be many independent candidates, who will be encouraged to put themselves forward because of their experience and ability to do the job, not just because they carry a party political tag. Elections held in November, unconstrained by local government or other elections taking place at the same time, will give independent candidates much more opportunity to be seen and heard, both at local and national level, so that they stand a chance of being able to get their message across.
I will move on to the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Condon. I would like to thank the noble Lord for his constructive contribution to the debates we have had on this Bill, and more specifically to the improvements to the reform that have been generated as a consequence. I appreciate that he has not agreed with every measure that we have brought forward, but he has agreed with some, and he has played a constructive role in helping us to shape amendments that have been passed. In particular, I appreciate the noble Lord's views on the protocol. Our amendments to give the protocol statutory cover were heavily influenced by those discussions.
In the true tradition of this House, I very much welcomed the noble Lord's revisionist intentions from
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To that end the noble Lord set about seeking change, including a desire that PCCs be located within a more supportive and collaborative framework locally. I hope the noble Lord sees some of his hard work in our amendment that creates a statutory obligation for the police and crime panel to support the PCC when performing its functions and minimises the risk that policing may suffer as a result of political infighting.
I will now turn to the noble Lord's amendment seeking further revisions, this time to something which the noble Lord had not raised previously, namely the date of the election. This is of course a debate that we have had during the course of our deliberations on Report and in Committee, with regard to an amendment that sought to move the election to October 2012. It is important to note that moving the elections to later than November 2012 as is suggested by the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Condon, would deny PCCs the opportunity to be fully involved in the 2013-14 planning process: they would not be able to develop their own plan and set the budget or direction for the force-one of their responsibilities-until 2014.
Holding the election in November 2012 will in fact cost £25 million more than holding it in May 2012. Over the PCC term this equates to 0.05 per cent of the annual policing budget. I can assure the House that the funding for the election, including this additional sum, is not coming out of the money that goes directly to paying for the cost of policing. We believe that these additional costs are worth paying to ensure that PCCs are in place to be fully involved in the planning for 2013-14 and, of course, in planning how that £12 billion police funding budget is best spent. I know that many of your Lordships, including those who have previous experience in policing, such as the noble Lord, Lord Condon, will want to be reassured that this money does not come from the police budget. Let me be absolutely clear: this is an additional one-off cost and would not come from what would otherwise have been spent on policing.
I want to take this opportunity to put the costs of elections into context. I know from one or two comments which have been made to me already outwith this House that people have some views on this issue. For example, the cost of the referendum on the introduction of the Greater London Authority, and the subsequent set-up costs, was around £30 million in today's money. The most recent London elections, in 2010, cost a total of £18 million. So, if the GLA were established today, the combined cost would be a little short of £50 million-and that is for the capital alone. When we view the cost of democracy in those terms, I would suggest that £75 million is a reasonable and justifiable cost for the whole of England and Wales. We must not forget police and crime commissioners will make savings for taxpayers by driving value for money more strongly.
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Some have expressed concerns about extremist parties. The argument is that holding the election in November 2012 risks making it easier for extremists to be voted in. I do not believe this is the case. If we look at other elections we will see that some of the parties that stand for election but would perhaps be regarded as extremist, poll in the region of some 2 per cent of the national vote in a general election. The electoral system and size of constituencies mean that their candidates will not succeed. Many police force areas represent almost the equivalent of about 20 parliamentary constituencies.
The point has also been made that November is not a good time of year to hold an election. Of course all Governments exercise their discretion on calling elections for one reason or another. I did some homework on this and just remind the House that in 2008 a by-election was called in November in the constituency of Glenrothes. As I hope those who are familiar with seats north of the border will understand, one might have fought shy of holding an election in November in Glenrothes-but there was a 56 per cent turnout in that by-election.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Baroness quoted that example but could have looked at Glasgow North East in November 2009, which saw a 33 per cent turn out, or West Bromwich West in November 2000, which had 27 per cent. She picked out the highest turnout, but November by-elections generally tend to be very low indeed. That is why, decades ago, local government elections were moved from the autumn to May, because there was concern about the effect of the inclement weather on the people who were campaigning.
Baroness Browning: I picked out Glenrothes because it was the most northerly of all the examples. I could have chosen others, but I was trying to make the point to the House that a 56 per cent turnout in Glenrothes in November is not an insubstantial result. I hope I have made my point-I am sure people in the House understand the point I am trying to make.
Coming back to the more salient point, the additional time gained by holding the elections in November will help to ensure that they benefit from the time that will be given to allow good-quality, independent candidates to come forward and establish themselves. They will have time to properly plan and campaign for the elections. The Government have been clear from the outset that they are keen for as many independents as possible to contest these elections. The November date allows for this. The fact that the first elections for PCCs will not be held at the same time as other local elections sets the tone from the beginning-it allows PCC elections to be established and for the electorate to understand the opportunity they will have to elect somebody who will represent them in being involved in local policing and holding the police to account.
I turn now to the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, who proposes a royal commission. I have a slight sense of déjà vu because I think he and I
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Ultimately, we all know and accept that police authorities are not the optimal model for police accountability. This has been stated by the Opposition, although I know there are different views about it within the House. But we do know that only four out of 22 inspected police authorities have been assessed by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary and the Audit Commission as performing well in their most critical functions.
Local accountability must be both visible and accessible, yet only 8 per cent of wards in England and Wales are represented on a police authority, so it is no surprise that only 7 per cent of the public understand that they can approach their police authority if they have issues with policing.
Baroness Henig: I have heard this example-7 per cent-several times, but what percentage of population does that reflect? The reality is that police authority members represent a far higher percentage of the population than in terms of ward, which is actually a rather meaningless context since a lot of wards have very few people in them.
Baroness Browning: The point is that this is still a very clear minority and in fact the Government's changes will allow every single council-including district councils, which at the moment do not have the opportunity to put forward people to sit on police authorities, county councils and of course unitary councils-to send a representative to sit on the police and crime panel. So in terms of the broader representation of the public, this is a very much enhanced way of making sure that people will associate with those who sit on that panel and know who they are.
I believe that the Government have set out a clear and comprehensive vision for policing. Direct local accountability and decentralisation are part of this coherent reform agenda to cut crime. We will refocus the Government away from micromanaging local policing. We will ensure the police and PCCs are properly supported on national policing issues. That is why we are also creating a powerful new national crime agency, to improve the fight against serious and organised crime and help protect our borders, and why we are introducing a new strategic policing requirement.
We are dealing with an overcluttered national policing landscape, phasing out the National Policing Improvement Agency and reviewing police leadership, training and skills, as well as examining pay and conditions to ensure we provide the police with the conditions in which they can thrive and continue to be the finest police service in the world.
I move now to the government amendment to re-establish the Secretary of State's power to issue a financial management code of practice for PCCs. A code of practice is currently issued to police authorities,
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I now turn to the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, who seeks to ensure that the financial code of practice includes a requirement for the PCC to appoint four non-executives members to his or her team. The noble Lord will know that we have discussed this on several occasions. I commend his resilience and perseverance on this. I know the arguments put forward by the noble Lord and others were that the PCC must benefit from external expertise and challenge. I also recall that my reply when we last discussed this was that the police and crime panel had as its primary purpose the need to challenge constructively and in that way also support the PCC in meeting its statutory duties. This was debated at some length and it was felt that there was a risk that the PCP and the PCC relationship would be solely adversarial. The Government considered this carefully and brought forward an amendment that means the PCP has a responsibility to challenge but also to support the police and crime commissioner in delivering his or her statutory responsibilities.
We have listened to the noble Lord and amended the Bill to ensure that the PCC is able to benefit from constructive external challenge from the police and crime panel. I believe that our amendment does this, but the noble Lord clearly feels we have not achieved his aim. I return to the point that I made on Report: there is nothing in the Bill that prevents the PCC from appointing non-executives if he or she decides that that is what they want to do. We have provided a framework that allows the PCC to establish his support team, for those decisions to be made public and transparent and for the PCC to be challenged by both the PCP and the public on those decisions. With regard to financial governance and management, the auditors and the chief finance officer under law will be there to advice and raise any concerns publically if there is any sign of mismanagement.
I cannot therefore agree to the prescription that the noble Lord wishes to insert into the financial code, as it is unnecessary and has been dealt with by the Bill and the amendment passed by this House and agreed by the other place. I beg to move.
Baroness Harris of Richmond: My Lords, first, I send from these Benches the warmest congratulations to Bernard Hogan-Howe, who has just taken up his appointment as Commissioner of the Metropolis. We wish him the best of luck in that very challenging post.
The Motion insists on the amendment, previously tabled in Committee in this House, which would incorporate the police and crime commissioner and the police and crime panel within a single body corporate, a police commission. Your Lordships will recall that the House voted on, and approved, this amendment in Committee. However, during the debate in the other place on Monday night it was removed. Because this House clearly attached great importance to that amendment when it was approved, and because I believe it summarises some key matters of principle about the future of police governance, I have tabled this amendment insisting on its inclusion. The right honourable shadow Minister for Policing was quite right when he said in the other place that this House had not included this provision as the result of some inadvertent tinkering with the detail; if I recall correctly, it was preceded by a lengthy and considered debate, covering a large number of significant issues, that took up much of the first day of Committee. I will be much quicker today but shall outline briefly why I think my Motion is so important.
I want to be clear that this amendment is not about retaining the status quo, as suggested by the Police Minister in the other place. It is about ensuring a mechanism for strong corporate governance and balanced accountability, which is sadly lacking in the Bill at present. In short, it is about strengthening checks and balances in a meaningful way. While I acknowledge that some moderate improvements were made to the powers of panels on Report in this House, these were modest improvements and not robust enough. The panels have only two powers: to veto the appointment of a chief officer and to veto the police precept. Both of these are nuclear options-nuclear powers, so to speak. They are likely to be little used except in extreme situations. We had debates about that. They are not much use for providing meaningful safeguards in such key areas as standards and audit-topics that have also been the subject of much debate in your Lordships' House because the Bill provisions are defective.
A corporate body is a well understood vehicle in which to hold such important safeguards in a proportionate and meaningful fashion. It would also be a structure through which the clear weakness of the corporation sole model could be addressed. I do not believe that my noble friend the Minister has yet provided a satisfactory answer to how good governance can be achieved within this rather unusual-to say the least- model. I expect she will remind me that it is not that unusual a structure and that the Secretary of State is a corporation sole. However, I would then mention that the Home Office also has a non-executive board through which to manage its governance. No such structure exists for PCCs but my amendment would give something similar. It would bring PCCs within a more self-regulating corporate governance framework with which we are
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Much play was made in the other place of fears of extremist PCCs having been wildly exaggerated. This misses the point. A PCC does not need to be extremist to be a problem; he needs only to be populist. To illustrate this I have thought of a brief manifesto, as follows: "As elected PCC I would make sure that the police deal only with real offences that matter to real people, such as gangs of youths hanging around and violent crime; that courts give real punishments to real offenders; that the police will always respond to you within, say, three minutes; and that the police are put back on the street, not in their cars. I would not allow the police to be abstracted to deal with problems in other parts of the country; the police to waste time on minor offences such as speeding; the police to sit behind desks; and any police stations to close". It sounds good, does it not? None of it is extreme, but it is populist. It is also completely unrealistic and unachievable, with the exception of a couple of points. Half of it cuts across the operational independence of the chief officer. Some of it effectively frustrates the strategic policing requirement. One section cuts across court jurisdiction. Another makes something that is not currently an offence tantamount to an offence. Other sections probably fall foul of the new code of financial practice, and so on.
The point is that a corporate body provides a framework within which to moderate the capricious use of significant powers; to bring meaningful checks and balances to bear; and, in this instance, to prevent a PCC trying to implement a manifesto of this nature. I shall probably be told that this is a retrograde step because it reinstates bureaucratic accountability, instead of the brave new world of democratic accountability. This is a nonsense argument. In the first place, police authorities are not accountable to the Home Office or the Home Secretary, as the Police Minister implied in the other place. The majority of their members are already democratically elected councillors, who are accountable to local people. This is about improving checks and balances and safeguards, and instilling a collective approach and direction to police governance between the PCC and the panel. It is not a combative approach.
Despite the rather optimistic views expressed by Members in the other place on Monday about the relationship between the panel and the PCC, I am afraid I do not believe that it will always be balanced and professional. I still think that this will turn out in one of two ways. If the PCC and the panel are of different political persuasions, there could be a state of constant warfare between the two, with accusations of complaints being traded and countertraded. If the panel is of a largely similar political make-up to the PCC, it risks becoming little more than, say, a cheerleader to the PCC and may be tempted to exercise scrutiny that is at best superficial.
However, if the two were brought within the same body corporate, that would provide a much more cohesive and robust framework covering the totality of local police governance. It would give them the same sense of common direction in effectively holding the force to account. They would have access to the same information, allowing the panel to hold the PCC properly to account. Holding the force to account is a very big job, and I still have grave concerns that that cannot be done properly by one person, however talented and committed.
I have tried to set out as briefly as possible, given time considerations, an overview of the main reasons why this amendment is important and why I believe that the other place should be asked to consider it again. I must express, in the strongest possible terms, my concerns that this is a defective and dangerous Bill. It is full of problematic structures and issues that remain unresolved. Far from giving meaning and vibrancy to devolution and local democracy, it contains more central regulation-making powers. These include areas such as the protocol, the new code of financial practice and the composition of panels, particularly in Wales. These are all areas where the primary legislation is defective. The Government are trying to address the problem through secondary legislation that is yet to be developed. In constitutional terms this is extremely questionable, and I am sure that your Lordships will keep a very close eye on developments. Fundamentally, this betrays the myth that we are swapping so-called bureaucratic accountability for democratic accountability. We are not. Let us be clear; this Bill will mean greater central powers.
I hasten to add that I do not blame my noble friend the Minister. She has listened and tried to work with this House constructively. She has, however, had very poor material to work with, and has genuinely done her best in difficult circumstances, for which I thank her. However, I fear that this Bill will do lasting damage to the good reputation of British policing and that this amendment is essential to guard against this. I beg to move.
Lord Condon: My Lords, I again declare my interest as a life member of the Association of Chief Police Officers. I am also deputy chairman of a major private security company. I thank the Minister for her generous comments and the courtesy she and her colleagues have shown me throughout the consultative process for this Bill.
The Government originally proposed that the first elections for police and crime commissioners should take place in May 2012. However, by amendment in the other place on Monday, it is now proposed that the first elections should take place in November 2012, to allow more time to prepare.
In August we had the most serious riots and looting that we have experienced in this country for 30 years. In London, we had the most serious looting in living memory. Those events and the concerns about their causes and remedies have weighed heavily on my thinking over the past few weeks and have been instrumental in my proposals referred to in Motion A2.
There are very strong operational reasons, sensible policy reasons and significant cost reductions for moving the elections from November 2012 to May 2013. That is why I have put forward this Motion. If my proposed Amendments 6E to 6H are agreed they will simply move the elections from November to May 2013.
The changes to police governance and accountability set out in the Bill are the most profound since the Metropolitan Police Act 1829. They are not the product of widespread public pressure for change or the product of a royal commission or judicial inquiry. They did not benefit from a pre-legislative scrutiny process. The proposals are an experiment and a political act of faith. Many in your Lordships' House have expressed serious concern during the passage of the Bill, and, to be honest, I do not think that those concerns have been fully assuaged at all. However, I am not seeking to re-challenge today the principle of the election of police and crime commissioners, which is clearly at the heart of the Bill. I have no wish to challenge that principle.
However, it is in the public interest to put back the elections by a further six months to May 2013. Change of the magnitude proposed by the Government, if it must go ahead, should be given the best chance to succeed by proper preparation and planning. The Government have already accepted the principle for more time by moving the elections from May to November, but the whole of 2012 should be free of the politics of campaigns and elections for police and crime commissioners. Senior police officers, their police forces and all those connected to them should not, in the face of the riots, now face this major diversion of their time and focus in 2012, which will be one of the most challenging operational years for policing in recent history.
The riots and looting in August were the most serious for 30 years. We need to understand what happened and why. The police service needs to review its strategy and tactics. It needs to train more riot-efficient officers. The summer and autumn of 2012 could again be testing times for potential street disorder, and the preparation and briefing of candidates for PCCs in late summer and autumn will be a major diversion of senior police time and focus. I also fear that extremist candidates could benefit from November elections if we have a troubled summer and autumn of street disorder.
The year 2012 is also the Olympic year, and all our forces, not just the Metropolitan Police Service, will be drawn into policing the Games and the associated terrorist threats. The Olympic Games and the Paralympics will extend well into September 2012, and the police service and others will benefit from a further six-month breathing space and preparation time before the PCC elections and all the consequential changes. We all hope for a wonderful trouble-free Olympics, but we must be prepared for and focused on the threats and challenges that will face us right the way through until September next year.
Other serious changes to policing in the next year need to be harmonised with the new structure of elected police and crime commissioners. The Government should embrace the opportunity for some more time to prepare a clear and developed plan for national and
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Another reason to embrace more planning time is the important review being carried out into policing by Tom Winsor, to which the noble Baroness has already referred. The Government have commissioned him, in part 2 of his review, to make recommendations which could fundamentally change how police officers are recruited and developed. He may well choose to make recommendations which challenge the status quo of a single point of entry; he may well recommend an officer class; he might suggest that the need for all chief constables to start on the beat is no longer relevant; he might suggest a different route to becoming a leader in the police service. I have no inside knowledge as to his proposals, but I know that he and his team are working hard on them and will report in the foreseeable future. Again, an additional six months of thinking time would put the Government in a much stronger position to harmonise and sensibly sequence all these hugely significant changes to policing nationally and locally.
Elections in November 2012 have two further significant drawbacks. The Electoral Commission has already expressed concern about a low turnout in November and I fear that this will favour extreme candidates. It will be a huge blow to the credibility of the new system if a very low turnout in even one police force area allows a far right-wing candidate to succeed, or, indeed, a single-issue zealot from whatever background. The second worrying consequence of a November election is the additional cost of £25 million. I know that the Government have said that this will be found from budgets other than policing, but what an unnecessary waste of money-money I would rather see put back into public services, particularly policing. This money could provide up to 1,000 police or support staff for nearly a year.
No doubt the Minister will argue that the Government have delayed enough and that successful candidates in May 2013 elections would have to wait a further year before they were able to impose their own budget plans-that is what she has said. However, the Government were originally happy to have May elections and they have also stated that the second round of elections for police and crime commissioners, four years from the first, will revert to a May date. Also, police budgets for the next four years are pretty well set in concrete and established as a result of the very understandable, but nevertheless dramatic and unprecedented, cuts to police funding.
In conclusion, I am well aware of the primacy of the other place, but today is the first opportunity your
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At earlier stages of the Bill's passage through this House I was against open-ended or long delay, as it would leave policing in an unacceptable limbo of uncertainty, but my Motion today, if agreed, brings certainty and, I argue, no undue delay. The riots and looting have seriously influenced my thinking over the past few weeks. If we must have these historic changes to policing, let us take a little more time to give the implementation the best chance to succeed. That is what Motion A2 will achieve.
I do not pretend that our police forces are without blemish, nor that we should not always wish to enhance their accountability to the people whom they are there to serve, but we should acknowledge the dramatic fall in crime rates and improved relationships with the public and local communities in recent years. Even more important, the essential characteristic over 150 years of our police forces of political impartiality, fair play and policing by consent is a huge strength and much admired the world over. That strength is now at considerable risk through the potential politicisation of our police forces with elected police commissioners.
The Bill places unprecedented concentration of policing power in the hands of one elected person with hire-and-fire powers in relation to chief constables that will almost inevitably put chief constables under pressure in operational decisions. There is also a risk that elected police chiefs will comment on sensitive operations while they are still under way. I was not enamoured of ministerial comments during the recent disturbances. I think that they have shown the problem that we will see in future. In the Bill, we have a lack of proper checks and balances which will make the problem worse. No one at local or national level can provide serious scrutiny or veto dangerous decisions. The police and crime panels will be toothless. They cannot even veto the firing of a chief constable.
This model comes from the US, but in the US, powerful city halls and district attorneys provide a counterbalance. Even Bill Bratton, much admired by some members of the Government, has criticised the Government's proposals. The nearest we have in this country to an elected police chief is the London mayor, but even he faces checks and balances from the cross-party Metropolitan Police Authority and the Home Secretary, and has many other responsibilities which distract him from second-guessing police operations. Even the Mayor of London in this term of
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The US experience of an average tenure of police chiefs working to elected police commissioners is a little more than two years. It is easy to see why. The temptation to sack a police chief constable in the run-up to a re-election of the commissioner would become almost irresistible. Think of the instability that that would cause-a length of stay of little more than two years. I suggest that many senior officers will be reluctant to apply to be chief constables in future and that those who do so will be for ever looking over their shoulder for fear of the police commissioner's shadow.
I have no doubt that the police must be accountable to the public. They have made great strides in recent years. Unlike the Home Secretary, who has chosen to denigrate police authorities, I pay tribute to their work-none more so than mine in the West Midlands. During the recent disturbances, the chairman did not hawk himself from studio to studio or second-guess the chief constable. Instead, he played a pivotal role working with the local community, defusing tension and helping to restore order to the streets of Birmingham.
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, I think that this is one of the most disastrous pieces of legislation that this House has ever seen. This country will rue the day when we destroyed-destroyed, my Lords-the essential balance, fairness and impartiality that we have enjoyed from our police forces for so long.
Like the Motion tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Condon, my Motion deals with the date of the elections for police commissioners. Once again I put to the House a proposal for a royal commission. I do not do that lightly because I am not always enamoured of the performance of royal commissions. However, I put it to the noble Baroness that currently there are two reviews or inquiries being undertaken in relation to the riots; in relation to the phone-hacking incident there are at least three inquiries. Each of those reviews or inquiries will, I am sure, have some implications for the way our police forces operate. All I am suggesting to the noble Baroness is that there is surely a case for waiting for those reviews and then establishing a royal commission. Like the 1962 Royal Commission on the Police, that would establish a basis for going forward with much greater consensus than we see at the moment.
I believe the Government took all the wrong conclusions from the experience of my Government in those first two years. In fact, the legislation that they are proposing today would be so much better if they had gone through a process of proper debate, consultation and pre-legislative scrutiny. They would have been much more likely to have got the kind of consensus that I think is necessary. I hope the House will be sympathetic to my amendment, and in particular that it will support the noble Lord, Lord Condon.
It is quite remarkable that the other place has dismissed the substantive concerns of this House and instead has offered as a concession the wonderful prospect of the first election taking place on 15 November next year. The media, very unkindly, seemed to suggest that this was because the Liberal Democrats feared
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As for the argument that if the elections take place in May party politics will intrude and the media will be much more concerned about politics than the quality of the candidates, if the noble Baroness is concerned about politicisation, as she knows I am, why on earth go down this path in the first place? If the Government really wish to encourage independent candidates, the idea that independent candidates with this huge electorate are going to traipse round the streets in October and November is unrealistic.
Why did we change local elections from the autumn to May many decades ago? It is because the view was taken that the lack of daylight hours and the weather discouraged effective campaigning. The same argument now arises. I echo the remark made by the noble Lord, Lord Condon. If November is such a very good month to hold those elections and to give time for the elected commissioner to go into the issues of planning and budgets, why do we not have them every November? Why are we reverting back to May elections after the first round of elections?
I think that a November election will essentially lead to extra expense. Earlier today during the first Oral Question, the noble Baroness was most concerned about expense. Here, she is flinging away millions of pounds on the extra cost of the election in November because it is a stand-alone election. However, the real risk is that there will be a low turnout. I have no doubt that if the election were held at the same time as local elections, it would slip-stream a higher turnout than will be the case when we are simply asked to vote for elected police commissioners.
Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, I rise to speak to Motion A4 in my name but, before doing so, I repeat my declaration of interests. I am a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority-indeed, on that authority I am the noble Baroness's representative, whose every word I clearly follow in every aspect of these matters-and I am a vice-president of the Association of Police Authorities.
I listened very carefully to the arguments that the Minister put forward on the legislation and the proposals. The Government's proposals are about clear and
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I understand the Government's desire for clarity in the direct election of this single individual. However, although I understand the argument, that does not mean that I agree with it. Around that individual must be a proper framework of governance. What is more, there must be a proper standards regime around the way in which that single individual operates. This is not a member of a committee or a council who can perhaps be hauled into line by the other members; it is a single individual exercising those powers, and therefore it is paramount that there should be a standards regime around them.
The major change brought forward from the other place by the Government is the date of the elections. I do not intend to go into detail on that, although I will say a word about it. That change does not deal with the fundamental question about governance and standards; it simply alters the date. I say in parenthesis that, as a member of a police authority who has sat through 11 budget-making exercises and is well into the 12th as we speak, electing someone on 15 November and expecting them seriously to influence the process for the budget for the following year-given that an absolute date is set by which precepts must be levied so as to allow the district authority or whatever else it may be to deal with the matter-is nonsense. If you are to change the shape of the budget of an organisation as complex as a police service, you need to start a lot earlier than 16 November. You probably need to start as soon as the previous year's budget has been finalised in May and June. I know that colleagues in the police authority in London have been meeting throughout August and are continuing to meet to look at the details of the budget for next year. An election on 15 November and someone taking office then is far too late. Essentially, you are electing police and crime commissioners who will be held responsible for a budget which in practice they will have had no opportunity to influence other than in the crudest and most simplistic form. Therefore, that is not going to resolve the matter.
Another consequence of changing the dates is that the Home Office will have to look at whether independent members of police authorities whose terms of office expire in the summer of next year should have their terms of office extended or whether instead there will be a process of advertising in order to fill those posts. I am sure that the Home Office has all this in hand, but I suspect that, again, we will find that this is going to be an additional expense or something cobbled together at the last moment. The key point is that changing the date does not provide a robust governance structure. It does not provide protections against an individual who, while not being an extremist but perhaps exuberant with their power, exercises their responsibilities in what is perhaps a maverick fashion. That governance is necessary.
The Government's response both today and on previous occasions has been fourfold. The first argument is that the electorate in its wisdom will make sure that such people are not elected. I believe in elections because they are the best available system for managing something-except, perhaps, your Lordships' House. But the point remains that elections take place at a certain point in time. If the noble Baroness has her way, they will take place on 15 November next year. It will then be three and a half years, or whatever period is chosen, before the electorate can put right something that has gone wrong. You need to have around an individual with such powers a mechanism which can ensure that they continue to operate appropriately and within a system of governance.
The second argument deployed by the Government is that the police and crime panel will be able to exercise these functions, but the reality is that although there has been a change that will require it to collaborate with and support the police and crime commissioner, nothing here enables it to get involved while a decision is being taken. That is the point at which intervention is so important.
The third argument made again by the noble Baroness today is that nothing in the legislation would preclude a police and crime commissioner from perhaps having non-executives and obeying the strictest guidelines on governance. Yes, nothing in the legislation prevents it, and I am sure that most sensible police and crime commissioners will do all that, but it is the ones who do not do it who are precisely the ones about whom we should be concerned. For that reason, there should be a provision that requires them to have proper systems of governance.
The other argument the Government have deployed is that there will be an audit process. That is fine, and so there should be. But, again, an audit process takes place after the event. The Government will say that they are proposing a financial code of practice. That is excellent, but what they are actually doing, of course, is remedying an error in the Bill. A financial code of practice already exists, but they forgot about it so far as police and crime commissioners are concerned, so they have remedied the error. It is quite proper that it should be corrected, but in itself that will not solve all the problems. My amendment, which is modest and does not undermine the principle the Government are trying to adopt or stop in its tracks the election of police and crime commissioners, whenever that may be, says only that the vehicle of the financial code of conduct should require there to be a non-executive presence around police and crime commissioners when they take key financial and other decisions, and that they should be obliged to follow a proper process of good governance and appropriate standards of behaviour-something that is otherwise missing from the Bill.
I believe that this Bill is not necessarily the best solution to the problems of governance of the police service. That is an understatement which is meant to be ironic and not taken too seriously. But the point is that, as the Bill stands, it will not even do what the Government want it to do. It will store up problems for the future, and the reality is that it is more likely
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The Lord Bishop of Guildford: My Lords, in speaking briefly in support of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Condon, and doing so after returning from a discussion this morning between the bishops of the Church of England-particularly the relevant bishops of the urban areas-about the disturbances, I recognise that there has been ministerial assurance in some of the areas that have been spoken about in earlier parts of the debate. However, a number of us on this Bench still hear of a continued anxiety, within the police forces and outside, about the potential for politicisation of policing. I note, for example, that serious comment has been made in at least two serious papers in relation to the appointment of a Metropolitan Commissioner. I do not say that I believe that or accept it, but those are concerns that are around, and that is dispiriting for senior police officers and their professional future.
There are three particular areas that have been touched on earlier in the debates. These have not yet been fully assured on, which is why I am supporting this amendment: to give more time for that discussion to take place. These areas relate to commissioners and chief constables. The first is finance. If a commissioner has absolute control of the purse strings, then where will the essential operational discretion of the chief constable be? Secondly, a local politician may well be too focused on the local, and under some circumstances impede the wider strategic vision of a chief constable in relation to both national and interforce strategies. Finally, while it is right that a chief constable can be sacked, if the safeguards which are already being discussed on hiring and firing are not properly worked out, then again, the proper autonomy of a chief constable will be prejudiced. We may then be in the kind of situation that the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, referred to.
Lord Ramsbotham: My Lords, I, too, rise to support my noble friend Lord Condon. I find this a very sad day, because again we are taking part in legislation which I believe can now be seen to be-and will prove to have been-untimely and indeed irrelevant. I say that because, like my noble friend Lord Condon, I was very struck by the events of August and what they portend. Several times during the Bill's passage so far, mention has been made that its title is inappropriate, because it talks about police reform. There is precious little in the Bill about reform of the police, but a great deal about reform of the governance of the police, which is not the same thing at all.
A country can be at peace with itself only if it has such elements in it as law and order, based on consent. What August sadly showed us is that much of this
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Therefore, I believe that what the noble Lord, Lord Condon, has done by suggesting extra time, and it is very little time, is to give the Government the opportunity to examine these things and, one hopes, to do something sensible such as withdraw the Bill and not saddle themselves with its encumbrances. That would enable them to take advantage of what comes out of the studies and reports that they have initiated, which will provide this country with the policing that it needs so that, once again, it can be at peace with itself.
Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, begging the pardon of the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, for the term that I am about to use, I do not think that the choice today is "reform or no reform". I use that term in the current context; I understand the point that the noble Lord makes. Nor even is it a choice between alternative models of reform, to which I shall come back in a moment.
Given both a free hand and the benefit of the expertise on this subject around this House, which has impressed me increasingly day by day, I do not pretend that I would have designed the model that we have in the Bill, but I have always said that the proposal for directly elected police and crime commissioners is in the coalition's programme for government, subject to strict checks and balances. Although the Whips may not agree, the scrutiny which this House gave to the checks and balances is what the House is here for. The outcomes of those debates were not always as I would have wished-I argued for several tougher checks and balances, although I acknowledge now, which I did not at the time, that some would have undermined the
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My noble and, if I may say so, good friend Lady Harris of Richmond has pursued her amendment with terrier-like energy. I am sadder than I can say that I cannot support her today, and that is not because I disagree with so many of her arguments. It is an inevitable outcome of our procedures and the way in which we undertake our business that her model is insufficiently developed. That is not her fault. After the surprise vote, she and other noble Lords put enormous effort and ingenuity into consequential amendments-if I may use that term in the widest sense. They were not successful and therefore my noble friend's model is left without the infrastructure within the Bill that would make it work. That is what I mean by not having a choice of models today.
With regard to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Condon, as has been said, at the root of many of the concerns that have been expressed is the possible politicisation of policing. We do not know whether independent candidates will be tempted to stand for the position. It is hardly possible that under my noble friend Lady Harris's model independents could stand, because almost the whole of the panel from which she is proposing that a commissioner should come would have been elected on a party-political basis as local councillors would make up that panel.
We do know that the more different sets of elections are aligned, the more the focus on each is distorted, often to the basis of the lowest common denominator. There may be mayoral elections in November 2013, but they would be fairly limited geographically, so that date at least reduces that risk, if I can put it that way. I am thinking now not just of the elections for police and crime commissioners but about the local elections that will take place in May-pretty much every May.
Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, the noble Baroness is making an interesting speech, but if the case is so persuasive for having separate elections-separate from any other elections-why do we not have a proposal to always have these in November?
Local elections should be about local issues and very often they are not. What I wrote down without having to be prompted by the noble Lord is that the first elections for anything tend to set the tone. There could be a debate about having elections every four or six months for different things throughout the year, although that might be going a little far.
This debate has referred quite a lot to the convenience of campaigners. I am sure that many noble Lords have gritted their teeth and hung their canvass sheets on radiators to dry throughout the year. The convenience of campaigners is the least of the factors in this. But decoupling the elections should help avoid the diversion.
Baroness Hamwee: I thought that I had actually explained about decoupling them and I do not want to try the patience of the House by going over the whole thing again. Separate issues have been raised. We would have the same problem with May 2013 because there are county elections then. Other arguments have been made about November and I am not necessarily following them. This is a very particular argument.
I remain intensely concerned that candidates may stand on a simplistic platform of an officer on every street corner. I do not know whether that was in my noble friend's manifesto. It was a very telling manifesto. She left out of her critique of it that probably every crime has a victim: there is no victimless crime.
With regard to the proposal for postponement until after a royal commission, there is of course a need for a continuing debate; but however straight the noble Lord's face is-and he is very good at keeping a straight face-we all know how disingenuous this is. I have been among those who have used an argument for a review when it is really a euphemism for delay, which amounts to opposition. I agree with him of course on pre-legislative scrutiny, but we are rather beyond that on this Bill sadly.
Finally, with regard to amendments from the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, he knows that I have agreed with an enormous amount of what he has said about propriety and governance throughout the debates on this Bill. I am not sure whether four non-executive members is the right number or not; I am sure that I agree with him that it is those individuals who need that support who may be the least likely to want it. He talks in this amendment of a code of practice requiring something more than can be contained in his amendment. I trust-and I hope the Minister can respond to this-that the Government will consult on the code, and not just lay it before Parliament in its finished form. I think that the noble Lord has raised important points, but they have not quite worked in this form. We are at a point when we have to take a decision on what is before us, not something as we would like it to be.
I have to say to the House that I really did not expect to find myself in this position today. I have resisted so many blandishments for so long; but, as I said to my own party group about three hours ago, I persuaded myself overnight, given what we have before us to determine today. The basis of the decision, and the underlying proposals, may not be ones that I am hugely enthusiastic about, but we have to take a decision on what is before us today, and I can now see what my decision needs to be.
Lord Goldsmith: Before the noble Baroness sits down, I wonder if she can help me. I am somewhat confused by what she has said. I had understood from many of her remarks that she was very sympathetic to the points made by her noble friend Lady Harris of Richmond and that she found force in them, but ultimately was not happy because, in the end, not
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Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, I hoped that I had made clear that it would not be to the benefit of our communities to seek to pass legislation today which does not have what I described as the "supporting infrastructure". The debate will not finish today. Of course, hugely important points have arisen in minds which might not have addressed them at all until the August disturbances. Those debates have got to continue. I wish I thought that legislation was the answer to everything. I am afraid that I do not. It is the way it is done, and the way that we all conduct ourselves, that matters-the way in which this legislation is implemented, not just the words on paper. I have criticised every Government who I have had anything to do with since I have been in this House for thinking and saying that the latest Bill was going to be the panacea.
Lord Imbert: My Lords, I rise to support the amendment of my noble friend Lord Condon to delay the introduction of the elected police and crime commissioners until after the year of the Olympic and Paralympic Games, to be held in London and other parts of the country during the next 12 months. Like my noble friend Lord Condon, I declare an interest. I, too, am a life member of the Association of Chief Police Officers and also have 40 years' experience as a police officer, from being a bobby on the beat here in London-before many people in the other place were born-to my retirement as commissioner some years ago.
I join the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, in sending good wishes to Bernard Hogan-Howe for the formidable task ahead of him after becoming Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. I know Bernard Hogan-Howe. He is a physically fit man-as he must be for that job. Indeed, until very recently, he played football for my son's team, which is appropriately called Mid-Life Crisis. I am sure that all Members of the House would wish Bernard H-H well in his task.
I make no secret of the fact that I believe that to have elected party-political devotees given the awesome power to appoint, dismiss and suspend their chief constables, to set the budget, and, in fact, by definition, therefore to decide what police do or do not do and how they do it, is a dangerous move towards politicising the British police service. To disrupt the government of policing, and thereby the policing task as a whole, at a time when the pressures on the service will be unprecedented, is not simply unwise to the point where ordinary, daily policing would cease to exist at all but is a madness that would put at risk the safety and security of the Games themselves and the well-being of the athletes and many thousands of
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To return to the Bill before us, I find it interesting, but frightening, that we have been consistently and firmly assured by the Government that we have no need to worry about the provisions for the election of police and crime commissioners; and that our fears that a holder of extremist views would be able to interfere with the proper administration of policing, or hinder the impartial service the police have been required to give since Sir Robert Peel-a Tory Home Secretary-laid down his strict principles for efficient, effective and impartial policing in 1829, are groundless. The Government have insisted that those fears are imaginary, but, after those verbal guarantees, we see them experiencing a distinct shiver of apprehension and doubt-I could describe it as a touch of the trembles. They are quickly shoring up the defences by publishing a draft protocol governing the respective responsibilities of, and the relationships between, the chief constable and the elected commissar. They have also discussed-as we have heard this afternoon from the Minister-making that protocol statutory. If those proposals in the Bill were, as we were assured, impregnable, why do we need a protocol at all; let alone to consider making it statutory? This can surely only be an admission that they have now realised that the boat was not so watertight after all and could have been in danger of capsizing. However, it seems that government Ministers have been prepared to take that risk. Will they be prepared to stand up and take responsibility if it all goes badly pear-shaped? Or will they find it more convenient to blame-dare I say it-the police?
Peel's principles have successfully guided policing in this country for 180 years. The style, accountability and governance arrangements here have been envied, admired, and emulated throughout the Commonwealth and, indeed, the world, for nearly two centuries. I am not a politician and owe no allegiance to any political party, so I hope I can say what I wish this afternoon. Is it not ironic that in order to save the police service and policing as a whole from the dangers of party political influence and likely interference, it seems one has to enter into the political argument? ACPO has commendably refused to be drawn into turbulent political waters, but those of us who have left the service need have no such inhibitions. So let me very briefly, taking no more than two minutes, enter the fray.
Prior to the last general election, I formed the view that a change of Government was urgently required. My Conservative friends-and they include some members of my own family-persuaded me that we needed a Conservative administration. So convincing were they that this would provide what they called intelligent and common-sense government, that I breathed
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I am not going to ring him following the Government's proposals over the relaxation of building restrictions on the green belt, because he is a country-lover. However, taking all these measures and so-called reforms together, one must ask, "Are this Government deliberately trying to alienate their traditional supporters?". I would go further and say that I am coming to the conclusion drawn by some of my friends that somewhere in a back office in Whitehall, or nearby, is a small group of politically aspiring kamikaze suicide pilots, who, on a weekly basis, are loading Aircraft UK with self-destruct material. Is the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill the latest self-destruct consignment to be taken on board? It certainly will be if the Government are unbending and insist on going ahead with these proposals in the face of opposition and widespread wise and professional advice not to do so, particularly at a time of public unrest and unease with the government proposals for various so-called reforms and austerity measures-as evidenced by the recent student and trade union demonstrations.
This is not the time for political involvement in, or political direction of, policing. Police must not only be politically neutral; they must be seen and trusted to be so, and not seen as an arm of any particular political party or, indeed, government. We must take time to give greater thought to these proposals. For these many reasons, I support and would encourage noble Lords of all parties, and of none, to support the amendment put forward by my noble friend Lord Condon.
Baroness Henig: My Lords, I will try to be extremely brief because I know the Minister is anxious to move matters forward. But Members of this House will be aware of my deep opposition to this Bill because it fatally undermines the principles on which policing has been delivered in this country for nearly 200 years. So the Minister will not be surprised to learn that I will be supporting the amendments that have been moved.
First and foremost, as we have heard-although the Minister did not acknowledge this-we are politicising policing. It is pointless government Ministers trying to deny this and pointing to the embryonic protocol that will supposedly regulate relations between commissioners and chief constables because the reality is that commissioners will be elected on party-political platforms and chief constables will, of necessity, have to acknowledge this and temper their actions accordingly. If they do
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The Minister argued that it would be key for independent candidates to contest these elections. But independents would have to be extremely wealthy to contest these elections. We are talking about very large, disparate police force areas. For an independent to make an impact across such an area, they would need to spend a lot of money. Inevitably, the reality is that there will be no more than a handful of independents contesting seats. Nor will there be many ethnic minority or female commissioner candidates because all the evidence from across the European Union on direct elections for mayors and similar positions is that the more power these positions carry, the more likely it is that white males between the ages of 35 and 65 will be chosen by their parties to contest winnable seats.
So I must say to this House that this is not a reform that will promote diversity. Quite the contrary because it is a big step back in terms of the fact that in the past few years there have been many female and ethnic minority police authority chairs, who have spent their time not sniffing out cameras at 100 paces or speaking to every available journalist, but establishing close links with their local communities. I want to place on record at this point my thanks to all police authority members who have worked so hard in the past few years because I think they have been unfairly vilified in the course of this Bill. I actually think they have done a very good job and I would like to acknowledge that.
We are taking a giant step towards an American model of policing, where-let us remind ourselves-police chiefs last on average two and a half years in office, where powers are wielded by "machine" party politicians, and where there are far higher levels of local corruption than we have so far experienced in this country. Bill Bratton, much admired by the Prime Minister, was sacked by Mayor Giuliani after two and a half years, not because his policing was a failure, but because it was so successful that it challenged the mayor, whom he was overshadowing in popularity. He had to go and he was sacked. I fear we are seeing the start of that in this country.
The stated aims of reform are to drive down crime and secure value for money, but how can a stand-alone commissioner forge the essential local partnerships that would deliver that? At the moment, partnerships exist and have helped to bring crime down to historically low levels. But the examples of elected mayors we have seen so far in this country indicate the commissioner will want to run his own show, on his own terms, sometimes capriciously, occasionally irresponsibly, but always with an eye to the media and to journalists, and always weighing up what needs to be done to secure re-election.
What of checks and balances? They barely exist. If I could say to the noble Baroness opposite, she had a very easy way out of her dilemma because the coalition
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It seems to me totally anomalous that local councillors on the panels will now, it is hoped, be covered by a standards regime under the Localism Bill, but police commissioners will not. This area of standards and ethics, crucial for public confidence, is one I have raised before. I know the Government keep telling us that they are intent on replacing bureaucratic accountability with democratic accountability, but the inadequate standards provision risks giving the impression that commissioners will not be accountable at all in relation to their conduct. I believe that some way still needs to be found to bring commissioners under a clear and explicit standards regime.
We have already heard, particularly from the noble Lord, Lord Harris, that there are no proper governance arrangements in place in this Bill as it comes back to us. I find it deeply depressing that noble Lords in this House who would not for one moment tolerate such an absence of good governance in their private sector or charitable involvements, and many of whom I know have serious misgivings about the radical proposals in this Bill, will nevertheless support it out of party and coalition loyalty.
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