Geraint Davies (Swansea West) (Lab/Co-op): Eight years is a long time, given that we are facing a sovereign debt crisis across Europe and, possibly, the end of the euro in that time frame. Does the Chancellor accept that the taxpayer will continue to foot the bill in the

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event of an investment bank, such as Lehman’s, collapsing? Does he accept that we will remain in a situation where bankers can take irresponsible risks and receive massive bonuses if they come up trumps, and where the taxpayer will continue to have to pay out if they go down?

Mr Osborne: The hon. Gentleman is being unnecessarily defeatist. I do not see why we cannot construct a regime that means we do not have to bail out banks when they fail. There are a number of different parts to this: requiring banks to hold more capital, including requiring people who hold bonds in the bank, as well as shareholders, to suffer a loss should the bank fail; the role of the regulator in preventing banks from doing stupid things, such as buying a big Dutch investment bank once the credit markets had already frozen up; and the proposals on ring-fencing. We have to work to get to a system where we are not standing behind banks that are too big to fail. If that were the case, we would end up with a banking system that is just a utility, and that would change the way in which banking interacts with our economy. We want banking to be successful and to be out there lending, but we want it to be properly regulated and we want to make sure that we do not have to stand behind it.

Jesse Norman (Hereford and South Herefordshire) (Con): I very much associate myself with the remarks about mutuals and credit unions, but I want to ask the Chancellor about what the commission says about competition, for which it has some excellent recommendations and it is all too easy to think that they apply merely to the retail sector. Does the Chancellor support the idea that we should be taking the wholesale sector as seriously as the retail sector, given that equity underwriting fees, for example, have gone from 2% 20 years ago to something like 4%, 5% or even 6% today?

Mr Osborne: My hon. Friend is right to raise the issue of competition in the investment banking sector. It is not often talked about outside the pages of the Financial Times, but it can be very uncompetitive, the fees can be exceptionally high, and there is that old maxim that no one ever got fired for hiring Goldman Sachs. The report will enable Britain to remain a home of competitive investment banking while protecting retail customers. That should encourage new entrants and drive down the fees that are charged. That would all be a good thing.

Mr William Bain (Glasgow North East) (Lab): In the first six months of this year, the five major UK banks lent £63 billion to non-financial corporations, excluding small and medium-sized enterprises. The Vickers recommendations would not oblige the banks to protect that lending via the 10% capital requirement for retail banks within the ring fence. Does the Chancellor agree with that recommendation, which would contribute to up to two thirds of all bank balance sheet holdings being outside the protection of the ring fence?

Mr Osborne: Again, I think we should trust the judgment of John Vickers and his commissioners. They explicitly considered whether to prescribe more closely than they have the scope of the ring fence—I am not talking about the height now, but the scope—and whether

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to include lending to larger corporates inside or outside it. They decided to leave that open to the banks. We will consider that advice and recommendation, but it strikes me as quite sensible to have some flexibility about the scope, if not necessarily the height, of the ring fence.

Naomi Long (Belfast East) (Alliance): I welcome the Chancellor’s statement this afternoon. The availability of lending for small businesses and competition in personal banking are as significant to my constituents as they are to those of other Members. In Northern Ireland, however, both are impacted on directly by the Irish banks. What aspects of the report could inform the ongoing discussions with the Irish Government to ensure that those issues are effectively addressed for Northern Ireland businesses and individuals?

Mr Osborne: We are in near constant discussion with the Irish authorities about the Irish banks and their impact on the rest of the UK, including, of course, Northern Ireland. In the next few weeks, the UK will disburse the first part of its loan to Ireland, which formed part of the Bill that was passed through this House at the end of last year. Because we passed that Bill and made the loan to Ireland, we are around the table having that discussion all the time with the Irish authorities about the impact of the Irish banks on the rest of the UK. I do not think we would be at that table if we had not made that loan, and I assure the hon. Lady that both I and the Financial Secretary have been spending a huge amount of time on the Irish banks, and we are well aware of the impact on Northern Ireland. If she wants to talk to us about that at any time, we would be very willing to have that meeting.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the Chancellor.

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Points of Order

4.43 pm

John Healey (Wentworth and Dearne) (Lab): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Last week, this House was asked to debate, amend and agree the Health and Social Care Bill. We were asked to scrutinise that legislation with no updated information on the costs and consequences of the biggest reorganisation in NHS history, because the Government had promised a new impact assessment but had not published it before the debate. It was then smuggled out with no press statement the very next day and it shows that savings are planned at £2 billion less, it shows that the new economic regulator, Monitor, is set to have 600 staff at an average cost of £84,000 each and, most importantly to this House, on page three it shows that the Minister signed it off on 1 September, a full five days before the debate in this House. It is a disgrace that these facts were kept hidden from the House and the public before such a critical and controversial debate. In the light of page 447 of “Erskine May”, can you advise this House whether the Government have followed the proper parliamentary procedure and of what steps can be taken to stop such abuse in the future?

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman for giving me notice of his point of order. He has made his point and it will have been heard by those on the Treasury Bench. Although the release of such information is a matter for the Government rather than for the Chair, I can tell him and the House that I do attach importance to the timely provision of information to the House, which is both courteous to Members and helpful in their deliberations. It is fortunate for the right hon. Gentleman and the House that at the time of his raising his point of order—this may not be a coincidence—the Leader of the House was sitting on the Treasury Bench. The Leader of the House is as courteous a man as is to be found on either side of the Chamber; he attaches importance to these matters and though he may not wish to respond to the point of order now, I can assure the House that he will have heard it.

The Leader of the House of Commons (Sir George Young) indicated assent.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to him for hearing it.

Naomi Long (Belfast East) (Alliance): On a point of order, Mr Speaker. Further to a written question regarding Government policy on equality issues relating to gender-specific dress codes in the workplace, I was rather surprised when the Home Secretary replied outlining what she was wearing on the day in question—a grey trouser suit and some shoes from L. K. Bennett—and mentioned her personal preference for smart dress and her belief that such dress had never hampered her career. Intrigued, I inquired at the Table Office whether I could seek regular sartorial insights from Ministers via written questions. I was advised that because the choices Ministers make before leaving home, such as

“whether to wash, shave or wear blue underpants”

are entirely personal and are not part of their ministerial responsibility or subject to Government policy, it would not be in order for me to do so. Is it therefore in order for a Minister to answer an entirely orderly and serious

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question regarding Government policy on an issue that has been raised with me by a constituent with what is a frivolous, albeit fascinating, fashion commentary?

Mr Speaker: The hon. Lady will understand immediately when I say that I do not regard myself as an authority on fashion. In response to points of order, I think an appropriate humility and self-denying ordinance on the part of this Chair would be prudent and seemly.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): Quite good ties though.

Mr Speaker: I am grateful to the hon. Gentleman for his sedentary intervention on the subject of ties, about which I do not intend to expatiate now or at any time from the Chair.

The hon. Lady kindly gave me notice of her point of order. What I would say to her, very seriously, is that the content of answers to parliamentary questions is a matter for the Government and not the Chair, and there are very good reasons, which will be immediately apparent to Members, why that should be so. The Chair cannot get into the business of acting as umpire or arbiter of the merit or demerit of a particular answer—only on the question of whether it is orderly. However, if the hon. Lady is dissatisfied with the answer, she should contact the Table Office to find other and perhaps further ways of pursuing the matter to obtain the satisfaction she seeks.

Police reform and social responsibility Bill (programme) (No. 3)

Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),

That the following provisions shall apply to the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill for the purpose of supplementing the Orders of 13 December 2010 and 30 March 2011 (Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill (Programme) and Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill (Programme) (No. 2)):

Consideration of Lords Amendments

1. Proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments shall be taken at this day’s sitting in the order shown in the first column of the following Table.

2. The proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the times specified in the second column of the Table.


Lords Amendments

Time for conclusion of proceedings

Nos. 1 to 4 and 6

8.00 pm

Nos. 5, 7 to 52, 54, 55, 58, 60 to 168, 53, 56, 57, 59, 169 and 170

10.00 pm

Subsequent stages

3. Any further Message from the Lords may be considered forthwith without any Question being put.

4. The proceedings on any further Message from the Lords shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour after their commencement.—(Stephen Crabb.)

Question agreed to.

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Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill

Consideration of Lords amendments

Clause 1

Police and crime commissioners

4.49 pm

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): I beg to move, That this House disagrees with Lords amendment 1.

Mr Speaker: With this it will be convenient to consider Lords amendments 2 to 4 and 6, Government motions to disagree, Government amendments (a) to (d) in lieu, amendment (i) to Government amendment (a) in lieu and amendment (ii) to Government amendment (b) in lieu.

Nick Herbert: This Government are determined to swap bureaucratic control of the police for local democratic accountability, replacing police authorities with directly elected commissioners. In the past there has been too much central interference with decisions that should have been taken locally and by professionals, yet too often the centre has been weak where it needed to be strong, such as in ensuring the fight against serious and organised crime or better co-ordination between forces. Our aim is to reverse this position, giving greater freedom to professionals to do their job and sweeping away central interference and bureaucracy, while refocusing the Home Office on key priorities and threats.

But we cannot just take away central direction and leave the police to get on with it. Like any public service, the police must answer to someone. Politicians do not and should not run the police, but they should and they must hold the police to account on behalf of the public whom the police serve. Officers must be accountable for their actions and forces must be accountable for their performance. Both parties in the coalition were committed in their manifestos at the last election, in differing ways, to enhancing the democratic accountability of policing. The coalition agreement pledged the introduction of directly elected individuals, subject to strict checks and balances, by locally elected representatives.

The Bill seeks to establish clear and democratically accountable leadership for police governance, but amendments in another place would remove those provisions. The Lords amendments do not try to increase the local accountability of the police. They do not even try to ensure that there are adequate checks and balances in place. The amendments simply say that the status quo should be preserved and that the chair of a police authority should be called a police and crime commissioner. This rebranding of the status quo will not suffice.

The whole purpose of the Government’s reform and its strength is that local councillors will still be involved in the governance of policing, but an elected individual, with a mandate from the people, will take the executive decisions.

Chris Bryant (Rhondda) (Lab): The Minister is preaching a great sermon on how everything will be transformed by the creation of commissioners, but my concern is that what he means by the word “local” is not at all

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what is going to be brought about. The South Wales police force area covering Swansea and Cardiff—two cities that have never particularly loved each other—and large chunks of the valleys, which have a very different policing agenda from those two cities, could not possibly be constituted as a single political unit by anybody who was starting afresh. So my worry is that there will be less political accountability to local people and more accountability to one individual, who will probably be more likely to represent somebody in Cardiff and Swansea than somebody in the valleys.

Nick Herbert: Although I think there is a serious debate to be had, I disagree with the hon. Gentleman for a number of reasons, principally that he may be making an argument for smaller forces—that is not a proposal that the Government are making, or one that, I suspect, the Opposition would support. Also, if a single chief constable can be in charge of that whole force and be responsible for the operation of the force across the varied area that the hon. Gentleman describes, why should not a single individual be capable of holding that chief constable to account? In London we have seen the Mayor taking responsibility for policing over a very much greater population, including a diverse population with a large number of local authority components.

Chris Bryant: What I have found in the past few years in South Wales police is that although it is true that the chief constable is not particularly accountable, what has made the police accountable is the local PACT—Police and Communities Together—meetings, where members of the public get to know they can get in touch with their local beat police officer. It is that transformation of the police that will render policing far more effective, rather than the somewhat bureaucratic system that the Minister is setting up.

Nick Herbert: We are hardly setting up a bureaucratic system. It is one that involves direct democratic accountability. The two things that the hon. Gentleman describes are not mutually exclusive. It is possible to maintain neighbourhood policing and local accountability while still introducing direct democratic accountability and governance, for the reasons that I set out.

Alun Michael (Cardiff South and Penarth) (Lab/Co-op): I must say that I disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant) on the usefulness of PACT meetings. The Minister referred to accountability and to the Metropolitan police. There is an issue with the governance of the Metropolitan police, because they do not and will not have a police commissioner, as that is part of the Mayor of London’s muddle of responsibilities. Of course, the Metropolitan police’s activities go far beyond London and have implications not only for other parts of England but for Scotland and Wales, yet we have a Mayor with devolved responsibility getting rid of a Metropolitan Police Commissioner. Is there not a bit of a muddle over the accountability issues right across this new pattern of policing?

Nick Herbert: I do not accept that there is a muddle. The right hon. Gentleman will know that it was the previous Government who set up the current governance

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arrangements in London. The Metropolitan police have national policing responsibilities and therefore answer in part to the Home Secretary, which makes them unique. However, the reforms in London to give greater local accountability have been popular with the public, and it is that principle that we seek to extend. Indeed, the principle of having one accountable individual directly responsible for the totality of force activity is crucial to the Government’s vision. Policing governance by committee has led to an unelected body having power over the precept, with no one being properly held to account for decisions or poor performance and no one truly being in charge.

Mark Tami (Alyn and Deeside) (Lab): The Minister states that this whole idea is popular. What does he base that on, because all the information I have seen indicates that the public do not want this?

Nick Herbert: If the hon. Gentleman had been paying attention, he would know that I was talking about the popularity of the reform that his Government introduced —the introduction of the Mayor of London. Evidence from opinion polls shows that a large majority of the public welcome the idea of enhanced local accountability for policing.

The public have not had a voice. As the shadow policing Minister, the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker), has pointed out:

“Under the current system, 93 per cent of the country has no direct, elected representation.”

Indeed, only 7% of wards in England and Wales are represented on a police authority, so it is no surprise that only 7% of the public understand that they can approach their police authority if they are dissatisfied with policing. Most people have no clue who their police authority chair is. How can a body be an effective link between the police and the people if it is invisible to the people? I agree with the former policing Minister, who said that people must “know who to go to” and be

“able to influence their policing through the ballot box.”

That was the hon. Member for Gedling.

Some say that this visibility does not matter and, provided that a wise committee takes the right decisions, there is no need to refer to the people. That is the argument that favours rule by quangos over democratic decision making. The defenders of the current system of governance say that it works well, but I am afraid that I disagree. Only four of the 22 inspected police authorities were assessed by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and the Audit Commission as performing well in their most critical functions. I understand why police authorities oppose their own abolition, but there are few who believe that the authorities can remain in their current form. Even the Opposition do not share that view.

Keith Vaz (Leicester East) (Lab): I welcome the Minister back to the Dispatch Box after his recent illness. We have missed him. There have been riots and both the commissioner and the head of counter-terrorism have resigned, so the Minister’s re-emergence provides great stability for all of us who are interested in policing issues. I agree with him about the invisibility of police authorities. The Home Affairs Committee considered this matter in the last Parliament when the Government

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wanted to introduce an element of election. What concerns me is the progress on the protocol, which the Committee believed was extremely important in defining the relationship between the chief constable and the new police and crime commissioner. If he does not plan to refer to this later in his speech, will he tell us now what is happening about the protocol?

Nick Herbert: I share the right hon. Gentleman’s concern to ensure that we get the protocol right. We have made very good progress with it, and I will deal directly with those remarks, if I may, later in my speech. I also thank him for his kind words.

5 pm

I was making the point that Opposition Members do not share the view that police authorities can remain in their current form. Even the right hon. Member for Morley and Outwood (Ed Balls), hardly a champion—in so far as I am aware—of reform in any sphere, was forced to concede when he was shadow Home Secretary that police authorities were “not optimal”. Twice before, the Labour party tried to reform police authorities and to introduce democratic accountability into policing, but it backed off in the face of vested interests. We intend to see this reform through.

In Committee, the shadow policing Minister proposed directly elected chairs of police authorities. He felt so strongly that this was the right idea that he pushed it to the vote. So, there we have it: the shadow Home Secretary says that

“elected chiefs would make things worse.”

The shadow police Minister says that

“only direct election...will deliver the strong connection to the public which is critical.”

Which is it?

The right hon. Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper) claims that extremists might be elected, but why would that not happen under her own Front Benchers’ plans for directly elected chairs? We know what the shadow Minister thinks about the arguments that extremists might be elected. He has said in past that those arguments are “ridiculous”—and they are.

The British National party polled just 2% of the national vote in the general election. It has never won direct election in any constituency larger than a local authority ward; and, in fact, it has never come better than third. It is simply inconceivable that the BNP could win a majority of votes in an area as large as a police force area; inconceivable that a BNP candidate would be one of two going forward to a count on second preferences; and inconceivable that they would take sufficient second preferences from other parties to win. So saying that extremists will win such elections, as the shadow Home Secretary has today, is silly and irresponsible scaremongering, and she should stop it now.

The right hon. Lady has also criticised the cost of the elections, but the shadow Minister’s proposal would actually cost more, and the truth is that Opposition Members know that they cannot defend the status quo. They have three times supported democratic reform, but they just do not want to admit it—just as they do not want to admit that they would cut police spending by more than £1 billion.

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Chris Bryant: Will the right hon. Gentleman give way?

Nick Herbert: I am just going to make a little more progress. Let me deal with costs, and then I will come back to the hon. Gentleman.

The shadow Home Secretary says that the reform will cost “well over £100 million”. No, it will not. She reaches that figure by counting in the running costs of police authorities—money that, apparently, should not be spent. So, this is Labour's latest policy: not just no elections for those who hold the police to account, but no one to hold them to account at all—because, apparently, police authorities would go as well.

The only additional cost of the Government’s reforms is the cost of elections. That will normally be £50 million every four years, £12.5 million a year on average, or 0.1% of what is spent on police forces.

Keith Vaz: The argument over the figure of £100 million will go on, but it is now accepted that the postponed election will cost £25 million, and that equates to 2,000 extra police officers.

Nick Herbert: No.

Keith Vaz: The right hon. Gentleman may disagree, but the fact that the postponed election will cost £25 million is not in dispute, is it?

Nick Herbert: I will come to that immediately. There will be a one-off additional cost for holding the elections in November next year, rather than in May, and the cost will indeed increase: it will increase from 0.1% of police spend to 0.15%, and then it will go back down to 0.1% again. So, this is apparently the full weight of the Opposition’s argument: a delay in holding an election will temporarily cost 0.05% of police spend. That is a risible case.

Mark Tami: But why is there a delay? The whole House knows why: it is because the Liberal Democrats do not want the elections on that day—despite the fact that the Liberal Democrat leader has previously said that the electorate are perfectly capable of understanding different elections on the same day.

Nick Herbert: Hon. Members have spent their whole time trying either to stop the reform or to delay it, and now, when an introduction is delayed for a few months, they apparently do not want that, either.

The central point is that, in any case, the cost of elections is not going to come from police budgets. It is just nonsense to claim that the money for elections could instead be spent on police officers. That is a poor argument. It ill behoves an elected politician to complain about the cost of democracy. It was Labour that made the police more accountable to a new Mayor of London. The referendum itself cost £3 million to conduct, and the elections still cost £18 million every four years. Did Labour then say that this money could be better spent on police officers? No, of course not. If greater democratic accountability is a price worth paying in London for a quarter of all policing, why not in the rest of the country?

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Vernon Coaker (Gedling) (Lab): The Minister will know that the impact assessment said originally that the cost of elections was £50 million. He will also know that the Prime Minister told us, and he has confirmed, that additional costs for the one-off election were another £25 million. Will he also confirm that the impact assessment contains £37 million of transition costs to the new arrangements, which do take the figure to over £100 million?

Nick Herbert: No, I do not accept what the Opposition have constantly been saying, which is that the overall cost of this reform is over £100 million. That is based on a figure that the Association of Police Authorities has been using, where it appears that it has been counting two elections into the cost. I go back to the point that I have made: the only additional, ongoing cost in relation to this reform is the cost of holding elections. It is a very bad argument to suggest that a democratic reform should not go ahead simply because elections will cost money, and it is not an argument that Labour Members were willing to use in the past when they supported all sorts of proposals for elections, including in relation to the Mayor of London.

I now give way to the hon. Member for Rhondda (Chris Bryant), who has been very patient.

Chris Bryant: I have never supported the politicising of the police, and I will not do so under the Minister’s plans. My anxiety is that when a politician comes along, they usually do not just want a little office in the corner; they want lots of other people to service that office. I suspect that the cost that he is allowing for now will be hideously understated by the time we have had these people in place for four years. However, the bit that I completely do not understand is why we have to have elections next November. Surely, if we were trying to save money and one believed in having these elections, they should be at the same time as the other local elections six months later.

Nick Herbert: I will come to that issue. However, I will say to the hon. Gentleman now that if the elections were delayed for a further six months to take them to May 2013, incoming police and crime commissioners would be unable to participate in the budget that would already have been set for that year. They would be unable to take the key decisions—[ Interruption. ] It will still be the case, even though the elections will be delayed by six months, that incoming police and crime commissioners will be able to set the budget and the plan for the following year, as originally intended. I do not accept that there would be no difference as a result of a delay until the following year.

Chris Bryant rose

Nick Herbert: If the hon. Gentleman will forgive me, I am going to move on.

I want to come back to the issue of London’s Mayor, which was much discussed in the other place, as it has been here. I want to credit the Opposition for the creation of the office of Mayor, which, as I have said before, has been a popular reform. As we debate these issues, the Mayor has been playing a key role in the decision over who will next lead the Metropolitan police. He has given Londoners an important voice in policing.

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How many Londoners would prefer their police force to answer to an invisible committee? Now the Opposition are criticising the Mayor’s role in policing—well, they invented it. Of course the Opposition do not like the current Mayor. They may not like what he does, but that is not a reason to dislike the office or to object to the same principle of greater democratic accountability being introduced in the rest of the country.

Let us be clear: the Mayor does not run the police in London; he holds them to account, and that is the principle that we are advancing. The British model of impartial policing must be retained, and it will be retained. Our aim is not to abandon the tripartite arrangement of police governance between the Home Office, local representatives and forces, but to rebalance it.

Keith Vaz: The name of the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner has been announced as the Minister has been speaking from the Dispatch Box, and I am sure that the right hon. Gentleman will tell the House who it is. I will leave it to him to make the announcement rather than me. [Hon. Members: “Go on!”] No, no, no. I do not want to spoil the fun. [ Interruption. ] Perhaps the Minister does not know, but it has just been announced. Will he assure the House that it was done with the full agreement of the Mayor of London, that there was no dispute, and that we will all now be able to unite behind the new commissioner, whose name, I think, is winging its way over to him as I speak?

Nick Herbert: I am sorry to disappoint the right hon. Gentleman, but I am not going to make an announcement before it is confirmed to me that the name has been formally announced.

To prevent too much power from being vested in a single individual, we are putting in place strict checks and balances. This is an important part of the argument. The checks and balances include local police and crime panels with representatives from each local authority and independent members, which will have the power to scrutinise the commissioner’s actions. District councils will have a stake in police governance for the first time. They do not currently have that position in police authorities. The panels will have teeth. They will have the power of veto over excessive precepts and the appointment of chief constables, and they will have the weapon of transparency.

We have listened to concerns and have strengthened the safeguards in the other place. I will go into the detail of those changes when we discuss them later. However, I want to highlight three important areas where we have listened, not least to the professional advice of senior police officers, and acted. First, in response to the point made by the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee on the operational independence of the police, it is fundamental to the British system that the police remain operationally independent. No politician can tell a constable—a sworn officer of the Crown—who to arrest. Forces will continue to be under the legal direction and control of their chief constable. There is no change in those legal arrangements.

Since the Bill left this House, the Government have published a draft protocol that clearly sets out the roles of the chief constable and the police and crime commissioner, and how they and the other actors, including the police and crime panel, will interact. We did that

12 Sep 2011 : Column 787

partly in response to the recommendation of the Home Affairs Committee. Senior chief constables, including senior leaders of the Metropolitan police, welcomed the publication of the draft protocol. They have said that it provides clear direction on the future roles of chief constables, police and crime commissioners and the Home Secretary, and that it ensures the balance between operational independence and appropriate public accountability. I agree with chief constables that we must include in the protocol the fact that the police and crime commissioner must set the strategic direction and objectives of the force and decide the budget of the force, while being clear that chief constables remain operationally independent.

We also amended the Bill in the other place to make it a statutory requirement for the Home Secretary to issue the protocol. This work is not over. We will continue to work closely with the Association of Chief Police Officers and others to ensure that the protocol covers all the necessary issues in the necessary depth. It is vital that we get this right. We have made tangible progress in ensuring that the operational independence of police officers will be protected under this Bill.

Mark Tami rose—

Nick Herbert: I give way one last time to the hon. Gentleman.

Mark Tami: Does the Minister not accept that somebody standing in an election may well have a programme that will impact on operational independence? Does he not recognise that there could be such a clash?

Nick Herbert: The protocol is intended to govern the relationship and it will be issued by the Home Secretary. The legal control and direction of the force will remain, as I said, with the chief constable. The protocol describes the appropriate legal arrangements. I have no doubt that, as we have seen in London, those who stand for election will understand that.

Secondly, we will ensure that policing in this country is able to deal with national threats. It has been suggested that police and crime commissioners will be focused on local issues to the exclusion of those that require a strategic response, making them too parochial. I disagree. PCCs will be responsible and accountable to the public for the totality of policing. However, the fight against terrorism and against serious and organised crime is an area in which the central Government have a legitimate role.

The new national crime agency, working with police forces, will transform the fight against organised crime. The Home Secretary will issue a strategic policing requirement, which will guide forces on their responsibilities for serious and cross-boundary policing challenges such as terrorism, organised crime, public order and responding to major incidents and emergencies. Police and crime commissioners and chief constables will be under strong duties to have regard to that requirement. This is not about addressing a problem created by the introduction of police and crime commissioners. The strategic policing requirement, alongside the national crime agency, is a critical refocusing of the Government’s role to address an existing set of policing challenges for which the response to date has been lacking. We continue to work

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closely with the police service to ensure that that happens. The passing of the Bill will by no means be the end of the conversation, but let me be clear: ensuring that police forces can continue to deliver on national and strategic issues, and meet national threats, remains a priority for me and for this Government.

5.15 pm

Thirdly, we will ensure that policing is not politicised. We judge that it would be both wrong in principle and unworkable in practice to ban political parties from fielding candidates as police and crime commissioners, although some suggested that. However, that does not mean that party politics will be introduced into police forces. Commissioners will not be permitted to appoint political advisers. Police and crime commissioners will be permitted to direct officers to make an arrest no more than a police authority is so permitted. They will not be permitted to sack or appoint officers other than chief constables. We have strengthened the safeguards relating to the dismissal of chiefs by ensuring that the police and crime panel hears from both the chief constable and the police and crime commissioner, as well as by ensuring that they have the opportunity to get advice from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary.

Additionally, we will ensure, through regulations, that proper procedures are put in place. Police and crime commissioners must have the power to dismiss chief constables, just as police authorities currently do, but we must guard against capricious decisions, and we will put in place the arrangements to ensure that we do so.

Chris Bryant rose—

Nick Herbert: I will give way quickly to the hon. Gentleman, who can also have a final intervention.

Chris Bryant: If what the Minister says is true, how could Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, say that the phone hacking allegations were just codswallop, and that the police should not investigate because the story was dreamt up by the Labour party?

Nick Herbert: I apologise to the hon. Gentleman, but I was reading a note and was not properly listening to what he said. Will he say it again?

Chris Bryant: Do concentrate! If all of what the Minister says is true—that the police and their operational independence should not be politicised—how can it be right for the Mayor of London, Boris Johnson, to say that the phone hacking allegations at the News of the World were codswallop, and that the police should not investigate any further because it was a story got up by the Labour party?

Nick Herbert: Surely the hon. Gentleman misses the key point. First, the Mayor should not seek to direct an investigation any more than the Home Secretary should. Secondly, the Mayor will be held accountable for all issues, which is what Londoners expect. The point is that, before the Mayor, accountability was invisible. We seek to introduce that greater accountability elsewhere. The issue is not whether the hon. Gentleman thinks that

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the Mayor was right or wrong. There is now a figure who can be held accountable for the performance of the Met.

Simon Hart (Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire) (Con): The Minister will know of the constabulary of Dyfed-Powys police in west Wales. There are probably 15 elected politicians of various parties representing people for that area, including in the Welsh Assembly. Does he agree that if there were any hint of a police commissioner taking a political line, the 14 other elected members of various assemblies and Parliaments would hold him to account and ensure that that did not happen?

Nick Herbert: I agree with my hon. Friend. We are putting in place very strong accountability arrangements, but also checks and balances and transparency. That will ensure the visibility of decisions when they are taken. Panels of locally elected members will be able to hold the commissioner to account and to scrutinise the decisions that are made. All of that will be done in full view of the public, in a way that the current proceedings of police authorities simply are not.

I am afraid that I must briefly detain the House on other formal matters before us. In lieu of the Lords amendments, I shall move a Government amendment to re-establish the Secretary of State’s power to issue a financial management code of practice for police and crime commissioners. A code of practice is currently issued to police authorities, which are required to have regard to it in the discharge of their financial functions. This enables the Home Office accounting officer to assure Parliament that funds given to the Department are used appropriately.

The Bill repeals the general power to issue codes of practice to police authorities under which the existing financial management code was issued. To ensure that we adhere to the principles of financial regularity, propriety and value for money, we propose that the Bill be amended to retain the power to issue codes of practice, but to restrict it to codes relating to financial matters only. The code will set out to PCCs and chief constables how they are expected to conduct the financial management within their force area and ensure good governance of public funds, the majority of which fall within the ambit of the vote from this place. It will be the responsibility of the Government to ensure that the code is fit for purpose and that it enables a PCC to set a budget that is responsible and, crucially, responds to the needs of their local communities and priorities. As such, I cannot agree with the Opposition amendments.

Government amendment (b) in lieu of Lords amendments 1 to 4 and of Lords amendment 6 will move back the date of PCC elections by six months, from May 2012 to November 2012, to allow more time to ensure that all the necessary preparations are in place. That will give good quality candidates, including—I hope—independents, the time to come forward, plan and campaign. PCCs will still be able to lead the strategic planning for 2013-14, as originally proposed—that was the point I made to the hon. Member for Rhondda. Thereafter, elections will revert to May every four years. Reform in London can still take place early because the Mayor is already in place.

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In respect of the amendment giving the Welsh Assembly the power to set the first election date in Wales, the Government have placed on the record, in this House and another place, the efforts and negotiations in which I took part and which we undertook with the Welsh Government in order that the National Assembly for Wales could play a stronger role within policing governance in Wales. We have made it clear that we cannot legislate potential to provide two different systems of governance within England and Wales. Moreover, we cannot withhold from the people of Wales the necessary reform that will give them a stronger voice and visible accountability for how policing is delivered within their four police force areas by delaying the implementation of these reforms until the National Assembly sees fit. As the House knows—and, indeed, has determined through statute—policing remains a reserved matter and therefore the House shall decide when and how policing governance will be delivered. That said, we hope soon to restart constructive discussions with the Welsh Government so that they can consider positively how to work in partnership with both PCCs and police and crime panels.

In conclusion, these reforms are essential to address the democratic deficit in policing, to end the era of central Government’s bureaucratic control, to reduce crime and antisocial behaviour and to drive value for money. There will be benefits all round. Chief constables will be liberated from targets and central direction so that they can be crime fighters. Police officers will benefit from a less bureaucratic system in which discretion is restored and someone close to their force has a strong interest in driving out waste and prioritising the front line. Local authorities will benefit from a continuing say in the governance of policing, and district councils will have a role for the first time. The taxpayer will see better value for value money as commissioners, who will have responsibility for the precept, focus relentlessly on efficiency in their forces. Local policing will benefit from a strong democratic input, focusing attention on issues of public concern. The Home Office will be focused on its proper role, especially to address national threats and to co-ordinate strategic action and collaboration between forces. Above all, the public will have a voice in how they are policed. PCCs will have the mandate and the moral authority to reflect public concern about crime.

In the end, the House has a choice. The shadow Home Secretary repeatedly described elected police commissioners as a “US-style reform”. It is striking that Labour seems to think that democratic election and accountability are un-British. The Government trust the people to elect representatives to make the right decisions and to kick them out if they do not. It is strange that so many democrats are so wary of democracy. I believe that we can and should trust the people.

Vernon Coaker: With the indulgence of the House, let me start by endorsing the comments that the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee made in welcoming the Minister back to full health. I know that the Minister has not been too well, and we missed him on the TV over the summer. In all sincerity, I am pleased that he is back and functioning well.

However, I do not intend to let my feelings of good will towards the Minister prevent me from saying that for a moment at the end of his speech it was like being in church—the “Hallelujah Chorus” was all that was

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needed to illustrate the promised land to which the Minister believes he is taking us. However, let us be clear about this: what we are doing is quite extraordinary. We are not just repairing a bit of damage or tweaking that the Lords have done; what the Minister is having to do—and in a way that is hugely embarrassing for the Government—is reinsert in the Bill the whole concept of police and crime commissioners. In other words, he is having to reinsert the absolutely fundamental principle of the Bill.

However, one would not have known that from what the Minister said, which was that what we are doing today is nothing more than a tidying-up exercise—a bit of tweaking that the Government have found it necessary to do to ensure that the Lords did not inadvertently cause a problem that they had not intended. However, let us be clear: the Lords absolutely wanted to create a problem for the Government on this issue. What they were saying was that, unlike the Government, they recognise that the proposal has absolutely no support in the country. The only people who support the policy are the Minister, a few of his friends, a couple of people at No. 10 Downing street, a few Back Benchers, a couple of think-tanks and the whipped masses, who we will no doubt see later.

Mr Aidan Burley (Cannock Chase) (Con): Will the hon. Gentleman give way?

Vernon Coaker: I will in a moment; I am just getting going. If the hon. Gentleman lets me, I will make a few points and then give way to him—he served on the Committee.

One of my hon. Friends asked the Minister where the evidence was that there was a demand for his proposal out there in the country. The answer was that there was none. I and many others have consistently asked the Minister to publish the results of the public consultation on “Policing in the 21st Century”, a document to which there were approximately 800 responses. We have not heard a word from a Minister about those 800 responses. I wonder why that is. I am sure that if a large number of those responses had been in favour of the proposal, the Minister would have published every one. However, he cannot do that, because we know that very few of those responses were in favour. This Government—who, we are told, are in favour of listening to the people, in this new dawn of not imposing things—say that in this instance they know best. The fact that nobody supports the proposal does not matter to the Minister.

Mr Burley rose—

Vernon Coaker: Don’t worry; I have not forgotten the hon. Gentleman.

The same goes for councils. We have just heard about the objections of the Local Government Association and the Association of Police Authorities. The Minister’s answer to them is: “We don’t care what you say—you’re dinosaurs. You’re in the way of me reaching the promised land; you’re in the way of me reaching what I regard as the best reform. You’re people who are out of touch. You will inevitably vote against this proposal because it’s like turkeys voting for Christmas.” However, there are individuals on those local councils and police authorities—members of all parties or none—who have

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dedicated their lives to the service of their communities and to policing in their communities who fundamentally believe that the Government’s proposal is a bad reform. To dismiss them purely as people who do not want to vote themselves out of a job does them no service at all.

Mr Burley: The hon. Gentleman says that there is no support for the reform, but let me read him two quotations. The first is from the Lib Dems’ manifesto, which says on page 72 that they will

“Give local people a real say over their police force through the direct election of police authorities.”

This is the second quotation:

“only direct election, based on geographic constituencies, will deliver the strong connection to the public which is critical”.

That was the hon. Gentleman himself, in a speech in 2008. Rather than there being no support for reform, is it not true that the case for reform of police governance has been made right across the political spectrum?

Vernon Coaker: I hope that the hon. Gentleman was not just reading that out; he normally does better than simply reading out Whips’ documents. He will remember, as I do, that in Committee the Liberal Democrats actually voted against their own amendments—

Mike Crockart (Edinburgh West) (LD): Once.

Vernon Coaker: I am glad that the hon. Gentleman admits it. I have never known anyone vote against their own amendments, but there we go.

5.30 pm

The hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Mr Burley) will know that the Liberal Democrats did not propose that one individual should be directly elected to hold the police to account. Their manifesto proposal was for directly elected police authorities, with a multiplicity of people holding the police to account. He will also be aware that the Green Paper that the last Government introduced in 2008 proposed a model not totally dissimilar from what the Liberal Democrats proposed at the last election. It is also interesting to witness the difference in approach between those who go out to consultation and listen to what people say, and those who go out to consultation and say, “We don’t care what you said. We’re going to do this anyway.”

Mr Burley: I agree with nearly everything that the hon. Gentleman has just said. The point is that there is cross-party agreement on the need for reform of police authorities, but there is disagreement on the form that the new model should take.

Vernon Coaker: I do not think there has ever been any disagreement, either in Committee or in any of our other debates on police governance, about the need to make police authorities more visible and find ways of helping them to work more successfully in their neighbourhoods. That has never been in doubt. However, people have certain concerns relating to the introduction of direct elections—whether using the model involving a directly elected police authority, or the one involving a directly elected individual—and I will discuss those worries in due course.

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The Minister has failed to provide the House with the evidence for why the Government are taking forward these reforms. He says that there is support for them, but he has failed to put any evidence for that before the House. Let us look at the detail of the Bill. Interestingly, when the Minister argues against the points that have been made on this matter, he simply says that people are wrong, and that he does not agree with them. However, we all know that there are serious issues involved that need to be addressed. He and the Liberal Democrats might have sorted out a way of getting the Bill through, but that does not negate the real concerns that were mentioned by Members on both sides in Committee and that have been mentioned again since.

The Minister says that there is no way in which a police and crime commissioner would be able to influence a chief constable or interfere with the operational independence of the police. He dismisses the politicisation argument with a sweep of his hand, but he knows that real concerns have been expressed about operational independence and politicisation. It is worth repeating some of the points that have been made. Let us imagine that, if the Bill is passed, an election will take place at some time in the distant future, perhaps on 15 November 2012 or on the first Thursday in May 2013. What are the manifesto commitments that the candidates for police and crime commissioner are going to stand on? They are not going to stand on the promise of a better counter-terrorism policy or a decent fraud policy for the pensioners of their area. What they are going to stand on is something like, “We want to see police stations kept open in our community,” or “We want to see more visible police officers going up and down our streets every single day.” That is the sort of manifesto on which police and crime commissioners will stand.

By putting these provisions back into the Bill, the Minister makes it difficult for us to believe that there will not be a conflict between someone elected on a manifesto like that and a chief constable who says, “Hang on a minute. I don’t think that is the right policing priority for this area. The right policing priority for this area is not having police in that neighbourhood. My professional judgment says that they should be placed here, and there. I am going to take some officers from their duty in that neighbourhood and put them into a domestic or sexual violence unit or a fraud unit. These will be front-line officers, but not in the sense of being visible uniformed officers on the street.”

Mark Tami: Will my hon. Friend give way?

Vernon Coaker: I said that I would give way to the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Mr Burley) first.

Mr Burley: The hon. Gentleman makes an important point, but he lulls us into thinking that this is a new thing. Was not Tony Blair’s summit on knife crime when he was Prime Minister—when he called all the chief constables to No. 10 Downing street to discuss what could be done about that crime—an example of a politician quite rightly reflecting public concern over a type of crime and influencing the police to do something about it? Is that not exactly the same as the power of influence that the police and crime commissioners will have, and is it not a good thing?

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Vernon Coaker: Obviously, people try to influence what the police do. I have no problem with that and, of course, I sat on some of the summits that the Prime Minister called, which brought chief constables together to deal with a national issue of importance and concern. What is different is where someone is elected on a manifesto at a local level, which might contain specific commitments about what should happen in that local area. That is the fundamental difference between those circumstances and what the Bill proposes.

Mr Burley: Could not a local person stand on a platform of cracking down on knife crime in the local area? What is the difference between that local person saying that and a democratically elected Prime Minister doing the same at the national level?

Vernon Coaker: Because the person will have a specific local democratic mandate and will have been elected on certain pledges, it is different from a Prime Minister or other national politicians responding to a problem that has arisen and working with the police to try to deal with it. The context is totally different.

Mark Tami: Before my hon. Friend moves away from specialist units, their work is very important, but the general public might not see what those officers are doing in the local area. Such units are often set up because of the failings of traditional policing after tragic events like the Soham murders or other instances when the police forces might have failed to work effectively together.

Vernon Coaker: That is the point I am making. Front-line officers are not just uniformed officers visible on the street; they might include officers in the specialist units to which my hon. Friend refers. I agree that they are particularly important.

Alun Michael: Does my hon. Friend agree that there is a big difference between this and the approach adopted under the Labour Government, which was about highlighting a problem or concern when something needed to be done? It was about how to hear from the police and how to learn from them about what was needed to tackle issues like antisocial behaviour, for instance, thereby providing the tools necessary to do the job. It was about teamwork between the Government the police, which contrasts greatly with what is happening now.

Vernon Coaker: That is absolutely right. The teamwork, collaboration and partnership working was, I think, one of the consequences of a Bill that my right hon. Friend took through in 1998. I believe that was one of the most successful reforms carried out under the last Government.

Let me deal with a fundamental issue that will be dealt with more fully in the next group of amendments. It is important, so I shall refer to it now, as it is one of the crucial issues on which the hon. Member for Cannock Chase might want to reflect further. When Tony Blair was Prime Minister, one thing he could not do was sack chief constables in individual areas. Under the Bill, however, the police and crime commissioner will be

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able to sack the chief constable, without the police and crime panel having any power to control it. That is an important difference; in my view, it is a big flaw in the Bill.

Keith Vaz: Is my hon. Friend as puzzled as I am that although, apparently, the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner has had a photo call with the Home Secretary—before she came into the Chamber—and the policing Minister has been at the Dispatch Box, there still has not been an announcement to Parliament of the new appointment. Everyone knows that it is Mr Hogan-Howe, but apparently the House of Commons does not know. Has my hon. Friend been told the name of the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner?

Vernon Coaker: I have been told now.

Mr Deputy Speaker (Mr Lindsay Hoyle): Order. It might be helpful if Vernon Coaker gave way to the Home Secretary.

Vernon Coaker: I give way to the Home Secretary.

The Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mrs Theresa May): Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker.

I am tempted to say that there is no need for me to rise to my feet now, given that the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee has given the name of the new commissioner. As I have just come into the Chamber, the policing Minister and I were discussing the best way to announce to the House the appointment of Bernard Hogan-Howe as Metropolitan Police Commissioner. He is the former chief constable of Merseyside, where he had a fine record of crime fighting, seeing crime levels go down by just under 40% over three to four years. I am sure that he will bring that crime-fighting capability to London and the Metropolitan police.

Alun Michael: On a point of order, Mr Deputy Speaker. It is good that the Home Secretary has now spoken to the House, but before this debate, when the Chancellor was at the Dispatch Box, the new commissioner’s appointment was widely publicised on television. So, as my right hon. Friend the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee was suggesting, the appointment has not come to the attention of the House as quickly as it should have.

Mr Deputy Speaker: The right hon. Gentleman has been in the House a long time and will recognise that that is not a point of order. He has put his point on the record.

Vernon Coaker: On behalf of the shadow Home Secretary, myself, and all Members of the House, may I wish Mr Hogan-Howe well in his new role as commissioner and in the important job of work that he will have to do?

The issue of the politicisation of operational independence is important, but Members have also referred to the huge problems that will be caused by having one police and crime commissioner to represent such a large number of areas and communities. Despite that, the Government are reinserting the proposal in the Bill with no indication of how they expect such problems

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to be overcome. We have heard from Devon and Cornwall, and Avon and Somerset, about this issue of size, yet the Minister just says that it will not be a problem. We also learn from the Minister that he believes that the Bill contains proper checks and balances and that, therefore, the reinstatement of the provision is not a problem. However, he fails to point out to Members that the police and crime panel has only two powers. One—to be fair to the Government, they have amended the majority that is required from three quarters to two thirds—is the veto over the appointment of the chief constable, and the other is the veto over the precept. That is it. The police and crime panel has no other power. The policing Minister wants us to disagree with the Lords amendments on the basis of his assertion that the Bill contains proper checks and balances, but I say to him that the police and crime panel has only two real powers to hold the police and crime commissioner to account.

Mr David Ruffley (Bury St Edmunds) (Con): Is not the hon. Gentleman doing a disservice to the future police and crime panels? They will doubtless be composed of notable members of the community, perhaps with expertise in crime and the justice system, and they will have an incredible platform from which to address the local media and engage in a debate on local television and radio. I envisage that kind of check and balance on a potentially wayward police and crime commissioner coming from the panels. So they will not have just two powers; they will probably have three, the third being the power of voice.

5.45 pm

Vernon Coaker: Of course they will have the power of voice. I have the power of voice here, but I shall still lose the vote, unless something goes dramatically wrong. I can still argue for what I think is right, but at the end of the day a police and crime panel will have no real sanction or power to change what a police and crime commissioner is doing if it believes it to be wrong, apart from the two specific powers that I have mentioned. As will become clear when we debate the next group of amendments, the panel will not even have the power to veto the sacking of a chief constable. The police and crime commissioner will have a completely unfettered power.

The Minister told us that the Government had listened to what the Lords had said, and that a chief constable who was to be sacked would be able to go to the police and crime panel and tell it why the police and crime commissioner was wrong. The panel would not have any power to do anything about it, but the chief constable could make representations to it. That might be a good thing, but it does not alter the fact that a chief constable in that position would have no proper right of appeal. The hon. Gentleman is right in saying that the police and crime panel can say what it thinks, but ultimately it can be ignored by the police and crime commissioner, except in the two specific instances that I have mentioned.

Simon Hart: In what circumstances does the hon. Gentleman believe that a police and crime commissioner would go solo and make a serious decision like that against all the interests of the community and, indeed, the other elected politicians and councillors who might reside in the area? How likely is that to happen?

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Vernon Coaker: There are a number of possible examples. Let me give the hon. Gentleman one of them. If an election is approaching and a chief constable is refusing to follow the priorities on which someone intends to stand, what would prevent that person from saying to the chief constable, “Unless you announce that you will introduce neighbourhood policing, put bobbies on the beat and keep this police station open, all of which I will include in my manifesto, I will sack you”? There is no power for anyone to stop a police and crime commissioner from doing that to a chief constable.

I know that the hon. Gentleman takes a keen interest in this matter, and I know that he would be as anxious about such circumstances as I would be. He may think that they will never arise, but he and I both know that many situations arise that were not predicted. I should have thought that any Government would want at least to include a provision ensuring that police and crime commissioners did not have an unfettered power, but as the Bill stands it is completely unfettered.

Steve McCabe (Birmingham, Selly Oak) (Lab): Does my hon. Friend think that the Mayor of London has already demonstrated such circumstances in managing to get rid of two commissioners of the Metropolitan police?

Vernon Coaker: My hon. Friend's point speaks for itself. It illustrates some of the problems that can arise in connection with police and crime commissioners.

I will not rehearse all of what has been said before, but the Minister has asked us to disagree with the Lords in their amendment, and to reinsert the original proposals on police and crime commissioners in the Bill. The “one person” argument, the “operational independence” argument and the politicisation argument are all still there, as is the lack of power for the police and crime panel—the fact that it is a toothless watchdog—yet the Minister is telling us that he is right, and that everyone else is wrong. In their amendment 6 on the police commission model, the Lords attempt to overcome some of the existing problems—such as having one omnipotent person, as the Government would like—by ensuring that the police and crime panel is established as set out in the Bill and that the police and crime commissioner is appointed from among that group of people.

This group of amendments also addresses the delayed election issue. I know some of my hon. Friends want to say a little more about the Welsh aspect of that, and I fully understand and support their argument.

We oppose in principle both the elections and police and crime commissioners. We also believe that if the Government are going to press ahead, May 2012 is a ridiculous date given issues such as the speed with which things would be required to be put in place and the Olympics. The Government apparently now agree with that, but have come up with the equally stupid idea of holding the elections in November. That would be costly, and there would also be further problems that have been pointed out not by the Opposition—my right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary has not pointed this out—but by the Electoral Commission, including the problems of daylight hours and of the electoral canvass going on at the same time. The Electoral Commission is a body that is independent of this House, and it has pointed out to the Minister that it is silly to

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delay things until November. Moreover, members of that commission have said that the cost of such a delay would be significant.

I therefore ask the Minister to tell us how on earth the Government have arrived at that date. Why are they delaying the elections? Is there any truth in the newspaper reports that it was in order to ensure that the Liberals voted for the Bill in totality? Is this another example of the tail wagging the dog?

Steve McCabe: If we give the Government the benefit of the doubt and accept that the delay is to allow more time for candidates to campaign and make themselves known to the public and for the untried and untested arrangements to be developed to the point where they might actually be implemented, would it not make sense to delay the elections until at least May 2013? That would enable the Government to increase the turnout and save on cost, whereas what they are doing is reducing the chances of a high turnout and increasing the cost, which seems completely nonsensical?

Vernon Coaker: I agree with my hon. Friend about the logic of the Government arriving at the date of 15 November. In speaking to the amendment in question, the Minister in effect just said, “We’re changing the date,” in what amounted to not much more than a shrug-of-the-shoulders argument. The House deserved more than that, because many people say that if we are going to delay this, it is much more sensible to delay until May 2013. Why has this date been chosen? Why is it so special? What discussions have taken place with the Liberals?

There has been much debate about the cost of the elections. How has the figure of £25 million been arrived at? The Government have accepted the sum of £50 million, and £25 million is now to be added to that. As shown by Channel 4’s “FactCheck”, there is now a debate. We have also seen that a referendum that was held on the same day as other elections cost £89 million. Admittedly, that did not include Scotland, and this arrangement is just for England and Wales.

Again, there is no proper explanation, and that fault runs all the way through the Bill. Most of the time the Minister relies on assertion and saying, “This is the right thing to do,” or, “I don’t agree with what other people say.” Very little evidence is given, and there is seldom any resort to any studies that might have been done. Instead, there is just an assertion of what the Minister thinks is the right thing to do.

I shall conclude, as I know that many Members wish to speak—and I see that you are getting a bit restless as well, Mr Deputy Speaker. The Government have offered no real argument as to why these measures should be put back into the Bill, and they have no real answers to the questions that were raised throughout the Committee’s proceedings. They have offered no real argument as to why they think this delay is right, nor have they made any real assessment of the costs involved. They have offered no real argument as to why everyone else is wrong and they are right.

Even at this late stage, the Minister pretends to us that another little tidying-up exercise is needed. The change in respect of the financial code of practice is presented as merely a technical amendment, yet one of the key demands made in the Lords was that a code of practice was necessary in respect of the police and

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crime commissioners. However, apart from a few sentences of assertion from the Minister, we have no real idea even at this late stage about this financial code of practice, which will govern the way the police and crime commissioners operate. The Government have therefore not just produced another tweaking amendment, but have had to bring forward a major change. That is why we tabled our amendment about the importance of this change to chief constables. The Minister again just dismissed this, but perhaps he would agree with those who say, “Why shouldn’t the chief constable have some real say about what should be included in that financial code of practice and about the impact of police grant cuts on officer numbers?”

This is the wrong reform at the wrong time. If we were to ask people whether they would set as a higher priority this Government spending more than £100 million on the ideological experiment of police and crime commissioners or instead spending that money on police officers on the street, I think almost everyone in the country would say, “Let’s have police officers on the street and not spend £100 million on elections that nobody wants.”

Mr Ruffley: I support the Government amendments, and would like to favour the House with some recollections from the two and a half years before the last general election when I did the job that the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) does. In the course of my shadow duties, I had occasion to speak to a great number of police authorities, crime reduction partnerships and voters and I came to the following conclusion: while police authority members believed for wholly honourable motives that the proposed step was retrograde and potentially dangerous, I could find very little antagonism and opposition to the idea of elected police and crime commissioners—and I challenge the Opposition to produce evidence that that idea is unpopular with the British public.

If we rely on MORI—I do not see why we should not rely on it—we know the following about British public opinion. Over the past five or six years, it has regularly produced findings that demonstrate that police authorities, as vehicles for making the police accountable to the public they serve in any locality, are invisible. That is not a term of abuse. Some of my best friends are members of police authorities, and they take umbrage when it is suggested that they do not do a good job. Many of them do a good job, but the fact remains that they are invisible to the public.

The main thrust behind this proposal is to have a single focal point of accountability, much in the way that the disparate things that used to happen under the Greater London council and all the other bodies associated with the running and governance of London were brought together in the shape of a directly elected Mayor. By and large, that has been a very popular programme of government and a very good idea. Having a single focal point of accountability focuses people’s minds, as the public know that if something is going wrong in policing, there is one man or woman to whom they can go to find out whether it can be fixed and when it will be fixed.

6 pm

Vernon Coaker: I acknowledge the experience that the hon. Gentleman brings to these debates from his former shadow policing role. He challenged me to produce

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evidence of where this approach was not wanted, so may I refer him to the Liberty polling evidence produced a few months ago? I cannot remember the exact month when this was produced, but when people were asked who they would trust more to protect their family from crime, 65% said:

“A Chief Constable reporting to a Police Authority, as now”.

Some 15% said that they would prefer:

“A Chief Constable reporting to an individual politician elected as a Police and Crime Commissioner”.

There is some evidence for him.

Mr Ruffley: I will not take issue with the skewed nature of the wording—“politician” is often a dirty word. I have no knowledge of the survey, but what many of the respondents would probably not understand is that the majority of those serving on a 17-person police authority are politicians—nine of them will be indirectly elected council members. So a clear political element is already involved, which brings me on to my next point.

Steve McCabe: It is true that the members of police authorities are indirectly elected and are party people. However, is not the difference that most of the commissioners will owe their allegiance directly to the political party that maintains the machine that gets them into power? They will have two obligations—not only to the electorate, but to the political machine—and so they will be party political commissioners.

Mr Ruffley: The hon. Gentleman makes the reasonable point that these people will fly under party colours. However, when getting elected as Members of Parliament for our constituencies we all fly under a party label and rely on a smooth-running local party machine—that is what we hope it is—to get us elected, and yet once elected our duty is to serve all our constituents without fear or favour. I know that he is a diligent constituency man, as I hope I am. I take up the issues and concerns raised by each individual who comes to see me in my advice centre, regardless of race, creed, colour, faith, party political persuasion and even whether they are nice to me or rude to me. All of us take that view, because it is in the nature of the office we hold. I would be very disappointed if a police commissioner, elected at the ballot box, as we hope will be the case a year this coming November, did not take that same view.

Steve McCabe: I have no doubt that the hon. Gentleman is an extremely diligent MP who does not judge the people who come to his advice centre. The difference is that when a member of the public approaches him they know perfectly well that he is a Tory MP—I do not say that in any disparaging sense, because they would identify me as a Labour MP—but when they approach a member of the police they expect that person to be a politically neutral member of the police. People would not expect such a person to be the Tory or Labour police commissioner, and that is surely the distinction here.

Mr Ruffley: There is a difference here, because we are not talking about having police officers—actual law enforcement officers—being party political, and neither is the hon. Gentleman. The commissioner will represent

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a mode of accountability—on behalf of the public, who will have voted for him or her, and will be able to hold the chief constable to account in a more focused and single-minded way. They will do the job that the police authority attempts to do at the moment. We believe that it can be done better by one individual.

I wish to deal with the issue of politicisation and the democratic mandate. In the last Parliament, the Labour party and my party came to pretty similar conclusions about the accountability arrangements—the answerability arrangements—that currently pertain, as did our colleagues on the Liberal Democrat Benches; we came to the conclusion that those arrangements were not adequate and that there was a democratic deficit. We know that because of what was said by the hon. Member for Gedling, and although that has already been cited by my hon. Friend the Member for Cannock Chase (Mr Burley), I wish to reinforce the point. In 2008, the then Labour Government’s draft legislative programme announced that there would be a Bill including proposals to provide

“a clear and powerful public voice in decision making through directly elected representatives”.

I understand that in the Committee stages of this Bill there were mild flirtations by Labour Members with various forms of direct election, and I think it is entirely proper for the Labour party to change its mind. I understand that the shadow Home Secretary now wants to ditch the whole idea of elections. However, let us just be non-partisan for a moment and accept that in the previous Parliament all three major political parties concluded that there was an argument for having a sharper, keener focus of responsibility. That involves letting the people or person holding the chief constable to account have a mandate from the public, arising from a direct election, on the basis of one person, one vote, in the police authority area over which a police and crime commissioner would preside. There is something incredibly important about a mandate being secured in that way, as both Labour and the Liberal Democrats were conceding in their policy pronouncements as recently as the end of the previous Parliament. So let us not kid ourselves that the end of the world is nigh as a result of this proposal for police and crime commissioners.

Graham Stringer (Blackley and Broughton) (Lab): I accept the hon. Gentleman’s argument that there is a democratic deficit and that that needs to be addressed. I even accept his argument that the people making the decisions at the moment are not visible. But does he not recognise that there is another problem with electing someone who has responsibility for just one service: it excludes them from the normal political decision making that has to be undertaken by anyone elected to government or local government? Normal decision making would mean that the person involved would have to measure priorities for policing against those for social services, education or recreation. We are really going only half way if we elect only a police commissioner who does not have the rest of the local public services to deal with.

Mr Ruffley: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point. He has huge experience from being leader of one of the great cities of this country, he knows what he is talking

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about and he spoke eloquently in August about how the riots affected Manchester. His is a genuine point that is not easily resolvable. The idea is that a directly elected police commissioner will be able to set the precept, and one of the strengths of a police authority—probably the only strength I can think of—is the fact that a proportion of the members of that police authority also sit on the precept-raising authority with their councillor’s hat on. That means there is a connection between the council raising the precept and individual members of that council, wearing a different hat, sitting indirectly on the police authority. That was a useful nexus and it will not necessarily be the case here.

In practice, I would expect any police and crime commissioner worth his or her salt to listen carefully to the priorities of, and arguments put by, the leading group on the relevant precept-raising authority. I do not pretend that this proposal is perfect in that regard. There will be quite a big disconnect between the person wishing to set a police precept and the authority that has to go out and raise it, but that might be the rough edge of an otherwise quite unremarkable proposal. That returns me to my theme and my next point.

This is not a radical revolution that will throw all the police cards up in the air and it is not a case of letting the chips fall where they may. I do not believe that that is a sensible way to make public policy nor do I think it is a sensible way of running the police service. I think we are in agreement on that point. However, many of the powers and duties of the new police and crime commissioner will be virtually identical to those of police authorities at the moment.

At the end of the last Parliament, I was rather a sad individual and I counted the number of duties and powers that police authorities had under a wide range of legislation from the Local Government Act 1999, under which they had value-for-money audit responsibilities, to the police Acts and so on. There were about 120 to 130 such duties and responsibilities and it seemed to me that those authorities exercised quite a lot of power over the police, such as the power to call police officers to account. I struggle to see how the panoply of powers possessed by the average police authority is very different from the powers, duties and responsibilities that a police and crime commissioner will have. We know that the setting of a precept is an identical power and we also know that police authorities, in conjunction with a chief constable, set police priorities and objectives for the year. Police authorities have strong views on the strategic objectives for a local police area and it seems to me that the police and crime commissioner will have similar strongly held views but will have the advantage, at least, of a public mandate through the ballot box when he or she sits down with the chief constable and they set out their plan to run the force in any given police area. Equally, police authorities can appoint and, in certain circumstances, dismiss chief constables. That is a power that police and crime commissioners will have, too. For me, those are the big ticket items.

Vernon Coaker: Given the hon. Gentleman’s experience, I am interested in his view about the unfettered power of the police and crime commissioner to sack the chief constable. Does he believe that should be subject to the same veto provisions as the police and crime panel has for appointment and the precept?

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Mr Ruffley: My understanding is that that is not in the Bill, but I envisage that the occasions on which a police and crime commissioner will wish to dismiss a chief constable will be few and far between. As we know, under the old legislation, police authorities had the power to dismiss chief constables, but it was rarely used. The right hon. Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett) intervened publicly to say that a police authority should exercise its power to dismiss an allegedly underperforming chief constable. Police authorities used the power extremely rarely, and I have no reason to suppose that an elected police and crime commissioner would be very different.

6.15 pm

I say to those who are not taking comfort from my exposition of the fact that many of the duties of police authorities are merely being passported to police and crime commissioners that the Government have bent over backwards to put in place a panoply of safeguards. We have already heard about the police and crime panel. I know that the hon. Member for Gedling thinks that it has only two significant vetoes, on the appointment of chief constables and on the precept, but its third duty will be to create a vibrant debate and hold the police and crime commissioner himself or herself to account.

The hon. Member for Gedling spoke of a police and crime commissioner deciding to take beat officers or neighbourhood officers from their role and to put them into a rape crisis unit or domestic violence unit. I would fully expect the police and crime panel to pick up on that. I understand that there will be regular hearings at which the police and crime commissioner will be available to the police and crime panel to answer for such decisions. There will be a full and frank exchange of views in public. I hope that police and crime panels will hold hearings in the localities with witnesses, similar to those that take place in the Select Committees of this place, to put the police and crime commissioner through his or her paces on some of the strategic decisions he or she is making.

The police and crime panel will be an important safeguard, on top of which there will be the protocol referred to by the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), the distinguished and eminent chair of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. Police authorities never overstepped the mark in discussing policing priorities with chief constables, partly because of the well-understood convention enshrined in common law whereby the operational independence of a police officer is inviolable. I would expect the same restraint as we see exercised by elected politicians sitting indirectly on police authorities to operate in the case of police and crime commissioners.

In case we are not happy with that, however, there is the protocol. The right hon. Member for Leicester East was right to say that it is an important document that must be scrutinised, but I do not have any concerns that it will not put on the record what a police and crime commissioner can and cannot do in relation to their strategic priorities. My word, if that police and crime commissioner were to overstep the mark, I would be staggered if the chief constable and the police and crime panel did not investigate that and draw it to public attention. What better set of safeguards than the panel and the protocol could there be for ensuring that the inviolable operational independence of our police is observed?

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I think the Government have probably gone further than many of their well-wishers would want them to go. We have put a great deal behind the argument that there should be openness and checks and balances; there should not be unfettered power in the hands of one elected commissioner.

There is another check or balance that might be more nebulous but is worth pointing out for the benefit of Members—the new role that we envisage Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary taking, particularly since the appointment of Sir Denis O’Connor. He has done all of us in the House a huge service in changing HMIC reports on police forces, their shortcomings and where they could deliver efficiencies from being turgid, boring documents that few people read into customer-facing documents, to use his phrase. He told me that the reports are written in plain English for the public. I see a huge role for HMIC of going into forces and not just talking to chief constables but interacting with police and crime commissioners and putting out data that measure the performance of the commissioners.

We need more sunlight to be shone into the corners of various police forces. It will not be just for the police and crime commissioners to do the awkward question-asking: it will also be for a wholly independent HMIC to tell the public in any given area how the police are doing and whether police and crime commissioners are making any difference—whether crime and the fear of it have gone up or down. It will also say whether enough attention is being paid to level 2 protective services and other things that are not so sexy, if I can put it that way, politically—things that will not necessarily be at the top of someone’s manifesto when they are campaigning to be a police and crime commissioner.

Some of those Cinderella services have been mentioned today. Examples include the shocking lack of attention that is paid to fraud in various forces and the way in which child protection, a specialist service that the police provide, does not get as much coverage as hooliganism, graffiti and antisocial behaviour. Those are all issues that HMIC could address in its new-style reports. We should not forget that crime maps are another resource available to the average member of public to help determine whether standards of policing in a given area are improving and whether a police commissioner is contributing to that better fight against crime.

Let me address one last point. I have been asked by various members of my police authority in Suffolk what difference this measure will make and what one person could do, if they were elected as the police and crime commissioner for Suffolk, that the police authority could not do. My answer is that in all police forces across the country, on average, there were two very worrying statistics earlier this year, according to HMIC. First, on average, only 12% of the police officers on duty at any one time are, to use the jargon, visibly available to the public. Secondly, there are more officers available for duty and visibly so on a Monday morning at 9 am than on a Friday at 9 pm. Those two statistics tell me that we are not running the police service as efficiently as we could. So, that one elected person could go to a chief constable and ask, “Hang on a minute—why have you got more uniformed officers on duty at 9 am on a Monday than at 9 pm on a Friday?” I believe that 9 pm on a Friday is when, to use the parlance, things kick off; we know that that time is bound to be busier.

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Simon Hart: Not in Bury St Edmunds!

Mr Ruffley: Even in Bury St Edmunds, I dare say. Let me repeat the other statistic, because it is quite shocking. Fewer than one in eight uniformed officers are available to respond to the public visibly. That includes not only response units going around the streets but also those handling such calls—the visible availability. There must be a better way of asking any chief constable searching questions about why that is happening on their patch or police force area.

I conclude by saying that police authorities have had many years to ask some of those difficult questions, but those two statistics, shocking as they are, represented the situation in July 2011. The police authorities have had their fair crack but they have not been able to squeeze the efficiencies and to ask the difficult questions that they should have. It is time for them to move over and for the police and crime commissioners to have a crack and see whether they can do better. It is in that spirit of cheerful optimism that I support the amendments moved by my right hon. Friend the Minister.

Keith Vaz: It is a pleasure to follow the hon. Member for Bury St Edmunds (Mr Ruffley), who is very knowledgeable about these matters. I shall speak only briefly and I begin by apologising because I have to be away before the end of the debate because the chairman of the committee on homeland security from the United States Congress is coming to meet members of the Select Committee to discuss counter-terrorism.

I want to speak very briefly on these matters and I do not want to repeat the debate we have had before about the principle of police commissioners. However, I accept what my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) said about this being an attempt by the Government to reposition police and crime commissioners at the heart of the Bill. I know that all Members have heard the arguments before and, as we have just heard, opinions are deeply held on both sides of the House.

I shall concentrate on three issues. First, I was disappointed that the announcement of the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner was not made to the House. It has become a feature to announce resignations to the House and I think that such important appointments ought to be announced here first rather than to the BBC and Sky News. However, I am glad that the Home Secretary heard the mood of the House and rushed in here to make her announcement by intervening on my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling. I join the Home Secretary and my hon. Friend in congratulating Bernard Hogan-Howe on his appointment; I know that he comes with enormous experience. He was the only candidate for the position of chief executive of the new National Crime Agency, but he was plucked from that job and made the acting deputy commissioner, and now hehas the top job. It is a very demanding job and I wish him well.

Let me make two quick points about the Bill. As I said in my intervention, I welcome the Minister back, and I think he has done excellent work on the protocol, which is an example of what can happen when a Select Committee makes a recommendation. We called it a memorandum of understanding—we started with the Magna Carta, but felt that was too grand and downgraded it—and it has become a protocol. The Minister and others have been in discussions about the protocol and

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we look forward to seeing the latest draft—he sent me a draft in July—because it is important that the Select Committee is involved in these processes. That is especially true of the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless), who is not in his place at the moment but is very keen on these matters and wants to be involved in the discussions. We have to remember that although ACPO and the Home Office may agree the protocol, the third part of the triangle has not even been elected yet. We do not have any police and crime commissioners, but if we are to have a protocol, they will have to be consulted on it in some way.

6.30 pm

Nick Herbert: I should point out that the protocol was negotiated with the deputy mayor with responsibility for policing in London and with a representative of the Association of Police Authorities—the chair of a police authority. That side of policing governance was therefore represented. I agree with the right hon. Gentleman that that is important.

Keith Vaz: Indeed. I thank the Minister for reminding me. I know that he has mentioned it to me before. He is right. It is important that those two individuals are consulted, but neither of them is going to be a police and crime commissioner. Kit Malthouse is very experienced, but he is already there. A bit of wiggle room may be needed when we get to the end of the process. Let us wait and see. However, the Minister has made excellent progress.

I am concerned about the timing of the election. When Ministers appeared before the Select Committee they were emphatic. We asked them to delay the election until May 2013, after the Olympics, but they emphatically replied that they thought everyone would be able to cope and the election should be held in May 2012. Delaying it until November at an additional cost of £25 million, over and above the cost of police and crime commissioners, is in my view an example of the fact that money can be found when there is a political will to find it.

When negotiations have to be conducted with the Treasury, Ministers are very willing to enter into such negotiations, but I understand from the Home Secretary that the matter has not yet been signed off by the Treasury. When she appeared before the Select Committee on Thursday, she said that she was in negotiations with the Treasury. I should have thought that if the Prime Minister says, “Find the money,” and the Home Secretary says, “Find the money,” even the Chancellor of the Exchequer ought to accept that. I am not sure what the negotiations are about, but I assume the Minister will get his £25 million.

Steve McCabe: There is an issue about money, but does my right hon. Friend share my concern that in the past the Government have resisted setting a threshold for the elections? Holding them in November is, as we heard, likely to depress the turnout. What level of turnout would give a new commissioner legitimacy—for example, in the west midlands, with a population of 5 million?

Keith Vaz: I shall leave it to my hon. Friend to decide what level of turnout is acceptable for the west midlands, with its population of 5 million. My concern is the

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electoral register. At that time, electoral registration officers will be involved in their annual canvass. Nobody likes to campaign in November. I cannot remember the last time we had elections in November, although the Minister will no doubt tell us when he winds up. It has certainly not happened in my time in the House, and I have been here for more than 24 years.

November is, of course, not the best weather to campaign, and I am not sure that everyone will open the door to Members of Parliament, even Members as charming as the Minister and the shadow Minister. The register will be in the process of being compiled, it will not be complete, and the basis of the register will be May 2013. The Minister needs to reassure us on this point, but I hope very much that we will take into consideration some of the comments that have been made. I look forward to hearing replies to some of them in the Minister’s winding-up speech.

Simon Hart: It is always a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz). May I say how glad I am that he had such a good shooting trip over the weekend, which I fixed for him with the Indian cricket team? I hope their shooting was better than their cricket.

I support the Government’s attempts to reverse Lords amendments 1 to 4. If I had not been convinced of the arguments for doing so before tonight’s debate, I would have been convinced after I heard the hon. Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker). I suspect he might accuse me of misquoting him, but he said that one of the problems with the election of police commissioners is that they will have a democratic mandate. Surely that is what the proposal is all about. Arguing against it on the basis of a fear that somebody might have a democratic mandate does not sit comfortably with the whole direction of the coalition Government.

I shall concentrate on two themes—first, communities and the police, as they are affected by the election of police commissioners, and secondly, a wider discussion of the broader consequences. Hon. Members know that I represent a small part of the Dyfed-Powys constabulary area in west Wales. There is always a perception that the priorities and work load of rural police forces are different from those of other forces, and to a great extent they are, but even a constabulary such as Dyfed-Powys, which has a huge geographical area to cover, covers some intensely urban and suburban areas which have all the same problems as any other part of Britain.

That is a particularly good example for the House to consider and to which we can apply the principle of elected commissioners to see whether the arguments stack up. I do not think that anyone on either side of the argument is suggesting that the current situation with regard to police authorities is perfect. Of course it is far from perfect. Nobody is arguing that the proposal is perfect in every detail but it is argued, with some validity, that it is considerably better than the situation we have put up with for 50 years. Let us not forget that police authorities have largely been operating under the same structure for that length of time, yet the challenge facing policing and the social dynamic of Britain has changed radically over that period. It is entirely sensible that we should seriously consider reforming the manner in which governance is applied.

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There seems to be no question but that the relationship between communities, whether they are urban, rural or suburban, is at best remote and strained, and that when these recommendations are in place, it will be considerably enhanced. Much of the debate has been about the politicisation of the role. I think we exaggerate that. Having read over the weekend some of the contributions to the debate in another place, I recommend to hon. Members the contribution of Lord Dear, who was a serving officer in the west midlands for 40 years. He was happy to go on the record as saying that his initial reservations about the proposal had been gradually eroded as the debate unfolded.

The idea that there is no politicisation now is absurd. There is a huge degree of politics in policing now. Chief constables make rather adept politicians, as it turns out. They agonise over press releases and over the relationship that they have with politicians in their area. In an intervention, I mentioned my force, Dyfed-Powys. I feel rather sorry for the chief constable. Not only does he have a wide range of MPs to deal with from various political parties, but he has a wide range of Assembly Members representing different parties, and several different local authorities. He has to balance the relationships that he has with all those individuals.

The idea that a single elected police commissioner can storm into that relationship, overpower a chief constable and not be held to account by the numerous other elected representatives in that area is exaggerated. It is an excuse to try and undermine a good idea, rather than an evidential basis upon which to do that.

The role of commissioners will be the political one. To coin a phrase, the commissioners will do the politics, enabling the chief constables to do the policing. I do not know whether many Opposition Members look at the website “Labour Uncut”—it is probably their equivalent of “Conservative Home”—but even “Labour Uncut” thinks this is one of the Prime Minister’s better ideas. I think it goes so far as to say that it is his only good idea, a view that I do not share. It grudgingly reaches the conclusion that this democratic improvement is something that the coalition Government got right.

Continuing the theme of politics interfering with police forces, Lord Dear’s speech in April this year referred to his time in HMIC and in particular to Derbyshire police authority 15 to 20 years ago. If ever there was an example of intense political interference with a police force, that was it. It was staunchly party political and had a hugely debilitating effect on that police force. The consequence was that Lord Dear, in his position in HMIC, had to judge the force to be not fit for purpose as a direct result of the party political interference and the sub-standard police authority at the time. Therefore, the idea that this risk applies only to future proposals and has in no way poisoned the operation of constabularies in the past is also a complete myth. I concede the points made by the hon. Member for Gedling and acknowledge that there are concerns. The Minister has addressed some of those and, I am sure, will address more as the evening wears on.

Taking this from a police officer’s perspective, we can see that it is all the more important to address these concerns publicly now. The argument that this is a one-size-fits-all solution and that, because constabularies are not all the one size, it cannot possibly work in all

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places needs further explanation. The officers’ concerns about the ownership—not in the physical sense—of staff issues, building-related issues and the more mundane elements of policing are, in debating terms, unfinished business.

We also need to reassure people about political ideology. In our various debates on police reform, political ideology has somehow been labelled a negative influence. If political ideology includes the desire to make a police force more accountable and cost-effective and to give better value for money, that is an ideology that I am more than happy to sign up to. In going about our duty, we should not attempt to scare potential voters in these important elections into believing that someone who adopts ideology should be avoided at all costs. There will of course be political ideology, whoever ends up in these positions and whatever party they represent. Even if the status quo were to continue, political ideology pervades the system.

The Minister will no doubt offer some reassurances on the points raised about the crime panel, although I am less worried about it than others seem to be. There will be a large number of locally accountable people in my area of Dyfed-Powys who will be very sensitive to the risk of one man going off piste and running a solo political operation at the expense of the voters who put him there, which I think would be extremely unlikely.

Vernon Coaker: The hon. Gentleman says that he thinks that would be extremely unlikely, but given the fact that it could happen, however unlikely, and the seriousness of a PCC’s unfettered ability to sack a chief constable, does he not agree that the Bill should at least provide HMIC, for instance, with a reserve power to refer such a sacking to the Home Secretary so that he or she could judge whether anything untoward had happened? Is not some sort of reserve power necessary to protect against such an eventuality, however unlikely?

Simon Hart: The hon. Gentleman makes a good point, but I am not sure that that necessarily needs to be in the Bill. I think that there are sufficient checks and balances in the process anyway. His question presupposed that the existing system is risk free, but clearly it is not. We have all seen examples of the relationship between police authorities, local communities and chief constables breaking down. I argue that the proposals we have heard debated on numerous occasions so far during this Parliament represent a better and safer version of what we currently have. I share neither his concerns, nor his optimism that we can design a piece of legislation that is 100% risk free. I do not think that that is possible either in this area, or in many others.

To me the arguments that this is an improvement on the existing arrangements are reasonably compelling. However, I take the hon. Gentleman’s point and do not think that it has necessarily been answered in a way that is convincing for us, let alone for the people it will affect directly, either those who will vote, or those who will do the enforcing. Both deserve a clear answer. On that point, further clarification on what action will be taken in the event of a failure is significant, because I am not convinced—I am not sure about other hon. Members—that if the relationship between the chief constable and the

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elected commissioner breaks down for any reason, there are sufficient checks and balances to ensure that that will not have a negative effect downstream.

6.45 pm

I want to move on to some of the broad consequences of what we are discussing, because as the year has worn on the debates that we have held here have clearly affected the morale of officers, both senior and junior, and volunteers and civilian staff in police forces. This debate, and what the Minister has said and will continue to say, is a good opportunity to try to attach some certainty to the proposals. If police officers in Dyfed- Powys are anything to go by, it is the lack of certainty on what the future holds that has contributed to the unease, which I think we should all attempt to avoid.

Members on both sides of the House are guilty of bandying about statistics as if they were the only thing that matters. Perhaps we could be a little more circumspect when talking about the numbers of officers on the front line. That can have a very demoralising effect on those officers who provide a fantastic service across Britain and yet somehow feel that they are becoming the subject of criticism when we mention a figure of 12% for the front line. I think it behoves the Government—dare I say it—and Opposition Members to ensure that the statistics we use are meaningful and contextualised, rather than just used in throwaway comments, which can have a pretty debilitating effect on forces attempting to do difficult jobs in difficult circumstances. I am constantly concerned about how it sounds when we dismiss the role of back-office police staff.

Mark Tami: There are constant attacks on the back office, or the middle—a term introduced today—as if these people sit around doing nothing. I do not know what they do, but that is the image that the Government are trying to put across, as if we can sweep all those people away and service will be unaffected.

Simon Hart: I certainly do not think that that is the Government’s position. It might be the position taken by some of the media, but I do not believe for one minute that the Government are attempting to underplay the importance of some of those jobs. I just think that sometimes, in the interpretation, we attach less value to the back office than we do to the front line. That seems to be an interpretation of the tone in which Members from both sides of the House sometimes speak. For those doing vital back-office intelligence jobs, or even those providing relatively mundane services to support front-line officers, that can have a very debilitating effect. I think that the packaging, tone and messaging of this kind of debate is an area where we owe the recipients rather more care than perhaps we have been able to provide so far.

A police officer said to me only this morning that the House is sometimes guilty of basing this argument purely on efficiency. The expression “We’re all in it together” sometimes triggers a groan from Opposition Members, but for many officers who are looking with a pretty uncertain eye at what the future might hold for them and their families, it would be more helpful if we were to say that what is happening is part of rectifying a wider economic issue than we have perhaps been able to stress so far. I also think that there has been a

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fixation—I try to be balanced about these things, but Opposition Members sometimes test the patience of all of us, and on this particular point a little too far—that somehow there is always a correlation between police numbers and police efficiency. Whatever survey or piece of evidence we tend to look at these days, there is an increasing amount of information, which should enable us to come to the view that the two things are not always connected. They are some of the time, but the idea that an efficient police force is a big police force is a myth that this debate has to some extent helped to dispel.

In public opinion terms, however, we have to go quite a lot further, because that idea leads, unfortunately, to a problem whereby the public have confidence in their police force only so long as it is a bigger police force which is expanding its numbers, whereas we should be reassuring voters and, in particular, vulnerable members of society that an efficient police force, which finds ways of carrying out its work better for less and involving fewer people does not mean that they will not be safe in their beds at night. We exploit the fixation with numbers irresponsibly if the person listening happens to be a pensioner wondering whether they are going to be burgled.

Mark Tami: Developing that point, can the hon. Gentleman tell me when he has seen a Tory party leaflet that states, “We want fewer police,” and puts across that argument? I have never seen one.

Simon Hart: What emerges from that intervention is that the hon. Gentleman reads Tory leaflets and I do not, and he can keep reading as far as I am concerned, but the fact is that evidence now goes so far as to show even opposite trends. We do not have to go into that now, because I suspect that it is slightly outwith the amendment, but I am delighted that the hon. Gentleman uses his time so wisely.

Having started from the position of being a little sceptical about how a police commissioner covering such a vast area of urban and rural Wales could be effective, I have slowly but enthusiastically come to the conclusion that they will have an incentive to take into account public mood, public aspiration and public desire in a way that the current arrangements do not, and that it is a good thing, because it will therefore automatically lead to police priorities being more sensitive to a community’s requirements. If that happens, public satisfaction with and confidence in the police will, I trust, improve, and if that happens so will value for money in real terms and the perceived value for money of police forces, which are undoubtedly having to do some things that neither we nor they wanted them to do.

Although significant concerns have been well and reasonably articulated in the House, they in no way override the benefits to my constituents of proceeding with elected commissioners next year. We all know that they will not work perfectly everywhere all the time—no proposal that any of us has seen will do that—but one thing is certain: they will bring the community closer to their police force than is the case at the moment, and that is all the more to their credit.

I believe firmly that if we have good chief constables, which by and large we do, and if we have good police commissioners, which I have no doubt we will—let us face it, they are going to earn twice as much as a

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Member of Parliament, which probably means that they will be twice as good, and there is no reason to believe that they will not be extremely efficient and conscious of the impartial role that they have to play—that will lead to a vast improvement on the existing situation, recreate public confidence and trust in the police force and deliver value for money. As our friends in the Treasury remind us, that is never far away from such debates, but sometimes we lose sight of the fact that we have an economic mountain to climb.

We do not need to go into all that now, but this is one small part of the climb, so I will happily support the Government in opposing Lords amendments 1 to 4, and I hope that other Members will do likewise.

Jack Dromey (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab): I will be brief, because I know that other hon. Members wish to speak.

August reminded us why our police service matters. In the face of the worst outbreak of rioting and arson that that this country has seen in 30 years, terrorising communities all over England, including in Birmingham, our police were truly heroic. They were the thin blue line, acting decisively to restore order in the most difficult circumstances, and they were under outstanding leadership from their chief constable, Chris Sims, a man who acted decisively not because he needed to be told to do so by politicians returning from holiday, or by putative police commissioners, but because he was going to put right a terrible wrong—the outrage of what we were seeing on the streets of Birmingham.

In that process, Chief Constable Sims made it clear to Birmingham Members of Parliament that he was utterly determined to defend the British model of community policing. What was so impressive about the way he put it was this: he told us how he had become a police constable a year before the 1981 riots; how he had lived through some dramatic moments throughout the ’80s, ’90s and into this century, with tensions on the street and, sometimes, widespread public disorder; how he, like the rest of our police service, had learned painful lessons from the mistakes of the past; and that what the police service had done was to fashion a model of community policing that he and his fellow chief constables were absolutely determined to defend—what he called the bedrock of our ability to police more generally and to restore order in those most desperately difficult circumstances.

That model is based on trust, confidence and consent, and it must never, ever be put at risk by the politicisation—of the wrong kind—of our police service, be it loose talk from Ministers of water cannon and baton rounds, which would have been exactly the wrong thing to use, or this proposal to elect police commissioners. We undermine that British model of community policing, with independent chief constables able to make crucial operational decisions, at our peril and at the peril of the model itself.

The proposal for the election of police commissioners is also a grotesque waste of money: £112 million to be spent on the election of 41-odd police commissioners, some of whom might well indeed be odd. That money could put back on the streets 3,000 police officers. In the west midlands, the proposal would also see one man or woman elected to cover an entire conurbation, the nature of which is very different from one end to the other, of 5 million people.

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The Government appear determined to plough on regardless with this proposal, as they do with the cuts to our police service—1,200 police officers will go in the west midlands. Ministers must recognise that if they want to spend money they should do so on police officers at the sharp end and on supporting them, not on elected police commissioners, not least because the impossible pressures being generated by Ministers are leading to perverse outcomes at the sharp end in the midlands. They include the revelations in the past fortnight that the police have had to use G4S to undertake major police functions, such as the investigations into the tragic killing of the three young men in Winson Green, the shooting at the Barton Arms during the riots and the murder in terrible circumstances of a 63-year-old in Northfield.

Because the police are so short of key staff, they are having to use G4S, employing many “A19” officers to perform the same duties now as they did in the past, when they would far rather be in a bobby’s uniform than that of G4S—and at £20 an hour, which is far more than police officers would have been paid. The part-privatisation of our police service is the perverse consequence of the pressures that the Government are putting on chief constables at the sharp end.

I would like any hon. Member in this House who went to the people of his or her constituency last May and said, “Vote for me—I will cut the police,” to put their hand up. I suspect we will be waiting for that for a very long time. As my hon. Friend the Member for Gedling (Vernon Coaker) said in his excellent contribution, we must work without hesitation further to improve how democratic accountability operates. At a time like this, elected police commissioners are the wrong priority at the worst possible time.

7 pm

I say this to Government Members, including Ministers: at the heart of this debate has been a creeping attempt by Government to undermine confidence in our police service. I know from talking to police officers at the sharp end that they strongly resent the constant assertion that they do not understand what the people in the communities they serve need and want from their police service. By working with those communities and elected police authorities, the British model of community policing sees fine men and women in uniform far more attuned to what their communities want. We put that at risk at our peril. Ministers should stop undermining the police.

Martin Vickers (Cleethorpes) (Con): I endorse the opening remarks of the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey) in as much as I pay tribute to the police for the way they handled the recent riots and the like. Where I differ from him is that I would argue that recent circumstances have strengthened the argument in favour of elected police commissioners.

Two of the most widely used words in Government and public administration are “transparency” and “accountability”, and rightly so, yet the idea of proper meaningful oversight by a democratically accountable individual is being rejected or, it is argued, should be watered down in such a way that it would do little more than maintain the status quo. The question has been

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asked, “Where is the demand for this from the general public?” Of course, that demand is inevitably somewhat limited. Those such as ourselves, local councillors and the like, who take a day-to-day interest in these matters, will argue the case one way or the other. The general public—most of them, anyway—come into contact with the police only on relatively infrequent occasions, and it is then, if something goes wrong, that they want to know who to turn to for assistance.

Police authorities are anonymous and deliver no real accountability. To give an example from my constituency of Cleethorpes, which is part of the Humberside force area, the two councils on my side of the Humber—North Lincolnshire and North East Lincolnshire—have three representatives on the police authority, which has 17 members. On alternate years, they have only two representatives; it is a bizarre situation. People do not know who to turn to because the authority is completely and utterly anonymous.

In the same way that the profit motive energises the private sector, the democratic process and the electoral mandate that it generates energises and gives vitality to public bodies and authorities. Without it, they face a real danger of becoming inward-looking and, very likely, of not delivering the service expected of them by the public. I reject the argument that having elected commissioners brings politics into policing and destroys Sir Robert Peel’s vision, which has served us so well for many generations. As the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) said, there will need to be clear ground rules that establish the working relationship between the commissioner and the chief constable. I was pleased that the Minister addressed that and recognised that we must get exactly the right protocols in place.

Once these ground rules are in place, it is imperative that neither the commissioner nor the chief constable move away from them. Inevitably, the commissioner will have to articulate the concerns of those whom he or she represents and ensure that the policies put forward at the time of their election are implemented. He or she must not publicly undermine the authority of the police chief; nor must the chief constable or his officers undermine or publicly criticise the commissioner.

I said that recent events—the riots and the like—have strengthened the argument for commissioners. The exchange of arguments between highly placed officers who made some very unacceptable and unwarranted remarks was unseemly and undermined the authority of Ministers—or the police, depending on which side of the argument one was on. These attempts to undermine political authority go further than the outspoken comments during the recent riots: such political interventions by the police can trickle down even to parish level. I am sure that many Members will have experienced in their past days as councillors, and so on, the arguments that are constantly put forward to councils—parish councils and the like—that the problem is all due to budget cuts made here or there. In effect, that undermines the elected authority that oversees the police, despite the fact that it is, as I said, somewhat anonymous.

There are alternatives. We could muddle along with the existing system of anonymous authorities manned by sincere, hard-working individuals. However, that system does not meet the needs of a modern democracy, which, if it means anything, must give our constituents a choice between competing candidates and their views

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on how we should be policed. There have been arguments in favour of elected police authority chairs. Many years ago, I was an advocate of that, but the more one looks at it, the more difficult one can see that it would be. What if the unelected appointed individuals on the police authority disagreed with the elected chairman? Who would win out in that situation? There is a parallel with planning inspectors overruling planning committees; we all know the arguments that that can give rise to. Because of the artificial geography of police force areas such as mine—Humberside—we are not quite moving towards localism, but getting there.

This is not the end of British policing as we know it but a major step towards introducing a system that can deliver the transparency and accountability that I am sure the whole House would approve of.

Paul Murphy (Torfaen) (Lab): I am grateful to be able to speak to the amendment in my name and the names of my hon. Friends. The amendment is specifically about how the Bill affects Wales. In particular, it is about the relationship between the National Assembly for Wales, the Welsh Government and the British Government, and about the decision to hold the election for police commissioners in November.

When we last debated this, we talked about the so-called respect agenda, which respects the views, positions, functions and responsibilities of the devolved Administrations, Assemblies and Parliaments in the United Kingdom. The Minister touched on this in his speech when he rightly pointed out that the business of policing is not devolved—that it is still a reserved matter. My right hon. Friend the Member for Sheffield, Brightside and Hillsborough (Mr Blunkett), who is sitting in front of me, agreed, when he was Home Secretary, that there should not be devolution of policing as we know it to the Welsh Assembly. However, 10 years of devolution have passed, and we now have a shared responsibility for matters that touch on police, crime and justice. Although the National Assembly for Wales does not have a specific responsibility for policing, the Minister knows that half the money that goes to police forces in Wales comes from the National Assembly, because local government in Wales is devolved. In addition, the Assembly and the Welsh Assembly Government have functions and duties that are central to the operation of policing. The relationship between the Home Office, the Welsh Assembly Government and the National Assembly is therefore crucial. I fear that by continuing to push the Bill through both Houses, the Government will damage the relationship between Cardiff and London.

The Minister and the House will recall that, uniquely, the Welsh Assembly refused to give legislative consent to part 1 of the Bill. That is unprecedented. Similarly, because of the special relationship that the Welsh Assembly has to policing, the Culture and Communities Committee of the Assembly asked the Government to delay the implementation of police commissioners in Wales until it saw how the measure worked in England and could understand how it would affect Wales. That request was ignored.

Worse, the Government are now insisting on a November election in Wales without consulting the Welsh Assembly Government or the National Assembly. We have more elections in Wales, as we have had over the past year. We

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have had the referendum on extra powers, we have elections for the National Assembly and there are local government elections next year.

The Minister knows that the cost of the election for the whole of the United Kingdom, which was a matter of debate some hours ago, will be at least £25 million more than was expected. He says that that money would not necessarily have been spent on policing, but it could have been. He dismisses the additional £25 million on top of the £50 million that was already to be spent. One should compare that with what was said by the Parliamentary Secretary, Cabinet Office, the hon. Member for Forest of Dean (Mr Harper), who told the House not so very long ago—this is rather pertinent because of today’s and tomorrow’s news—that reducing the number of Members of this House of Commons by 50 will save £12 million. By changing the day of one election, that amount has been doubled overnight—so much for those predictions about money being saved.

Who on earth wants elections in November? All of us who have been involved in elections for too long to remember know that elections in November have disastrous turnouts. Add together the dark evenings and an electoral register still under discussion, and I would place a bet here in the House of Commons that the turnout for the elections for police commissioners will be rock bottom. Heaven only knows who might be elected on a low turnout.

The Minister and others talk about operational accountability. Of course Prime Ministers, Secretaries of State and Ministers do not tell the police what to do. When I was Secretary of State for Northern Ireland and held responsibility for policing, I never told the Chief Constable of the Police Service of Northern Ireland what to do, although we would discuss it. However, can it be imagined that those who want to be elected on a very local level as police commissioner will not campaign on what are effectively operational issues? Add to that that the nuttiest people are likely to be elected if the turnout is low. That is a dangerous development that we face.

Our constituents simply will not understand how we can spend £25 million on changing the day of the election for police commissioners, £50 million on the elections themselves, and millions of pounds on administering the position of police commissioners, when over the next two years in Wales at least 800 police officers will get the sack.

Roger Williams (Brecon and Radnorshire) (LD): Perhaps the right hon. Gentleman will help me by spelling out the effect of his amendment. Would the Welsh Assembly not need to hold elections for police commissioners or would it still have a duty to select a date for the elections?

7.15 pm

Paul Murphy: The effect of the amendment would be to ask the Government to talk to the Assembly and the Welsh Assembly Government, so that between them they could work out an appropriate date for an election.