Opening Speech - Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill

Commons consideration of Lords amendments

Mr Speaker, I beg to move that the House disagrees with Lords amendments 1, 2, 3 ,4 and 6 and that the amendments in lieu put forward by the Home Secretary be accepted.

The Government is determined to swap bureaucratic control of the police for democratic accountability, replacing police authorities with directly elected commissioners.

In the past there has been too much central interference with decisions that should be taken locally and by professionals.  Yet too often the centre has been weak where it needed to be strong, such as 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 ...

Sweeping away central interference and bureaucracy ...

While re-focusing 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 - indeed they must - hold the police to account on behalf of the public they 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.

This Bill seeks to establish clear and democratically accountable leadership for police governance, but amendments in Another Place removed those provisions.

The Other Place's amendments do not try and increase local accountability of the police.

They do not even try to ensure that there are adequate checks and balances in place.

Their 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".

But this re-branding of the status quo will not suffice.

The whole purpose of our 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, takes executive decisions.

The principle of one accountable individual, directly responsible for the totality of force activity, is crucial to our vision. 

Policing governance by committee has meant that an unelected body has power over the level of precept.

It has meant that no-one is properly held to account for decisions or poor performance.  No-one is truly in charge.

And the public haven't had a voice.

As the Shadow Police Minister has pointed out:

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

Indeed, only 7 per cent of wards in England and Wales are represented on a police authority.

So it is no surprise that only 7 per cent of the public understand they can approach their police authority if dissatisfied with policing.

Most people haven't a clue who their police authority chairman is.

Mr Speaker, how can a body be an effective link between the police and the people if it's invisible to the people?

I agree with the former Police Minister who said: "... people [must] know who to go to and are able to influence their policing through the ballot box."  

That was the Hon Member for Gedling, now the Shadow Police Minister.

Some say that this visibility doesn't matter.

Provided that a wise committee takes the right decision, they say, there's no need to refer to the people.

That's the argument that favours rule by quangos over democratic decision-making.

The defenders of the current system of governance say that it works well.

I am afraid I disagree.

Only four out of 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.

Mr Speaker, I understand why police authorities oppose their own abolition.

But there are few who believe that authorities can remain in their current form.

Even the benches opposite don't share that view.

Even the Rt Hon Member for Morley and Outwood, hardly a champion of reform in any sphere, was forced to concede when shadow Home Secretary that police authorities were "not optimal".

Twice before Labour tried to reform police authorities, to introduce democratic accountability into policing but they backed off in the face of vested interests.

Mr Speaker, 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 here we have it.

The Shadow Home Secretary says today 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."

Well which is it?

She claims that extremists might be elected.

Why wouldn't that happen under her own frontbench plans for directly elected chairs?

We know what the Shadow Minister thinks about these arguments.

He said they were "ridiculous".

And they are.

The BNP polled just 2 per cent of the national vote in the general election.

The BNP have never won direct election in any constituency larger than a local authority ward - in fact they have 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, inconceivable that a BNP candidate would be in two candidates going forward to second preferences, and inconceivable that they would take sufficient second preferences from other parties to win.

Saying that extremists will win these elections is silly and irresponsible scaremongering, and she should stop it now.

The Shadow Home Secretary criticises the cost of elections.

But the Shadow Minister's proposal would cost more.

The truth is that they know they can't defend the status quo.  They've three times supported democratic reform but they just don't want to admit it.

Just as they don't want to admit that they'd cut police spending by over £1 billion.

What a courageous position.

Mr Speaker, let's deal with this issue of cost.

The Shadow Home Secretary says the reform will will cost "well over £100 million."

No it won't.

She gets to this figure by counting in the running costs of police authorities.

Apparently, this money shouldn't 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.

The only additional cost of our reforms is the cost of elections.

That will normally be £50 million every four years.

That's £12.5 million a year.

Or 0.1 per cent of what's spent on police forces.

The Rt Hon Lady is right in one respect alone.

There will be a once-off additional cost of holding the elections in November next year rather than May.

The cost will indeed increase ... from 0.1 per cent of police spend to 0.15 per cent.

And then it will go back down to 0.1 per cent again.

So that is the full weight of the Opposition's argument.

That a delay to holding an election will temporarily cost 0.05 per cent of police spend.

It's risible.

In any case, the cost of elections isn't going to come from police budgets.

It's just nonsense to claim that the money for elections could instead be spent on police officers.

But it's a poor argument.

It ill-behoves an elected politician to complain about the cost of democracy.

It was Labour who made the police more accountable to a new Mayor of London.

The referendum cost £3 million.

The elections cost £18 million every four years.

Did they say that money could be better spent on police officers?

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?

And that leads me to the issue of London's Mayor, much discussed in the Other Place.

Let me credit the Opposition.

The creation of the Mayor has been a popular reform.

The Mayor gives Londoners a voice in policing.

As we debate these issues, the Mayor is playing a key role in the decision over who will next lead the Metropolitan Police.

How many Londoners would prefer their police force to answer to an invisible committee?

But now, the Opposition are criticising the Mayor's role in policing.

Well they invented it.

Of course the Opposition don't like the current Mayor.

They may not like what he does.

But that isn't 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.

And let's be clear, the Mayor doesn't run the police in London.  He holds them to account.

That's the principle which we're advancing.

Impartial policing

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.

To prevent too much power from being invested in a single individual, we are putting in place strict checks and balances.

These will include local Police and Crime Panels, with representatives from each local authority and independent members, with the power to scrutinise the commissioner's actions.

District councils will have a stake in police governance for the first time.

And 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.

But we've listened to concerns, and we strengthened these safeguards in the Other Place.

I will go into the detail of these changes when we discuss them later.

Operational independence

But I do want to highlight three important areas where we have listened, not least to the professional advice of senior police officers, and acted.

First, the operational independence of the police.

It's 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.

Since the Bill first left this House, the Government has published a draft protocol clearly setting out the role of chief constable, the role of PCC and how they interact.

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, PCCs and the Home Secretary, ensuring 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 PCC must set the strategic direction and objectives of the force and decide the budget of the force while being clear they (Chief Constables) remain operationally independent.

And we have also amended the Bill 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 ACPO and others to ensure that the protocol covers all the necessary issues in the necessary depth.

It is vital that we get this right.

Ensuring strategic policing

Second, 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 which require a strategic response - that they will be 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 central government does have a legitimate role.

The new National Crime Agency will transform the fight against organised crime, working with police forces.

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 this Requirement.

Indeed, this is not about addressing a problem created by the introductions of PCCs.

The SPR, alongside the NCA, is a critical re-focussing of the Government's role to address an existing set of policing challenges.

We are continuing to work closely with the police service to ensure this happens.

The passing of this 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.

Hire and fire

Third, we will ensure that policing is not politicised.

We judged that it would be both wrong in principle and unworkable in practice to ban political parties from fielding candidates as Police and Crime Commissioners.

But that does not mean that party politics will be introduced into police forces themselves.

Commissioners will not be permitted to appoint political advisers.

Police and Crime Commissioners will no more be permitted to direct officers to make an arrest than a police authority.

They will not be permitted to sack or appoint officers, other than the chief constables.

We have strengthened the safeguards relating to dismissal of chiefs, by ensuring that the PCP hears from both the Chief Constable and the PCC as well as ensuring they have an opportunity to get advice from HMIC.

And we will ensure, through regulations, that proper procedures are put in place.

PCCs must have the power to dismiss chief constables, just as police authorities currently do.

But we must guard against capricious decisions.

Financial Code of Practice

Turning to other issue.

In lieu of the Lords amendments I move a Government amendment to re-establish the Secretary of State's power to issue a Financial Management Code of Practice for PCCs.

A Code of Practice is currently issued to police authorities, who are required to have regard to it in the discharge of the financial functions.

This enables the Home Office Accounting Officer to assure Parliament that funds given to the Department are used appropriately.

The Bill as currently drafted 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 is amended to retain the power to issue codes of practice, but restrict it to codes relating to financial matters only.

The code will set out to PCCs and Chief Constables how it is expected they conduct the financial management within their force area and ensure good governance of public funds - the majority of which falls within the ambit of the vote from this place.

It will be the responsibility of Government to ensure that this 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.

Election Date

Finally, I also move a Government amendment to move back the date of police and crime commissioner elections by six months, from May 2012 to November 2012.

This will allow more time to ensure that all the necessary preparations are in place.

And it will also 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 orginally proposed.

Thereafter elections will revert to May every four years.

Reform in London can still take place early, because the Mayor is already in place.

In respect of the amendment giving the Welsh Assembly the power to set the first election date in Wales, the Government has placed on the record, in this House and in another place, the efforts and negotiations that we undertook with the Welsh Government in order for them, and the National Assembly for Wales, to play a stronger role within policing governance within Wales.

We have made clear that it cannot be the case that we legislate potentially to provide two different systems of governance within England and Wales.

Moreover, it cannot be the case that we 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 this House knows, and indeed has determined through statute, policing remains a reserved matter and therefore this place shall decide when and how policing governance will be delivered.

That said, we hope that we may soon be able to restart discussions as to how the Welsh Government may begin to consider positively how they can work in partnership with both PCCS and Police and Crime Panels.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Mr Speaker, 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. 

And there will be benefits all round.

Chief constables will be liberated from targets and central direction to be crime fighters.

Police officers will benefit from a less bureaucratic system where discretion is restored and where someone close to their force has a strong interest in driving out waste and prioritising the frontline.

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 streets will be safer.

The Home Office will be refocused 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.  Police and Crime Commissioners will have the mandate and the moral authority to reflect public concern on crime.

And in the end, Mr Speaker, this House has a choice.

The Shadow Home Secretary repeatedly describes elected police commissioners as a "US-style reform."

It is striking that she seems to think that democratic election and accountability are somehow unBritish.

On this side we trust the people to elect representatives to make the right decisions, and be kicked out if they don't.

It's strange that so many democrats are so wary of democracy, but I believe that we can and should trust the people.


Document type

Speeches

Published

12 September 2011

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