Visible answerability of the Police to be achieved by holding the one-to-one meetings with Policing and Crime Commissioners in public says Minister

Yesterday’s debate in the House of Lords on the Second Reading of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill didn’t finish until 11.30pm.  As the 38th speaker I got to make my contribution at about 9.30pm.

This is what I said:

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, as vice-president of the Association of Police Authorities and as chair of the All-Party Group on Policing.

Fundamental to the model of British policing is the notion of policing by consent, particularly in our society, where the police are largely unarmed and must rely on the good will and confidence of the citizens to carry out their duties effectively and sensitively. The lifeblood of policing is information, and the reason this information flows from the public to the police can be summed up in one word, trust-trust in the police to act fairly and with integrity, and trust in the police that the information will be used judiciously and without attracting retribution from anyone.

Without that trust, information stops and policing becomes ineffective. To achieve this trust, you must have accountability. Without accountability the police become a controlling force, an oppressive instrument of powerful and self-interested groups. In parts of the world this will be the military, in others local warlords, and in some, perhaps, the senior officers in the police force itself. If policing is thus distorted or dictated to by unrepresentative groups, the trust of the public is gone. The only possible result is a downward spiral that manifests itself in corruption, organised crime and abuses of human rights. So, getting it right matters. But how confident can we be that the Bill does get it right? The drafting is certainly deficient. Take the centrepiece of the Bill-the creation of directly elected police and crime commissioners. The dictionary tells you that a “commissioner” is “one who commissions”, and that “to commission” is,

    “the act of procuring, committing or performing”.

So in England and Wales we are to have 41 directly elected police and crime commissioners procuring, committing or performing crime. That is brilliant drafting.

Of course, in London we are not going to get directly elected commissioners, partly because we already have two commissioners: the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis and the Commissioner of the City of London Police, who is responsible for a resident population of around 10,000, the size of a local government ward elsewhere in the capital. Instead, the corporation will continue in its own unique and, I have to say, rather opaque way, and the rest of the city will have the “Mopsy”-the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime. Because we already have a directly elected mayor, we will not have a directly elected individual in charge of the police service; so instead the mayor will appoint a deputy-to be called the deputy “Mopsy”-to run the “Mopsy”. That is what the Bill says.

I have no problem with the principle of direct election. Indeed, when I was the first chair of the police authority in London I would have welcomed the additional authority that direct election would have given me-not, I hasten to add, in dealing with the noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, who, as all his colleagues knew, was an absolute pussycat in all such matters. It was much more about authority in relation to other elected individuals, all of whom would otherwise claim primacy in trying to set a general direction for the police force. Therefore, I would have had no problems with that principle, but had I been elected directly to the office of chair of the police authority, I would have been surrounded by an effective governance structure. That would have made arbitrary decisions by myself, or inappropriate directions to the chief officer of police, impossible.

Most of the governance mechanisms that police authorities currently provide are swept away by the Bill. What is also lost is the visible answerability of the chief officer of police. At the last meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority, the Met not only gave and answered questions on its regular operational report and on the policing budget for the year but apologised to the family, present in the audience, of Daniel Morgan, who was murdered in 1987 and whose killers have not been brought to justice because, it is alleged, of police corruption; made a statement about the delays in bringing Delroy Grant to justice for the attacks on elderly people in south London over many years; responded to questions about phone-hacking and the News of the World; and heard from people in the audience about the death of Smiley Culture who allegedly stabbed himself during a police raid.

Where would that happen under this Bill? How would the visible answerability of the police service work under these proposals? The answer is that there is no such mechanism. It may be that the Minister, in response, will talk fondly about the proposed police and crime panels, and say that somehow they will be a substitute. That would be nonsense. If that is the argument she was planning to deploy, I suggest that she does not do so. Those panels will not have authority over the chief officer of police, and they will not even have the power to require his or her attendance at their meetings. Their remit is to scrutinise the elected commissioner, or the MOPC in London. Those forums, by necessity, will be overtly party political, as one group of elected politicians seeks to score points over another elected politician. This is what will happen. It is not clear how the new arrangements will ensure that there is a balanced model of policing everywhere in the country. How will the national policing requirement be enforced to ensure that every force plays its part in delivering effective policing to combat serious organised crime and to counter terrorism? Yes, there will be a national policing requirement, but how is that to be enforced?

There are many other problems. For example, as presently drafted, the Bill makes each chief officer of police a “corporation sole”. This is intended to permit them to employ police staff. Leaving aside whether or not this is a desirable objective-it is a function that could perfectly satisfactorily be carried out by police and crime commissioners, and is currently carried out by police authorities-the function of this corporation sole is not effectively limited to this specific function, potentially allowing chief officers to enter into procurement contracts and detracting from the authority of police and crime commissioners.

The Bill also creates two statutory chief finance officers for each force-one for the police and crime commissioner’s office and one for the force itself. Having two corporations sole for each force will in practice create two auditable bodies, two sets of accounts and consequential cost and bureaucracy, along with a blurring of lines of accountability-the exact antithesis of what the Bill is supposed to achieve. There will be more additional expense and duplication, with a worsening of accountability.

However sound or otherwise the intentions of this Bill, it fails to do what it says on the tin. The risk is that it will weaken police accountability; that the police will be less answerable, not more; and that we will create a system that is more expensive, less efficient, and will in the end undermine that trust on which policing by consent depends.”

One of my key points was the danger that the Bill will remove what I called “the visible answerability” of the head of a police force.

In reply, the Minister, Baroness Neville-Jones, slightly missed the point, until I interrupted, but when she did answer the substantive point her proposed solution clearly struck many colleagues as bizarre.  This was the exchange:

Baroness Neville-Jones: … I have no doubt that in debate we will spend some time on the arrangements in London. I am not going to deal with those this evening, but I should like to make a comment on one point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Harris. He seemed to be suggesting-perhaps I have him wrong-that because the precise method of accountability of the chief constable had not been prescribed in the legislation, therefore it could be assumed that there was no such answerability. That is not the case. The PCC has the same statutory responsibility to hold the chief constable to account as he has at present to the police authority. Not everything has to be spelt out in detail in the legislation as if no one is capable-

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, my point was not that there is not a clear accountability mechanism, because that is set out in the Bill; my point is-it applies not just in London but to all the PCCs-that the one-to-one relationship between the elected individual and the chief officer of police does not allow for the visible answerability of the chief officer of police, answering questions in public on matters that affect the locality. That is what will disappear in this Bill.

Baroness Neville-Jones: I do not think that that is the case, my Lords, because there is nothing to stop meetings taking place in public. Indeed, the records have to be put into the public domain, so I do not think that somehow this relationship will be conducted behind closed doors. On the contrary, I think that it will be extremely transparent.”

This creates a very strange picture of the relationship between the elected Policing and Crime Commissioner and the Chief Officer of Police, in which all their one-to-one dealings will be in the form of public meetings. 

Still in closing the debate the Minister did agree with me about something:

“… while I did not accept many of the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, he said something with which I profoundly agree; namely, that trust is crucial to the preservation of our tradition of unarmed, impartial policing. In making the changes, the Government are determined to preserve this long-standing principle and great tradition. I commend the Bill to the House.”

Michael Howard displays his consistency on electing those in charge of policing

Lord Howard of Lympne (the artiste formerly known as Michael Howard) has just made a powerful speech supporting the concept of directly elected police commissioners.
Almost exactly 17 years ago, he rejected the idea of directly electing members of Police Authorities saying in the House of Commons on 26th April 1994:
“I reject entirely the view …. that there should be directly elected police authorities. That would be a recipe for politicising the police service….. I believe that would be a retrograde step.”

Consistent as ever …..

Long debate in prospect on Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill

The Second Reading of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill is about to begin. Fifty-one speakers are scheduled with the Government Chief Whip setting a guideline of six minutes each for backbenchers’ speeches so as to achieve a finish time for the debate by about 10.30pm.
Of course, this pre-supposes that the distinguished former police chiefs and others stick to the guideline (and many of them were not in the Chamber to hear the Chief Whip).
Don’t hold your breath.

I have a palpable “What is a Beatle?” moment

At the risk of becoming a self-parodying member of the House of Lords (or at least of demonstrating an awareness of popular culture as acute as that of the High Court Judge in the mid-1960s who is supposed to have asked bemusedly in Court “What is a Beatle?”), I have to confess that someone who knows has just told me the names of three of the people recently granted ‘super-injunctions’ and I had never heard of two of them.

Madeleine McCann and the Government’s Counter-Terrorism strategy

A little bird tells me that there is great consternation in the Home Office at the news that Kate McCann’s book on the disappearance of her daughter, Madeleine, is due out on 12th May. 

Is this because of fears that there may be revelations in the book about links between the British police and the rather inept Potuguese police investigation?

Apparently not. 

The real reason is that the 12th May was ear-marked by the Home Office for the publication of the Government’s new and revised CONTEST (Counter-Terrorism) Strategy.  And there is panic amongst Government spin doctors that Kate McCann’s story might upstage it.

And the likely outcome: the CONTEST Strategy will be delayed.

I am sure that will be reassuring to Al Qaeda.

I am beginning to despair of Mayor Boris Johnson’s administration …….

I have to admit that I am beginning to despair of Mayor Boris Johnson’s administration.

I have regularly expected it to descend again to the depths of administrative chaos displayed in its early months. The reason it hasn’t done so, of course, in the last two years has been because of the presence of Sir Simon Milton as the Mayor’s Chief of Staff.

With Simon’s tragic and untimely death, I was ghoulishly confident that an administrative armageddon would shortly descend on the eighth floor of City Hall.

Alas the appointment of Sir Edward Lister as Deputy Mayor and Chief of Staff may have dashed my hopes.

Eddie is, I think, the longest-serving Council Leader in London and, while we may have sparred/disagreed profoundly on frequent occasions when I chaired the Association of London Government, there is no question that he ran Wandsworth Council highly effectively, albeit on robust Thatcherite lines.

Eddie was originally going to perform a similar oiling, greasing and sweeping up role for Jeffrey Archer had he become Mayor in 2000. Now eleven years later, he will finally be doing it.

There are no doubt parallels between Jeffrey Archer’s career and that of Boris Johnson ….

“Whose hand on the tiller?” Mayor Boris Johnson sets out his stall for the new Police Bill

The Police and Social Responsibility Bill is to be debated on Second Reading in the House of Lords on 27th April.  Mayor Boris Johnson has today circulated a briefing to members of the House of Lords on the Bill.

He doesn’t mince his words:

“The stated policy intent of the Bill is to strengthen democratic accountability. There are some matters that need urgent resolution so that there is not an unintentional, but significant, reduction in the role and powers of the MOPC compared with that of the MPA. If the government’s intention is to re-balance the tripartite, in particular by reducing the central role of the Home Office, the local governance role needs to be strengthened. Currently the drafting of the Bill gives the MPS Commissioner significantly more powers and the local elected policing body significantly fewer powers, than at present.

For example, the MOPC will have to consult with the MPS Commissioner on the Police and Crime Plan, which will be a formal Mayoral strategy and the flagship document, with the MPS Commissioner who thereafter has only to give ‘regard to’ it in delivering local policing. We understand from the House of Commons Committee debate that ‘have regard’ carries considerable weight, however it is vital that it be made clear that the MPS Commissioner cannot refuse to deliver the MOPC plan and priorities, both national and those that matter to Londoners.”

Given the apoplexy created on the eighth floor of New Scotland Yard by previous remarks about “having the hand on the tiller”, I wonder what the reaction of Commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson will be to the phrase

it is vital that it be made clear that the MPS Commissioner cannot refuse to deliver the MOPC plan and priorities, both national and those that matter to Londoners“. 

And what will Deputy Commissioner Tim Godwin make of it – particularly as he was recently overheard telling those that would listen “What Kit Malthouse* has got to realise is that we run the Met not him”.

Police accountability matters and the phrase in the Mayor’s briefing is quite right: the purpose of the Bill should be to strengthen democratic accountability and not inadvertently weaken it.

*Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse AM, Chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority and putative Deputy MOPC.

Will the Met’s “Public Access Review” provoke yet another huge row about the closure of police stations open to the public

I see that Assistant Commissioner Ian McPherson has launched an on-line survey to ask people how they “want to access police services” and in a letter to “stakeholders” he gives more details:

“The review of public access ‘channels’ started on the 11th April and will conclude on the 27th May. It will look at how we can enable the public to communicate with police and access policing services more effectively. A key aim of the review is to identify the role front counters play in the wide range of public access channels, from calls and online contact to face to face meetings.

The review will seek to establish the principles for re-shaping the future and ensure that the public understand and support the decisions the MPS makes about front counters, and that any changes reflect their views. You can expect to be informed about local consultation processes relating to specific locations later in the year.

Front counters will remain a core element of policing. Notwithstanding this, I think you will understand that, given our financial pressures, it is right for us to carry out a review of public access which encompasses front counters. Police station front counters – open to the public 24/7 or for set hours – are very important but, in the 21st century, they are just one way for members of the public to access police services. Staffing front counters is more expensive than most other forms of access and evidence has shown that some front counters are very busy whilst others are much quieter, averaging fewer than five callers per day or just one caller during three nights of opening. We must find ways of aligning our public access channels to better meet public need and convenience, whilst working within our financial constraints.

In the public access review we will ask you to share your perspective on the best and most cost efficient model to enable the public to contact the police. As you know, some of the needs of the public are best met by multi agency responses. We will consult our partners and the public on several key issues including:

    1. A proposed core service commitment for front counters, based on a minimum expectation of one well-staffed and easily accessible 24/7 front counter per borough, supported by an expanded appointments system and Safer Neighbourhoods team surgeries;
    2. The criteria the MPS will use to identify the need on any borough for an enhanced front counter service, over and above the minimum of one 24/7 location.”

This means that the consultation about “specific locations” will be taking place in the run up to the Mayoral elections and the future of individual stations will no doubt become a campaign issue in  some, if not all, London Assembly contests.

These are never easy discussions. The public are often wedded to the idea of the availability of services from a particular building – even if personally they never seek services from there. 

It is hard to justify the staffing of a facility which may only get one or two members of the public coming in over the space of an hour or two. Yet the withdrawal of a staffed front-counter is often seen as tantamount to the police withdrawing from the whole area – even though not staffing a particular facility may release officers to engage in active response policing in the neighbourhood.

However, the sequence of questions in the survey asking “If you were not able to visit a police station” gives a rather large hint about the direction of travel of the review and the likely outcome for many “specific locations”.

Previous experience suggests that the Metropolitan Police do not always handle the discussions about individual front-counters in the most tactful and sure-footed of ways.

However, I rather expect that Mayor Boris Johnson and the putative Deputy MOPC* Kit Malthouse AM will be hoping that on this occasion the local consultations are handled without the usual ineptitude.

*MOPC (pronounced MOPSY) = Mayor’s Office of Policing and Crime.

Michael Crick has an interesting take on Clegg’s proposals for the House of Lords

Michael Crick suggests that whatever the outcome of the referendum on the Alternative Vote on 5th May Nick Clegg will be unveiling an even bigger LibDem “consolation” prize later in the same month: the draft Bill on House of Lords reform.

He argues:

“Most psephologists reckon that AV would have given the Lib Dems perhaps 15 or 20 extra seats at the 2010 election. And the Lib Dem gain from AV would be a lot lower if their support falls to the kind of levels currently suggested in the polls.

AV would be nothing like as rewarding as proper PR, under which the Liberal Democrats would have got around 140 seats in 2010. And contrary to what the No campaign have been suggesting, AV wouldn’t give the Lib Dems a permanent place in government or mean that we will have coalition government for evermore. It only makes such outcomes a bit more likely.

In contrast, Lords reform could give the Lib Dems a lot more power in the long term – what might almost amount to a permanent veto on legislation.

The Coalition Agreement commits the parties to a new upper chamber that would be “wholly or mainly elected” elected. That’s now likely to mean 80% elected, but also, crucially, it is generally expected the new chamber would be elected under proportional representation (PR).

That would probably mean the Lib Dems held the balance of power in the new upper house on an almost permanent basis. So even if future governments had a majority in the Commons (thanks to First-Past-the-Post), they could only get legislation through the Lords with the approval of the Lib Dems.

OK, you can argue that neither this government, nor its Labour predecessor had a majority in the Lords, so they, too, have had to build consensuses among peers to get their bills through, and under Labour that usually meant Lib Dem support. But the Liberal Democrats’ position would be far more powerful in a democratically reformed PR Lords.

First, in the current Lords the 93 Lib Dem peers have to compete for this balance-of-power role with a much larger group of 184 independent cross-bench peers. It depends on the detail of the reformed Lords, and presumably there will be some role for independents, but nonetheless the crossbenchers are likely to be a much smaller group in a chamber that is primarily elected.

Second, the elected nature of the second chamber will give it a greater legitimacy than now, and so it will be less likely to back down in disputes with the Commons (a reason many MPs are wary of making the Lords more democratic).”

So the net result of the Coalition would be that the LibDems will have “achieved” a series of constitutional changes:

  • fixed five-year Parliaments (assuming the Bill passes);
  • perpetual redrawing of House of Commons boundaries;
  • an electoral system (depending on the referendum result) for the House of Commons that makes a LibDem role in future Governments more rather than less likely; and
  • an entrenched LibDem veto on all future legislation through a reformed House of Lords.

I suspect none of these innovations are high up on the public’s current list of priorities but maybe it is enough to keep LibDem activists quiescent about the implications of staying in a Conservative-led Coalition intent on dismantling public services.