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Thursday
Sep 15,2011

The House of Commons put Police and Crime Commissioners back into the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill on Monday and the Bill came back to the House of Lords to consider the Commons Amendments this afternoon.

The main “concession/u-turn” from the Government was to propose that the first elections for Police and Crime Commissioners outside London should take place in November 2012 instead of May as originally planned.  This will cost an extra £25 million as the elections will not coincide with any other elections and is likely to lead to a low turn-out.  As the Electoral Commission pointed out:

“We believe Parliament should be aware of the following additional risks and issues arising from a 15 November election before deciding on the date:

? A November election will coincide with the annual canvass of electors. While there will be a number of options available to each Electoral Registration Officer (ERO) in updating their registers during this period, it is possible that different approaches may be adopted across different areas of the country, possibly resulting in inconsistent practice within a single force area. This could present risks to the accuracy and integrity of registers used for the PCC elections and for the elections in May 2013. The Government should therefore make clear how it intends to ensure consistency of approach in managing this process.

? There are almost half as many daylight hours on 15 November compared with early May and there is also the increased likelihood of inclement weather. It is possible (though not proven) that such conditions could discourage some electors from participating in the election and limit campaign activities by candidates. We would therefore be interested to know what the Government’s assessment of this issue has been in selecting this date.

? Standalone elections will incur greater costs than elections combined with other elections. The Government should quantify the additional expense and ensure that Returning Officers are adequately resourced to ensure that the elections are well-run.”

There was a three hour debate on the Bill – occasionally heated by House of Lords standards.  My contribution was as follows:

“My Lords, I rise to speak to Motion A4 in my name but, before doing so, I repeat my declaration of interests. I am a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority—indeed, on that authority I am the noble Baroness’s representative, whose every word I clearly follow in every aspect of these matters—and I am a vice-president of the Association of Police Authorities.

I listened very carefully to the arguments that the Minister put forward on the legislation and the proposals. The Government’s proposals are about clear and democratic governance. The noble Baroness made the point that your Lordships’ House is a revising Chamber. However, the question that I have to ask is: where are the revisions that respond to one of the most profound concerns expressed in the debates throughout the lengthy period over which your Lordships considered this Bill—that is, where is the sound framework of governance around this single individual who is going to exercise these substantial powers?

I understand the Government’s desire for clarity in the direct election of this single individual. However, although I understand the argument, that does not mean that I agree with it. Around that individual must be a proper framework of governance. What is more, there must be a proper standards regime around the way in which that single individual operates. This is not a member of a committee or a council who can perhaps be hauled into line by the other members; it is a single individual exercising those powers, and therefore it is paramount that there should be a standards regime around them.

The major change brought forward from the other place by the Government is the date of the elections. I do not intend to go into detail on that, although I will say a word about it. That change does not deal with the fundamental question about governance and standards; it simply alters the date. I say in parenthesis that, as a member of a police authority who has sat through 11 budget-making exercises and is well into the 12th as we speak, electing someone on 15 November and expecting them seriously to influence the process for the budget for the following year—given that an absolute date is set by which precepts must be levied so as to allow the district authority or whatever else it may be to deal with the matter—is nonsense. If you are to change the shape of the budget of an organisation as complex as a police service, you need to start a lot earlier than 16 November. You probably need to start as soon as the previous year’s budget has been finalised in May and June. I know that colleagues in the police authority in London have been meeting throughout August and are continuing to meet to look at the details of the budget for next year. An election on 15 November and someone taking office then is far too late. Essentially, you are electing police and crime commissioners who will be held responsible for a budget which in practice they will have had no opportunity to influence other than in the crudest and most simplistic form. Therefore, that is not going to resolve the matter.

Another consequence of changing the dates is that the Home Office will have to look at whether independent members of police authorities whose terms of office expire in the summer of next year should have their terms of office extended or whether instead there will be a process of advertising in order to fill those posts. I am sure that the Home Office has all this in hand, but I suspect that, again, we will find that this is going to be an additional expense or something cobbled together at the last moment. The key point is that changing the date does not provide a robust governance structure. It does not provide protections against an individual who, while not being an extremist but perhaps exuberant with their power, exercises their responsibilities in what is perhaps a maverick fashion. That governance is necessary.

The Government’s response both today and on previous occasions has been fourfold. The first argument is that the electorate in its wisdom will make sure that such people are not elected. I believe in elections because they are the best available system for managing something—except, perhaps, your Lordships’ House. But the point remains that elections take place at a certain point in time. If the noble Baroness has her way, they will take place on 15 November next year. It will then be three and a half years, or whatever period is chosen, before the electorate can put right something that has gone wrong. You need to have around an individual with such powers a mechanism which can ensure that they continue to operate appropriately and within a system of governance.

The second argument deployed by the Government is that the police and crime panel will be able to exercise these functions, but the reality is that although there has been a change that will require it to collaborate with and support the police and crime commissioner, nothing here enables it to get involved while a decision is being taken. That is the point at which intervention is so important.

The third argument made again by the noble Baroness today is that nothing in the legislation would preclude a police and crime commissioner from perhaps having non-executives and obeying the strictest guidelines on governance. Yes, nothing in the legislation prevents it, and I am sure that most sensible police and crime commissioners will do all that, but it is the ones who do not do it who are precisely the ones about whom we should be concerned. For that reason, there should be a provision that requires them to have proper systems of governance.

The other argument the Government have deployed is that there will be an audit process. That is fine, and so there should be. But, again, an audit process takes place after the event. The Government will say that they are proposing a financial code of practice. That is excellent, but what they are actually doing, of course, is remedying an error in the Bill. A financial code of practice already exists, but they forgot about it so far as police and crime commissioners are concerned, so they have remedied the error. It is quite proper that it should be corrected, but in itself that will not solve all the problems. My amendment, which is modest and does not undermine the principle the Government are trying to adopt or stop in its tracks the election of police and crime commissioners, whenever that may be, says only that the vehicle of the financial code of conduct should require there to be a non-executive presence around police and crime commissioners when they take key financial and other decisions, and that they should be obliged to follow a proper process of good governance and appropriate standards of behaviour—something that is otherwise missing from the Bill.

I believe that this Bill is not necessarily the best solution to the problems of governance of the police service. That is an understatement which is meant to be ironic and not taken too seriously. But the point is that, as the Bill stands at the moment, it will not even do what the Government want it to do. It will store up problems for the future, and the reality is that it is more likely that there will be problems with a police and crime commissioner who behaves inappropriately or does not operate the best systems of governance. This proposal is a safeguard, not only for the public and the police service, but also for the Government. It will make sure that what they are proposing today does not blow up in their faces.”

In the event, the key vote turned out to be on a motion from Lord Condon, the former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who proposed that the elections should take place in May 2013 and not in 2012 at all.    In his speech he said:

“My Lords, I again declare my interest as a life member of the Association of Chief Police Officers. I am also deputy chairman of a major private security company. I thank the Minister for her generous comments and the courtesy she and her colleagues have shown me throughout the consultative process for this Bill.

The Government originally proposed that the first elections for police and crime commissioners should take place in May 2012. However, by amendment in the other place on Monday, it is now proposed that the first elections should take place in November 2012, to allow more time to prepare.

In August we had the most serious riots and looting that we have experienced in this country for 30 years. In London, we had the most serious looting in living memory. Those events and the concerns about their causes and remedies have weighed heavily on my thinking over the past few weeks and have been instrumental in my proposals referred to in Motion A2.

There are very strong operational reasons, sensible policy reasons and significant cost reductions for moving the elections from November 2012 to May 2013. That is why I have put forward this Motion. If my proposed Amendments 6E to 6H are agreed they will simply move the elections from November to May 2013.

The changes to police governance and accountability set out in the Bill are the most profound since the Metropolitan Police Act 1829. They are not the product of widespread public pressure for change or the product of a royal commission or judicial inquiry. They did not benefit from a pre-legislative scrutiny process. The proposals are an experiment and a political act of faith. Many in your Lordships’ House have expressed serious concern during the passage of the Bill, and, to be honest, I do not think that those concerns have been fully assuaged at all. However, I am not seeking to re-challenge today the principle of the election of police and crime commissioners, which is clearly at the heart of the Bill. I have no wish to challenge that principle.

However, it is in the public interest to put back the elections by a further six months to May 2013. Change of the magnitude proposed by the Government, if it must go ahead, should be given the best chance to succeed by proper preparation and planning. The Government have already accepted the principle for more time by moving the elections from May to November, but the whole of 2012 should be free of the politics of campaigns and elections for police and crime commissioners. Senior police officers, their police forces and all those connected to them should not, in the face of the riots, now face this major diversion of their time and focus in 2012, which will be one of the most challenging operational years for policing in recent history.

The riots and looting in August were the most serious for 30 years. We need to understand what happened and why. The police service needs to review its strategy and tactics. It needs to train more riot-efficient officers. The summer and autumn of 2012 could again be testing times for potential street disorder, and the preparation and briefing of candidates for PCCs in late summer and autumn will be a major diversion of senior police time and focus. I also fear that extremist candidates could benefit from November elections if we have a troubled summer and autumn of street disorder.

The year 2012 is also the Olympic year, and all our forces, not just the Metropolitan Police Service, will be drawn into policing the Games and the associated terrorist threats. The Olympic Games and the Paralympics will extend well into September 2012, and the police service and others will benefit from a further six-month breathing space and preparation time before the PCC elections and all the consequential changes. We all hope for a wonderful trouble-free Olympics, but we must be prepared for and focused on the threats and challenges that will face us right the way through until September next year.

Other serious changes to policing in the next year need to be harmonised with the new structure of elected police and crime commissioners. The Government should embrace the opportunity for some more time to prepare a clear and developed plan for national and international policing issues. The proposed national crime agency remains a disturbingly vague concept and the extent and limit of its remit are not yet settled. Will the national crime agency or the Metropolitan Police be the lead agency to counter terrorism? Just how will cross-border serious crime be combated and by whom? The police service and the candidates for elected police and crime commissioner deserve much more clarity about national structures before they make their local plans and proposals. Motion A2, if agreed, will create a further six months of important planning time for these important events.

Another reason to embrace more planning time is the important review being carried out into policing by Tom Winsor, to which the noble Baroness has already referred. The Government have commissioned him, in part 2 of his review, to make recommendations which could fundamentally change how police officers are recruited and developed. He may well choose to make recommendations which challenge the status quo of a single point of entry; he may well recommend an officer class; he might suggest that the need for all chief constables to start on the beat is no longer relevant; he might suggest a different route to becoming a leader in the police service. I have no inside knowledge as to his proposals, but I know that he and his team are working hard on them and will report in the foreseeable future. Again, an additional six months of thinking time would put the Government in a much stronger position to harmonise and sensibly sequence all these hugely significant changes to policing nationally and locally.

Elections in November 2012 have two further significant drawbacks. The Electoral Commission has already expressed concern about a low turnout in November and I fear that this will favour extreme candidates. It will be a huge blow to the credibility of the new system if a very low turnout in even one police force area allows a far right-wing candidate to succeed, or, indeed, a single-issue zealot from whatever background. The second worrying consequence of a November election is the additional cost of £25 million. I know that the Government have said that this will be found from budgets other than policing, but what an unnecessary waste of money—money I would rather see put back into public services, particularly policing. This money could provide up to 1,000 police or support staff for nearly a year.

No doubt the Minister will argue that the Government have delayed enough and that successful candidates in May 2013 elections would have to wait a further year before they were able to impose their own budget plans—that is what she has said. However, the Government were originally happy to have May elections and they have also stated that the second round of elections for police and crime commissioners, four years from the first, will revert to a May date. Also, police budgets for the next four years are pretty well set in concrete and established as a result of the very understandable, but nevertheless dramatic and unprecedented, cuts to police funding.

In conclusion, I am well aware of the primacy of the other place, but today is the first opportunity your Lordships’ House has had to consider the merits of elections for police and crime commissioners in November 2012. For all the reasons I have put before you, I believe that it is in the public interest—indeed, I believe that it is in the national interest—to build in a little more thinking time, a little more planning time, before the first set of police and crime commissioners is elected. The Government have already accepted the need for more time to prepare; what is now in dispute is whether November 2012 or May 2013 is the more appropriate date.

At earlier stages of the Bill’s passage through this House I was against open-ended or long delay, as it would leave policing in an unacceptable limbo of uncertainty, but my Motion today, if agreed, brings certainty and, I argue, no undue delay. The riots and looting have seriously influenced my thinking over the past few weeks. If we must have these historic changes to policing, let us take a little more time to give the implementation the best chance to succeed. That is what Motion A2 will achieve.”

When his motion was put to the vote, there were 222 Peers in favour and 222 Peers against.  Under the Rules of Procedure this meant that the motion was not passed and the Government got its Bill through – by the narrowest of margins.

The votes broke down as follows:

In favour of Lord Condon’s amendment:

163 Labour Peers

2 Bishops (Bishops of Exeter and Guildford)

2 Liberal Democrats (Baroness Harris of Richmond and Lord Bradshaw)

1 Conservative (Lord Vinson)

54 Cross-benchers and others

In support of the Government:

145 Conservatives

70 Liberal Democrats

1 Bishop

6 Cross-benchers and others

Tuesday
Sep 6,2011

I understand that Home Office Ministers in the House of Commons will tomorrow table eleventh hour amendments to the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill.

Having spent the last few months arguing that no changes were possible, I am told that the changes will be major and that they will involve postponing the first elections for Policing and Crime Commissioners outside London until November 2012.

This is a major u-turn by Ministers and an expensive one.  Elections in November will cost a lot more than holding them in May 2012 or May 2013 when they would at least coincide with some other local elections.  And, of course,  turnout in a potentially wintry Autumn is likely to be much lower…..

It is not yet clear whether there are to be any other concessions, in particular, to require PCCs to act in a more collegiate fashion with a Board holding them in check.

Nor is it clear what this means for the timing of the changes in London, where the Mayoral elections are in May 2012 – just weeks before the Olympics – and where there were originally plans to implement the changes and create the new MOPC this autumn.

Either way this is an indication that the many long hours of debate in the House of Lords DID have an impact ….

Thursday
Aug 11,2011

The House of Lords sat today and the Leader of the House (Lord Strathclyde) repeated a statement made in the House of Commons by the Prime Minister on the riots over the last week.  The Prime Minister’s speech was carefully tailored with soundbites for the televison news, but it was notable for what it missed out or skated around.

The Prime Minister stressed how important it had been to flood London with extra police officers.  However, there was no mention of the fact that the Government is cutting the police budget by 20 per cent, that police numbers have already fallen by 4,600 since the General Election, and are set to fall even further (Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary estimates that there will be over 16,200 fewer officers by 2015).  When in the Lords, Lord Strathclyde suggested that these cuts would “not affect the police’s ability to get policemen on the streets” he was greeted by a chorus of disbelief (or “Oh!” as Hansard puts it) on all sides.

The Prime Minister praised the role of CCTV in catching those responsible for the violence and looting.  However, he didn’t mention that as part of the Coalition agreement the Government was now putting large bureaucratic hurdles in the way of local councils installing CCTV to reduce crime.

The Prime Minister talked of a robust approach to tackling gang violence, but he failed to mention that in opposition the Conservatives had voted against measures to extend the powers to obtain injunctions to stem such gang-related violence and Dominic Grieve, the Attorney General, who was then Shadow Home Secretary, had described the use of injunctions as a “legally dubious gimmick”.

The statement was light on substance and where what sounded like practical measures were mentioned they often seemed to mean very little in practice.  For example, the Prime Minister said that the Government would be supporting local communities affected and that “the Bellwin scheme to support local authorities will be operational”.  This, of course, only means that local councils get some support from central government when additional – approved – spending for a specific cause exceeds two per cent of their annual expenditure.  This is a very high hurdle indeed – and even then the help only extends to the spending over the two per cent threshhold.

When I got my chance to ask a question, this is what I said:

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority and a former leader of Haringey Council, where I spent about 12 years of my life trying to secure the sustainable regeneration of the area of Tottenham. One of the tragedies of what has happened in the past few days is that the stigma of an area of riot has again fallen on that community, and that the efforts built up over many years are now being undermined, with businesses no longer being able to survive.

Do the Government believe that the Bellwin formula will be a sufficient response to ensure the reconstruction that will be needed? This will be of communities after the damage that has been done, and must also tackle underlying problems. Will they review the resources being made available to local government for regeneration in such areas? Will they also review the way in which the Riot (Damages) Act operates? If it would drain funds from police forces to compensate people who have been hit and damaged by the riots, that would be extremely damaging to the sustaining of police numbers in future. Finally, what advice was taken from the police service about the decision that water cannon should be made available on the mainland? It is used usually for the dispersal of large crowds, but the problem in this case was caused by small groups of people acting opportunistically.”

The point about the Riot (Damages) Act is important because it means that compensation to individuals or businesses adversely affected by a riot has to be paid from the police budget – so budgets already cut as a result of Government policy will be drained further to pay compensation.

And then there was the Prime Minister’s soundbite about water cannon.  Water cannon have been used in Northern Ireland – not without controversy – but their effectiveness is in dispersing large hostile crowds.  The problems that there have been with looters in London and other cities have been with small opportunistic groups.  They are already dispersed.  Water cannon would not help deal with such small fast-moving groups.

This – like the soundbite about authorising the use of plastic bullets or baton rounds – seems to be more about pandering to excitable back-bench Tory MPs rather than addressing the serious issues that affect our cities.

Am I surprised?

Well, no ….

Tuesday
Aug 9,2011

The violent scenes in London in the last few days have been appalling and shocking.  There can be no excuse for the violence and vandalism.  In some cases, this will force the closure of the small businesses that have been targetted.  And the stigma and blight that will fall on some areas of the capital will make it even more difficult for local councils trying to strengthen and build sustainable local economies in the most deprived areas of our city.

The immediate task is, of course, to restore order to our streets.  And as part of this, the Metropolitan Police has started to put on line photographs of those suspected of being involved in some of the disorder and looting.  These hooligans need to be brought to justice.  So, do you know any of these people?

West Norwood

 

Croydon

 

Monday
Aug 8,2011

I gather that the Total Politics Blog Awards are now in progress.  I want to make it quite clear that I will not be in the least bit affronted should you chose to vote for this blog by clicking here.

Sunday
Aug 7,2011

The news in the last seventy-two hours takes me back to the 1985:  the Broadwater Farm disturbances and the events that led up to them.  In October 1985, the death of Mrs Jarrett during a police search of her home was followed by a demonstration outside Tottenham Police Station which in turn was followed by violence on the Broadwater Farm estate, during which PC Keith Blakelock was hacked to death.

My immediate response on hearing of the shooting dead by police of Mark Duggan, who at that stage had not been named, was to warn of a “potentially lively community reaction”.  And anyone who remembers vividly as I do the night of 6th October 1985 would have seen yesterday’s demonstration outside the Police Station as a likely trigger for attacks on the police and even for rioting.

There are, of course, many parallels with 26 years ago, but also many differences.  In 1985 police-community relations were appalling – even before the riot.  They are nothing like as bad now, but nonetheless could no doubt be better.  Unemployment in Tottenham is not as bad as it was in 1985, but is still the highest in London and the eighth worst rate in the UK.  Tottenham continues to be a vibrant community with much strength in its diversity, but there is still a sense of hopelessness amongst many young people. 

What is depressing is that having spent twelve years of my life as Council Leader trying to kickstart regeneration in Tottenham and Wood Green the need for sustainable economic development remains as acute as it did in the late 1980s.

The irresponsible violence and looting last night can never be acceptable or condoned , but one of its consequences is that many of the businesses affected will have been destroyed by what has happened and others will be damaged by the blight and stigma that may now fall on the area. 

The most important immediate task is to lessen the tension and to address the rumours that are swirling about the death of Mark Duggan.   The Independent Police Complaints Commission could make a big contribution to this.  One of the problems with this sort of dreadful incident is that often the investigation is shrouded in total secrecy and in the absence of hard information unsubstantiated stories or even malicious misinformation spread like wildfire – this is particularly so now in the age of Twitter.  I understand that the IPCC are shortly due to make some sort of public statement.  I hope they will be as open as possible and commit to providing regular briefings about the state of their investigation.  As soon as they are able to confirm or otherwise, for example, whether a non-police weapon was at the scene or not and whether it was fired or not, the better it will be.

The next urgent task is to get Tottenham and Wood Green functioning again.  The police will obviously have an important job to do in sifting through the debris for evidence (indeed, it still needs to be conclusively established that nobody burnt to death in the fires that swept through buildings).  However, I hope this can be done as quickly as possible so that the clear-up can begin and those businesses that are able to can start to function again.  Haringey Council will no doubt put in significant resources to enable this clean-up to happen but I hope that the Government will undertake to underwrite this work given that the Council is still having to implement swingeing budget reductions as a result of cuts in Government grants.

There will also need to be a review of what lessons need to be learned about the police response to the developing disturbances last night.  Many people in Tottenham and Wood Green felt undefended despite the bravery of the police and fire officers deployed.  Should there have been better intelligence about what was likely to happen?  Should more efforts have been made to monitor the traffic on social media sites?  Indeed, what is a proportionate and appropriate level of such monitoring?  I am sure colleagues on the Metropolitan Police Authority will want to pursue these issues in detail (it is not quite clear who will do this once the Police Authority is abolished once the Government’s Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill gets Royal Assent in September or October).

Finally, some of the underlying causes of what happened need to be addressed.  What is to be done about escalating gun violence in  London (particularly if police resources are to be reduced as part of Government policy)?  When is Tottenham going to see the regeneration it deserves and how are young people in Haringey going to be supported to achieve their true potential?

Monday
Aug 1,2011

Jenny Jones AM, London “Green” Mayoral Candidate, is exploring the canal network (very green and worthy, not to say sanctimonious).

She reports by Twitter:

“Hmm @BritishWaterways Slough canal very weedy & shallow, needs urgent clearing. We are like the African Queen, but without leeches (I hope)”
 
But there are worrying signs that the hot weather is producing delusions of grandeur.
 
The royal “we” as in “We are like the African Queen …”
 
And does she really see herself as Katherine Hepburn?
 
Jenny Jones
 
 
Katherine Hepburn
 
And where is Humphrey Bogart?
Tuesday
Jul 12,2011

Late last night the Government was urged both by Liberal Democrat and Labour Peers to avoid disrupting policing during the Olympics.  Did they heed the warnings?  In a word, “no”:

“Amendment 206A

Moved by Baroness Doocey

206A: After Clause 50, insert the following new Clause—

“Transitional arrangements

(1) The provisions of sections 1 to 50 are subject to this section.

(2) Sections 1 to 50 shall not come into effect until 1st October after the first ordinary elections under section 51 have taken place.

(3) The Secretary of State shall make regulations to ensure that the police authorities established for police areas under section 3 of the Police Act 1996 (establishment of police authorities) and the Metropolitan Police Authority continue to exercise their functions until such time as the provisions of sections 1 to 50 come into effect.”

Baroness Doocey: My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendment 310. The purpose of Amendment 206A is to delay the implementation of Clauses 1 to 50 until October 2012 and to allow for a transitional period. During the period until then, the existing arrangements will continue to operate, so in London the Metropolitan Police Authority will continue to exercise its functions until such time as the provisions of Sections 1 to 50 come into effect. The purpose of Amendment 310 is also to move the implementation of this Bill in London from December this year to October next year.

The Government and the Mayor of London are keen to introduce the new system as soon as the Bill receives Royal Assent. The Bill as it stands would allow this to happen. The Government’s prime duty is to keep London and the country safe. Therefore implementation should be timed optimally to ensure that the transition does not compromise public safety. When we consider issues around public safety, we need to bear in mind that there are some very significant events in 2012. We will have the Olympic Torch Relay from May to July, the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in June, the Olympic Games in July and August and the Paralympic Games in September. These major events will require a policing operation on an unprecedented scale, so it is difficult to understand why the Government are hell-bent on implementing the changes before these events take place.

My main concern is the policing of the Olympic Games. The Metropolitan Police has described the Games as one of the,

“biggest security challenges the British police have ever faced in peacetime”.

Presidents, kings and queens, heads of state and athletes from all over the world will come together. Their protection will require a security operation of extraordinary complexity. In order to meet this challenge, the Metropolitan Police and the Home Office have spent years planning for every eventuality. As circumstances develop and situations change, these plans are subject to continual revision. The vast majority of Olympic events will take place in London and police officers will be drafted in from every police force in the country to help with the huge operation. For the Government to force the Metropolitan Police to divert their efforts from the security of the Games to a major reorganisation at this critical time almost beggars belief.

Besides the major events I have listed, there is another important event happening in London next year; namely, the mayoral election in May. This election creates a different but no less significant set of problems. It could result in a change of mayor. The new mayor may have a very different vision for the direction of policing in London. If so, this could confront the Metropolitan Police with yet further disruption before the Games. One wonders if the Government’s unseemly haste may be designed to create a fait accompli ahead of the mayoral election.

Whenever this Bill is implemented, it will require a major reorganisation of the Metropolitan Police. The changes proposed have been described by Sir Hugh Orde, president of ACPO, as,

“some of the most radical changes to police governance since 1829”.

Reorganisations are very disruptive. We all know the anxieties being expressed around the NHS. This particular reorganisation will require the police to change all their reporting structures and to get to know, brief, and get up to speed a completely new set of stakeholders and board members. As anyone who has ever served on a police authority will know, gaining an understanding of policing issues is no easy task; it takes time. Let us not forget that this huge organisational change is to be delivered within a framework and climate of an expected reduction in the Met’s spending of some £600 million by 2014-15. Savings to be delivered this year, of £163 million, have already resulted in a two-year pay freeze for police officers and staff, the withdrawing of special payments for police officers and a review of the terms and conditions of police staff.

The reorganisation will be work-intensive, expensive and time-consuming. It should happen at a time when it does not conflict with the London Olympics, so that the police may concentrate their energies and efforts on the huge security challenges surrounding the Games.

The Government have said on a number of occasions that they want to implement the Bill before the Olympics because the Met is in favour of early implementation. In a previous debate in this House on 16 June, my noble friend the Minister said that,

“not just the Mayor of London but the Commissioner of the Metropolis is also keen for the transition from MPA governance to that of the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime as soon as possible after Royal Assent is achieved for this Bill … we have double-checked that there is no real concern with the mayor or the commissioner”.—[Official Report, 16/6/11; col. 1033.]

Well, of course there is no concern from the mayor: he wants the changes before the mayoral elections next May. But what the commissioner actually said to Nick Herbert in his letter of 22 June is:

“London should move forward with the new model as soon as is practicably possible … there are some measures that need to be put in place in order that the new structures can work effectively. Clearly if these cannot be implemented in the time available, the arguments for going early become less compelling”.

This is somewhat different from the Government’s claim that the commissioner is “keen” and that there are no real concerns.

In addition, the commissioner has always been entirely consistent in his view that it is for the Government and Parliament to decide the governance and accountability arrangements for policing, so it is not surprising that he will carry out the democratic wishes of Parliament. It is therefore disingenuous for Ministers to claim that the Metropolitan Police wants early implementation so we must do as it says. Governments ignore the advice of the police whenever it suits them. Detention of suspects is just one example.

A delay until October 2012 is not drastic; it is only a few months later than the Government envisage. By October 2012, Londoners will have enjoyed the Diamond Jubilee celebrations and the Olympic and Paralympic Games. They will have a mayor who has been elected for four years setting a direction over how London is to be policed. Let us allow this direction to be set in a period of calm, with time to think. Let us also give senior police officers the time and space to prepare for these new directions. We need only to delay these changes for a few months, and London will be a better place for it.

I have no doubt that if the Government go ahead and implement this Bill before October 2012, it will cause serious disruption to the policing of the London Olympics and other major events taking place next year. This proposed reorganisation will cause immense disruption at the worst possible time and compromise the safety of our citizens. I therefore appeal to the Minister, even at this late stage, to reconsider this seriously flawed decision. I beg to move.

10.30 pm

Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, I support the amendment for a number of reasons. First, the Bill is amazingly silent on transitional arrangements. In the immediate aftermath of the vote on the first day in Committee, the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, raised with a degree of interruption and noises off—from me, I appreciate—the question of the transitional arrangements that should be in force before a new system is put in place. I would not go as far as those who reorganised London government in the 1960s where there was one year of shadow operation. But I note that there were several months of shadow operation when the new arrangements in London for the Assembly and the mayor took effect. All the Bill provides for in terms of a transition period is seven days—seven calendar days, one week—for transition from one system of governance to another. That seems strikingly short to me, under any set of circumstances. However, that is the smallest and most insignificant of reasons for supporting this amendment.

My admiration for the Home Secretary grows every day, because of the bravery she shows. In Sir Humphrey Appleby terms, the decisions she is taking on policing are extremely brave. Currently, in policing, there is a most extraordinary agenda of change. There are substantial budget reductions, starting with the current year, and moving through next year and the rest of the CSR period. Major changes are proposed for the terms and conditions of police officers, which will at least cause a degree of stress, uncertainty and confusion, if not downright anger from many police officers. Changes are proposed in the pensions of police officers, which are also causing a substantial degree of distress, concern and anger. That is all happening at the same time as other parts of the public sector are withdrawing various functions from their activities so that more will be expected of the police force.

At the same time, we have the challenge of the Olympics, which is probably the largest policing challenge that has ever been faced in this country, comparing a modern Olympiad with the last time that London hosted the Olympics, in 1948. There is the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee. Wedged in that very short interval between the Olympic Games and the Paralympic Games is the Notting Hill Carnival, Europe’s largest street festival, involving major policing resources. In the midst of all this, our brave Home Secretary is proposing that we change the governance arrangements for policing in London and the rest of the country.

In supporting this amendment I am not trying to frustrate the Government’s intention. I am simply trying to point out that there are major risks in doing this on that timetable, with one week’s transition. That is all that is envisaged for the rest of the country and it is very unclear when the transition in London might take place. All of that will occur, at a time when all of these other things are going on.

I know that our brave Home Secretary has taken the decision to reduce the security alert status, which is always a brave decision for any Home Secretary because that supposes that you know of everything that might be just around the corner. However, the security situation is that there is a very serious terrorist threat against the Olympic Games. There are enormous public order and security challenges. It is not just al-Qaeda and its affiliates that we should be concerned about. Because of the global interest in the Olympic Games—with an estimated several billion people watching the opening ceremony on television around the world—this is an opportunity for any organisation anywhere in the world, pursuing its local objectives, to get publicity on a global scale. The threat is enormous, and in the midst of it our brave Home Secretary plans to change the governance arrangements for policing.

The amendment is very modest. It does not frustrate the Government’s objectives. It merely says, “At least get the Olympic and Paralympic Games out of the way before you make this change”. Is there any need for further distraction under the circumstances? Is there any need for that degree of disruption? Is it not better to wait for a few short months, which will have the added benefit of allowing a sensible period of transition to the new governance arrangements? I urge noble Lords to support the amendment.

Baroness Hamwee: My Lords, my recollection of the transition/shadow period for the Greater London Authority was that it was very short and clearly not long enough, but that is not the point I will make tonight.

I sometimes think that, faced with a difficult decision, it is wise to ask oneself, “How will I feel, looking back in six months or a year, if I did or did not do something?”. In this situation, if the Government postpone the changes in London, they will be able to look back a year and a half from now and say, “Phew, that went okay. What damage did we do by not making the changes? Well, none really. What damage have we suffered? Maybe a little to our egos, but does that matter?”. How much better to be in that situation if there has been a problem, which may or may not be related to the changes in governance, than to be told by the noble Lord opposite or my noble friend behind me, “Well, we did warn you”, and for the world to say, “You were warned”.

I do not see a problem if the Government make what is hardly even a concession but more a slight shift in thinking. The balance is between very little on the one hand, and possibly nothing but possibly something catastrophic on the other.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness and my noble friend for raising this matter. The Government’s approach to the Bill is on a par with their approach to other pieces of legislation. We have already seen the debacle of the Public Bodies Bill, and the Government are replicating the approach with the Health Bill. I declare an interest as chair of a foundation trust and as a trainer consultant in the NHS. The NHS is facing the biggest challenge that it has ever faced in reducing its spending and in its efficiency programme. At the same time, the Government are drawing up all the structural bodies that are in place and forcing the health service to devote a huge amount of time to structural issues when it should be focusing on how on earth it will cope with the largest reductions in real-terms funding that it has ever faced.

It seems that the same thing is happening to our police forces. The Government have drawn all the wrong conclusions from the first Blair Administration. They feel that they need to speed on, but destruction is inevitable because of the speed with which they are moving. I can only conclude that it is because no senior Minister in the Government has any experience whatever of running anything. If they had, they would not rush in the way the Government are rushing, with no understanding of the impact on essential public services.

When one considers the challenges facing the Metropolitan Police—I shall not go through the list again but they include: the Olympics; the continuing threat of terrorism; the mayoral elections; the budget reductions; staff issues, to which my noble friend referred, including pensions; and the phone hacking issue—it is obvious that over the next months and years there will be intense scrutiny on the force and its senior officers. There are to be two inquiries into the phone hacking issue, one of which is bound to look in close detail at the actions of the Metropolitan Police. The last thing the force needs during the next two to three years is to cope with a structural change in governance. The noble Baroness’s amendment is eminently sensible, and I hope that even at this late stage the Government will give it sympathetic consideration.

Baroness Browning: My Lords, I reiterate what I have said in previous discussions on this subject to my noble friend Lady Doocey: the commissioner has personally asked the Home Secretary to go as early as possible with London. That is a fact. The commissioner, deputy commissioner, the mayor and deputy mayor are very keen for the London provisions to be commenced as soon as possible.

My noble friend mentioned a letter. That letter outlines issues that the commissioner has flagged up for the Government to look at so that London can go early. The issues in the letter are being looked at and many of them have already been agreed in earlier amendments in the House. We debated earlier today the government amendments to the transitional provisions in the Bill to ensure that the PCCs and the MOPC can operate effectively from the outset and that there is no need for a period of shadow operation. The changes to policing governance do not affect operational control and so will not impact on operational issues.

We are going round this circuit for about the third time. My noble friend may totally disagree with me but I have checked and double checked—as has my right honourable friend the Minister of State in another place—to make sure that our understanding of both the commissioner’s and the mayor’s view on this subject are as we have described them in this House. I can but repeat what I have already said to my noble friend in the House: they are keen to commence as soon as possible and they have in no way sought to delay London.

Baroness Doocey: My Lords, I have listened to the Minister with a very heavy heart because, being an eternal optimist, I had hoped against hope that the Government might take some responsibility upon themselves and say, “We are the Government and we are making the decision. On reflection, we do not think that it is a good idea to put citizens’ lives at risk in order to implement the changes in the Bill immediately”.

I have concluded that I have done everything possible to persuade the Government that this is not only a bad idea but a positively dangerous one. I have also concluded that all my pleas have fallen on deaf ears, and it is with a heavy heart that I feel I have no choice but to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 206A withdrawn.”

Tuesday
Jul 5,2011

Early yesterday evening the Home Office Minister in the House of Lords, Baroness Browning, had a difficult (if not, torrid) time resisting amendments to the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill from two LibDem coalition “partners”, Baronesses Doocey and Hamwee, the first of whom is the current Chair of the London Assembly and the second a former Chair, that would have strengthened the powers of the London Assembly with respect to the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime.  The amendments would have given the Assembly the power – by a two-thirds majority – to amend the Mayor’s policing strategy – a power identical to that being conferred on the London Assembly by the Localism Bill (also currently being considered by the House of Lords) in respect of all the other Mayoral strategies.  A simple case of one Department of Government not being aware of what another Department is doing?  You might think so, but not according to the Minister:

“Baroness Browning: My Lords, I would like to deal with one or two points that have just been raised before I touch in more detail on the amendments that have been spoken to this evening. We want the Assembly to have a role in informing the development of the plan which is in keeping with the rest of the country and the elected mandate of the PCC. We do not believe that there should be a veto, because no other PCP will have the power of veto outside London. It would take away-this is critical-the mandate on which they were elected. I see the noble Lord looking heavenward but this is at the heart of PCCs. They will be elected on a mandate that will spell out to voters how they see themselves managing crime reduction.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: Will the Minister give way?

Baroness Browning: I am halfway through the sentence; perhaps I may finish it. At the heart of the Bill is an ability to be elected on a manifesto and on a mandate which people will have heard. People will either support them on that or give their support to an alternative candidate with a different way of taking these matters forward. The right to veto would completely negate what had been put to the people who had voted in good faith on the contents of the strategy. I give way to the noble Lord.

Lord Hunt of Kings Heath: My Lords, there are two issues here. One is London and what happens there and the other is the impact of a decision in London in relation to police forces in the rest of the country. As far as London is concerned, I do not see the difference between the mayor as the MOPC and the mayor as the Mayor of London. The manifesto will contain proposals that relate to both policing and non-policing issues, and since the Government have decided that it is entirely appropriate for the Assembly in certain circumstances to change those strategies, I cannot see the logic of the argument coming from the Home Office. Is it not supporting the overall government position on this? Secondly, if you agreed to this in London, would that differ from the position in other parts of the country? I see the force of that argument but again I refer the noble Baroness to what Mr Pickles said at the conference last week in Birmingham, when he made it clear that elected mayors outside London will not have any additional powers to those held by local authorities at the moment. Already within local government we have a situation where it is accepted, and the Government support, that there will be differences between London and elsewhere. I know that the Home Office is a very distinguished department of state but just occasionally it would be nice to think that it was actually a part of the Government.

Baroness Browning: My Lords, I assure the House that there is absolutely no question that the Home Office is not part of the Government. I am shocked to the quick that the noble Lord should suggest such a thing. There is a difference between the Mayor of London and the mayor’s election but, unlike mayoral strategies on which the mayor goes to the electorate, within the Bill there is a lot of detail which is already in statute that relates to policing, structure and the mayor’s function in London policing. This is therefore different from other matters which the mayor may go to the electorate on as part of a broader manifesto. I see the noble Lord, Lord Harris, about to rise.

Lord Harris of Haringey: I am grateful to the Minister. I hope that she is not relying on a brief from the Home Office which suggests that somehow the policing and crime plan is intrinsically different from the other mayoral strategies. There is the most extraordinary volume of legislation about what the Mayor of London can do on development issues in London. There is an extraordinary volume of legislation about what the Mayor of London can do with transport. The legislation specifies very complicated arrangements for consultation with the public of London before the mayor can frame the spatial development strategy and the transport strategy. To suggest that there is anything special here regarding policing compared with those other pieces of legislation is, I am afraid, nonsense.

To save me getting up again, if the Government are concerned that this sets a precedent for the rest of the country then why on earth are they having a different system of governance in London than in the rest of the country? Once you have accepted a different system of governance in London, then what you do in terms of how London operates does not set a precedent.

Baroness Browning: My Lords, we have been round this circuit quite a few times. The difference is that the mayor, unlike PCCs, covers a distinct police force area. The election of the mayor has already taken place; we are familiar with the structure. I know that the noble Lord is going to jump up and talk about the City of London police, and I accept the point. He has made the point and I think that I have fully understood it.

The structure in London is different from that in the rest of the country. In this uniformity across the country, however, we have tried to identify where there are differences in London-and there are differences-and draft the Bill accordingly. This may come as a surprise to the noble Lord because I have just said that we already have detail in statute on this matter, which we have, but at all levels, whether it is London or elsewhere, we have tried to introduce checks and balances throughout the Bill at the same time as keeping a light touch. We want to give PCCs and the MOPC the opportunity to be flexible and to make their plans according to their local priorities and demands. There is a structure within the Bill that will affect all of the country, including London-and there are differences that affect London because of the precedent of already having an elected mayor-but we want this to be something that is not top-heavy and not prescriptive from the centre, that allows local accountability for local decision-making that is a local priority and not something set down by Whitehall.

I would also like to put this on the record. Some noble Lords were not here on Friday when it was suggested that there is a difference between me and the Home Office. I have heard what has been said about the Home Office. This is not the first time in my career that I have been a Minister. It has never been my practice as a Minister to separate myself either from the department that I represent or from the Government whom I represent. There is hardly a cigarette paper’s width-if that is not being terribly politically incorrect-between us. I take full responsibility for the Home Office in your Lordships’ House. I hope it is meant kindly, but it does not always sound that way. I suggest to noble Lords that if there is criticism of the Home Office in your Lordships’ House, it rests on my desk. I take full responsibility for that. If people have complaints about the Home Office, I would ask that, as with all other complaints, they put it in writing, and I will respond accordingly.  ….

Lord Harris of Haringey: The Minister may have misunderstood what I was saying on a point that I made earlier on. It is not that the ability of the Assembly to vary local plans runs across the thrust of government policy. I understand that the thrust of government policy is to release local energies to determine what the priorities are. If that is the case and you then say that the London Assembly cannot vary what is being determined locally, does that not cut across the sort of localism that the Government say they want? This is not about the problems of the Assembly interfering with national strategies or requirements; it is about the ability of the Assembly to say, “These are the local priorities”. Where there is a clear two-thirds margin-a pretty high target-that is something that the MOPC would have to take on board.

I cannot understand why the Government are saying that policing is different from spatial development strategy-say, the size of strategic tall buildings, the size of the congestion zone area or any of those other issues. These are not laid down nationally; they are determined locally. Of course the Mayor of London has been elected with a manifesto but the London Assembly, representing all parts of London, may well say, by a two-thirds majority, “We think that you should take this back and review it”. That is what the Government are saying could happen in those other areas-why are they not saying that it can happen with regard to policing?

Baroness Browning: We have a situation in London where, although I said earlier that there is a difference between London and the other areas, there will be an opportunity to scrutinise the plan. I do not want this to sound as if it is an isolated case. We have had these discussions now. We have tried to strengthen in the Bill the fact that there is a need not just to scrutinise and challenge but also to support. Where the plan is being drawn up, it is not just something that happens overnight. I would expect it to be subject to a series of consultations so there would be ample opportunity, if there were reservations, for the plan to be amended to take account of different points of view that had been put forward. It is not just an isolated thing.

Perhaps this is my fault but I have a feeling that in the earlier stages of the Bill, when we were talking about the plan, I did not spell out this aspect in more detail. It is not the case that one day somehow a plan is suddenly produced and presented for consultation and people sitting in committee then make their views known. We want them to have time to look at the plan in some detail; I raised this in an earlier amendment. There will need to be that period of time. The plan will not be put together overnight. There will be plenty of opportunities for views to be brought forward and for real consultation to take place.

Lord Harris of Haringey: I do not want to prolong this, but that is exactly the situation that already exists regarding the transport strategy. There is a requirement, which if I remember correctly seems almost unduly onerous, for any amendment to the transport strategy to require two separate consultation processes. I look across the Chamber at those current Members of the London Assembly. So the transport strategy is not something that happens suddenly; it happens after a great deal of discussion and process. Yet the Government are saying that the transport strategy can be amended by a two-thirds majority of the London Assembly. I put this question again to your Lordships: why is policing different from transport?

Baroness Browning: I realise that the mayor will have said things about transport, I appreciate that, but the mandate that the mayor will have been elected on will have outlined how he sees the reduction of crime in London. It is important that that is not fettered by a veto, which it could be.

Lord Harris of Haringey: You could say exactly the same about congestion in London. The mayor has stood on a manifesto that says he is going to reduce congestion in London by various methods, yet the Government are giving the power to the London Assembly to amend the strategy by a two-thirds majority after two separate consultation exercises before the strategy is finalised and those decisions are taken.

I am not trying to be difficult here. Well, I am trying to be difficult because I think that these are important issues, but I am afraid that the Government are being totally illogical when they say that policing is different from those other strategies.

Baroness Browning: My Lords, I have to remain illogical to the noble Lord. I can think of nothing else
to say to him now that we have not already taken around this circuit, not just in today’s debate but in Committee.

Thursday
Jun 30,2011

It is the Annual Meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority and Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse AM, putative Deputy Mopsy*, is in the Chair.

And the Deputy Mopsy has already had a head-in-hands moment after only five minutes.

It started off with Clive Lawton challenging the figures for his meeting attendance in the last year. He was recorded as being at only three of the five meetings of the sub-committee he chairs. He pointed out that he had been at four and that on the occasion of the fifth he had turned up at the correct time only to discover that the other members had got there early and had the meeting without him. Victoria Borwick muttered that perhaps the other members were trying to tell him something and I pointed out it was unlawful for a public body to meet and take decisions before the time published for the meeting (surely an issue for a POLICE authority).

The Deputy Mopsy then proposed that his report be taken as read, only to be told that we would if we had seen it.
“Never mind. Any questions?”
“What? On a report we haven’t got?”
“All right, I’ll read it out…… Oh, I don’t seem to have a copy either.”
At this point the Deputy Mopsy put his head in his hands …….

*Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime