Government legislative timetable in a mess – who is to blame?

Last Thursday, the sweetly formidable Government Chief Whip in the Lords, Baroness Anelay of St Johns announced last Thursday that the House of Lords would be returning to work on 3rd October rather than 10th October this year after the Summer recess (ignoring the two week September sitting that will interrupt the recess).  This will mean that Conservative Peers will have to make the choice between attending Parliament or the Tory Party Conference.  She blamed this on the slow scrutiny of legislation by the House and, in particular, the particularly thorough process (led by many Labour Peers) of consideration given to the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill or as she put it:

“This is a self-regulating House, with the implication that scrutiny of legislation cannot be curtailed except by the House itself. That is only right; it is one of the aspects of our work of which we have every reason to be proud. The corollary is that when the House chooses to dwell on a particular Bill, as it did on the Parliamentary Voting System and Constituencies Bill-on which we spent 17 days in Committee, which is more than double the usual maximum for the largest Bills-more time must then be found elsewhere if the scrutiny of the other Bills in a Government’s legislative programme is not to suffer as a consequence.”

But it is not just the extra days.  The House is sitting longer – often way beyond the normal 10pm cut off on Mondays, Tuesdays and Wednesdays.  Indeed, she also announced that the House would sit four hours earlier than normal on one of the days this week to accommodate the number of Peers who wish to speak on the Government’s draft Bill on House of Lords abolition (106 at last count).  And as it turned out the House sat from 11am until 10pm (three hours later than normal on a Thursday) on the day she made her announcement, so as to complete its sixth day of Committee Stage consideration of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill.

Labour’s Chief Whip, Lord Steve Bassam, pointed out that, in fact, there was a “chaotic logjam” of Government Bills:

“The truth is-in saying this I apportion no blame to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay-that the Government are trying to force through a programme that is overlong, overprogrammed and overblown. In short, it is too long and they know it, and the House and the process of scrutiny are the sufferers. This is a crisis of timetabling, caused not by your Lordships’ rightful desire to scrutinise Bills but by political mismanagement, emanating from No. 10. This House has already had the farce of badly drafted Bills, such as the Public Bodies Bill, and still to come are the Armed Forces Bill, the Scotland Bill and the Office for Budget Responsibility Bill. We have been waiting for a health Bill that was promised to the House in May but will not be here until October or November at the earliest. We also have such complex Bills as the Welfare Reform Bill and the Protection of Freedoms Bill to come.

What assurances can the House have that, even with this extra week, we will complete our work without further incursions into Recess dates, longer nights and earlier starts? I also ask the noble Baroness to reconfirm all existing Recess dates, including those in February, and to do so with certainty. Will she also tell the House when it is intended that we shall have another Queen’s Speech, and when this Session-the longest any of us can remember-will end? How many more Bills do the Government expect to force through this House before the Session concludes? At my last count, we still had 16 in progress and another 12 or 13 to come, and had done only 16 so far. Just how many more Bills do the Government expect to bring?

May I perhaps give the Government a little advice before they embark on their next political programme? Will they ensure that, next time around, they have coherent, well worked-out Bills, and do not have more Bills in their programme than both Houses of Parliament can realistically manage and effectively scrutinise?

This a programme of legislation that has been poorly thought through, badly managed from the centre and forced on an increasingly reluctant Parliament in a timeframe that is wholly unrealistic. I urge the Government to think again about their programme, and to consult the House properly about their timetable and what they put in for the rest of the Session.”

Today, it emerged that the Government’s own coalition partners, the LibDems, are also keen on thorough scrutiny of legislation with the first day of the Committee Stage of the Localism Bill: the first six groups of amendments have all been put down by LibDem peers – the first of which being debated for an hour and a half trying to pin down what the Government’s definition of “localism” actually amounts to.

The reality is that the House of Lords is doing its job.  The Government is trying to push through too much legislation and what is worse the Bills that are being put forward or are emerging from the House of Commons are badly-drafted, full of unintended consequences and frequently fail to do what it says on the tin.

Independence for London?

An interesting piece by Darryl Chamberlain in the Scoop at Snipe argues that the time may be coming when there should be greater indepence for London from the rest of the country.  With the devolution settlement being reviewed in Wales and Scotland, why not London as well?  The piece points out:

“A question: why can’t London have a bit of what they’re having? Isn’t it time for us to break away too?

London is a wildly different place to the rest of England, never mind the rest of the UK. We’re more socially liberal than the rest of the country, we live in communities that are far more mixed. We’re less likely to drive, and more likely to spend huge amounts of time stuck on public transport. We’ve more in common with New York or Paris than Newcastle or Portsmouth.  …

In London, we’re different.  …

Look at the two men we’ve elected to run the place. A newt-loving man with a raspy voice who loves winding up American diplomats on one hand, a floppy-haired fop on a bike with a bizarre line in Latin anecdotes on the other.

Both, in their own ways, engaging ambassadors for the capital. And seen as dangerous threats by their own party leaders. Because that is how many in the rest of England see London—as a threat. Read below the line on any comment piece on the possibility of an English parliament, and within the ?rst few comments someone will sound off about how London leeches off the rest of England, takes all the jobs and investment and produces nothing in return.

Yet if London kept the tax revenue earned within its borders—or at least had more control over raising its own budget – we’d be able to make a much better job of running our transport network, for example.

The Tube’s current woes can be traced back to the last government trying to sell off its maintenance — bitterly resisted by Ken Livingstone before he rejoined the Labour Party. He was right, Gordon Brown was wrong – but London had to pick up the bill.

In the old days, Ken used to taunt the Tories with unemployment figures on the roof of the old County Hall. But Labour wouldn?t even give him the power to empty London?s bins, so we still have 33 different recycling policies. And the Conservatives won?t even give Boris Johnson the Royal Parks, so keen is the UK government to hang onto the prestige of chasing dogs out of flower gardens.

So if they don’t trust us, why don’t we just go it alone?”

I have long pointed out the extent to which London subsidises the rest of the UK.  Irrespective of the present incumbent of the Mayor’s office, there is a strong case for London having more autonomy and being able to invest its revenues in its own infrastructure and its people.  And because London is the engine of the UK economy, this would be good for the rest of the country too.

So when did Eric Pickles grow a beard?

Yesterday was the Second Reading in the House of Lords of the Government’s large and sprawling Localism Bill.  My colleague, Lord Jeremy Beecham, made a characteristically witty speech during which he made the following comment about the Secretary of State for Communities and Local Government:

“The Government’s approach seems in many respects to be driven by a belief in an apparently inexhaustible appetite on the part of citizens to vote-for elected mayors or police commissioners, or in referendums called by a fraction of the electorate, a neighbourhood forum, or a handful of councillors. This assumed insatiable thirst for Athenian-style democracy-and Mr Pickles is, after all, only two letters short of Pericles-is matched in ministerial minds by a demand on the part of the public directly to manage local services.”

A few minutes after his speech a Liberal Democrat Peer, Lord Phillips of Sudbury, bounded up to me in the Peers’ Lobby and said that Jeremy Beecham had just made a rather fine joke about me in the Chamber.  When I looked baffled, he repeated it, saying my “name was only two letters short of Pericles”.  Leaving me puzzled, he wandered off. 

Slowly the awful truth dawned……

Two lessons: Eric Pickles is so boring that Liberal Democrat peers can’t remember whether he has facial hair or not … and perhaps I might usefully lose a few pounds in weight.

Who has got that old photocopier?

A few days ago I reported on the call for a “general obligation for data security”.

Now comes this report on CBS (thanks to FutureCrimes):

I wonder how many companies and government agencies are equally careless in this country?

It makes leaving a paper on a photocopier seem old hat …..

…and by popular request, my speech on the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill

By popular request (well one person asked for it …), here is my speech from yesterday afternoon’s debate on the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill:

“My Lords, I first declare an interest as a member and former chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, and also as a vice-president of the Association of Police Authorities. The noble Baroness, Lady Harris, has given good service to the House today by moving her amendment, if for no other reason than that it will enable us to have a free-ranging debate in Committee. I hope that it will be a useful introduction to the Minister in her new role; it will enable us to rehearse the arguments for her benefit as well.

The noble Lord, Lord Cormack, is worried that we might pass the amendment, which would be discourteous. However, it would provide an opportunity for-in the current jargon of the coalition-a pause. Apparently pauses are a good thing because they allow the coalition partners to consider whether they are departing on precisely the right track. This would be useful in the context of the Bill. The central objective that the Government have put before us of improving the democratic accountability of the police service is right. I hope that no one in the House would disagree with the principle. The question is whether the mechanism that has been put forward will achieve that objective, or whether it will have unintended consequences. The work of this Committee over the next few weeks or months may be to look in some detail at how this will work in practice, and whether there could be unintended consequences.

Like the noble Lord, Lord Hamilton, I have no problem with the principle of direct election. I work on the basis that elections are a rather good way of determining who should have ultimate responsibility for things. However, what distinguishes this proposal is that we are talking about the direct election of an individual who will be given tremendous responsibilities, but without a suitable governance structure to prevent a situation in which the individual might make capricious judgments or seek to trespass on the operational independence that chief constables hold so dear. The Bill would give an individual tremendous authority, but without the governance structures, checks and balances that would be necessary given the importance of the role.

When I chaired the police authority in London, I would have welcomed the additional authority that would have been given to me had I been directly
elected to fulfil the role. I was a directly elected member of the London Assembly, but that was slightly different from being directly elected to be in charge of the police service for London. I would have welcomed that additional authority. No doubt it would have been helpful to my relationship with the commissioner of police for the metropolis, the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, who has just left us. It would have been particularly important for my relationship with other elected colleagues such as other members of the London Assembly, local council leaders and so forth. I would have been able to say, “This gives me the authority on behalf of the people of London to say what is necessary”, but I would have been operating in the context of checks and balances on what I could and could not do. I would have had other authority members and the scrutiny processes that were in place with the London Assembly. Therefore, it would not have been untrammelled power. I would have had that responsibility and extra authority, but there would have been these mechanisms around.

What is so striking about this Bill is that those mechanisms are virtually absent. We will be told that the policing and crime panels offer that substitute governance structure, but they are essentially scrutiny bodies after the event. They are not part of the decision-taking structure and are not there, except in extremis, to say that a decision has been taken inappropriately. The spirit of partnership with other colleagues is so crucial in this area.

5 pm

There is nothing wrong with the principle of direct election, and if that is something that the Government feel is absolutely central to what they are trying to achieve here, that is fine, but around this single individual, if that is what we are to have, there must be a proper governance structure. The danger is that because a number of us, perhaps in all parts of the House, have concerns about the single individual, we will set around that individual not mechanisms of good governance, but limits to their authority and to their ability to make the police service accountable to the local community. The danger is that those extra mechanisms may reduce the quality of accountability and the extent to which the police are accountable to their local communities. If you simply say, “We will give the policing and crime panel more of an opportunity to have a go at the policing and crime commissioner”, that is all well and good, but let us be quite clear that they will then be very political environments. You will have an elected politician, and I share the view that this will almost certainly be someone from a political party. It may exceptionally not be, but it will usually be, and if it is not, it will make the matter worse because they will then be dealing with a policing and crime panel that will be virtually entirely made up of elected politicians from the various political parties. This will then be a party-political forum in which the aim will be to criticise the decisions of the policing and crime commissioner. It will all be good fun, but it will do nothing about the accountability of the police service.

In the Second Reading debate, I referred to the last meeting of the Metropolitan Police Authority that I attended. It was an example of the visible answerability
of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis in that there was a series of major items with which the public were seriously engaged. It required the acting commissioner to make a public apology to those present and, through the media, to London as a whole for failures in respect of two investigations. In one instance, the family of the person who had been murdered was present to hear that apology. That is something you throw away at your peril. There was also a large group there that was concerned about the death of Smiley Culture. The sight of the police being seen to be answerable to people representing the public is very important in incidents of that sort. The danger, the unintended consequence, of the Government’s attempt to improve the democratic accountability of the police may be that you lose that visible answerability and that opportunity for different sections of the community to come together. We have not heard an answer about how that is to be replicated.

The noble Baroness, Lady Neville-Jones, suggested at Second Reading that the occasions when the chief officer of police meets the elected policing and crime commissioner could perhaps be held in public, but I do not see how that can work. It is a discussion à deux. There would be TV crews and newspaper reporters would be taking notes. This is not the way accountability operates. We are talking about how you recreate that visible answerability and provide a mechanism whereby an individual elected to this important role is protected from acting capriciously or unnecessarily. I am not suggesting that, in the way of former Roman emperors, they should have somebody going around whispering in their ear that they were mortal, but if there are to be people elected by perhaps 1 million people in some of the larger police areas who have that direct responsibility and no governance structure around them, there has to be some mechanism which reminds them of their wider responsibility and helps them to avoid making capricious decisions or decisions which favour one part of a community rather than another. That is why that structure is needed around what is proposed.

The Government are not wrong to pursue the principle of direct election, nor are they wrong to pursue the principle of improving democratic accountability, but it is important that they get the mechanism right. I am happy to support the amendment because it provides an opportunity to pause and look in more detail at how these mechanisms might be made to work effectively. The Government are in danger of weakening the principle of accountability and of making visible answerability disappear. Under the circumstances, the principle of British policing based on consent, where people can see that the police service is operating in their interests and those of the whole community, is in danger of being thrown away. That is why the amendment and the discussions that we will be having in Committee are so important.”

Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill Committee stage in the House of Lords begins later today

Shortly after 3.30pm today, the Committee stage of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill will start in the Chamber of the House of Lords.  As of last night, 310 amendments have been tabled to the Bill.

I have submitted a series of amendments which aim:

  • to require each Policing and Crime Commissioner (PCC) and the Mayor’s Office of Policing and Crime (MOPC) to appoint no less than 4 and no more than 7 members of a non-executive board to support the PCC or the MOPC in its work and to provide a governance structure in respect of such matters as finance and audit, appointments, and equalities.  Such appointments would be subject to the approval of the PCP or London Assembly Panel.  This amendment has also now been signed by former Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington
  • to require each PCC and the MOPC to meet with representatives of each local authority in their area to discuss the policing needs of that area at least twice a year.
  •  to widen the scope of the MOPC to cover the City of London Police.
  • to require that the occupant of the MOPC be the Deputy Mayor of London for Policing and Crime and that that person be directly elected on the same day as the Mayor of London – elected by a process similar to that for a PCC.
  • requiring HM Inspectorate of Constabulary to report on a regular basis or as required on the extent to which each Chief Constable is meeting his obligations under the strategic policing requirement.

So what distinguishes the ten local areas that voted “YES”?

I used to pride myself on being able to read accurately the mood of my local area and predict reasonably accurately its election results.   However, when I cast my vote in the AV referendum on Thursday morning, I have to confess that I had absolutely no inkling that I was voting in one of only ten local areas (out of 439 in Great Britain as a whole) that would record a majority of “YES” votes when the results were finally declared. 

My feeling had been that Haringey would vote (albeit narrowly) against AV.  In fact, the declared result showed a vote for “YES” by a margin of 56.62% to 43.38% – the fourth biggest margin in the country.

It is not clear whether there any distinguishing features in the the ten local districts that voted “YES”:

  • Cambridge
  • Camden
  • Edinburgh Central
  • Glasgow Kelvin
  • Hackney
  • Haringey
  • Islington
  • Lambeth
  • Oxford
  • Southwark

No doubt some academic will do the demographic analysis and the psephological postmortem ……

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 ….

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.

Is this the first sign of a future electoral pact between the Tories and the LibDems? And more to the point, has either Party Leader told his respective Party?

On Wednesday afternoon the House of Lords will consider the Local Authorities (Mayoral Elections) (England and Wales) (Amendment) Regulations 2011.

And what does this worthy statutory instrument do?

The explanatory note says:

“The Regulations amend Schedule 1 (The Mayoral Elections Rules) and Schedule 3 (Mayoral Election (Combination of Polls) Rules) to the Local Authorities (Mayoral Elections) (England and Wales) Regulations 2007. The amendments in each case enable a candidate who is standing for election on behalf of two or more registered political parties to request that the ballot paper in an election may feature, alongside the candidate’s particulars, an emblem registered by one of those political parties.”

This means that a candidate can be put up by more than one Party and the respective Party emblems can appear on the ballot paper.

Why is this being introduced now?

Could it be that David Cameron and Nick Clegg have privately agreed to put up joint candidates in future Mayoral elections?

Do they envisage their two emblems flying proudly side by side?

Have they told their respective Parties?

And what would Margaret Thatcher say?