Commissioning crime with the Coalition

Today the Coalition Government announced its plans for the future of policing.  Theresa May’s statement was repeated in the House of Lords by the Security Minister, Baroness Neville-Jones.  My intervention and the reply to it was as follows:

Lord Harris of Haringey: I declare an interest as a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority, which I understand is to be abolished under these proposals. Could I ask about this brave new world of the police and crime commissioners? In parenthesis, calling somebody a crime commissioner implies that they commission crime, which seems a slightly strange thing for the Government to want to do. Given that the commissioners will apply to the forces that provide neighbourhood policing, which is essentially visible to local communities and for which there are already substantial arrangements for local dialogue with local communities, why are other areas of policing not to have the benefit—if benefit it be—of having their own police and crime commissioners? Why, for instance, is there no police and crime commissioner for the British Transport Police or the Civil Nuclear Constabulary or the Ministry of Defence Police—or, for that matter, the City of London Police? The Civil Nuclear Constabulary and the Ministry of Defence police are extremely heavily armed and the work they do raises important issues of public accountability. The City of London has its own slightly different means of democratic control from anywhere else. Why is there not that clarity? Could the Minister also tell the House about the accountability arrangements for the new national agency, given, again, that this will have very important but not essentially visible responsibilities for policing? These are precisely the areas in which strong, robust and transparent accountability mechanisms are necessary.

Baroness Neville-Jones: The noble Lord raised the question of other functions not covered by the police and crime commissioners and he is quite right to do so. The proposals make a distinction between those issues where we believe that local accountability is of the essence, in the area of neighbourhood and constabulary activity. Where we think that the functions have a much more national character—and certainly the police commissioners themselves must contribute to efficient national policing by collaboration—such as in counterterrorism, or in the powers that are going to be grouped under the National Crime Agency, different arrangements are needed. We will certainly have to put in place, subject to further consultation, the nature of the accountability arrangements that will be required. There will certainly be accountability arrangements but they have not yet been spelled out. Our purpose today is to make it clear that lying at the core of this is the need for accountability of local and neighbourhood policing.

On the British Transport Police, there is indeed a series of other protective policing powers and activities which are not covered by today’s proposal. We are looking at the rationality of present structures in that area with a view to seeing whether we cannot make them more efficient. Again, we will have to deal, in that instance also, with the question of accountability.”

There is a real concern here about the accountability of the specialist forces and the proposed new National Crime Agency – often they operate outside the public gaze and, given the nature of what they do, it is rather depressing that the accountability and governance arrangements are clearly an afterthought.

Other exchanges demonstrated that the costs of electing the new Commissioners of Crime will have to come from existing policing budgets (which, of course, are scheduled to be cut by 25%) and the Minister was blissfully vague about whether the Commissioners would really have a free hand to set policing budgets or whether they will be subjected to a capping regime by the Home Office (or the Department of Communities and Local Government).

Meanwhile, on another planet, Deputy Mayor Kit Malthouse AM, Chair of the Metropolian Police Authority, reacted to the news of the abolition of the Authority he chairs by saying:

“This is brilliant news for crime fighting in London and indeed the UK. Over the last two years Boris has brought clarity and focus to our mission in the capital, and we have made progress.”

So the changes in governance will make up for the local police lost as a result of the planned 25% cut in police grant. But we really shouldn’t worry about this because as he goes on:

“Democratic control of policing has to be at the heart of our society. Without an electoral mandate for policing, there can be no real consent or legitimacy.”

And then in a bid to keep in with Mayor Boris Johnson he added:

” Quis custodiet ipsos custodes?”

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