Cross-benchers split 35 to 4 in favour of my amendment to ensure there are proper safeguards around elected Police Commissioners – but it is not enough

This afternoon the House of Lords debated my amendment to ensure that there are proper governance structures around elected police and crime commissioners (and the Mayor’s Office of Policing and Crime in London).  Although the arguments were sufficiently strong to convince 35 of the 39 cross-benchers who voted and also induced 3 Liberal Democrats to defy their whips, the vote was not quite enough – the amendment fell by 201 votes to 186.  My amendment was supported by 139 Labour Peers, 35 cross-benchers, 9 unalligned Peers and 3 Liberal Democrats; opposing the amendment 136 Conservative Peers, 59 Liberal Democrats, 4 cross-benchers, one unalligned Peer and a Bishop.

For the odd reader – and I mean that in the nicest possible way – who wants to understand the detail of what we were debating, this is what I said in moving the amendment:

“There has been considerable concern about the central principle of the Bill, the idea of a single, directly elected individual who is to be responsible for the oversight and control of the police service. That is why I have tabled Amendment 3. Amendment 20 applies similar provisions to the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime.

At Second Reading and in Committee, there were widely held concerns about the concept of a single individual with this very strong responsibility for policing matters. The vote in Committee essentially removed from the Bill the principle of police and crime commissioners. The Committee voted in that way because of the fear of having a single individual with responsibility for such an important area of public life, an area where the police have such powerful responsibilities over the liberty of the citizens of this country and over the way in which the citizens of this country operate. That is the core of the concerns that have been expressed from many corners of your Lordships’ House.You could argue that we have solved the problem. By the amendment proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, and agreed in Committee, there will not be a single directly elected individual. However, I am mindful of what the Minister said repeatedly in Committee—that the Government are determined to reinstate that principle. If the Minister wants to stand up and tell me that the Government have changed their mind and have suddenly realised that the House of Lords was right on this point, I might consider withdrawing this amendment, but if, as seems likely, the Government intend to reverse the House of Lords position on this and bring back to this House proposals for a single individual with those extraordinary powers over policing and with the police having such extraordinary powers over the citizen, we need something that looks at these matters. In fact, I submit that even if the Government were to accept the position taken by the House of Lords in Committee, there would still be value in having non-executive members around the police and crime commission to bring to the deliberations of the commission expertise and independent-minded judgment. However, given that the Government intend to reverse that position, this amendment is essential.Amendment 20 relates to the position in London. There are no changes, so far, to the position in London. We will have a single elected individual—the Mayor of London—who will delegate some of his functions to the deputy mayor for policing and crime.  

In the circumstances in which we are to have single individuals with these responsibilities, there has to be a governance structure around them. I think there is consensus among your Lordships about the value of a collegiate approach and robust and strong governance. The amendment is not about going back to police authorities. It is not about creating some new bureaucratic structure. It is not even about going to the appointed boards that the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, coruscated earlier in our discussions today. It is about good governance. It is about making sure that decisions are taken properly and transparently so that these single individuals cannot be subjected to criticism that they have acted in a wilful or inappropriate way. It says that on key financial matters, key personnel matters and on matters perhaps relating to equalities, they must act with the support of a group of non-executives who would be appointed for this purpose.Non-executives appointed in the way that I have suggested in my amendment would provide the public with an assurance that good governance was being followed. It would provide a mechanism by which you could make sure that those decisions were taken in a sound and proper way. It would also deal with what I suspect will be one of the issues. If you look forward to May 2012, when the Government hope that the first directly elected police commissioners will be elected, you will have elected individuals with an enormous personal mandate. The only person in the country with a larger personal mandate—I do not want to get into double entendres here—will be the Mayor of London. They will be the biggest political beasts in their regions. The elected police and crime commissioner for the West Midlands will be chosen by an electorate of more than 2 million people and will have a bigger mandate than a directly elected mayor of Birmingham, should such a creature come to exist following the passage of the Localism Bill. Those individuals may think that they can walk on water, I do not know. I hesitate to make such a remark in the presence of the Bishops’ Bench. However, we are back to the principle of being reminded that you are human, the way that Roman emperors had to have someone around them just to remind them of their human responsibilities.  When I was the leader of a local authority—I was not directly elected by the people of the borough; it required endless arcane processes within the Labour Party before I ended up as leader—I did have tremendous authority within my local council. Sometimes I came up with ideas that were perhaps not as sensible as they might have been. My problem was that the officers of my authority would say, “Yes, Leader, it will be done tomorrow”. What I actually wanted were officers who would say, “You are out of your tiny mind, Leader, have you not thought about the following? What about the implications of this? You do realise that there are going to be the following unintended consequences”. The danger of having a single elected individual with a personal mandate bigger than that of any local authority person or Member of Parliament is who will say to them, “Hang on, just think about this, think again, consider it”? Or, “Let us just go through a proper, transparent process for making this decision”. That is what creating a small board of non-executives would provide: that safeguard and those circumstances in which that challenge and proper governance can take place. It does not undermine the principle that the Government are trying to achieve. That is not the intention. It is simply trying to provide robust good governance.Actually, it is a principle that I thought the government parties endorsed in other contexts. The Conservative Party in the past brought forward the Cadbury report and saw the value of non-executive directors in the private sector. The principle is established in the health service. I understand that one of the arguments that is still going on—in so far as anyone can follow the minutiae of the debate on health—is the extent of the involvement of external boards in some new health structures. The report reviewing the position of the Children’s Commissioner—a rare example of a corporation sole—recommended a small non-executive board to support the commissioner’s activities and enable good governance. This is somebody saying, “I am in this position but I would like some effective systems of governance around me”. That is why this is so important.It also helps mitigate some of the problems with politicisation that are seen as potentially causing difficulty. I have seen circumstances involving the much maligned outgoing police authorities where the independent members have sometimes said to the political members, “Come on, hold on, let us not be political about this—let us just look at this in terms of the interests of the public of this area and good policing in this area”. So it helps deal with that. It provides some of the checks and balances that Members of your Lordships’ House are so keen to see enshrined in this Bill. It provides a mechanism whereby additional expertise can be brought in. A police and crime commissioner or the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime may want, for a specific purpose, someone with extensive external experience of human resources questions or particular types of financial management. Bringing in that expertise is the capacity that would be created. It provides resilience and a support mechanism to enable the enormous task that the Government want to place on these individuals to be carried out. It also provides a mechanism whereby that work can be carried on.The amendment provides for robust good governance and some collegiate elements to decisions where it would be dangerous and difficult for an individual to act on his or her own. If it is the Minister’s intention to tell us, “Well, actually, there is nothing in this Bill that prevents it happening”, I would say one thing. No, there is nothing in the Bill that prevents it happening, and I am sure that plenty of sensible elected police and crime commissioners would want to do that. But it would be precisely those police and crime commissioners who do not think that they need that sort of external support—those independent non-executives around them—who will be the ones who cause us problems in the future because of potentially wilful or maverick decisions. That is why this is so important. I beg to move.”

One thought on “Cross-benchers split 35 to 4 in favour of my amendment to ensure there are proper safeguards around elected Police Commissioners – but it is not enough”

  1. You stood against the principle of another philosopher king and decried your supportive bureaucracy of days gone by?

    Lordy! Lordy! You shall return as Lord Toby the White: one’s Telegraph and Mail shall acclaim thee as wise: or perchance start a book on the race to become Commisioner Gordon.

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