Home Office Minister has a difficult time explaining why the London Assembly should have such limited powers in respect of policing

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.

One thought on “Home Office Minister has a difficult time explaining why the London Assembly should have such limited powers in respect of policing”

  1. The Tories have always looked to hijack London and hold it by undemocratic means if democratic ones do not avail.

    If their chosen fuhrer becomes mad other duly elected representatives will mutter and the Tory media will ignore them.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *