Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill committee stage: day three

25 May 2011

The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill had its third day in committee in the House of Lords on Tuesday 24 May. Members of the Lords continued to discuss amendments to Clause 1 concerning Police and Crime Commissioners, including role of and arrangements for Police and Crime Panels in scrutinising the work of the Police and Crime Commissioners.

The House of Lords agreed without voting to Amendment 31, which would insert a new clause after Clause 1 to establish a Police Commission. Moving the amendment, Baroness Harris of Richmond explained that Amendment 31 was consequential to her amendment removing proposals for elected Police and Crime Commissioners, which was agreed to by the House on the first day in committee. 

The House of Lords also agreed without voting to Schedule 1: Police and Crime Commissioners; Clause 2 and Schedule 2: Chief constables; Clause 3 and Schedule 3: Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime.

Day two

Amendments to Clause 1 concerning the work and responsibilities of police and crime commissioners were discussed on Wednesday 18 May. Debate was limited, however, following the vote in the Lords on the first day in committee to agree to an amendment removing proposals for the election of police and crime commissioners from the Bill – a defeat for the Government.

Moving the motion for the House to go into a committee on the Bill, Lord Strathclyde explained that the decision of the House to leave out the ‘essence’ of the Government’s policy – the principle of the election of police and crime commissioners – meant the Bill no longer reflected the ‘principle of the policy which the Government and the House of Commons support.’ Lord Strathclyde explained that the Minister’s replies would be ‘limited’ because the Government remained ‘in favour of elected individuals as police and crime commissioners’ and could not ‘support any of the amendments on the Marshalled List’ relating to the parts of the Bill affected by the vote.

The House of Lords discussed amendments moved by Baroness Henig, a former chair and current president of the Association of Police Authorities, and Lord Harris of Haringey, former chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority, that sought to set out the key functions and responsibilities of the new police and crime commissioners and their relationship with police and crime panels.

The amendments were withdrawn.

Clause 1, as amended, was agreed to without a vote.

Day one

The House of Lords voted in favour of an amendment to remove proposals for elected Police and Crime Commissioners on the first day in committee on the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill on Wednesday 11 May.

Amendment 1, moved by Baroness Harris of Richmond, Vice-President of the National Association of Police Authorities, sought to remove the section of the Bill concerning the role and election of Police and Crime Commissioners. Explaining the amendment Baroness Harris said, ‘I am very concerned that the evidence base for making this change is incredibly thin, and that the consequences of implementing it have not been thoroughly researched or properly thought through.’

Other Members of the Lords who spoke on the amendment included (use the links to watch/listen to their contributions):

Former Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police Lord Condon and Lord Blair of Boughton; Lord Harris of Haringey, former chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority; Baroness Henig, former chair of Lancashire Police Authority; Baroness O’Loan, former member of the Police Authority for Northern Ireland; Baroness Hilton of Eggardon, a former chief superintendent and police officer; and Lord Beecham, Vice-chair of the Local Government Association.

Baroness Browning, Minister of State for the Home Office responded for the Government.

Amendment 1 was agreed to by 188 votes to 176 – a defeat for the Government by 12 votes. The vote in favour of Amendment 1 meant that amendments concerning pilot schemes and referendums on Police and Crime Commissioners could not be discussed.

Amendments 9, 11 and 12 were agreed to without voting.

Further information

The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill covers five policy areas:

Police accountability and governance: This part of the Bill deals with police reform to improve local accountability. It makes provisions to abolish Police Authorities and replace them with directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners for each police force outside London and replaces the Metropolitan Police Authority with the Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime, to be run by the Mayor of London.

Alcohol licensing: These provisions aim to address issues of alcohol-related violence. Among the provisions are amendments to the Licensing Act 2003 to give the police and local authorities stronger powers to remove or refuse to grant licenses to premises that are causing problems.

Regulation of protests around Parliament Square: This part of the Bill will repeal Sections 132- 38 of the Serious Organised Crime and Police Act 2005, which concern demonstrations in the vicinity of Parliament and give the police new powers to prevent encampments and the use of amplified noise equipment.

Misuse of drugs: These provisions amend the Misuse of Drugs Act 1971, introducing a new power for the Home Secretary to temporarily ban drugs. It also amends the constitution of the Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs to allow the membership of people with wide, recent experience of medicine, dentistry, veterinary medicine, pharmacy, the pharmaceutical industry and chemistry and persons with wide and recent experience of social problems connected with the misuse of drugs.

Arrest warrants in respect of private prosecutions for universal jurisdiction offences: This part of the Bill aims to prevent the courts being used for political purposes. It introduces a new requirement for private prosecutors to obtain the consent of the Director of Public Prosecutions prior to the issue of an arrest warrant for ‘universal jurisdiction’ offences such as war crimes or torture.  

The Bill completed all its stages in the House of Commons on 18 February and had its first reading in the House of Lords on 1 April.

Detailed line by line examination of the separate parts (clauses and schedules) of the Bill takes place during committee stage. Any Member of the Lords can take part.

Select committee reports on the Bill

A report of the House of Lords Constitution Committee, published on 6 May, criticises the reform proposals as risking politicising operational decision making by the police. The committee state that the government should not change police governance before it can show that reform will not compromise operational independence. It calls for Parliament to be given the opportunity to scrutinise the Government’s promised protocol setting out the roles and powers of ministers, chief constables, police and crime commissioners and other bodies under the reforms.

A report, published on 4 May, of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee recommends affirmative procedures for powers granted to the Home Secretary in the Bill – the approval by resolution (vote) by each House of Parliament before the powers can come into effect.

The Bill gives powers to the Home Secretary to make orders requiring collaboration between the police across force areas without prior consultation – such as with the Police Advisory Board. In view to the significance of this new power, the committee recommends that the House of Lords and the House of Commons should vote on such orders.

The Bill also empowers the House Secretary to appointment members to Police and Crime Panels when local authorities cannot agree. The committee considers this a ‘potentially wide’ power and ‘accordingly’ recommends a vote by both Houses when this power is used.

A report of the Joint Committee on Human Rights (JCHR) published on 10 May, expresses concern at powers introduced in the Bill for non-police personnel to seize items associated with prohibited activities around Parliament Square – such as the use of loudhailers and tents. The report states: ‘This is a very broad change which could enable local authorities to introduce new compulsory powers at a local level, for a very broad range of purposes and in connection with some relatively minor local transgressions.’ The committee calls on the Government to issue statutory guidance.

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