Lords debate challenges facing police services

02 November 2012

Members of the Lords debated challenges to the police service as a result of the new governance landscape yesterday (Thursday 1 November).

The debate was tabled by Baroness Henig (Labour), who began by saying: ‘Policing over the past 20 years has been extremely successful. Essential partnerships with local authorities, social services, the probation service and health bodies have been very effectively forged. Neighbourhood policing, one of the biggest success stories of recent years, is delivering tangible results to appreciative local residents. Police and community support officers have added a new and important level of resilience and response.’

She, however, went on to highlight four issues that she believed could ‘seriously erode that confidence and undermine that safety.’ The first she covered was ‘bringing party politics into policing’ through the appointment of police and crime commissioners (PCCs), which she felt would lead the public to see ‘chief constables as being in one party political camp or another’, which would ‘undermine public trust in the impartiality of policing.’

She then discussed the second issue: ‘the PCCs will not be subject to any impartial inspection or scrutiny process, unlike police authorities. Although they will operate under the watchful eye of the police and crime panels, which may provide some sort of check on their activities, I fear it will be a much more feeble one than some of us would like to see.’

She continued: ‘The third issue I wish to highlight is the impact of the election of commissioners on local partnerships. I have spent a lot of time in the past few months at policing meetings up and down the country, hearing about the work of local partnerships involving the police, and how successful they have been... But there is considerable anxiety about how the election of commissioners will impact on existing partnerships.’

Baroness Henig then went on to talk about her final issue: ‘How much importance will the new commissioners attach to the national and regional policing requirements that their forces currently meet? With the scale of cuts to police budgets already in the pipeline, will commissioners really be willing to see reductions in local policing services while a range of regional and national responsibilities continues to be shouldered by the force?’

Lord Wasserman (Conservative) followed by giving his support for the elections of PCCs: ‘The right to hold free elections to choose those who will govern us and the right to form groups of like-minded individuals to contest these elections as groups or parties are very precious to us. Countless of our citizens have given their lives over many generations to protect these rights... The election on 15 November is simply another opportunity to exercise these rights. If we do not take advantage of this opportunity on the grounds that we do not like politicians, or we are not competent to choose those who will represent us in decisions about how to use that part of our own money devoted to policing, we call into question the value of the whole democratic exercise, and we will miss a chance to play an active part in making our own communities safer.’

Baroness Doocey (Liberal Democrat) focussed on the role of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC), she highlighted that: ‘The IPCC's own published figures reveal that during the three years 2008 to 2011, it received 837 referrals of cases of police corruption. Of these, just 2% were subject to an independent investigation while 70% were investigated locally.’

She went on: ‘We cannot allow this sort of malpractice to undermine public trust in the police. We must ensure that the IPCC stops delegating to the police investigations into serious complaints. The IPCC should investigate such complaints itself and the government should provide it with adequate resources to do so. I recognise, of course, that in a time of austerity this could mean a bigger budget for the IPCC, but it would also mean less waste on ineffective self-investigations by local police forces and it would restore trust, which is a commodity beyond price.’

Lord Taylor of Holbeach (Conservative), government spokesperson for the Home Office, responded on behalf of the government, by saying: ‘We are meeting the challenge of delivering better value for money and reducing crime while delivering a programme of radical reforms to the policing landscape... The single most significant change to policing, as many noble Lords have commented, comes in exactly two weeks' time, on 15 November, when the public outside of London will elect their first PCCs in England and Wales.’

He concluded: ‘We believe that the public should be in charge of how their communities are policed. Although crime maps, beat meetings and neighbourhood policing are all crucial in this respect, the election of PCCs is the change that will truly give the people their voice. From 15 November onwards, any development in crime prevention, policing and criminal justice will need to engage PCCs and they will be key to its implementation. This puts the public at the centre of policy-making, and at the centre of policing. The end result will be a trusted, responsive and professional police service that will be continually improving to cut crime, but with its priorities rooted in the needs of local communities.’

Other members in the debate included:

  • Baroness Newlove (Conservative), Champion for Active Safer Communities, Department for Communities and Local Government
  • Baroness Smith of Basildon (Labour/Co-operative), Opposition Spokesperson for Home Office
  • Lord Harris of Haringey (Labour), Chair of the Audit Panel, Metropolitan Police Services and Mayor's Office for Policing and Crime 

Further information

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