Session 2008-09, 16 December 2008

Direct elections to police authorities

The Home Affairs Committee this morning took evidence on the Government's proposal for direct elections to police authorities. As a result of this hearing the Committee has this afternoon written to the Home Secretary on the subject. The full text of the letter is appended.

The Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP, Chairman of the Committee said:

"The evidence that we heard today of the considerable opposition throughout the police service, local councils and police authorities to the introduction of direct elections to policing authorities has convinced us that the proposal is fundamentally flawed and will not provide an appropriate means of delivering better accountability of policing to local communities."

"We have therefore written to the Home Secretary to ask her to reconsider these proposals prior to the publication of the Crime and Policing Bill."

Appendix: Letter from Rt Hon Keith Vaz MP, Committee Chairman, to Rt Hon Jacqui Smith MP, Home Secretary.

Dear Jacqui,

RE: Policing Green Paper - proposal for direct elections to police authorities

Earlier today the Home Affairs Select Committee held a one-off evidence session to look at the Government's proposals to introduce direct elections for new police authorities in the Policing Green Paper. We heard from Sir Jeremy Beecham of the Local Government Association and Mark Burns-Williamson of the Association of Police Authorities.

It is clear from the evidence we have heard that there is considerable concern about the Government's proposals.

We believe that police authorities' current membership of local councillors and independent community members represents the interests of all local communities and is independent of specific party political considerations. There is a danger that the existing proposals could damage these partnerships and may ultimately work against the intentions of the Green Paper to improve accountability and services. There is cross-party opposition to the Government's propsals from the Local Government Association as well as significiant concern from senior police officers and existing members of police authorities who do not want to see the politicisation of the police service.

We agree with the Association of Police Authorities who have said:

"Taking party politics out of policing through the balanced composition of local councillors and independent members of police authorities has been one of the biggest policing successes of the last twelve years. Police authorities have also initiated and supported other substantial policing innovations such as crime mapping, community consultation and neighbourhood policing.

Improving public confidence in policing must be our key aim for the future, but direct elections to police authorities are not the solution. Indeed this is more likely to undermine confidence if directly elected representatives make promises they cannot deliver, or if policing is hijacked by single issue groups or extremists.

Yes, people want more ownership and say over local policing services, but the best way to do that is through ensuring the police are more responsive and accessible at a local level."

These concerns are also expressed in our recently published report "Policing in the 21st Century" and we remain of the firm view that the Government needs to amend the proposals set out in the recent Policing Green Paper and to look to deliver better accountability and public engagement at a more local level.

We hope this is helpful and look forward to hearing from you.