First big test for Lib Dems ‘louder voice’ since local election results: Police Bill reaches committee stage

11 May 2011

Today the Government’s flagship Police Bill, which contains controversial proposals for elected police commissioners, reaches Committee stage in the Lords.

At Second Reading, the contentious Bill was slammed by Peers from all parties and the Crossbench, and former Metropolitan Police Commissioners were among the most vocal critics.  Lord Blair described the proposals for elected Commissioners as “quite simply the most lamentable provision about policing that I have ever encountered”, Lord Imbert said they were “dangerous and ill advised – in fact, grossly ill advised” and Lord Stevens said they are “the biggest change to the constitution of policing in 150 years”. Labour Peer Baroness Henig called the proposals “a gigantic leap in the dark towards the politicisation of policing in a situation where the existing system is not broken and few people are calling for change”.

The Liberal Democrats have expressed deep concern at the scheme and have proposed a number of amendments to the Bill, which are expected to be pushed to a vote early on in Committee.  After a series of high profile u-turns and recent devastating election results, the party will be under a great deal of scrutiny as to how robustly it stands its ground on this constitutional issue.

Outside the Houses of Parliament, supporters of human rights group Liberty will don police uniforms and masks of prominent politicians to protest against the proposals

Isabella Sankey, Director of Policy for Liberty, said:

“Independent policing is as vital as an independent judiciary and Chief Constables should be above party politics not subordinate to it.  Now is the time for Peers of all parties and none to reject this dangerous proposal and show their commitment to the Rule of Law.”

The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill would abolish police authorities replacing them with directly elected politicians who would oversee local police forces and hire and fire Chief Constables.  This compromises the force’s independence and puts pressure on police to serve a political agenda rather than the community as a whole.

The Prime Minister has acknowledged that the policy was inspired by the American system of elected sheriffs, which has been heavily criticised even by those who have worked in that jurisdiction.  Jessica de Grazia, New York’s former chief assistant district attorney, has said she is ‘especially concerned about the impact on disenfranchised communities - the poor always suffer most from crime, and the poor are less likely to vote.’ She has also spoken about the risk of corruption and abuse of power which she has witnessed in the American system.  Self-styled ‘America’s toughest sheriff’ Joseph Arpaio, elected sheriff for 18 years of Maricopa County in Arizona, has been investigated about allegations of systematic discriminatory police practices and racial profiling.  Independent research established that the Sheriff’s office had diverted funds from basic law enforcement to highly publicised and discriminatory immigration sweeps.

The BNP has repeatedly and openly stated that it would strategise to win elected policing roles.  Although the far-right party may not have won a seat in the general election, its overall vote did increase – and last month a BNP member was elected deputy Mayor of an East Lancashire town.

A YouGov poll, conducted on behalf of Liberty, suggested little public appetite for the Government proposals.  Only 15% of those polled said they would trust an elected Police and Crime Commissioner more than the present system to protect their family from crime.

Contact: Liberty press office on 020 7378 3656 or 07973 831128

Notes to editors

1. Liberty’s Committee Stage Briefing on Part 1 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill (directly elected Police and Crime Commissioners) in the House of Lords can be found here: http://www.liberty-human-rights.org.uk/pdfs/policy11/liberty-s-hol-committee-briefing-on-part-1-police-reform-bill-may-2011-.pdf

 

2. Liberty will be staging a small protest in Old Palace Yard across from the Houses of Parliament, 11.00-12.00, Wednesday 11 May.  Liberty supporters will be in police uniform and wearing David Cameron, Nick Clegg and Theresa May masks.

 

3. All figures unless otherwise stated are from YouGov Plc.  Total sample size was 2,391 adults.  Fieldwork was undertaken between 27th – 28th March 2011.  The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+).  For a copy of the full results please contact the Liberty press office.  Respondents were asked:

At present each part of Britain has an independent non-political Chief Police Constable.  He or she reports to a Police Authority made up of local councillors and independent members from the community.  The Government is proposing that this model should be scrapped and that each police chief should be directly answerable to an individual politician called a police and crime commissioner.

 Who would you trust more to protect your family from crime?

  • A Chief Constable reporting to a Police Authority, as now – 65%
  • A Chief Constable reporting to an individual politician elected as a Police and Crime Commissioner – 15%
  • Don’t know – 20%

 

4. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg promised Liberal Democrat voters to be a ‘louder voice in Government’ and a ‘moderating influence on the Conservatives’ after last week’s disappointing election results.