The House of Lords started debating the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill again just after 3pm yesterday afternoon. Seven hours later after a series of refusals by the Government to make any concessions to make the Bill more effective and to strengthen the safeguards for the public, I must admit that I was beginning to get a bit exasperated when it came to moving my amendments that would have given the Mayor of London and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime a role in appointing London’s most senior police officers (a role that the Mayor and the Metropolitan Police Authority have at present but will be taken away by the Bill):
“I share with the Government a desire to strengthen and improve police accountability. That is what I understood the Bill to be all about. I have to say that, during your Lordships’ consideration of the Bill, I have slowly realised that the Bill will weaken the accountability of the police to the public. In fact, some changes made in the Bill remove the levers that police authorities currently have to ensure that the police service in their area is accountable. There will be fewer powers and fewer levers for the police and crime commissioners and the MOPC in London as a result of this Bill.
Indeed, the diminution of police accountability in London is even worse than in the rest of the country. First, London will not have the benefit of an individual who is directly elected to be responsible for policing. We will not have the visible answerability of the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis and his senior officers to public forums. The police authority will disappear, as will the expectation that the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis will appear there. There will be a special meeting of members of the Metropolitan Police Authority on Thursday to question the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis about the latest issues and allegations concerning phone hacking and related matters. That public answerability of the police will disappear because all that the Government are substituting for that is the right to invite by the London Assembly, which is of course a current right. All that will disappear as a consequence of the Government’s Bill.
We are also now being told that in practice the Mayor of London and the MOPC will have no say in the selection of the most senior police officers in the London areas, which is why I have tabled this series of amendments. Certainly the Mayor of London and the MOPC will have less influence than they do at present. I find that extraordinary. This Government have told us that they want to strengthen police accountability. Why then have they diminished it, really very substantially as far as London is concerned? No senior officer, in fact no officer at all, of the Metropolitan Police will be appointed on the say-so or otherwise of the Mayor of London or the MOPC. That will simply not exist. The Minister is looking baffled, but that is the reality of the legislation that is being proposed.
The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis will be appointed by Her Majesty the Queen on the advice of the Home Secretary, and the Home Secretary is required merely to “have regard” to the recommendations of the MOPC. That is not a very strong power, given that the whole basis of this Bill is supposed to be that the directly elected individual should be able to appoint the most senior police officer in their area. At present, because the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis is a royal appointment, there is a joint interview between the Home Secretary and the Mayor of London to determine the nature of the recommendation that is made. Fortunately, when this structure has been tested, the Mayor of London and the Home Secretary have agreed on that recommendation. It is not quite clear what would happen if they did not agree, but the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis must have the confidence of the Home Secretary and the Mayor of London or the MOPC in the future. This Bill does not provide for such a strength in that purpose. There is no expectation of a joint interview. There is no expectation that the Mayor of London and the MOPC will have any right other than to make recommendations to which the Home Secretary will have regard. That is a very weak involvement.
Thus begins a declining scale of involvement of the Mayor of London and the MOPC. For the Deputy Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, the Home Secretary is required only “to consider” representations from the MOPC. That is not even “have regard” to; it is “to consider” representations. For assistant commissioners, deputy assistant commissioners and commanders, all chief officer ranks outside London, the most that is expected is a consultation process. That is why this Bill is so weak on accountability in the London area. That is why this Bill takes away from the Mayor of London even his current responsibilities in relation to senior police officers in the force.
I have therefore tabled a series of amendments that would mean that the Home Secretary’s recommendation had to be agreed with the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime in respect of the commissioner and deputy commissioner and that no person should be appointed as an assistant commissioner, a deputy assistant commissioner or a commander without the consent of the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime. I know that the Government wish to put chief officers of police in the driving seat for this process. This series of amendments would not alter it—it says that the MOPC should have to give consent. That is a pretty minimalist requirement and expectation if you really believe the Government’s own rhetoric that this Bill is about strengthening accountability and empowering the directly elected representative of the people to have responsibility for the police service in their area. I find it bizarre that the Government, having made such a song and dance about how this Bill is all about strengthening police accountability, are going to leave London, and for that matter the rest of the country, with less influence over policing. I beg to move.”
And the Minister’s response was hardly compelling:
“Lord Wallace of Saltaire: My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Harris, offered a picture of a golden age of policing accountability in London that is about to disappear. I was under the impression that under current arrangements the Metropolitan Police Authority has no power to compel the commissioner to appear before it but has the right to invite the commissioner to appear before it, as its successor body will have under the Bill.
Lord Harris of Haringey: The Minister is confusing the Metropolitan Police Authority and the London Assembly, which at present has no power to compel; it has the power to invite, and that is all that that the Government are offering the London Assembly and its policing panel. That was merely by way of an introduction to my more significant remarks. But I think that the Minister is confused.
Lord Harris of Haringey: The Minister is misunderstanding the point. At present, the visible answerability of the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis is to the Metropolitan Police Authority. Those meetings take place once a month. In the case of the current month, there will probably be an additional meeting in which the commissioner will answer questions in public to the body to which he is accountable on issues concerning the controversies of which we are all aware about phone hacking. That will disappear, and all that the Government are offering in its place is the right to invite by the London Assembly panel.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: I take the noble Lord’s point, but these amendments are primarily concerned with the question of appointment. The noble Lord’s amendments are concerned to shift the balance of authority in terms of appointments, with senior appointments between the Secretary of State and MOPC and for other appointments to strengthen the power of the MOPC. My understanding is that the mayor will be able to make recommendations to the Secretary of State, but the national and international responsibilities of the Metropolitan Police are such that the Bill proposes that the final decision should be taken by the Secretary of State on the appointment of the commissioner and the deputy commissioner. The mayor will have the right to make recommendations, which will of course be taken fully into account. That is the whole purpose of the phrase “to have regard”; we envisage a dialogue and a process, but not one that can lead to deadlock between the two authorities, because of the particular national and international responsibilities of the Metropolitan Police.
In terms of other appointments below that of deputy commissioner, the Bill as a whole clings to the idea of the operational independence of the police. It will be the right of the chief constable or of the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in this case to make other appointments. These of course will be made in consultation with the MOPC and there will also be external supervision, but the principle will be one of police independence; a clear line of responsibility from the commissioner and the deputy commissioner will then follow for other appointments within the force.
The noble Lord wishes to have the MOPC in the central position; we are putting the MOPC in the position of scrutiny and accountability and not in one of control. That is not dissimilar to the current position. He is asking for a much stronger position for the MOPC than has been the case in the past—
Lord Harris of Haringey: Can you tell me why it is stronger? What element have you strengthened in this Bill? Give me one example of an element in which you have strengthened the role of the MOPC compared with the existing police authority.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: The noble Lord misunderstands me. I said you are asking for a much stronger position for the MOPC than there was even under the previous regime. That is the point I am making.
Lord Harris of Haringey: At present the Metropolitan Police Authority appoints all officers between the ranks of assistant commissioner and commander. That disappears and the MOPC has no role other than to be consulted. The current position for the appointment of the commissioner and the deputy commissioner is that there are joint interviews; there is nothing in this Bill which allows that to continue.
Lord Wallace of Saltaire: I stand corrected but I hold to the principle which runs through this Bill—that of the independence of the police in terms of command and senior appointment and the international and national role of the Metropolitan Police as an exception in this regard. This is why the Bill is written in this form. On that basis I invite the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
Lord Harris of Haringey: My Lords, I have to say that I do not think the Minister has addressed the central problem. What he is actually doing for the most prominent directly elected individual in the country is reducing that individual’s responsibility for the police service in that area. The Bill removes from the mayor and the MOPC the powers that currently exist. That means that in future the Mayor of London will have less influence over the Metropolitan Police than he and the MPA currently have. That is an extraordinary reversal of what this Bill seems to be about.
I find it extraordinary that the Minister’s response has not addressed that central question. Of course, the Metropolitan Police has a national and international function, which is why, exceptionally, it should be a joint appointment rather than simply the appointment of the mayor’s office. That is the concession that ought to be made as far as the national and international functions are concerned. I fail to see why assistant commissioners, who rank as chief officers of police everywhere else in the country, are not part of the responsibility of the mayor’s office. The Government are diminishing the authority of the mayor in respect of policing in London, and that runs directly counter to the Government’s own rhetoric as to what this Bill is about.
I urge the Government to consider this in the few remaining days that we have left for the consideration of this Bill. On the basis that I am sure they will wish to do so, and to receive further representations from the Mayor of London on this point, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.”