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Nick Herbert MP: Ignore the criticisms of Police and Crime Commissioners - we are giving the people a voice

Herbert Nick Jan 2012Nick Herbert is the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice. Follow Nick on Twitter.

Forget the carping about Police and Crime Commissioner elections. It's the summer silly season and the media are landing on anything they can to whip up a story. So - shock, horror - candidates will be disqualified if they have convictions for an imprisonable offence. Just imagine the BBC's sanctimonious reaction if they'd discovered someone standing with a conviction.

And the senior judiciary don't think it's appropriate for Police and Crime Commissioners also to sit as magistrates. Perhaps they have a point. After all, there may be a particular conflict since PCCs will have a statutory role to promote the interests of victims.

Now the critics who complained about the cost of the reform want tens of millions more spent on funding an election address for PCC candidates. But there's no such funding for local elections. And there will be a website with all the candidates' details, plus a printed version for anyone who wants one, plus an Electoral Commission leaflet delivered to every household, plus a national information campaign about the elections. The BBC's claim that independent candidates will "get no help at all" is demonstrably false.

These are all debating issues, and they are beside the main point. The fundamental change is this: on 15th November, for the first time outside London, the public in England and Wales will be able to elect someone to represent their views on crime, hold the police to account, and demand local action.

The police will not be politicised. A statutory protocol protects the operational independence of officers to make arrests and pursue investigations free from political interference. And today I am publishing a draft 'Oath of Impartiality' which newly elected Police and Crime Commissioners will be required to swear publicly on taking office, declaring that they will serve the whole community without fear or favour.

But the police are a monopoly service. You can't choose your local force. Someone has to set the plan, the budget, decide how much money to raise for the police through council tax, appoint the chief constable and hold the force to account.

Conservatives should cheer a policy which brings an end to Labour's top-down, bureaucratic meddling with a key public service, and which substitutes elected figures who are accountable for appointed authorities which - for all their good work - are not. 

And I believe that Conservatives will cheer when they hear more from their candidates, newly selected by the membership. I've just completed a fortnight touring around England meeting them, and I've been both encouraged and impressed. In nearly every police force area now - we have a few selections to go - we have new champions for the local community on law and order.

Of course the media are obsessed with celebrity, but the demand for household names to become PCCs misses the point. These candidates are by definition local - they are legally required to live in their police force area. They know what their communities want and they care about local law and order. And they bring significant experience to their role.

Some have served at a senior level in the military, such as Air Chief Marshall Sir Clive Loader, our candidate in Leicestershire. Others have direct experience as police officers, such as former Assistant Chief Constable John Dwyer in Cheshire. Some have worked in the local criminal justice system, such as Richard Rhodes, the Chairman of Probation in Cumbria, or Victoria Atkins, a senior crown prosecutor, in Gloucestershire.

A number have served as local magistrates or councillors, and many have useful business experience. With strong local credibility, each is setting out their promise to their communities. Good Conservative themes are emerging: cutting red tape to get officers on the streets; boosting volunteer police officers ("specials") to recruit new parish constables; spending local taxpayers' money wisely to protect the frontline, and above all pledging resolute action on anti-social behaviour and local crime.

In London, the Mayor already has this responsibility for policing, and Londoners like it. They wouldn't choose to go back to an unelected committee. We should see the same opportunity across the country.  Devolving power and responsibility to people and communities is a cornerstone of today's Conservatism.  And giving the public power to take action on crime is a great cause.

Fighting the elections for Police and Crime Commissioners on November 15th shouldn't just be seen by local Conservatives as a necessity. We have always been seen as the Party of law and order. This is the opportunity for our candidates to champion the public who want action on anti-social behaviour and crime that affects them. Police and Crime Commissioners will also give a voice to the victims of crime for the first time.

Up against them will be Labour candidates with no credibility on either the policy or policing. In office, Labour wanted the democratic reform of police authorities but failed to deliver. Of course they then opportunistically opposed our reform. Now their candidates want the public's votes. They complain that the public isn't motivated, yet they attack the very office for which they are standing.

Labour's single policy on policing is to oppose cuts in budgets. So where will their candidates get the money from to prevent savings from having to be made? Yvette Cooper is committed to the same scale of spending reductions on the police as we are. Labour's stance on the police lacks all credibility, and the public will see it.

As the recent report by Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary showed, police forces are protecting the frontline and largely maintaining their service to the public while making savings. Crucially, the vast majority of police forces are cutting crime. The report has given the lie to Labour's scaremongering claim that cuts would cause a crime-wave.

Conservatives will be trusted on law and order because we trust the people. Our instincts on human rights, on justice and on personal responsibility are in tune with the people's. Our candidate in Humberside, Matthew Grove, demonstrated this perfectly on the day I met him, successfully opposing a misguided police authority scheme to reward offenders with free gym passes.

Have no truck with the sniping of those who never wanted this democratic reform, who fear that the people are about to be given a voice. That's exactly why this reform is right - and worth campaigning for.

You can find information about Conservative candidates in your area here and Policy Exchange has launched a website showing all the candidates here.


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