Writing ahead of his debate, Home Affairs Committee member Mark Reckless tells Central Lobby why he is calling for PCCs to replace ACPO within a year.
Democracy rests on the proposition that law is made by the representatives of voters. If the voters do not like the laws, they can throw out their representatives and choose new ones. In reality, the rules that govern us are often not made by Members of Parliament or other elected figures. Rather, laws are determined by a panoply of apparatchiks and quangos that decide, immune from the wishes of the electorate, how the people shall be governed.
Few areas of policy are more important than how the police operate. Historically, the police have been directed by ‘guidelines’ issued by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) – telling the police, on a national basis, how they should behave and what policy directives they should follow.
ACPO stood alongside the variety of quangos who, as Daniel Hannan and Douglas Carswell identified in The Plan, posed a challenge to the restoration of our democracy to good health. Daniel and Douglas pushed strongly for there to be locally elected sheriffs – now known as ‘Police and Crime Commissioners’ – who would take the role of ensuring that local policing is both accountable and tailored to local needs.
ACPO, however, was eager to defend its fiefdom. Its leader, Sir Hugh Orde, threatened to resign rather than see the police become democratically accountable. However, the legislation for Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) was passed and elections were held in late 2012. Admittedly, turnout in those elections was low. There have been, notably with Ann Barnes in Kent, significant mistakes made by PCCs. However, for the most part, PCCs are beginning to find their feet and play an important role in police accountability. I am optimistic that PCCs, in the long term, will be successful in bringing a careful degree of local accountability to the police service.
Given this sea change in how the police are held accountable, ACPO has become increasingly redundant. As General Sir Nick Parker pointed out in his independent review of ACPO, the organisation has a ‘complex and unorthodox’ structure as a private company and lacks transparency and accountability. We should not pay over £4 million every year to maintain an organisation that often serves to undermine the democratic independence and legitimacy of locally elected PCCs.
That is why I am hosting this Westminster Hall debate to examine ACPO and assess whether Parliament supports proposals being considered by PCCs to wind down ACPO, with only a further year’s transitional funding made available for this purpose. Empowering PCCs, rather than the entrenchment of the police establishment, is the best pathway to restoring democratic faith in policing.