My Lords, we have just had a taste of eloquent things to come. It gives me great pleasure to welcome my noble friend Lord Hannan and to be the first to congratulate him on his maiden speech.
He is well known to your Lordships as one of the intellectual architects of Euroscepticism. He won the respect of his opponents but, to the dismay of many, he does not fit their cherished caricature of Eurosceptics as insular, Europhobic ignoramuses. Far from being insular, he was not even born on this island. Like Paddington Bear, he hails from darkest Peru, though I suspect that the London terminus via which young Daniel was dispatched to his schooling was not Paddington but Waterloo. He is not just the Waterloo bear of British politics, but a member of that little-recognised species—the Europhile Eurosceptic. He speaks Spanish as well as French, is steeped in European culture, and is a notable Shakespearean scholar.
He has reminded me that I first met him in the early 1990s at the Oxford Union, during the annual no confidence debate. I followed his rapid rise to fame in this country and then in Europe, where, as an MEP, he quixotically devoted 21 years of his life to extricating this country from the EU and doing himself out of a job. His abiding passion is freedom—the freedoms we invented in this country. I advise all noble Members to read How We Invented Freedom & Why It Matters. It is about the freedom to govern ourselves and make our own laws—now largely achieved—and the freedom of trade as an engine of prosperity. I am sure he will make notable contributions on these issues in your Lordships’ House.
I turn to the statutory instrument. The whole purpose of elected commissioners was to strengthen links between our citizen police force and the public. Requiring candidates for this office to demonstrate a measure of public support by obtaining a spread of nominations is one aspect of that. It is understandable that, during the pandemic, this requirement has been curtailed. Once the pandemic is over, it is important that it be reinstated.
It is fair to say that the institution of elected commissioners has been slow to gather active public participation, though it is growing, but it is salutary to remember how remote and unaccountable police authorities—and watch committees before them—were to the public prior to these commissioners. The police authority typically consisted of nine councillors. They had been elected, but not for the specific task of representing the public in supervising the police force. There were also eight lay independent members, chosen by the authority itself from a list vetted by the Home Office. In my experience, the result was a committee which was almost entirely captured by the police force that it was intended to supervise, so the force set its own priorities rather than having the public’s priorities indicated to it. I recall the contemptuous way in which police authorities—in an echo of the police themselves—rejected public calls for more bobbies on the beat. They were unaware of the evidence from other Anglo-Saxon countries—or, when they were made aware, they rejected it—that bobbies on the beat, particularly if they patrol as individuals rather than in pairs and therefore have to talk to members of the public rather than to their colleagues, can be extremely effective both in garnering information and in deterring crime. As a result of the contempt with which that idea was held in professional areas and upheld by police authorities, police on the beat became as rare as cats’ teeth.
This was always brought home to be when reading PG Wodehouse—which I do several times a year. In almost every novel, the hero will go out into the street and hail the nearest bobby. Now he would have to wait for months or weeks to do so in this country. I hope that the result of police commissioners will be to bring to police forces an awareness that the public value their services so much that they would like to see more of them.