Lib Dem peers threaten coalition’s elected police commissioners

By Alex Stevenson

Coalition plans to introduce directly elected police commissioners in England and Wales could hit a Liberal Democrat sticking point in the Lords.

Two senior Lib Dem peers, including the party’s home affairs spokesperson Sally Hamwee, intend to disrupt the police reform bill as it works its way through the upper House, the BBC reported.

Proposals to replace police authorities with a single locally elected commissioner, tasked with controlling police force budgets and strategy, have already passed the Commons.

Lady Hamwee and others, including transport spokesperson Bill Bradshaw, could introduce amendments delaying the legislation’s progress through the Lords.

“The only people who would, as it were, stand are people probably with the backing of a political party or possibly in some cases a very dominant local newspaper, and I don’t believe the public would feel any more represented than they are now,” Lord Bradshaw said.

It is not clear how much support the pair have among their colleagues in the upper House. The Lib Dems have been divided on the policy ever since delegates narrowly endorsed the idea at a recent party conference.

A recent poll by YouGov for Liberty showed that just 15% of the public trusted elected police and crime commissioners more than the present system to protect their family.

Sixty-five per cent preferred a chief constable reporting to a police authority, as is currently the case.

Under current plans a commissioner would also be responsible for securing maintenance for the police force and have the power to hire and fire chief constables.

Home secretary Theresa May has argued that the shift towards elected police commissioners would help her wider agenda of refocusing police away from Whitehall targets and towards what matters on the ground.

Lib Dem peers could frustrate her ambitions, however. They are reportedly seeking a lengthy pilot period, which would put back the introduction of commissioners across England and Wales from the current planned May 2012 date.