UK Politics

We will overturn Lords police plan defeat, says Clegg

Police officers
Image caption Ministers say the plans will enable the public to have greater say over police priorities

Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg has confirmed that ministers will try to overturn a Lords defeat for their plans for elected police commissioners.

Thirteen Liberal Democrat peers defied the government and backed appointed, rather than directly elected, commissioners for England and Wales.

But Lib Dem leader Mr Clegg told MPs that the plan was in the coalition agreement and should be "honoured".

Critics say plans could put too much power into the hands of one person.

Elections for the first commissioners, with the power to hire and fire chief constables, are planned for May 2012.

Lib Dem rebels

But the government suffered an unexpected defeat over the plans - a key coalition policy - on Wednesday night when peers backed a Lib Dem amendment, by 188 votes to 176.

The coalition agreement between the Lib Dems and Conservatives commits the government to making the police accountable through the oversight of a directly elected individual.

On Thursday Mr Clegg told MPs on the political and constitutional reform committee that the government would try to reinstate the measure, when the bill returns to the Commons.

He said: "I take very seriously indeed even policies which don't flow from one side of the coalition, our collective duty to honour what we've said we're going to do in the coalition agreement."

The plans would see police commissioners replace 41 police authorities and manage police budgets, set local policing priorities and hire and fire chief constables.

'Too much power'

Peers concerned about elected commissioners had been expected to push for the idea to be piloted in a few areas first during debate on the Police Reform Bill on Wednesday night.

But instead Lib Dem rebels and Labour peers joined forces to remove clauses giving the elected commissioners the go-ahead.

They argued commissioners should be chosen by a police and crime panel from among its members instead.

Among those voting against the government were former Liberal leader Lord Steel and former Metropolitan Police commissioners and now cross-bench peers Lord Blair and Lord Condon.

Rebel Lib Dem peer Lord Bradshaw, an ex-chairman of the Thames Valley Police Authority, said he believed the idea was "fundamentally wrong" and there was "no evidence" of safeguards to prevent the commissioners having too much power.

He told the BBC: "It is likely that anyone elected would represent one political party and it would be extremely difficult for them to provide an impartial service to the whole community".

"I believe the statement of the Home Office saying they would reverse this in Parliament is very undemocratic... and quite reprehensible for them to take this line."

'Overplayed hand'

The Conservatives say the current model of police authorities does not allow the public to hold their police service to account and a single elected individual would be more visible and accountable.

Policing minister Nick Herbert said the government would listen to peers' concerns about the powers of elected commissioners.

But he told the BBC's Daily Politics that critical peers had "overplayed their hand" and that it would now be more difficult to discuss extra safeguards, including potential pilot schemes.

"They chucked the whole thing out in spite of it being in the coalition agreement," he said.

Labour said the "heart had been ripped" out of the proposals by the Lords defeat.

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