I thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for recognising me for this maiden speech. It is, after all, five years since my predecessor, Bob Marshall-Andrews, took to the airwaves to concede defeat. Many Members may have heard him admit defeat on that occasion, but not all may have heard him make later what has variously been described as an Al Gore-style retraction or a Lazarus-like recovery.
Bob Marshall-Andrews represented the constituents of Medway for 13 years, highly ably holding the Government to account throughout that period. During that time he faced a pincer attack from my campaign and from his Front Bench. On one occasion, the Labour Whips were so keen to assist my campaign that they leaked the fact that they had given him permission to undertake legal work in Hong Kong for several weeks while Parliament was sitting. Such things are always opaque, but I understand that it was in retaliation for Mr Marshall-Andrews having auctioned a series of Whips’ letters to recalcitrant MPs, to raise money for the Campaign group.
Bob Marshall-Andrews had a number of great successes. He defended the right to trial by jury-I am delighted that my hon. Friend Mr Raab took up that cause this evening-and he helped to prevent the extension of detention without trial. He played a major part locally in bringing the campuses of four universities to our constituency.
The counstituency of Rochester and Strood is the successor to the Medway constituency. It contains two of the five Medway towns. Rochester, with its castle and cathedral, was and should again be a city. Strood, its proud neighbour over the River Medway, grew in the patriotic fervour of the Boer war, along with Chatham dockyard, and that is recorded in street names such as Gordon, Kitchener and Cecil.
The constituency contains the historic dockyard of Chatham, which built and served our Navy from before the time of Pepys, to Nelson’s HMS Victory, to the Falklands conflict. We are proud of that heritage, but we are also proud that, 25 years on, we have recovered from the closure of that dockyard.
The constituency is two thirds urban, but also a third rural. We have the Hoo peninsula, between the Rivers Medway and Thames, which stretches from Grain to Cliffe, and where we saw off the threat of an airport twice the size of Heathrow. The constituency also contains the north downs villages of Cuxton and Halling.
On the substance of the debate tonight, I should declare an interest: I am a member of the Kent police authority. However, on occasion, turkeys do vote for Christmas, and I should like to welcome the coalition’s proposals to abolish police authorities and replace us with directly elected individuals. It must be right that those who exercise the coercive power of the state should be held to account by those whom they serve. That is a progressive cause. It is the cause for centuries of the parish constable against the remote magistracy. It is the cause of London Labour councils and the South Yorkshire police authority through the 1980s. It is the cause of the Levellers and, indeed, the Diggers, to which my hon. Friend the Member for Esher and Walton referred earlier. However, it is a cause today that is represented not by the Opposition, but by the Prime Minister, my right hon. Friend Mr Cameron, who represents not just Burford, but democratic ideals of the Levellers who lost their lives there.
I have heard the odd senior police officer oppose those plans, yet there is no suggestion of any intrusion on the chief constable’s prerogative. The powers that will be transferred are currently those of police authorities. Surely, the objection is not merely that directly elected individuals will exercise those powers more effectively than police authorities have done to date.
We will also codify operational independence. I would caution that that does not mean that the police should be allowed to get along with things solely as they wish. The Metropolitan police have a tradition of independence because we have had a concern to guard against them becoming the arm of central Government. However, our tripartite system is a compromise between counties, where chief constables would occasionally receive instructions, and boroughs, where oversight was much greater. Indeed, the watch committee of the borough of Preston met twice a day-once in the morning, to give the chief constable his instructions, and once in the early evening, to check that he had carried them out.
Before I close, I should like to draw the House’s attention to what I consider the major trend in policing of the past 25 years. It is the movement of power from locally appointed and accountable chief constables to an organisation that is both a private company and a trade union with a closed shop: the Association of Chief Police Officers, which has grown to dominate the field of policing without the sanction of the House. It has its committees and its cabinet, and it issues instructions to us in Kent on how much we should charge for policing the Faversham carnival or the Maidstone water festival. It is right that we should now move and have directly elected police commissioners to rebalance the policing landscape and restore local democracy.
Hansard Source: 7th June 2010