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Clegg 'sympathy' for police commissioner pilots

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But the deputy prime minister said the government remained committed to the policy of directly-elected commissioners for police forces across England and Wales - a flagship pledge in the Conservative Party’s manifesto which was also included in last May’s coalition agreement.

Liberal Democrat peers in the House of Lords have sought to delay the introduction of elected commissioners, with a proposal tabled by the chair of the party’s home affairs policy committee Baroness Hamwee for pilot schemes to see how the idea works in practice.

The first commissioners, with the power to hire and fire chief constables, are planned to be in place by May next year, but this deadline could be set back by as much as three years if Lady Hamwee’s proposals are accepted.

Mr Clegg said today that the coalition agreement, which includes “measures to make the police more accountable through oversight by a directly-elected individual”, was “chiselled in a tablet of stone and we will stick to it”.

But he told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “I have got a lot of sympathy with people who say that when you make big changes - whether in the health system, the police system or education - it is always best to work with the evidence, to work with the grain of the evidence.

“If you can pilot something in an initial period, I think most people would find that an entirely rational way of going about things.

“The implications of what Baroness Hamwee is saying is quite complex in terms of how it works in practice, but of course we are prepared to look at it.”

Lady Hamwee’s proposals were now “part of the debate” going on within government over the future of policing, he said.

“The government policy is to implement this policy,” said Mr Clegg. “How you get from A to B, whether you pilot it along the way, is something which is a perfectly legitimate area for debate.

“We haven’t collectively discussed it yet as a government.”

The idea of piloting elected commissioners has won support from the Association of Police Authorities whose deputy chair Ann Barnes said: “The risks of introducing elected police commissioners into the UK are clear – we could see politicisation, higher costs, the concentration of powers over policing with less influence for minorities and important policing priorities neglected.

“What are less clear are the benefits being claimed for this think-tank policy by its proponents.”

She said there was no evidence of public support, “but if local people wish to trial this idea, we would support that”.

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