The government’s plans for elected police and crime commissioners have come under heavy fire in the Lords from peers across the House including former senior officers.
Lord Blair of Boughton, an ex-head of the Metropolitan Police, described the idea as “the most lamentable provision about policing that I have ever encountered”.
One of his predecessors, Lord Imbert, said the plans were “dangerous, daft and grossly ill-advised”.
The provisions in the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, which was being debated in the Lords for the first time on Wednesday night, also met opposition from Liberal Democrats.
The Bill would replace county police authorities in England and Wales with directly elected commissioners and police and crime panels.
Lord Blair, who was in charge of policing in London from 2005 to 2008, said: “I fear that the idea is an unintended changeling, a potential cuckoo in the nest of policing.”
The independent crossbench peer added: “It will set back 60 years of progress towards the establishment of operational independence of the police, which is the jewel in the crown of British policing and its most important contribution to the rule of law in this country, with unforeseeable consequences.”
Lord Blair cast doubt on the idea that a protocol governing relations between a police chief and an elected commissioner would work in practice, claiming London Mayor Boris Johnson had ignored such provisions when dealing with him.
“He merely told me that he would arrange a public vote of no confidence at the next public meeting which I would lose,” said Lord Blair, who subsequently resigned.
Lord Imbert, Met commissioner from 1987 to 1993, warned a British National Party member could be elected commissioner and recalled that, in Nazi Germany and Soviet Russia, political direction and action had taken precedence over real policing.
“I am not saying that that would happen here, but we must beware of the opportunities for insidious and subtle political creep into ordinary, daily, even-handed policing decisions,” he said.
Liberal Democrat Baroness Hamwee, a former home affairs spokeswoman for her party, said she would not try to wreck the Bill as it was in the coalition agreement, but she raised concerns about elected commissioners and said there should be pilot schemes to test the proposals.
A former vice chairman of Thames Valley Police Authority, Liberal Democrat Lord Bradshaw, pledged to seek to amend the Bill to require piloting before it came fully into force.
Lord Bradshaw said: “I am not seeking to destroy this Bill but to have its contents more carefully considered. This legislation has not been thought through. It will politicise the police.”
Home Office minister Baroness Neville-Jones, opening the second reading debate, insisted that, under the new arrangements, the operational independence of the police would remain “sacrosanct”.
Opposing Labour’s demand for local referenda, Lady Neville-Jones said: “We must have a degree of commonality on how it operates.” And she dismissed Labour calls for the inspectorate of constabulary to advise on what was “clearly a political matter”.
The Bill then gained an unopposed second reading and is due to start its Lords committee stage on 11 May.