Would-be Labour Police and Crime Commissioner candidate Bob Ashford is rightly getting a positive press and sympathy from across the political spectrum today for discovering he’s disqualified from standing thanks to a £5 fine he paid 46 years ago.
It is absurd that he can’t stand. It is an absurdity that Parliament deliberately decided to enact, for the ban does not arise from unintended side effects of another measure or from poor drafting. Instead, it was a deliberate decision to introduce an unprecedented restriction on who can stand in the Police and Crime Commissioner elections and to do so knowing it would cover people who did something whilst a child.
Take this example of the debate from 8 February 2011:
Nick Herbert (Minister of State, Justice; Arundel and South Downs, Conservative)
At present [as the Bill was then drafted], the disqualification criteria are limited to those who have served a sentence of three months or more, which is the same relatively stringent test that applies in local government elections.
However, I have reflected on a general agreement—it is certainly the view of the Association of Chief Police Officers—that the importance of the police and crime commissioner post means that it requires a higher standard.
I agree, because those elected individuals will hold a police force to account, and members of the police force are themselves held to a higher standard for obvious reasons. There is a case, therefore, for treating PCCs differently from those in other elected posts. That is why I brought forward the amendment…
The nature of the post demands a higher standard. The standard is higher than any that has been suggested in either Government or Opposition amendments. It is a stringent measure.
Labour was of the same mind:
Vernon Coaker (Gedling, Labour)
Whatever our differences about the role of the police and crime commissioner, this debate is not about whether the model is right, but about the model working as well as it can and the position having credibility if it is set up. All of us would want that, whether we agree with the model or not.
We cannot overestimate the importance that members of the public will put on the integrity of the person who is standing for police and crime commissioner; it would be inconceivable not to have the most stringent test for a PCC. I am pleased that the Minister agrees and has brought forward the amendment…
As the Minister rightly said, that is an exceptionally tough condition of eligibility to stand, but it is right.
What’s more their further exchanges included this:
Herbert: I do not think that we can agree to such stringency but then say, “They may have committed a relatively minor offence when they were young.”
Coaker: I understand the point he made about the provision applying to any imprisonable offence committed by an under-18. He makes the point very well—this agrees with the point that I am making—that the necessity of the credibility and integrity of the person being above reproach is such that the test has to be the same as for a chief constable, or indeed any police officer. It is simply not tenable to have it otherwise.
Cross-party agreement to do something that front line staff have called for sounds great in theory. As this case shows, it can be far from great in practice.