Voters offered chance to choose police overseers

VOTERS are to be given the chance to choose who oversees their police force in moves that could put Ministers on a collision course with chief constables.

The coalition Government wants "directly elected individuals" to monitor police in a controversial role that has been a key plank of Tory policy on law and order.

But the proposal is likely to attract criticism from senior police figures who fear it could lead to political interference in front-line decisions.

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Details will be revealed in a Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill which will also include proposals to make police more accountable, create a border force and tackle alcohol-related disorder.

The Tories have argued for years that police authorities should be replaced with elected police commissioners, an idea first developed by the new policing Minister, Nick Herbert, when the party was in opposition.

But new Home Secretary Theresa May dropped any reference to the word "commissioners" in a speech to the Police Federation, which represents rank-and-file officers, last week.

It is believed that this has been done to avoid confusion with senior Scotland Yard officers who are known as Metropolitan Police commissioners.

Mrs May said the directly elected individuals would ensure police chiefs were held to account and served their local people effectively.

She said operational decisions would be left to the police and said the Government also wanted to slash bureaucracy and get officers on the beat.

Britain's most senior officer, Met Police commissioner Sir Paul Stephenson, has said he does not oppose the plans, as long as police independence is maintained.

But the proposal has provoked fears the elections could open the door to single-issue groups with divisive policies, such as the far right British National Party.

LICENSING CHANGES TO TACKLE BINGEING

Britain's licensing laws are to be changed in an attempt to clamp down on binge drinking.

Plans to overhaul the 2003 Licensing Act, which paved the way for 24-hour drinking, were unveiled in the Queen's Speech.

Councils and police will get extra powers to strip pubs and bars of their licences.

The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill will also stop supermarkets and off-licences from selling alcohol below cost price.

The move had been a commitment by both Tories and Liberal Democrats.

It was announced shortly after a scrutiny health inquiry in Leeds concluded that cheap drink and the licensing laws had led to a rise in alcohol-related health problems and disorder.

These concerns were highlighted in an open letter signed by members of the Association of Police Authorities (APA), including West Yorkshire Police Authority chairman Mark Burns-Williamson.

Warning that the public "is unaware of the turmoil that may be unleashed by the proposals", the APA letter read: "Police authorities want to ensure that policing continues to be influenced at local and national voices by community voices, not by unconstrained individuals who may have a politically motivated agenda."

The Bill will also amend health and safety laws that obstruct "commonsense policing" and hand police stronger powers to tackle alcohol-fuelled trouble.

A dedicated Border Police Force will be created from a merger between the UK Border Agency and the Serious Organised Crime Agency.