I beg to move,
That this House has considered the Sixth Report of the Home Affairs Committee, Session 2021-22, Police Conduct and Complaints, HC 140, and the Government response, HC 1264.
It is a rare pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Ms Ghani, in this packed Chamber here today. I have the honour—as someone who is not Chair of the Home Affairs Committee—to present our report and findings, largely because I am the only one who has been on the Committee long enough to remember the report’s origins and who sat through all of the sessions. I am delighted to pick up that baton and take the challenge.
The Home Affairs Committee started its investigation in 2015. We had wanted to have a proper inquiry and report for some time, which we eventually did under the esteemed chairmanship of the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), who chairs the Committee now and will speak later.
The Independent Office for Police Conduct was created in January 2018 to handle complaints against police officers and forces in England and Wales. It replaced various predecessors that had failed to keep public trust in the idea that police officers who fall below the high standards required of them are properly punished for breaches of codes of behaviour and conduct. The IOPC has a really important role, as we would all agree and as I am sure the Minister would emphasise, in maintaining public confidence in the police service in this country, where we police by consent. I will touch on some of the recommendations of the inquiry, what we found and why we did the inquiry, and also on an update from the head of the IOPC. I am largely going to leave the Government’s response to the Minister.
One thing that the Minister can now take credit for is that the Government have at last responded to our Macpherson inquiry report, which we produced a very long time ago. One of our recommendations was to get on with producing the Government’s response to our Macpherson inquiry report, and that happened a few weeks ago, but it was not a good exercise in responding speedily to a Select Committee report. I will leave that there, but the Minister might care to comment later.
It should be clear that a police officer accused of, for example, mistreating a member of the public or bullying colleagues or subordinates should be subject, like any other person working in the public service, to investigation and sanctions if proven to have done so. Public confidence is undermined if misconduct is not appropriately recognised, dealt with and punished. The Committee inquiry looked at whether the new IOPC was fulfilling its remits: bringing officers more quickly and successfully to book for conduct unbecoming and restoring public confidence in the police complaints and discipline system.
During the inquiry numerous examples of questionable policing conduct occurred—and far worse. Sadly, we are all too familiar with the high profile and appalling cases that have hit the headlines in recent months and years. The murder of Sarah Everard by a serving police officer who used his office to trap her is probably by far the most egregious example. Other prominent cases include the photographing of the bodies of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman by two officers who were supposed to be guarding a crime scene. In both cases, officer behaviour was criminal and substantial jail sentences have rightly followed, including a whole-life sentence for the killer of Sarah Everard.
Criminal activity goes beyond the bounds of the police conduct and complaints process, but there is behaviour below the criminal threshold that goes well beyond the bounds of acceptable professional conduct. At Charing Cross police station in London, the IOPC revealed a series of revolting sexist, misogynist and racist messages between serving police officers as well as a culture of bullying and racism. Three officers lost their jobs and others received internal disciplinary action, from retraining to official reprimand. The IOPC has recently ordered a fully independent investigation into the behaviour of six officers who stopped and searched a car belonging to the athletes Bianca Williams and Ricardo dos Santos, who were stopped in Maida Vale in 2020. It was able to do that under new powers that have just come in to allow the IOPC to investigate without referral and for it to present its own case at police misconduct hearings.
I want to spend a little time now on Operation Midland. Indeed, the genesis of this report was some hearings that the Home Affairs Committee undertook back in 2015 regarding Operation Midland, which hon. Members will remember was a high-profile case of a completely incompetent, bungled and wasteful investigation over a long time of some high-profile figures in politics and the military. We investigated and interviewed some of the senior officers involved in that case. High-profile figures such as Lord Brittan, Field Marshall Bramall—sadly, both are now dead—and Harvey Proctor were the subject of long-running police investigations. At the inquiry, we heard from Lady Brittan, Lord Brittan’s widow.
We heard about the appalling miscarriage of justice; key figures had been hounded by an incompetent police operation and an appalling waste of resources on the basis of flimsy evidence produced by the now-revealed and now-jailed fantasist Carl Beech. That was despite repeated warnings from officers and others, who have also been badly treated by the Metropolitan police, that the long-running and costly investigation was never going to go anywhere and the evidence was not there. However, it resulted in no penalties and no punishment against the main senior officers involved. Indeed, several were promoted and some remain in lucrative and senior positions within the police service.
The Home Affairs Committee has a long-standing interest in the case and since we took testimony from some of those officers back in 2015, those testimonies have been completely and utterly discredited. Operation Midland was succeeded by Operation Vincente, and then Operation Kentia, commissioned by the IOPC, looked into the way the Met had handled the whole process. We had a further damning report by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and fire and rescue services in 2020. The judge, Sir Richard Henriques, was commissioned to investigate the Met, but he also made very severe criticism of the way the IOPC had investigated the case. He said:
“The operation was conducted in a completely disordered and chaotic manner and was littered with mistakes, all of which could and should have been avoided by officers who were subsequently promoted.”
The force did little to improve practices for nearly three years. As Sir Richard says,
“So far as I know not one of my recommendations has either been accepted or rejected by the Metropolitan Police.”
A district judge was knowingly misled into issuing search warrants against the Brittans and there are reasonable grounds to believe that criminal acts have been committed, not by those being investigated but by the investigators, as Sir Richard Henriques found. It took almost three years for the IOPC to publish its findings in the Operation Midland affair. The lead investigator contacted Sir Richard 20 months into the investigation and readily conceded her lack of knowledge, training or education in relevant criminal proceedings. In Sir Richard’s review of Operation Midland he said he had called for a rigorous investigation and indicated that there were many questions to be asked. The IOPC failed in both respects.
HMICFRS’s report found that senior officers were preoccupied with restricting access to the Henriques report and that the Met had no plan to enact the reforms, took
“an underwhelming approach to learning the lessons”
and did almost nothing for three years. I emphasise again that no officers have been penalised as a result of Operation Midland and the subsequent unravelling of the appalling circumstances that allowed it to take place and ruin the lives of certain individuals and their families over many years.
We use that as an example because the IOPC should have been on that. It should have taken a high-profile case of clear deficiencies in police processes and accountability, looked at it properly and found that certain individuals were sorely lacking in the carrying out of their duties—but it failed to do that. Sir Richard Henriques claimed that it was a complete whitewash of the actual circumstances. That is why it is so important that we have a police complaints body that can be relied on and inspire confidence in the public. If high-profile figures, who have a recourse to parliamentary and other platforms, can be dragged down by an incompetent police operation that was not apprehended by the IOPC, what hope have our constituents with legitimate complaints about the way that they have been dealt with by the police that the IOPC will investigate fairly and thoroughly?
Our inquiry found that trust in the police was particularly low among young people, as well as among black and other minority ethnic members of our society. There is a particular problem in London. We heard in the last few days that the Met is being put in special measures. There are issues that we flag in our report that need to be considered as part of the rehabilitation of the image of the Metropolitan police and how it regains the trust of the public.
There is an old argument that such cases arise from the actions of a few bad apples spoiling the entire barrel. The volume of high-profile and successful complaints against police officers tests that argument to destruction. The police themselves no longer hold to the bad apple theory. Earlier this year, the acting Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Stephen House, told the Home Affairs Committee,
“It is not a few bad apples. You cannot simply say that Wayne Couzens and a couple of other people have done something wrong. I would suggest that that has been the spearhead of the problem, but
there is a wider issue within the organisation, which we acknowledge and we are dealing with.”
I hope that is the case.
A robust independent regulator, able to quickly resolve complaints and impose sanctions that fit the misconduct of officers, is essential to public trust. Since its foundation, the IOPC has gone some way to restoring that trust—we acknowledge that in our report. The time taken to resolve complaints has reduced significantly, with the majority now dealt with in less than a year. However, the Committee’s inquiry, while recognising that success, identified a number of areas for further improvement. Just this week, we have had further information from the head of the IOPC, Michael Lockwood, about the continued progress it is making. The Home Office will be publishing its annual report with more detail in due course; the Minister may wish to comment on that.
Michael Lockwood pointed out in that letter that 90% of all independent investigations that it started were completed with 12 months. That compares favourably to the 68% of investigations completed within 12 months in the final year of the Independent Police Complaints Commission. However, while the target was 50 days for completion of the inquiry, the actual result—78 working days for completion—fell well short. In addition to that, Michael Lockwood said that the IOPC made 171 learning recommendations, which were shared with all the forces in England and Wales or directed to national organisations such as the National Police Chiefs’ Council and the College of Policing. Where a learning recommendation is issued under that power, the recipient is required to provide a response. Out of the 96 recommendations issued where a response has been received, 94% were accepted. That is a high level and is to be welcomed.
The issue of police officers’ co-operation with investigations was raised by the Committee. The guidance sets out what the IOPC considers co-operation should look like in general terms, and what police witnesses can expect. In its response to the Committee’s report, the IOPC reported progress on the number of cases awaiting a decision for more than 12 months. I think we can take that as a win for the Committee and, indeed, for the way Select Committees do their work, because Michael Lockwood goes on to say:
“Your letter to the Director of Public Prosecutions regarding these issues has helpfully brought about a greater focus and collaborative effort between our respective organisations to better understand the root causes of possible delays. We are clear there is a shared responsibility to work towards improved timeliness in decision making post investigation. To this end we are collating additional information on our cases with the CPS and agreeing how we might put in place better systems for sharing information and escalating cases.”
The IOPC made further recommendations to the England and Wales police forces about working together to develop guidelines and commissioning research into the trauma caused—predominantly to people from black, Asian and other minority ethnic backgrounds, including children and young people—by the use of stop and search, which is a topical issue that has come up in the House recently. As a result of the report, the IOPC has undertaken widespread consultation. It is clear from Michael Lockwood’s words that our report has served a positive purpose and hit home, and the IOPC has picked up many of our recommendations. So far, so good, but there is still a lot more of the job to be done.
It is an inevitable part of any complaints system that those whose complaints are not upheld will be discontent. There is none the less a perception that complaints against police officers are unlikely to succeed and that investigations are over-complex, take too long and frequently result in limited action, even against officers who have been found guilty of misconduct. It should be clear that a police officer accused of mistreating a member of the public, or of bullying colleagues or subordinates, should be subject to investigation and—if proven to have done so—sanctioned, just like any other person working in a public service. Public confidence is undermined if misconduct is not appropriately punished, and the Home Office and the Home Secretary need to ensure that that message is received and acted on at the highest level of our 43 police forces, particularly as a new commissioner is chosen for the Metropolitan police.
During our inquiry, the question arose as to whether the IOPC should be staffed by investigators who are not former police officers. Opinion was divided on whether those who had previously served in the police should be excluded because they would potentially be marking their own homework or that of their colleagues. On the other side of the argument, we acknowledge that ex-police officers bring skills learned on the job and an understanding of police culture that is beneficial in investigations. It seems that an appropriate balance of former serving officers and investigators with other backgrounds is the right one to strike, but it may be that the IOPC should seek to widen its pool of potential candidates to include those with investigative experience from other spheres, including former military personnel.
At a more technical level, the IOPC has been headed since its creation by a director general without the support and oversight of an independent chair of the board, with Michael Lockwood effectively acting in both roles. He has held that post and been responsible for driving some of the improvements in the speed of investigations, as I have already mentioned. Mr Lockwood was relaxed when he gave us evidence on whether the time had come for more normal arrangements to be made for the organisation’s governance, as we would typically find in any business. It is now very rare, and often frowned upon, to find the same person occupying the roles of chair and chief executive of a board of a company. The Committee therefore recommended that the Government consider appointing a chair to the IOPC. We are glad to see from its response that the question will be considered in an upcoming review, and we hope that a fully accountable governance structure can now be put in place.
Perhaps the most worrying evidence we heard was of obstruction and delay in dealing with complaints, with the IOPC blaming officers for delays, and policing organisations blaming the IOPC. We recommend the creation of a culture, led from the top, that requires rapid, open and non-defensive responses to complaints about conduct. Quick and fair decisions are essential both to satisfy members of the public who complain about conduct and to clear the names of police officers who may be falsely accused of breaching standards, whose reputations can only suffer from long, dragged-out cases, and whose careers may be in limbo while an investigation is ongoing.
The IOPC could do more to use its powers actively to call to account officers who appear not to co-operate with investigations, and chief constables should also do all in their power to ensure that officers do not treat complaints as an inconvenience or a triviality. IOPC reports on cases below the level of the egregious examples I gave earlier in my speech now result in learning recommendations for forces, and a strong focus is needed to ensure that the learning available is adopted and embedded within the police.
On the delay issue, I would cite an example from my own experience. Some years ago, I was the subject of a police investigation as a result of a wholly vexatious complaint from a constituent. That later became the subject of an inquiry by the Standards Committee that found that the chief constable of Sussex had been in breach of parliamentary protocols and of privilege. I subsequently lodged a complaint with the forerunner of the IOPC, which took well over three years to investigate. During that process, the possibility of criminal behaviour by one of the investigating officers was raised, because he had frustrated the investigation process to play for time.
When the complaint body reported, it upheld four of my five complaints, casting a good deal of blame on the officers involved, right up to the chief constable of Sussex. The problem was that when the report eventually came out, every single senior officer who was a subject of the report had retired and no action could be taken against them. It is that sort of frustration that people feel, and there is no excuse for such long, drawn-out investigations. Such investigations are not in anybody’s interest, be they the complainer or the target of the investigations. I am glad that measures, which the Minister may want to mention, have been put in place to allow retrospective action to be taken if it so happens that police officers are no longer employed directly in the police force.
I will touch briefly on the Committee’s other main conclusions. I mentioned that we recommended that the role of chair and chief executive should be split, and the Government have responded to that. We urge the Government to consider police complaints as part of the review of the police and crime commissioner model that is currently under way, and to make an early assessment of PCC involvement in the police complaints system.
PCCs are an under-utilised resource. They exist to be democratic bodies that are accountable to local residents and taxpayers, and have developed a good deal of knowledge. My own PCC, Katy Bourne, is one of the most experienced and respected of the PCCs, and has undertaken a lot of helpful initiatives and is very public facing. We should involve PCCs more in how we deal with complaints, because they do not want to have lots of complaints against their own police constabulary. It would inform their work better if they were more integrated with the complaints that come in, as he or she could see whether there is a problem that they need to do something about at a senior level. That is an important Committee recommendation for the Home Office on the work it is currently undertaking.
It may be too soon to understand whether PCC involvement in the police complaints system is realising the benefits that the Government hope for, but we are concerned that the Government are not doing enough to monitor the implementation of the new PCC complaints model or to encourage uptake. We note that there are enhanced opportunities for PCCs to play a greater role in the local complaints process following the reforms in 2020. The three models present a unique opportunity for PCCs as part of their complaint handling responsibilities proactively and systematically to support more effective complaint systems within their forces, although what they do should not delay complaint handling processes any further.
We urge the Government to fund PCCs adequately, so they are able to take on those models as a minimum requirement in their complaint handling roles. This will provide PCCs the opportunity to work more closely with their forces, for example, to record and systematically monitor the root causes of complaints and recurrent issues that affect their communities disproportionately and how their forces resolve those issues. The input of PCCs and their commitment to do something about the issue within their local constabularies should be a win-win situation for PCCs and for the complaints process.
The Government’s recent changes to the police complaints and discipline system were intended to simplify and speed up the process. None the less, the language used to explain systems to members of the public who wish to make complaints remains too complex and technical, which contributes to public disengagement and lack of confidence in the system.
The Committee recommended that the police discipline system needs to be simpler and more transparent. All key stakeholders in the policing sphere—the IOPC, the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the forces, the College of Policing and the Crown Prosecution Service—should be required to publish plain language versions of the systems available in different languages and accessible formats, which should be made available online and in print.
I mentioned earlier that there is a clear absence of urgency and a culture of non-co-operation from some police forces involved in investigations. Appropriate sanctions must therefore follow for any officer with disciplinary proceedings, whether serving or retired. Specific reforms were made to the discipline system under the implementation of the 2020 reforms, including the possibility for former officers to face disciplinary proceedings if allegations came to light within 12 months of their leaving the force, but that still may not be thorough enough.
The example of the IOPC taking seven years to clear one police officer of misconduct is an exceptional case, but demonstrates why the IOPC must focus its efforts on concluding investigations as quickly as possible. Quite aside from the effect on an individual’s morale, the removal of officers under investigation from frontline duties for lengthy periods may add to the strain on police resources generally, as well as blighting that officer’s career. The IOPC must also take care that its power to reinvestigate cases already concluded locally is used sparingly and when there is a clear public interest in undertaking further inquiry.
We recommended that a culture needs to be created within police forces—established by and led from the top—that requires rapid, open and non-defensive response to complaints about conduct, both to deal with misconduct where it arises, and to clear the names and reputations of officers who have not transgressed. This should not just be a finger-pointing exercise. It must be a learning exercise as well.
From my experience—such as on the child safeguarding programme or with the work of the former Secretary of State for Health, my right hon. Friend the Member for South West Surrey (Jeremy Hunt), on accidents at work and patients who have suffered severe consequences—this is not just a question of whether it was an incompetent police officer, or surgeon in the health case, or child protection officer; it is about asking how the system allowed it to happen. That is the so-called black box approach, and we need to see far more of it in policing to encourage people to come forward when there are problems, so that we can make the problems right without those people being scared doing so because somebody will point a finger at them and everybody will automatically be blamed. It can be down to the system that stands in the way of people doing their jobs as best they can.
The IOPC must use its powers effectively to minimise delays to investigations at an early stage of the process. It should proactively call to account those responsible for delays or who refuse to co-operate with investigations. Police forces, individual officers and their representative organisations must take more responsibility for rooting out bad behaviour and lifting the cloud of complaint against officers who have done their exceptionally difficult job properly.
We welcome the super-complaints process and are encouraged by the Home Office’s pledge to review the designated bodies that can submit super-complaints on systemic issues in policing in order to include a broader range of organisations, including disability organisations. We urge the Home Office to highlight on its super-complaints website that the 16 designated bodies should collaborate with non-designated bodies as appropriate to make a complaint on matters raised by non-designated bodies.
We recommend that the Government monitor and review biannually how effectively local policing bodies are holding their chief constables accountable for implementing IOPC recommendations in their forces, and report the outcomes to the Select Committee. We urge the Government to review how the IOPC, the HMICFRS and coroners’ learning recommendations are reported to the public in a more joined-up and meaningful way, and we recommend that data be published centrally in order to simplify and streamline access to this important information.
There are a lot of sensible and proportionate recommendations there. In many cases, the Government and the Home Office have responded favourably.
Our report and the evidence we published alongside it contains many examples of what police misconduct feels like to members of the public who experience it. Aside from the high-profile examples I have given, most cases are more routine, more local and more capable of quick resolution. Typical complaints may be about how the police have treated a person—rudeness, use of excessive force, abuse of rights or wrongful arrest, for example. There is no excuse for those complaints not to be turned around much more rapidly.
As I said at the outset, our society is policed by consent. We give police officers considerable powers to do a job that is often difficult, dangerous and always essential to our safety and security, and the vast majority of officers perform that duty in an exemplary manner. The granting of those powers comes, however, with a duty to the public, who the police serve—that the police will conduct themselves according to the highest possible standards of professional behaviour.
Officers who commit crimes are subject to the full force of the law. Steps have been taken to ensure that those who fall below those standards are identified, and that sanctions are taken, ranging from retraining to dismissal from the force. The IOPC deserves credit for those steps. It also requires our exhortation to go further and faster to re-establish full trust in our constabularies. Part of the job is done, but there is more to go.
Before I call other colleagues, I must put it on record that I was also once a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee, so I look forward to the Minister’s response. I can confirm the long-standing membership of the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton)—maybe we should refer to him as the “Father of the Committee”.
It is a pleasure to serve under you this afternoon, Ms Ghani. I think it is an excellent idea to recognise the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) and his long-standing membership of the Home Affairs Committee. His institutional memory of what has happened on that Committee has certainly been important not only in putting together this report, but in our work on policing.
The hon. Member has set out clearly and effectively the findings and recommendations of our report. It is quite clear that the Home Affairs Committee inquiry looked at the role and remit of the IOPC in relation to the police complaints and discipline system, and explored the continuing disquiet at the way in which police forces in England and Wales investigate and deal with complaints about the conduct of forces and individual officers. Importantly, we sought to consider what changes might be required to improve public confidence in the police complaints and discipline system.
We thought it was important to undertake parliamentary scrutiny of that important role, given, as the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham said, the establishment of the newly created IOPC in January 2018, and because the Committee had not looked at the topic for nine years, since the publication of its last report on the matter—I do not think the hon. Gentleman was a member of the Committee at that point. Our report has covered several different areas, which were set out effectively. I will focus my contribution on a couple of areas that we looked at in the Committee that will hopefully complement what the hon. Gentleman said in his opening remarks. First, I will focus on the treatment of vulnerable adults, specifically people with autism, and how they interact in the police complaints process.
A well-functioning conduct and complaints system is essential to maintaining the trust in the balance created by the founding Peel principles between the police and public. Despite the welcome reforms and improvements, some submissions to our inquiry demonstrate that there is continuing dissatisfaction with the handling of police complaints, and that much more work is needed to address both complainants’ and officers’ concerns. In our report, we noted that the IOPC impact report 2020-21 stated that 43% of people surveyed were confident that the IOPC did a good job, compared with 44% in 2019-20. Obviously, there is still a lot of work to do.
In the evidence heard and received during the course of our inquiry, individuals with autism and parents of children with autism outlined systemic issues in their treatment in the police complaints and criminal justice process. Many felt they had been badly let down by the IOPC and the police, and that that had caused distress to families and friends.
Fiona Laskaris, whose autistic son Christopher was unlawfully killed by a drug addict in 2016, told us:
“the IOPC urgently needs to start engaging in a meaningful way in cases involving people with disabilities, and particularly… with autism”.
Fiona argued that cases involving people with autism
“warrant an enhanced level of independent scrutiny”
and suggested the existing statutory safeguarding duties to protect vulnerable adults who come into contact with the police were not working.
We received anonymous evidence that one autistic person, who had experienced frequent contact with the police, including being arrested for alleged attacks, was not treated as a vulnerable adult, even though they informed the police they were autistic and had requested an appropriate adult for assistance. The anonymous submission claimed that the police “never acknowledge or check” their autism awareness card, even when their wallet is being searched, which always happens when the police seize personal items.
The Home Secretary wrote to the Committee on 9 December 2021 and said,
“Many police forces have developed additional training programmes”
“various autism alert card schemes, apps, and the creation of easy-read ‘widget-based’ sheets (using icons or pictographs) to aid communication in custody suites.”
She highlighted the IOPC statutory guidance for forces on complaint handling, which outlines the
“importance of accessibility as well as the duty under the Equality Act 2010 to make reasonable adjustments to ensure that a disabled person does not suffer any substantial disadvantage when accessing a service.”
The Home Secretary said it was
“important that those dealing with complaints recognise the particular vulnerabilities of individuals with autism”.
In spite of these welcome statements by the Home Secretary, some evidence to our Committee suggests that autistic people are still not always been treated fairly by the police.
I want to say a little more about super-complaints, which the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham commented on. In her evidence to the Committee, Fiona Laskaris, who I mentioned earlier, proposed that the super-complaints process could be used to investigate system failures in the treatment of vulnerable adults, specifically people with autism. Since November 2018, the super-complaints process has enabled designated public and charitable organisations to ask HMICFRS, the IOPC and the College of Policing to consider investigating what they think are systemic issues affecting policing in England and Wales.
Our report expressed concern that of the 16 organisations designated by the Home Office that can raise such issues or concerns on behalf of the public, no specialist organisation represents complainants with disabilities, including autism. The Home Secretary wrote to the Committee in December 2021 and pledged to review the designated bodies that can submit super-complaints on systemic issues in policing to include a broader range of organisations, including disability organisations. We welcome that commitment, but nearly two years on, I hope the Minister can confirm when the Government will review the super-complaints system. As we have heard, the Home Secretary confirmed to the Committee that a designated body should collaborate with non-designated organisations and, where appropriate, make a complaint on the basis of the matters raised.
Our recommendation was that the Home Office should highlight on its super-complaints website that the 16 designated bodies should collaborate with non-designated bodies as appropriate to make a complaint on matters raised by those non-designated bodies. We are pleased that the Government have made that change on their super-complaints website, but we urge them, the IOPC and other relevant policing bodies to make the public aware that the super-complaints process is accessible to all groups and interests.
I thank everybody who assisted the Home Affairs Committee in our inquiry. We will be watching what happens on our recommendations in this area, and following progress over the months and years to come on this important issue, as we know police misconduct and complaints have been in the news a lot in recent times, and it is very much an issue that the public care about.
Thank you, Ms Ghani; it is a real pleasure to serve under your chairmanship. I was on the Home Affairs Committee at the same time as you, and I agree with you that we should perhaps call the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) the Father of the Committee.
Absolutely. I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson), who chairs the Committee, and the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham for securing this important debate, and I thank the wider Committee for its important and timely scrutiny of this issue. Like both Members have said, it is very much in the news at the moment—it is top of the agenda, and rightly so.
It is also right that we thank those who submitted evidence, written or oral, to the inquiry to help shine a light on this issue. In particular, my right hon. Friend referred to the anonymous submissions, which are very significant. I thank her for highlighting the issue of autism and disability. Will the Minister say where we are with the super-complaints and the 16 designated bodies? We do not have anybody representing those with disabilities; will the Government be making any recommendations to get an organisation that does? What will they do to strengthen that process?
I thank the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham for highlighting his personal experience, of which I was unaware, with respect to Operation Midland. As he said, we are in privileged positions, so the fact that it took him three years to get a resolution, with doors closed on him and the closing of ranks right up to the chief constable of Sussex, is deeply worrying. That was the situation despite our being in positions of power and privilege—even more reason for us to ensure that the Government respond appropriately to this debate and take on the Committee’s recommendations.
The official Opposition believe that the Committee’s report is a timely and thorough examination of the police complaints process, and that the Government must properly heed its recommendations. All Members—Government and Opposition—support the long-standing principle of policing by consent in this country. That principle is fundamental to maintaining public support in our criminal justice system, and law and order more widely.
The hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham referred to the horrible murders of Nicole Smallman and Bibaa Henry. The fact that the police officers took those horrific pictures of the bodies was used by the defence team during the trial. This is not just about the complaints; it is about the impact of those complaints and what that can lead to with respect to justice for victims of crime.
The principle of policing by consent separates our policing system from many of those around the world. It is a principle that must be protected and strengthened. But the process must be underpinned by robust and well-functioning systems of complaint and redress for members of the public who believe that proper procedures have not been followed, whether on purpose or inadvertently. That is vital in maintaining public trust in our police, and in ensuring that the hard work of the great majority of police officers is not undermined and that, when mistakes arise, they are learned from.
It has been said during the debate—no doubt the Minister will reiterate it—that police officers regularly go above and beyond, in some instances risking their lives, to keep the public safe and fight crime. We have experienced that here in Westminster, and we continue to experience it across the country. However, as the Committee’s report notes, appalling examples of misconduct, such as the one that occurred with the murder of Sarah Everard, and the disgraceful, misogynistic, racist and bullying behaviour of a substantial number of officers at London’s Charing Cross police station, add to a long list of serious breaches of public trust. That is why we, the official Opposition, agree with the Committee that there is a strong need for cultural change right from, to ensure that lessons are learned from past mistakes, that proper action is taken to address poor or unprofessional behaviour, and that police forces up and down the country demonstrate that they understand that public trust in policing needs to be earned and constantly maintained.
I am pleased that the Committee has highlighted the advances that the IOPC has made since it replaced the Independent Police Complaints Commission. However, serious concerns remain about the transparency of the IOPC’s operations. I note that the Committee has particularly highlighted the poor communication with regard to its inquiries, including with Lady Brittan over the false allegations made against her late husband, Lord Brittan. It is vital that the IOPC, as well as the Government, takes note of this cross-party Committee’s recommendations.
My hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central (Sarah Jones) is sorry that she cannot be here, but during yesterday’s ministerial statement in the main Chamber on the Metropolitan police, she was clear that the Home Office must not stand back from this issue. It needs real leadership to drive reforms through. The Home Secretary and her Department must engage seriously with police reform to stop appalling scandals of the kind we have seen in recent years.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Normanton, Pontefract and Castleford (Yvette Cooper), the shadow Home Secretary, has also been pushing for reform, having been the Chair of the Committee when this inquiry was initiated. Sadly, we have heard yet more examples today that show why it is important to shine a light on these issues.
Labour has consistently called for an overhaul of police standards. We want to see: much stronger vetting processes, better training, including on issues such as misogyny and racism, quicker and more robust misconduct proceedings, and better guidance on the use of social media, including WhatsApp, by police officers and staff. In the wake of the Child Q case, we also called for updated national guidance—which we are yet to see—on the strip-searching of children. When the Minister gets to his feet, I would be grateful if he could confirm what steps his Department is taking in each of these areas.
We know that there are several ongoing inquiries and reviews into policing, including the Casey and Angiolini inquiries, and the HMICFRS review of vetting. These are important pieces of work, and the Opposition look forward to reading their conclusions and recommendations. However, we could be waiting months for these inquiries to conclude, with the implementation of any recommendations taking even longer. As has been said in this debate, that is not okay. As my hon. Friend the Member for Croydon Central emphasised yesterday, we must have action now to address these issues. We cannot afford to wait.
Can the Minister also outline what progress the Home Office has made in implementing the Committee’s recommendations? In particular, could he provide an update on the steps taken in response to recommendation 9, which relates to the speeding up of complaints, investigation and disciplinary processes? In far too many cases, police officers who are disciplined for misconduct remain in their posts for months, if not years, while misconduct proceedings are set up. That was certainly true in the recent Charing Cross case, and the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham mentioned that his case took three years and that the officers involved had actually retired by that point. That does not give us confidence. Wherever standards in policing fall short, they should be dealt with as quickly and efficiently as possible. Can the Minister outline what steps are being taken in this specific area?
Police officers up and down this country do incredibly important work, including in my area of Bradford, which is covered by West Yorkshire police. Members from across the House will have countless stories of police officers and staff going above and beyond, running towards danger and serving their communities. I want to put on record my thanks to West Yorkshire police, because we had the loss of Jo Cox, but the police step up and protect us as MPs, so that we can do our job, including in this place. It is in the interests of us all—politicians, police and the public—to ensure the highest possible standards for our police service. Serious work is needed, which includes reforming the police complaints system.
Again, I thank my right hon. Friend the Member for Kingston upon Hull North, who is the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, and the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham for securing this debate and for keeping up the pressure on this very important issue.
It is a great pleasure, Ms Ghani, to appear before you for the first time and also to appear for the first time before someone who was elected to the Commons on the same day that I was. That happy day in 2015 seems an awful long time ago. [Laughter.] I am very grateful—
I am also grateful to the assembled members—current and former—of the Home Affairs Committee for contributing to this debate. I am particularly grateful to the current members, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North (Dame Diana Johnson) and my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton), for securing it. It is an immensely important topic. We have had some interesting contributions, which I will take away and digest.
As a number of Members have said, the police perform a unique and critical role in our society. The public look to them for protection and reassurance and, in certain circumstances, through us, authorise them to sometimes use lethal force against our fellow citizens. The public rightly expect all who serve to uphold high standards of conduct and professionalism. As I have said on many occasions—pretty much since I was appointed deputy Mayor for policing more than a decade ago—public confidence and trust are integral to the long-standing model of policing by consent. It is fundamental to the very essence of policing in the United Kingdom. I have worked hard during my career in fighting crime to ensure that we cleave to that model and do not drift towards the warrior model of policing that we see in other jurisdictions.
A range of elements come together to form the full picture when it comes to securing and maintaining public confidence. One of those is an effective conduct and complaints system. As Members have said, the vast majority of police officers already act with the highest standards of professionalism. It is therefore all the more disappointing and, in some instances, completely shocking when the behaviour and actions of a few undermine the hard work of their dedicated colleagues. When things do go wrong it is vital that the systems in place are robust and fair, and stand up to scrutiny.
I note the positive comments in the Committee’s report on the February 2020 reforms made to the police conduct and complaints systems and the significant improvement in the IOPC since 2018. Of course, we accept that there is more to do. With policing—indeed, with any major public service—complacency is something we must fight against with all our might and energy. We must strive constantly for improvement; the public deserve nothing less.
As my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham mentioned, the Independent Office for Police Conduct was launched in 2018 following reforms to the IPCC, which scrapped the old commission structure in favour of a single head of the organisation. The new structure resulted in the director general having a combined role that includes chairing the unitary board. The aim of having a single role was to both streamline and demonstrate the independence of decision making to enhance public and police confidence. Scrutiny of and support for the director general is provided by the unitary board, on which the non-executive directors must be in a majority. There is a senior independent non-executive director.
Since its launch in January 2018 and under Michael Lockwood’s leadership, the IOPC has completed more than 91% of the core independent investigations started since then within 12 months. The average length of all investigations has fallen from more than 11 months in 2018 to less than nine months now. I understand that the backlog that was inherited on the conversion to the IOPC has been eliminated. That is huge progress, which, I am happy to say, was also highlighted in the Committee’s report. My hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham asked about the number of former police officers on the staff: it is 28%. That is a number that we need to keep an eye on, as he said, in terms of their expertise.
Last year, the Home Secretary announced that she was bringing forward the first periodic review of the IOPC, in response to pressure from my hon. Friend and others. Such reviews of the Government’s arm’s length bodies typically consider the effectiveness of an organisation and its fitness for purpose. We agree that the existing governance structure, along with the Home Affairs Committee’s specific recommendation on the director general’s role, should be looked at as part of that review. The review has not started; however, we are currently working on the arrangements, including identifying an independent reviewer. We will update the Committee when we are able to confirm further details.
The Government are clear in our determination to listen and act on issues important to the general public and their confidence in policing—including accountability, which is crucial to public trust. As colleagues will recall from the Committee’s report, the IOPC is already making a concerted effort to uphold confidence in the police complaints system, which includes greater transparency in the publication of investigation outcomes, actively listening to policing bodies and communities about their concerns, improved investigation timeliness and thematic reviews.
The legislative reforms in 2020 to overhaul the police complaints and disciplinary system were wide ranging, and were designed to simplify processes while increasing transparency and independence. The reforms have significantly reduced the bureaucracy in handling low-level customer service matters, which account for the majority of complaints. The most serious cases continue to be dealt with under robust processes, including independent investigations by the IOPC.
We continue to engage with policing stakeholders across the piece, including the National Police Chiefs’ Council, and we welcome the ongoing engagement of the Police Federation and other staff associations. We have agreed to review the impact of the reforms, including considering the role of police and crime commissioners in policing complaints. As part of that wider review, we will look at the issues raised by the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull North about super-complaints.
Recent high-profile cases of misconduct have shone a light on the culture that exists in some areas of policing. Aside from examples of appalling behaviour that has no place anywhere, let alone within an institution entrusted to protect the public, there is a wider impact on how policing is perceived. When standards are not met, it not only undermines the excellent work done by thousands of officers, staff and volunteers day in, day out, but risks damaging the legitimacy of policing in the eyes of the public. It is therefore crucial that there are effective systems and safeguards in place to ensure that all officers adhere to the high standards expected of them and that breaches of those standards are identified quickly and dealt with appropriately.
Although the Government have overseen significant progress in the police complaints system in recent years, we do agree that forces, individuals and their representative organisations must take further responsibility for rooting out bad behaviour. The College of Policing is currently undertaking a review of the code of ethics. The review will provide clear expectations that everyone in policing has a duty to challenge and report behaviour that undermines the profession and damages public confidence, and to be open and accountable and learn from mistakes at an organisational and individual level.
As part of the 2020 integrity reforms, the Home Office introduced a duty of co-operation for police officers. The duty provides clarity on the level of co-operation required by an officer where they are a witness in an investigation, inquiry, or other formal proceedings. Failure to co-operate is a breach of the professional standards and can be dealt with by police forces accordingly.
The Government will respond in due course to Bishop James Jones’s report on the experiences of the Hillsborough families and the report of the Daniel Morgan independent panel. The Government will also consider calls for a broader duty of candour for public bodies and authorities—an issue raised by various Members.
Colleagues may also recall that the Home Secretary has announced the Angiolini inquiry, which a couple of Members referred to, part two of which is expected to consider wider policing matters, such as barriers to whistleblowing, vetting practices, and professional standards and discipline, including workplace cultures. As my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham pointed out, since 2017 it has been the case that retired police officers can be brought back to face gross misconduct proceedings.
I again thank members of the Committee for securing this debate. I am grateful for the opportunity that it has provided me to underscore just how seriously we take this issue. This is not an end point in our work on police integrity and the complaints system. As I said in my opening remarks, the maintenance of trust and the model of consent require constant attention and adjustment as we face different circumstances and incidents. The Committee has my undertaking that we will report to it on our progress on this issue. We will take seriously its report and weave it into the work that we do. We will continue with the work programme to reinforce the fundamental foundation of policing in this country, which is the trust and confidence that the British public have and the consent that they give to the policing model.
Thank you, Ms Ghani. I thank all right hon. and hon. Members who have taken part in this debate, which has felt more like a Home Affairs Committee alumni reunion at times, given that you, Ms Ghani, and the Opposition spokesperson, the hon. Member for Bradford West (Naz Shah), and the two Back-Bench speakers are all former or current members of the Committee. Only the Minister and his Parliamentary Private Secretary, my hon. Friend the Member for South West Hertfordshire (Mr Mohindra), have never added to the greatness of that Committee or benefited from being members of it in the past. But who knows? Those days might lie ahead, as many of us have found out.
This is a good report from the Select Committee. I think that the Government response to it was better than many others and made some helpful observations. It is clear from the Minister’s words that the considerations that we have raised are very much forming part of further research, reviews and reforms that the Home Office is looking at in relation to various other aspects of policing. That is very much to be welcomed. We also very much welcome his commitment to continuing to keep the Committee informed on that progress, because it is germane to much of the work that the Home Office and Home Affairs Committee do in relation to so many aspects of policing.
As I said earlier, it has probably never been more important that we do much more to restore public confidence in the police, which has suffered some quite severe blows from bad apples, and more, in recent months and years. It is in everybody’s interests if we can do that. I hope this report has put the IOPC’s work and the importance of an effective and efficient complaints body firmly on the radar, particularly for the Home Office. We absolutely need a complaints system that has urgency, speed, thoroughness and credibility at its heart, and that absolutely acknowledges that it needs to be able to do its job with the confidence of the public, whom the police are there to protect. Therefore this is not an end point. I am glad that the Minister has realised that there is more work to be done. It is a subject for constant attention and adjustment.
In closing the debate, I thank all the police for the extraordinary bravery and the importance of the work that they take for granted and do day in, day out, and that we should not take for granted. The vast majority of police officers, who serve to protect us, do an outstanding job. It is in their interests, perhaps more than most, that they are scrutinised by a complaints system that is robust and respected and inspires confidence in the public whom they police, if we are to continue with the greatly valued system of policing by consent, which we have had in this country since Peel and which we very much hope will continue. The IOPC plays an important part in that, so getting it right is absolutely vital. I am pleased that we have had the opportunity to put all those comments on the record today. Thank you, Ms Ghani.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House has considered the Sixth Report of the Home Affairs Committee, Session 2021-22, Police Conduct and Complaints, HC 140, and the Government response, HC 1264.