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Police: Metropolitan Police Commissioner

Volume 704: debated on Thursday 9 October 2008

asked Her Majesty’s Government:

Whether they will review the procedures for appointing and dismissing the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police.

My Lords, the current appointment procedure gives the Home Secretary responsibility for making a recommendation to Her Majesty, having regard to views from the Metropolitan Police Authority and the London mayor. The Government believe that this is the right procedure. The commissioner’s role is critical for national security, while policing in London also plays an essential part in public protection of the rest of the nation.

My Lords, did my noble friend hear the “Today” programme this morning, in which the Mayor of London said that crime was down across the board but went on to say that under Sir Ian Blair the operational efficiency of the Metropolitan Police had been compromised? If the Mayor of London can force out the most senior police officer in the country, what prospects are there for appointing the best police officer for this job in future? Surely that sort of power, exercised unaccountably by the Mayor of London, is unacceptable?

My Lords, my noble friend raises a number of interesting points. It is clear that there is a mechanism and a way of doing these things which is there for very clear reasons of fairness, and to ensure that there is no political impact on this decision-making. I listened to the “Today” programme. The Mayor of London rather reminds me of a lovable Labrador puppy. He is a bit Tigger-like and very enthusiastic, but he does not always necessarily think through the consequences of what he has done. There is no doubt that Sir Ian Blair delivered a number of good things. If the mayor had doubts in some areas—there has been a whispering campaign and statements have been made about this—he should have talked to the MPA. If it agreed that there was a problem, it should have made that point to Sir Ian Blair, who could then have made representations, which is absolutely appropriate. If the MPA decided he needed to go, it could then have discussed the matter with the Home Secretary. That is the proper way to do things, rather than just removing him.

My Lords, does the Government’s obsession with having elected mayors all over the place mean that the mayors will feel that they, and not police authorities, are the appropriate body to hire and fire chief constables?

My Lords, the noble Baroness raises a good point, but I think this will be addressed in the Green Paper, on which there has been much discussion in recent months. That discussion finishes tomorrow. We will be looking at this area. It is an area of risk that has come up in the discussion, but clearly one has to act sensibly on occasion; this is not for the worse but a good thing. However, I have no doubt that this was a knee-jerk reaction, which was not sensible and should not have been done.

My Lords, if the mayor took the wrong decision, and if the Government’s position is as indicated by the Minister, why on earth did not the Home Secretary refuse to accept it? It is her appointment. Are not the Government hiding behind Boris Johnson’s courage in doing the right thing for London?

My Lords, one should think of what actually happened. As I understand it, the mayor said to the commissioner, “If you don’t go, on Monday I will find someone to ask me, with the media there, whether I have confidence in you and, if they do, I will say that I haven’t”. It was made very clear to Sir Ian that he did not have the mayor’s confidence and that the mayor wanted him to go. I think that Sir Ian Blair went away and thought about this and felt that it was impossible for him to go on. The Home Secretary could have struggled and struggled to make him stay, but I quite understand his position, and I do not think it would have been sensible to try to make him stay in that situation. We should not have arrived at this position. There is a correct procedure to go through and it is absolutely right that that should have been gone through. What happened was not fair and it is not the correct way to do things. I am afraid that it was a knee-jerk reaction. If he had gone through the correct procedure, perhaps all of us would be content. That is what he should have done.

My Lords, does the Minister recognise that there has to be an extremely close working relationship between the democratically elected mayor—a post that was, of course, set up by this Government—and the Metropolitan commissioner, and that what is important now is to find a commissioner who can restore public confidence in the Metropolitan Police, as that confidence has been severely battered over the past few months?

My Lords, the noble Baroness is absolutely right that we must now move ahead and find a new commissioner in whom everyone has confidence. I was rather disappointed to find that the mayor was suggesting that there should be a long continuum with the deputy, Sir Paul Stephenson, standing in, and that this should go on for a prolonged time. Indeed, he said very clearly in his discussions with Sir Ian Blair that he wanted to have a long continuum. That would be very wrong. The head of the Met has very clear responsibilities in terms of counterterrorism as well as the important duties he has in London and a whole raft of other duties. That is why it is essential that we move as quickly as possible. We need to go down the correct route of appointing him, and we have already started that. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has already written to the mayor and the MPA saying that we need to start this process. We need to move quickly, but even if we move as quickly as we can, it will take about six or seven months; that is what it took the last time.

My Lords, did the Minister not hear the mayor on the “Today” programme this morning describe the suggestion that he wanted to spin out the appointment for some ulterior motive as “piffle”?

My Lords, he may well have said that, but I have it from another very good source—everyone seems to have good sources—that he did want to do that. I have seen a letter from him, from which I will not quote, in which he says that he wants to extend that time. I am afraid that, although he might have said this morning that it was piffle, that is not correct.

My Lords, while I appreciate that it is very difficult for the Minister to comment while the inquest is ongoing, does he accept that none of this discussion would now be necessary if Sir Ian Blair had done the honourable thing at the time of the Jean Charles de Menezes tragedy and resigned then?

My Lords, clearly, I cannot speak about the inquest. As noble Lords know, the Metropolitan Police Authority had a vote of no confidence in Sir Ian Blair on 22 November. There was a long debate, at the end of which it voted 15 to seven against that. That is all I can say about that, because of the inquest that is going on at the moment.

My Lords, can we presume that the letter to which my noble friend referred could be made available under freedom of information legislation?

My Lords, I will have to check; I am not an expert. I would have to say, “Not necessarily so”. I would certainly have to ask the Home Secretary; I am probably in trouble already.