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Metropolitan Police Service

Volume 729: debated on Monday 18 July 2011


My Lords, I beg leave to repeat a Statement made earlier today in another place by my right honourable friend the Secretary of State for the Home Department. The Statement is as follows.

“Mr Speaker, with permission, I would like to make a Statement on the resignations of Sir Paul Stephenson and John Yates, the Metropolitan Police investigation into phone hacking and allegations of police corruption.

As the House will know, last night Sir Paul Stephenson resigned as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. As I told him last night, I am sorry that he took that decision. He has led the Met through difficult times and, although current circumstances show there are still serious issues to be addressed, the Met is stronger operationally today than it was when he took over. I will turn to those difficult circumstances in a moment, but first I would like to update the House on today’s developments and the next steps for the Metropolitan Police.

I have already started work with the Mayor of London and the Metropolitan Police to arrange an orderly transition and the appointment of a new commissioner. I have agreed that Sir Paul Stephenson will leave his post as swiftly as possible. In the mean time he will remain commissioner in post at New Scotland Yard and in operational command. Sir Paul will be replaced by Tim Godwin, who will again become acting commissioner, a role he filled very effectively during Sir Paul’s illness between December and April this year. With Tim Godwin as acting commissioner, the mayor and I are clear that additional resilience is essential from outside the Metropolitan Police. I am therefore pleased to announce that Bernard Hogan-Howe has agreed to take on the responsibilities of deputy commissioner on a temporary basis. We are looking to expedite the process for selecting and appointing the next commissioner.

The House will also know that within the past couple of hours, Assistant Commissioner John Yates has also resigned. I want to put on the record my gratitude to John Yates for the work that he has done while I have been Home Secretary to develop and improve counterterrorism policing in London and, indeed, across the whole country. I can confirm to the House that Assistant Commissioner Cressida Dick will take over his role.

I want honourable Members, Londoners and the whole country to know that the important work of the Met—its national responsibilities, such as counterterrorism operations as well as policing our capital city—must and will continue. That important work includes the related investigations, Operation Weeting and Operation Elveden.

Operation Weeting, the investigation into phone hacking, led by Deputy Assistant Commissioner Sue Akers, is now going through the thousands of pieces of evidence relating to the allegations. Unlike the original investigation into phone hacking, Operation Weeting is proceeding apace, with officers interrogating evidence that was neglected first time round, pursuing new leads, and as we saw once again at the weekend, making arrests.

Operation Elveden, also led by Sue Akers, is investigating allegations that police officers have received payment from the press in return for information. This investigation has independent oversight by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. At this stage, this is a supervised investigation, meaning that the IPCC sets the terms of reference and receives the investigation report, and as soon as individual suspected officers have been identified, IPCC investigators, overseen by an IPCC commissioner, will take over and lead a fully independent investigation of those officers.

In the future, both of these matters will be considered by the Leveson inquiry established by the Prime Minister. In the mean time, I can tell the House that Elizabeth Filkin, the former Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, has provisionally agreed to examine the ethical considerations that should in future underpin the relationships between the Metropolitan Police and the media, how to ensure maximum transparency and public confidence, and to provide advice. The management board of the Met has agreed a new set of guidelines relating to relationships with the media, including recording meetings and hospitality and publication of information on the internet.

These allegations are not, unfortunately, the only recent examples of alleged corruption and nepotism in the police, so I can tell the House that I have asked Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary to consider instances of undue influence, inappropriate contractual arrangements and other abuses of power in police relationships with the media and other parties. I have asked HMIC to make recommendations to me about what needs to be done to address it.

There is nothing more important than the public's trust in the police to do their work without fear or favour, so at moments like these it is natural that people should ask who polices the police. I have already asked Jane Furniss, the chief executive of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, whether she has the power and the resources to get done the immediate work at hand. She has assured me that it does, but additional resources will be made available to the IPCC if they are needed.

I can also tell the House that I have commissioned work to consider whether the IPCC needs further powers, including whether it should be given the power to question civilian witnesses during the course of its investigations. Given that the IPCC can at present investigate only specific allegations against individual officers, I have also asked whether the commission needs to have a greater role in investigating allegations about institutional failings of a force or forces.

Finally, I want to say one last word about the future of the Metropolitan Police. The Met is the largest police force in the country and has important national responsibilities beyond its role policing our capital. The next Metropolitan Police Commissioner will lead thousands of fine police officers, community support officers and staff, the great majority of whom have spent their careers dedicated to protecting the public, often at risk to their own safety. Just three nights ago, honourable Members will know that in Croydon an unarmed Metropolitan Police officer was shot as he tried to arrest a suspect. I know that the whole House will agree with me that it is for the sake of the many thousands of honourable police officers and staff, as well as for the public they serve, that we must get to the bottom of all these allegations. Only then will we be able to ensure the integrity of our police and public confidence in them to do their vital work. I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement. I echo her tribute to the thousands of police officers who perform their duties in the metropolis, often in dangerous circumstances.

The noble Baroness rightly paid tribute to Sir Paul Stephenson and his work. He has done excellent work in London, backing neighbourhood policing and action to cut crime in the capital as well as vital work on counterterrorism. His is an honourable decision to protect the crucial operational work of the Met from continuing speculation. However, his departure raises serious questions for the Home Secretary and the Prime Minister. It is clear that the Met commissioner and the head of counterterrorism have now gone because of questions about this crisis and the appointment of the former deputy editor of the News of the World. Yet the Prime Minister is still refusing to answer questions, or apologise for his appointment of the former editor of the News of the World. The judgment of the Metropolitan police force has been called into question by appointing Neil Wallis, but so too has the judgment of the Prime Minister by appointing Neil Wallis’s boss, Andy Coulson. People will look at this and think that it is one rule for the police and another for the Prime Minister. The Prime Minister agreed to that this morning. He said:

“The situation at the Metropolitan Police is really quite different to the situation in Government, not least because the issues that the Met are looking at, the issues around them, have a direct bearing on public confidence into the police enquiry into the News of the World”.

But the Prime Minister runs the country, and the issues that he is looking at, and the judgments that he makes, have a direct bearing on public confidence in the Government’s ability to sort this crisis out. Sir Paul has very honourably accepted his ultimate responsibility for the position the Metropolitan police force finds itself in. Why does the Prime Minister not similarly accept his responsibility?

The Home Secretary is right to have concerns about the appointment of Neil Wallis, and she is right that she should have been told about the conflict of interest. This does raise serious questions for the police force. But the Met commissioner says that he could not tell her, or her boss, because of the Prime Minister’s relationship with Andy Coulson. How did it come to this? The most senior police officer in the country did not feel able to tell the Home Secretary about a potential conflict of interest for the Met because of the Prime Minister’s compromised relationship with Andy Coulson—an ongoing relationship, as they met at Chequers in March, months after the new police investigation began.

This morning the Home Secretary refused to defend the appointment of Andy Coulson, and today the London mayor refused to defend it. The Home Secretary has been remarkably silent during the crisis despite the serious allegations that phone hacking may have interfered with criminal investigations, the serious questions for policing, and the growing cloud over the national and international reputation of British policing as a result of the crisis. She has said very little in the last two weeks. The judicial inquiry that we have called for is important, but confidence in policing is too important to wait for its results.

Why has it taken the Home Secretary so long to ask Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to consider instances of undue influence, inappropriate contractual arrangements and other abuses of power in police relationships with the media and other parties? What are the implications of the Home Secretary’s proposals to bring in American-style elected police and crime commissioners? The nearest Britain has to an elected police chief—the London mayor—did not stop these problems at the Met. If anything, he made them worse. Boris Johnson described the phone hacking allegations as “codswallop”. He went on to say:

“It looks like a politically motivated put-up job by the Labour party”.

What backing does the Minister think that Sir Paul Stephenson and John Yates could have expected from the mayor if they had decided to reopen an investigation that he described as politically motivated? The truth is that the elected mayor made it harder, not easier, for the Met to get to the heart of this issue. The Mayor of London is now looking forward to working with his third police commissioner in his current term. To lose one commissioner is a misfortune; to lose two looks like carelessness. Above all, it shows the risks of the closeness of the relationship between politicians and operational policing.

I come to the implications of all of this on the police Bill, which we are told is based on experience in London. In light of what has happened, I would ask the Minister for a pause in consideration of the Bill, currently due for Third Reading in your Lordships’ House on Wednesday. Whatever the ups and downs of the British police force over the decades, its political impartiality has shone out to international acclaim. However, this Bill threatens a disaster. Party political commissioners to be elected in nine months’ time risk undermining the very impartiality of which we are so proud. The Bill threatens the politicisation of operational policing; and it threatens a huge loss of public confidence in the untrammelled power given to party political commissioners to appoint or to dismiss chief constables at will.

The London situation is particularly worrying. As Sir Paul said in his statement today, the Met faces extraordinary challenges: the phone hacking investigation, the public inquiries, the inquiries that the Home Secretary announced today; its responsibility in counterterrorism and national security issues; and the Olympics. There is now huge disruption in the senior ranks of the force with the resignation of the commissioner and Mr Yates. What are the Government doing to stabilise the situation? They are introducing legislation to scrap the Metropolitan Police Authority, threatening yet more disruption. That is the last thing that the Metropolitan Police force needs now. I believe that Third Reading of the police Bill should be postponed so that the consequences of the proposed legislation can be seen in the context of this week’s very disturbing events. Will the Minister agree to that?

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord for his opening remarks, particularly in respect of the Metropolitan Police officers who have announced that they are standing down.

On his final point about the police and crime commissioners, the noble Lord will know only too well, as he and I have debated this in some detail over many weeks now in Committee and on Report, that there has always been a difference of opinion on this matter. The Government believe very firmly that chief officers should be held to account, on behalf of the public, by police and crime commissioners for the way in which they conduct business—not operational business—in their force. The public have been the losers in all this. They have lost confidence, and we believe that the police and crime commissioners, on behalf of the public of their police force area, are the answer to ensuring that the police are held to account both for the way in which they tackle crime and for the way in which they prioritise and carry out what the public want, which is a reduction in crime.

I suspect that there will always be a difference of opinion between this Bench and that Bench, as there was when the Bill came to the Floor of the House, so I am not in a position to say to the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, that we intend to defer Third Reading of the Bill, which has reached its final stages now, having gone through another place and had a great deal of scrutiny in this place.

I have a long list in my folder, as the House may expect, of the details of what has happened in this whole shocking affair that go back long before this year. It is not my intention to read that out, primarily because I believe that Governments of parties on both sides of the House have recognised that these problems have not just occurred in the past few months—recommendations have been made to previous Governments. Frankly, that might be the tone of another place, but I hope that we might rise above that in this House and tackle the underlying problem and the way to take the matter forward to bring back confidence in the police.

The noble Lord mentioned Neil Wallis and the fact that the commissioner has stated that he could not approach the Government with this because of a conflict of interest. That applied as much to his Government as it did to the current Government. The Prime Minister has set out very clearly the terms under which he employed Andy Coulson and has quite rightly made it very clear that if, following police investigations, Andy Coulson is found to be guilty of anything of a criminal nature, he would expect him to be charged and brought to justice. However, there was a clear difference between the Prime Minister’s employment of Andy Coulson and the fact that the Met was investigating these matters but failed to identify to the Home Secretary, who has made her views very clear, that Neil Wallis was involved with the Met. That was denied to the Home Secretary as late as last week.

The House will understand that the Minister cannot say anything other than what she just has about the Third Reading of the police Bill. However, in reflecting on it, as I am sure they will, will the Government reconsider the proposed timing of the introduction of their changes, particularly in London where we have these new unexpected factors in the run-up to the Olympics?

On a more detailed point, does the Minister agree that a mechanism for registering interests and hospitality that is available for inspection by everyone in public life, without investigation by the media, is of great importance? The House will understand the irony of relying on the media in this. What really matters is not what you register but what you do.

I quite agree with the principle that my noble friend Lady Hamwee has just espoused. Certainly, the investigations, and the recommendations that will come from them, will, I hope, show us the best way forward for things such as hospitality. Very often, these things come down to personal judgment. All of us in public life have to make a personal judgment about some of these issues, and sometimes we are bound by the spirit of the law as well as what is said in the law. I therefore hope that when we see the final results of the investigations, they will include codes and practices that encapsulate the spirit of the law as well as the law itself.

I declare a rather special interest. Until yesterday I was the last commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. I am now the one before that. That is rather a striking position. The last time commissioners resigned was in the 1880s; these were Sir Edmund Henderson and Sir Charles Warren. The circumstances were somewhat different; Sir Edmund resigned because the club of which he was a member in Pall Mall had its windows broken by rioters.

My question to the Minister is in two succeeding parts. First, does the resignation of two successive Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police in just over two and a half years indicate that something is gravely wrong with the political oversight and governance of that body? Secondly, does the Minister agree that there is a much wider question at hand than the grave matters now entrusted to Lord Justice Leveson? My concern is that we have a police Bill and the Winsor report, and we now have the Filkin and HMIC reports. Why does the Minister not agree that the Home Affairs Select Committee recommendation should now be put into place and a royal commission into the mission, structure and governance of the police be appointed? Every time this has been raised, the coalition Government have said, “We have not got time”. I think we should take time now.

While I hear what the noble Lord, Lord Blair, says about a royal commission, we have, since he last raised this, put into place a series of investigations, reviews and reports that I hope will throw light and transparency on to the problems that he has identified as underlying the number of commissioners who have left. We do not know at this stage how deep those investigations will go and what they will show in conclusion, but we want them to be thorough and we believe they are all-embracing.

It may interest the House to know that since the Home Secretary’s Statement in another place just an hour ago the Metropolitan Police Authority has referred four cases to the IPCC. The IPCC is now considering the referrals carefully to determine how they should be taken forward. That is perhaps an indication not just of the seriousness of the investigations before us but of the depth to which they need to go, so although I hear what the noble Lord says about a royal commission, people have now been appointed to carry out these investigations and they should be allowed to carry them through to their conclusion.

My Lords, I declare an interest as a current member of the Metropolitan Police Authority and associate myself with the very positive remarks that the Minister has made about Sir Paul Stephenson and John Yates. However, given what she has just said about the referrals to the IPCC, perhaps she could ponder for a moment what the circumstances of today would have been had the Bill currently before this House been passed.

The Metropolitan Police Authority sub-committee on professional standards met this morning to consider complaints against named officers. It considered those complaints and, as the Minister has just reported to the House, it made recommendations in one instance that an officer be suspended and in other instances that matters now be investigated by the IPCC. Under the Bill which she is steering through this House, that would not happen. Any allegations against individuals would be considered by the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis or the Chief Officer of Police outside—of course the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis has now resigned—who would then decide whether something should be investigated or another officer suspended. Surely the interests of openness and public support for the process demand that there be some independent structure to handle complaints and consideration of whether an inquiry should be opened. That will disappear under this Bill.

Well, my Lords, again, this is a matter that the noble Lord and I have debated at some length during the Committee and Report stages of the Bill. As he will know, we have disagreed over the internal handling of minor complaints within the police force. I have not changed my mind about that, but on more serious matters involving senior officers he will know that it is not simply the case that they will not be investigated independently. Ultimately, there is recourse to the IPCC.

My Lords, will the Minister undertake to look at the present make-up of the IPCC and ensure that its staff are of the highest calibre and integrity and are entirely independent? A number of former police officers are employed by the IPCC at the moment, and I want reassurance that they do not carry any past grudges against a particular officer or force that polices the IPCC.

My Lords, I hear what the noble Baroness says. I think we all want transparency and clarity. If she is saying—I am not quite sure whether I have understood this correctly—that there are question marks about the independence of individual members of the IPCC, I will certainly be happy to take that away and to have further discussion with her about how it might be addressed.

My Lords, as someone who had the honour to serve as commissioner for seven years, I can say with absolute confidence that this is one of the saddest and most disturbing days in the history of the Metropolitan Police Service. While clearly a number of inquiries are in place that will undoubtedly get to the bottom of the allegations and concerns that we are all so troubled by, does the Minister agree with me that perhaps today is an opportunity in your Lordships’ House to remember that the vast majority of the men and women who serve in the Metropolitan Police are honest, decent, brave people who deserve our and the public’s support as they live through what is a very confusing and disturbing time for them? I in no way prejudge the outcome of any of the allegations or inquiries, but I can say with absolute certainly, and I hope the Minister will agree, that the overwhelming majority of good men and women in the Metropolitan Police are doing an honourable, brave job.

I am very happy to support the words of the noble Lord, Lord Condon. Indeed, in her Statement in the other place, the Home Secretary made a point of concluding her remarks on that basis. We are all conscious of the impact that this will have on morale, not just in the Met but rippling out more widely. There are in this House in particular former senior police officers who have served their country with great distinction. I pay tribute to all of them and to the many people of all ranks who voluntarily police their own communities by consent. It is a great strength of British policing that it is by consent. I endorse entirely what the noble Lord, Lord Condon, said. I hope that leadership will be shown in police forces around the country to minimise the damage to morale from what has happened in the capital.

My Lords, when it became clear that there was no widespread public or professional support for the health Bill, the Prime Minister wisely stepped back and paused the Bill for consideration. What I find incredible in the noble Baroness's answers is that she does not seem to think that the events of the past couple of weeks have had any impact on, or should be considered in any way in connection with, the police Bill. Will she take this away and think about it? People across the country who support the Metropolitan Police will find it incredible if these events do not impact on deliberations on the Bill. The best thing now would be for the Bill to be paused for consideration, and for the Government then to come back with more effective and thought-out proposals.

My Lords, I hear what the noble Baroness says, but I am well aware, as she is, that right from the start her party has opposed police and crime commissioners. Despite what has happened over the past two weeks, there are those who have now focused on the fact that police and crime commissioners will be there to represent the public, having been elected by them, and to hold chief constables to account. While I hear what she says, many take a view exactly opposite to hers.

Perhaps I may say to my noble friend how much I appreciate the approach that she has taken to responding to what is clearly a very difficult situation. As the noble Lord, Lord Condon, rightly said, there are deep concerns of vital importance at a very dangerous time in our country, for many reasons, and there should be maximum public confidence and trust in the police. I do not know whether I am the only person in your Lordships' House who does not quite understand what is going on at the moment. Various allegations have been made, including in the Sunday papers, against Sir Paul Stephenson among others, but at the moment I do not know whether any of them are true, and I do not understand why the resignations have happened when they have. Perhaps that will become clearer later on.

I understand that Sir Paul and Assistant Commissioner Yates will give evidence tomorrow to a Select Committee of the House of Commons. I look forward with great interest to what comes out of that. I hope that the wide-ranging investigation that has been announced, along with other commendable actions, will be undertaken with all due dispatch so that people can understand that these matters are now being gripped and we will get some clarity on the situation.

I thank my noble friend for that. The inquiry by Lord Justice Leveson will be in two parts, as noble Lords will know. We hope that some aspects of the inquiry will be moved along more quickly than others. We must let the inquiries have enough time to get the outcome of full transparency and disclosure. Therefore, I am tempted not to say that I want them to be hurried up, because we need to get this absolutely right. The Home Secretary announced an HMIC inquiry today, from which she has asked for immediate feedback later in the summer.

My Lords, I, too, declare an interest. As some noble Lords know, I, too, served at a senior rank in the British police service. I make no apology for revisiting an issue that I raised in your Lordships' House as recently as Wednesday last week in the debate that followed the Statement on phone hacking. My contribution can be found in the Official Report of 13 July, in column 732.

I do not believe that it is unduly repetitious to remind ourselves that leadership is important in any organisation and that in the police service it is absolutely essential. Today, even more than last week, the issue is paramount. For years, successive Governments have failed to address adequately the problem of providing leaders in the police in sufficient numbers to provide a critical mass that can influence events and, in particular, ethics and attitudes in the service. Today we see the Metropolitan Police—a great force, as we all know—in what is colloquially known as “a very bad place”. We see that there is no clear succession plan in place for the commissioner and, worse, that there is a marked shortage of suitable candidates.

In the light of recent events, will the Minister go further today than the Leader of the House was able to go last week when he replied to me and give your Lordships' House a firm reassurance that, after the publication of the Winsor report at the end of the year, the Government will address the question of recruiting people of the highest quality into the police in sufficient numbers, and of their training and deployment into positions of intermediate and high rank on a structured basis. I venture to suggest that this can be implemented, notwithstanding the several reviews that have been mentioned. Can the Minister therefore indicate any appetite in Her Majesty's Government for such a review of leadership as a matter of urgency?

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, who, in the course of the Bill, has given advice and a very clear steer on the need for a pool of senior officers for whom leadership is a key component in their training and development. The Government take police leadership and issues affecting it very seriously. Police leadership is key to ensuring that officers across England and Wales are able to provide a high-quality service to the public. Peter Neyroud set out his views on the future of police leadership and training in his report of 5 April. The Government are currently considering the responses received during the consultation period on the report. We will set out our position in due course, and we will set out our response to the second part of Tom Winsor's report following its publication next year.

I hope the noble Lord is reassured that we are taking on board the need for leadership to be placed at the heart of policing. I have asked, during the passage of the Bill, for volunteers to come forward and advise on the development of a pool of senior officers so that, for example, when there are vacancies, there will be a good choice from as large a pool as possible of people of the right standard, qualifications and leadership skills.

My Lords, would it not be infinitely preferable for the Government, and particularly the Minister, to consider the events of the past few hours and days with some calm, and therefore to postpone reflection on the Bill until the Government have had a chance to come to a sensible reaction?

My Lords, I can only repeat to the noble Lord what I said to others who sought to identify this as a matter that should result in halting legislation on police reform and social responsibility—I believe that around the country police forces and communities are crying out for the sort of reform that the Government are bringing forward. I have not changed my mind since I made that point five minutes ago.

My Lords, the whole House recognises the importance of the Metropolitan Police’s contribution to safety and security in London and elsewhere. However, I must say that I welcome the resignation of Sir Paul Stephenson and John Yates. Both had a long and unhealthy relationship with the Murdoch press over a good period of time. Is the Minister aware of Sir Paul's statement that he did not know anything about phone hacking? Does she accept it, and is she also aware that Sir Paul visited the Guardian in December 2009 and February 2010 and asked the paper to desist in its investigations, because the explanation of one rogue reporter had been accepted by the police and presumably by him?

Does the Minister also accept, with Sir Paul complaining that officers had not supported him, that Mr Yates has admitted that there were sacks of evidence that he was not prepared to open to see whether there were other cases of phone hacking? Did he then tell the commissioner, “Don’t worry, this one story is all right.”? Did he tell the commissioner that the bags of evidence were available but that he had decided not to open them? Frankly, considering Mr Yates’s resignation, the fact that he misled the House, the actions that he has been involved in and the fact that Sir Paul thought this man should not have resigned, did the Minister think of sacking him, because that would have been sufficient evidence to have anyone moved out of that kind of position of trust?

My Lords, the noble Lord, I know, has been a victim of phone hacking and raises important issues. That is why the judicial inquiry and the two inquiries that are being overseen by Sue Akers in the Metropolitan Police have been set up. I have every confidence in the Sue Akers inquiries. It is not for me as a Home Office Minister to intervene in police operational matters, but I hope that the noble Lord’s points, which are very important, will be dealt with by the inquiries.