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Police: Misconduct and Corruption

Volume 737: debated on Tuesday 15 May 2012


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government when it is appropriate for the Home Office to intervene directly in matters of police discipline and incidents of police corruption, and whether current delegated arrangements are proving adequate.

My Lords, the police are expected to maintain the highest standards of professional behaviour at all times. Where there are allegations of misconduct or corruption, the most serious cases are investigated by the Independent Police Complaints Commission. As the name suggests, the IPCC is independent of the Government and the police to ensure that investigations are impartial. The Government do not intervene in any individual cases. The Government consider that these arrangements are adequate.

My Lords, does it not all boil down to the fact that the coalition Government have no real concept of hands-on responsibility or of timely decision-making and believe that by delegation they can wash their hands of responsibility? Are the Gary McKinnon and widow Hofschroer cases, respectively awaiting justice for 10 years and three years, not examples of a Government who could not care less?

My Lords, the noble Lord makes a number of points. First, I make it clear that this is not just a matter for the coalition Government; it is a matter that goes back to the 2002 Act which brought in the IPCC. I think all sides of this House agree that there should be an Independent Police Complaints Commission and that it should be independent. It can be independent of government only if government cannot intervene. It would be quite wrong for my right honourable friend the Home Secretary to intervene in individual cases. It would surely undermine the IPCC’s independence if she tried to second-guess its decisions. The noble Lord went on to mention two cases. Gary McKinnon has nothing to do with any allegations of police corruption because his case is purely about extradition. The case of the Hofschroer family is, as the noble Lord knows, a matter that has gone to the IPCC. It is a matter for it to produce its decision and if those involved in that case do not like that decision, they can then take the appropriate action in the courts.

My Lords, the revelations that senior Metropolitan Police officers accepted inappropriate hospitality have led to the Met setting up a monthly register that now lists all gifts and hospitality that police officers have accepted. Do the Government agree that all police forces should be required to set up such a register and to publish it monthly?

My Lords, I welcome what the Met has done. I think it is something that other police forces should consider doing, but that is a matter for them to consider. As I said in response to the original Question and the first supplementary, I believe that complaints should be dealt with in the manner that they are; that is initially by the police and then, in more serious cases, by the IPCC. I do not see a case for the Home Secretary intervening.

My Lords, in the light of the Minister’s reply to the noble Lord, Lord Maginnis of Drumglass, and knowing that police commissioners will be elected, when will it be appropriate for an elected police commissioner to intervene directly in matters of police discipline and incidents of police corruption?

Despite the fact that the noble Lord was involved in the passage of the Bill, he has not quite understood the role of police and crime commissioners. I think he might go back to the passage of that Bill and have a look at it. As I have made clear, the right to complain about what the police are doing and to make inquiries will remain as it was under the 2002 Act, as passed by the previous Government.

My Lords, I was a junior Minister in the Home Office more than 40 years ago. In many cases that did not call for draconian statutory intervention on his part, the Home Secretary used the Inspectorate of Constabulary as a subtle conduit to convey the disapproval of the Home Office and sometimes something harsher than that. Does any such institution operate currently?

My Lords, my right honourable friend can make use of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary; that is still there. However, the important point, which the noble Lord ought to remember from his time, although things have become more independent since, is that people can make complaints to the police but, if they want to ratchet them up thereafter, such complaints should be made to an independent authority. That is why, in 2002, legislation was changed under the previous Government to bring in the Independent Police Complaints Commission. It must remain independent. If my right honourable friend can second-guess what the IPCC does, it will very quickly cease to be independent.

My Lords, police corruption is loathsome and must be rooted out. In many years of going around the world, I have come across many police forces and seen some pretty appalling things. To get the balance right, does the Minister not agree that in this country we are generally very fortunate in the standard of our police forces?

My Lords, we take any allegations of unlawful or inappropriate behaviour or corruption very seriously, as we ought to. However, the noble Lord is quite right to emphasise the very good story that we have to tell about our police in this country. That is why I was very pleased that, as the noble Lord made his intervention, he seemed to receive support from all sides of the House.