Skip to main content

Police Integrity

Volume 743: debated on Tuesday 12 February 2013


My Lords, with the leave of the House I will repeat a Statement made earlier in another place by my right honourable friend the Home Secretary about our work to ensure the highest standards of integrity in the police. The Statement is as follows:

“Mr Speaker, we are lucky in Britain to have the finest police officers in the world. They put themselves in harm’s way to protect the public. They are cutting crime even as we reduce police spending, and the vast majority of officers do their work with a strong sense of fairness and duty. But the good work of those thousands of officers is undermined when a minority behave inappropriately.

In the last year, we have seen the Leveson inquiry, which cleared the police of widespread corruption but called for greater transparency in policing, and the shocking report of the Hillsborough independent panel. We have seen the sacking of PC Simon Harwood and the investigation of several chief officers for misconduct, and yesterday I told the House about the investigation led by Mick Creedon into the work of undercover officers from the Metropolitan Police.

I want everyone to understand that I do not believe there is endemic corruption in the police, and I know that the vast majority of police officers conduct themselves with the highest standards of integrity. This was confirmed by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary in its report last year. But that does not mean that we should ignore the fact that when it does occur, police corruption and misconduct undermine justice, let down the decent majority of officers, and damage the public’s confidence in the police.

We need the police to become much more transparent in their business. We need clearer rules for how officers should conduct themselves. We need to open up the top ranks so that policing is less of a closed shop. We need to make sure that officers who do wrong are investigated and punished, and we need to make sure that the organisations that we ask to police the police are equipped to do the job.

Many of our existing police reforms address these challenges. The new College of Policing will improve the quality of police leadership and drive up standards. Police and crime commissioners are making the police more accountable to their communities. Direct entry into the senior ranks will open up the police to talented outsiders. HMIC is more independent of the police, and for the first time it is led by a non-policing figure.

These reforms will help but we also need to take further, specific measures to root out corruption and misconduct from the police. First, in line with the recommendations made by Lord Justice Leveson, national registers of chief officers’ pay and perks packages, gifts and hospitality, outside interests including second jobs, and their contact with the media will be published online.

Secondly, the college will publish a new code of ethics, which will be distributed to officers of all ranks. In addition, the college will work with chief officers to create a single set of professional standards on which officers will be trained and tested throughout their careers.

Thirdly, to prevent officers who lose their jobs as a result of misconduct being recruited by other forces, we will introduce, for the first time, a national register of officers struck off from the police. The list will be managed and published by the College of Policing.

Fourthly, to introduce a sanction for officers who resign or retire to avoid dismissal, hearings will be taken to their conclusion, notwithstanding the officer’s departure from the force. When misconduct is proven, these officers will also be struck off by the College of Policing.

Fifthly, the college will establish a stronger and more consistent system of vetting for police officers, which chief constables and police and crime commissioners will have to consider when making decisions about recruitment and promotions. Every candidate for chief officer rank will need to be successfully vetted before being accepted by the Police National Assessment Centre.

Sixthly, Lord Justice Leveson’s report made several recommendations on policing, focused on providing greater transparency and openness. The Government accept what has been recommended, and the College of Policing, ACPO and others have agreed to take forward the relevant work that falls to them. I will place details of the Government’s response to each of the Leveson report’s recommendations on policing in the Libraries of the House.

Finally, I want to make sure that the Independent Police Complaints Commission is equipped to do its important job. Over the years, its work has been evolving and the proposals I announce today develop it further. Public concern about the IPCC has been based on its powers and its resources. I want to address both these issues.

Regarding its powers, last year Parliament legislated, with welcome cross-party support, to give the IPCC the ability to investigate historical cases in exceptional circumstances. In the same legislation, we gave the IPCC the power to compel police officers and staff to attend interviews as witnesses.

In addition, as I have already said, we will legislate as soon as parliamentary time allows to give the IPCC the power to investigate private sector companies working for the police, along with other powers the IPCC has asked for to improve its effectiveness and increase public confidence, and I am prepared to consider any further legislative changes that the commission says it needs.

But I believe the main difficulty for the IPCC is its capacity to investigate complaints itself. Last year, the commission investigated just 130 of the 2,100 serious or sensitive cases that were referred to it independently, while supervising or managing about 200. Individual police forces investigated the remainder. But 31% of appeals against forces’ handling of complaints were successful. That is simply not acceptable. I will therefore transfer to the IPCC responsibility for dealing with all serious and sensitive allegations. I also intend to transfer resources from individual forces’ professional standards departments and other relevant areas to the IPCC to make sure it has the budget and the manpower to do its work.

The Government’s police reforms are working and crime is falling. Corruption and misconduct are thankfully the rare exception and not the norm in our police, but that does not mean that we should not act. I believe this is a comprehensive plan to address public concern about the integrity of the police”.

I commend this Statement to the House.

My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement in your Lordships’ House today. We certainly welcome the direction of travel on this issue, and many of the measures outlined are sensible in principle. Obviously, a lot of detail has yet to be revealed and I hope that we will have the opportunity to contribute to that debate in your Lordships’ House.

British policing has an enviable reputation across the world for low levels of corruption, high standards of integrity and our tradition of policing by consent. That is why, when there are cases where standards fall below the level that we expect, we are rightly appalled and action has to be taken to address that. On many occasions when I have asked police officers why they have joined the police, without exception all have very high on their list a very simple reason: to help people. The vast majority of police officers join the force to help the public and keep people safe from crime and harm, and they take great risks when doing so.

Most people, when they go out to work in the morning, know that they will never face a situation where their life could be at risk. However, in Greater Manchester, there is now the trial for the killing of two police officers who were shot down for answering a routine 999 call. Officers such as those and their colleagues know that this is a risk they face. Every day, police officers across the country face incidents and disturbances. They have to inform families if their loved ones have been injured or killed. They have to deal with some very unpleasant situations and they undertake those responsibilities with great integrity and without regard to their own safety.

However, police officers are deeply concerned about serious cases that undermine confidence in policing. The vast majority of police officers want action against officers who let down the force and the public. They also want action to improve standards. We must have robust and meaningful action to tackle those who have weakened public confidence and respect. The Minister mentioned some examples; others include hacking and the Hillsborough tragedy. It is clear that there are also problems with some undercover officers, and it is right that we address cases where policing has failed to protect the public or deliver justice. We must ensure that we have a framework in place to make such cases less likely and take effective action against those individuals involved.

In the light of that, many of the Home Secretary’s measures are sensible. We support the implementation of the Leveson recommendations. Your Lordships’ House made it clear that it wishes the rest of Lord Justice Leveson’s proposals to be implemented with similar speed. We support a code of ethics, stronger professional standards and stronger action when these are breached. The Stevens commission has taken evidence on issues around codes of ethics, national registers, the role of the College of Policing, and proposals for striking off police officers, and is likely to make new proposals in this area.

Perhaps I may ask the Minister some questions around this matter. I would appreciate his answering me today, but if he cannot it would be welcome if he wrote to me. Can he say any more about the professional register? My understanding from the Statement is that the new College of Policing will manage and publish the register and have a duty to ensure that those guilty of misconduct will not be allowed to work for any other police force. The Minister said that they will be “struck off”, but from what? There is currently no register of police officers from which they could be struck off. Will there be a new comprehensive register of police officers, or will there instead be a list of those who have been found guilty of misconduct or other offences? What criteria willbe used?

The Statement implies that this will apply only to officers facing disciplinary action leading to dismissal, and there may be other cases where it would be right for someone to be on the register. Given the welcome commitment that disciplinary action will continue, even after an officer retires or resigns, will the Minister confirm that such officers will still be included on any list? What is meant by “publish”? Does that mean that the list will be publicly available or available only to the police? The Minister will be aware that former police officers often find employment in private security work of varying kinds, including, I am sure, in G4S. Will the information also be available to prospective employers?

I have one further point on this issue. As I have said, it is welcome that disciplinary action will continue even if police officers resign or seek early retirement, and we have called for such action. However, the Minister said in the Statement that those officers will face sanctions if misconduct is proven. What will those sanctions be? Being placed on a list or struck off a register is hardly a sanction if the officers have already resigned or retired.

On the issue of vetting, the Statement says that the college will establish a stronger system of vetting but that chief constables and police and crime commissioners have only to “consider” this. It does not appear to be binding. Is that the case, or have I misunderstood? Although candidates for chief officers’ posts will be vetted, it is not clear by whom. Given that the Government’s Statement places on the College of Policing additional responsibilities beyond those previously proposed, is the Minister confident that it has the necessary resources to undertake this very important work? Unless it is 100% accurate, it will not be worth very much or be that effective.

We welcome the code of ethics. Can the Government confirm that the activities of undercover officers such as using the identities of deceased children should be addressed in such a code?

Although there is much to welcome in the Statement, we are disappointed by the proposals regarding the IPCC. The Minister will be aware that Yvette Cooper, the shadow Home Secretary, has argued for the past year that the IPCC has neither the powers nor the resources needed to be really effective. We remain concerned that it will struggle to produce a timely response to the Hillsborough tragedy, and there are countless cases where the IPCC has failed to investigate swiftly.

The problem is that the Home Secretary’s reforms, which are outlined today to the IPCC, seem to be incremental. We are not convinced that the Government are doing enough to give the IPCC the real powers that it needs, or to create a proactive rather than a reactive culture to deal with problems, so there is a concern that it will not do enough to restore public confidence in the IPCC to solve problems swiftly, to get justice, and to ensure that lessons are learnt when policing goes wrong.

I am still not clear—I listened very carefully and I read the Statement before it came to this House—about the additional resources that will be available to undertake the extra work. It appears that all serious and sensitive cases will be dealt with by the IPCC rather than by individual police forces. How will “serious and sensitive” be defined, and who will define it? What about initially low-level cases that are deemed not to be serious or sensitive but which, as the investigation progresses, are deemed to be serious and sensitive? Will they be transferred to IPCC? How much of the total police forces’ budget will be transferred to allow the IPCC to deal with all serious and sensitive cases? Will the Government commit to ensuring that the adequacy of funding is kept under review?

In the Police Reform Act, Ministers argued that more cases should be dealt with by individual forces rather than by the IPCC. As a result, my understanding is that under the Government’s policies the number of commissioners roughly halved. Can the Minister confirm that he considers that that was a mistake and that the Government will now be recruiting more commissioners? It is hard to imagine that with additional work and investigating all serious and sensitive cases, more staff will not be needed, but where will those staff be found? How many staff and how much financial resource do the Government envisage transferring from police forces to the IPCC, or will they recruit in other ways? Will there be any new money from the Government, or are the Government confident that the IPCC can be fully and adequately resourced by this transfer of funds?

My final question, the Minister will be pleased to know, is whether he can also confirm that the additional powers for the IPCC, announced by the Home Secretary, will be introduced in this Parliament.

We are concerned that this incremental reform is a lost opportunity to introduce a new, robust organisation with a new framework. Currently, the IPCC, the PCC, the police and crime panels and the College of Policing all have a role to play. One has to ask whether one strong organisation with the appropriate framework and powers would be more appropriate. I really feel that the Government should look again at replacing the IPCC altogether with a new police standards authority, and with a new and coherent framework of standards and accountability for the police.

We all want to see well motivated, professional police officers who are keen to do a good job and serve the public. We have a duty to the public to ensure that they can have confidence in the work of the police and that action will be taken when things go wrong. We also have a duty to ensure that police officers get the support that they need and have a proper framework of accountability to keep standards high. The Statement today is welcome and responds to many of the concerns that we have raised, for which we are grateful. However, we remain concerned that it does not go far enough and that it will not deliver the kind of protection and framework that the police and the public need.

My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Smith, for her general welcome for this Statement. I know that in another place similar support was given to the Home Secretary’s Statement. This is good news. I shall start with the last point made by the noble Baroness, which was on rebranding. Do we want a new body? I do not think that is necessary. The IPCC has good leadership under Dame Anne Owers and it has a sense of direction, which is now supported by the Government through this Statement. Although I cannot anticipate what may be in future Queen’s Speeches, I am fairly confident that legislation on this matter will not be long delayed. Indeed the Statement drew attention to that.

The IPCC is currently engaged in a lot of extremely serious investigations. The Statement referred to them as probably lying at the heart of the realisation that we need to look afresh at how we investigate the police, and at what new framework we should establish. This is the Government’s response. We believe in beefing up not only the powers but the resources of the IPCC. The noble Baroness asked where those resources were coming from and whether there was any fresh government money. The Statement rightly said that they were coming from the existing budgets of police forces—certainly in the main that will be the case. However, the matter will be discussed with each police force.

A Statement such as this is clearly indicative rather than absolutist. Certainly we will debate the issues that it raises over the next few months. However, it is important, when the Government have something to say on an issue as important as this, that they demonstrate to the House, through the way they present the issues involved, their direction of travel. That was the purpose of the Statement today.

The noble Baroness asked a large number of questions. There was a radio programme called “20 Questions”. I did not count the noble Baroness’s but I felt that she asked a fair number. I will do my best to answer them, but she very kindly said that I might write to her. It might help if I wrote on some of these matters and put a copy in the Library of the House.

The noble Baroness asked how public the professional register would be. It will be a public document. It is intended that organisations such as the Security Industry Authority and private security firms will be able to take note of these matters. It will not be just for police officers to note who has been in effect deregistered from the police service as a result of misconduct.

The parallel organisation to the IPCC is the College of Policing. With its code of ethics, it will provide the framework in which the new sense of purpose about integrity can be addressed. The noble Baroness asked whether it would cover matters such as the identity of children. As she knows, that is being investigated by Chief Constable Creedon at the moment, and he will report on the full implications. That is just the sort of issue at which I expect a code of Essex—sorry, ethics—to look. I apologise for that slip of the tongue.

The noble Baroness also asked how one would define “serious” and “sensitive”. One tends to know what is serious and sensitive when it turns up. This will be about the relationship between the IPCC and individual police forces. Individual forces have just as great an interest in making sure that the public are supportive of them and perceive that the integrity of the police is based very locally within each police force.

I have a few further points to make. The list is designed to ensure that all those who are dismissed as a result of misconduct proceedings, or would have been dismissed had they remained in service, cannot find employment in another force. That is the principal purpose behind it. They are struck off from being a police officer in the future. We envisage that the list will be used by other employers—I have mentioned employers in the security industry—to consider whether or not to employ such dismissed officers.

I hope that the noble Baroness will allow me to write to her on the other questions which I have not addressed, and I hope that I have assisted the House in giving some sense of the thinking that lies behind the Statement.

My Lords, before the clerk starts the clock for Back-Bench contributions, in the interests of ensuring that as many noble Lords as wish to do so are able to contribute in the 20 minutes which now follow, perhaps I may remind the House that this is an opportunity to put brief questions.

My Lords, I declare an interest in policing and the security services. The Government are to be congratulated and supported by all sides of the House on bringing forward this courageous package of measures because it is clearly in the public interest and in the interests of the service to ensure the highest levels of integrity in policing. While there may be concerns about other aspects of police reform, this package is clearly moving in the right direction. When the Minister places a letter in the Library of the House, will he consider including in it a response to just how and when resources will be transferred from individual police services to the IPCC to enable it to carry out its enhanced role? It is not clear at the moment whether only budgets are to be transferred or whether this will involve real, live investigators moving sideways on attachments, moving permanently, and so on. The House would welcome some fairly clear guidance on how this is to operate, but in the round, these proposals are courageous and are to be welcomed.

My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, who speaks with considerable experience of these matters. I shall certainly do my best to respond promptly to his request for details of the transfer of resources and whether indeed that will involve more than cash and budgets, and will extend to resources. To some degree, the Statement is a starting point for a discussion with individual police forces and, indeed, with police and crime commissioners for they too are engaged in the governance of the police across the country; I hope that that dialogue will be productive. I am sure that noble Lords appreciate that this is considered to be an important development in the integrity of policing.

My Lords, I, too, welcome the Statement and I agree with the implicit message that transparency and integrity go hand in hand. I do not doubt that, when there is a problem, those who feel it most keenly are individual police officers who themselves have shown the utmost integrity. First, what consultation has been undertaken on these measures, not just with ACPO but with those who represent the lower ranks of the police service? Secondly, will any of these measures —I am thinking particularly of the registers of interests, gifts and so on—apply to civilian staff within police forces?

My noble friend has raised two very interesting aspects and I thank her for bringing them forward. The key thing about these proposals is that they will affect the professionalism of the police at all ranks so, as she rightly points out, they represent a development that I hope will be welcomed. They will be part and parcel of ongoing discussions that we are having as we seek to create a modern police force in this country—something that covers a whole load of matters and will now include this. We will make sure that that happens.

It is intended that those employed by the police in a civilian capacity will be subject to IPCC involvement, a matter that the IPCC itself has raised with us. I cannot say whether the register of gifts, or of contacts with the media, will be extended into that area but she makes a very interesting suggestion that it should do so.

My Lords, I would like to ask the Minister a question which my noble friend did not ask. The noble Lord started his Statement by referring to falling crime levels. The Minister will be aware that integrity and transparency are not simply about high-profile corruption cases or miscarriages of justice but about the way in which the police represent what is going on in relation to crime and their success in dealing with it. He will also be aware that, a couple of weeks ago, the Office for National Statistics seriously queried the rate at which crime is falling and suggested that some of the police forces’ figures,

“overstate the true rate at which crime has been falling”,

and that officers may have been failing to document some offences.

The Minister may also be aware that there are even more serious allegations around, some of which may well be aired in a meeting here tonight, that some of that underrecording is deliberate, whether as result of reduced resources in police forces or as a result of deliberate connivance or encouragement by senior police officers. If that is at all the case, there are serious issues of integrity that need to be addressed. I am not clear whether this new structure would be able to address such issues in the police force; they are basically administrative but have huge implications for the public’s and the body politic’s trust in what the police are telling us. In particular, can the Minister indicate whether the ONS suggestions are being pursued and whether, in future, they could be pursued through these new arrangements?

The noble Lord raises a very serious issue. There was in fact a letter in my local paper only last week on this very point, and I get—gratis, I have to say—a copy of the New Statesman, where I think there was a similar article last week. I have certainly read an article in a journal recently implying the same thing.

It is of course very important to keep oneself well informed, even if it is just to inform one of where people are going wrong. This issue is a very serious one. I do not think there is any dispute about the fact that crime figures are falling. There are matters of definition, which I think it is going to be in everyone’s interests to get tidied up, but the allegation that these figures are being manipulated is a very serious one. Unfortunately, I cannot attend the meeting which the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, who is not in his place at the moment, has called for this evening. I would like to have gone to it but I am on duty in the Chamber. However, I have asked an official to attend because it is very important that the Home Office follows these arguments and listens to what is being said.

My Lords, as one who was privileged, 45 years ago, to be Police Minister in the other place, I suggest that the situation which now obtains in relation to the police is not all that dissimilar to that which existed in the early 1960s. The Government of the day, a Conservative Government, set up the royal commission under Sir Henry Willink because they were convinced that only an inquiry that was wholly independent of government could have the chance of replacing the police in that position of trust and distinction which they had traditionally occupied in the community. I respectfully ask the Minister to consider deeply whether that precedent should not now be followed in the circumstances prevailing.

I cannot accept the noble Lord’s suggestion that there is equivalence between the two situations, but I am certain that the restoration of good practice within communities is a very local matter. That is why the focus of the Statement is on the engagement of individual forces and the maintenance of professional standards throughout the police force from top to bottom. I hope the noble Lord will understand that I am not prepared to go quite as far as he would suggest.

My Lords, perhaps I may pick up on something said by the noble Baroness, Lady Smith. Is it not the case that senior officials in Whitehall and others who need access to highly sensitive, classified information undergo a process called positive vetting? Does this apply to senior police officers and, if not, why not?

It is intended that an enhanced vetting process will apply to all senior appointments within the police force. All police recruits should be vetted at the point of recruitment, but the vetting process for senior posts within the police will be enhanced.

My Lords, as one who was a member of the former Police Complaints Authority who now serves on the small review group looking at serious cases for the IPCC, I welcome what the Minister has just announced. Perhaps I may ask him two questions. The first relates to the point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Condon, about the implications of a transfer of resources from local areas to the IPCC. Has the Minister worked out the figures that we are talking about, bearing in mind that the cuts that have been imposed on police forces are causing serious problems in local areas? Has he worked out what the implications of the transfer might be, because many lower level cases are best dealt with at the point at which they occur; that is, in the local area. Secondly, the Minister mentioned the powers that are required by the IPCC and said that we can expect legislation. Will he consult not only the IPCC but the many other relevant organisations which have repeatedly raised concerns about the existing powers of the IPCC? What will he do to ensure that their views are taken into account before the legislation is formed?

On the noble Lord’s latter point, if there is to be legislation, there will have to be a period during which Parliament and the wider public will be engaged in considering what might be in it. On resources, the Home Secretary will write to the IPCC, Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, PCCs and the college itself to seek detailed proposals on how the transfer of resources might take place and over what period. I think that will help the noble Lord, Lord Condon, in his question to me. This is a matter of consensuality. I think that there is sufficient consensus within the police service to enable this to be done on a consensual basis, recognising that integrity in policing is holistic and not specific to one particular force.

Can my noble friend confirm that there was a point at the turn of the century when in police education the phrase “leadership training” was changed to “management training”? If that is so, can he assure the House that that will be reversed and the lesson will be learnt that leadership is crucial in an effective police force?

My noble friend quite rightly recognises that we have been through a process where management has been seen as being the most important ingredient for success. Indeed, management is important, but in policing—and many other services—leadership is vital because of how those who command inspire those who work with them. The College of Policing is based on developing exactly that set of skills and indeed a professional ethos within the police force and reinforcing that professionalism.

My Lords, I, too, very much welcome the Statement, particularly the fact that the IPCC will now investigate all serious offences. For too long, we have had the ridiculous situation of the police investigating themselves, so this is a very welcome move indeed. I also welcome the other changes that the Minister has outlined.

However, there is another problem that needs to be addressed: the issue of police officers with a criminal conviction being allowed to remain as serving police officers. I have looked at this issue over the years, most recently in January 2012. I was looking at it in respect of the Metropolitan Police but I suspect that in other police forces the pattern is similar. I was absolutely shocked to find that there were 400 serving Metropolitan Police officers who had had a criminal conviction, a caution or a penalty note for disorder. Fifty-five of these were for offences of violence—of which 30 were for assault, ranging from battery through to actual bodily harm—and 22 for offences involving dishonesty.

All sorts of issues come out of this. For example, can it be right that serving police officers who have a conviction for violence are able to volunteer to be trained to use firearms or tasers? Can it be right that police officers who have a conviction for dishonesty can then appear in court? It seems inconceivable that police officers with serious criminal convictions should be allowed to serve. I urge the Government to look at this as a matter of urgency.

I am equally shocked by the figures that my noble friend Lady Doocey has evidenced. We had the case of Simon Harwood, which I think made everyone aware that it was possible for people to resign from one force and sign on with another. This is designed to make that much more difficult. Indeed, as I have said, the vetting of constable appointments will make it very much more difficult, and that will address the concerns that my noble friend has expressed.