Skip to main content

Police Reform

Volume 755: debated on Tuesday 22 July 2014


My Lords, with the leave of the House I will now repeat a Statement on police reform that was given earlier today in the House of Commons by my right honourable friend Theresa May, the Home Secretary. The Statement is as follows.

“With permission, Mr Speaker, I would like to make a statement about our ongoing work to ensure the highest standards of integrity in the police. I have always been clear that I believe the vast majority of police officers in this country do their job honestly, and with integrity. They fight crime in our villages, towns and cities. They deal with dangerous criminals, strive to protect the vulnerable, keep our streets safe and have shown that they can cut crime even as we cut spending. Under this Government, crime is down by more than 10% since the election, proving that it is possible to do more with less. But as I have said before, the good work of the majority threatens to be damaged by a continuing series of events and revelations relating to police conduct.

That is why, over the last 18 months, the Government have been implementing a series of changes to improve standards of police integrity. The College of Policing has published a new code of ethics, which makes clear the high standards of behaviour that are expected from all police officers. A national list of police officers’ pay and rewards, gifts and hospitality is now published online, and their final list of business interests will be published for the first time later this summer. A national register of officers struck off from the police has been produced and made available to vetting and anti-corruption officers in police forces. The Government will legislate later this year to ensure that officers cannot resign or retire to avoid dismissal in misconduct hearings. We have beefed up the Independent Police Complaints Commission so that, in future, it can take on all serious and sensitive cases involving the police. In addition to these specific measures, many of our other police reforms—the creation of the College of Policing; direct entry into the senior ranks; the election of police and crime commissioners; the changes to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary—will make a positive difference when it comes to police integrity.

Since I began the Government’s programme of work to improve public confidence in the police, further events and revelations have reinforced the need for reform. We have had reports on the misuse of stop and search, and the poor police response to domestic violence. We have had the findings of the Ellison review, which examined allegations of corruption during the initial deeply flawed investigation of the murder of Stephen Lawrence. We have had Sir David Normington’s review into the Police Federation, which recommended change ‘from top to bottom’.

The measures we have introduced are vital, but we cannot stop there, so I want to tell the House about my plans for further change. I want to open up policing to the brightest and best recruits. The Government have already introduced direct entry to open up the senior ranks of the police and bring in people with new perspectives and expertise. In London, the Metropolitan Police received 595 applications for between five and 10 direct-entry superintendent posts. Some 26% of the applicants were from a black or minority ethnic background, compared with 8.6% of traditional recruits, and 27% were female. In addition, using seed funding that I announced at the Police Federation conference in May, the Metropolitan Police is setting up “Police Now”, the policing equivalent of Teach First, which will attract the brightest graduates into policing. However, I want to go further. The College of Policing will undertake a fundamental review of police leadership. The review will look at: how we can go further and faster with direct entry; how we can encourage officers to gain experience outside policing before returning later in life; and how we can open up the senior ranks to candidates from different backgrounds. The review will start immediately.

In addition to these reforms, I also want to ensure that the systems and processes that deal with misconduct by police officers are robust. That means, where there are cases of wrongdoing, they must be dealt with effectively, and, where necessary, appropriate disciplinary action must be taken. In March I announced I would be creating a new offence of police corruption through the Criminal Justice and Courts Bill, but this alone is not enough. The police disciplinary system is complex. It has developed organically rather than been structured to fit its purpose. It lacks transparency for the public, it is bureaucratic and it lacks independence.

So today I can tell the House that we will be reviewing the whole police disciplinary system from beginning to end. This review will be chaired by Major-General Clive Chapman, an experienced, independent and respected former Army officer, and I want it to draw on best practice from the private and public sectors. I have asked Major-General Chapman to look for ways to ensure that the disciplinary system is clearer, more independent and public focused. I intend to consult publicly on the policies that emerge from the review later this year. In addition to the review, I want to make some specific changes to the police disciplinary system. In particular, I want to hold disciplinary hearings in public to improve transparency and justice. I will launch a public consultation on these proposals later this year.

In my Statement on the Ellison review on 6 March, I said I would return to the House with proposals to strengthen protections for police whistleblowers. Police officers and police staff need to know that they can come forward in complete confidence to report wrongdoing by their colleagues. So the Government will create a single national policy for police forces on whistleblowing to replace the current patchwork approach. This will set out the best principles and practices on whistleblowing, and ensure consistency of approach across all forces. Following the publication of HMIC’s integrity inspection, I am prepared to consider putting the whistleblowers’ code on a statutory basis. We will also require forces to publish more information on the number of conduct issues raised by officers and the action taken as a result. From 2015 onwards, the Home Office will collect and publish data about conduct and complaints brought by police officers and police staff about their colleagues. But I still want to go further, so in the autumn I will launch a public consultation on police whistleblowing. The consultation will look at a range of new proposals to protect police whistleblowers. For example, I want to consider how we can introduce sealed investigations—which prevent both the force and suspects learning that an investigation is taking place—into serious misconduct and corruption by police officers.

I also want to take an in-depth look at the police complaints system. Last year, I announced reforms to the IPCC to ensure that all serious and sensitive cases are dealt with by the IPCC. This included the transfer of resources from the police to the IPCC and measures to ensure that the IPCC has the right capacity to deal with demand. As I told the College of Policing conference in October, this work is on track and the IPCC will begin to take on additional cases this year. But now is the time to build on those reforms. Public satisfaction surveys on the handling of complaints show that satisfaction levels remain consistently low. According to the Crime Survey for England and Wales, less than a quarter of those who complain to the police are satisfied with the outcome of their complaint. The overall number of complaints being handled independently is still far too low. This year, a review undertaken by Deborah Glass, the former deputy chair of the Independent Police Complaints Commission, found that 94% of cases referred to the IPCC in 2012 were referred back to be dealt with by the police.

Police and crime commissioners are locally developing new and innovative approaches to police complaints. In Thames Valley, Anthony Stansfeld has announced a complaints, integrity and ethics committee to provide scrutiny on how the force handles complaints. In Greater Manchester, Tony Lloyd has appointed an independent complaints ombudsman to resolve complaints before they become part of the complaints system. We need the police complaints system to keep up with the changes we have seen in police structures, to reflect the changes made locally by PCCs and chief constables, and to meet public expectations. So today I will launch a review of the entire police complaints system, including the role, powers and funding of the IPCC and the local role played by police and crime commissioners. The review will look at the complaints system from end to end, examining the process every step of the way and for all complaints from the most minor to the most serious. The review will commence immediately and conclude in the autumn this year. It will include a public consultation on proposals for a system that is more independent of the police, easier for the public to follow, more focused on resolving complaints locally, and has a simpler system of appeals.

The measures that I have announced today will ensure that we are able to examine the entire approach to cases of misconduct, improper behaviour and corruption. But in working to ensure the highest standards of police integrity, I want to leave no stone unturned. This year, I commissioned Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to carry out a review of anti-corruption capability in police forces. HMIC is also carrying out an inspection of police integrity as part of its planned programme of inspections for 2014-2015. In addition, I have agreed with the chief inspector that HMIC’s new programme of annual inspections of all police forces, which will begin later this year, will look not only at a force’s effectiveness and efficiency but at its legitimacy in the eyes of the public. Every annual inspection will therefore include an examination as to whether each force’s officers and staff act with integrity.

Together these measures represent a substantial overhaul of the systems that hold police officers to account. They will build on our radical programme of police reform and they will help to ensure that police honesty and integrity are protected, and that corruption and misconduct are rooted out. That is what the public and the many thousands of decent, dedicated and hardworking police officers of this country deserve. I commend this Statement to the House”.

My Lords, that concludes the Statement.

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement. Most of us at some point in our lives have contact with the police: as witnesses—not as victims, we hope—reporting a crime; and in their community role, which at its best is excellent and at its worst is minimal. At their best the British police are rightly held in national and international high regard. They are praised by communities and they encourage and justify public confidence.

However, we have also seen evidence of policing going wrong, when its integrity cannot be relied on and public confidence is not justified. Issues such as the Hillsborough disaster and the investigation into Stephen Lawrence’s murder—and the appalling police actions following those shocking events—make it clear that a new framework is needed. The IPCC has too often done too little too late.

From talking to police officers, it is clear that they themselves feel the criticism of their profession more acutely than anyone else, because all the professionalism and integrity on which they pride themselves is undermined by the actions of a minority. We have already initiated a review of ensuring stronger actions on standards in policing. The noble Lord, Lord Stevens, led the independent commission that made a number of recommendations: a new stronger police standards authority, replacing the IPCC and HMIC with the power to initiate investigations; chartered registration for all police; the ability to strike officers from the register; and high professional and ethical standards for all officers.

I had hoped that we would have seen some of those issues incorporated in today’s Statement and an indication that some action is taking place. Instead we are going to have a review of the police disciplinary system and a public consultation on disciplinary hearings; as well as the existing Ellison review we are going to have another consultation on whistleblowing; we have got a review on police leadership; and we have a review on the police complaints system, including a review of the IPCC and the role of the police and crime commissioners. Just to confirm in case I have got it wrong, I count that as three reviews and four consultations. I am not necessarily against these reviews in areas in which we want to see progress, but so many reviews and consultations are a poor excuse for little or delayed action. How many reviews do the Government need to tell them that the IPCC is not working and that a piecemeal, sticking-plaster approach to reform is not what is needed?

The Statement begs far more questions than it gives answers. We shall come to some of them today but I hope that at some point we can have a longer debate on this issue. I am sorry that I find the Statement disappointing. It does not give me confidence that the Government will tackle the failures in the system with any sense of urgency or understand the scale of reform that is needed. So many reviews seem to indicate that the plan is to kick reform into the long grass well beyond the next election. The public and the police deserve better.

Yesterday in the Moses Room we debated the Government’s proposals relating to the by-election following the tragic and untimely death of Bob Jones, the police and crime commissioner in the West Midlands. Despite some worthy candidates and officeholders, there is little interest in and support for the role of the PCCs, with humiliating turnouts—just 14% across the country—in the 2012 elections. The cost of those elections, and the by-election in August, would have paid for hundreds of police officers at a time when every police force is facing swingeing cuts. One has to ask whether this is value for money.

I am sure the noble Lord has spoken to police officers, as I have. They have told me that the thin blue line is getting thinner and thinner. They feel they are unable to do their job as they want to and should be able to. The reforms that we and they expect seem no nearer with so many reviews and consultations. Those delays hit their morale, especially when they see convictions falling.

For example, in my home county of Essex, the investigation into the Colchester murders is drawing officers away from other parts of the country. They are having to leave the policing and investigations in their areas to undertake mutual assistance in Essex to ensure that they can effectively investigate these dreadful murders and police the area in Colchester. I have been told that this has meant that some officers have been on permanent 12-hour shifts for three weeks. That has taken its toll.

I do not know whether the Minister has seen the sickness figures for Essex but, in 2009-10, Essex Police lost 27,654 days to sickness. In the last year to April 2014, with fewer officers in Essex Police, that has risen to a staggering 41,251 days. Is the Minister as shocked and as worried as I am that the sickness levels in the Essex Police—and I have no reason to expect that Essex is different to anywhere else—have risen so dramatically since this Government have been in office?

We are right to expect the highest standards from the police, but does the Minister agree that the police also have a right to expect the highest standards from the Government in tackling police reform issues more quickly and in making effective use of resources?

The noble Baroness has picked up from where we were talking yesterday. I challenged her on how she viewed the role of the PCCs under a future Government headed by the Labour Party. She had no answer then—and it would appear that she has no answer now—as to what role they might have.

I agree with her about Bob Jones. He played an important role in the policing of the West Midlands area. I am sure she agrees with me on the role that Nick Alston plays in Essex and the important and innovative way in which he has undertaken his responsibilities there. Accountability to local communities, through the PCC, is at the heart of policing and I agree with the noble Baroness that it would be very useful to discuss these issues at a future date. I would like to hear how she plans to deal with police accountability to local communities.

The noble Baroness is right about how much we depend on the police and that they are held in high regard by all of us. She pointed to a couple of cases—Hillsborough and the tragic murder of Stephen Lawrence and the investigations thereafter—which raised questions for all of us who are interested in police integrity. I agree with her that professionalism is undermined by misconduct. I am sorry the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, is not in his place today and it is a pity that he has not participated in police debates recently, because his report was a genuine effort to look at ways of dealing with this matter. However, the Government are responsible and must take their own view of how to deal with these matters. They quite rightly chose not to merge the Independent Police Complaints Commission with HMIC but to look at the role of these bodies separately, through reviews which will report quickly, in the early or late autumn. These will find ways of making sure that the pattern of accountability which we set for the police and the ability to inquire into police misconduct effectively can be set in place promptly. It would be reckless to do that sort of thing without proper review and consultation. I make no apology on behalf of the Home Secretary for her announcement of those reviews. They are a way of making sure that in future we have a structure which is capable of satisfying demands for the highest standards of policing.

My Lords, I welcome the Statement. I endorse its subject matter and I am delighted to see leadership mentioned. It does not get a bold headline but it is in there and Members of your Lordships’ House will know that I have pressed that subject before. The fact that leadership needs ventilation by attachment to outside bodies is well taken. I have two questions for the Minister: one on leadership and one on another matter. Does he agree that, with good-quality, robust, visible leadership, all the issues of probity, ethics, due process, professionalism and so on are almost superfluous because they would flow naturally from it? Without good-quality leadership, any of the things I have enumerated would struggle to succeed. Leadership, therefore, needs not only to be endorsed, as it is in the report, but lifted to the top of the list, together with a proper career path for those who are recruited into the service with those attributes. Will leadership be one of a number of issues or is it going to be one of the prime issues that will lead the rest through?

Secondly, if leadership is a key to the door, this is surely a door with at least two locks. We have talked about the first metaphorically. The second key to the door is the structure of the police service. There is nothing in the list we have heard today on structure. There is a balance to be struck which is, sadly, out of kilter at the moment. Wherever I go in the police service or whenever I talk to the many people who are outside the service but interested in it, the question is always why we do not have a national force or a regional force; there are too many forces. I take no view on that other than it needs addressing. I am a great believer in loyalty to cap-badge and locality but the fact that we have the National Crime Agency at one end and police and crime commissioners at the other means there is a great gulf in the middle. So my question to the Minister is: will there additionally be an in-depth review, perhaps along the lines of what has been mentioned in the Stevens report, of the whole structure of the British police service, in which leadership and everything else can flourish?

I am grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Dear, who speaks with a great deal of authority on this whole issue.

The question of leadership is at the heart of the Statement because, as the noble Lord will know, the Home Secretary recognises that leadership is the key to achieving police reform. The noble Lord will share that view. It is therefore very much a key feature of this Statement. Probity is important and the noble Lord will understand that the reinforcement of the professionalism of the police by having proper measures for probity as part and parcel of this package is a very important thing. I hope the noble Lord will also acknowledge that the establishment of the College of Policing has led to a remarkable transformation of policing. Indeed, the leadership that it is providing to the force through the code of ethics and the many other aspects of policing that it is addressing is very important.

I agree with the noble Lord that in the long term we perhaps need to look at the structure and the balance of resources. There will always be arguments. I come from a very rural part of the country, where it is very easy for people to feel almost overlooked. But there are also places where the pressures on policing are much greater than they are where I live. Those issues will not go away. What the Government have done with the formation of the National Crime Agency is facilitate the ability to deal effectively with those things that operate across borders while at the same time enabling local policing to take place, governed by local police and crime commissioners.

My Lords, does my noble friend not agree that this report is a tale not so much of poor structures—although there are poor structures—but primarily of a failure of leadership in the police force, as the noble Lord, Lord Dear, suggested? Therefore, will he accept that I welcome the concept of more direct entrants into the police force, and I hope that special priority will be given to members of the Armed Forces who are being made redundant despite their fine records, who could come into the police force and do great good work? If there is a structure that needs changing, it is that we should re-establish a proper college for the senior officers of the police force to be induced into the police force and to take the leadership role in it.

I agree with my noble friend. It is certainly the case that many people who have been active in the Armed Forces have qualities that could be important in policing. I do not know that I would go as far as to say that they should be given priority but they should clearly be encouraged to apply for those posts.

My Lords, while I welcome the Statement by the Home Secretary—and clearly there are serious issues with the current investigation of police complaints and the police’s disciplinary procedures—is the Home Secretary aware of the dangers of articulating direct entry at a senior level and changes to the inspectorate of constabulary, where we now have for the first time a Chief Inspector of Constabulary who has no experience of policing and a majority of inspectors who have no experience of policing? Is she also aware of the impact on senior officers of the utmost integrity who have spent their whole careers in the police service of saying that those changes are a positive difference to police integrity, and the impression that she appears to be giving to the public about the integrity of the police service at the moment? Is the Home Secretary aware that every time she runs down the police service in this way it makes the police service less effective because the police service relies on public confidence and trust to ensure that the public give information and support the police in their work?

I refer my noble friend to the second paragraph of the Statement that I have just read, in which the Home Secretary pays tribute to individual police officers and the way in which they conduct themselves, “honestly and with integrity”.

If I am honest with my noble friend—and I think I owe it to him to be honest—the way in which he presented his question shows all the problems that policing has: it is the notion that only the police can know how to manage the police. What the Home Secretary has done with this series of reforms is to say to the police service, “There are better ways of doing these things. Other people will be able to get you to the place you want to be”. It is very important that we back those changes. At the heart of it all, the degree to which the police have seen themselves and their problems as being something for them alone is something that the public are no longer prepared to tolerate.

My Lords, I agree with, and congratulate, the Home Secretary and the Home Office team on a great deal of this Statement. A clear wind of change needs to blow through the police service and it is to be welcomed. A great deal, but not all—I will not tire the House with a view on PCCs; the Minister and I have discussed that enough. My question refers to an odd phrasing in the Statement that I have never come across before. The phrase of “sealed investigations”—I use that term in inverted commas—into police corruption. The police service, especially the Met, has for years carried out secret and successful investigations into police corruption.

I was talking about the Statement to the noble Baroness, Lady Manningham-Buller. We agreed that her officers had assisted the Met in some of those inquiries. I carried out an overt inquiry into police corruption which led to prosecution and convictions at the Old Bailey. The idea that I would have withheld the information I was receiving from the man in charge of running the police service from the top, who at the time was the noble Lord, Lord Condon, would be unthinkable. I ask the noble Lord to ensure that those charged with this initiative seek to learn from the previous experience of those who have spent most of their lives investigating police and other corruption, including some of those who sit in your Lordships’ House.

I am very happy to take the noble Lord’s advice on that matter. What he had to say was very interesting.

Does the noble Lord recollect, and indeed agree with, the historic words of the late Lord Callaghan in relation to the police when he said that our police are not a gendarmerie, they are not a corps d’élite, they are citizens in uniform? Does he accept that, although sophisticated systems may well assist the police, the essence of being a police officer is very much encapsulated in the words of James Callaghan? While accepting—indeed, the noble Lord will remember that I raised on many occasions the need for a comprehensive inquiry on the lines of that conducted by Sir Henry Willink in the early 1960s. There were so many problems that coalesced and it was the only way of dealing with them.

It seems to me, respectfully, that the inquiries that are now being considered are indeed wide-ranging and deep-seated. A great deal will depend on the collation of the evidence. I would ask for one matter, which has already been raised by my noble friend, to be considered in addition. We should ask ourselves the question whether, in the 21st century, we can carry on for very much longer with 43 police forces without considering a process of rationalised amalgamation.

That takes us back to a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Dear. I think that I explained that the issue appears different from different points of view. I am not sure that a change in size or relocating a responsibility to a regional level or whatever would necessarily lead to more effective policing—in fact, my own prejudice suggests that it would not. However, I agree with the noble Lord’s dictum. It goes back further than Jim Callaghan to Peel himself, who said that the people are the police and the police should be the people. That is the concept that lies behind the British police force, which certainly differs from police forces in other parts of the world.

My Lords, we are grateful to the Minister for repeating the Statement and for telling us of this blizzard of inquiries that the Home Secretary is setting up—I see him shaking his hand as though he feels that that is being pejorative. The point to which I hope the Minister will respond is that these are all interrelated issues; they have an impact on each other. Single, separate inquiries are not necessarily the best way to resolve all these matters. There is a question of how all this will be made to cohere and to be effective in delivering the sort of police service that I am sure all noble Lords want.

The Minister also referred to requirements that would be placed on the police to report—I think that it was in relation to whistleblowers and what happens to the issues that they report. Does the Minister agree with me, with those in Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and with those in the Independent Police Complaints Commission who think that one aid to transparency would be the proper recording by the police of those instances in which they use restraint or force against members of the public, and for those statistics to be publicly available so as to be measured against any complaints that may be received?

When I was waving my hand, I was not making an offensive or hostile gesture to the noble Lord, Lord Harris; I just wanted to explain that they are not inquiries but reviews. They are reviews that are taking place with the Home Office. He wanted to know how the reviews would work together. They are all short term and are designed to report within the next six months, with some even shorter, in order to bring together, as the noble Lord quite rightly pointed out, the parallel policy formation that will be necessary to make sure that we have coherence.

On the accountability of restraint, I will suggest that that is something that the College of Policing could consider. It is the sort of issue on which it quite rightly makes recommendations and issues guidelines. I am sure that it will be interested in the noble Lord’s comments, but I cannot comment today.

My Lords, the “Plebgate” incident at the gates of Downing Street took place on 17 September 2012. At that time, the commissioner of the Met decided to investigate himself. Does my noble friend recollect that, when he answered a Question from me on 1 April this year, 18 months after the incident had happened, he said, first, that HMG had no role in deciding who should investigate it? Therefore, I ask him whether in future it would be possible for the Commissioner of the Met to decide to investigate such an incident rather than having it independently investigated.

Secondly, my noble friend told me in his Answer that although the IPCC had requested that the Metropolitan Police should publish its report once the misconduct proceedings had been concluded, it would be for the Metropolitan Police to decide whether to publish the report. Does that example not reveal a very unsatisfactory state of affairs? And, incidentally, when will we get the final report on that incident?

I cannot answer my noble friend on the latter point. All I can say is that the events surrounding my right honourable friend Andrew Mitchell and the process that followed are among a number of issues informing the present debate about policing and the way in which the police deal with complaints. It is good that my noble friend has had the opportunity of raising the matter again today; it belongs to a whole collection of matters, including Hillsborough and the Stephen Lawrence murder, that have led us to believe that it is right for us to undertake these reviews.