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Police: Complaints

Volume 760: debated on Tuesday 3 March 2015


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what steps they are taking in the light of the number of complaints against police forces in England and Wales as reported by the Independent Police Complaints Commission.

My Lords, the Government see the effective handling of complaints as a cornerstone to trust in the police. We have undertaken significant policing reform, including reforming the IPCC to handle all serious and sensitive cases. We have consulted on reform to make the complaints and disciplinary systems independent, customer-focused and transparent. These major reforms will improve the public’s experience and the process. The Government will respond to the consultation during this Parliament.

I thank my noble friend the Minister for that Answer. However, will the Government, as a matter of urgency, set up an independent inquiry into South Yorkshire Police over its systematic failings and slow and inadequate responses and improvements in cases of child exploitation, particularly its handling of the Rotherham cases?

My noble friend is absolutely right to highlight the appalling situation that has been uncovered in Rotherham and South Yorkshire. That aspect of the South Yorkshire Police is, of course, subject to review by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, which undertook one review in 2013 and two in 2014. Reviews are now being undertaken by the National Crime Agency and Operation Stovewood. At this stage, we do not feel there is a need for a further independent inquiry but I would be very happy to meet my noble friend, as a very senior member of the community in that area, to see what more can be done to learn the lessons from that dreadful experience.

My Lords, last year the family of a severely autistic man, Faruk Ali, alleged that he was victimised by the police outside his home in Luton. The IPCC is currently investigating the incident in which an officer has been recorded deriding Mr Ali for his developmental disability and using racist language. Can the Minister confirm what steps the Government are taking to eradicate discrimination of this kind, which arises time and time again in complaints against the police? In asking this question, I declare my interests as set out in the register.

The Government’s position is that we have a zero tolerance of that type of conduct and behaviour. As regards the specific case raised by the noble Baroness, I hope she will understand that I cannot comment on an ongoing IPCC inquiry.

My Lords, is my noble friend aware that last week the Metropolitan Police and the Independent Police Complaints Commission reached an agreement on how complaints about stop and search and the confiscation of property at ports of entry should be dealt with. Can he tell us how long it will be before individual complainants against the conduct of the police at ports of entry receive an answer to their complaints?

On the general subject of complaints, there is an ongoing consultation which will report shortly. However, I will have to write to my noble friend on the specifics of his question.

Does the Minister accept that one disquieting feature of the report is that cases that were investigated locally in 2014 took on average 135 days to investigate completely while in the previous year they were dealt with in 125 days? Can he give the House an assurance that all necessary resources, financial and otherwise, will be projected at seeing to it that the situation at least does not deteriorate and instead of that improves?

The noble Lord is absolutely right and we know that justice delayed is justice denied. We need to move quickly towards a result in this situation. The reality is that most complaints are dealt with satisfactorily by the constabulary and it is only the very difficult cases that find their way to the IPCC. Often they are more complex and thus more lengthy in their consideration. However, the noble Lord makes an absolutely sound point.

Is the Minister surprised that complaints against the police, especially those on the beat, have increased and are bound to increase when police forces are being drastically reduced? Is he seriously asserting that in those circumstances the public are not being prejudiced thereby?

I think that we have to look at this carefully. Certainly in terms of front-line policing, we try to preserve those numbers. The decisions are matters for the chief constable and the police and crime commissioner in a particular area. However, the acid test as to whether the police are effective on the ground is a twin point. One of those is that, yes, if complaints are rising then we should be concerned about that, but the other is that crime is falling to record low levels at the same time. That is something for which the police deserve our thanks and praise.

My Lords, that is the very point I want to touch on. Let us not in our Chamber knock the police. The police are a vital organ of our society and they do a fine job. There may be the odd mistake here and there, as there is everywhere, but the police are first class.

My Lords, following on from those two questions, there is another point to be made. The Minister will know that we are concerned about the sharp rise in the number of complaints being made to the IPCC and he will also be aware of our view that a more effective police standards authority is needed to tackle the most serious cases involving corruption and force integrity. Have the Government undertaken any research to understand why the greatest number of complaints that have been made are about police neglect and failure of duty as well as about individual police officers being rude or intolerant? The points that have been made by my noble friends reinforce that. Since this Government took office, in my county of Essex alone, we have lost almost 600 police officers, with even more cuts planned of around 200 officers. When the Government planned such a dramatic cut in police numbers, was any assessment made of the impact that that would have on the quality of service that the police would be able to provide to the public?

A couple of issues underline those questions. One is that some very high-profile, major systemic failures have been uncovered, not least the one raised by my noble friend Lord Scriven in his supplementary question. But we have two bits of evidence. One is that crime has fallen by 20% since 2010 while at the same time we have seen the level of complaints against the police go up. That is why we are having a review: to understand why that is and what more can be done while at the same time recognising the incredible job that our police forces do in keeping us safe.