Question for Short Debate
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what proposals they have to improve police leadership, accountability and ethics in the light of the report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life Tone from the top.
My Lords, I am delighted to introduce this short debate on the report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, entitled Tone from the Top. My interest in police accountability is not original. It started with Lord Corbett of Castle Vale and his researcher, and the fact that I was able to source a PhD paper from one Dr Roger Patrick, which delved into all sorts of matters on the reporting of crime. I then raised the issue before the House in a short debate in March 2013. Subsequently, the Public Administration Select Committee looked into the matter. Following that, the Committee on Standards in Public Life made its investigation and report. I am delighted that the author of that report, the noble Lord, Lord Bew, as chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life, is with us. I congratulate him on his committee’s report.
I continue by declaring what I believe is an important matter: the fundamental importance of policing in this country. It is a vital first service. It must command the confidence of the public at large, of business and of government. I pay tribute to the many officers who willingly face danger in the interests of protecting the public. There remains a high level of public confidence and support, even though it has taken a bit of a hit over recent years because of a number of high-level failings and revelations referred to in the noble Lord’s committee’s report. Stories continue to come out weekly, if not daily.
Responsibility for checking crime recording is claimed by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, so it is unsurprising that following the Public Administration Select Committee’s report, the Committee on Standards in Public Life turned its attention to the means of accountability set up under the coalition Government—namely, the police and crime commissioners and the panels that work with them. The Home Affairs Committee described this as the creation of,
“a system that relies on local scrutiny and the main check is at the ballot box”.
It also remarked that this comes round only every few years.
Since their creation, several factors have come to light. First, it is fair to say that there has been a bit of a democratic deficit in terms of poor voter response. That feature has not been improved on in subsequent intermediate elections for replacement PCCs. Secondly, many of the police and crime commissioner candidates came from party-political backgrounds. From my own standpoint—from where I sit in the House—I think that a greater degree of political neutrality would have been more appropriate.
Thirdly, some PCCs came to their posts with a history of police or allied area involvement. In some cases it appeared that this might—and in some cases did—impede their role of holding a chief constable to account. Fourthly, while PCCs have a sanction against the chief constable, this may not drill down to the culture of policing in the middle ranks. Example may be from the top, but leadership deficits pointed to by others may mean that this does not permeate through the force, leaving some cultural practices effectively unchanged and unchallenged. Fifthly, PCCs, and indeed their panels, seem to have had a reluctance to challenge anything remotely associated with what the police might choose to claim to be operational matters. I note that the CSPL report comments on the reluctance of one PCP to cross that line.
In respect of police and crime commissioner performance, the report makes some significant recommendations, which I shall paraphrase because I know that the noble Lord, Lord Bew, will want to flesh some of them out. They fall into the areas of standards, evaluation, sanctions, disclosure and transparency, objectivity in dealing with complaints and safeguards in appointment procedures.
Although the intention was that PCCs would better hold the police to account, that was never the only mechanism. Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, the College of Policing, the Home Office, parliamentary committees and so on all have a role to play, but it seems to me that none of the issues of “gaming” of crime figures, which I referred to back in 2013, has gone away. Dr Rodger Patrick—yes, the same one—tells me that it is continuing. He believes that it is institutional and, having seen some of his evidence, I have to agree with his interpretation.
Even HMIC seems to admit that police under-recording of crime may be significant, but then it gave the West Midlands force an improbably high approval rating of 99% for its recording procedures. However, at the very time that it was carrying that out audit, circumstances were unfolding which led to the eventual murder of Jacqueline Oakes in January 2014. Apparently the force knew about Ms Oakes’s killer and the history of violence and abuse. It seems that the IPCC has now served notices on 26 serving officers, seven police staff and two officers who have left the force in connection with this case. This suggests an institutional issue and a failure to record information—the precise factor that HMIC was supposed to audit. I am told that, subsequently, the West Midlands PCC examined 13 domestic homicide reviews from that force and found that in more than half of them there was a failure by the police to take robust action. So, even had incident reporting been as good as HMIC suggested, the resultant action was defective.
Middlesex University reported on West Midlands’s domestic homicide reviews in July 2014. This found that the process remained less than joined up, with many stakeholders, different and poorly integrated areas of focus and an absence of holistic management. Dr Patrick, whom I regard as a great expert on crime recording and statistics, has pointed out that the HMIC methodology of auditing forces’ performance is weak. Of course, we will probably never know whether these factors contributed to the death of Ms Oakes.
There is a line in the sand on the question of oversight of police operations. The definition of “operations” as a term of art matters and is based on understandings that go back to the 1920s or earlier. The details of response to an emergency, the sources of information used to disrupt criminal activity and the methodologies for apprehending wrongdoers would of course qualify as being operations. However, there has to be transparency and accountability by the police. If, as I apprehend, freedom from interference in operations can in certain circumstances translate in modern terms into a denial of any oversight rights at all, I think it is time to redefine what is or is not “operational” in this context.
In a conversation today with one of the police force deputy commissioners, other issues came to light, particularly in connection with youths in custody, where there are few, if any, common protocols linking the police activity with that of local authority education or social services departments. Furthermore, it seems that there are no protocols setting out the respective areas of activity of HMIC and IPCC and how these interleave. If either had a clear road map of their scope and activities, such a protocol would be unavoidable. So on one level agencies defend their turf vigorously; on others, there is unnecessary overlap; and, on a third, there are some significant gaps which erode confidence and ruin, degrade and may even cost lives.
My point is this: all the regulators of the police—police and crime commissioners, HMIC, the IPCC, the College of Policing, the Home Office and so on—are themselves to a degree embedded with policing, and I wonder whether this does not in some circumstances interfere with true independence and objectivity in holding to account those who need to be held to account. For their part, police and crime commissioners walk a tightrope: they need to work with their chief constable in a collaborative manner but yet be able to take the ultimate sanction if need be. But they can only be as good as the performance of other regulators permits.
I finish, with his consent, with a quote from the speech by the noble Lord, Lord Bew, at the annual Newsam Memorial Lecture 2015 hosted by the College of Policing. He said:
“It is no good preaching principles and codes in an organisation if, for example, promotions, pay and other incentives actually encourage something quite different. A number of investment banks had exemplary statements of values. But what was actually rewarded in them, right up to their chief executives, was excessive risk-taking and the pursuit of profit at the expense of customer service”.
So ongoing indifference, acquiescence, rewarding poor performance, an administrative Nelson’s eye, if you like, and poor leadership remain. Indeed, Tone from the Top is a prophetic title. This matters. Confidence in the forces of law and order and the cohesion of society are at stake—as, ultimately, is the rule of law. That is why this report is important for what it says and what it infers, and why it requires government attention.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Earl for bringing forward this debate. I declare my interests in policing and as the drafter of the first police code of ethics in 1991.
The report is extremely good and I read it with great interest. I agree with many of its conclusions. The three that I would particularly note are the call for a mechanism for removing police and crime commissioners, of which there is not one; the weaknesses of the police and crime panels, especially to acquire information; and the call regarding chief constable selection processes. There is also something in the confusion of roles between the PCC and the chief officer. One of the most interesting places that that occurs—it is obvious that it is occurring—is around who talks to the press after a major incident. In some places it is the PCC; in some places it is the chief constable. One of these days, the PCC is going to find themselves caught up in an inquiry because of what he or she said at a press conference. That is just a general point.
What I looked for in the report and did not find is the issue of the power of the PCC to dismiss a chief officer. I want to elaborate on that in my short speech. Mechanisms are clearly laid out in statute for the dismissal of a chief officer found guilty of gross misconduct. That is a pretty obvious requirement in any disciplinary process. But what is missing is the understanding of how it is possible to remove a chief officer merely by making a public statement. That is the crucial point. In other words, a public statement by a PCC to say, “I have lost confidence in this officer”. That is what has happened on more than one occasion.
It is exactly the same as—and I will put this in the most objective manner I possibly can—my slight disagreement with the current Mayor of London. If you look at what was then the Greater London Authority Act, you will see that there were pages and pages on how to remove a commissioner or deputy commissioner, but that was not the route that Boris chose. He chose to threaten that he would have a vote and declare a vote of no confidence, as he put it, “because I have the numbers”.
I merely say that it seems to me that the Government—in concert perhaps with the National Police Chiefs Council and the Chief Police Officers Staff Association, if it still exists—should produce some guidance that actually says that a chief constable can only be publicly called upon to step down after a disciplinary sanction and only with the prior consent of a police and crime panel. That is prior consent, not subsequent. The reason for saying “public” is because in any organisation the person in charge has the right to wander into the room, sit down with somebody and say, for instance, “Gordon, it is time to go”. That is a private conversation which continues, “I think that this is getting worse and it is time for you to go”. I have no qualms about that—but if someone stands in front of the town hall saying, “I have no confidence in the chief constable”, that leaves the chief constable with absolutely nowhere to go. The problem with that is the implications.
The implications are that, for the very first time in England and Wales, a chief constable answers to one person, and one person alone. That would make you pretty cautious. Are you going to be cautious about things where you make a professional judgment but the PCC wants something very different? How many times are you going to argue with the PCC, and then insist on your operational independence, before you start getting a cold feeling between your shoulders? This is a terribly important issue. A chief officer, like any other chief executive, is appointed to do things that he or she believes in, and they should be able to pursue them after rational debate, even against the views of the PCC. At the moment, there is a danger that they might not. They also might decide not to investigate the friend or relative of a PCC. When I was commissioner, we investigated the Prime Minister. There is a freedom which it is necessary for the police to have, and one-to-one relationships require even more care than when answering to a committee or a police authority.
The second point I want to add is this. What is the long-term effect of this on the young men and women who are currently passing through the strategic command course at the Police Staff College? I think that some of them might be on it right now. They face an average period of seven or eight years before they become chief constables, and they will pass through the ranks of assistant and deputy chief before doing so. They are now going into that knowing that, for the next seven or eight years, they will watch how their chief operates with the PCC. My fear is that over those years they will watch chief officers make less good decisions because they are afraid of losing their jobs. They are afraid of losing their jobs not over a matter of discipline but because of how a decision is taken by the PCC to remove the chief without just cause. That is potentially a very worrying thought. What will be the mindset of aspirant chief constables in eight years’ time if they are brought up in a place where they are vulnerable?
The reason that this is particularly difficult is that to some degree the model for it comes from the United States. The most famous example is Bill Bratton being sacked by the mayor of New York for appearing on the front cover of Time magazine as the man who saved New York, whereas the mayor thought that that was his job. The difference is that in America people move from police force to police force after having been removed in that way. There is no detriment and Bill Bratton is back. That is not possible over here. If you lose your job, you lose your reputation and your pension.
My Lords, I, too, wish to thank the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, for initiating this debate. The noble Earl has had a long interest in policing generally and in the integrity and accountability of police leaders in particular. It is no surprise, therefore, that he has pressed for a debate on this important report on his specialist subject. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Bew, and his committee on having decided to turn their attention to policing and on producing a report on this subject which is substantial, not only in size but in content.
Police leadership, ethics and accountability have been very much in the news in recent years. Hillsborough and the Stephen Lawrence case continue to attract attention, although the events to which they refer occurred decades ago. Moreover, those issues show no sign of going away. As recently as last Saturday morning, the media were full of stories about the leadership of the Metropolitan Police having to apologise publicly for the behaviour of undercover officers who had “violated the human rights” of women with whom they had had relationships in circumstances which the Met had to admit were a blatant “abuse of police power”.
So it is not surprising that the Committee on Standards in Public Life, whose mission is to advise the Prime Minister on ethical standards across the whole of public life and to monitor and report on issues relating to the standards of conduct of all public officeholders, should have decided that the time had come to turn its attention to policing. The only surprise about that decision is that it took it so long to get around to it. The committee was established more than 20 years ago and this is its 15th report. I should have thought, given the critical importance of honesty, integrity, openness and impartiality in policing, and the public’s concern about how far the police actually incorporate these values in their day-to-day activity, that the committee would have put the police several places higher on its priority list for review. Be that as it may, I am delighted that the committee finally focused on this important public service and I join other noble Lords in congratulating the noble Lord, Lord Bew, and his committee.
At the end of what appears to have been a very thorough and comprehensive review of the leadership, ethics and accountability arrangements in our 43 local police forces, the committee came up with 20 main recommendations, several divided into sub-recommendations. There is not nearly enough time in this very short debate to deal with all or even most of these recommendations. All I intend to say is that while I support most of them, there are a few which I feel are a bit too prescriptive and others where I feel that the committee has not been prescriptive enough and has taken the easy way out by passing the buck to the Home Office to put things right.
For example, chapter 5, where the committee discusses the accessibility to the public of information about the performance of their police force, says:
“The public needs to access information to scrutinise the performance of their local police force and to hold the PCC to account”.
Who could possible object to this statement of the obvious? However, when it comes to recommending how this openness should be encouraged and monitored, the committee makes no proposals of its own but simply endorses the recommendation of the National Audit Office that the Home Office should report on how it plans to increase data availability and accessibility to help the public hold PCCs to account. I found this rather disappointing, to say the least.
Sadly, it is not the only case in which the committee deals with a difficult issue by handing it off to the Home Secretary for action. I would not have bothered to highlight this aspect of the committee’s recommendations if I did not think that it reflected what I regard as an important misunderstanding about the way local policing is presently organised. In short, I feel that the committee, by putting forward recommendations of this kind, has either not understood, or perhaps not quite accepted, the world of local policing as it is following the coming into force of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011—that is, the world of local policing post the introduction of PCCs. In this world, whether we like it or not—I know that many noble Lords do not like it at all—it is the responsibility of PCCs, among other things, to provide adequate information about the performance of their forces and it is up to the public, either through the ballot box or through community groups or specialist organisations such as CoPaCC, mentioned in the report, to ensure that they do.
Even the National Audit Office recognises this. In the third paragraph of this report’s admirable executive summary, the committee quotes with approval the NAO’s statement that the present model of local policing is one of “democratic accountability” in which,
“the public will have elected Police and Crime Commissioners and will be holding them to account for how policing is delivered through their force”.
It could not be clearer, so I do not for a moment believe that the Home Office has no role to play in local policing—far from it. I believe strongly that the Home Office has a vital role to play in local policing, for example, by ensuring that the laws on our statute books reflect the evolution of criminal behaviour; by establishing and maintaining strong national policing agencies to tackle crimes such as human trafficking, cybercrime and economic crime, which cannot be tackled effectively locally; and, of course, by arguing the case for local policing when public expenditure totals come to be distributed between competing public services. But when it comes to most of the issues discussed in this report, the buck must stop with the people directly elected to deliver policing services to their communities. They have the power; they must be held accountable for using it.
Devolution of power to local level does not always work as we would like it to. It is always easier to blame central government for everything that goes wrong locally. But giving local communities responsibility for the professional men and women employed to meet their policing needs must be right. We must give it time to work.
My Lords, I am very grateful to the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, for initiating this debate and, even more than that, for the work he carried out which first drew my attention to the key issues of leadership in modern policing. Some three years ago the noble Earl initiated a major debate on police statistics. That was before it became pretty fashionable or commonplace to read newspaper headlines saying that police statistics are maybe not cast in gold and that there might be some problems with them. Long before that, the noble Earl led the way in this Room, basing himself in part of course on the work of Dr Patrick—as he would say himself. That gained my interest.
I agree completely with the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, that the Committee on Standards in Public Life had been in existence for too long without looking at policing, given our remit. My first intention was to look at the statistics. I discussed this with the chairman of PASC and he became very interested, too. In the end, PASC reported in the autumn of 2013 on policing statistics, and the first document from the committee under my chairmanship was a submission to that report. The PASC report ends by saying to us, “Again, would you look at questions of leadership and policing?”. That is what we have tried to do.
It almost pains me to say something so simple about the debate around PCCs but I have one strong idea in mind: even in our best quality newspapers, there has not been a serious discussion about how this major experiment, whether you like it or not, is working out. Either X was wonderful and transformed the sensitivity of the police to crimes against women in their area, or X was a total idiot. That is all you get in one headline after another, with no systematic attempt to look at what this means. PCCs were a major attempt to place the local principle at the heart of our policing and a major transformation, so our idea above all else was to try to produce a balanced and sober report.
I accept the point of the noble Lord, Lord Blair, from a position that I well understand, that there is an essential lacuna—from his point of view, a lack of sharpness—in the report. I also accept the point of view from the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman. However, our approach was to try and raise the quality of the debate. One reason I am so happy about the debate today is that the Committee on Standards in Public Life has a new practice in that we do not just produce a report. We come back at the end of a public debate, as we did on our most recent report last summer, and produce a follow-up. Many things have been said today from all parts of the Room that are of great seriousness and will be reflected in the follow-up report.
While we found a great deal that was positive—greater innovation, visibility, and focus on community engagement and victim support—we also found clear evidence of standards risks in the new experiment: confusion over roles; insufficient challenge and scrutiny; and insufficient redress where PCCs fell below the behaviour expected of them by the public. I am anxious to hear the Minister’s views on the particular recommendations our committee made.
We recommended a national minimum code of conduct for PCCs. That is an essential component in ensuring clarity as to the standards of conduct and behaviour expected from PCCs, and to give the public—to whom they are accountable—a common yardstick to judge acceptable conduct. We also suggested a review of the current powers, and that the Home Secretary should urgently review whether there are sufficient powers available to take action against a PCC where conduct falls below the standards expected of public officer-holders. In our view, those standards are always defined by the known principles of public life.
The committee considers the introduction of a power of recall a matter for Parliament, but believes that should this power be introduced for PCCs, commonality relating to the thresholds and triggers to initiate recall is required. In other words, we accept that this is a complicated message. As far as I understand some of the public remarks from the Home Secretary, she acknowledges that if you have recall for MPs, there is an analogy that there should be recall for PCCs. We understand that argument, but we want to ensure that it is done with precision and fairness.
I concede that it is now the very short term with the elections coming up in 2016, but an idea the committee is keen on is the circulation of an ethical checklist to all declared candidates for a PCC post, with a request from the committee for each candidate to publish their responses. We will encourage relevant local media outlets, whether print, broadcast or social, to seek out and publicise their candidates’ responses. For us, accountability should not simply be an issue at four- yearly election intervals. We need greater scrutiny and transparency of PCC’s decisions between elections. The public must be able to make fair and balanced assessments of this very important new experiment.
There is one other thing that we did not see, apart from the points so cogently made this afternoon. We did not expect the number of resignations by PCCs. As a practical matter, I am not now saying that there is a solution to this. I simply acknowledge that it is something that we did not expect at all from our visits—and we talked to lots of PCCs around the country. It is not something that can be solved by the application of the Nolan principles, but it is a matter of significance.
My Lords, I also thank the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, for the debate. I note his comments about crime figures being underrecorded by the police—was there ever a greater case of shooting yourself in the foot, bearing in mind the justification that the Government have given for reducing police numbers by so great an amount is the drop in crime?
I have a great deal of sympathy for what the noble Lord, Lord Blair of Boughton, said about the way his career came to an end, which I think was entirely inappropriate. As far as the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, is concerned, the report majors on holding PCCs to account. I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Bew, not only for the report but for raising that as an issue, because I want to concentrate on concerns with the police and crime commissioners, rather than concerns with police leadership.
In 2010, the Liberal Democrats raised concerns about PCCs. We had concerns about concentrating so much power in one individual. As an alternative we suggested that, where police authorities were coterminous with local authority areas, the police authority should be made of the local elected councillors. Where they were not, there should be directly-elected police authorities, but not just one individual. In particular, concerns are highlighted in the report about the hiring and firing of police constables, the transparency of the selection processes and the ability to hold the police and crime commissioner to account when their conduct falls below the standards expected of them but short of criminal conduct.
I will illustrate the report’s abstract concerns by reference to a real-life example. A police and crime commissioner selected and appointed a chief constable to head their force. Some time after appointment, serious allegations of misconduct against the chief constable were reported to the PCC by a whistleblower. The allegations were of a sexual nature, involving the alleged abuse of authority, with the chief constable using his position, as both the chief constable and a man, to behave in inappropriate ways towards female staff. Because the chief constable had only recently been appointed by the PCC, there was clearly potential for the allegations to cast serious doubt over the judgement of the PCC in appointing the chief constable in the first place.
It has been brought to my attention by some of those involved that this confidential report of serious misconduct, including the name of the whistleblower, was passed to the chief constable by the police and crime commissioner. Those who brought the matter to my attention felt that, as the PCC was elected, and because of the sensitive nature of the allegations and the impact on the victims if their identities were made public, there was nothing they could do about what they considered to be the entirely inappropriate behaviour of the police and crime commissioner.
Eventually the allegations against the chief constable were formally recorded and investigated, and findings against him were made, short of requiring him to resign. Only after relentless pressure, mainly from his own officers, whose representative organisations, rather than the PCC, said they no longer had confidence in him, did the PCC finally agree to start the proceedings that would result in requiring the chief constable to resign. Eventually he did resign of his own volition.
Apart from the question of lack of judgment by the PCC in the first place, there are serious questions about her conduct—such as the leaking of confidential information about the identity of the complainants to the perpetrator—that have still not been addressed. This report by the Committee on Standards in Public Life queries the robustness of the selection of chief constables by PCCs, the effectiveness of police and crime panels in holding the police and crime commissioner to account, the confused complaints system in relation to PCCs, the lack of a code of conduct for PCCs, and insufficient powers to take action against PCCs whose conduct falls below the required standards.
Those are not abstract or theoretical concerns. As I have outlined in this one case, of which I have some detailed knowledge, the whole system by which PCCs work together with chief constables, how they are appointed and how they are then held to account and disciplined is, in my opinion, flawed. As the report highlights, because there is only one person holding the chief constable to account—in an increasing number of cases, the same person who appointed that chief constable—the relationship between the chief constable and the PCC in terms of their combined skills, their experience and their personalities becomes critical.
Do the Government not accept that, with the best will in the world, even if we have the codes of conduct and an independent element in the chief constable appointments process—as the report recommends—and a clear understanding of operational independence and effective measures to hold an elected police and crime commissioner to account, is having only one person responsible for selecting the chief constable and co-operating with the chief constable to deliver politically critical goals, for holding the chief constable to account and for sacking the chief constable really a workable system? I raise that not as a theoretical question but in relation to the case that I have outlined to the Committee this afternoon.
My Lords, I, too, extend my thanks to the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, for securing this short debate, which enables us to consider the valuable and timely report of the Committee on Standards in Public Life on leadership, ethics and accountability in policing. It has been particularly helpful to have heard in this debate from the chair of the committee, the noble Lord, Lord Bew.
The creation of police and crime commissioners and the associated governance arrangements has clearly been the driving force behind the committee’s decision to undertake this report, which is the first one in the committee’s history that has looked specifically at policing. As the report says:
“Trust in the police is vital—from the Chief Constable to the most junior police officer. Police ethics—their honesty, their integrity, their impartiality, their openness—should be beyond reproach … High standards—of both conduct and accountability—also need to be demonstrated by those charged with holding the police to account”.
I believe that, for the overwhelming majority of time, the police achieve the standards required of them —a view supported by the survey undertaken for the committee. However, any straying from those standards must be a cause for concern.
The report does not deal with issues relating to the impact on police officers of cutbacks in staffing, but it would be unrealistic to imagine that poor morale among officers, chief constables and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner in expressing concerns about the impact on effective policing and police numbers of further projected financial cuts, at this of all times, and a Government who have created uncertainty over intended changes in the police funding formula, does anything at all to promote or enhance the kind of culture or standards in policing referred to in the report. I hope that, in considering this report, the Government have taken and will continue to take a look at the impact of their decisions and decision-making on leadership, ethics and accountability in policing.
In his foreword to the report, the noble Lord, Lord Bew, states in respect of police and crime commissioners that there has been evidence of a,
“new impetus in many areas—greater innovation, increased visibility and a greater focus on community engagement and victim support”.
However, he then goes on to say that,
“there is also clear evidence of significant standards risks, including continuing confusion over roles and responsibilities, insufficient challenge and scrutiny of PCCs’ decisions and insufficient redress where a PCC falls below the standards of behaviour that the public expects of a holder of public office”.
A great many, if not all, of the issues referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Bew, were raised and, I would have to say, largely dismissed, by the then coalition Government during discussions on the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011. At that time, the Government’s attitude was to get the Bill through as quickly as possible and then hold elections for police and crime commissioners with their very considerable, relatively unchallenged powers, as has already been said, irrespective of how few people might vote in the elections. Detailed considerations on what would be appropriate structures, roles and responsibilities, checks and balances and effective and necessary governance arrangements did not appear to have the same priority.
This report by the Committee on Standards in Public Life forms a basis for a proper discussion of some of these issues, at least where they relate to the role and functions of the committee. I hope that it is an opportunity that the Government either are taking or will take. However, the omens are not all positive. In a parliamentary Written Answer a month ago, in response to a question about the effectiveness of police and crime commissioners, there was no mention of any of the specific issues that had by then been raised in the report by the Committee on Standards in Public Life or, indeed, of any government consideration being given to those issues. Presumably, the Minister will give a government view on the committee’s 20 recommendations —not least, those that seek to address the “significant standards risks” identified by the committee, including a,
“confusion amongst the public and the participants about roles and responsibilities, especially in relation to where operational independence and governance oversight begin and end … a significant absence of a clear process to take action against a PCC whose conduct falls below the standards expected of public office holders, resulting in that behaviour going unchallenged and uncensured … concerns about the robustness of current selection processes for chief officers … PCCs not encountering sufficient constructive challenge or active support in exercising decision making powers … barriers to the effective operation of Police and Crime Panels as scrutinisers including support, resources and the consistency and credibility of representative membership … a lack of timely and accessible information being provided to Police and Crime Panels by PCCs affecting Police and Crime Panels’ ability to scrutinise and support the PCC”,
“potential for high risk conflict of interests in roles jointly appointed by PCCs and Chief Constables … and risks inherent in the combined role of Chief Executive and Monitoring Officer to the PCC”.
Those issues were all raised in the report from the Committee on Standards in Public Life.
It also referred to confusion between and inherent tensions in the current police complaints system and the complaints system attaching to PCCs, and a gap in the expectations of the public in how complaints against PCCs would be resolved, especially when this involves unethical but not criminal behaviour. The Committee concluded that, combined, the factors to which I have just referred also impacted on the ability of police and crime panels to ensure—it is part of their role—
“that decisions of PCCs are tested on behalf of the public on a regular basis.”
Like other noble Lords who have spoken, I look forward to the Government’s response, which I hope will promote rather than shut down further debate, bearing in mind that the current police model is the one the present Home Secretary introduced and presumably felt would work effectively.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to respond to this debate on behalf of the Government. I thank the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, for raising this important issue, and congratulate him on securing the debate. Over many years the noble Earl has raised the issue of improving the accountability and transparency of our police forces, particularly in relation to the recording of crime statistics. Although it sometimes makes the Home Office uncomfortable, the whole policing service and the whole Government appreciate his scrutiny, his interest in the minutiae and the rigour he brings to the very important area of maintaining public confidence in the data we have. I also thank all noble Lords who have spoken in the debate.
The noble Earl framed the debate around the Committee on Standards in Public Life’s report on the leadership, accountability and ethics of local policing. I take this opportunity to thank the Chair of that committee, the noble Lord, Lord Bew, for the work he and the committee undertook to draft that report. I was particularly pleased to note the committee’s observation that police and crime commissioners have brought
“new impetus in many areas - greater innovation, increased visibility and a greater focus on community engagement and victim support”.
On page 24 there is a very interesting statistic about the level of awareness. A survey carried out for the committee found that 68% of people surveyed in 2014 had heard of their PCC. That is quite an impressive number, certainly when compared with the very low numbers that knew about the predecessor chairman of the police committee. The fact that there is greater interest in and scrutiny of the role must show that growing awareness. I am aware that several noble Lords questioned the awareness of PCCs and their democratic legitimacy. Of course, they were elected by 5.8 million people who expressed a view and turned out to vote. We believe that that number will be significantly higher when elections are held next year, not least because the role is becoming more established. For all those reasons, it is critical that the issue of ethics and integrity is at the heart of the deliberations.
The committee’s report contains many thought-provoking observations—20 in total. The noble Lord, Lord Bew, wrote to my right honourable friend the Home Secretary on 27 June, following the publication of the report, and requested that the Home Office respond by the end of November. I can confirm that the response will come by the end of November—by which we do not mean Sunday night, but this week. It has not been able to clear all the internal hurdles that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, being an experienced member of your Lordships’ House, will understand it needs to clear, so I will need to tread a bit carefully over some of the recommendations he wanted to hear about. He will not have to wait much longer, but I will not be able to satisfy him in every particular today.
I am sure noble Lords will understand that because of the formal response needed here, I am not in a position to address all those issues today. The Government take these issues, and police integrity more broadly, very seriously. It is at the heart of public confidence in policing and underpins the model of policing by consent.
Although I am unable to comment on the specifics of the report, I feel it is important for me to set out what this Government have done to put in place reforms to improve the accountability, transparency and integrity of policing in England and Wales and throughout the rest of the United Kingdom.
The most significant of these reforms came three years ago this month, with the election of PCCs. Since coming into post, PCCs have brought real local accountability to the performance of chief constables and their forces and are working hard to ensure that their local communities have a stronger voice in policing.
I appreciated reading through the report in some detail, especially some of the more anecdotal evidence given to the committee by representatives from local police forces—Greater Manchester being one; Merseyside another—on how the police and crime commissioners are working with the chief constable to implement these measures. That is a good example of what my noble friend Lord Wasserman said about local police and crime commissioners taking the initiative without necessarily needing to be instructed at every juncture. They realise that public confidence and ethical standards are at the heart of being able to carry out their duty, and that is happening.
The public profile of PCCs means that they are scrutinised in a way that anonymous police authorities were not, which helps to improve accountability in policing. Further, police and crime panels—PCPs—have been introduced in every police force area to scrutinise the actions and decisions of each PCC and make sure that information is available for the public, enabling them to hold the PCC to account.
PCPs have a range of powers to help them carry out their functions and specific responsibilities. A panel can, at reasonable notice, require the PCC to come before it. This power also extends to the staff of the PCC, including the deputy commissioner. The PCP is responsible for recording complaints made against a PCC and, where they are not of a criminal nature, resolving any such complaints.
The noble Lord, Lord Blair, made some very particular points about the operational integrity of chief constables and their ability to carry out investigations without fear or favour. That is a very important element. In fact, just last week, during a couple of Questions that came up in the House, we talked about the importance of integrity. The unique role of the Office of Constable and the oath that is given also came up. The oath is not to the Home Secretary but to Her Majesty, and is to pursue matters without fear or favour.
I am interested in the personal experience of the noble Lord, Lord Blair, in this regard, but there are particular procedures in place. I will not get into commenting on whether the Mayor of London followed them in that case, but the general point is that Schedule 8 to the police responsibility Act and Regulation 11A contain specific regulations and guidance as to how that ought to be done. It should involve the HMIC and conversations with the police and crime panel. That is set out. In that context, I am sure that this report will be read widely by police and crime commissioners. They should make themselves aware of their commitments, which they are obliged to do under law, when undertaking these matters.
The College of Policing was introduced as the first professional body for all policing in England and Wales. The college develops standards for policing based on strong evidence, so that future police practice is always based on evidence and not habit. The creation of the College of Policing is an important pillar in the programme of police reform, setting high professional standards, sharing what works best across policing, acting as the national voice of policing and ensuring that police training and ethics are of the highest possible quality.
In that context, the police Code of Ethics, produced by the College of Policing, has been published for the first time. Certainly, we would encourage all police and crime commissioners to have a discussion with their chief constables as to how that guidance is reflected in their forces. The Code of Ethics plays an important role in addressing some of the concerns about the ethics and behaviour of police officers and staff, particularly in relation to the media—a point raised by the noble Lord, Lord Blair. A consultation and review is taking place on relations with the media, including guidance on how contact with the media should take place and what procedures should be followed. That is an important part of the work of the College of Policing.
I refer also to the important role played by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary. It is important to look at the structural changes being made in the way that policing is maintained. Three years ago HMIC introduced the PEEL programme, which is all about the efficiency, effectiveness and legitimacy of the police. Its reports have been helpful in raising standards in forces across the country.
As the result of the changes made, the Office for National Statistics has highlighted the fact that recent increases in recorded crime are largely a consequence of improving recording practices within forces through the inclusion of previously underreported crimes such as sexual offences. Victims are now more confident about coming forward, which is something to be welcomed.
The Government have made great strides in improving the accountability, leadership and ethics of local policing, but the job is not finished. We are making changes to legislation to make sure that police complaints and disciplinary systems are fairer and more transparent. The package includes making the police complaints system more independent of the police by expanding the role of the PCCs, and introducing systems for supercomplaints to ensure that the key trends and patterns in policing can be raised and addressed appropriately. We will overhaul the police disciplinary system following a review by Major-General Chapman. We will strengthen protections for police whistleblowers and enable the IPCC to continue to operate effectively by strengthening its powers. The Government intend to introduce these reforms in the Policing and Criminal Justice Bill that was announced in the Queen’s Speech.
I said that the progress the Government have made on police reform is not finished. In truth, we must never rest when it comes to ensuring that our police have the best leaders who are properly held to account and who lead forces according to the highest ethical standards. Another table in the report shows that the level of confidence and trust that people have in senior police officers is just a fraction short of that for judges, and significantly above that for elected and appointed members of what one might call the political class. We can have great confidence in the quality and integrity of our police forces. Reports such as that produced by the noble Lord, Lord Bew, and his committee will only serve to strengthen that.
Again, I thank the noble Earl for introducing this debate and I can assure him that by the end of the week, there will be further news in the shape of the Home Secretary’s response.
Committee adjourned at 5.34 pm.