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Police: Senior Posts

Volume 783: debated on Thursday 29 June 2017


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty's Government, in the light of the statement by the Prime Minister on 4 June which praised the response of the police to the terrorist attack in London, whether they intend to continue their consultation on opening senior police posts to individuals without previous professional police experience.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper and draw attention to my registered interests in matters of policing.

My Lords, as the Prime Minister said, the police responded to the terrible attack with great courage and great speed. We owe them a debt of gratitude. Given the complexity of modern policing, it is important to continue to attract the brightest and most able police leaders. We believe that the best way to achieve this is to recruit from a wide talent pool in line with strict national standards set by the profession itself.

I thank the Minister for that Answer, but it is not quite sufficient. For the avoidance of doubt, I am talking about future police leaders, and this has nothing to do with recent events concerning Hillsborough. Some months ago, the Minister invited the noble Lords, Lord Dear and Lord Condon, and me to discuss with her and the Policing Minister concerns that not enough candidates were coming forward for top jobs in the police. We made a series of recommendations to the noble Baroness and the Police Minister, including restoring the central role of the inspectorate in selection. Those suggestions do not appear to have been progressed, so my question to the Minister is simply this: what is it about the police service which is so unique that it justifies a consultation on whether and how to appoint people to leadership positions who have no professional experience in the police, when all other professions regard it as axiomatic that prior professional experience is a prerequisite for senior leadership?

My Lords, ahead of the election, we consulted police leaders on direct entry to chief constable rank, and the proposal on direct entry to the broader chief officer ranks featured in the Conservative manifesto. I found the meeting that I had with the noble Lords extremely useful. One thing that we all agreed on was the importance of leadership, with the skills and training required for senior police officers. Current legislation already allows direct entry at the ranks of assistant and deputy chief constable and of commander to deputy commissioner of the Met Police if a person has completed the police national assessment centre and the strategic command course. It is essential that people have not only the leadership but the skills going in.

I am not sure that the noble Lord, Lord Blair, got an answer to the specific question that he asked, but that is not always unusual. He has quite rightly drawn attention to the universal praise expressed for our police for their response to recent terrorist attacks. However, such praise does not help pay the ever-increasing daily bills which face our brave police officers in their everyday lives. Bearing in mind that the Government had no difficulty at extremely short notice in finding that an additional £1 billion was available to bolster their own political position in Parliament, can the Minister tell us what the Government’s policy is this morning on bolstering police pay between now and 2019, and the extent to which it differs from that laid down in 2015 by the then Chancellor, George Osborne?

My Lords, this country has seen some unprecedented events during the past three months in terms of the terrorist attacks and the terrible incident at Grenfell Tower. The police and emergency services not only have stepped up to the plate but have been under a lot of pressure in that time, both mental and physical. In the light of the recent attacks, we are engaging with the police about the demands that they face, to ensure that they continue to have the resources that they need to keep us safe.

My Lords, I do not believe that the Minister answered the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Blair, so perhaps I may rephrase it. If the Government are not considering appointing admirals of the fleet who have never commanded a warship or field marshals who have never led troops into battle, why are they considering appointing chief constables who have no experience of policing?

My Lords, the direct entry scheme would not apply to chief constables or the commissioner of the Metropolitan Police; the senior officer roles I talked about do not include them under current legislation. I hope that that helps to answer the noble Lord’s question. I will address one aspect of the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Blair, that we talked about in our meeting, which was the pipeline of suitable people coming through. Recruitment is now under way for the 2017 cohort of the direct entrant inspectors and superintendents, with demand considerably increased compared to 2016. This direct entry scheme will see the recruitment of 19 superintendents across the nine forces as well as 56 inspectors, bringing people with fresh ideas and experience, but that does not deny the need for those skills which will have to be brought to the force, or the need for these people to complete the PNAC and the SCC.

My Lords, does the Minister acknowledge that, regardless of the merits or otherwise of selecting candidates from outside the service, there is a real and current crisis of selection within the service? In recent years the talent pool of able men and women prepared to put themselves forward to be chief constables has got ever smaller and shortlists are often just one candidate. Does she acknowledge that more needs to be done now to improve the talent pool so that the most able men and women within the service can be encouraged to become the future leaders?

That was another thing that the noble Lord and I talked about and I totally agree with: if we do not have the pipeline or the talent pool coming through, there is a big danger for the police service that we will not have talent at the top. I totally agree with him that we need those trained, skilled people coming through and we have to encourage people to apply out of force, which was also something that the noble Lord raised with me.