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Police: Vetting, Misconduct and Misogyny

Volume 825: debated on Wednesday 2 November 2022

Private Notice Question

Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government how they plan to respond to the report of His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services on vetting, misconduct, and misogyny in the police service.

I thank the noble Lord for his Question. This report contains extremely concerning findings about policing culture and vetting processes, which are falling short of the standards expected and damaging public confidence in the process. Forty of the recommendations in the report are for policing itself to adopt, for chief officers and the College of Policing respectively. Chiefs have committed to addressing the recommendations in full and the Home Office will consider and respond to its three recommendations in due course.

I thank the Minister for the reply, but today we learned from the police inspectorate’s report of extraordinary failures in the vetting of applicants to join the force. Is it true that at a time when confidence in the police is being undermined, hundreds, indeed thousands of officers are on our streets who are guilty of serious offences? How has that happened and when was the Home Office aware of it? Is it acceptable that officers with convictions for robbery, indecent exposure and domestic abuse, and links with serious and organised crime, have been accepted? How is it possible that we read of unwarranted stops of women by officers as a result of the so-called booty patrols? This is happening now. It is not historic—it is not “Z Cars” or “Dixon of Dock Green”—so the need for action is urgent. What are the Government, with the police, going to do in practice? The time for reviews is over. It is action that is needed, is it not?

It is, and I agree with the noble Lord entirely that it is completely unacceptable to have those people in our police forces. The fact is that the chiefs need to take immediate action to ensure that vetting is prioritised in their forces and the public can therefore have confidence in them. It is the responsibility of the individual police forces; they are responsible for their own vetting decisions, which they should take in accordance with guidance from the College of Policing. Frankly, I agree with the noble Lord: it is incredibly disappointing—worse than disappointing —that, despite some progress, previous warnings about vetting have not been acted upon. Chiefs must make clear to the vetting units the high standards they expect from them. There is no excuse for poorly recording the rationale in the vetting decisions.

My Lords, this is yet another devastating report on the police service—devastating particularly for female victims, who will be wondering whether they can trust the officer who arrives when they call the police, and devastating for the majority of decent hard-working police officers, who have again been let down by successive Conservative Governments and their own senior officers. Every single time there is mass recruitment in the police service, more of the wrong people slip through the vetting net, and police misconduct, corruption and criminality increase. It happened in the mid-1970s and in the mid-2000s, and it is happening again now. Will the Government tell the police that quality is more important than quantity, and will they give police chiefs the legislation they need to enable them to deal effectively with corrupt officers?

I am not entirely sure I share the noble Lord’s analysis of the quality problem. The fact is that a new online application process has been introduced, replacing an old assessment centre system called SEARCH. The new process operates according to national guidelines and it has been reasonably successful so far. Some 83,500 candidates were invited to complete the assessment; 58,000 have had their results marked and 42,500 have been successful—that is 73.55%. It is not just online; all the candidates have to pass each stage of the recruitment process, which includes assessment centres, vetting, medical assessments and fitness tests—there are lots of face-to-face aspects of the process. I am not convinced that an uplift in numbers affects quality.

My Lords, when asked about these matters the noble Lord says repeatedly that police vetting, discipline and recruitment must be left to chief constables themselves, but should there not be a legislative framework for this? The Government are very ready repeatedly to legislate for extra police powers but not for what the public deserve, which is a rigorous legislative scheme for recruitment, vetting and discipline.

That is the way the system is currently set up. As I say, the Home Office is not trying to absolve itself in this regard, but the fact remains that the vetting processes, which vary to some extent across forces, are the responsibility of chief constables.

My Lords, I remind Members of the House of my previous service in senior positions in a number of police forces in this country. The report in the newspapers this morning will fill all of us with concern—indeed, dismay. The findings of the inspectorate report are horrific. There will be many factors behind this, but I ask a question on one factor only: the need for staff training to develop leadership. The Home Office disbanded the Staff College—and this is nothing to do with the College of Policing—some 12 years ago. It was not re-established, and it badly needs to be so. Do His Majesty’s Government have any plans to re-establish the Staff College?

Not as far as I am aware, but I defer to the noble Lord’s specialist knowledge on this subject and I will take the question back to the Home Office.

My Lords, in his first Prime Minister’s Questions last week, Rishi Sunak chose to close the session by bragging and baiting the leader of the Opposition—to braying from the Tory Benches—saying that there are 15,000 new police officers on our streets. When he did so, how much did he know about the scale and nature of this—that hundreds, perhaps thousands of those people may have passed through flawed vetting processes?

As my noble friend will be aware, and as we debated extensively earlier this week, police and crime commissioners, along with chief constables, are responsible for setting out individual forces’ ways of dealing with and performing on these matters.

I ask the Minister gently about the decision to get rid of police officers during the first eight years or so, from 2010 onwards. Now that the Government have changed their policy, there is a need to get a lot of police officers in as quickly as possible in order to tackle crime. Does the Minister not think that those early decisions, in Budget after Budget, to take money away from police recruitment were terrible mistakes?

I obviously cannot answer that. I do not know if it was a good idea or not. The fact remains that the recruitment drive, as part of the police uplift programme, is delivering a large number of police officers. To reassure the House, there is no evidence to suggest that this is responsible for any adverse decision-making in vetting.

My Lords, is not the essence of this report contained in the third paragraph of the foreword, which says:

“Some police officers have used their unique position to commit appalling crimes, especially against women. Some forces have repeatedly failed to implement recommendations – from us and other bodies – that were designed to prevent and detect such behaviour”?

Who is responsible for ensuring that the police implement these recommendations?

My Lords, it is a matter for individual forces. I am pleased that the HMICFRS report and its recommendations have been accepted in full. The National Police Chiefs’ Council chair made the point in the report that chief constables, supported by national bodies, will act on these recommendations and put the problems right. We cannot risk predatory or discriminatory individuals slipping through the net because of flawed processes and decision-making. The noble Lord’s question is completely right; this is shocking, and I hope they do something about it with extreme speed.

My Lords, clearly, there is a significant problem here. There is a system-wide failure if, as the report says today, officers were satisfactorily transferred between forces

“despite a history of attracting complaints”.

Moving a problem from one force to another does not solve it. Will the Government take urgent steps now to deal with these matters systematically and coherently?

Again, the noble Baroness is right: it is not right that these people get transferred across forces. I think I have outlined in previous questions the large number of people who are currently on barred lists. The forces are working on this, and it is a matter for chief constables to enforce. As I just said in my previous answer, they have accepted the need to do so speedily.

Following the noble Baroness’s comment about transfers to other police forces, can my noble friend tell us whether the Police Federation has had anything to do with this?

My Lords, the subject of this Question takes us back to many of the areas we covered in both the Domestic Abuse Act and the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Act, so there is a strong sense of déjà vu all over again. The Minister has made much about it being up to individual police forces to take what action they consider appropriate. I suggest to him, on the basis of this report and others, that they are not assuming their individual responsibility with any degree of similarity or with great efficiency. I listened to BBC Radio 4’s “Woman’s Hour” this morning, which is very informative. Is the Minister aware that an ex-head of the Greater Manchester police force, when asked what advice he would give to the young female members of his own family regarding interactions with the police, was unable to answer the question, saying, “I’m not quite sure”?

I did not hear the programme to which the noble Lord refers, but that is obviously very shocking indeed. The body responsible for vetting guidance is the College of Policing, which will consider any areas where vetting can be strengthened and respond accordingly. This is done within a national application framework, so it is hoped that this will be corrected, as I say, with extreme speed.

My Lords, listening to the Minister’s answers, one could be forgiven for coming to the conclusion that he is saying that the Government have no responsibility for this. I find that quite extraordinary. Why can the Government not bring forward a legislative framework to ensure that these sorts of police abuses cannot occur?

My Lords, I think I have outlined the current system; that is all I am doing. I am not saying that the Government are not very concerned by this report, but the simple fact of the matter is that the Government do not have responsibility for operational policing.

My Lords, the Minister just said that that is the current system. Are the Government satisfied with the current system, and if not, what are they are going to do about it?

It is not in my gift to do anything about it, but I will take the noble and learned Lord’s suggestion back to the Home Office and make sure that there are further discussions on the outcome of this report, and indeed this discussion.

My Lords, it is frequently said, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”, but on this occasion it is broke and it does need fixing. Will my noble friend take that message, from all sides of this House? In particular, will he reflect upon the very sensible suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Dear, who really does know what he is talking about?

I reassure my noble friend that I did say I would reflect on the suggestion of the noble Lord, Lord Dear, and I intend to do so.

The Minister is very well regarded in the House. He is on a difficult one today, but would he express a personal view on what he believes should be done in regard to the question from my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti?

Does the Minister feel that the time has come for a royal commission? Every day in this House we have a new fundamental problem—police and crime commissioners, police reporting, police culture or the question of whether there are too many differing police forces. Is it not time for a fundamental look at the relationship between government, the police and any other related body, to try to re-establish the reputation, which we have long gloried in, of our police forces in this country?

What I would say—and this is a personal opinion—is that it is very clear that the nature of policing is changing dramatically and has done over the past 20 years. We have just heard about the technological changes that have taken us all by storm over the last decade, and about the vast number of reviews, reports and so on. It seems to me that there is a case to be made to bring many of these strands together and do some new thinking.

What, if anything, is being done to see whether there are serving officers in the police today who may be in the category of those regarded by the whole House, and indeed the nation, as a complete insult to police officers?

The noble and learned Lord asks a very good question. Nine forces were—this is appalling English—deep-dived into by the HMICFRS. All nine chief constables have been alerted to the specific case studies that were raised and they are expected to act on this with extreme speed.

No, they are not. Indeed, there was considerable data sampling across the rest of the forces, so a very similar process will be undertaken with the rest.