Question for Short Debate
My Lords, the Question which is the subject of this short debate refers to an important interview given by the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, to the Times on 18 November and published the following day. When Sir Mark took up his post in September, he promised to be “ruthless”—his word—in rooting out officers who have brought shame on a famous institution. In seven years’ time, the Metropolitan Police will reach its bicentenary. Nothing could be clearer than Sir Mark’s determination to restore its reputation as soon as possible. His sense of urgency is palpable. For that, he deserves the highest praise.
Sir Mark is entitled to expect the full and active support of the party which first assumed the name of Conservative in 1834 under Sir Robert Peel, who had founded the Metropolitan Police five years earlier. In 1827, as he prepared his great reform, Peel said:
“I can make a better arrangement after a searching inquiry and a thorough exposure of the defects of the present system.”
Sir Mark is saying much the same thing today, conveyed with particular vigour in his Times interview—and this Conservative Government should back him to the hilt.
After the exposure of defects must come the establishment of better arrangements. Peel’s vision must be recreated: a police force that is “civil and attentive”—his words—in all its dealings with the people it exists to serve. So many defects have now been exposed. Over the last few years, the Met has been engulfed by terrible revelations of racism, misogyny, misconduct and crime. A succession of reports has documented the recent scandals.
Further back, there were other appalling scandals, some documented in police reports that have remained secret, such as that on Operation Tiberius in 2002, which set out in detail what it described as “endemic police corruption” in north and east London. Other shocking cases, the subject of horrifying publicity, are seared for ever on our minds with their painful memories that will never die.
For me personally, Operation Midland remains a vivid enduring memory. Great public servants, Lord Bramall and Lord Brittan, were hounded remorselessly. In his thorough independent report, Sir Richard Henriques listed 43 major police blunders. Officers broke the law when they sought warrants to search the homes of suspects who were entirely innocent, yet not one police officer has been held to account. Not surprisingly, Sir Richard has made his dissatisfaction very clear.
That disastrous operation contributed to another grave injustice: the slurs placed on the reputation of Sir Edward Heath by the then chief constable of Wiltshire, Mike Veale, who fell for the same lies, peddled by a fantasist, that drove Operation Midland along its disastrous way—yet the Government dismiss the case for an independent inquiry into this injustice on the grounds that the internal police reviews which have taken place must suffice. They do not.
Sadly, against this deeply distressing background, it came as no surprise when last month yet another independent report, the latest in a long succession, this one by the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, revealed long-established habits of wrongdoing and criminality among serving officers. Many, she concluded, ought to have been dismissed, yet only 13 of more than 1,800 Met officers who have faced multiple charges of misconduct since 2013 have actually been dismissed. That is a truly appalling statistic.
To his great credit, Sir Mark Rowley does not seek to set aside or diminish these grave problems. In his Times interview, he said:
“I’m just so, so angry about the decisions that have been made on some of these cases”.
He accepts that a large number of officers and staff should have been dismissed. He has stated explicitly that
“there must be hundreds of officers that shouldn’t be here, who should be thrown out. There must be hundreds undermining our integrity.”
Swift and drastic action is needed. It has been done before. In the late 1960s, Sir Robert Mark, who went on to become one of the greatest Commissioners of the Metropolitan Police, dealt with massive corruption in the force by dismissing 478 officers and prosecuting some 50 more, including some of high rank.
Conservatives are natural supporters of the police. They want to see the police praised, not criticised. It is a laudable sentiment, but if we want to praise them with conviction in London, we must give Sir Mark our full backing. He is making himself a determined reformer precisely because he wants to shed the corrupt minority so that the “heroic, determined” majority, to whom he referred in his Times interview, can regain the credit and respect they deserve. But he faces a great difficulty in dealing with the 3,500 officers who cannot serve the people of London fully, 500 of whom have been accused of serious misconduct.
The police’s disciplinary procedures are unduly complex and protracted. In his Times interview Sir Mark said:
“We can’t deal with a workforce where such a big proportion are not properly deployable. Many of these people … can’t work many hours in the day, or they can only have limited contact time with the public”.
Sir Mark has laid great stress on his need for stronger powers to bear down on criminals and other failures within the ranks. Of course, he wants above all to get rid officers guilty of serious misconduct. Will existing regulations be changed to assist him? He deserves a swift and decisive response from the Home Office. It seems that he is unlikely to get it. A review is under way to assess whether the regulatory framework for the disciplinary system should be changed.
A great department of state should be capable of reaching a prompt decision on such an urgent matter without a time-consuming review. Has the Home Office woken up to the scale of the crisis? Replying to me in October after the Casey review, my noble friend Lord Sharpe referred to the Met’s failures as “worrying”. Worrying? “Dire” and “catastrophic” would be more like it. My noble friend also told me that just seven officers had been suspended. How can that be squared with Sir Mark’s figure, given in his Times interview, of 500 officers on restricted duties or suspended because they have been accused of serious misconduct?
On 3 November 1829, the Duke of Wellington, who was then Prime Minister, wrote to Robert Peel and said:
“I congratulate you upon the entire success of the police in London”.
Would a Prime Minister be able to write in similar fashion in our times? Thanks to Sir Mark Rowley’s deep commitment to reform, there is hope—but the Home Office must also commit itself to decisive reform. In his Times interview, Sir Mark said we must be “bold”. Will the Home Office be bold too? We shall find out at the end of this short debate.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, for this short debate.
I welcome the Metropolitan Police Commissioner’s commitments to tackle crime and misconduct, but he is not the first commissioner to make such a commitment. Recommendations 55 to 59 of the report of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry, published in February 1999, focus on discipline and complaints against police officers. Recommendation 55 states:
“That the changes to Police Disciplinary and Complaints procedures proposed by the Home Secretary should be fully implemented and closely and publicly monitored as to their effectiveness.”
Is the commissioner making his commitment because this recommendation has not been implemented?
Chapter 2 of the Home Office guidance on police officer misconduct, unsatisfactory performance and attendance management procedures, published in June 2018, focuses on misconduct procedures. This guidance echoes Sir William Macpherson’s recommendations, especially to do with investigating complaints against police officers, so who is dropping the ball?
When a case of police officers committing crime becomes public, I have often heard that it is “a few bad apples”. In 2003 the BBC aired an undercover documentary, “The Secret Policeman”, filmed by investigative journalist Mark Daly. He joined Greater Manchester Police and spent several months undercover at the Bruche national training centre in Warrington, Cheshire, where he found that in his class of 18 there was only one person of Asian background and more than half the class held racist views.
My noble friend Lady Casey’s report states:
“This Review has reached a conclusion found in several research pieces that precede it—that the Met’s misconduct system has evidence of racial disparity. And as reported in previous studies, several reasons are cited for this, which were reflected in testimony from Black, Asian and Mixed Ethnicity officers and staff. This included the concern that raising issues relating to racism, or other discrimination and wrongdoing often led to being labelled a trouble maker, which then led to unfair disciplinary action.”
The National Black Police Association has noted on many occasions the revolving door of black officers because of the way they are treated by both their colleagues and their superiors.
The other issue is promotion. Recommendation 59 of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry states:
“That the Home Office review and monitor the system and standards of Police Services applied to the selection and promotion of officers of the rank of Inspector and above. Such procedures for selection and promotion to be monitored and assessed regularly.”
It is not because black officers are not being recruited; it is more to do with retention and promotion. Until the culture and environment in the Metropolitan Police support these officers, the revolving door will continue.
In conclusion, over the past three decades there have been reports into conduct and misconduct in the Metropolitan Police, such as the Scarman report in the 1980s, the Stephen Lawrence inquiry report in 1999, the Lammy review in 2017 and, this October, the report by the noble Baroness, Lady Casey. The issues are well noted in these reports and the November 2022 report by His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services on An Inspection of Vetting, Misconduct, and Misogyny in the Police Service.
On behalf of every black person who has ever worked in the Metropolitan Police or trusted a police officer to do their work and treat them with respect and dignity, we would like to see Sir Mark Rowley’s commitment mean less rhetoric and more action.
My Lords, I was brought up in the 1950s and taught by my parents that you could trust a policeman—if you ever needed help, you could go to a police officer and they would do what they could to help. However, that is just not possible any more, is it? I doubt many parents teach their children that particular trope.
I am not alone in my distrust. Trust in the police is extremely low, which is very concerning, and I am glad the new commissioner has picked up on that aspect. I do not doubt that he has a difficult job to do, as more and more reports come in of very poor decisions by officers, whether that is policing protests by arresting journalists, being in WhatsApp groups that show racism, homophobia and sexism or even state-sponsored crimes that officers have committed—when undercover, for example, especially the spy cops who infiltrated campaigns through abusive misogynistic relationships with women campaigners. That inquiry has been drawn out for many years, partly because the Met have not co-operated in releasing vital information. It has preferred to protect officers’ criminal actions.
The new commissioner has vowed to improve recruitment, conduct and discipline in the force. All those aspects are relevant. For example, the issues of police violence towards women, sexism and misogyny need dealing with urgently. Officers need training and supervision as well as punishments for infringements, and the Met needs support for whistleblowers. The behaviour of Wayne Couzens over a period of many years, which was accepted and joked about by other officers, is a dire warning of widespread bigotry and very disturbing conduct being allowed.
A senior officer asked me this week what areas of policing the police were getting right—and I could not reply. I could not think of one. It is entirely possible that the two units I massively supported when I was a member of the Metropolitan Police Authority during the 12 years of its existence, the traffic unit and the wildlife crime unit, are still doing a superb job. I trust that they are. They were both amazing and the public pretty much supported them.
The Government have a role here, of course; they cannot leave the police to do this on their own. Legislation has to be clear. I think one of the factors in the police losing public support in lockdown was the fact that the Government poured on laws, guidance and advice that often conflicted, and therefore the police were quite often left not knowing what the appropriate tool was to do their job. That really did not help. It created a lot of conflict between police and public.
I argue that the Public Order Bill is a good example of what the Government should not be doing. It has been drafted poorly. There are all sorts of weird gaps in it and some very confused terms which will not help the police to police protests. The Bill is designed to prevent protests and stifle dissent, most currently about the climate crisis, but we all know that emissions are not slowing. Scientists warn of a possible permanent collapse of our food and water supply, and of civilisation itself. Our Government are quelling the dissent not by acting and improving on the situation with things that would, in the long term, save massive amounts of public money; they are dealing with the symptom, which is people going out on the streets and saying, “This isn’t right”. The police are having to deal with problems caused by the Government and become distracted by the real crime committed by the Government themselves.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, and listened carefully to the issues he raised. I agree with every word he said. I declare that I have lectured extensively, especially in India, on anti-corruption measures.
I served for four years as the Met commissioner, from 2005 to 2008, and always have some fellow feeling for each new commissioner as they arrive. I was in conversation with the noble Lord, Lord Grade, recently as the previous PM got herself into ever deeper trouble. He remarked that the most difficult jobs in British public life were those of the Prime Minister, the director-general of the BBC and the Met commissioner—and not always in that order. I should tell the House that in preparation for this debate I have spoken to Sir Mark Rowley. I speak with his assistance but not for him.
I cannot remember a commissioner coming into office in such inauspicious circumstances. He will need all the help that legislators can give to him. The dreadful murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met officer has thrown up failures of vetting and intelligence but, above all, the new importance of social media, which allows individuals—apparently in a number of professions—to say disgusting things in private association which they would never dare say in a public arena. This is a really significant departure from even the recent past. Mark Rowley chooses to term this sort of behaviour as a corruption of the profession of policing, and I accept that. Police corruption, however, is not a question of occasional bad apples but a continuous threat.
Lord Condon, now retired from the House, commented that the Met was the cleanest big-city force in the world. Maybe, but police corruption never goes away. The first “trial of the detectives”, as it was known, involved Met officers in a horse-betting scandal in 1876. The Times inquiry of 1969 revealed the existence of networked corruption in the Met CID, encapsulated in the famous phrase, “I am a member of a little firm within a firm”. As the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, said, three years later Robert Mark embarked on a ruthless purge as soon as he was appointed. Hundreds of officers were sacked; many, including some senior officers, were jailed.
The noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, followed Robert Mark’s example, as did I in the early 2000s, including with the creation of an entirely secret investigation unit. Corruption mutates: when I left office, the networked corruption had been broken but the sale of computerised information by individuals was beginning to become a threat. It needs ruthless attention; it needs to be a feature of career aspiration to be in an anti-corruption unit, and that task is not easy. One of the cases I took as an investigator to the Old Bailey, where we had arrested the briber as well as the receiver, had four juries dismissed and the case was opened five times. It needs leadership from the very top, which includes reassuring the vast proportion of decent officers that their honesty and professionalism is understood and valued.
I believe that Sir Mark Rowley will provide that, but he needs some help. In a classic example of the road to hell being paved with good intentions, the current Government took away from chief officers the final decision as to whether an officer should be sacked, except in the most egregious and obvious of cases. Discipline proceedings are now presided over by legally qualified chairs, who seem to have a propensity to reprimand rather than dismiss, to the despair of Sir Mark. As Sir Mark has noted in a recent letter to all London MPs:
“This has led to instances of the Met being forced to retain officers whom we cannot deploy and we believe should not be police officers”.
That this needs to change is a central conclusion of the recent interim report by the noble Baroness, Lady Casey. This will need a reform to primary legislation.
In the same letter, Sir Mark also refers to the Police (Performance) Regulations 2020, which deal with officers who are not in any way criminal but who are just proving to be unsuited to the job. These regulations require three different stages of review and, consequently, three stages of appeal. In a telephone call with me, Sir Mark noted that this means that the numbers dismissed for not being competent are simply vanishingly small. He also noted that even failing vetting does not lead to reasonably instant dismissal. I hope that, in closing this debate, the Minister will acknowledge these issues and agree to bring them to the attention of the Home Secretary.
My Lords, it is an absolute pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Blair of Boughton—the noble and ever-civil Lord, I say, because I think we should search for an adjective for senior retired police officers who come to this House. It is rather unfair that they do not have an adjective in the way that some senior lawyers and military people do. We have sparred many times over the years, but I think always from a shared position of support for the rule of law. When we have disagreed, we have done so well.
It is always an absolute honour to speak in a debate with my noble friend Lady Lawrence, who is, in my humble opinion, the greatest race equality campaigner in British history.
In the remaining three minutes, I will give two thoughts. I have one for the Minister that I will keep short, because I fear that I have made his ears bleed too much of late—there is supposed to be some kind of law against that sort of thing. I also have one short thought for the noble Lord, Lord Lexden.
To the Minister, I say: we both agree that operational independence is totally essential for the police service, but, in my view, it does not remotely interfere with the operational independence of the police service to have a clear and improved legislative framework to aid with this disciplinary problem. A police discipline Bill is now required to aid the new Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis and other chief constables—I really believe that, and I am not someone who urges for unnecessary legislation. Governments of both persuasions are very quick and eager to legislate for police powers and then to blame the police when those overbroad powers lead to unintended and arbitrary consequences. The other side of that deal is surely that the Government should legislate appropriately for police discipline.
My short thought for the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, is simply that I thank him. I thank him for constantly reminding me in this place that support for the rule of law, properly constrained police powers and a proper holding to account of the sacred trust that we put in the police service are truly bipartisan matters in a constitutional democracy. We may sit on opposite sides of this Chamber, but he really has my undying solidarity, admiration and respect.
My Lords, I first thank my noble friend Lord Lexden for initiating this debate. There is no dispute that there have been deep cultural issues in the Metropolitan Police and the existing disciplinary regime is not working effectively. Essential as it is to cure the flawed disciplinary system, that is not enough. Something serious has gone wrong beforehand, otherwise a disciplinary process would not be necessary.
I have spent the last 12 years advising major companies that have found themselves under investigation by the SFO and often the DOJ in Washington. Most of these companies have had tight rules and procedures in place, an effective training regime and a strong disciplinary system—yet issues have arisen, resulting in external investigation. To a large extent, the Met is in the same position, and it could learn a lesson from how the commercial world has sought to clean up its act.
The following is essential. First, the tone from the top is key. Whoever is in charge must demonstrate to everyone in the organisation, not just by words but by actions, that only acceptable behaviour and conduct will be tolerated. Sir Mark Rowley’s commitments are a serious demonstration of what is needed and, hopefully, that will be a wake-up call to everyone in the Met. That message from the top has to run through the whole organisation so that every officer, of whatever rank, is on message and, again, shows by their words and actions that only acceptable behaviour will be tolerated.
While conventional training is essential, I fear that some believe that simply attending a lecture course means that the job is done and training is complete, and they can move on to something else. I am afraid that is a fallacy. One has to win over the hearts and minds of everyone in the organisation. It is not simply a matter of following rules; the goal is to reach a point where everyone instinctively does the right thing. Those who cannot have no place in the police force.
That requires everyone to understand the difference between right and wrong. There should be complete transparency so that issues are openly discussed and everyone feels able to question conduct and decisions that may have been taken, even by senior officers. Holding regular team meetings where officers are encouraged to speak of issues or experiences that they may have had is very worth while. This is essential to bring the conventional training to life. Using real-life examples for discussion of how difficult situations have been handled is invaluable.
At such meetings, all attending should be encouraged to come forward to express their views. Nothing should be left unsaid, even if difficult conversations follow. In the perfect society, officers should feel able to raise issues with their seniors in the hope that they will be dealt with sensitively and effectively. Being realistic, I know that in many organisations staff are nervous to speak to management for fear of retribution, and I am sure that this would be a risk at the Met. In the commercial organisations that I have worked with, ethics champions have been appointed at all levels to provide advice and guidance if difficult problems arise and to act as a link with senior management. Those champions are team members, properly trained to understand good compliance and trusted by colleagues who feel confident to raise issues with them, knowing that they will try to resolve the problem. As a failsafe, a whistleblower line should be in place so that those fearful of reporting incidents of bad behaviours to their seniors or even of speaking to an ethics officer have someone to report to. Typically, callers remain anonymous unless they choose otherwise.
Changing the culture in any organisation takes much effort by everyone, and the process takes years for real progress to be achieved. There have to be constant reminders to everyone that good behaviours are essential and that misconduct will not be tolerated. If the Met is to change, it has to start this process now.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Gold, and I thank him for sharing his experience with us. Like others, I want to take the opportunity to thank the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, for securing this important debate. These issues affect millions of people’s lives every day. I commend him also for in a short time—10 minutes—making a compelling case for action now. In a sense, the rest of us are just corroborating witnesses to his introduction.
The thread that links together the concerns we have heard is accountability and it takes many forms: the accountability of those guilty of misconduct, of senior officers, including the Commissioner, to the Mayor of London and to the Home Secretary, and of all police officers to the public they serve. Surveys reveal that public confidence in the police has been in a downward trend from 2017.
Today, I want like others to focus on the accountability that the Government face for political decisions that may have exacerbated, and in some cases have exacerbated, the difficulties faced in holding to account officers guilty of misconduct and, much more importantly, ensuring that those likely to commit offences are debarred from joining the police force in the first place.
A key principle of good government is consistency. The last decade of Conservative Government—first in coalition and then straightforwardly—has seen an approach wildly at variance with that principle. Police numbers have been slashed: 23,500 police were cut because of the political decision to pursue austerity-related measures, only to be followed immediately by two years of equally grave announcements of the urgent necessity to increase police numbers back to the level at which they existed in 2010.
In the year to March 2022, we saw the hurried recruitment of over 12,000 new police staff, on top of a record increase the previous year. That extraordinary staff churn not only compromised the institutional memory of police forces up and down the country but exacerbated already weak vetting and disciplinary processes, as well as appalling and systemic levels of misconduct and crime among serving officers.
This is not just a problem for the Met. The Conservative PCC for Bedfordshire described the vetting process as being “massively overwhelmed”. The chair of the National Police Chiefs’ Council said that the process is overwhelmingly manual and that it must become automated for it to be appropriate for modern procedures. The HMIC recommended that the system be made more coherent, with mandatory procedures put in place in all forces.
On 2 November, reporting on his investigation into vetting, Matt Parr revealed that, of the 725 files examined, in 131 the decision to grant clearance was at least “questionable”. He found successful applicants who had criminal records, had been suspected of serious crime and had family links to organised crime or substantial debt. He found serving officers who had attracted allegations of serious misconduct who had transferred to the Met from other police forces across the country. His report also revealed significant faults with misconduct investigations into serving officers, some of whom had gone through these inadequate vetting procedures. In a fifth of cases he examined, in a masterpiece of understatement, he described himself as “unimpressed” by their decision-making. In previous statements, the inspector criticised the promotions system in the police as “inconsistent”, “ineffective” and “unfair”.
Clearly, there are structural weaknesses throughout policing: a vetting system that is weak and inconsistent; a defective complaints system allowing a minority of serving officers, with impunity, to create a toxic work culture riddled with corruption, casual racism, homophobia, misogyny, prejudice and a lack of care and sensitivity towards victims of violence against women and girls; and a promotions system which is far from meritocratic.
There are many hard-working and principled officers who remain within the system—including Sir Mark Rowley, the focus of this debate, and others—and I hope the Government will give serious thought to how they can best aid them in improving the institutional resilience and culture of our police service nationwide.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Browne, and his analysis of the role of good and consistent recruitment in the police.
I was so shocked that I remember exactly where I was when I heard Sir Mark Rowley on the BBC “Today” programme say that he had over 3,000 officers in the Met who he could not fully use due to misconduct allegations and health issues. Of these, we have heard that 500 were suspended or on restricted duties, and that about 100, in the words of Sir Mark,
“have very restrictive conditions on them because frankly we don’t trust them to talk to members of the public”.
A recent report by the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, which has already been alluded to, found that fewer than 1% of officers with multiple misconduct cases against them had actually been dismissed. Sir Mark said that “hundreds” of officers “should be thrown out”. Mr Marsh of the Police Federation said, of the worst offenders,
“our regulations are so tight so you can dismiss them. But they haven’t and I can’t tell you why.”
Let us see if we can help him. For a start, sacking officers is, apparently, a six-stage process and takes over a year. I wonder how many noble Lords here today think that a year to sack someone with multiple misconduct cases against them is reasonable or workable. Secondly, I understand that every case of serious misconduct in the Met must be adjudicated by a misconduct hearing—a board comprising three people: an independent legal chair, as was alluded to by the noble Lord, Lord Blair; a senior police officer; and a member of the public. Compare this to so-called normal work procedures where an employer has the right to dismiss, but the employee has recourse to an employment tribunal if they feel they have been treated unfairly.
I know from having worked in this field in the dim and distant past that employers have to be extremely careful to follow their own procedures and the law to secure a fair dismissal, and rightly so. But the procedure in the Met seems to run in the reverse order, with the panel itself making the dismissal. So with the confidence of the ignorant, let me make a suggestion. What about giving the chief constable the powers to dismiss and back that up with a robust appeals procedure afterwards? If every dismissal currently takes over a year, and fewer than 1% of police officers with multiple misconduct cases against them get fired, and one in 10 officers is not fully deployable, something needs to radically change. Clearly, Sir Mark needs new, powerful tools to do the job.
However, we must keep things in proportion. Sir Mark told the BBC that the Met had
“tens of thousands of great officers who are doing amazing things day in and day out for London”.
Absolutely. We know that these officers’ good work is being besmirched, and they, as well as the public, are being let down by those bad apples who think they can carry on with impunity. For all our sakes, will the Minister commit to allowing the new Metropolitan Police Commissioner the tools he needs to cleanse the Augean stables of the stench of corruption and the culture of misogyny, indolence, bigotry and violence? I wish him the very best of luck, and thank the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, for securing this debate today.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, for introducing this debate with his very strong historical sense, which we all applaud.
On 17 October this year, the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, published her interim findings on the misconduct system in the Metropolitan Police. Her full report will be published in the new year. I suspect, having heard the testimonies and corroborations today, it will be something of a blockbuster. Her initial report found that the misconduct system is failing officers and the public. She said:
“Cases are taking too long to resolve, allegations are more likely to be dismissed than acted upon, the burden on those raising concerns is too heavy, and there is racial disparity across the system, with White officers dealt with less harshly than Black or Asian officers.”
Since the publication of the findings of the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, in October, we have had a November report from His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary on wider failures in vetting, misconduct, misogyny and racism in the service. That report concluded, to put it simply, that it is
“too easy for the wrong people both to join and to stay in the police”—
a completely damning testimony. The report showed a failure to root out institutional racism; a failure to bar the wrong people from joining the police and root them out, despite multiple incidents of wrongdoing, as other noble Lords have observed; a failure to protect female staff and officers; and a failure to protect the public. This absolutely undermines trust in the police, puts the public at risk, and undermines our model of policing by consent. It is important to recognise the professionalism and service of the majority of our officers, who serve with bravery and integrity, but the actions of others put them in an unsafe environment, and let them down.
We welcome the robust commitments made by the Metropolitan Commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, in response to the interim report of the noble Baroness, Lady Casey. The commissioner promised both immediate and long-term action. Can the Minister give an update on what regular discussions the Home Secretary has had with the commissioner to understand what action has been taken? In my days as a serving Home Office Minister, I had bilaterals with the noble Lord, Lord Blair of Boughton, and his immediate superior, so we ought to have some feedback today. Crucially, the inspectorate report found:
“Over the last decade, there have been many warning signs that these systems aren’t working well enough ... Some forces have repeatedly failed to implement recommendations—from us and other bodies”.
Similarly, the noble Baroness’s letter explicitly points out that these problems “are not new”, and that this is not for the Met Commissioner alone to tackle:
“The legal and regulatory framework regarding misconduct should be looked at urgently by the new Home Secretary, together with the College of Policing and National Police Chiefs’ Council.”
My noble friend Lady Lawrence made the point very tellingly, I thought, when she said that this is not a new problem—it is pretty obvious that it is not.
Labour set out many months ago the scale of the changes that are needed across our service. The Home Office has been far too passive in its response. The Met Commissioner is right to pledge urgent action, but these issues go far beyond the Met. The Home Secretary should require every police force to urgently provide data and analysis—of the standard set out in the Casey report—on their misconduct systems, so that we know what is happening in every force. Will the Home Secretary make sure that this happens? The Home Secretary also needs to urgently set out a new national framework on standards and misconduct. My noble friend Lady Chakrabarti expressed that well. Labour has been clear that we would overhaul misconduct systems, alongside introducing stronger vetting, training and whistleblowing processes, and mandatory national rules that all forces must follow.
The inspectorate report contained 43 recommendations, including for the Home Office. Can the Minister give an update on the urgent action under way to see the recommendations acted on? Following the Casey report, the Home Office announced
“an internal review into the process of police dismissals to raise standards and confidence in policing across England and Wales.”—[Official Report, Commons, 18/10/22; col. 23WS.]
Perhaps the Minister can give us an update on that review. This is a matter of the highest urgency.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords for their contributions and I congratulate my noble friend Lord Lexden on securing this important debate.
Public confidence is, as all speakers have noted, a precious commodity for policing. When it is lost or damaged, the impact is significant and profound. Every time a high-profile incident occurs or a scathing report is published, that trust is placed in jeopardy. The truth is that recently this has happened all too often. I agree with my noble friend Lord Lexden that I could and perhaps should have used a much stronger word than “worrying” in my letter to him. However, I also take this opportunity to join the noble Lords, Lord Blair and Lord Bassam, in praising the “heroic, determined” majority—to use Sir Mark’s words, which were echoed by my noble friend Lord Lexden.
Things have to improve. Standards have to be raised and cultures reset. The Home Secretary has been clear that it is vital that the police act to restore trust, return to common-sense “back to basics” policing and treat the public and victims with the respect that they deserve. As the largest police force in England and Wales, with responsibilities extending beyond the vast task of policing and protecting the capital, the Metropolitan Police Service has a central role to play. The Government are committed to working with the Met Commissioner, Sir Mark Rowley, and the whole of his organisation. Their task is clear: to get the basics right, drive down and tackle crime, and rebuild public trust.
Many noble Lords have referred to the interim report of the noble Baroness, Lady Casey. Under the commissioner’s leadership, as I have just said, the Met must get back to basics—and get those basics right—and provide the first-class service expected of it. The report of the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, as the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, pointed out, contained many disturbing things, including: allegations of discrimination or sexual misconduct; issues of racial disparity, as referenced by the noble Baroness, Lady Lawrence; and a lack of confidence internally that such allegations will be taken seriously.
The commissioner has already set out a plan for his first 100 days to, in his words,
“renew policing by consent … to bring more trust, less crime and high standards”
and, obviously, to deal with some of the findings of the Casey report. As part of that process, and going beyond those 100 days, Sir Mark Rowley attends the police performance oversight group, run by HMICFRS. The group brings together system leaders from across policing to offer constructive challenge and practical support to chief constables of engaged forces. I will go into this in some detail, with noble Lords’ indulgence. This body is chaired by the Chief Inspector of Constabulary, Andy Cooke, who has a clear remit to ensure that forces have realistic and clear improvement plans in place to address the serious concerns about performance that HMICFRS inspections have identified.
Members of this group include His Majesty’s inspectors, the National Police Chiefs’ Council, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners performance leads, the College of Policing, the Home Office, represented by the policing policy director, the chief constables themselves, of course, and the PCCs or mayors. It is worth restating, as referenced by the noble Lord, Lord Browne, that the primary accountability body for the Metropolitan Police Service remains the Mayor of London and the London Assembly.
Sir Mark attended his first iteration of this group on 13 October and it met again today in order to review some of the performance measures he has outlined. The members scrutinise the improvement plans and provide expert and constructive challenge—one hopes—where needed and regularly review the progress that is made. The mayor and deputy mayor are also invited, as I said, and attend to ensure that they understand the issues and underlying causes of the failures that have been identified and can therefore more effectively monitor, scrutinise and support their chiefs.
The Home Office attends to provide Ministers with the assurance that sufficient and urgent improvement action is under way. Where appropriate, the department considers what additional support it may be able to offer to accelerate progress towards that improvement. Ultimately, officials consider whether the Home Secretary may need advice on using her backstop powers, but I reassure the noble Lord, Lord Bassam, that the Home Secretary does, of course, meet the police commissioner on a regular basis.
In addition to the police performance oversight group, Sir Mark has also established governance to ensure that the Metropolitan Police Service is challenged and supported on its plans for improvement. These arrangements include the Deputy Mayor and the relevant director-general for public safety from the Home Office—I believe that is called a “turnaround board”.
As for other things the Home Office has done, we have set out clear priorities for all policing through the national crime and policing measures outlined in the Beating Crime Plan, which was published in July 2021. The plan sets out the Government’s strategic approach to cutting crime and restoring confidence in the criminal justice system more generally, but also includes a focus on reducing homicide, serious violence and neighbourhood crime. To allow effective performance management, the Home Office has developed the digital crime and performance pack, which provides published and unpublished data on the Met’s performance relative to other forces and nationally. This has been made available to all chiefs and PCCs.
Most noble Lords raised the subject of police vetting. Following the tragic events surrounding the death of Sarah Everard, the previous Home Secretary commissioned an inspection into police vetting, countercorruption capabilities, misogyny and predatory behaviour. That report, which was published on 2 November, highlighted that policing must do more to safeguard the integrity of the police workforce. Previous inspections also highlighted risks that can arise with poor vetting practice. The NPCC has committed to addressing the recommendations in the report in full. Three recommendations have also been made to the Home Office, and we will be addressing those. Following the HMICFRS report on vetting, misconduct and misogyny, it plans to dip-sample force decision-making on vetting as part of its regular inspections, so that there is ongoing scrutiny of decisions, including forces’ risk appetite.
I was asked whether our unprecedented drive to recruit has perhaps been driving perverse behaviours or causing forces to cut corners. The honest answer is no. Meeting the commitment to recruit the additional 20,000 has not been and will never be at the expense of public safety. The various process improvements and substantial funding provided by the programme means that policing has the tools and ability to recruit in greater volumes while maintaining standards. I go back to the point I just made: the HMICFRS is introducing regular dip-sampling to make sure that that remains the case.
On police misconduct and the discipline system, which of course includes dismissal reviews, the Government announced a review in response to the interim report of the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, into the process of police officer dismissals, with the aim of ensuring that the system is fair and effective at removing those who are not fit to serve their communities. The Home Office is responsible for the regulatory framework. This follows significant reforms to the disciplinary system in recent years, including the introduction of independent, legally qualified chairs; public misconduct hearings; the ability to bring misconduct proceedings for former police officers; and the introduction of the police barred list. The Home Office is going to work closely with police partners, including the Metropolitan Police, as part of the review, and the terms of reference will be published in the very near future.
The Government are aware of the commissioner’s concerns around the number of officers not fully deployable but, ultimately, decisions on whether to suspend an officer or place them on restricted duties are a matter for chief constables. I have some data on this for the House. It probably does not entirely accord with Sir Mark’s comments in the newspaper report the other day—it was a snapshot taken at the end of March—but I think it is useful for context.
As of March 2022, the police workforce statistics showed that the Met has 780 officers on recuperative duties—about 2.3% of the workforce, compared with 4.5% nationally. Some 2,718 officers were on restricted or adjusted duties. “Adjusted duties” is worth defining. It is where an officer fails to recover from recuperative duties or another medical issue is identified, but where it is agreed that the officer, with reasonable adjustments, is able to discharge a substantive police role without unreasonable detriment to the overall force effectiveness or resilience, as judged by the chief officer. I am sorry that that is a bit of a mouthful, but it is worth defining. Unfortunately, we do not split the 2,718 into the various categories.
The average is 4.7%, and it is actually 8% of the Met’s workforce—but I agree that it is a heavier number than we would see nationally. As was referenced earlier, seven officers are currently suspended—0.02% of the workforce, compared with 0.15% nationally. I accept that those numbers are not particularly reassuring: obviously, much needs to be done to fix this problem.
As I said earlier, decisions on whether to suspend an officer or place them on restricted duties are a matter for chief constables. It is also at chief constables’ discretion to place officers on adjusted duties, as the guidance sets out fairly clearly. Where officers’ performance is unsatisfactory or they commit an act of gross incompetence, there are existing mechanisms to be able to dismiss them from the force. The Home Office will continue to work with forces to ensure that there is an effective regulatory framework in place. Whether we end up with legislative change or not, as suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, and the noble Lord, Lord Blair, I really cannot predict.
My noble friend Lord Lexden referred to Operation Midland, which we have discussed many times in this House. As ever, his points were well made. On the remarks made by the former Home Secretary that he referred to, in which she stated that profound concerns existed about the handling of this operation, the Independent Office for Police Conduct responded to criticism of its handling in a letter sent to Sir Richard Henriques on 31 March 2021. That is available on the government website. The IOPC publishes further information on its performance and plans on its website. As announced by the former Home Secretary on 15 June 2021, an independent review of the IOPC—another review, I am afraid—is due to start this year. This will consider the organisation’s effectiveness and efficiency, including its decision-making processes.
I regret that I am running out of time. In closing, I repeat my earlier thanks to my noble friend Lord Lexden for securing this debate. I am grateful too to all other noble Lords who have contributed today. These are issues of the utmost importance, not only in relation to the way our capital city is policed but for British policing as a whole. The Metropolitan Police has a unique status within our policing system. Under the commissioner’s leadership, the force must step up to the task of driving down crime, upholding high standards and securing public trust. I commend the work that Sir Mark Rowley has done so far and look forward to seeing the rest of it concluded successfully. That is what the Government expect, and we will continue challenging the Met and the whole of policing to achieve it.