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Police: Appointments in PCC Offices

Volume 826: debated on Wednesday 21 December 2022


Asked by

To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have to introduce legislation to prevent police officers facing serious misconduct proceedings being appointed to senior posts in the offices of Police and Crime Commissioners.

My Lords, police and crime commissioners are required by legislation to seek the views of their police and crime panel when appointing to senior positions in their office. The ultimate decision on appointment lies with the PCC as the directly elected local representative for policing. Former police officers or police staff members who have been dismissed and placed on the barred list are prevented from being employed or appointed by a PCC.

My Lords, what kind of system is it that permits a disgraced policeman awaiting a serious misconduct hearing to oversee the work of a police chief constable with an unspotted record? What kind of system is it that permits a police and crime commissioner to announce a serious misconduct hearing and then delay it indefinitely, even though the law requires it to start within 100 days, saying recently, and utterly bizarrely:

“It is complicated, it is interwoven with other things and there is order of things I cannot supersede”?

Is not a system that permits all this a gravely defective system? Is it not scandalous that the Government have done nothing to fix the defects, despite repeated calls from across the House, with the Home Secretary even refusing to discuss these matters with a small cross-party group?

My Lords, no, I do not believe that is the case. I will defend the system. On the second part of my noble friend’s question, arrangements concerning the establishment of a misconduct hearing are a matter for PCCs, and the management of the hearing itself is the responsibility of the independent legally qualified chairs. Legally qualified chairs must commence a hearing within 100 days of an officer being provided a notice referring them to proceedings, but may extend this period where they consider it in the interests of justice to do so. Decisions made within a hearing are done independently of PCCs as well as government. I think that answers the second part of my noble friend’s question.

My Lords, while I sympathise with the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, would not the best course be to revisit the Nolan principles—which I, with others, was charged by Prime Minister John Major with drawing up proposals to implement—so that anyone who falls below those more comprehensive standards would be barred from any public office?

My Lords, I take the noble and learned Lord’s point, and I agree: the Nolan principles should always be observed.

My Lords, this Chamber has already decided that policemen facing charges should not escape those charges by resignation. Yet here we have a case of a new PCC appointing someone who is under investigation, and that investigation, as we have heard, has been delayed, in order to hold to account the chief constable. This just cannot stand. If you are appointed as a person to hold a chief constable to account and you yourself are under a sanction of gross misconduct to be heard, surely the Minister must agree that there should be regulations to avoid that circumstance. So, can he tell us what regulations are now going to be put in place in order to make sure this circumstance does not arise?

My Lords, the regulations already exist. In line with the provisions set out in Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011, PCCs must follow the process set out: namely, they must notify the Police and Crime Panel of their proposed senior appointment. The panel must then hold a confirmation hearing and produce a report and recommendation regarding whether it supports the proposed senior appointment. The PCP must do so within three weeks of receiving notification from the PCC of the proposed appointment. This is all set out in statute, so the regulations already exist.

My Lords, in light of the recent speech of the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, when she revealed the six-stage process governing disciplinary actions against police officers—I was shocked—should not the process be revisited in the way she and others are now suggesting? How can there be confidence in systems that protect rogue police officers, and their pensions, delay justice with prolonged processes, offer extended leave and rewards—[Inaudible]—Mike Veale, with further appointments? The Daily Mail should be thanked for its excellent reporting of these matters.

My Lords, it might help if I go into detail on the barred and advisory lists. Since December 2017, any officer, special constable or member of police staff dismissed is placed on the police barred list, preventing them rejoining policing in the future, and that includes PCC offices. Any officer who retires or resigns during a gross misconduct investigation, or before an allegation comes to light, is placed on the police advisory list. PCCs must consult the advisory list before appointing an individual, although inclusion on the list does not necessarily preclude employment. It will be for the PCC to assess.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, illustrate starkly the dysfunctionality of a police service that still consists of 43 territorial police forces, and that it is high time the service be restructured—for example, along the lines of the much more limited number of counterterrorism police services, which work very well across the existing boundaries?

The noble Lord makes some very good points, but they are slightly above my pay grade, as I am sure he will appreciate. There are 39 PCCs across England and Wales, with three mayors exercising similar functions; the City of London Police has separate set of rules and regs. In the main and for the most part, most of those people are doing a superb job and are held accountable by the public who elect them.

I advise my noble friend that I was the Minister who put police and crime commissioners on to the statute book in this House, opposed by all the Benches opposite at the time. I ask a question that has been asked previously in courts around the country: is this what Parliament intended? I do not think that Parliament ever did intend the current problem, clearly identified by my noble friend Lord Lexden, to occur, and I advise my noble friend the Minister to do all he can to ensure that a cross-party meeting takes place as soon as possible.

I thank my noble friend for her perspective. Of course, I will take those points back, but I will again robustly defend the process that she put in place: I think it is working.

My Lords, the Government cannot continue to sit on the sidelines on this issue. The noble Lord, Lord Lexden, has repeatedly raised his concerns and the Government have chosen to sit on their hands. The Minister said that the regulations exist and are being followed, but is he satisfied with them? The current situation undermines the police in Leicestershire and the position of PCCs in general. Does he think the regulations need to be changed?

I certainly agree with the noble Lord that the current set of circumstances surrounding this individual case are absolutely disturbing. However, the regulations are still being followed and it would be entirely inappropriate of me to comment on an individual case.

My Lords, that is a very good question indeed. As I have said, confirmation hearings must be held in public and then, as the directly elected local representative for policing, it is for the PCCs to make decisions about senior appointments to their offices. As I have said many times at this Dispatch Box, ultimately PCCs are directly elected by the communities they serve and it is the public who will ultimately hold them to account for the decisions they take.

My Lords, I refer to my interests in the register regarding policing. This is one of the very rare situations where we have created someone who has a singular series of powers—on their own—and there is no mechanism, apart from one election every four years, to hold them to account during their term of office. Are the Government going to address that?

I imagine that the intent behind the noble Lord’s question is to ask whether we have any plans for a recall mechanism, for example. The honest answer to that is no. However, part two of the PCC review assessed the benefits and disbenefits of introducing such a mechanism, and the estimated average cost of a recall for PCCs was very significant and would require the creation of a bespoke national body. It remains for the electors to make their decisions.

My Lords, my noble friend made mention of misconduct and the barred list. The Home Office holds a number of barred lists, so can he reassure your Lordships’ House that the people on the list in question are compared with those who are barred, for instance, from working with vulnerable people or with children, so that they are not going to slip into other professions? There should be a cross-referencing look at people who are barred from certain professions due to their misconduct.