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Police: Recruitment Criteria

Volume 797: debated on Tuesday 2 April 2019


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the entry criteria for joining police forces in England and Wales; and what plans, if any, they have to reform such criteria.

My Lords, this Government’s reforms are designed to make the police workforce more capable, flexible and professional. We established the College of Policing as the first professional body for policing, charged with setting standards, including for police recruitment. The college has implemented a major reform of entry routes through its policing education qualification framework, which will ensure that policing can continue to attract the brightest and best recruits from a wide range of backgrounds.

I thank the Minister for her reply. Is she aware of the four pilot schemes—taking place, I believe, at the instigation of the College of Policing—in Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire, Leicestershire and south Wales, which require all recruits to undertake a three-year apprenticeship leading to a university degree? My information is that this training would incur an additional cost of £24,000 per recruit, with failure by the recruit leading presumably to dismissal. I understand that other forces are committed to this route for recruiting by 2020. Does the Minister think this is a wise use of taxpayers’ hard-earned money, when there is a clear public demand for thousands more front-line, well-trained police officers on the ground in communities, with or without degrees, reaping essential intelligence, responding to calls and reassuring the public at a time of unprecedented increase in serious, violent street crime?

It is important to have a wide range of entry routes for people who wish to join the police, which all conform to very high standards. I cannot comment on the cost that the noble Lord outlined, but it is really important that people should not have to have a degree to enter the police. There is no requirement for that, but the standard is set for degree-level qualification at the end of the training process.

My Lords, will these reforms mean that, in future, only men and women of the very highest ability are appointed to the post of chief constable, unlike Mr Mike Veale, whose disastrous Operation Conifer has inflicted such dreadful and unfair damage on Sir Edward Heath?

I have to admire my noble friend for managing to weave in something that is so important to him. To make a very serious point, the whole aim of this is to have the highest standards of policing in our forces.

My Lords, the Scottish Justice Minister has ruled out direct entry into Police Scotland at inspector and superintendent level, because he considers experience of policing to be essential. He says:

“While training is, of course, important, officers must carry the authority and the respect of communities they serve, and also of their colleagues”.

I strongly agree. Why does the Home Office not agree?

Both are important. Those with the skills required to go into the direct entry scheme are subject to very rigorous training and a rigorous selection process. The noble Lord is absolutely right that training thereafter, and experience in policing, are essential.

My Lords, what action are the Government taking to ensure that requirements for degrees in many of the paths to become a police officer do not prevent good candidates with the required skills being appointed?

It is absolutely right that good-quality candidates should be allowed to come forward. That is why there are a variety of options available to candidates. As I said to the noble Lord earlier, it is important that candidates do not necessarily need a degree to be able to go into the police force, but that they are educated and trained to degree level going forward, to make the best police officers.

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the purpose behind the College of Policing’s accreditation system is to do two things? First, as the Minister has already said, it aims to make sure that the training received is of a high standard—surely we all agree with that. At the moment, 50% of police officers recruited are graduates already. Secondly, for officers who have worked for 30 or 40 years in some cases, perhaps investigating murder, cybercrime, rape and other policing matters, it is really important that we accredit to graduate standard, because it allows those officers to move on to other careers at the end of their police career. It is not good enough to carry on as we have in the past, where we have not accredited great skills—but that does not mean to say that everyone has to be a graduate.

The noble Lord is absolutely right and, of course, speaks from the highest experience. To be able to go on and do something else with the skills that you have accrued through, say, policing is really important. On the point about accreditation, it has to be recognised that the pattern of crime, and therefore of policing, has changed so much over the years. Police need to be trained in the new and emerging activities that criminals are undertaking—digital crime, for example.

My Lords, in the days of national service—my noble friend will not remember those herself—12 weeks of very tough basic training, followed by 16 weeks at an officer cadet school, produced some outstanding officers who were well qualified for the job.

I am not sure what the question was. However, my noble friend makes the point that the most rigorous training processes need to be gone through to make the best police officers. Also, because crime is changing, accreditation and standards need to be set for the new environment in policing.

My Lords, I welcome the Minister’s assurance that she does not think it is essential for everyone to have a degree in order to be a police officer. However, does she agree that, with or without a degree, it is absolutely essential that those who get to the top echelons of the police service need the respect of people who have spent a career on the front line? Those on the front line are likely to have very little respect for people at the top if they have never had to do the day in, day out activities that police work entails, which are often dangerous and are essential to our community safety.

The noble Lord goes to the point of leadership. The troops—the lower echelons, as he says—must have respect for those at the top. Therefore, those skills—which are not necessarily formed through degrees but rather through practical experience—are absolutely essential, in addition to the training and qualifications that they have.