Motion to Take Note
My Lords, I sought this debate to give your Lordships’ House an opportunity to consider the need to restore confidence in our country’s police forces, which has been seriously weakened in the last few years, and to try to elicit from the Government a clear indication of what they are doing to ensure that the restoration of confidence is successfully accomplished.
How reassuring it would be to the public if the Government produced a coherent action plan showing precisely how they intend to assist the police in regaining public support and meeting new challenges, of which there will be many. So much good would be done if the Government set out in clear language, free from party-political knockabout, their vision of the shape of policing in the future, at a time when technology is developing at a prodigious rate with huge implications for the police, like everyone else. So frequently, any sense of a coherent plan for the future is lost amid a blizzard of statistics and details designed to scotch criticism of some current problem.
Policing in Britain has always rested on public consent. That fundamental principle was laid down by the great Sir Robert Peel when he created the Metropolitan Police nearly two centuries ago. Today, consent no longer seems firmly assured; that should be rectified. Our police forces need to renew their commitment to Peel’s great founding principle.
I am extremely grateful to all those participating in this debate, and I look forward to deepening my understanding of the issues it raises as a result of their contributions. I think it unlikely that we Back-Bench contributors will disagree about the gravity of the position in which the police find themselves today as regards the confidence reposed in them by the public. It is strongly reflected in surveys of public opinion. In 2020, YouGov found that 70% of their respondents thought the police were doing a good job. Last month, 47% held that view—down by nearly a quarter in just three years. Some 53% said they had little or no confidence in the police last month, compared with 38% three years ago—itself an alarmingly high proportion.
Detailed research embodied in a recent publication of the Social Market Foundation found that
“a substantial proportion of the population across England and Wales has little confidence in their local constabularies”,
with fewer than six in 10 believing that the police can be relied on when they are needed. No more than 22%, just over a fifth, felt that the police would be likely to apprehend a burglar, so widespread has become the habit of issuing a crime number for insurance purposes without attempting any serious investigation. It is hard to overestimate the worry caused to so many people by the indifference which tends to be shown by the police to what is termed low-level crime.
Nowhere has confidence in the police fallen more sharply than in London, and nowhere will the decline be harder to reverse. After a succession of the most terrible scandals, how could it be otherwise? The crisis in the capital is bound to occupy a prominent position in this debate, as it should. It is likely to affect confidence in the police throughout the country in view of the widespread coverage of London’s crisis in the national media. The scandals in London have stunned the nation. Criminals have in some number been allowed to wear the policeman’s proud uniform. A few of the policeman criminals have committed the most heinous offences.
The details have been laid bare in all their horror in court cases and in a succession of independent reports, none more shattering than that of the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, published in March. It exposed huge, unforgivable failures in the way that the Metropolitan Police has been managed and run. Awful prejudices and attitudes have been allowed to flourish unchecked for years. The organisation
“has completely lost its way”,
the noble Baroness said in an interview last month, where she spoke passionately about the revulsion she had felt over what had emerged during her year-long inquiry. Her anger is palpable and understandable.
The noble Baroness’s report is packed with horrifying information. The detection rate for rape cases is so low, one police officer told her team,
“you may as well say it’s legal in London”.
More than 1,500 officers have been accused of violent offences against women. Black officers are regularly overlooked for promotion. I do not need to attempt a full summary of the report. The main points are well known.
This great police force has for too long had leaders who tended to look the other way when mistakes were made. Those responsible for the notorious Operation Midland a few years ago hounded two great public servants, Lord Bramall and Lord Brittan, mercilessly. The law was broken when warrants were sought to search their homes. In his thorough independent report on Operation Midland, Sir Richard Henriques listed 43 major police blunders, yet not one police officer has been held to account. Some have been promoted to high rank. The Independent Office for Police Conduct failed in its duty to listen to those who had suffered, like Lord Brittan’s brave widow, Diana. How could public confidence possibly be maintained by such an approach?
Midland had a close relation, Operation Conifer. Both of them were fed by the lies of a fantasist, now serving a long prison sentence. I take the opportunity afforded by this debate to return to it because I feel so strongly and deeply about it. Through Conifer, allegations of child sex abuse against Sir Edward Heath were investigated in Salisbury some 10 years after his death in 2005. No other Prime Minister has ever been accused of grave criminal offences. Clearly, the investigation needed to be handled with care and strict impartiality. Instead, under Mike Veale, then chief constable for Wiltshire, it was conducted with the intention of finding Ted Heath guilty. Not a shred of evidence was found to substantiate the allegations, yet Veale contrived to suggest at the end of the investigation that a few of them might have had some substance, thus overturning the presumption of innocence in a case where a judicial process was impossible.
Prime Ministers are prominent in the history books. As a historian, I find it shocking that no independent inquiry has been held in order to place the truth firmly on the record for all time. It is unconscionable that one of the Crown’s First Ministers should pass into history with even a faint suspicion of wrongdoing because no one in authority today will do anything to help wipe it out. I do not understand how the Government should fail to regard it as an obligation to ensure that posterity has an absolutely accurate account of what occurred.
For me personally, Operation Conifer showed how hard it had become in Britain today to feel full confidence in our police. At least Wiltshire declined to keep Veale after this disgraceful episode. But he found a new berth as chief constable of Cleveland, where he lasted a year before allegations of misconduct forced him to resign. A report by the Independent Office for Police Conduct, after a two-year investigation—no one seems to think it important to move swiftly in these matters—led the police and crime commissioner for Cleveland to announce that Veale would face a hearing for gross misconduct. The announcement was made in August 2021. A year and eight months later, it has yet to start. The Government will not be surprised that I should return to the issue in this debate. Over and again I have been told in Answers to Oral Questions that the matter is under the exclusive control of an independent, legally qualified chair. By law, hearings have to begin no later than 100 days after their announcement, but the chair can delay the start when it is in the interest of justice to do so.
Who is the chair? The person remains anonymous. How are the interests of justice served by delay? No explanation has been given. It would be perfectly understandable if the explanation were couched in general terms so as not to prejudice the case when it is eventually heard. Total silence is astonishing. As they say, you could not make it up. Is it not difficult to feel total confidence in a system which permits a former chief constable, the most senior of policemen, to evade justice for so long for reasons cloaked in secrecy and in circumstances where public accountability is totally lacking?
My noble friend the Minister told the House in March, rather to my surprise, that we were about to meet to discuss this issue. I am due to see Mr Philp, the Policing Minister, but unfortunately dates fixed for this meeting have had to be cancelled because he had pressing business elsewhere. This is perfectly understandable and the meeting is now due to take place on 15 May.
We should note with considerable sympathy the conclusion reached by the highly regarded think tank Policy Exchange, after its research into the work of legally qualified chairs, that,
“having been introduced with the aim of increasing public confidence in the police misconduct process, the experiment is having the opposite effect.”
These chairs play a part in hindering the sweeping changes in the Met—which, in Sir Mark Rowley, at last has a leader determined to root out the criminals in the ranks and punish misconduct. Sir Mark repeatedly makes clear that he needs to get rid of several hundred officers. Policy Exchange recommends that police regulations should be urgently amended, so that the decisions to dismiss officers found guilty of criminality or serious misconduct lie with police chiefs. That is exactly Sir Mark’s view. As he said last month:
“If you expect me to sort out cultural issues in the Met and get rid of the people who should not be employed, give me the power to do it. Can you imagine sitting with the chief executive of a big organisation saying they weren’t allowed to sack certain people”?
Before giving Sir Mark his answer, the Government conducted a four-month review, which began in January. The timetable for action after the completion of the review is unclear. What is clear is that, although Sir Mark has made good progress with the limited powers that he possesses, impatience is mounting for the swift ejection of officers who have no business to be in the police and the restoration of confidence in the Met. It was seen at a meeting of the Commons Home Affairs Select Committee last week.
We must not let Sir Mark down. As he said last week,
“the vast majority of our people are good people”.
They deserve the full esteem that successful policing brings and to be freed from the taint that the presence of a bad minority inevitably inflicts on the entire Met. The bobbies need to be on the beat again throughout London. Policy Exchange is surely right to stress the need to return to a borough-based policing model with chief superintendents leading police teams in every London borough. It is a point that should be noted in all urban areas throughout the country.
Four things above all stand out as we reflect on the strengthening of confidence in our police today. First, there is the need for first-rate chief constables, fully supported by elected police and crime commissioners in charge of efficient, properly accountable offices. Secondly, we need to ensure that effective use is made of the 20,000 additional police now available as a result of the completion of the Government’s recruitment campaign. It is important to remember that we now have more police officers than ever before. Thirdly, there is the need to equip chief police officers with disciplinary powers that are used quickly and effectively but also humanely and wisely. Fourthly, we need to ensure that police forces throughout our country properly reflect the diverse society that Britain has become, with astonishing speed in historical terms, during the last two generations.
My Lords, it is an honour and a privilege to follow the noble Lord, Lord Lexden. I congratulate him on an excellent opening speech for this debate and agree with almost every word he said. I pay tribute to him for once again affording us the opportunity to examine the current state of the relationship between the police and the public in our country and, more generally, for his indefatigable work on, and commitment to, this area of policy.
This relationship is fundamental: a nation state in which trust between the police and the public has broken down is itself broken. Max Weber suggested that the defining feature of the modern state is its possession of the monopoly on the legitimate use of force, and in that definition “legitimate” does a lot of heavy lifting. If we are to continue to operate according to the nine Peelian principles that underlie our model of policing, power is legitimate only where it is perceived by the public so to be. Public trust is not merely desirable but an essential precondition for our policing system to work effectively.
To focus on the Met just for a moment or two, it is evident that across large swathes of London the Metropolitan Police no longer enjoys that trust. To supplement the statistics on polling of the public that the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, shared with the Committee, a recent YouGov survey commissioned by the BBC found that 42% of those surveyed either somewhat or strongly distrust the Met as an organisation, that 43% thought more negatively of it compared with the same time last year—so this is a deteriorating relationship —and that 73% felt that some groups were treated differently from others. Perhaps most worrying, however, is the absence of surprise that has greeted those alarming statistics. They were a dismal confirmation of what we already knew rather than an unwelcome surprise.
Some of the reasons for this are obvious and rightly have received extensive media attention. They are the tragedy of Sarah Everard’s kidnap, rape and murder by a serving police officer; the verdict of an inquest that failures by the Met contributed to three of the four murders by Stephen Port; and the complete absence of appropriate vetting and oversight that allowed David Carrick to rape and sexually assault multiple women while continuing to serve as a police officer. But the Baroness Casey Review, published six weeks ago, makes it clear that there are deeply embedded structural issues that compromise both the ethical standing and the operational effectiveness of the Metropolitan Police.
Reading through the noble Baroness’s findings, one paragraph seems to exemplify these failings. It is rather extensive but I make no apology for reading it:
“There is currently no plan for the workforce beyond bringing people in, and no sense of how the thousands of new recruits will breathe fresh life into the force after years of austerity. The vetting system is broken, there is minimal supervision, training and development is not taken seriously, there are no training records and the Met do not know what their workforce needs. People are doing jobs they are not trained to do. Initiative after initiative keeps everyone busy, creating … teams and moving people around but ultimately gets in the way of the core job of keeping Londoners safe and prevents the development of fully developed plans for change”.
The noble Baroness, Lady Casey, goes on to conclude that, when we measure the Met against the Peelian principles that continue to guide its operation “Public consent is broken”, a finding that speaks directly to the Motion we are debating in the name of the noble Lord.
It is important to widen our focus beyond the Met, to the situation across the country. Police are currently solving the lowest proportion of crimes on record, with, according to the latest Home Office figures, only 5.4% of crimes resulting in a charge. That is equivalent to just over one in 20 offences being solved. As my right honourable friend Yvette Cooper pointed out in a recent debate in the other place, nearly 70% of the public now believe, as a direct consequence of this parlous record, that the police have given up on trying to solve crimes such as burglary or shoplifting altogether. In fact, given that we now know that fraud accounts for 41% of crime on the person and that only 1% of police resources are devoted to it, the Government themselves have even given up on referring to these statistics regarding the amount of crime in the country.
What of crimes that disproportionately affect women? A recent report compiled by the charity Victim Support found that over half of women lack confidence that the police will properly investigate their reports of domestic abuse. This is not merely a measure of confidence but of the lived experience of dealing with the police, with four in 10 women who had reported a crime in the last two years saying they had felt “let down” by the police investigation into their case.
I prepared this speech when the time allotted to us was much shorter than it presently is. I therefore felt forced to adopt a somewhat pointillist approach, adducing specific statistical examples rather than going into this issue more comprehensively. I am even more pleased that I follow the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, because he did that for us, so I will not extemporise on that, but these individual data points, taken together, create a truly sobering image of a police service that is losing trust across all sections of the population.
Disappointingly, the Government’s response to this has been to focus on the recruitment of 20,000 new police officers, to replace a comparable number of officers that they themselves—although they were in coalition—previously dismissed on the grounds of economic necessity. Ironically, quite apart from the fact that the fiscal situation in which we find ourselves currently is, to put it mildly, not appreciably better than that which apparently compelled the Government to institute these mass dismissals, there are also deeper structural implications. This extraordinary staff churn has not only compromised the institutional memory of the police force but exposed the weaknesses of the vetting process which has contributed to the stories of misconduct among serving officers.
Last week, the Policing Minister proudly announced that the College of Policing had just finished consulting on a new statutory code of practice for vetting which “will be adopted shortly”. This should be juxtaposed with the verdict of Matt Parr, His Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary, who said that, owing to weak vetting procedures, there are police officers numbered
“in the hundreds, if not low thousands”
who should have been disbarred but are now serving officers. Instituting a new vetting procedure after one of the most rapid recruitment drives in police history is patently absurd. It is rather like watching a gang of thieves load the last of your possessions into the getaway vehicle and only then deciding to put a lock on your door and investigate the idea of installing a burglar alarm.
While I understand the underlying principle of operational independence, it seems that, in the interests of devolving accountability, the current structure of policing is deliberately fragmented. It is this that has led to so many of the challenges that we are debating. I remind your Lordships that, when first establishing the Met Police, Robert Peel reflected on this issue, candidly admitting that his legislation was driven by his
“despair of being able to place our police upon a general footing of uniformity”.—[Official Report, Commons, 28/2/1828; col. 793.]
I support entirely the call for a specific action plan, and support even more that it be in plain English so that, in terms of accountability for Parliament, we know exactly what to expect of it. However, to conclude, I pose three specific short questions on which it would be helpful to hear from the Minister. First, what work is his department doing to ensure that the structural weaknesses identified by the Casey review are not reflected in other forces across the country that have not have the same level of scrutiny as the Met? Secondly, does he feel that the frenetic drive to meet the recruitment target of 20,000 new police officers is a tacit admission that the earlier austerity-driven wave of dismissals was just a mistake? Lastly, what reflections does he or, more importantly, his department have as to the ability of current nationwide policing structures, including PCCs—I am quite sceptical of them—to ensure uniformity and coherence in policing across this country?
My Lords, I congratulate my noble friend on securing this important debate. He is an indefatigable, dogged campaigner for justice and we all owe him a great debt. I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton. Of course, he speaks from a legal background as well as a parliamentary one. If I recall, he started as an apprentice solicitor in 1974. I found that in his background because I started as an articled clerk to a solicitor 10 years earlier. It is good to know that he is sharing with us his reflections on this important subject.
I shall confine my remarks to Operation Conifer. My noble friend has already referred to it. In my former role as chair of the trustees of the Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation, some years ago I had the thoroughly unpleasant experience of encountering policing at its most egregious. On the basis of what we now understand to have been completely unfounded allegations, made anonymously at the time but later discovered to have been almost entirely made by individuals who were themselves known offenders, the name of a formidable statesman was gleefully dragged through the dirt. I still have all the cuttings from that period to remind me of what a difficult time it was.
The conduct of the police was unforgivable. From the very outset, when it was announced by a subsequently disgraced officer in front of Sir Edward Heath’s home of Arundells and in front of all the news media, Operation Conifer was a travesty. Not only did Mike Veale—now also disgraced but then chief constable—openly and publicly make an assumption of guilt but he also encouraged his officers in a blatant fishing exercise, effectively replacing the presumption of innocence with one of guilt. A supine police and crime commissioner let the chief constable to evade normal accountability by allowing him to set up a so-called independent scrutiny panel—a novel and self-serving innovation—to which he himself appointed all four members anonymously, until he was forced to reveal who they were. One of them had previously been paid by Conifer for professional services and had been personally implicated in earlier stages of the spurious but lucrative witch hunt, which was now being further pursued by Wiltshire Police at considerable cost to the taxpayer.
Almost every aspect of this so-called investigation might be regarded as comically bad, were the matter not so grievously serious. Numerous vital witnesses were never interviewed, including Lord MacGregor, now retired from this House, who was running Ted Heath’s office at the time of some of the alleged offences, or my noble friend Lord Sherbourne. The log books from the police post of Ted Heath’s former home in Salisbury, which would have made an immediate nonsense of many of the spurious allegations, were mysteriously destroyed.
Those of us who were interviewed were almost without exception shocked by the shoddiness of preparation and the almost complete lack of knowledge on the part of the investigating police officers. No good outcome could ever have come from such a shoddy process. Operation Conifer profoundly undermined confidence in the police, and no one has ever been held to account. Until someone is held to account and until the extraordinary ineptitude and malign intent are independently and comprehensively exposed, how can confidence ever be restored?
Successive Ministers have of course successively claimed that Conifer has been reviewed, but it has been reviewed only by police officers marking their own homework. Even the two police-led reviews that did take place, in September 2016 and May 2017, made a total of 49 recommendations for improving the processes of Conifer—hardly a vote of confidence. Just imagine how many recommendations an independent review might have made.
Of course I recognise the need for operational independence for the police and the fact that they must be insulated from party-political influence as they go about their duties. However, they must also be ultimately accountable for how they discharge their duties, or they risk losing the support of the people. We are told that PCCs provide that vital accountability, but what happens when they fail in that task, perhaps after becoming too close to the chief constable, or even falling under their thrall? What recourse does the citizen have then?
The principle that the police should be operationally independent of government does not absolve Ministers from an obligation to commission a review into the way in which that operational independence has been exercised in a particular case, when serious concerns arise.
I therefore say to my noble friend the Minister that we need to close this chapter with a proper, independent review. Until there is genuine accountability, including an effective backstop at ministerial level, I fail to see how the police can ever regain the full trust and affection of the general public. The experience of Operation Conifer—in particular my own personal experience—suggests that, sadly, we still have a depressingly long way to go.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, for securing this debate for us today. I declare my interest as a member of the independent steering group of Operation Kenova, which is investigating referrals from the chief constable of Northern Ireland and the Director of Public Prosecutions for Northern Ireland on murders and other crimes committed by both republicans and loyalist paramilitaries.
My experience both here in the UK and overseas tells me that confidence in policing is the product of trust, and that trust exists when people know and understand why policing is conducted in the way it is. Governments and police forces have to be able to show that whatever is done is done with integrity and fairness and that it is compliant with the human rights obligations in domestic and international law. However, that is not enough.
No matter how well individual police officers conduct themselves, trust in what they do and how they do it will normally exist only where policing operates as part of a well-resourced, human rights-compliant justice system. All parts of that system are vital: the police, the IOPC, the courts and the prosecution service. If one part fails, the whole system, but particularly policing, falls into disrepute. Those affected by the failure do not discriminate between police failures and the consequential actions of prosecutors and the courts, so trust in the police will inevitably decline.
In Northern Ireland I have seen totally unacceptable delays in decision-making and consequential prosecutions by the PPS. I think of the admission by one UVF brigadier of over 200 criminal offences, and his conviction for murder, attempted murder, arson, extortion and kidnapping in 2018. It was anticipated that further trials would follow. There has been a deafening silence.
I think too of the submission by Operation Kenova of 36 files to the DPP in a range of cases, including the activities of the IRA agent “Stakeknife” and the murder of three young police officers, Sean Quinn, Paul Hamilton and Allan McCloy, who died in October 1982 when the IRA blew up their car near Lurgan. The DPP has yet to make a decision on these files. Suggestions have been made of a shortage of legal expertise to deal with them, but legitimate questions are being asked about why there is no decision. Is the hope that the legacy Bill will proceed into law and put an end to embarrassing disclosures in courts? That is what some people think, and it is axiomatic that the absence of prosecutorial decisions, et cetera, will contribute to a general distrust in criminal justice processes and a perception that in these cases the rule of law, which is fundamental to the operation of a trusted criminal justice system, is not being observed in Northern Ireland and throughout the UK.
Confidence in policing is dependent on the proper resourcing and operation of the wider criminal justice system, but what is it about the way in which policing is delivered that can generate trust? The MPS has been the subject of significant reports over the past few decades. I served in 2002 on an inquiry led by Sir David Calvert- Smith KC on racism in policing in all 43 forces in the UK. We found very significant problems and made 125 recommendations. This was 20 years ago; just a few short weeks ago, the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, published her report, in which she heard evidence very similar to that which we heard in 2002. There are yet more calls for change.
In 2021, the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel, which I led, published its report on the Metropolitan Police. This was an inquiry into the handling of matters following the murder of a private detective in south London in 1987. Over 34 years there had been multiple investigations, inquiries, et cetera. What we found was indicative of a culture within the MPS which did not prevent failure to investigate the original murder or the protection of those alleged to be involved in it. There were also many other failings and unlawful and unauthorised disclosure of investigation material and information—even about forthcoming arrests—to journalists and others over 30 years, including failure to deal with known police wrongdoing. We found failures of management and leadership and, above all, a determination to protect the Met. Our inevitable conclusion, in the absence of any reasonable explanation for the multiple terrible failures, was that ultimately there was a determination within the MPS to protect its reputation and to ensure that the failings were not made public.
That is not unique to the Met. If we are to grow confidence in policing, we must develop a much wider understanding of corruption than the traditional legislative definitions involving monetary benefit. The starting point is the identification of improper behaviour, by action or omission. So much wrongdoing is enabled by failure to deal with individual or collective wrongful acts; it creates a corrupt culture in which officers may calculate their odds of being able to get away with wrongful behaviour.
Looking at particular incidents can enhance understanding of how corruption develops and confidence diminishes in policing. When an officer, often a junior officer, consults police databases for personal gain or shares police information with an outsider, he or she will often be dealt with. However, in the Daniel Morgan case, it emerged that the senior investigating officer in the final police investigation, DCS David Cook, who retired in 2007 but moved to the NCA and continued to act as the senior investigating officer, had decided to write a book with journalist Michael Sullivan about corruption in the Metropolitan Police. He had removed vast amounts of confidential and secret materials from investigations in which he had been involved, other investigations and intelligence operations to, in his words, “set the record straight”.
Searches of his home uncovered enormous amounts of material belonging to the police and other criminal justice agencies. He had disclosed much of this material to journalists and others. He said that he had done so because, if he could not bring the murderers of Daniel Morgan to justice, he wanted to write a book to reveal evidence of corruption within alliances between elements of policing, private investigation and the media. He hoped to make money from the publication of the book and other associated activities. The matter was not effectively dealt with. Again, the imperative was in part to protect the reputation of the police, rather than to expend resources on dealing with the totality of the issues emerging.
Any serving officer with access to sensitive information has the opportunity to remove it and use it for unlawful purposes, whether for commercial gain or terrorist activities, for example. The failure of the Met to prevent DCS David Cook removing materials over such a protracted period continues to cause me concern about the message that such failure to act sends to other officers and about the extent to which such behaviour may be continuing within the police service, unchecked even today.
If the public are to have confidence in policing, they must be able to believe that internal wrongdoing—whether sexual assaults, homophobia, racism, theft of materials, interference with a case or any other form of misconduct or crime—is dealt with. If such matters are not dealt with, it may be because of laziness, lack of professionalism, negligence or deliberate decision. At the end of the day, motive is important in the individual case, but it is vital to know how it can happen. There is clear evidence of how senior officers can, by their acts or omissions, fail to identify and/or confront corruption; fail to manage investigations and ensure proper oversight; fail to learn from or admit mistakes and failings promptly and specifically; give unjustified assurances that all that could have been done has been done; and fail to be open and transparent.
The Daniel Morgan panel recommended the creation of a statutory duty of candour, to be owed by all law enforcement agencies to those whom they serve, subject to the protection of national security and relevant data protection legislation. That did not happen. The creation of such a duty could result in much enhanced confidence in policing, because people would know that, just as there is a statutory duty of candour in the health service, so also there would be a similar duty on policing generally. It is not enough to require individual officers to act with integrity; a statutory duty of candour is required.
What can generate confidence in policing? When the police embarked on their investigations of the abuse allegations made by Carl Beech, alerting the media to those investigations of people such as our late noble and gallant colleague Lord Bramall, whose desk sat opposite mine for many years when I came into your Lordships’ House, it transpired that there was no foundation to those allegations. This matter has been articulated at length by noble Lords. Yet the investigations continued, leaving those under investigation to carry the terrible burdens of suspicion and disruption to their lives—inevitable in such circumstances. When cases such as the murders of Stephen, son of the noble Baroness, Lady Lawrence, and of Daniel Morgan are not investigated properly for decades, trust in policing is inevitably damaged and diminished, even destroyed.
The actions of government can have the effect of enhancing policing, making standards clear and resourcing structures and processes properly. Proper modern policing costs money, and I welcome the recent announcement of the recruitment of 20,000 additional police officers in England and Wales. In Northern Ireland, however, police numbers are now way below what is required to provide an effective service and continue to diminish, despite a terrorist threat level recently raised to severe, meaning that an attack is highly likely. The budget has been reduced and police numbers will continue to fall. The circumstances of the very recent attempt to murder DCI John Caldwell, so terribly injured at a local football training session for young people, is indicative of the ease with which terrorists can strike.
We need only to look at the matters currently under investigation by former Chief Constable Jon Boutcher in Operations Kenova and Denton, which are dealing with the activities of loyalist and republican paramilitaries. From the Stalker/Sampson and Stevens investigations and my own work as police ombudsman, we know that the police, the Army and MI5 successfully infiltrated terrorist organisations. However, there grew a time when they allowed people to continue their terrorism to preserve them as agents. People died because of that; it should not have happened.
There is ongoing concern about the activities of informants across the UK today. It took decades to begin to call to account those whose wrongdoing cost lives. Eventually, we reached the point at which accepted mechanisms for accountability were established. That, all the research showed, enhanced confidence in policing.
Now the legacy Bill will terminate existing criminal investigations, civil actions from 17 May and Troubles inquests this month, and will grant immunity to terrorists. It gives extensive powers to the Secretary of State, who is even responsible for making decisions about memorialisation. The Bill has been rejected by everyone. The Government and the Bill have been seriously criticised by the Council of Europe, the commissioner for human rights, the Council of Europe’s Committee of Ministers, the Irish Government, the US State Department, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights and many others. It deprives survivors and victims of the Troubles of their fundamental legal rights. The Government’s legal obligations are being set aside in the Bill.
If we are to grow confidence in policing, the Government must withdraw the legacy Bill and revert to a process for dealing with the past which is legally compliant and can gain the support of all affected. By continuing to push the Bill, the Government are demonstrating their contempt for the rule of law. Our country and our police have operated for centuries in accordance with the rule of law. Confidence in policing can be promoted, but only if government itself operates within the rule of law.
My Lords, it is a real privilege to follow the noble Baroness’s thought-provoking speech. I first had the pleasure of knowing her when, as chairman of the Northern Ireland Affairs Committee in the other place, I visited Northern Ireland on a frequent and regular basis for some five years. I developed admiration for the way in which she operated with real impartiality. During most of my time there, she was helped a great deal by the fact that there was an admirable chief police officer in Northern Ireland, Sir Hugh Orde, from whom a lot of people could learn a very great deal.
As the noble Baroness spoke, I felt that we really have a solution here, because we ought to have a police ombudsman in England. It is not a difficult thing to do but we need a respected figure—not, as my noble friend Lord Hunt put it, people from the police marking their own homework. To have somebody of real distinction, with a real knowledge of the law and of how policing works, could be very helpful indeed. I ask my noble friend the Minister to discuss that with the Home Secretary and his colleagues. It is an initiative that could come out of this debate, which was so admirably introduced by my noble friend Lord Lexden, for whom we all have great admiration because of his tenacity and persistence, particularly on the area on which my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral spoke. If ever there were something that besmirched—I use the word very deliberately—the reputation of the police in this country, it was the way in which the basic presumption that a man or woman is innocent until proven guilty was completely swept aside.
A number of great public servants—three in particular —were themselves besmirched. The first was the great Lord Bramall, whose memorial service was held only a few days ago in Winchester Cathedral; I gather that it was a most moving occasion.
The second was Leon Brittan—Lord Brittan—a colleague of mine and of my noble friend Lord Hunt in the other place. He was the personification of integrity. That does not mean that he was always right, but he was a man of absolute honour. His last days were made miserable, not just by his grave illness but by the way his reputation was traduced. What is more, and in a sense even sadder, was that his wife—now his widow—had to live with it.
The third was, of course, Sir Edward Heath, about whom my noble friend Lord Hunt spoke movingly. He was an extraordinary man. I was one of those elected to the 1970 Parliament when he became Prime Minister. Since then we have had a number of Prime Ministers, but none more honourable than Edward Heath, or more determined to serve his country by doing what he thought was the right thing for it.
I have to say that it is an absolute scandal that this has been so badly handled by successive Home Secretaries. I make a plea, endorsing that made by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Wirral: the Government must now pull their finger out and establish a time-limited inquiry under a lawyer of real eminence—possibly a former member of the Supreme Court—given 12 months in which to report back to the Government and Parliament. I hope that my noble friend Lord Sharpe of Epsom will take that request away from this debate and make a positive report.
We have talked about the Met. I read something in the Times the other day that encapsulated what we are dealing with. We have referred to the appalling Wayne Couzens and the ghastly crime that he committed against an innocent woman, Sarah Everard. We have talked of other police officers who have transgressed. I pay tribute to Sir Mark Rowley, who is clearly trying his best to re-establish the Met, in effect, so that it again becomes a respected institution. But the other day the Times reported about a woman, a property owner, who was disturbed about some threats to the square in which she lived and put up a handful of little notices. The police told her that she should not have done that, but they also said:
“Next time it ends in handcuffs”.
Is that really the way you treat people for a minor transgression?
In recent years, the police have gone right over the top when pursuing so-called hate crimes—not just in London; we had a notorious case in Lincolnshire just a couple of years ago. What people want from a police force is the knowledge that they are a body people they can respect who will help to ensure that their property is safe and, if it is broken into, the crime will be thoroughly investigated. That is what people want. They also want to know that their women can walk safely on the streets. For example, just a few weeks ago a London taxi driver told me he was upset because various road closures and diversions at the end of a street in one of the London boroughs—I think it was Hackney—meant that he had to drop people off at a corner to walk 100 yards or so. He told me, “That’s inconvenient enough in the rain, but the other night I had a young lady, and I stayed in my cab and watched that she got to her door”.
That is not the atmosphere in which we wish to see the police operating. We wish to see them bringing structure by their presence; my noble friend Lord Lexden referred to the bobby on the beat. He, like me, probably remembers “Dixon of Dock Green”—as surely we all do—and the local police station, which gave real comfort and encouragement to people.
Of course, one of the problems that we in this place have to face up to is that there has been a very real sea- change in society. When I was brought up, we accepted that certain things were right and certain things were wrong, and they were really moulded on Judeo-Christian civilisation. We all committed sins. We all did wrong, but at least we knew we had done it. It is not like that today. “You have your truth, I have my truth”; what nonsense. There ought to be certain accepted standards within which society can operate because, if there are not, society cannot properly operate. That is one of the problems that face the police, because people do not automatically accept that a certain thing is wrong. It is also one of the reasons why we have had all these problems within the police. We have clearly had within the police—especially within the Met, as so graphically illustrated recently in the report by the noble Baroness, Lady Casey—officers who have conceded to your right and my right, your truth and my truth and your wrong and my wrong, and they have not been operating within a consensual society.
What is the answer? Of course there are many but, in the context of today’s debates, one answer is “Dixon of Dock Green”—having units within the Met and in our other towns and cities where it is accepted that there are people there who will bring a sense of cohesion. Remember the cry some years ago in the NHS, “Bring back matron”? We want to bring back the superintendent in the regional or borough office. We want to bring back people who have a degree of real authority, answerable to somebody with supreme authority.
I come back to where I began. I am sorry for speaking my mind in this way. I have thought a lot about this, but I did not prepare a speech for this debate because I wanted to reflect on what others have said. I come back to where I began: I believe that one of the answers could lie, in England—it is for the other nations of the UK to determine how they go forward—with a police ombudsman who would be able to give a degree of confidence to the general public that, where there were real complaints against the police, those would be thoroughly, impartially and scrupulously investigated and fearlessly reported on. I commend that suggestion especially to your Lordships this afternoon.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, for bringing forward this important debate and all participants for their thoughtful contributions.
Some 20 years ago, when I was chair of my police authority, I made it a rule to take us around north Yorkshire in order to let its residents have the opportunity to see us in action, so to speak, and let them ask whatever questions they wanted during the meeting. I do not recall at any time, over all the years I chaired it, anyone saying to us that they had lost confidence in the police.
Contrast that with today’s findings. In the past five years, 4.3 million anti-social behaviour reports have gone unattended. More than 2,000 such incidents went unattended by police each day last year, and some forces attended fewer than one in five incidents. The Crime Survey for England and Wales found that from 2017-18 to 2021-22 the number of people who thought the police were doing a good job fell from 62% to 52% and that overall confidence in local police fell from 78% to 69%. I am indebted to Richard Brown and Abbi Hobbs for these statistics in their excellent POSTnote 693. For clarity, POST is the Parliamentary Office of Science and Technology.
Analysing Home Office statistics released just this week, we find that, on average, 574 burglaries went unsolved every day in 2022, making a total of 209,424 unsolved burglaries across England and Wales—a 10% rise compared with 2021. So great is the fear of local crime that a poll commissioned by my party found that 40% of UK adults had installed new home security systems in the past year, 1.5 million crimes went unsolved across England and Wales in the first three quarters of 2022 and 25% of adults do not go out after dark because of the fear of crime. Is it any wonder that trust in the police has fallen so much?
In November 2022, a YouGov poll of more than 5,000 UK adults found that 49% of them had confidence in the police, compared with 58% in January 2019. That was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, and the noble Lord, Lord Browne of Ladyton, who mentioned other examples, notably the BBC poll. There was also a 10% drop in trust in a survey from More in Common—probably not surprisingly, as it was conducted shortly after the sentencing of the former MPS officer, Wayne Couzens, after he abducted, raped and murdered Sarah Everard. The End Violence Against Women Coalition found that 47% of women reported that they now have less trust in the police following that and other high-profile assault cases.
Cases of police misconduct and evidence of a culture of misogyny have demonstrated why women and girls’ confidence in policing is at an all-time low. The National Police Chiefs’ Council’s first violence against women and girls benchmark found that between 1 October 2021 and 31 March 2022 there were 1,177 recorded cases of police-perpetrated VAWG allegations. These included domestic as well as sexual abuse, and Refuge, which works on behalf of women and girls who are victims of such violence, reports that those victims are finding it difficult to trust the police when they are constantly hearing about police-perpetrated VAWG.
The excoriating review into Sarah Everard’s murder undertaken by the noble Baroness, Lady Casey of Blackstock, which we have heard referred to a number of times this afternoon, highlighted a large number of areas where the police had failed to deal with the criminals in their midst and her report makes very difficult reading. She reported on how the Metropolitan Police Service had to change and gave her advice on how to achieve that. It should be the blueprint for all forces to look internally and make those cultural changes that are now so necessary.
His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services has called for all forces to prioritise reports of violence against women and girls. Operation Soteria Bluestone, the Government’s own rape review, is aimed at developing a new national model for investigating rape and serious sexual assault. Was this intended simply as an annual report, or is it ongoing? Can the Minister give the House an update on its findings?
We must now address why all this has happened. Your Lordships will not be surprised that I believe there to be a direct correlation between loss of trust in the police and the numbers of officers, including community support officers, whose numbers have dropped by an average of 33% in England and Wales since 2015. We will be told, I am sure, that the Government have provided, or are about to provide, an extra 20,000 police officers, but can the Minister tell us how many police officers have been lost or have retired from the service in that time? I do not expect him to answer that today but if he could write to me, I would be grateful. Losing experienced officers and recruiting new ones might go a long way towards explaining loss of trust in the service.
Police managers have a huge responsibility here. Where is their continuing professional training and what is being done to support them? Sergeants, inspectors, superintendents and chief constables are all responsible for ensuring good conduct and rooting out the so-called bad apples. Basically, it is the overall culture and behaviour of police officers that needs addressing. A number of noble Lords have mentioned this, notably the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, who gave us vivid examples of police overreaction. I will not go into past painful recollections of my own dealings with badly behaving officers, but suffice it to say that I do not believe that much has changed within police culture. That is a shame, because it takes only a handful of rogue officers in each force to shape the public’s image of policing as a whole.
Police managers must grapple with ridding themselves of these abhorrent officers, who should never have been recruited in the first place. The vetting procedures need urgent attention. When an officer is found to have behaved badly, the chief constable must be able to dismiss that officer quickly and easily. This was always a huge bone of contention when I was chair. The frankly ridiculous amount of time that it took to get to the point of dismissal was utterly depressing. It seems that nothing much has changed, so can the Minister update us on any proposals that the Government may have about that?
How do we restore that lost trust? The noble Lord, Lord Lexden, mentioned a number of things that might be done. I too suggest a number of measures. It starts as soon as we appraise new recruits. Vetting them is crucial, as the noble Lord, Lord Browne, referred to. We must find a process that will weed out those unsuitable for the office of police constable. We must ensure that training is carried out properly and is continuous. Forces now do their own training, mainly. In my day, recruits went to training schools. At least then they were all learning the same basics.
The noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, rightly highlighted the importance of human rights obligations for the police. I agree with her. They should quickly weed out unsuitable people, urgently revise the misconduct procedures and make accountability more transparent. At the moment, this is vested in police and crime commissioners—your Lordships know my antipathy towards them. I will not dwell on it, but six police forces are now in special measures; just one was when I was vice-chair of the Association of Police Authorities. PCC costs have rocketed to over £100 million as officer numbers have fallen. Those outrageous costs could have funded an additional 3,830 community officers on an average salary of £26,634.
We must ensure procedural justice, to make people feel that they are treated in a fair and just way. Perhaps treating people with fairness, respect, trustworthiness and neutrality would also help. The noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, helpfully mentioned a statutory duty of candour, and the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, suggested that we consider having a police ombudsman—a very interesting thought. Most importantly, however, we must get back to community policing, with a police officer who knows their beat and their locals and is visible to them. Community engagement is the golden thread that brings the police and public together to deal with crime. It is the way we do policing in this country.
We were once proud to say that we had the best police service in the world, but we have lost our way. I hope that we can say again that we are proud of that service as soon as possible, but I fear that it will take rather a long time.
My Lords, I, too, open by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, for securing this debate on the state of public confidence in the police. Of course, I agree with pretty much every word that he said. A number of noble Lords have spoken about his indefatigability, and of course I agree with that as well.
We are all familiar with high-profile cases of the Met’s failure to prevent murder and violent crimes being done, not just by the general public but from within their own ranks. This has been the most prominent and worrying time for the Metropolitan Police in recent times. Just last week, we heard that the Met Police may also be failing to identify serial killers, in the wake of the appalling case of Stephen Port. In an HMICFRS report, five key failings were identified: a lack of training, poor supervision, unacceptable record-keeping, confusing policies and inadequate intelligence procedures. How are the Government urgently supporting the Met to fix that in relation not only to the most serious crimes but more widely?
Numerous media reports have also appeared about the recruitment of unsuitable candidates who have been given jobs as police officers in the lead-up to the deadline that the Government set themselves to meet their recruitment target. The report from the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, into the Met highlighted the lack of experience left in the police service, saying:
“On paper, we have the highest number of police officers”,
but that they have lost experienced police officers in recent years so that
“while on paper there are officers on seats, the lack of experience is noticeable”.
The Government need to provide a clear timeline for a legislative framework of standards to ensure that, even at times of high recruitment, we are hiring not rotten apples but only the best candidates—and, of course, there should be clear guidelines and standards from the start of their career. Why is it that in England and Wales we still have no mandatory national standards on police vetting, misconduct and training? Do the Government have a timeline for producing mandatory national standards? This goes to the same point that the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, talked about—the lamentable time that it can take to dismiss a police officer.
Delays in dealing with serious crime have also eroded public confidence; 90% of crimes are unsolved, victims are dropping out of the reporting process in their millions, and sexual offences are at record highs. How concerned is the Minister about this, and does he accept that this is an unsustainable situation which demands urgent action?
We also know the problems with police visibility and community engagement. I also agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, about the golden thread, as she termed it, of public consent in supporting our police forces so that they can solve crimes. On this side of the Committee, we believe that neighbourhood policing has been hollowed out, leaving people feeling unsafe in their own neighbourhoods. Restoring public confidence in this area will certainly mean increasing the number of bobbies on the beat, being a visible and reassuring presence in communities. Those bobbies would have genuine local knowledge and relationships to deal with lower-level crime effectively. Have the Government considered the merits of committing to a target for putting more PCSOs and police officers on the streets?
In commenting on some noble Lords’ speeches, which have all given great expertise to this short debate, I want to pick out two particular points. First, I agreed with much of what the noble Lord, Lord Cormack, said, but he spoke about “Dixon of Dock Green” and how it was when that TV programme was on. I watched that programme when I was a boy, but I was a boy in London. I was stopped more times than I can remember by the police force in Notting Hill. I suspect my experience of the police force 50 years ago was very different from the one displayed in “Dixon of Dock Green”, so we should not be too sentimental about the past.
Secondly, I want to pick up the point from the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, about confidence in the police. Yesterday, I sat as a magistrate in the City of London Magistrates’ Court, dealing with the usual range of cases; there was nothing special yesterday. At lunchtime, I had a sandwich with a district judge friend of mine. He knew that I was going to take part in this debate. I asked him the one change he would make which would have the greatest benefit in building confidence in the police—one thing. He did not hesitate in his answer. He said, “Bring domestic abuse allegations to court the next day. Do it immediately. If you did that, you would get a far lower drop-out rate”. He is a travelling district judge and does DA work across the whole country. He has been absolutely appalled by the prevalence of this. Different parts of the country deal with it in different ways, but when I put that question to him he did not hesitate in his answer. He said he understood that it would be difficult, but that it would be the single thing that any Government could do to have the greatest impact.
I will tell the Minister, for nothing, that I will feed that idea into the Labour Party as a proposal for the manifesto and the like, but he is very welcome to take it forward himself. Other than that, I welcome this debate. It has shown great insight into the problems ahead of us. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, for moving the debate.
My Lords, I too am grateful to my noble friend Lord Lexden for securing this debate. I salute his tenacity—an easier word to pronounce. I also thank all those who have contributed. I apologise to my noble friend that our meeting has unfortunately been postponed more than once, but I promise we will get there in the end.
I agree with my noble friend Lord Cormack that the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, delivered a thought-provoking speech about Northern Ireland. She will not be surprised that I am singularly unqualified to discuss the legacy Bill, but I will make sure that her remarks are passed on to my colleague, my noble friend Lord Caine.
Today’s discussion is another reminder of the importance of this topic and I am pleased to have the opportunity to outline the Government’s work in this space. I found the debate extraordinarily interesting, as have all other noble Lords, and of course I agree with many of the remarks that have been made. I have also found some of the personal reflections rather moving; I will come back to those.
All noble Lords are right: public confidence is absolutely essential to policing. Without it, the ability of the police to carry out their core functions is undermined, as per our model of policing by consent. My noble friend Lord Lexden rightly mentioned the foundational Peel principles and he had the two ex-policemen on the Government Front Bench today nodding in agreement.
As we are all well aware, recent high-profile cases and reports have underlined the need to root out unacceptable behaviour and to reset cultures. Officers must be held to the highest standards. Before I talk about the Government, I pay tribute to the vast majority of police officers in this country, who serve with considerable fortitude, tenacity—to use that word again—and diligence. They deserve our support and we should not forget that they are the vast majority. I am sure that noble Lords also speak on a regular basis to those who protect us in this place. I would like to say—I place this on record—that they have made it very clear to me that they are also extremely keen to see the sorts of reforms that we are discussing pushed through.
Before I respond to some of the points that have come up during the debate, I will set out briefly some of the steps that the Government are taking to drive change. I will try to avoid the blizzard of statistics that my noble friend referenced but I feel that I need to point out the latest Crime Survey for England and Wales statistics. Other noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, have put it on the record today—and it would be remiss of me not to point out—that we are making progress in some areas. For example, the figures for hospital admissions for assault by a sharp object for people under 25 are 25% lower in the year ending December 2022 than they were in the year ending December 2019. I deliberately omit the pandemic years. Neighbourhood crime as measured by the crime survey is down 28% in the year ending December 2022 compared with the year ending December 2019. Obviously, we need police to work with partners to make sure that those numbers are maintained. On homicide, levels have been falling since the end of 2021 and are now lower than they were before the pandemic in March 2020. The current level is 11% below the pre-pandemic level in March 2020. There were 708 homicides then. The picture is not an unqualified dystopia, as perhaps some would have us believe.
I will now try to respond to some of the points that have been made—obviously, if I fail in responding to any of the specific ones, I will catch up in writing. We have done a number of things, starting with establishing the independent Angiolini inquiry, which is currently examining the appalling cases of two former Metropolitan Police officers that have been widely referenced. Part 2 of the inquiry will investigate issues in policing such as vetting, recruitment and poor culture, as well as the safety of women in public spaces, a subject to which I will return. In January, we launched a review into the process for police officer dismissals, to ensure that the system is fair and effective at removing those not fit to serve—I will also come back to that—and the Home Secretary has asked the College of Policing to strengthen the statutory code of practice for vetting.
Most speakers have referenced the Casey review and holding the Metropolitan Police to account, specifically my noble friends Lord Lexden and Lord Hunt, the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, and the noble Lords, Lord Browne and Lord Ponsonby. The Casey review made for very sobering reading. It is paramount that public trust in the Metropolitan Police is restored. Although primary accountability lies with the Mayor of London, I know that the Home Secretary will continue to hold the commissioner and mayor to account to deliver the necessary improvements. I very much welcome the scrutiny and transparency that HMICFRS brings to police performance and fully support its decision to escalate the Met to its enhanced monitoring phase of “engage”. I am reassured that both the commissioner and mayor are engaging constructively with HMICFRS’s police performance oversight group process. It is imperative that it begins the process to restore the public’s confidence that they are getting the high quality of service that they deserve and have every right to expect. We have confidence in the commissioner’s leadership and his plans to turn around the Met and ensure that the force is delivering for all communities. It is also worth noting that the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, observed that Sir Mark and the deputy commissioner, Lynne Owens, deserve a chance to succeed and she believes that they will do so, as do I.
I move on to the subject of institutional racism, misogyny and other forms of unacceptable discrimination. Without question, discriminatory attitudes and behaviours have no place at all in policing and allegations of racism, misogyny and homophobia are deeply disturbing. We expect police leaders to take urgent action to root out discrimination. Allegations of wrongdoing are dealt with under a comprehensive framework, either by police forces or the Independent Office for Police Conduct. By law, forces must refer certain allegations to the IOPC, including criminal offences or behaviour liable to disciplinary proceedings that is aggravated by discrimination on the grounds of race, sex, religion or other protected characteristics.
The Home Secretary has been consistently clear that culture and standards in policing need to improve, as a matter of urgency. Examining the root causes of poor and toxic cultures will be a key focus of part 2 of the Angiolini inquiry when it begins later this spring. The College of Policing is also currently updating the Code of Ethics, which plays a key role in instilling the right principles and standards from the start of an officer’s career.
All speakers, I think, have referred to the dismissals process. There is no disputing that officers have to be held to the highest standards; that is obviously vital to public trust and confidence in policing. To ensure that the system is fair and effective at removing those not fit to serve, the Government are, as noble Lords will be aware, carrying out a review of the dismissals process. Among other areas, the review will consider the composition of misconduct panels, the role of legally qualified chairs and the consistency of decision-making in cases of sexual misconduct and offences related to violence against women and girls. The process of a review is correct. In another context, my noble friend Lord Hunt pointed out that the police should not mark their own homework. Although I understand the superficial desirability of allowing chief constables the right to make the sackings, this subject still deserves to be considered in the round to ensure that all the possible consequences of those powers are thought through. That is what the review is doing and we will report back when it concludes, which I think will be at the end of this month.
On the subject of vetting, the public deserve to have confidence that the right people are recruited into policing. In order to strengthen the vetting regime, the Government have asked the College of Policing to strengthen the statutory code of practice for police vetting, making the obligations that all forces must have due regard to stricter and clearer. The public consultation for the updated Vetting Code of Practice closed on 21 March and the college is now considering the responses, before providing it to the Home Secretary to arrange for it to be laid in Parliament. The Home Secretary has also asked the policing inspectorate to carry out a rapid review of police forces’ responses to its November 2022 report, which highlighted a number of areas where police vetting can be strengthened. Separately, the National Police Chiefs’ Council—the NPCC—has asked police forces to check their officers and staff against the police national database to help to identify anyone who is unfit to serve. The data-washing exercise is now complete and forces are manually analysing the information received to identify leads for follow-up. This exercise is expected to be completed by September.
A number of noble Lords referred to violence against women and girls, in particular the very worrying statistics around the appalling offence of rape. With the Committee’s indulgence, I will go into what we are doing on this in a little more detail. The noble Baroness, Lady Harris, referred to Operation Soteria, which is the programme being rolled out to improve responses in this area. I can give her the statistics that she was seeking. In the year since the Metropolitan Police has been involved in Operation Soteria—the year ending September 2022—the number of adult rape offences recorded increased by 15%. The number of charges for adult rape offences increased by 79%. That number is still not high enough, certainly not relative to the number of offences, but the trend is in the right direction. The number of investigations closed because the victim did not support further action fell by 8%. Those numbers should give some reassurance that this is working as intended. It is intended to drive long-lasting, sustainable change.
The national operating model, which is being developed through the programme, will be available to all forces in England and Wales from June 2023. However, that is not the only action that we are taking. We are also bringing in new powers to stop unnecessary and intrusive requests for victims’ phones—a vital change in the law that puts an end to the practice of digital strip-searches, as they are known. We are supporting police forces to ensure that no victim of rape is left without a phone for more than 24 hours and we are committed to legislating to ensure that police requests for third-party material are necessary and proportionate. It is early stages, of course, but the trends are heading in the right direction, albeit that I would certainly like to see them speeded up, as I am sure all noble Lords and all police officers would, too.
The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, made a very good suggestion about domestic abuse victims, which I will definitely take back. It falls within the MoJ’s remit, so with his permission I will make sure that my colleagues there are well aware of his suggestion.
The noble Lord, Lord Browne, and my noble friend Lord Cormack referenced violence against women and girls, which I will go into in some more detail. We are doing a lot to improve the policing response to crimes of VAWG, as it is known. We recently published a revised strategic policing requirement which includes VAWG as a national threat for policing to respond to. We supported the appointment of DCC Maggie Blyth as the first full-time National Police Chiefs’ Council VAWG lead to co-ordinate and improve the police response to it. The NPCC published its first performance report in March 2023 using data obtained from forces and will publish a strategic risk assessment shortly to outline where forces should prioritise their resources going forward.
We have also committed up to £3.3 million to fund the rollout of domestic abuse matters training to police forces that are yet to deliver it or do not have their own specific domestic abuse training. This also includes funding the development of a new training module targeted at officers investigating domestic offences to improve charge rates. That is very good progress. As always, there is more to do, but the Government are not idle in this area.
The noble Lord, Lord Browne, made some extremely good points about police leadership. The Government are clear that strong leadership at every level is essential. Cultures must be reset and standards raised, and the Government will continue pushing for the necessary improvements to be made. However, the drive for change also needs to come from within, and strong leadership at all ranks is essential. We have invested in a new national centre for police leadership, which is being developed by the College of Policing. For the first time, from June 2023 there will be national leadership standards and a professional development framework linked to these standards at every level in policing. This means that every police officer will have a clear set of consistent leadership standards expected of them at every rank, and will know what training is available to help them achieve those standards. That goes some way to answering the questions of the noble Baroness, Lady Harris. In addition, the College of Policing’s reformed processes for progression to chief officer will increase transparency and open up access to senior-level development. The first cohort to undertake the new executive leaders programme, which is mandatory for those who want to reach chief officer level, will begin in June 2023.
The Government believe in local policing accountable to local communities. That is why we introduced police and crime commissioners in 2012. PCCs and mayors with PCC functions have been elected by the public to hold chief constables and the force to account, ensuring that the public have a stronger voice in policing. PCCs are central to the work to restore trust and confidence in the police. To do so, they must continue to be strong and visible leaders in the fight against crime. Implementing the Government’s two-part review into PCCs will strengthen their role, ensuring that they are accountable to the public and have the tools and levers they need to carry out their role effectively. It will sharpen local accountability, making it easier for the public to hold their PCC to account for their record on reducing crime, and will turn the dial on their involvement in the criminal justice system, giving them a more defined role. Ultimately, PCCs and mayors with PCC functions are directly elected by the communities they serve and are held to account at the ballot box. I am afraid I do not recognise the cost figures that the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, advanced.
The Government and the public rightly expect the highest standards from our police officers. The ability of the police to perform their core functions—tackling crime and keeping the public safe—is dependent on their capacity to maintain the confidence of the public. As part of the “Inclusive Britain” strategy, the Government are committed to developing a new national framework with policing partners, including PCCs, for how the use of police powers, such as stop and search and use of force, can be scrutinised at a local level. This will help create tangible improvements in trust and confidence between the police and the communities they serve by improving public understanding of how and why police use their powers and to help account for any disparities. Alongside this, the Home Office has committed to seek to remove unnecessary barriers that prevent the use of body-worn video, which will be implemented in the framework. Work is well under way on the community scrutiny framework, which we aim to publish later this year.
Last week, we announced that our unprecedented officer recruitment campaign has met its target. We said that we would recruit an additional 20,000 officers and we have. This means that we now have 149,572 officers across England and Wales. We recruited an additional 20,951 during the three-year campaign, which is testament to the hard work of forces and the brave men and women who have signed up join police forces. We know that there is work to do to improve trust and confidence in policing, but it is worth noting that, during this recruitment campaign, almost 275,000 people applied to join the police, showing that it really is a job like no other. However, let me be clear: there was never a question that this uplift should come at the expense of public safety. We have provided more than £3 billion to police forces to support the recruitment process, including enhancing vetting capabilities. Recruitment standards have been maintained, and this rigour is demonstrated by the fact that, for every 10 applicants, only one officer is hired. That ratio has been consistent throughout the campaign. I say to the noble Lord, Lord Browne, that this is not a tacit admission of anything. It is a reflection, as I said yesterday, that demand in policing has changed.
The Government have been clear about the need to return to common-sense policing, where the focus is on getting the basics right. This means making our neighbourhoods safer, supporting victims and taking tougher action. That is what the public expect, and what the public deserve. It is about attending every residential burglary. It is about targeting crime hotspots, whether that be to tackle anti-social behaviour or serious violence, and it is about bringing to justice those who break our laws.
On the subject of anti-social behaviour, which the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, asked me about, I will not go into too much detail, but the Government are committed to tackling and preventing ASB. Since taking up office, the Prime Minister has made it very clear that the people’s priorities are his priorities—and this is one of them. He was behind the publication on 27 March of an ASB action plan, which sets out the Government’s commitment to tackling ASB across six key areas—I will not go into them now. There is also a task force that is chaired, I think, by my right honourable friends the Home Secretary and the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, whose department is also looking at this particular subject.
On Operation Conifer, I really have heard what my noble friends in particular have said on this matter. One thing that I feel I must say is that, even though the accusations laid against some of the people who were investigated turned out to be those of a fantasist, that fantasist was given political cover and there was political pressure involved here; we should not forget that fact. We should also defend the police’s right to investigate accusations of this type. There has been a seriously large number of historical allegations that have been proved, including some into some very public personalities. I will not name names, but we should remember that. In saying that, I am not in any way justifying how that operation was done, some of the things that were said or any other subjects that my noble friends have rightly brought back into the public domain yet again. I completely understand why they are asking for that independent inquiry. However, the Government’s position is that there have effectively been four independent scrutiny panels and so on, which have checked and tested the decision-making and approach of the investigation. Two reviews by Operation Hydrant in September 2016 and May 2017, to which my noble friend Lord Hunt referred, concluded that the investigation was proportionate, legitimate and in accordance with national guidance. There was a review in January 2017 by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, as it then was, of whether the resources assigned to the investigation by the Home Office were being deployed in accordance with value-for-money principles. The IOPC has also considered specific allegations related to a former chief constable.
On the subject of the former chief constable, arrangements concerning the establishment of a misconduct hearing are a matter for PCCs, as I have said from the Dispatch Box before. The management of the hearing itself is the responsibility of the independent legally qualified chair. As I have also said, 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 is in the interests of justice to do so. That is obviously the case in this particular instance. It is regrettable, but that is the case. Decisions made within a hearing are done so independently of PCCs and the Government. The Government take accountability of the police very seriously and have delivered a number of reforms to strengthen the police disciplinary system. This included additional independence through the introduction of independent LQCs in 2016. The Government are also undertaking an internal review of the process of police officer dismissals, which is looking at the existing model and composition of panels, including the impact of the role of LQCs.
In answer to the specific comments and questions about anonymity from my noble friend Lord Lexden, I say that there is no specific legislative provision for the anonymity of legally qualified chairs. Decisions concerning the publication of an LQC’s name are a matter for the relevant PCC. Those decisions are made independently of government. I do not know why his or her identity is not public in this case, and I am not going to speculate on that subject.
In closing, I thank my noble friend Lord Lexden for securing this debate and thank all those who have participated. Just to conclude with a couple of other remarks, I thank my noble friend Lord Cormack for his nostalgia trip to Dock Green, but I think that there are enough national bodies with responsibilities in the oversight area, including, of course, the College of Policing, the HMICFRS, the IOPC and the NPCC. I note the comments of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, about him being stopped and searched when he was younger, and I wonder who he was hanging around with in those days.
The noble Lord, Lord Browne, raised an interesting subject about the practical and philosophical arrangement of policing in this country, which I think might be a debate that he should impress on the Government to come back to in future days. It would be fun to conduct that debate, although I am probably going well beyond my brief here.
As I have made clear, if the police are to perform their critical functions with maximum effectiveness, they must have the trust and confidence of the people they serve. That is why the Government are taking the action that I have highlighted to drive change and why we will continue challenging forces to raise standards across the board—and, rest assured, the Government will not rest.
My Lords, this has been first and foremost a moving debate, not least because of the contribution of the noble Baroness, Lady O’Loan, on suffering in Northern Ireland, with which, as she knows, I have the deepest personal sympathy. Secondly, it has been a debate in which we have reminded ourselves of past wrongs, particularly those relating to the reputation of Sir Edward Heath—wrongs that await redress and cry out for justice. We do not accept the Government’s view that an independent inquiry is not needed. In this matter, perhaps the case for a police ombudsman, put forward by my noble friend Lord Cormack, is particularly strong.
Thirdly, it has been a debate in which we have noted the malign consequences that have arisen because certain police officers have been determined to protect their own reputations at the expense of justice and the needs of the public. Fourthly, it has been a debate in which we have reminded ourselves of the need to be clear where operational independence of the police begins and ends and where political responsibility starts. Fifthly, it has been a debate in which we have shown overwhelmingly that far-reaching changes are needed, especially in London, where we begin to see the results of the superb leadership of Sir Mark Rowley. He must be given the disciplinary powers that he requires.
Finally, and sixthly, it is a debate in which we have urged the Government to respond with vigour and effectiveness to the crisis of confidence in the police. My noble friend the Minister has told us what the Government are doing. I shall leave noble Lords to form their own judgments about his comments. He can be sure that he remains on probation, as I am sure he would expect. We shall look carefully at his future homework. If change and rigorous policy is pursued before us, it will bring a great prize, to which the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, referred: the restoration of full pride in police forces in our country.