Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill
Clive Efford (Eltham, Labour)
Welcome back from your travels, Mr Benton. It is a pleasure to see you back in the Chair this morning.
When I finished speaking on the Bill on Thursday, the Minister was kind enough to say that he had nearly lost the will to live. I see that as a challenge. Arundel is a very nice place and I look forward to a by-election there. It has a very nice tea room.
On Thursday, we explored the role of the Mayor as the single person at the head of the Metropolitan Police Authority, the role of the chief officer, and how their relationship will be constructed in the Bill. I have some questions, although I will not detain the Committee for as long as I did the other day. Most of the arguments were set out, but one or two questions need to be clarified. I take note of the fact that we are waiting for a code of practice, which will define to some degree the respective responsibilities and roles. As I pointed out on Thursday, not the Mayor but the Metropolitan Police Authority holds the chief officer to account under the current arrangements. The argument that police and crime commissioners should be rolled out across the country because the creation of the Mayor and the new arrangements in London have been a success is fundamentally flawed. That has been demonstrated by what happened on Thursday when the Metropolitan Police Authority discussed the very important issues of undercover policing, phone tapping and the future of policing in London.
Len Duvall, the leader of the Labour group on the Metropolitan Police Authority, has criticised the Mayor. He said:
“The Mayor promised to take personal responsibility for the Met but his silence on the serious reputational issues currently engulfing the force is deafening.”
That shows that the Mayor does not perform the function of holding the chief officer to account. The Government have to put up a stronger argument about the role of the chief officer in being responsible on police and crime to the Mayor or the individual appointed by the Mayor, rather than to an elected committee that is responsible to the communities that its members are elected to represent.
On undercover policing, issues have been raised about undercover officers entering into personal relationships with members of the organisations that they are investigating. If an elected Mayor of London objects to sex outside marriage, where do we draw the boundaries between the activities of those officers and the moral principles and approach taken by an elected representative with very strong views? That highlights one danger of chief officers of the Metropolitan police being forced to respond to one individual, which is a strong argument for having a Metropolitan Police Authority, with a range of individuals, including elected members, from various backgrounds. I do not know whether the code of practice will do this, but the Minister should set out how to deal with circumstances in which there is a clear conflict between those in operational control and an individual with a very strong personal view, which could arise.
There are examples of the individual in the Mayor’s office who chairs the Metropolitan Police Authority having transgressed and overstepped the mark. Although he was not criticised for a breach of the code of conduct for elected members of the Metropolitan Police Authority, the Mayor has been seriously criticised. In his report, Jonathan Goolden, who investigated the matter, stated that
“he should have sought advice from MPA officers before issuing a press statement relating to an ongoing police investigation;…his actions in speaking to a person arrested in a criminal investigation were extraordinary and unwise; and…there is a risk that frank and full discussion of operational matters between senior MPS officers and the MPA Chairman could be inhibited in future if Mr. Johnson were to make public his reaction to operational briefings on critical incidents as a matter of course.”
Clearly, an individual can interfere in police operational matters, as the decision in that investigation demonstrated. Goolden recommended that
“the MPA, MPS and Mayor’s Office jointly consider the adoption of a protocol to cover the management of information by senior police officers, senior members and officers of the MPA and the Mayor in relation to critical incidents.”
We clearly have concerns about how the roles of the chief officer and the Metropolitan police will interact under the provisions in the Bill. When we heard evidence from Lynne Owens from the Metropolitan police, she expressed worries when we questioned her about whether the roles needed more clarity, and said:
“On operational independence, we absolutely support the Government’s desire to strengthen local accountability and local democratic accountability, but our nervousness relates to how that will amalgamate to deal with the national functions—counter-terrorism, protective services and major crime investigation. While the drafting of the legislation talks about having regard to a strategic policing requirement, you can absolutely understand the pressure that a locally elected politician may feel to the very visible, accessible parts of the policing that we think are very important. There is, however, another side to policing, which is not always visible or easily explained to the communities. It is when you exaggerate it to a country-wide model that, if the Bill is not strengthened, there could be issues in how we service some of the most critical incidents. We would lose the balance in our model.”––[Official Report, Police Reform and Social Responsibility Public Bill Committee, 20 January 2011; c. 105, Q200.]
Serving officers have worries about how the Bill is drafted, and how those relationships will work.
The other day, the Minister said that ACPO was asking for such matters to be set out in too much detail. It would be interesting to hear ACPO’s current position. In response to the consultation document, “Policing in the 21st century”, it set out some areas where it believes that the police commissioner, being responsible to an individual—
Clive Efford (Eltham, Labour)
It has a great deal to do with clause 4. It is about how the police commissioner is held accountable to an individual, the Mayor, and how he will report to the Mayor—and that is what we are discussing. ACPO referred to:
“PCCs making undeliverable promises in elections before they have an appreciation of the detail of policing issues”,
“PCCs wanting to involve themselves in operational decisions or tactics and using their dismissal powers as a lever”,
“PCCs dismissing Chief Constables because they were previously appointed by a political rival and helped his/her direction rather than dismissing on the grounds of sustained and evidenced failed delivery”.
ACPO raised such issues about the relationship between the chief officer reporting to a single individual. It is only fair that we ask for them to be put on the record to clarify how ACPO has altered its position, and it would be useful to know in what way the Minister has been able to satisfy its worries in response to “Policing in the 21st century”.
Nick Herbert (Minister of State, Justice; Arundel and South Downs, Conservative)
Good morning, Mr Benton. We are debating clause 4, and the hon. Gentleman wants to open up again many of the wider points that he made about the role of the Metropolitan Police Commissioner when he spoke to the amendments at the end of last week. The Committee does not need to revisit them, but I shall respond to him briefly.
The clause restates the position under the Police Act 1996 that the commissioner of the Met shall have direction and control of the force, and it is important that we do not upset that balance. However, it provides that the commissioner can employ police staff in his official capacity. That is not the case at the moment, and gives rise to an anomaly and confusion. It is worth the hon. Gentleman reflecting on the submission that has come into the Committee from the Metropolitan Police Service about clause 4. On the provision allowing the Metropolitan police to employ its police officers and staff, it says:
“This is a measure the MPS strongly supports and has suggested for some time. This will enable the Commissioner to ensure he has the appropriate level of both policing professionals and business professionals to support him in leading and managing the MPS.”
The changes we are suggesting in the clause, therefore, have the support of the leadership of the Met, which is important.
The hon. Member for Eltham raised operational independence and the issue of phone hacking. The Mayor is guarding against exactly what I am guarding against as a Minister, which is crossing the line and interfering with operational decisions. It is a matter of judgment, and I will not repeat all the actions taken to ensure proper scrutiny of phone hacking—such as inquiries of the House or the renewed inquiry being conducted by the Met, on which the acting commissioner made his position clear last week, when he said that no stone would be left unturned.
The hon. Member for Eltham addressed issues wider than the terms of the debate. However, the whole point of our arrangements is to enhance democratic accountability in London—we are not just accepting the status quo—so that in the future the Assembly’s police and crime panel will bring the police and crime commissioner or the Mayor before it to answer questions. The panel could, of course, ask about such things. The Bill, therefore, makes possible the holding to account of the police and crime commissioner in London that the hon. Gentleman seeks.
Finally, the hon. Member for Eltham raised an issue about the strategic policing requirement, which he confused with the memorandum of understanding that we discussed under the point of order raised by the hon. Member for Gedling. However, the strategic policing requirement will be covered under subsequent clauses. We introduced it following consultation with ACPO, to ensure that police and crime commissioners paid proper attention to national policing priorities. Now is not the appropriate moment to discuss such matters, because we will do so fully under later provisions.
I hope that I have addressed the concerns expressed.