As ever, you flatter me too much, Mr Speaker.
I beg to move,
That this House
notes the Independent Review of the Police Federation conducted by Sir David Normington and calls upon the Government to take action to implement the report’s recommendations and to reform the Police Federation.
I spent a large proportion of the last decade defending the police one way or another, yet I have never experienced a time when public trust in the police was at a lower level. In my view that is a tragedy, both for the vast majority of decent officers who joined up to catch criminals and protect the public, but also for the wider public. We must deal firmly with those who bring the police into disrepute if we are to restore the reputation that most policemen properly deserve.
There was a similar crisis of confidence as far back as 1918-19 after the police strikes of those years, the first of which was called during wartime and caused a similar low perception of the standing of the police. That strike was ended after one day. The police were granted a considerable pay increase, but as a result, as a vital service they were forbidden both membership of a trade union and the right to strike. The Government effectively established the Police Federation in place of a union, to represent the concerns of police officers around the country. They gave it a statutory closed shop, which lasts to this day.
There is no doubt that the Police Federation had a noble beginning, and for many years it was a constructive force behind British policing, raising the reputation of the British copper to the position it ought to hold. Regrettably, the federation today is a bloated and sclerotic body, and has acquired the worst characteristics of the worst trade unions that we thought—and hoped—we had seen the end of in the ’70s.
Police representation crosses boundaries. This is a matter for the police rank and file on the ground, whose confidence has been shaken, and for the public; and it is a matter for hon. Members on both sides of the House and should be beyond party politics. The federation has unfortunately engaged in party politics and has politicised itself by its actions. Does my right hon. Friend agree that hon. Members on both sides of the House need to share our concerns, and that it is therefore disappointing that there are Members in number on only one side of the House to engage in the debate?
I accept one aspect of what my hon. Friend says. He has had cases relating to the misbehaviour of police officers in his constituency and has done a great deal to defend them, sometimes but not always with the help of the federation. [Interruption.] If the right hon.
Member for Delyn (Mr Hanson) wants to speak from the Opposition Front Bench, I will happily take his intervention. The breadth of the appeal of the debate is an issue, but I do not want to make this party political. There are now two Members on the Opposition Back Benches and they have strong views—Mr Lammy has tabled a motion jointly with me in the past, and Keith Vaz is the Chairman of the Select Committee on Home Affairs. I would not make this a party political issue. Members on both sides of the House have something to gain from the police being truly apolitical and truly upholding our democracy rather than interfering in it in the wrong way.
My hon. Friend has a point. I do not want to broaden the debate to include all police issues, but he is right. ACPO is badly constituted and should never have been set up in the way it was. There are signs that ACPO should have done more to lead firmly. We saw that in the west midlands cases, where the various chief constables were perhaps not as strong in upholding justice as they should have been.
That brings me to the federation itself. I am talking primarily about the national federation, but also about some of the regions. I say that because some of the local federation organisations do a very good job on very thin resources to represent, as they properly should, the interests of their members.
Nevertheless, there are many criticisms to level at the federation, including that it is inefficient and wasteful. There is a duplication of tasks and structures. It is profligate, spending its members’ money on grace and favour flats and on huge bar bills. It is badly governed, with no apparent strong leadership to guarantee direction and stability. It behaves in a manner that sometimes brings police forces into disrepute by pursuing personal and political vendettas—the sort of things to which my hon. Friend Mr Burrowes has referred—against prominent public persons and bodies, and legal actions against private citizens, sometimes even the victims of crime.
I do not want to widen the debate and have a rerun of the Mitchell case, but I should say a couple of things about it. The House knows full well that I did not approve of the Leveson process—I strongly believe in a free press—but even I am astonished that, after Leveson, a police force has yet again leaked with an incredible spin a confidential document to which the victim in the case, my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield, has not had access. First, I expect the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to have a proper leak inquiry into that—I have told him that this morning. Secondly, an astonishing interpretation was put on the leak. The leak shows that an officer, four hours after attempting to stop my right hon. Friend going through the main gates of Downing street—this did not happen in a panic or a rush and was premeditated—wrote to his seniors not to say, “We have a security issue. Will somebody please have a conversation with Mr Mitchell to ensure he understands that we cannot let him through?”, which would be the proper thing to do and what hon. Members would have done, but to set up a circumstance in which the situation would be resolved by a public confrontation at the front gate after the officer had ensured that his seniors supported him in doing so. If anything, that reinforces the story we were told by an anonymous whistleblower that this was a premeditated action. Today’s press coverage is not a good reflection on the police in two ways: it undermines their main case and it is something that they simply should not have done under these circumstances.
If the House will forgive me, I will try not to rest too much on the Mitchell case, because it is just one of many in which we have reason to be concerned about the role of the federation.
My right hon. Friend is right. Does he agree, as the Normington report sets out very clearly, that the Mitchell case is just one illustration of the, frankly, flagrant and endemic bullying and harassment that often goes on among the federation’s own members, whether online or in person? That is set out very clearly in the report.
My hon. Friend—he is also an old friend—is entirely right. I will elaborate in some detail on some of those cases in a moment.
The federation chose a very good person to write the report. David Normington, a distinguished ex-permanent secretary at the Home Office, is a classic Whitehall mandarin. If anything, he is more tempted than most to be careful and sober in his language, and to pull his punches in his descriptions or at least to mitigate them. However, it is in the best interests of police officers across the country that we reveal very clearly, and perhaps in starker detail than Normington did, the extent to which the federation has failed.
Even in its sober language, the Normington report was, as my hon. Friend intimates, utterly damning of the federation’s performance. It made 36 recommendations, focusing on returning professionalism, democracy and efficiency to the Police Federation. To fully understand the extent of the problem, we should examine a number of areas where the need for reform is particularly apparent.
It is a matter of great concern that the Police Federation is as profligate as it appears to be. There are numerous examples of that. It spent £26 million building its Leatherhead headquarters. Frankly, that is extravagant enough to do justice to one of the London merchant banks at the height of the City excesses. The headquarters have a hotel, a bar, an indoor swimming pool and 11 grace and favour apartments. Even more outrageous is that, to pay for the extravagant cost, members’ subscription fees had to be raised by 23%. The federation’s officers, with their salaries still paid by their respective forces, receive salary enhancements of up to £25,000 from the federation. They are given those enhancements for doing what is, after all, an easier job than being on the cold streets of Britain on the night shift: sitting in their luxury headquarters, instead of performing public duties. I have been told that full-time federation officers have free use of the grace and favour flats and live on company credit cards. The purchase of large quantities of food and alcohol on those cards is apparently not uncommon.
To put a number on this, the accounts show a provision of £2 million in a tax dispute with Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. As I understand it, if that provision is to meet any tax liability, at a tax rate of 40%, that means that £5 million of claims have been made on perks, and perhaps unjustifiably claimed as a proper expense. That is astonishing.
In the newspapers only a couple of days ago a police widow—herself a serving police constable, if the report was right—said that federation officials treated memorial services, those most important and high-gravitas of occasions,
“like a drunken jolly, getting drunk on federation credit cards. Their drunken excess upsets families every year”,
so this is not an exception. I heard similar allegations about the behaviour of federation officials at conferences, at which bar bills of hundreds of pounds were again being charged to federation credit cards.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that the money might be better spent restoring the damaged national police memorial, on the Mall, which remains broken and damaged, and that that would be a fitting tribute to the brave and dedicated police officers who form the majority?
That is an extremely imaginative suggestion. I have my own ideas about what should happen with the money, but my hon. Friend’s idea should be taken into account.
In making these assertions, I have largely depended on whistleblowers—people who have bravely come forward, shocked at what they have seen—but police whistleblowers are particularly at risk and so are loth to enter the public domain, which makes it hard to check what they have said. As a result, I called on the federation to publish its expense accounts and live up to generally expected standards of transparency. I did this so that I could confirm or deny whether these claims were correct. As far as I am aware, the federation has not published these expense and credit card accounts, which leads me to believe that the whistleblowers are right.
It is up to the federation’s members whether they consider this profligacy acceptable, because mostly—but not entirely—it is their money, but they cannot make that judgment unless they know exactly what is being done in their name with their money. So that is another reason to have total transparency in these accounts. Yet another reason concerns my right hon. Friend Damian Green, who as Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims represents the Home Office on the Front Bench today. We put taxpayers’ money into the federation—it is there properly to perform a function we want performed—so it might be the case that taxpayers’ money is being wasted at these conferences.
The federation appears to have a problem with transparency. It is telling that it failed to answer even Sir David Normington’s requests concerning the so-called No. 2 accounts used by the various branches. This money comes from selling insurance and then keeping a rake-off or commission, but so far the federation has not been willing or able to provide the information that Normington asked for. I understand that this probably accounts for £35 million of assets just sitting around the country. Again, this is money that belongs to serving police officers, not the organisation.
Contrary to the federation’s claims earlier this week, the full details of the 11 grace and favour apartments are not published in its accounts. I will not spend much time on this, but, to save colleagues time looking it up, I recommend they read note 3 of the federation’s accounts. It is the only reference to the apartments, but it does not contain what I would recognise as details telling us that these are grace and favour apartments used for the benefit of federation officers, with or without the approval of its members. It is clear that the federation does not know what transparency means, but it can only restore trust in itself if it imposes transparency on all its operations as a matter of urgency.
The federation’s use of funds raises another matter. It has formidable financial muscle. I guess its total assets come to about £70 million, the majority coming from subscription fees, but some from the No. 2 accounts. The last set of audited accounts showed the federation with a surplus, over and above all its costs and profligacy, of £3.5 million per annum.
In addition, we see in the costs that about £10 million was spent on administration, including the profligacies that I talked about. Most astonishingly, £8 million every single year was spent on legal actions. Furthermore, there are provisions against the loss of certain active legal cases—in one case, for up to £1 million. Other such provisions are for £350,000 or £450,000.
Let us understand something. The right hon. Member for Tottenham is here and will well understand that sometimes there are good reasons for the federation to act vigorously on behalf of its members. Big legal and individual interests will be in play in the Duggan case, and in such cases it is entirely proper that provisions should be made. I do not in any way criticise that element of legal defence, although I have to say that it should come about through an insurance function rather than through the discretion of a Fed rep. Never mind.
Such legal action is justifiable, but on many occasions aggressive litigation should not be carried out against those bringing complaints against the police. Chris Mullin, the distinguished predecessor of the Home Affairs Committee Chairman, has previously said that although most unions will not act on behalf of a member who is clearly in the wrong, the federation has a long track record of defending the indefensible and will gleefully launch claims against the victims of crime.
There are two recent examples of the federation’s appetite for litigation. PC Kelly Jones sued a burglary victim after she tripped on a kerb outside his garage and PC Richard Seymour sued another burglary victim after falling over a drain on his property. In both instances, it was the Police Federation that assisted in progressing the claims, despite the pleading of senior officers that such claims were detrimental to the image of the police force. This is based on press reportage, so I cannot be sure of it, but the federation has been accused of pressuring PC Kelly Jones into making her claim when she had no desire to do so. I hear from other whistleblowers that it is not uncommon for federation members to be actively encouraged to make claims that Members might find inappropriate. A particular concern—
Order. I gently remind the right hon. Gentleman that the Backbench Business Committee recommends that the opening speech should last for 10 to 15 minutes. He has now been speaking for 20 minutes. Ten Members wish to participate, and there is another debate this afternoon. We are all hanging on the right hon. Gentleman’s every word, but he should bear it in mind that other people are involved. I would be grateful if he concluded soon.
Order. I have to tell the right hon. Gentleman that that does not count; the 10 to 15 minutes are not qualified in any way. The right hon. Gentleman has been generous in giving way, but other Members will want a reasonable time to participate.
I will be as brisk as I can, Madam Deputy Speaker.
I come to the most serious point of the debate: the bringing of defamation cases against people who disagree with the police’s version of events. There is no downside for a police officer when they pursue a libel action backed by the enormous resources of the Fed. That raises two distinct and concerning issues. First, action against the press, who must hold the police to account, is utterly against the interests of a fair and free society except in very clear-cut circumstances. Secondly, there is the action taken against members of the public, whom the police are charged with protecting, who disagree with the police’s version of events. That insulates the police from criticism and from being held to account for what they do. Such actions should not take place. If the federation is using its financial might to crush legitimate claims against officers or—worse—to pursue those who have already been subject to a police stitch-up, to take an extreme example, that huge injustice would compound existing injustices.
My next point is about the Normington report on politically motivated campaigns. It said:
“Throughout our inquiry we have heard allegations that some Federation representatives who have personally targeted successive Home Secretaries, Andrew Mitchell, Tom Winsor and others, bringing the Federation into disrepute and risking the police reputation for impartiality and integrity…If the Federation wants to be respected and listened to in the future, this has to stop.”
Such actions are completely unacceptable and contrary to the purpose of the Police Federation.
Finally, I turn to what should be done. As we consider whether progress and reform should be left to the federation, we should bear two simple points in mind. Are the interests of its officers, who have something to lose—a cushy job and good pay—or are the interests of the members being pursued? It is vital that the members themselves should be properly represented.
Last week, Fiona McElroy, a former principal private secretary brought in to help the federation achieve the reforms, was fired; her deputy also left the federation in outrage at her treatment. I ask the Minister to give the federation two ultimatums. First, it should immediately sign up to recommendation 1 and accept the revised core purpose to act in the public interest, with public accountability alongside accountability to their own members. Secondly, it should accept all the other Normington recommendations before its triennial elections this year, when it will lock in place a whole set of officers for another three years. If it does not do that, the Government will, I think, be properly authorised to intervene. In my view, if they do intervene, they should implement Normington-plus—put in place all the Normington proposals and in addition act to deal with the profligacy and misuse of public and members’ money.
Such a move, I am afraid, would mean selling the Leatherhead headquarters, centralising the money and giving back to members the funds that the federation has inappropriately used in the past several years. That would be about £500 a member and would still leave a viable federation. That is how we can make the Police Federation serve its members and, equally importantly, serve the public of the nation that its members are there to uphold.
Order. Eleven Members now wish to speak. I suggest that each takes no longer than 10 minutes, including interventions. I will not put that limit on the clock, but if it looks as if some Members who have sat here patiently will not get to speak because we are running out of time, I will impose a formal time limit. Hopefully, however, 10 minutes with interventions will be enough for the main points to be covered.
I congratulate Mr Davis on an excellent speech. I thank him and the other sponsors of this Backbench Business Committee debate for ensuring that the House can discuss the recommendations of the Normington report at an early stage. This is our first opportunity in many years to have such a discussion, although we often discuss policing issues in the House; we discussed the police grant here only yesterday.
I begin by paying tribute to the hard-working police officers in the police service, including those such as PC Craig Smith. With an off-duty paramedic, David King, he struggled to free the driver of a burning car in Leicestershire and saved the person at risk. He was a runner-up in the police bravery awards, which I, with Ministers and others, attend annually to pay tribute to the marvellous work being done throughout the country by individual police officers.
I have to say that, following a proposal from Michael Ellis, the Select Committee on Home Affairs has unanimously agreed to hold an inquiry into the Police Federation. The terms of reference will be announced next week, and I hope that they will provide an opportunity for a full-scale inquiry into the matters that have been raised. I shall return to this point at the end of my short speech.
Morale in the police service is at an all-time low, as the Stevens report recognised. Indeed, if Members talk to any police officer stationed here in the Palace of Westminster, they will hear that people are deciding to leave the force because of the current state of affairs in policing. That is regrettable. There is an obligation on all of us to ensure that we have the best police service in the world—which I think it is—and we also need to ensure that the concerns of Police Federation members are met.
I want to mention the case of Mr Mitchell. It is not the subject of the debate—we are talking about the Police Federation—but the right hon. Gentleman and his family have gone through a terrible ordeal. I believe that he has now been vindicated, given that 11 of those involved have now become the subject of misconduct hearings and one has gone to prison. The cases of three witnesses who appeared before the Home Affairs Committee are still outstanding and are the subject of an Independent Police Complaints Commission inquiry that has been held in abeyance because of a judicial review application.
Those of us who have been around for a long time have asked ourselves: if this could happen to a serving Cabinet Minister, what hope would there be if it happened to one of our constituents? The right hon. Gentleman has done the House and the public a great service, from his position of power as an elected Member of the House, but his situation is quite different from those of people in Leicester and elsewhere in the country. He has been vindicated, and it is important that a line should now be drawn and that people should move on, for the sake of him and his family, and of the reputation of the police as a whole.
My right hon. Friend makes his point very effectively. Does he agree that in cases such as these, continuing litigation could eventually bankrupt someone, and that the organisation is capable of going way too far? What would that mean for our ordinary constituents, who simply would not have the means to defend themselves in similar circumstances?
I thank my right hon. Friend for his intervention. I am a little concerned at the number of cases in which someone criticises a serving police officer and ends up being served with a legal notice or threatened with legal proceedings as a result of raising issues of legitimate concern. The Select Committee inquiry will want to look at such cases.
The right hon. Member for Sutton Coldfield and his family must have been through a terrible ordeal. It is time to draw a line and move on, and to think about how we can reform the structure, now that the personal issues have been resolved and people have gone to jail or faced misconduct hearings.
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman. He mentioned moving on. Does he agree that the fact that carefully placed stories and leaks have found their way into national newspapers ahead of today’s debate does not help to restore public trust in the police service—particularly the Metropolitan police service? It is time to move on, and it is time for the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to get a grip of his officers. Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the commissioner ought to have learned from Leveson, and from his previous mistakes in dealing with some parts of the media?
Of course I deplore leaks, but we have a free press. And of course it is important that everyone should learn the lessons.
Let me turn to the subject of the debate, the reform of the Police Federation. The Normington report is pretty scathing in its criticism of the federation. It says that it should be changed “from top to bottom”, and talks about the present crisis being the result of strategic failures. Sir David Normington also found that 91% of federation members wanted the organisation to change, so this is not a case of Parliament dictating to the federation and telling it what it should do. I am sure we would all want to step away from doing that. The members themselves are saying that they want change.
We need to ensure that the report’s recommendations are implemented by the current leadership of the federation. I pay tribute to Steve Williams, Steve White and Ian Rennie, the chair, vice-chair and general secretary of the organisation. It was Steve Williams who set up the Normington inquiry; we would not have had an inquiry, had the chairman not decided to do that. I also welcome the fact that they told the Select Committee that they intended to implement every one of Sir David’s recommendations. Our inquiry will commence shortly, and I hope that we will be able to look at the length of time it will take to implement them.
I see that another member of the Committee, Mark Reckless is in his place. There were two things that caused the Committee some concern. One was the lack of knowledge about the No. 2 accounts that are being held across all the regions, which the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden mentioned. No one knows the figures involved. I would have thought that the chairman of an organisation as important as the Police Federation would know how much money it was holding locally. He told the Committee that he had written to every regional chairperson to ask for that information, and I hope that they will provide it. If the leadership of the federation is to succeed in implementing the Normington report, as we want it to, it must have that information.
The second issue that struck me and other members of the Committee was the fact that even Steve Williams did not know how many members the federation had, because the database was not up to date. That is also a matter of concern. Surely an organisation that speaks on behalf of thousands of police officers ought to have the names, addresses and e-mail addresses of every single member. That information is kept on a regional basis by the regional chairs and committees, but it is not passed on to the national headquarters, even though the national leadership has to speak on behalf of the federation. I hope that those two important issues will be resolved.
The leadership issue is an important one. Julian Smith mentioned the need for effective leadership earlier. I want to pay tribute to Paul McKeever, who sadly died at the end of last year. He was a splendid leader of the Police Federation. However, we can have the best leaders in the world, but if the structures are not right, we will not be able to implement change. The Normington report is about changing the structure of the federation, and I think we all agree that it has to change. The federation must also be open and transparent—not necessarily to Parliament, although I would love that to happen. It must be open and transparent to its members. In the end, we are all parts of organisations whose leaderships need to respond to the members, but the members also need to respond when leadership is shown.
I shall end by outlining some of the issues that I hope the Select Committee will look into. These are not agreed terms of reference—those will be agreed at the next meeting—but they are the elements that I think we need to look at. We need to look at the federation’s spending and its use of public money; the contents and usage of the reserves and the federation’s No. 2 accounts; the use of members’ subscriptions by representatives; and the leadership of the federation at national and regional level, including the elections; the current membership and ensuring that the Police Federation’s communications with all members are robust; and ensuring there is co-operation between regional and national boards. We do need to hear from some of the people who work for the federation and have made statements in the public domain—we would like to hear from them at Home Affairs Committee hearings.
Although the Normington report is damning—no organisation would like to read such a report about the way in which it conducts its business—I have confidence that the leadership is going to implement what Normington has said, because it has told the Committee that that is what it wants to do. The role of the Home Affairs Committee is to monitor that and make sure that those good words are translated into good deeds, for the benefit of the federation’s members and the country as a whole.
It is a great pleasure to follow Keith Vaz, the Chair of the Select Committee, who speaks many words of wisdom. I congratulate my right hon. Friend Mr Davis on initiating this debate. As he has pointed out, the Police Federation was set up nearly 96 years ago, as part of a concordat between the police and Her Majesty’s Government. A simple deal was struck: in return for not striking and not joining a trade union, the police would have a federation that would have unprecedented access to Ministers and would receive taxpayers’ money. Over many years, the federation built up a superb reputation for being measured, fair-minded and discreet. It built that strong brand, which was the envy of many other representative organisations and trade associations in this country and around the world.
When I first became an MP, the Police Federation actually had parliamentary advisers on both sides of the House, as my right hon. Friends the Members for Haltemprice and Howden and for Sutton Coldfield
(Mr Mitchell) will well recall. When I first came here, the adviser was the then Member for Bury St Edmunds, Eldon Griffiths, and he was followed by Sir Michael Shersby, the Member for Uxbridge at the time. They were well paid, as indeed was the Labour representative of the Police Federation, they were always called early in debates and they had a status within the House that gave them the chance to speak up for the police. That was accepted as being within the traditions of the House and it was very much part of the concordat struck all those years ago.
As my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden has pointed out, there has been an incredibly unfortunate downhill spiral, which probably started 20 or 30 years ago, and professional standards have slipped. Part of the blame must lie with the previous Government, who in many ways undermined the police. They lost the confidence of the police on many different issues, not least through their determination to drive through force mergers and the fact that they encouraged the building up of this compensation culture.
My right hon. Friend has listed a large catalogue of examples that point to a totally unacceptable culture within the national Police Federation. I have had a lot of dealings with my local police federation in Norfolk, and I stress that at all times the people there have been totally professional and really impressive. They have gone out of their way to stand up for the interests of members of the constabulary within my constituency, and I do not believe they have ever leaked anything to the press or done anything that would undermine the integrity of the local police federation. Unfortunately, that excellent set of high standards and conduct has not been replicated within the Police Federation nationally. He described a culture of excess, explaining that it is so well exemplified by the new headquarters at Leatherhead and the whole saga of different incidents that have taken place over the past few years.
I wish to discuss two recent incidents that have led to grave concerns. The first is the behaviour of the three Police Federation members who went to the office of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield in his constituency: Inspector Ken MacKaill, Detective Sergeant Stuart Hinton and Sergeant Chris Jones. Their behaviour was totally and utterly unacceptable. They were shown to have lied and to have misled the Select Committee, and they should have been dismissed immediately.
Indeed. Their performance was utterly abysmal and it brought the federation into huge disrepute.
The other incident relates to what happened outside the gates of No. 10 Downing street. PC Richardson, the officer on duty, was quoted the other day as saying that it was “so wrong” of federation officials to stage-manage the incident. He said:
“It was nothing to do with them. Certain people thought they had a silver bullet with which they could overturn police reforms.
I’m speaking out because I feel I have been betrayed by the leakers, mischief makers and sections of the Federation. It has caused me 18 months of grief and by going public I expect I’ll get a lot more.”
That speaks volumes about a culture that has to change, and change soon.
In conclusion, we now have the Normington report, which contains a set of positive, constructive recommendations. Every hard-working, decent police officer up and down the country must reclaim their federation and try to restore it to the glory days of the past, when they had a federation that was the envy of every other organisation in this country. The Normington report provides the opportunity to do it, if it is accepted in full and implemented in full.
It is wonderful that Mr Davis has secured this debate, although it is sad that we have reached a point where there is such deep concern across the House about one of our most noble and great professions. It has been a great privilege for me, over the past year or so, to serve on the police parliamentary scheme and spend time with front-line officers across London and beyond. The scheme continues and I am looking forward to spending time with front-line officers next week. Overwhelmingly, the scheme has confirmed my childhood belief, which began at about the age of 9 when I said to my parents that I wanted to be a police officer, that the men and women who serve in our police forces across the country do a fantastic job.
These officers do a fantastic job at a time when, as has been said by the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, morale is pretty low, they feel pretty battered and they feel that contracts forged with them, particularly in relation to their pensions, have been totally changed around them—reform has come, as it has to so many other professionals across this country. I know how these officers deal with the public not just because I was there to see it, but because I have met many hundreds of officers. I have seen how they interact with tricky situations. I have seen how they have dealt with the vulnerable—alcoholics, vagrants, drug addicts. I have seen them do an assortment of things, and I have seen armed officers deal with the huge burden and responsibility of carrying a gun, and it has overwhelmingly left me impressed.
It is against that truth that this discussion and this debate are so important. All of us have had the privilege of travelling to countries where corruption is endemic in the police force. I think of sitting in meetings in Brazil and also of the challenges and problems in eastern Europe. However, we all understand that, in a growing democracy such as ours, how we treat the most vulnerable and the areas of our life where light often does not shine is an indication of the state of our democracy. The day-to-day job of the police is to deal with a small criminal minority—fortunately, it is a small minority in our country. The light often has not shone and certain practices can build up. That is why it is so fundamental that here in this Chamber we are able to shine that light.
Does the right hon. Gentleman agree that the report shows that the light is not shining in the Police Federation on women or on people from ethnic minorities? One of the most shocking things about the report is the lack of effort that the federation has made on people and on serving members other than white men.
The hon. Gentleman makes his point strongly. That point comes across crystal clear in the report. I was going on to say that many of us have watched in this country as cases involving minorities have often been overlooked. The truth is that there are many cases, some of which emanate from my own constituency, where there have been concerns about the Police Federation and a closed shop, particularly in relation to getting at the truth. However, what is so startling is that what may have been a minority concern has broken into the mainstream. When three officers so blatantly tell mistruths and so blatantly refuse to apologise over an event involving a Cabinet Minister in a country such as this, it must tell us something about a culture of impunity that has become endemic in the system. It must also say something about the necessary reform that must now come. I am pleased, therefore, that the Police Federation has accepted the report’s recommendations. The tipping point must surely have been reached if it has come to pass in this way.
As we have this debate in 2014, it is clear that a number of our institutions need to reform and to look closely at these closed practices. We as Members of Parliament are premier amongst them. We have had debates about closed practices in the NHS and the need for a stronger whistleblowing culture. In the Leveson report, we saw real concerns about parts of the journalism profession. Now, as we come to the police, we must see an end to those closed practices and to the refusal to get to the truth.
We have such discussions not to attack but out of sadness. The practices under discussion have chronic effects on ordinary people’s lives and they put tremendous pressure on families. It is the nature of any state that it leaves the individuals caught up in this feeling desperately powerless. That is why we juxtapose the situation in which Mr Mitchell has found himself with so many others.
The right hon. Gentleman is making a powerful speech. Does he agree that the way in which the Police Federation uses its funds in litigation is critical to the balanced approach that he is discussing? It is one thing for it to defend its own members from litigation—to use the fund as a shield—but another thing to use those funds as a sword to pursue other people, especially victims or other members of the public?
Absolutely. The point is that some of those funds involve taxpayers’ money, which must demand close scrutiny. I am pleased that the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee suggested that scrutiny should be No. 1 on the agenda. It is also the case that the federation has seen fit to go after leading members of our society who are looking at police reform issues. Why is it that it thinks that it can get away with challenging a senior Cabinet Minister? Is it because parliamentarians, MPs and Ministers at this point in the cycle just happen to be a minority group that is up for attack and the federation thinks it can get away with it? There is a connection with the way it might deal with certain types of criminals.
There is a connection with the way it might deal with some parts of the Irish community in this country, who would say that they have experienced some sharp practices from parts of the Police Federation. I am talking about the notion that, “It is a minority, the public don’t care that much and we can get away with this.” We must challenge that, because the honour of a great profession is at stake. Some £8 million is spent annually in relation to litigation. These are important budgets. We must ensure that they are being used for the right purposes.
I have been concerned, especially in the Duggan case, that officers have been advised by the Police Federation not to give interviews. Attempts to suspend officers facing serious allegations are always fought, whatever the circumstances. If any of us were caught up in a situation that involved the death of another individual, we would not be able to refuse to give an interview. Why would we accord that power to people who are in uniform? This is a very important issue.
One of the fundamentals of our system is the fantastic idea that we have policing by consent. That is at the heart of our police service. Here in London, there are only 32,000 police officers, and a population heading towards 10 million. In reality, it is the 10 million people who work alongside the police who give us that feeling that we are safe almost anywhere in London. The idea is that we police by consent, not by fear as is the case in America or in parts of continental Europe where police officers carry guns. It is an idea that we must treasure and protect. It is grossly undermined when a minority of police officers misbehave, they are not challenged sufficiently, there is not sufficient scrutiny, and there is the sense of a closed shop where even those who are blatantly lying are protected. That is why this report is so important, why the House must look closely at implementing it and why we must revisit these issues not just in Backbench debates over the coming months and years but in debates in Government time where we are absolutely rigorous about protecting this important fundamental of our democracy.
It is a pleasure to have heard two excellent speeches from Opposition Members. I particularly welcome the decision of the Home Affairs Committee to look into this matter. In a Parliament that has been dominated by Select Committees, that is welcome. Mr Lammy has just made an excellent speech. I agree with him that this is not a political issue and that it is not about my right hon. Friend Mr Mitchell. Indeed, 99% of police officers are good people to whom still we turn in times of trouble.
Over the past couple of hours I have ascertained that the flooding situation in my constituency is seriously deteriorating, so I hope that you will accept my apologies, Madam Deputy Speaker, and forgive me if I do not stay for the whole debate.
Three words—transparency, accountability and credibility—go to the heart of today’s debate. They ought to describe the values of the Police Federation, which was set up by statute almost 100 years ago to protect the “interests and welfare” of rank-and-file officers, but they are conspicuously missing according to Sir David Normington’s devastating forensic review.
Our 21st century Police Federation has become a vehicle for a vocal minority to pursue their own personal agendas. That is punishing not just the public, to whom the independent statutory body is accountable, but some 130,000 members, many of whom are fed up with the antics of the federation reps who are bringing their profession into disrepute. I am struck by an independent poll that has found that 64% of the federation’s members are dissatisfied with its overall performance and 91% believe that it is time for the organisation to change. Those are opinion poll figures that any one of us would die for.
That vote of no confidence will have been consolidated by recent reports of the dismissal of a senior employee— Ms Fiona McElroy, the director of communications—after just three months because she dared to challenge the federation’s finances. Her deputy resigned in protest. As that resignation shows, finances are a touchy subject because cash is key. In Sir David’s words, finances
“are inextricably linked with some of the deeper cultural, structural and operational changes“ that he is trying to bring about. One of his recommendations is to publish for the public to see all accounts from which the federation derives income or to which it contributes revenue. In particular, we need greater transparency about the so-called No. 2 accounts, which are generated from fees in addition to membership subscriptions for additional legal and support services. Those accounts, held by several local federation branches, are worth an estimated £50 million, but they are largely kept off the books. Only 7 out of 43 local federation branches disclose details on their annual return. Why the secrecy? This cynic would say that secrecy is a pretty good way of avoiding scrutiny.
Let me pick up on the point that was made earlier about it being perfectly legitimate for the police to fund legal actions to protect their members. What needs to be scrutinised is why this organisation, which is secretive about its finances, is funding libel actions. It cannot be right for a police officer, who is after all a public servant, to be backed by the might of a multi-million pound outfit that is shrouded in secrecy to sue members of the public who do not have the resources to defend themselves. That seems an improper use of money for a statutory body that was established to look after its members, in cases ranging from misconduct allegations to personal injury claims, and, of course, genuinely to serve the public good.
This week, the human rights group Liberty has spoken out against this “dangerous” president, which it believes breaches the right to freedom of expression and other articles under the Human Rights Act. The public must be able to defend themselves against police claims without fear of civil proceedings, and Liberty raises concerns about the “discriminatory inequality of arms”, as police get financial support from the federation. Its excellent director, Shami Chakrabarti, says:
“It would effectively place officers beyond criticism, silencing those wanting to protest their innocence.”
I agree. What right does the federation have to pursue bloody-minded campaigns against individuals? Do these actions serve the public good, or do they serve the interests of the federation’s own members at a time when they are facing major policing reforms and changes to working conditions?
Sir David’s review described the federation’s opposition to police reforms and personal attacks as “strategic failures” and highlighted the case of my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield, among others, as an example of the extent to which
“some representatives feel they can pursue local action and campaigns regardless of the impact on the wider federation and the views of their colleagues.”
Just reading those words, one realises that they are out of touch. The price they pay is not just bringing the federation into disrepute, but risking the police’s reputation for impartiality and integrity. I cannot agree more with Keith Vaz that as far as that particular case is concerned, it is time to move on.
The federation’s dual accountability to its members and to the public has always been an implicit part of its statutory purpose. However, implication, by definition, is not a strong enough deterrent for some of the bad practice we have seen. There is evidence in the review that despite regulations containing
“a clear ethos of transparency” in areas such as funding, for example, the spirit of those regulations is not adhered to.
In my judgment, only legislation can define a clear and non-negotiable core purpose for the federation. Only legislation can compel the federation to review its commitment to serving its members honestly, with integrity and with the public interest at heart, and only legislation can restore trust in the federation.
We know that the federation is resistant to change. Since the publication of Sir David’s review, we have seen nothing concrete to suggest that the federation will adopt its recommendations in full. The federation’s chairman has agreed that “deep cultural change” is needed, but actions speak louder than words, and my suspicion is that no matter how persuasive the proposed reforms are, a “powerful minority” will continue to do everything they can to protect their own positions and self-interest.
In conclusion, today we have an opportunity to give those three words—transparency, accountability, credibility—real meaning. I believe, and I hope that the Minister will take this on board, that legislating is a critical first step for Parliament in testing the federation’s commitment to meaningful change.
It is a pleasure to follow my parliamentary neighbour, my right hon. Friend Sir Richard Ottaway. I hope that I will not have to detain the House for too long, as the tenor of my remarks will be completely consistent with everything that has already been said. The direction of travel is extremely clear.
Like Mr Lammy, I have taken part in the parliamentary police scheme and have seen at first hand in both London and Surrey the terrific work that officers do on the front line. I want to pick up on the point made by my right hon. Friend the Member for Croydon South: 91% of officers want change in their federation. That is an utterly devastating figure. I commend Steve Williams, the chairman of the
Police Federation, who, as far as I can tell—I am not as close to these people as the Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee—appears to be the driving force in seeking change and commissioning this report.
Let us be in no doubt: the report is utterly devastating. Its authors—Sir David Normington, Sir Brendan Barber, Sir Denis O’Connor and others—are people of enormous public standing who are worthy of our greatest respect. The devastating detail of the report is reflected in stories that are coming out about the federation’s actions, such as the discomfiting behaviour of its representatives on memorial day and the astonishing financial excess whereby £35 million or more in No. 2 accounts is not properly accounted for. I am delighted that the Home Affairs Committee will follow up the report, especially through an inquisition on the use of public money. My right hon. Friend Mr Davis suggested that police officers should receive a dividend from their federation by having their funds returned. The amount involved would be pretty substantial—£500 per police officer—but in these straitened times, the taxpayer probably has an interest, so I hope that the Select Committee’s detailed inquiry will examine whether it would be proper for the taxpayer to receive some restitution.
The federation has completely and utterly failed not only the people it serves in the police, but in its public duty outlined in its founding Act—the Police Act 1919. The federation has a responsibility to the whole country. If the representatives of the police are seen as rotten, what conclusion are we meant to draw about the police force itself? When we go out on the front line, we have the opportunity to see the police at first hand, so we know that most of the time they are doing a difficult job extremely well. It can be difficult to deal with members of the public who demand the highest standards of their police force, but that is precisely the standard that we should expect.
There have been huge strides forward in policing over the past two or three decades. The Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 brought about a profound change in policing, as did the reaction to the Macpherson report and the way in which senior officers have tried to lead on the culture of the police. However, in policing, as is the case in the federation, pockets of resistance remain, as do old-fashioned approaches that are simply unacceptable in this day and age. The federation must be a proper representative of all its officers, but it comprehensively failed in that task.
Let me reinforce the message about the scale of legal actions taken by the federation. It is truly frightening that people can be intimidated so they do not properly criticise and complain about our police force as a result of legal actions initiated by the federation. The situation is so rotten that I understand that, informally within the federation, police officers are encouraged to bring actions that are known as garage or extension actions because the officers end up with a new garage or extension as a benefit of being persuaded to take legal action. Stories also circulate about the incentives that law firms offer policemen to take action. I hope that the Home Affairs Committee’s inquiry will cover such practice on legal action which, frankly, stinks and has an especially unhappy consequence if it makes the police seem to be as defensive and backward looking as the federation has been in its attitude to the public and dealing with straightforward requirements of substantial police reform. I hope that there will be at least restraint on decisions about whether legal action should be taken. Perhaps the Police Federation’s insurers should make decisions about whether actions should take place, rather than federation officials themselves aggressively pursuing actions by using their members’ and, no doubt, public money.
There are plainly one or two people in the federation’s senior leadership who are trying to do the right thing, which was why they commissioned this extremely authoritative report, and their evidence to the Home Affairs Committee is that they intend to deliver on all the recommendations. We have heard further ideas during the debate and there will no doubt be more. However, we should be absolutely clear that if the federation will not deliver on the reforms required by the report, it will fall to us to do so for it.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Mr Blunt and the excellent speeches of hon. Members on both sides of the House. It is clear that something is very wrong in the national Police Federation, and has been for some time. The continual drip-drip effect is reaching its zenith—or, should I say, its nadir—and is causing considerable embarrassment and distress to the rank and file officers of a noble and honourable profession that has brought, and continues to bring, great honour to this country.
Our police service is genuinely the best in the world. It deals with extremely severe threats and incidents. It deals daily with historic episodes and threats to the state and security of this nation, and it does so without being armed and by consent. I am very proud of the profession, and we all can be very proud of it, which is why the Police Federation’s dysfunction is a humiliation to rank and file officers throughout the country. Many officers have told me that if they did not feel that they needed the protection of an organisation such as the federation in case they should get into trouble, they would not choose to be members of it and to pay the exorbitant dues that have caused it to become bloated.
The Police Federation may have started nobly in 1919, but owing to several recent scandals and cover-ups, it has lost that nobility. An opinion poll released only today, which has been the subject of media attention, indicates that a third of people have lost confidence in the police. The lowest level of trust in the police ever now subsists in this country. In large measure, that is due to the disgraceful misconduct of previous leaderships of the federation.
I have had dealings with police officers and my local Northamptonshire federation. They do a good job, but we have to address the egregious examples about which we have heard in the debate before they cause even greater damage to this country and its reputation.
As for the incident at the gates of Downing street, if my right hon. Friend Mr Mitchell, then a Cabinet Minister, can be traduced in such a way, in such a location and in such circumstances, what hope is there for any of our constituents, without that authority and without those resources to defend themselves?
The review, chaired by Sir David Normington, has done a good job. It was set up to examine signal failures within the federation. Its report, which was delivered a couple of months ago, found fault with almost every aspect of the federation’s operations. I cannot recall a report that was quite so damning. Federation tactics have been a particular source of shame, and I am appalled that, despite the publication of the report in January, they are still going on.
The report states that
“many from outside have criticised its tactics particularly in responding to the Winsor review.”
That was about police pay. The federation
“has too often fallen back on its traditional tendency to attack and try to undermine those who are proposing the changes, rather than take on the issues…This constitutes a strategic failure; the politics of personal attack and shouting has proved to be a wrong-headed response.”
It goes on to say:
“The Federation should be a powerful voice for standards in British policing but at present it is badly placed to be that voice. Throughout our inquiry we have heard allegations that some Federation representatives who have personally targeted successive Home Secretaries, Andrew Mitchell, Tom Winsor and others, bringing the Federation into disrepute and risking the police reputation for impartiality and integrity. We have also been given evidence of bad behaviour within, including poor treatment of staff at HQ and the targeting of representatives in social media, at Conference and elsewhere simply because they hold a different point of view. If the Federation wants to be respected and listened to in the future, this has to stop.”
These are nothing more than bully-boy tactics from those who are in a position to be bullies, and who are hiding behind their position to intimidate others, including democratically elected representatives. It is intolerable that successive Home Secretaries should be subject to this level of personal attack and abuse. The federation is incapable of making the arguments. That is the only explanation for such personal attacks.
I agree with the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield has been entirely vindicated. I was a barrister in criminal practice for more than 15 years, but the police case was so undermined that no case could rest on it. I understand that my right hon. Friend has already received an apology, and rightly so, from several chief constables, and several police officers now face internal misconduct or gross misconduct charges and one has gone to prison. However, I am appalled, as I know the House will be, that the federation is even now funding litigation that seeks to keep this matter alive.
The hon. Gentleman will remember the evidence given to the Committee by the officers from West Mercia, Warwickshire and West Midlands police, whom he cross-examined extremely effectively. He will recall that they had the opportunity to draw a line. Does he not agree that that could be done, even at this late stage, to bring the whole sorry episode to a conclusion?
I am grateful to the right hon. Gentleman, who leads the way in putting Select Committees at the forefront of getting to the issues in this Parliament. An apology is still due, and he is right that those officers’ conduct and appearance before the Committee, on which we both have the honour to sit, was an embarrassment to the Police Federation. I have asked for an inquiry in the Home Affairs Committee, to which the right hon. Gentleman has already alluded, partly because of that, and partly because of the repeated episodes that we still hear and read about in the media. For example, the chairman of the Police Federation told the Committee that he did not know the exact figure, but he agreed with my suggestion that there were tens of millions of pounds in the No. 2 accounts. We do not have the answers. These are enormous sums, some of which have been funded by a huge 20% uplift in constables’ dues to the Police Federation. It is a shocking indictment. Meanwhile, £26 million has been spent on a luxurious headquarters that looks like something out of science fiction. Apparently, senior federation officials travelled to Italy to source the right slate for part of the edifice of that structure. Expense accounts have not been published and salaries are not fully disclosed. According to media reports that appear almost daily, Police Federation officials are misconducting themselves, embarrassing themselves, and behaving extremely improperly in regard to their conduct and expenses.
But it is the bully-boy tactics that most concern me, as they will concern hon. Members on both sides of the House. Ninety-one per cent. of members of the Police Federation—an extremely high figure; it is almost unprecedented in opinion polls to get 91% of people to agree with anything—of tens of thousands who apparently answered the questions, want change in their own federation. This change is not being driven by the House or by one political party; this is a cross-party issue and it is being driven by the members of the Police Federation, who want and need change. I do not think that I have ever agreed with Mr Lammy quite as much as I did when he spoke today.
Policing is an honourable and great profession. We owe the police a great deal, and that is why we want to see their leadership within the Police Federation changed, changed soon, and changed for the better.
As my hon. Friend Michael Ellis said, it is a shocking statistic that 91% of members of the Police Federation demand change. But another shocking statistic from a poll is that only 1% of police officers believe that politicians support the police. It is important that it is understood by police officers in particular that this debate is not Members of Parliament having a go at the police, still less the constables, sergeants and inspectors who do the vast amount of policing work. In terms of even-handedness I would add that last month I was fortunate enough to have a debate in Westminster Hall when we examined the Association of Chief Police Officers, and Members were as excoriating of that organisation as hon. Members have been today of the Police Federation.
The background to the Police Federation is important. We had four police strikes between 1872 and 1919, and the federation was a resolution of the labour discontent involving John Syme and Tommy Thiel, the people who set up the initial police unions, and what was seen in the first world war.
Of my various books on the history of the police, the one that I think contains the best summary of the setting up of the Police Federation is Richard Cowley’s “A History of the British Police.” He writes:
“The Police Federation was established in 1919 for the ‘purpose of enabling members of the police forces in England and Wales to consider and to bring to the notice of police authorities and the Secretary of State, all matters affecting their welfare and efficiency, other than questions of discipline and promotion affecting individuals’. At long last, for the first time in ninety years, the Police Federation gave the police what they had been agitating for—the right to confer; a representative, negotiating body.
But in granting this, constraints were placed upon it. The right of the police to take strike action was specifically withdrawn, and it was made a criminal offence for any police officer to strike or for anyone to induce him to do so. Thus it was called the Police Federation rather than a police union”.
That is really important in informing what we say today.
We also need to understand that the structures of the Police Federation date all the way back to 1919 and that much of its internal organisation relies upon statute. Those structures have changed significantly less, to put it mildly, than have most organisations and institutions over the past 95 years. That might require Parliament to change some measures in respect of the Police Federation, but I think that ideally any such changes should be led by the federation.
When Stephen Williams gave evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, in contrast to the three officers who appeared before us in our previous inquiry, whom we did not see as representative of the Police Federation—he was elected—we felt that our concerns were being listened to and that he was dealing with the federation’s affairs as openly as he could, subject to some serious constraints. We wish him well in changing that organisation, having commissioned the Normington report. We want to see it pushed through, so it is really important that we do not just have this debate today and then let the issue go off the boil. That is why the Committee is having the inquiry. We have followed up on a number of our inquiries, which I hope will be one mechanism by which we can keep accountability and public reporting of these changes.
Recent reforms to the police have contained so many detailed changes that it can be difficult to keep track. The Police Federation is almost unique in not having unionisation—there are also the armed forces, of course—as the police do not have the right to strike and do not have a union as such. Some of the recent changes for the police have been different from what has happened elsewhere in the public services. To give just one example, the police had their pay increments frozen for two years. That might sound like a small thing, but I do not believe that it is, because across much of the rest of the public sector, despite the vaunted public sector pay freeze and now the 1% maximum increase, public servants have been receiving rises almost automatically year on year as they serve in a post. Those increments push them up pay scales in a way that the police have been specifically excluded from. That is one source of discontent among the police.
Another thing that stands out about the police is that, uniquely in the public services, they cannot be sacked, except for gross misconduct. There is no mechanism by which one can insist that a police officer is made redundant. I thought that we were going to change that. Tom Winsor rightly drew attention to it. The idea that after two years of probation someone has a job for life, or at least for 30 years, has been done away with in every other sector, if indeed it was ever there.
It is difficult to reconcile those principles with leaving that “jobs for life” specific legislative exemption for the police while every other employee is potentially subject to that type of dismissal. Once a police officer has a job and has been in probation for two years, irrespective of the level of the crime or the amount of money in the public sector, they have that job and nothing can be done about it. That sets the police apart, and I was looking forward to seeing that changed. I will be disappointed if the Home Secretary does not take that forward.
Another area that we need to look at, in relation to the straitened financial circumstances, is facility time, meaning the number of police officers working on Police Federation business and the amount of their working time that is taken up by it. There have been reductions in police officer numbers overall, as the shadow Minister, Mr Hanson, vigorously emphasises, although they have not been as great as they might have been, as a result of the efficiencies and changes that we have made, for which the Minister deserves much support. However, when we have had those changes, have we seen similar, and indeed appropriate, reductions in the amount of time spent on Police Federation duties?
Although it is good to have wider consultation, I think that some of the structures of the Police Federation lead to a use of time that is perhaps not the most productive. We need to look carefully at the extent to which police offices could be spending more time on front-line duties and less on that part of federation business that might not be delivering directly the representative benefits that its members need. I hope we will consider that in addition to whether some of the police officers could get back the £500 that it is said is being held on their behalf.
I would like briefly to discuss the No. 2 accounts. I have not seen evidence that anything has been going on within the accounts that should not have been, and still less that there has been any misappropriation of funds—I would like to make it clear that I am not suggesting that there is. However, the very fact that they are known as No. 2 accounts raises, for many people, the idea that money might not be properly accounted for. We hear of people running a second book of accounts in a business: one that is real and one that is for the tax authorities. When people hear of the Police Federation No. 2 accounts, they wonder whether something like that is going on. I have no evidence that it is, but I am concerned that people will draw conclusions that may not be justified until such a time as that money is properly accounted for, the chairman of the Police Federation knows what is going on with those accounts and they are put properly into the public domain. As a body, the Police Federation should not operate only for its members, but act in the public interest.
In talking about the public interest, I think that legal action is an incredibly important area for us to examine. The Chair of the Select Committee, Keith Vaz, spoke earlier about our terms of reference. I strongly questioned the officers who appeared before the Committee on what they were doing with regard to the legal actions. I think that is an area for us to include in our terms of reference and in our report. I do not think that should mean delving into the details of current legal actions, but we should look back and get some baseline about what actions the money has been spent on, how often the police defend a member and how often they proactively go out with a sword, as my hon. Friend the Member for Northampton North said, rather than simply defending their officers, making members of the public subject to a legal attack from the Police Federation and funded by it. That is an area of huge concern. We need first to understand how much of that is going on and what the baseline is before we can say what should be done about it.
I worry about how much the law firms involved are earning and on what basis they are given fees and are being commissioned. It is simply not good enough for the federation to say that it looks at the merits of each case and then decides on the basis of the prospects for success. Simply because a case might have a better than even chance of succeeding is not a sufficient reason for engaging in legal action. The federation also needs to take into account its reputation as an organisation, that of the police, the interests of its members, of course, and the public interest. I think that area of legal spending by the federation should be very closely examined.
Ultimately, I wish the chair of the Police Federation, all its elected officers and its members the very best in getting the organisation back into the sort of shape that will mean that both officers and the public can take pride in it.
We have heard some great speeches from colleagues on both sides of the House. I will try to be brief in bringing some additional thoughts to the debate rather than repeating too much of what has already been said so well.
The chairman of the Police Federation called for an independent review of his federation by Sir David Normington, and that was a brave and sensible decision. We have an opportunity to discuss the report and its findings and what it may mean in each of our constituencies. I am therefore grateful to my right hon. Friend Mr Davis for successfully getting it debated today.
Let me start by summarising some of the report’s key findings. The first covered the whole issue of reform. It found that the federation had
“been a weak voice in the discussions around reforms” due to indecisiveness and division. It continued:
“It has too often been unable to decide whether to oppose outright or seek changes which help its members.”
Reform is an issue for all of us in public service, and that comment in the Normington report clearly gives the federation an opportunity to take a different view.
On austerity, the report concluded:
“The Federation as a whole” was
“trying to resist some of what was inevitable given the wider economic and public context.”
That has been a challenge for all public services, and again there is an opportunity for the federation now to focus on moving forward, recognising some of the reforms that have already been put in place and implemented.
On police pay, conditions and pensions, the report concluded that the federation has fallen back
“on its traditional tendency to attack and try to undermine those who are proposing the changes, rather than take on the issues.”
I suspect that all of us in our constituencies will have met members of the federation who echoed that tendency.
The report goes on to mention the federation’s habit of personally targeting “successive Home Secretaries, Andrew Mitchell, Tom Winsor and others, bringing the Federation into disrepute and risking the police reputation for impartiality and integrity.”
“If the Federation wants to be respected and listened to in the future, this has to stop.”
I think we would all echo that from the point of view of our constituencies. It has not been the approach of most of the police officers I know in Gloucester or in Gloucestershire as a whole, but for those who have held those views, the lesson is clear. Other Members have mentioned the views of federation members, particularly the large number who seek change. That aspect is vital, and it is the clue to future reform.
On the views of elected representatives, the report concluded that there was
“a tendency for the workload to fall on a few while others enjoyed the fruits of elected position and with the wish of some to play political games while ignoring the interests of their members.”
That comment could be relevant to all of us in this Chamber, as well as to people in other organisations. Again, it provides an opportunity for change. On the views of external stakeholders, the report concluded:
“Almost all expressed frustration at the negative behaviours and tactics of the Federation”.
That issue must also be tackled. Again, having it so clearly spelled out in the report gives the chairman an opportunity to take reform forward.
This leads on to constituency feelings and what happens close to home for all of us. MPs, bankers and estate agents compete for the occupation that is generally held in least regard and most contempt, and I would not wish for the police to join us in that league. The key locally for all of us is to enhance the reputation of our office through hard work and integrity. Although I, like others here, still have bruising e-mails and letters from a few officers in the constabulary who perhaps saw an opportunity to use plebgate as a negotiating tool during talks on police reforms, I do not believe that anything like plebgate could ever have happened in Gloucestershire. Our constabulary would never contemplate that sort of political stitch-up, which, as so often with conspiracies, has turned out to be a huge own goal.
Locally, our constabulary are rightly focused on the major problems of human and drug trafficking, reducing crime, and sorting out antisocial behaviour. The police community support officers are our bobbies on the street—the community face of the law—and they build confidence in our police and all the experts who are seen less often because they work behind the scenes. I am grateful for what all members of the Gloucestershire constabulary do in resolving these vital issues in our city. Crime is down in Gloucester, and that is what matters. That is also why I will be delighted—through the wider police service parliamentary scheme, which offers us all an opportunity better to understand policing—to spend time this year with our constabulary seeing what police officers learn, how they train, and how they pursue their aims.
The conclusion of the Normington report has 36 recommendations. They deal with issues that have been raised by other Members, including the transparency of the No. 2 accounts, which hold £35 million, and call for a 25% reduction in federation members’ 2015 subscriptions, which I suspect many police officers across the country would welcome. Above all, they call for an ambitious programme of reform, noting that the Police Federation itself commissioned this independent review in order to set and take control of the agenda. The test now, as the report concludes, is whether the federation can show the same leadership in implementing this reform programme.
The motion calls for the Government to implement the recommendations of the Normington report. I call instead for the Police Federation to implement the recommended reforms and for us, as parliamentarians, to give them all our support in doing so. As the report concluded, this is something worth striving for. It is what federation members most want, and it is now for their representatives to work together to deliver it. At this stage, it is not for the Government to interfere but rather to support and encourage, and that is what I will be doing locally.
Usually when reports are called for by bodies, they come out with anodyne statements saying that everything is pretty marvellous. It is a rare civil servant who comes out boldly and states what he views as the unvarnished truth. Sir David Normington’s report is absolutely stunning in its conclusions. Although my right hon. Friend Mr Davis mentioned this, it is worth repeating: a statutory body—I repeat, a statutory body—used its powers to target personally
That is an enormously damning statement to have been made about a body that has particular rights and protections by statute. Yet it is worse than that, because this body that behaves in such a way—the Police Federation—finds that many of its members, while they still look to it to represent them in times of difficulty or crisis, say that they would not otherwise pay their subscriptions. In an independent report that one might usually have expected to be relatively anodyne, the voice of policing is utterly damned by both its actions and the view of its members.
What concerns me most is the constitutional aspect. We know that the federation conspired, lied and leaked to remove a Cabinet Minister from office. We know this because we have the transcript of the meeting that took place with my right hon. Friend Mr Mitchell in his own constituency, and the response after that meeting of Inspector Ken MacKaill, who said:
“I think Mr Mitchell has no option but to resign.”
At that point, therefore, a statutory body representing the police, who have very particular powers under our constitution, was conspiring to bring down a Cabinet Minister. That is what happens in third-world countries, where the democratic rights of the people are overtaken by the forces of law and order, which intervene to have the type of government that they want, rather than the type of government that the people want. It is such a dangerous position to have got into when a body that has particular protections and a place in the state is able to abuse them and undermine the very constitution that gives them those powers.
That is also very damaging, as Keith Vaz and others have said, to the concept we have in this country of policing by consent. When the police force was set up, there was great concern that having a permanent, paid police force undermined basic civil liberties. The feeling was that they would be used to develop a police state, act as an arm of the Government, enforce laws unfairly and harass people, and that they would, therefore, lead us to being a less free society. We have been very lucky that that has not occurred and that the police have, by and large, been very responsible.
I am very glad that my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Criminal Justice and Victims is sitting on the Front Bench and will respond to the debate, because he himself felt so personally and directly an abuse of the police’s power when they came into the Houses of Parliament—a royal palace—to search the office of an Opposition spokesman. We have, therefore, seen the leadership of the police—once involving the federation and once not—using their exceptional and extraordinary power to arrest an Opposition spokesman and to force from office a Cabinet Minister.
That should worry us extremely gravely, because our constitution works on the basis that we are a free society with a civilian police force that plays no part—no role—in the political life of the nation. That is why it has to have a Police Federation that is outside the political ambit, that is not a trade union—and that, therefore, might be supportive of a particular political party—and that is not able to strike because it is not able to wield its power in a way that could appear to be politically motivated. It is given special privileges and protections, but the Police Federation has abused them not just once but, as we have discovered, systematically in its approach to Home Secretaries of both parties and, indeed, Tom Winsor.
The report sets out the problems with extraordinary clarity and certainty. It also sets out what it perceives as being the solutions, but my goodness we should worry if membership of the Cabinet is decided not by the will of people, but by a conspiracy of dishonest members of the Police Federation. We should also worry, as other hon. Members have said, that if it can happen to my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield—one of the most senior Ministers in the Government at the time and one of the Prime Minister’s closest confidants—which of us going about our lawful business and which of our constituents, who do not have the protections of being a Member of Parliament, can feel safe?
That is the real problem of leadership in the Police Federation and perhaps more broadly in the Metropolitan Police. We all see at our local level and, indeed, in the Palace of Westminster the finest standards of traditional policing. There is a disconnect between the constable level and those who seek to lead them. It is damaging our constitution and it needs to be reformed.
It is a pleasure to follow my hon. Friend Jacob Rees-Mogg. I pay tribute to many of my colleagues for their comments. The words
“change” and “reform” have been used a lot in this debate and I want to focus not on specific events, but on how the force needs to evolve. The Police Federation is made up of different levels, including constables, sergeants and inspectors, who make up the majority of the police force. If change is to come about, they must embrace it.
In a fast-changing world, I think we would all call ourselves reformers, but there are, perhaps, two kinds: those who want reform and those who want reform but not now. I wonder which category the Police Federation falls into. If we observe any major traffic incident, we will see that the efficiency and ease with which all three of our blue-light services work together—the gold-silver-bronze command structure—is extremely impressive. However, if the incident is more complex and involves other agencies or wider geographical areas—such as the tragedies at King’s Cross, the events at Buncefield, the 2007 floods and the 7/7 terrorist attacks—an altogether more complicated wiring diagram is relied upon, which attempts to link together organisations, agencies and Government Departments by using complex processes and protocols that have been built over decades, but that urgently need to be updated. They are so embedded that successive Governments have been reluctant to address them.
The Police Federation must appreciate that there are cultural and technical shortcomings that affect the ability of different constabularies to work together and with other agencies. Even today, different voice procedures are used in the 43 constabularies in different parts of the country. When Cobra sits, decision making is swift, as we have seen over the past few days, but when it breaks there are 43 separate police forces, 46 separate fire services and hundreds of local authorities running separate independent local resilience forums without any formal co-ordination from above.
We can all be very proud of the London 2012 Olympics. It was the largest and most complex event the nation has ever hosted and it was incident free, thanks to the years of preparation for a time-limited event and the additional resources and structures that have now largely been dismantled. The federation needs to appreciate that. I hope it will start to appreciate that there are strategic, operational and financial efficiencies to be gained from not only simpler and stronger ministerial leadership, but the streamlining of policy formulation and unambiguous inter-agency operational command at both national and local levels.
The federation recognises and is in fact involved in the Joint Emergency Services Interoperability Programme, designed to improve joint doctrine. The federation must appreciate that if a forum such as JESIP needed to be created, there is something wrong with the way in which our emergency services work together. Given the types of natural and man-made threats we now face, it is time to overhaul our resilience capability, from the local resilience forums—the basic emergency decision-making units found in every county—all the way to Cobra at the top.
Order. Before Mr Ellwood answers that, may I say to him that this debate is about the Normington report on reform of the Police Federation and that the debate on the police was yesterday? He needs to focus on the Normington report and not every so often in a sentence say, “Police Federation,” to make himself in order.
I accept your guidance, Madam Deputy Speaker. I am also conscious of the time and that the Front Benchers want to conclude this debate.
My hon. Friend Mark Reckless makes an important point. The changes I have discussed can come about only if the federation itself embraces them. As we have heard again and again today, it has been an obstruction against, and a hurdle for, those changes. My hon. Friend is right to ask the question, but it needs to be put to the federation itself so that it can address what it needs to do to recognise the changes needed.
In conclusion, the Police Federation has an important role to play—from bottom up, not just top down. If changes are to take place and if we are to see greater collaboration between constabularies, that needs to be embraced and promoted by the federation itself. Even with the advances in communications and technology, traditional practices across the police force, as well as those between all three emergency services, have resulted in a silo mentality and a convoluted web of interoperability that successive Governments have been deterred from overhauling. The longer we wait, the more complicated it becomes to improve inter-service procurement, training, operations and ministerial oversight. I believe that the Police Federation will rise to the challenge of reform, and I hope that it will consider some of the ideas and solutions proposed in this debate.
I welcome you to the Chair, Mr Deputy Speaker, at the end of a very good debate. I congratulate Mr Davis and his colleagues on securing this timely debate. I pass on the apologies of my hon. Friend Jack Dromey, who is the official Opposition spokesperson on policing matters. He has a long-standing constituency engagement, so I have been repatriated back from immigration to police matters to wind up the debate.
I declare a sort of interest, in that as a former police Minister and as the then shadow Minister, I met Sir David Normington and members of his review team to give them my private view of the issues we are debating today. I am glad that the analysis that has come out—there is broad consensus on it across the House—is what I shared with Sir David at my meeting with him.
There is common consensus not only about the issues raised in the Normington report, but about how the police do a good job in very often dangerous and difficult circumstances. Mr Ellwood has just mentioned that point, as did Michael Ellis, my right hon. Friend Mr Lammy, Mr Blunt and my right hon. Friend Keith Vaz; I look forward to his Select Committee’s report on this matter.
I had the very great privilege of attending the bravery awards, as the Minister will have done, for officers who have put their lives and limbs at risk in very dangerous circumstances. There is no officer who does not wake up every day of the week potentially to face a life-threatening situation or to have to seek a depth of courage that none of us in this Chamber has to experience. Even this week, police officers have been deployed to deal with floods and serious crimes. If the right hon. Member for Haltemprice and Howden was in his place, I would tell him that every year I have had the privilege of attending memorial services for officers who have given their lives for their community. The police memorial services that I have attended have been dignified, solemn events, at which the police have paid tribute to their fellow officers.
On behalf of Her Majesty’s Opposition, I welcome the fact that the Police Federation itself commissioned the Normington report. I also welcome the fact that the Police Federation recognises that mistakes have been made and that it might be out of touch with its members, as has been discussed, and that it has acknowledged the need for reform. As has been expressed from both sides of the House, the Police Federation independent review is a candid, frank, hard-hitting and strong report. Jacob Rees-Mogg referred to that in his speech. The report looks in detail at how the federation operates and how its membership is represented, as well as at its structures, finance and professionalism, and it makes 36 wide-ranging recommendations for change.
We should remember a point that has been slightly lost in the debate, which is that Sir David Normington and his team were commissioned to produce the report by the Police Federation itself. Even given what hon. Members have said, there is scope for the federation to reflect on the report and its contents.
I spoke this morning to Steve Williams, who is the chair of the Police Federation. He happens to be from my local North Wales Police, where he has been a senior officer for many years. He has been officially in post as chair only since last May, but he took over after the sad death of Paul McKeever in January. I think that he recognises the concerns expressed from both sides of the House about the need for reform and review. I know from talking to him that since the report was published that the Police Federation has held meetings across the whole of England and Wales this week in a two-day examination of the recommendations. I think that there is clear support for the direction of travel, and I hope that when the federation meets in May matters can be resolved in a way that meets the aspirations of every hon. Member who has spoken today.
I have only had a brief conversation with the chair this morning, but I know that the Police Federation is trying to decide a response to put to its conference in May. I am not a member of the federation or party to its discussions, so I can do no better than to repeat the Home Secretary’s words at Home Office questions two weeks ago. She said:
“It is important that the federation has had the review.”
She went on that if changes are required, the Home Office would
“stand ready to work with the federation on them.”
She also said that the chair wanted
“properly to review the federation’s role and whether it represents officers”,—[Hansard, 27 January 2014; Vol. 574, c. 651.]
but that it is for the Police Federation, which initiated the review, to look at such issues. In his speech, Mark Reckless reflected that the Police Federation should have a chance to look at the issues.
The hon. Members for Gloucester (Richard Graham) and for North West Norfolk (Mr Bellingham) and Sir Richard Ottaway have all supported the recommendations. On behalf of the official Opposition, I want the federation to look very closely at resolving to support the recommendations, which include the important issues of having a revised core purpose; an annual public review of value for money; national guidelines on expenses, honoraria and hospitality; the publication of all expenses and of accounts; guidance for local forces about committee papers; a director of equality and diversity, which was a point made by the hon. Member for North West Norfolk; a rolling three-year equality plan; and an examination of professional standards, as well as ensuring that there is proper capacity of professional staff at head- quarters. The creation of an executive team, proper governance and decision making, a new professional means of selecting the general secretary and the election of the chair by the whole membership are positive recommendations to which I hope the federation will respond positively.
There may be some water between Government Members and me on the fact that I take the view that the Police Federation is a body in its own right, and that the best person to reform it is the federation itself. If it does not, there will certainly be matters for this House to look at, but only in due course.
The report relates to police professionalism and the need for reform more generally. The Police Federation needs to be part of that reform. The Independent Police Commission report on the future of policing, chaired by Lord, Lord Stevens, was established by my right hon. Friend Yvette Cooper.
On the right hon. Gentleman’s point about general reform, does he agree that it cannot be pushed by the Government or from up in Westminster? It could be argued that Dorset constabulary is now too small to exist on its own, but mergers or greater collaboration are hindered by grass-roots policing. Does that indicate that we should start to consider such general reform?
When I was lucky enough to hold the post of police Minister in the previous Government, I supported voluntary mergers—for example, between Hertfordshire and Bedfordshire. That was stopped not by the Police Federation, but by the elected members of what were then police authorities. The members did not want mergers, although the chief constables and the Police Federation were happy for them to happen. However, I digress slightly from the Normington report.
Reform is important, because we need professionalism and standards in officers. We need officers to be registered in relation to their core professionalism, and we need the potential to withdraw registration if officers transgress, as they occasionally do. They have done so in the case of Mr Mitchell, with an officer now serving a prison sentence because of his actions. It is important that such standards are set in place.
It is important, as Members have said, that there is diversity in Government action. It is particularly important, as the Stevens report mentioned, that the relationship between the media and the police improves. All contact between police officers and the media must be recorded. That will have an effect on the potential for transgressions.
I am conscious of the time and of the fact that we still have to hear from the Minister and Mr Ruffley. The official Opposition believe that much of Sir David Normington’s report is welcome and we want the Police Federation to address the points that it raises. Steve Williams has had the confidence to take on the issues in the federation and I wish him well in seeing that through. I look forward to the federation responding to the issues in May. I will let my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington deal with this matter from the Front Bench when the report is examined and, I hope, implemented in due course.
I congratulate my right hon. Friend Mr Davis on securing this debate and Members on both sides of the House on their heartfelt and thoughtful speeches, and on the clarity of the debate. Anyone who has listened to this debate or who reads it subsequently will see that it has sent a very clear message to the Police Federation about the Normington report.
I simply want to echo that message. I fully agree with the principles behind the motion. I agree that public trust in the police is vital. I agree that the federation, which represents 130,000 rank and file police officers, has a vital part to play. I agree that the federation must change significantly if it is to play its role effectively. I pay credit to the federation and its current leadership under Steve Williams for recognising that change is needed and for commissioning the independent Normington review to guide that reform. The report does that very clearly. I also agree with Members on both sides of the House that the vast majority of police officers do what is a difficult and sometimes dangerous job very well on a day-to-day basis. The tradition of policing by consent is a vital part of democracy and quality of life in this country. That is the background to the problem that the Normington review addresses.
The review was undertaken because of significant concerns about the transparency and integrity of the Police Federation and those who act on its behalf. It is important that the federation addresses those issues to ensure that it acts in the interest of its membership and commands the confidence of the public. To that end, I welcome the news that the Home Affairs Committee will produce a report on these matters.
As others have said, Sir David Normington and the other members of the panel have produced a report that is thoughtful, comprehensive and well evidenced. It is insightful on the issues that the federation faces and considered in the solutions that it recommends. We all agree with Sir David that the federation must operate with openness and integrity. The review suggests a great number of far-reaching reforms. We will soon see how the federation responds.
My hon. Friend Mr Ruffley intervened on the former police Minister, who is revisiting former glories today, to ask about the federation’s response. Steve Williams said before the Normington review was published that he would accept it. Obviously, discussions are now going on inside the federation. I assure the House that those discussions are being monitored closely by the Government.
The Government agree with the sentiment that has been expressed by Members on both sides of the House that it is for the federation to reform itself and not for the Government to step in at this stage. We need to see what the results of the federation’s considerations are. We do not plan to change the legislation before the review has been considered and processed by the federation. However, it is important that the federation moves forward with reform. I do not rule out the possibility of new legislation or regulations because the federation was created by an Act of Parliament and many of the changes may need to be made in Parliament. We will come to that at the appropriate time.
One of the virtues of the Normington report is that it has produced a timetable for action by the federation. Outsiders with an interest, such as this House, will be able to see how the timetable is being met. The time to consider any legislative action that we need to take is after the federation has considered its next steps.
A number of important points have been made by hon. Members. The issue of federation expenses has been raised. I take any suggestion that expenses have been misused extremely seriously. Federation representatives are elected by their members to represent them. They must therefore act in their members’ interests in using federation funds. It rightly falls to the federation to handle and respond to those issues. It is important for the federation to demonstrate that it uses its finances, which are raised primarily through member subscriptions, in a transparent and responsible manner. If it does not show that it does so, it is difficult to see how it can command the confidence of its members or the public.
References have been made to the accusations of bad behaviour on national police memorial day by representatives of the federation. Like the former police Minister and the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, I have attended national police memorial day. It is a very moving occasion that is important to the friends and families of police officers who have given their lives in the course of their duties. I know that the leadership of the Police Federation would want to ensure that that occasion is treated with the dignity that it deserves. If there have been problems, I hope that action will be taken to ensure that they are not repeated.
There have been a number of references to the notorious No. 2 accounts that are held by some branches of the Police Federation. Those financial issues have been covered thoroughly in the Normington report. It makes a number of recommendations to improve the transparency and handling of federation finances. It recommends that all accounts, including No. 2 accounts, should be published and available publicly. As that information comes to light, we will gain a better understanding of how the money is being gathered and spent. It will fall to the appropriate authorities to deal with any unlawful or improper behaviour that is identified. That might be the police themselves or it might be Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs. Clearly, we need to know more about what is happening in those No. 2 accounts. I look forward to seeing how the federation responds to the report’s recommendations. If help is needed from the Government to implement the changes, it will certainly be available.
As well as those specific reforms, the review recommends a great deal of far-reaching reform. I am sure that all Members expect there to be change. Behind all that, the federation must ensure that it performs its most important role, which is to represent rank and file officers. It is clear from the important surveys that many hon. Members have mentioned that those officers still want the federation to represent them. As such, our starting point must be to ask how we can make the federation reform itself in order that it can deliver that service more effectively. We are at the stage of giving the federation the opportunity to consider how it will change on the basis of the recommendations.
The final matter that has come up frequently is the events at Downing street involving my right hon. Friend Mr Mitchell. It is clear that those issues have caused widespread concern about police integrity, and demonstrate that unless all officers operate to the highest standards of integrity, policing risks forfeiting public trust. The court has now decided on the appropriate sentence for the criminal conduct of PC Keith Wallis, and the IPCC has stated that its investigation has provided evidence to support gross misconduct proceedings against five officers, including PC Wallis. It will be for the Metropolitan police service disciplinary panel to decide on the culpability of the officers involved.
Hon. Members will also be aware that the Home Office is currently considering changes to the whole police disciplinary system, and the IPCC is independently investigating allegations that three Police Federation officers from West Mercia, West Midlands and Warwickshire police gave false accounts of their meeting with my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield on
In conclusion, I am grateful to everyone who has contributed to what I think will be a significant and important debate that will mark progress and greater clarity in the necessary reform of the Police Federation in the wake of the Normington review. I hope and expect that the federation will address those concerns, so that it can become once again an institution that its members will be proud of, and of which the public will be proud, just as they are proud of our police.
May I express my thanks to the Backbench Business Committee for granting this debate, to my right hon. Friend Mr Davis who was its principal proposer, and to my 12 colleagues and both Front-Bench speakers who have contributed to it?
I contribute as a former special adviser in the Home Office during the rocky times with the Police Federation in 1992-93, when the then Home Secretary was trying to push through the Sheehy reforms. More recently, I was shadow police Minister in the previous Parliament. I am also contributing, and I declare an interest, as a friend and supporter of my right hon. Friend Mr Mitchell, whose treatment by certain elements of the Police Federation led ultimately to this debate and to discussion of the Normington report.
The Normington report is a scathing and searing deconstruction of a deeply dysfunctional organisation, and if there is a more critical report commissioned by a body of itself, I have yet to see it. The “top-to-bottom” overhaul of the organisation—those are the words of Normington—refers to
“its cultures, behaviours, structures and organisation”,
and I wish to emphasise at the start of my remarks that we should not allow this matter to become a cosy understanding with the Police Federation that it will reform itself. I have been in this place too long to see well argued and important reports lost. Everyone agrees that the recommendations should be carried out, but then they plough into the sand. That is why I was delighted to hear my right hon. Friend the Minister say that he would not shrink from using the legislative tools at his disposal to ensure that the necessary reforms and recommendations in the report are implemented if the federation does not get on with doing that itself.
The report refers to
“a phased programme of reform over the next two to three years,”.
I would like the federation to publish a clear timetable that we can come back to and debate in this Chamber, to see how quickly it is implementing the reforms. The reason we need that is that Fiona McElroy, a former principal private secretary to the Attorney-General, no less, was sacked because she had “serious concerns” about the management of the federation’s accounts. Most troubling is that—this was only a few days ago—she was opposed by a “vocal minority” who were resisting attempts to implement the changes recommended by the Normington report. I am afraid I am not as sanguine as many colleagues who have contributed today about the ability of senior members of the Police Federation to reform themselves. Who are these individuals and to whom are they accountable? Given the evidence I have cited, they seem to be a roadblock to reform.
If my hon. Friend will forgive me, I shall not give way as I am aware of the time.
The report mentions many things, but it begins by mentioning the police reform proposals—not just those by our excellent Home Secretary, but I think this would also apply to some of the reforms at the end of the previous Parliament—and states that the federation was
“a weak voice in the discussions around reforms.”
Speaking from experience, I found that too many senior leaders of the Police Federation were—and I regret to have to say this—much more interested in pay and rations, remuneration and pension changes, important though those are, than in changes to police working practices, reducing police bureaucracy, and all the things that are central to modernising the police service today.
On accountability and ethics, Normington has quite a bit to say:
Colleagues have mentioned that issue, but I was particularly struck by what my hon. Friend Jacob Rees-Mogg said. He reminded us of the constitutional position that the police service—and, by extension, the Police Federation—has in this country. It has a constitutional responsibility to be utterly impartial, to make judgments and decisions free from political interference or bias, and to do so without fear or favour. It should be beyond politics, but the history of the Police Federation over the past few years shows that that constitutional obligation to which my hon. Friend referred has not been fulfilled.
Then there are the views of the elected representatives and the people who run the organisation. Normington states:
“There was considerable evidence of distrust among elected representatives, exacerbated by divisions and mistrust at Head Office” in Leatherhead.
What about the professionalism that we need to engender in the Police Federation and the change of culture? That is the subject of recommendation 1, which hon. Members have drawn attention to, and which I think is worth reading into the record:
“The Federation should adopt immediately a revised core purpose which reflects the Police Federation’s commitment to act in the public interest, with public accountability, alongside its accountability to its members. This should be incorporated in legislation as soon as practicable.”
I disagree with only one bit of that: it should not be “as soon as practicable” but now.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden said in his outstanding opening speech that we need an early adoption of the report, not this May when the Police Federation’s triennial elections are held. Before those elections we need a clear statement from anyone seeking to stand for office in May that they will adopt and sign up to every one of the Normington proposals. Without that, I think we are entitled to feel that they are not acting in good faith. There is unanimity across the party divide, including from Mr Hanson speaking for the Opposition, and who made a helpful speech, and from Conservative Members. It is perfectly clear, beyond peradventure, that no one can have any doubt about the necessity of these proposals.
We also need to remember the phrase “Follow the money”, although we should not read too much into the fact that it comes from the Watergate scandal. If I have gleaned anything from the debate, it is colleagues’ comments—they have obviously read the report—on the financial opacity and the scandalous lack of accountability, not only in respect of members’ subscription fees, as my hon. Friend Mr Blunt said, but of the taxpayer money that goes into the Police Federation, which, as has been mentioned, is a statutory body. Surpluses have been generated at national level and substantial reserves have been amassed. They put the organisation on a sustainable footing, but, by the way, that is largely the result of an increase in subscription charges of more than 23% in 2010 alone.
That is not the end of it. The 43 branch boards operate as separate businesses. Together, they have reserves of approximately £35 million. The report raises concerns about the lack of accountability. After its publication, I heard Sir David Normington say that although he was brought in by the Police Federation to undertake an independent forensic review, he was denied access to the No. 2 accounts. Who denied him access? We should be told. Why were there any bars on his looking into the No. 2 accounts? It is why recommendation 31 is:
“All accounts including Number 2, group insurance and member services accounts, funds, and trusts to be published. A general financial transparency clause is needed in regulations” for which, I might add, the House will have responsibility,
“including a requirement to publish and report all income that derives from and funds Police Federation activity.”
Normington also says that all branches should be required to publish full accounts online. Those of us who are subject to the rigorous Independent Parliamentary Standards Authority regime will say that it is about time they did that. I very much look forward to that so I can look up the accounts of the branches in my part of East Anglia.
Recommendation 36, on finance, states:
“There should be a 25 percent reduction in subscription levels for one year in 2015 financed by the reserves of the rank central committees. An extension of this one-off reduction should be reviewed for subsequent years on the basis of existing reserves, reserves in unpublished accounts, and an estate strategy once the reform package is complete.”
The report demonstrates that a review could mean further reductions in the subscription levy. I believe that members of the federation should actively consider that and hold their elected representatives to account. In that respect, I want to steal a phrase from my hon. Friend Mr Bellingham who, in an excellent speech, reminded us of a great tradition of the Police Federation and some of its good history, but also said that now is the time for its members to reclaim their federation. Subscription levels would not be a bad place to start.
On the estates strategy, my right hon. Friend the Member for Haltemprice and Howden said that, ultimately, the sale and disposal of that palace of varieties, which has cost excessive amounts of money to build and run, could be a sign of true culture change on the part of the federation—the kind of change of ethos for which the report so powerfully calls.
I should like to comment on a few of the speeches that have been made in the debate that are worthy of note. Keith Vaz repeated something that many colleagues have said. He said that recent events have shown that my right hon. Friend the Member for Sutton Coldfield has been completely vindicated. The right hon. Gentleman also questioned whether it was remotely sensible, appropriate or seemly to continue suing members of the public, including my right hon. Friend.
We heard eloquent contributions from Mr Lammy and from my right hon. Friend Sir Richard Ottaway. My hon. Friend the Member for Reigate reminded us that there could be a £500 per member dividend, but asked whether restitution could be made to the British taxpayer, who will have an interest in those huge sums, many of which are not accounted for.
My hon. Friends the Members for Northampton North (Michael Ellis) and for Rochester and Strood (Mark Reckless) spoke from huge experience as forensic members of the Home Affairs Committee. Both talked about the lack of accountability in financial accounting. They also said that many public services have been reformed, but that the way in which the police do business has not been reformed. I pray in aid a phrase used in 2006 by the current Prime Minister. I was speaking to Police Federation Members when the Prime Minister said that the police service is
“the last great unreformed public service”.
My word, they did not like that, but reform should be a reality. They should not fight history but embrace the future.
I am grateful to my hon. Friend Mr Ellwood, who pointed out that reform of the interoperability of the blue-light services requires the Police Federation to get with the programme.
Question put and agreed to.
That this House notes the Independent Review of the Police Federation conducted by Sir David Normington and calls upon the Government to take action to implement the report’s recommendations and to reform the Police Federation.