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Chief Constables: Removal from Office

– in the House of Lords at 2:59 pm on 23rd July 2001.

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Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative 2:59 pm, 23rd July 2001

asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether the Home Secretary will publish the criteria he applies in deciding whether to encourage the removal of a chief constable from office.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Asylum and Immigration), Home Office, Minister (Home Office) (Asylum & Immigration)

My Lords, under Section 11 of the Police Act 1996, a police authority may call on a chief officer to retire in the interests of efficiency and effectiveness. Under Section 42 of the Act, the Secretary of State may require a police authority to exercise its powers under Section 11. There are no set criteria for the exercise of those powers by the police authority or the Secretary of State.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for reading to the House the part of the Act that I had discovered for myself. Does the Minister agree, first, that it was extremely bad management not to afford the Chief Constable of Sussex at least the courtesy of meeting him personally ahead of his leaving the force? Secondly, is it not also very bad form to issue a press release ahead of a decision being taken either by the chief constable or by the authority?

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Asylum and Immigration), Home Office, Minister (Home Office) (Asylum & Immigration)

My Lords, the Home Secretary does not employ chief constables. The Home Secretary wrote to the police authority, as he is entitled to do. All he did was to remind the authority of its statutory duty in this respect. I do not know the consequences as regards when the press release was issued, or, indeed, when the letter was published. However, this is a major issue of public policy, which the Home Secretary was quite entitled to draw to the attention of the police authority so as to enable it to consider whether or not to make a decision. In the event, the policy authority did not: the chief constable chose to retire.

Photo of Lord Dholakia Lord Dholakia Party Chair, Liberal Democrats

My Lords, does the Minister accept that the incident that led to the retirement of the Chief Constable of Sussex came about as a direct result of the investigation that was carried out by the Police Complaints Authority which recommended particular disciplinary action that was subsequently taken by the Sussex police authority? Can the Minister tell the House what additional ground the Home Secretary had which enabled him to recommend to the Sussex police authority this retirement, bearing in mind that such disciplinary action had already been taken?

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Asylum and Immigration), Home Office, Minister (Home Office) (Asylum & Immigration)

My Lords, the Home Secretary simply reminded the police authority of its duties. Indeed, in the letter, which is a matter of public record, he said:

"I expect you to consider the full range of statutory powers which are available to you, including whether the police authority believes it would be right to use its powers under Section 11 to require this chief constable to step down".

In questions regarding matters of efficiency and effectiveness, I do not believe that anyone could argue that events--even those of the days preceding the sending of that letter--relating to officers involved in the issue who were, as it were, cleared by the courts, brought matters to a head publicly. The Home Secretary was quite within his rights simply to draw the attention of the police authority to the powers available and to ask those concerned to consider whether or not to use them.

Photo of Lord Renton of Mount Harry Lord Renton of Mount Harry Conservative

My Lords, does the Minister agree that the letter was quite unique? Was it really possible either for the Chief Constable of Sussex to stay in position or, if he did so, for the police authority not to get rid of him after the letter written by the Home Secretary had been released?

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Asylum and Immigration), Home Office, Minister (Home Office) (Asylum & Immigration)

My Lords, I accept what the noble Lord says. The letter probably is unique. There have not been many occasions when chief officers have been required to resign; indeed, I believe that there have been about three such cases in the past 25 years. That does not include the present case, because matters did not progress to that stage. It is possible that the force of the questions in the letter--there were no instructions--left the authority with a course of action that it was sensible to take. It was a strong, powerfully-worded letter that simply asked the authority to take account of its statutory responsibilities, and to consider all the circumstances. I believe that the Home Secretary was entitled to do that.

Photo of Lord Elton Lord Elton Conservative

My Lords, does the Home Secretary write a similar letter on every occasion when the conduct of a chief constable is in question? If that is not the case, does the Minister agree that this was a very clear directive, even if not expressed as an executive order?

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Asylum and Immigration), Home Office, Minister (Home Office) (Asylum & Immigration)

My Lords, I suspect that the answer to the first part of the noble Lord's question is no; that is certainly not so. But let us face the facts. There was an inquiry into the original shooting that raised considerable questions about the corporate governance of this police force. Therefore, the Home Secretary was entitled to take the view that he adopted.

Photo of Baroness Blatch Baroness Blatch Conservative

My Lords, I return to the letter in question. Does the Minister agree that the letter that was sent out would have been a matter for the Home Secretary, the police authority and the chief constable had it not been for a press release that was issued simultaneously and which was extremely provocative in its wording?

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Asylum and Immigration), Home Office, Minister (Home Office) (Asylum & Immigration)

My Lords, although I remember seeing the press release I do not have a copy with me. I do not apologise. This is not something that we were doing behind closed doors. We did not make any point about doing this behind closed doors. It is a matter of public policy as regards the police service in this country, the family involved and the people concerned in the incident. The matter is not closed. Some officers are still under suspension and subject to disciplinary proceedings. Therefore, it would be unwise for me to deal any further with such issues.

Photo of Baroness Harris of Richmond Baroness Harris of Richmond Liberal Democrat

My Lords, I declare an interest as a former chair of a police authority. Can the Minister say whether there are any plans to amend, or in any way to change, the conditions of service of chief police officers?

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Minister of State (Asylum and Immigration), Home Office, Minister (Home Office) (Asylum & Immigration)

No, my Lords. However, it is fair to point out that we believe that there should be clear and objective procedures for assessing the personal performance of chief officers. We are in discussion with the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Association of Police Authorities, Her Majesty's Inspectorate, and others, so as to put in place such procedures. I do not think that they would have changed the outcome in these circumstances, but, nevertheless, more work needs to be carried out as regards assessing the personal performance of chief officers; and that is underway.