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Public Service

Part of the debate – in the House of Lords at 6:05 pm on 24th October 2001.

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Photo of The Earl of Rosslyn The Earl of Rosslyn Crossbench 6:05 pm, 24th October 2001

My Lords, in thanking the right reverend Prelate for this opportunity, I should like to say something from a policing perspective. I declare an interest as a serving officer in the Metropolitan Police where I am a commander with responsibility for the force's training. It is therefore a great pleasure to follow my noble friend and former commissioner.

Martin Luther King said,

"life's most urgent and persistent question is what are you doing for others?".

Every five weeks a new group of recruits arrive at Hendon and answer that question, committing themselves to public service as police officers. Last year the youngest was 18 and the oldest 49, which suggests that the instinct to serve can appear at any time. Throughout the country new officers express that commitment in the oath of allegiance and seek to be true to it in organisations separated by geography, but joined through common values of duty and care. In London, officers swear that oath as constables of the Metropolitan Police Service, recognising that while force remains a necessary part of law enforcement, policing is underpinned by notions of consent and accountability. They commit to serve "without favour or affection" to

"cause the peace to be kept" and to

"prevent all offences against persons and property".

That is an honourable but challenging commitment, and one from which we sometimes fall short. It reflects the fact that the essence of policing is bound up not in confrontation but in protection and service.

Writing in 1829, when the whole of Kensington was protected by six parish constables, whom he remarked "were not invariably sober", Robert Peel emphasised that good policing was not about the

"invasion of liberty but a restraint of licence".

The first instruction book made explicit this public service ethic. A constable should be,

"civil and attentive to all persons, never suffering himself to be moved by any language or threats . . . Such conduct will induce well-disposed bystanders to assist him should he so require".

That recognised that the future of the new police depended almost entirely on public acceptance. Today it means that a safe, just and tolerant society can only be built by working with others. For that reason, we should not define the concept of service in an exclusive way. In developing policing doctrine, we should take every opportunity to involve others. One does not have to join the police service to contribute to the service of policing. We already have special constables who the statute says:

"enjoy all the powers, privileges and protections of a Constable".

They also face the same dangers and challenges and their families have the same anxieties and pressures. We have much to thank them for. There is a range of ways in which active citizens can participate in policing and which help to shape the conception of what good service looks like.

The concept of service in a policing context is far- reaching when one stops to consider its ultimate demands. Tomorrow Her Majesty the Queen will visit Hendon to be present at the dedication of the Metropolitan Police Book of Remembrance. We shall recall our 876 colleagues who have died in the course of duty between 1830 and 14th March this year. Though separated by 171 years, those officers are united by a common bond of duty and honour, which led them to forsake their own interests in the service of others.

When the book is dedicated, it will be opened at tomorrow's date, for which there are five entries. The last two are: Francis Joseph O'Neil, died 1980, aged 31. While on plain-clothes duty he was stabbed in the heart by a suspect whom he was questioning in a chemist's shop at Waterloo. Despite being fatally wounded, he attempted to make an arrest before he collapsed and died. The last one refers to Kulwant Singh Sidhu, died 1999, aged 24. Late at night he attended a call to suspects on a roof in Twickenham. In the early hours he was found inside the premises, having been fatally injured by falling through a glass skylight while pursuing the suspects. It is surely appropriate that the book and memorial in their honour should be at Hendon where our newest recruits begin their career. The humanity and sacrifice of those officers will be an example and inspiration to them, as it is to us all.

In 1754, Saunders Welch wrote:

"Let the service of the public be the greatest motive of . . . your office. This will keep you from wanton acts of power".

Today, the abuse of authority by police officers is regrettably not unknown, but there are few organisations more prepared to confront malpractice from within. The service of the public remains policing's most enduring ethic, manifested not just in great heroism, but in daily acts of kindness, help and reassurance. The underlying philosophy of policing remains rooted in the concept of service, and long may it remain so.