My Lords, the office of police and crime commissioner was created in England and Wales by the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011. The then Government thought that the system of police authorities, established in 1964, was too opaque and conceived of police and crime commissioners, or PCCs, as likely to increase transparency and accountability in policing.
There are 40 PCCs in England and Wales. They are elected for four-year terms and can be re-elected for any number of terms. Their main role and responsibilities are to secure an efficient and effective police force for their area; to appoint the chief constable; to hold the chief constable to account for running the force, and if necessary to dismiss him or her; to set the police and crime objectives for their area; and to set the force budget and determine the precept. Police and crime commissioners are barred by statute from interfering in the operational independence of the police. This system places heavy responsibilities on the shoulders of one person in each area: the PCC. Its success in achieving the objectives hoped for will vary from area to area. It clearly depends upon the relationship between the PCC and the chief constable. On this, there are presumably as many variations as there are PCCs.
I have come to wonder whether it is really sensible to have such important issues depending upon the personalities of, and relationships between, two individuals. There may be a risk that the relationship between a chief constable and a PCC can become too cosy, with the two people too ready to agree with each other for the sake of a quiet life. There is a danger that the chief constable may withhold, or the PCC may fail to require, information or advice that the PCC needs in order to be able to discharge the responsibilities properly. In neither case, it seems to me, is transparency likely to be improved.
On the other hand, if there is a relationship of mutual confidence, the PCC ought to be able usefully to advise, encourage and warn the chief constable without encroaching upon his operational independence. It is a difficult balance to be struck, and I wonder whether it may, paradoxically, have been easier to strike a right balance, and transparency and accountability may have been more easily achieved, when the chief constable was reporting and accountable to a police authority, rather than when he or she is reporting and accountable to an individual PCC.
I propose to concentrate this afternoon on the role and responsibilities of the police and crime commissioner for Wiltshire and Swindon in relation to Operation Conifer, Wiltshire Police’s investigation of allegations of child abuse by the late Sir Edward Heath, an investigation which started in the summer of 2015, lasted for more than two years, and cost some £1.5 million.
Such an investigation would normally be conducted in private and the results reported to the Crown Prosecution Service to consider whether there should be a prosecution. In this case, there could not be a prosecution, because Sir Edward had been dead for 12 years. On
That report stressed that the Wiltshire Police had scrupulously complied with official guidance in the conduct of the operation and emphasised the thoroughness and proportionality of the investigation. It reported on a wide range of interviews with Sir Edward’s friends and the people who had worked with and for him for many years, none of which seemed to have revealed any evidence to corroborate allegations of child abuse. Indeed, one of the interviewers admitted to an interviewee that the investigation was a farce.
However, three things happened which marred the process. First, when the investigation began, the senior officer of Wiltshire Police standing outside Sir Edward Heath’s old home in Salisbury made a televised appeal to those who believed themselves to be victims of child abuse by Sir Edward to make themselves known to the police. The immediate effect of this public announcement that Sir Edward was being investigated was to create a cloud of suspicion over his memory and reputation, and continuing public and media interest in the course of the investigation.
Secondly, in January 2017, a newspaper quoted the then chief constable of Wiltshire as saying that he was “120% sure” of Sir Edward’s guilt. If he had said anything of the kind, it would have been a gross dereliction of duty. The Wiltshire Police issued a carefully worded statement reiterating that the duty of the police was to investigate allegations and follow the evidence, but not to express any view as to guilt or innocence. But the damage was done and the effect was to deepen the cloud of suspicion over Sir Edward Heath.
Thirdly, in a report in October 2017, the Wiltshire Police disclosed that it had investigated 42 allegations. Of these, it dismissed 35 but said that had Sir Edward still been alive, it would have interviewed him under oath on the remaining seven allegations. It transpired that one of those seven allegations had already been examined and dismissed by the Metropolitan Police. Two others appeared not to relate to child abuse. We were left wondering whether the other four were equally unfounded but the Wiltshire Police had for some reason decided not to say so and left the seven allegations open.
Research on the internet strongly indicates that there had been a co-ordinated conspiracy to disseminate false allegations of child abuse by Sir Edward Heath and other high-profile individuals. However that may be, the effect of the Wiltshire Police’s report was to leave the cloud of suspicion hanging over Sir Edward Heath’s reputation indefinitely.
This is a profoundly unsatisfactory situation. Many of us are sure that Sir Edward was never a child abuser, that the allegations that he was are completely baseless, and that justice requires that he should be exonerated, just as Field-Marshal Lord Bramall and the late Lord Brittan, likewise subjected to baseless allegations of child abuse, have been exonerated.
The police and crime commissioner for Wiltshire has consistently said that he would like to see an independent review of the operation. The then Home Secretary told us last December that in her view, as this was a local policing matter, it was for the PCC, not the Government, to commission a review. As the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford, has told the House, the PCC has the power to commission such a review and he has access to the resources required to fund it.
In January 2018 the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Wirral—who I am glad to see in his place—then the chairman of the Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation, Mr Lincoln Seligman, Sir Edward’s godson, and I met the PCC to renew our request to him to commission a review. He said that he had been advised that a review could be commissioned either by the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse—IICSA—or by himself, and that he was considering that advice. He subsequently wrote a long letter to the chairman of IICSA, urging that body to commission a review. IICSA’s reply said that its terms of reference were to investigate how institutions and organisations had dealt with problems of child abuse; that it was beyond its remit to review the investigation of allegations of child abuse by individuals; and that, even if it was to change its mind about that, it would not be able to take on any additional responsibilities for at least 12 months.
We therefore repeated our request to the PCC to commission a review. He replied that he had concluded that Operation Conifer was a national matter and that IICSA was not only the appropriate forum but the only forum to conduct a review, and he invited us to join him in urging IICSA to do so. We replied on
This is simply not good enough. It leaves Sir Edward Heath in indefinite limbo, neither guilty nor innocent. The remedy of judgment in a court of law is not available. The only possible remedy now is an independent review by a retired judge or someone of similar independence and integrity. The reviewer’s primary task would be to examine the validity of the seven allegations on which Wiltshire Police said it would have wanted to interview Sir Edward Heath under oath, had he been alive. But the reviewer would need to be given unrestricted access to all the evidence taken by Wiltshire Police in case he or she needed to go more widely into the matter to come to a clear and satisfactory conclusion.
There is another reason for commissioning a review. Wiltshire Police did not emerge from this business smelling of roses. Public misgivings about Operation Conifer were not dispelled—if anything, they were intensified—by the summary report and the then chief constable’s statement last October. It is clearly right for the police to have operational independence but once an operation is concluded they cannot be immune from being accountable for the way in which they have exercised their operational independence or for the consequences of their operations. An independent review would establish what went amiss with Operation Conifer, help draw a line under the whole affair, and allow the new chief constable of Wiltshire to start with a clean slate.
The police and crime commissioner has said that he is reluctant to divert to this purpose funds which could otherwise be used to improve policing in Wiltshire. Of course, we understand that the police in Wiltshire have had to deal with the Salisbury poisoning, albeit with help from other forces. The sum required for a review would not in fact be very great in relation to the total spending of Wiltshire Police, and it would be non-recurring. But if that is a problem, the Home Office provided most of the funds required for Operation Conifer, and the commissioner could consider asking the Home Office to contribute to the cost of a review.
An independent review is the only way of achieving a measure of certainty and finality in this matter. It is the clear responsibility of the Police and Crime Commissioner for Wiltshire and Swindon, as the officer to whom alone the chief constable is accountable, to commission that review. Justice requires no less. Justice requires it, not next year nor at the Greek calends, but now: action this day. I beg to move.
My Lords, in declaring my interest as set out in the register, including the interest mentioned by the noble Lord as one of his successors as chair of the Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation, perhaps I may say how strongly I agree with every word the noble Lord has just said, and how strongly I congratulate him on securing this opportunity for us to debate his Motion.
My first-hand experience of police and crime commissioners is confined to my dealings with just one PCC, Mr Angus Macpherson of Swindon and Wiltshire. I am concerned about the way in which Mr Macpherson seemed to maintain no distance at all from his chief constable, who was supposedly accountable to him. He seemed to see his role as unquestioningly defending Conifer and the officers responsible for it, and he was seemingly unaware of countless and authoritative concerns that others had expressed—including in this Chamber, on all sides of the House.
Operational independence is vital, but it does not and cannot mean that the police are not to be held to account or that they are somehow above criticism. My major complaint is that, when I occupied the office of chair of the foundation, outside Arundells there was a public appeal for victims—I quote: “victims”—to come forward. If that was not a fishing exercise, I do not know what is. Of course, the option still remains for Ted Heath’s supporters or colleagues to make a formal complaint about the conduct of Conifer. Raking over those coals, though, is not in my view a priority now, however blatant were the shortcomings, almost 50 of which were highlighted in peer reviews by officers from Operation Hydrant. As the noble Lord has just outlined, there are just seven remaining accusations. I strongly believe that not a single one of them would have stood up.
I first knew Sir Edward Heath in 1965, when he came at my invitation to move a motion of censure on the then Labour Government of Harold Wilson, at the University of Bristol, on the very night that Michael Stewart became Foreign Secretary—which announcement was made to the world outside not by No. 10 but by Sir Edward Heath during the course of the debate. I got to know him exceedingly well, particularly when I was chairman of his Young Conservatives. Of course, there are still a great many people alive who knew Ted Heath personally. Some worked with him, some worked for him, and some were his friends. Others did not like him at all. He was not, in fairness, always the most clubbable of men. But what is so striking is that I have not encountered a single person who knew Ted who also believes it was remotely possible that he did any of the things alleged.
A man, a statesman and a servant of his nation who cannot defend himself has lost his good name for no good reason. Our law is not strong when it comes to protecting the reputations of the dead. Reputations take years to build but they can be destroyed in an instant, and we must not let that happen.
My Lords, I am not a lawyer, just a mere mortal who can smell an injustice a mile off. The case of Sir Edward Heath, a case that I have raised on a number of occasions over the past few years, is riddled with injustice. The Wiltshire police and crime commissioner Angus Macpherson and his chief constable Michael Veale have had major roles in orchestrating this injustice. To this day, despite FOI revelations, I do not know who was the manipulator or the manipulated. What I do know is that their victim has been denied all rights to a defence and that his international reputation as a former Prime Minister is trashed worldwide. The scale of this injustice offends every tenet of British justice. I personally never liked the man—I found him difficult and aloof when I was in the Commons—but my personal views are irrelevant. The man had rights, and what I find particularly shocking is the indifference of many—including, if I may say so, some in his own party—who have stood aside in wounding and deafening silence, making no attempt to rescue his reputation, although he is deceased. I say that as a Labour politician.
The question for me is, what do we expect of our public officials? My inclination has always been to trust them in the belief that they act in good faith and in the public interest. Theresa May as Home Secretary introducing the Bill setting up this structure told the House on the appointment of commissioners:
“We need a new approach ... the deal for the police is greater public accountability through police and crime commissioners”.—[Official Report, Commons, 13/12/10; col. 708.]
Sadly, it has all collapsed in Wiltshire. When Superintendent Memory stood outside Heath’s home announcing the inquiry to the world and appealing for “victims” to come, and when Mike Veale allegedly pronounced on Heath’s guilt, they destroyed all credibility in local police force objectivity. The question is whether Macpherson advised against those actions—because he should have done. That was his role.
In Macpherson’s letter to me on
“I am however in agreement with you that an independent review of the evidence perhaps by a retired judge is required. I am in discussion with the chief constable as to how this can be brought about”.
That was reiterated in October, again with FOI references to a judge-led review of the evidence. Within months, Macpherson had changed his mind, pleading limited resources. My question is simple: was he nobbled by Mike Veale and his PR people, Mills and Darwish? Finally, was there ultimately a disagreement leading to Macpherson reporting Veale to the IOPC for destroying police property, a fact that we have only recently been informed about? I believe that too many questions remain unanswered. So much for police and crime commissioner transparency.
My Lords, I want to move on slightly, to a different police and crime commissioner, because I believe that by looking at individual examples, we can see some of the flaws in the system. I want to refer to the South Yorkshire police and crime commissioner. I declare my interest as a member of Sheffield City Council and a vice-president of the LGA. The police and crime commissioner in South Yorkshire has never had a turnout of more than 28%. It costs about £8 per vote, and on a recent survey of 50 people, only eight people knew that a PCC existed. Fewer than four could name him, and the rest had no idea of either the position or who was in post.
The key issue is not just whether crime is reducing and people feel safer, but that people feel as though they know who the individual concerned is if there is an issue with crime. That was one of the reasons why PCCs were introduced. In my city last night, another person was stabbed, and since March, seven people have been murdered. This city is described as the safest in England, yet crime, particularly violent crime, is rising. The reasons why this is happening are complex, but maybe one is the complete decimation of neighbourhood policing in South Yorkshire, overseen by the police and crime commissioner.
I contest that if we had had an elected police authority, as the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, suggested, our neighbourhood policing would not have been decimated. The police and crime commissioner—haphazardly in South Yorkshire—has passed budget after budget, including when the inspectorate of constabulary has been saying that it was causing problems with neighbourhood policing, which has been decimated. It has taken a new chief constable to talk the PCC round, and he is now re-establishing neighbourhood policing by taking budget allocation from different parts of the police budget back to neighbourhood policing.
The police and crime commissioner also sacked the previous chief constable by press release, based on a comment he made about the Hillsborough statement. That went to court and the previous chief constable won, costing the taxpayers of South Yorkshire £600,000. Those costs and legal costs could have been spent on policing. It is clear that one person is not fit to run a police service; a policy authority is needed.
I turn to the issue of openness and transparency, particularly police and crime panels’ scrutiny and questioning. My colleague, Councillor Joe Otten, who sits on the South Yorkshire police and crime panel, is desperately trying to ask questions but the PCC has ruled that members can ask questions only on an item that he puts on the agenda. So, when my colleague wants to ask questions about tree felling in Sheffield or about the court case, he is barred from doing so.
Can the Minister step in to deal with this? If not, who can? This is a blatant abuse of the democratic process. It is time to accept that police and crime commissioners do not work in the way they should and we should revert to police authorities, so that the community has a properly democratic oversight of its police force.
My Lords, I also congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, on securing this debate. I shall now widen it away from Wiltshire.
This is not an ad hominem speech; I am sure that most police and crime commissioners are decent people doing a decent job, and I certainly think that the noble Lord, Lord Bach, will be one of those. However, the creation of PCCs has had presumably unintended but certainly unfortunate consequences. It was an unnecessary reform; no one really knows why they were created, and certainly no one is claiming credit for their creation. The reform Act, which introduced PCCs, allows central government to wash their hands of controversial police investigations, as the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, has repeatedly said in this Chamber. Equally repeatedly, the Minister has said that the question raised by the noble Lord—whether an investigation should be inquired into—is a matter for the local PCC. The local PCC has equally often stated that they are not going to do anything about it. Apparently, that is okay by the Government, but it used not to be okay.
At one stage in my career I was principal staff officer to Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary. In the past, HMCICs would have intervened after consultation with the Home Secretary, as they did in the Stalker inquiry in Northern Ireland and the Soham murder inquiry. Equally importantly, HMCICs had the power to call out failures of governance. The noble Lord, Lord Dear, then an inspector of constabulary, three times in the 1990s declared Derbyshire constabulary to be inefficient—a finding not used against any force for many decades. This led to legislation replacing the then police committees with police authorities with a new class of independent members. This was a Conservative Party reform in the face of the failure of a Labour county council, based on the idea that police and politics—especially local politics—is an unhealthy mixture. The successors to the noble Lord, Lord Dear, do not have any authority over PCCs, whereas they could inspect police authorities.
The main job of the principal staff officer to HMCIC was to co-ordinate selection for chief officers. In the 1990s that job was managing down shortlists to five or six. Now the shortlists are two at most, even in great forces, because the PCC has almost untrammelled power to sack a chief constable by press release. With the advent of PCCs all centralised planning for career progression has ceased, as the Minister knows well because I have talked to her about it. The reason given for the introduction of police and crime commissioners was that police authorities were invisible to the public. Do you think that people living in Slough feel any more represented by a single PCC based north of Oxford than they did by a police authority that was based in the same place but which had Berkshire councillors on it? I do not think so.
A bit like the Brexit bus, the reform was partially also sold on a false prospectus that independent members of the public would become PCCs. Not any longer. Worst of all, leaders of local authorities—of all parties—are complaining loudly that their services are on the point of collapse. Where are the PCCs saying exactly the same thing? What was offered was supposed to be an exercise in the delegation of central government power, but it has turned out to represent an abrogation by the Government of national responsibility for a vital public service.
Every couple of years there is a defence review. Every few years there is a health service review. The last strategic review of policing reported in 1962. This is a total failure of strategic oversight by the Home Office. It simply has no overarching central and coherent strategy for the future of policing and, apart from some rather curious statistics about police numbers, Labour does not seem to have any voice in this matter either. This represents political failure of a serious degree for the public, the victims of crime and the men and women of the police service. The case for a royal commission on the future of the police has never been clearer or more compelling.
My Lords, I have a long-standing friend who became a PE teacher. For 50 years he worked tirelessly to promote sport in schools and communities. He was the sort of the person we should give an MBE to. But two years ago someone went into a police station and alleged that he had been inappropriately touched by him after a gym lesson sometime in the early 1980s.
The police followed the guidance of Sir Tom Winsor, Chief Inspector of Constabulary, that the presumption that the victim should always be believed should be institutionalised. As a result, they spent little time investigating the plausibility of the claim or the integrity of the accused. In the face of hostile police and aggressive prosecutors, my friend was unable to prove a negative—that something did not happen 30 years ago. Rather than receiving an MBE he went to prison.
I and his many friends and colleagues believe that this is a miscarriage of justice flowing directly from the Winsor guidance. This guidance was severely criticised by the retired judge Sir Richard Henriques in his report on Metropolitan Police investigations into historic sex offences. He recommended that:
“Throughout both the investigative and the judicial process those who make complaints should be referred to as ‘complainants’ and not as ‘victims’”.
He then addressed the Winsor guidance directly. His criticism of it is withering:
“The effect of requiring a police officer … to believe a complainant reverses the burden of proof. It also restricts the officer’s ability to test the complainant’s evidence”.
He went on:
“Replacing an unsatisfactory state of affairs with a flawed system is no solution”, and:
“The policy of ‘believing victims’ strikes at the very core of the criminal justice process. It has and will generate miscarriages of justice on a considerable scale”— not just PE teachers but also Members of this House. He recommended:
“The instruction to ‘believe a “victim’s” account’ should cease. It should be the duty of an officer interviewing a complainant to investigate the facts objectively and impartially and with an open mind from the outset of the investigation … In future, the public should be told that ‘if you make a complaint we will treat it very seriously and investigate it thoroughly without fear or favour’”.
What part has been played in this by PCCs? Apparently very little. If you look at the published roles of PCCs, there are references to policing and crime but no mention of their role in maintaining the integrity of the judicial process by providing impartial evidence. It is not surprising, therefore, that the PCC in Wiltshire made no attempt to rein in an out-of-control chief constable. Crispin Blunt MP, who had sought an investigation into the case of a constituent whom he thought had been wrongly convicted, said in a recent Adjournment Debate that the,
“PCC has woefully failed to hold his force to account”.—[
When the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, stated in 2016 that the police should be neutral, he was criticised by a number of organisations and people, including Vera Baird QC, chair of the Association of PCCs. Sir Tom Winsor claimed that his guidance related only to the recording of crimes, but this is certainly not how it was interpreted.
I have three conclusions. The Winsor guidance should be withdrawn immediately. In any case, HMIC has no right unilaterally to overturn principles of the criminal justice system. The police should conduct their investigations thoroughly and impartially. Our system relies on the police being a neutral investigator rather than a continental juge d’instruction. If they are not impartial, our system becomes unbalanced. Finally, the responsibilities of PCCs need to be expanded to include the duty to maintain the integrity of the judicial process.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, on securing time for this debate on the role and responsibilities of police and crime commissioners. I am very sorry, however, that the subject has proved so popular that Back-Benchers have been limited to four minutes. To judge by some previous speeches, I appear to be very much in a minority in your Lordships’ House when I say that I believe that, on the whole, PCCs have made an important, positive contribution to public life in this country. There are a number of reasons why I believe this. One of the more important is the increased attention that PCCs have given, and continue to give, to the needs of victims, particularly the victims of domestic abuse. But, in the very limited time available today and in the light of the concerns of the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, I want to argue that, on the whole, PCCs have increased and improved the democratic accountability of local policing.
Despite some of the arguments that have been made this morning, I believe that PCCs of both parties and none have made it one of their key objectives to strengthen the links between their communities and the police forces that serve them. As a result, police operational priorities now correspond more directly, more completely, more transparently and more accountably to local policing needs. This is done in a variety of ways: through local surgeries, public meetings and old-fashioned newsletters, but also in new ways, through the use of social media and webcasts. In Essex, for example, PCC Roger Hirst held over 120 public meetings last year. In Sussex, PCC Katy Bourne uses monthly publicly accessible webcasts—known as performance and accountability meetings—to hold her chief constable to account for the performance of the force. Of course, the Sussex Police Authority also held the chief constable to account at regular meetings, but those sessions were held only quarterly and behind closed doors.
When there are public concerns, the default reaction of PCCs is to expose them, rather than hide them. In North Yorkshire, for example, PCC Julia Mulligan—who is also the lead on transparency for the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners—on hearing the public concerns about illegitimate payments to senior officers in the force, instigated a review. It revealed that the former chief constable and deputy chief constable both received £100,000 of payments from the police authority that had no legal basis. Against the advice of both the force and her chief executive, Julia Mulligan published the full report of the inquiry, as she believed that the public had the right to know how their money had been spent.
I accept it is not all good news and there may be problems in relation to particular officeholders. While PCCs have been good at holdings their forces to account, there may be weaknesses in the arrangements in place to hold PCCs themselves to account. My suggestion for dealing with these weaknesses is simple: I refer to the power of recall whereby, if a sufficiently large percentage of the electorate were unhappy with their PCC, they could vote to require him or her to resign and force an election for a new PCC. This is not a new or radical idea at all; it was considered very carefully by the coalition Government in 2010, when they were developing the legislation referred to by the noble Lord. It was rejected as unlikely to commend itself in another place. This provision would certainly meet some of the concerns expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, and I, for one, would support it as a further step in strengthening local democracy, devolution and community safety.
My Lords, it is already apparent that this debate has raised the opportunity for significant injustices and gross underperformance to be noted in this House. I declare two previous interests: first, as a founding member of the Metropolitan Police advisory committee appointed by the noble Lord, Lord Howard, in 1990; and, secondly, in a private capacity supporting the noble Lord, Lord Stevens, who is directly in front of me, for a number of years as an adviser to assist his progress as commissioner. I also worked with the noble Lord, Lord Ouseley, and in the latter years with the noble Lord, Lord Blair, who also participated in our meetings.
One of the issues that affronts me in thinking about the role of police and crime commissioners is the inadequacy of the London situation. Whereas police and crime commissioners are present in other parts of the country, and their performance is therefore debateable—as we have already heard this afternoon—in London it is up to the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime. There is a great uncertainty and a vast vacuum of clarity as to who decides what about policing performance and commitments.
I want to focus specifically on the approach taken by policing in London currently towards the needs of ethnic communities, in particular the black-on-black violence that is evident in parts of London, let alone the fear that many young people have of the police themselves. Some of my own closest advisers who work in this House said to me last week that, had they relevant information about crimes, they would not take it to the police, because they know that they might be arrested themselves simply for bringing information forward. A case of this happened recently.
I want to cross a line, which is a difficult line to cross, in raising a question for the Minister to consider, and that is this question about operational independence. The website police.uk states that the police in all cases, including the Metropolitan Police—for which I have huge respect in particular from many years working alongside the noble Lords, Lord Stevens, Lord Blair and Lord Condon, when he was police commissioner—always aim to do their best. I have no question about that when it comes to the most senior ranks of policing and their decision-making authority and integrity.But if you are a young black person in London, you are four times more likely to encounter the criminal justice system than a white person. Your experience of policing and the criminal justice system is that it is significantly unfair and consistently unjust, irrespective of the negative aspects of many young black people’s own conduct.
In that case, the issue of police operational independence simply does not wash. It is one thing to say, as the websites say, that the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime is responsible for the performance and accountability of the police. How can it be responsible for performance and accountability if it cannot affect operational decisions? Those two things are a tautology, and there needs to be a new and distinct approach.
I wholly back the approach taken by my noble friend Lord Blair to say that it is about time we had a royal commission on the role and future of policing to think about whether this sacred cow of operational independence is sustainable in fearful communities who will not bring forward evidence to the police or who themselves feel that they will be consistently victims, irrespective of the integrity of their personal lives. It is about time that we addressed that old bogey, brought it to light, and possibly challenged it and changed it for good.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, on getting this debate going, but I will make no comment on the issues he has raised.
I have some form on this issue. Back in the 1980s, I worked for the Greater London Council when it campaigned for greater accountability and a police authority for London—which I was later to play a part in with the noble Lords, Lord Stevens and Lord Blair—and we were abolished for our sins. So when the Home Office published its press release back in 2013 saying that it would,
“return power to the people”, and give locals a “strong voice” in the fight against crime, I could see where it was coming from. There is no doubt that the PCCs have been an interesting fillip to the extension of direct democracy and improved accountability.
However, it would appear that this “power to the people” has not chimed with the public. In the first set of elections, 14.7% of voters turned out, which doubled to 28% in 2016. It seems that there is a major lack of voter engagement with the PCC concept. When the public were asked in a survey, 72% of them said that they did not know much about the elections, and—a more appalling statistic—96% said they were dissatisfied with the Government’s arrangements for elections. It might have something to do with a distinct lack of government interest; the Government spent just £2,700 promoting the 2016 elections.
It is also worth considering the problems that have been flagged up regarding communication and engagement with the communities PCCs serve. It has been suggested that there is a lack of resource available for this type of work. But even without resources, PCCs should be making a concerted effort to use social media, websites and to make better use of face-to-face opportunities to learn about the big crime issues in their localities. It might also be worth political parties considering in future elections the shocking fact that, of the 41 PCCs, only seven are women and only one is black. If our leaders do not better reflect our society, how can we expect people to take them seriously?
One of the main reasons for the introduction of PCCs was the hope that they would lead to greater innovation and better management of the police service. We have seen some positives, which colleagues have referred to. I pay particular tribute to Vera Baird for her pioneering work as the PCC for Northumbria, and to my noble friend Lord Bach for the work he does in Leicestershire.
Overall, it seems that we need a better national benchmark of what a successful PCC might look like. If PCCs are forced to prove their effectiveness through target setting, as they currently do, frankly we are asking for trouble. There are already red flags appearing where such targets create a “gaming” of statistics in order to prove efficiency. Such targets also create competition regionally rather than promoting cohesion nationally.
That said, I think that PCCs should be left in place, as they have the potential to provide a greater clarity of leadership for policing. But they need to be held to account by a body stronger than the existing crime panels. Clashes between PCCs and their chief constables have demonstrated that, while the role is still in its infancy, it could be useful to have greater scrutiny from police and crime panels. We need a better understanding and assessment of how beneficial PCCs are and of ways in which they can be improved. As time passes and they become more accustomed to their roles, we need to ensure they are effectively held to account and provide the leadership required.
I have a few questions for the Minister. Will she take back the suggestion that the police and crime panels’ powers and duties are reviewed to better hold the PCCs to account? PCCs cannot possibly understand and cover whole force areas. For that reason, I would argue that the crime panels need to have a local focus. What better way than to turn them into community councillors? Perhaps the Home Office can consider that too.
Finally, I wonder whether we have yet got the issue of the operational independence and policy priorities of the service and force quite right. The PCCs have a handle on force budgets. In theory, they can dismiss chief constables—although they rarely do—but they can do little to affect priorities. In an age of austerity budgeting, this becomes more important. Perhaps I can invite the Minister to reflect on this point in her summing up and in any review of the PCC system that the Home Office undertakes.
My Lords, as a young television producer, I encountered Edward Heath on many occasions. Indeed, I spent a few months making a documentary profile of him when he was Prime Minister. I have no hesitation whatsoever in supporting everything that was said by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, but I will focus on other matters.
Police activity at the front line is now intensively chronicled by television documentary makers. We see the police coming face to face, day in, day out, with, on the one hand, some of society’s most wicked and organised people and, on the other, some of its most highly disturbed and unsocialised. Overwhelmingly, police officers emerge from these programmes as heroic, patient and stoic, but as with all organisations, the police are not perfect. The present organisational structure needs addressing. Police need to share back-office and other specialist operations. You have only to witness a crime or be the victim of one to experience just how clumsy and chaotic some of the police’s core processes are.
The police lack agility. We have seen an extraordinary epidemic of knife and moped crime in the past few years. I stay during the week in a flat in Clerkenwell, which has the fifth-highest moped crime rate of London’s 654 wards. Last year, Clerkenwell reported 716 moped-related thefts. There is a narrow one-way vehicle cut-through near my flat. It is about 30 metres long and has been the scene of 82 moped crimes in the past five years. We are entitled to a bolder and more effective response from our police. Of course, the Met is accountable to the mayor, not a PCC, but these conditions are mirrored for many forces.
For PCCs, surely it is early days. Certainly the post has yet to excite the electorate and, like all change, PCCs will take some time to bed in. Like the noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, I have seen a better picture: the police in the area of my country home have been galvanised by a new sense of meaningful public accountability to an active, elected commissioner with hire-and-fire powers. But government, working with the inspector and the PCCs, needs to put its foot on the police reform accelerator and identify the capacity needed to counter modern crime and disorder challenges.
That all said, the police cannot counter crime alone. They are but one part of a criminal justice system that has suffered grievously in recent years. The last Labour Government split responsibility for the criminal justice system across two Whitehall departments, and thus removed at a stroke the possibility of a coherent, system-wide overview. The coalition and the successor Government initiated ill-considered, back-of-the-envelope, disabling reform of the prison and probation services. I echo and extend the plea of the noble Lord, Lord Blair, for a fundamental and far-reaching strategic review of the criminal justice system.
My Lords, I feel extremely strongly about this matter, but time constraints mean that I can make only a few points. I want to concentrate on the Ted Heath issue. I declare a personal interest: I am on the committee of the Sir Edward Heath Charitable Foundation. I agree with every word that was said by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, and I am particularly grateful for the contribution of the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours.
I knew Ted Heath very well over many years. Going back a very long time, in the 1959 election, I was between two universities. I was chairman of the Federation of University Conservative and Unionists Associations and Ted was the president. I was called from Scotland to come down to see him in the beginning of the 1959 election campaign and he asked me if I was free to canvass in his constituency—to look after his ladies—because he was involved elsewhere. I will always remember him saying, “I would just like to introduce you to my private political secretary because you will be seeing a lot of each other” and he introduced me to this woman. He meant during the campaign but actually we married shortly after it and have been happily married ever since, so I have a very strong personal interest in this.
I then became head of his private office in the mid-1960s, including the general election campaign at that time. I was surprised not to be asked by Wiltshire Police in its inquiry about any of this because I very often spent seven days a week—not always Sundays—with Ted, very closely. I knew how hectic and itemised his diary was; those diary items are now in the Bodleian Library but were not looked at by the Wiltshire Police in its inquiry. However, it would prove how difficult it was for Ted to drop off anywhere and engage in some of the activities he has been accused of. We had a police security guard everywhere we went. We went all over the country, campaigning in cities and staying in hotels. There was always a police security guard in the corridor and when we went abroad it was exactly the same. There has always been police security in Arundells and I simply do not believe that the activity that he is accused of could have taken place with all that constant security.
Like others, I wholly support everything that the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, said, and I believe that the Wiltshire Police process has been deeply misguided. I too am shocked by the way in which the police spokesman appeared on TV. If you invite all and sundry to make accusations, knowing that there was no risk to themselves because of the cloak of anonymity, what do you expect? It is a botched process. The matter simply cannot be allowed to remain as it is. It is a gross injustice to one of our most distinguished and international respected statesmen.
The Minister, whom I greatly respect, will have sensed the strong feelings across the board on all sides in this matter and the necessary steps must be taken to put it right. I therefore entirely agree with what the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, said about having a proper, independent inquiry. You could put it back to the Wiltshire Police, who claim they do not have the money for it—£150,000 is much less than what they spent on their own inquiry—but it would be much better to have an independent inquiry by a retired High Court judge. I urge the noble Baroness to set one up and put an end to what has been such a big blot on our political landscape.
My Lords, unlike many who have contributed to this debate, I confess that I have no particular experience or expertise with regard to PCCs, chief constables or Mr Heath, but I want to take part, first because I am a great admirer of my noble friend Lord Armstrong. I want to support him in this debate and, like others, pay tribute to him for securing it and for so cogently and compellingly opening it. Secondly, I noticed that there were no other retired judges down to speak, so I wanted to add my name to the list of those who, absolutely rightly, have deeply regretted the failure—still to this day—to instigate an inquiry into Operation Conifer, which has so cruelly left a distinguished, long-deceased Prime Minister with his reputation and memory stained, and which plainly requires a full investigation now to vindicate the position.
This matter was last considered by the House on
A further body mentioned on that occasion, not by the Minister, was the Chief Inspector of Constabulary—the noble Lord, Lord Blair, has returned to that today—and as I understand it he might well have powers and responsibilities in this field. Under the Police Reform Act 2002 the director-general of the Independent Office for Police Conduct, which, I understand, replaces the old Police Complaints Authority, has a statutory duty to ensure that suitable arrangements are present to handle complaints against the police.
In short, one of the most troubling aspects of this case is that, despite the Home Office’s recognition of the compelling need for a public inquiry into this case and perhaps into other high-profile cases that raise closely related issues, no one seems able to nail the question as to where lies the primary responsibility for setting it up and still less how to enforce compliance with that responsibility. I for one shall not feel comfortable about the PCC’s role in the new overall policing landscape until this question is satisfactorily resolved.
My Lords, I declare my interest as a police and crime commissioner for Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, for giving me and the House the chance to debate these matters. When, in the spring and summer of 2011, I walked through the Content Lobby to support big amendments to the then Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill, I did not think that, five years later, I would be an elected police and crime commissioner myself. I reminded myself of the Second Reading debates in both Houses and I must confess to being a little shocked at the strength of opposition to the establishment of this new system of civilian oversight of policing.
Was this opposition justified? In might not entirely surprise noble Lords to hear me say that I do not think it was. Taking away some of the natural political hyperbole, the underlying genuine fear was that police and crime commissioners would politicise the police in an unnecessary and in particular an un-British way. I do not think it has. Of course, most PCCs are elected on a party ticket—indeed, it was inevitable from the legislation that they would be—but in practice there do not seem to have been many, if any, blatant examples of party-political partisanship that would embarrass the community and the police force itself. I am proud to be a Labour police and crime commissioner and I hope that some of my beliefs and principles show through in how I do the job, but the notion that I can use my executive position either to do down my political opponents, with whom I have to work every day in my job, or even to work to try to persuade my chief constable and his force to somehow adopt my politics is frankly absurd. I believe, as do all my colleagues, whatever party they belong to, that one of the greatest strengths in our society is that its police remain entirely independent of party politics. Long may that continue.
My role is to hold the police accountable to all the people of Leicestershire and to deliver an effective and efficient police service. Frankly, I do not have much time left to spend on party-political shenanigans, even if I wanted to. This is not to say that this very new system does not have real problems. First, I am not sure that all chief officers have accepted the important role in the system that police and crime commissioners now enjoy and are bound by law to assert. Of course it was intended that there should be a natural tension. But, after more than five and a half years, there is sometimes, I believe, not just tension—which is a good thing—but a lack of understanding.
Secondly, there remains, as has been said, a democratic deficit that all of us, as police and crime commissioners, are doing our best, I hope, to reduce. Thirdly, I am not sure—and I say this to the Minister—that the Government really know what they want police and crime commissioners to be. Do they want them to be the elected champions of all the people in their force area, holding the police to account and partnering with others so that crime can be prevented and the criminal justice system improved? Or do they want us to be fall guys who can be conveniently blamed by the Government, which, I am afraid, continue to reduce their central funding to police year on year?
Lastly—something which I hope touches a bell with some noble Lords here—some of us have a concern that the workforce reforms, pushed at great speed by the Home Office and the College of Policing, will mean that many from deprived communities may no longer consider a career in the police, and we will lose that sort of police officer whom we all know, who may not have a master’s degree but has the emotional intelligence and the common sense—
I shall sit down, but I will just say that I am honoured to be a police and crime commissioner in a fine force with an outstanding chief constable. The jury is out as to whether this is a lasting solution to this issue, but I think it should be given many more years’ chance.
My Lords, I too thank my noble friend Lord Armstrong of Ilminster for calling this important debate and allowing your Lordships to hear from a former chief inspector of the Metropolitan Police and a current police and crime commissioner, and to benefit from the width and breadth of experience in your Lordships’ House. What most worries me in what I have heard so far are the concerns raised by my noble friend Lord Blair about the difficulties of recruiting the best people to the most senior roles in police forces. They are finding that it is becoming unattractive to take that role. Whatever one thinks of the current process, if it does not encourage and attract the best people to that role, it is deeply flawed and needs to be reviewed. I hope the Minister will take very seriously what my noble friend has said.
I have worked with young people on housing estates in London. I was even present as the police came to arrest a young woman who was involved in a burglary, a woman I was working with—but not at the time when she was possibly committing the crime. As we all are, I am interested in the welfare of our young people and in diversion wherever possible: diverting young people from crime. I think I am right in saying that some of the £8 billion that police and crime commissioners collectively manage can go towards diverting young people from crime. I would be interested to learn how that is audited, and whether police and crime commissioners are effective in their use of money to divert young people in particular from crime. Are they working effectively together across the piece as police and crime commissioners to do that job?
I want also to reflect on the process. Listening over the years as this policy area has developed, it has struck me that anybody working in the police field has shown little support for the notion of a police and crime commissioner model. It seems to be a theme of politics that, so often, innovations are made without consideration being given to the people who have the life experience, background careers and practice in the field of work. I may be mistaken and it may not be the right example, but when I speak to teachers who have worked for years in classrooms—with pupils, at the chalkboard—and who have a deep understanding of what they are doing, they tell me that they resent and regret being so little consulted on policy. They often feel like political footballs. In these areas so heavily to do with policing, I hope that those with many years in practice are given consideration in developing this policy. If it is true that the very best and most experienced practitioners are being put off by the current arrangements from taking on the most important roles, it is deeply regrettable.
My Lords, I add my thanks to those offered to the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, but I must begin by declaring a vested interest, as my son is the PCC for Warwickshire. Obviously, I have followed the role of the PCCs and recently attended a session of my local community forum. This took the form of a presentation followed by questions to the PCC together with the safer neighbourhood team. That included the officer, who clearly knew her patch well. She spoke of the problems that she had encountered and how they were working with residents to try to create a better and more crime-free, peaceful area. I was impressed with the scope of the work of the PCC and his team and the subjects included in his four-year plan.
I was particularly pleased to hear that the national association of PCCs meets regularly to share good practice, national issues and good initiatives. Here, I commend the determination of the architect of the police and crime Act, my noble friend Lord Wasserman, who assisted the Minister during the passage of the Bill.
In Warwickshire, I am impressed also with the objective of putting victims at the heart of everything they do, something often forgotten in the past. Living in a rural area, I was glad to see the emphasis on advising farmers and vulnerable people who live in remote areas of the need to safeguard their property and equipment. Warwickshire has developed a Gypsy and Travellers protocol, and all the relevant agencies in the county are signed up to it—a tremendous advance.
The subjects that PCCs cover are many, but engagement with all residents and communities is to my mind the main priority—consulting them and holding the chief constable to account. A good example of this is realising that the biggest concern was officers on the ground. Following consultation, all the extra money raised by the council tax rise will fund a substantial increase in the number in officers. Noble Lords may say, “She would say that, wouldn’t she?”, but as a resident, I am giving my honest appraisal of this comparatively new body which operates on a budget that is less—yes, less—than when funded by the county council. This body continues to develop, learn and flourish. I congratulate it.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Armstrong of Ilminster for obtaining this debate and for his important speech in introducing it. In the case of Edward Heath, he will know that we have talked about this, and I was the historical adviser to the Bloody Sunday tribunal. The Cabinet documents available to the historical adviser made it clear that Sir Edward Heath’s responsibility for Bloody Sunday could only be nil. None the less, Sir Edward had to appear in court and undergo quite a vigorous cross-examination. The standard of justice he got in Northern Ireland was vastly superior to that which he received in Wiltshire, which we should be a little worried about at this stage of the proceedings.
On the PCCs more generally and their role, I declare an interest as being chairman of the Committee on Standards in Public Life. We produced a report, Command Paper 9057—Tone from the Top: Leadership, Ethics and Accountability in Policing, whose 140 pages I cannot possible summarise in the four minutes available today. It was an attempt to be fair-minded and objective. We heard in the press at the time, as many have heard today, stories of apparently erratic behaviour of police and crime commissioners. We also had many examples of very fine work. We tried to find a balance and to suggest certain reforms. Above all, we were determined to insist that the Nolan principles should have great relevance to the work of modern policing and of police and crime commissioners. The evidence that we saw pointed to greater professionalism and increased visibility by PPCs, as well as a widespread recognition of the importance of the College of Policing’s code of ethics, core policing values and the need for new mechanisms to support high standards of behaviour and propriety. Crucially—the point has already been made by the noble Lords, Lord Wasserman and Lord Bassam, and it is due especially to the work of police and crime commissioners perhaps in the north of the country—there is now much higher visibility in respect of crimes and violence against women in general and not just domestic violence. This is a clear-cut area of success and achievement.
However, there was also clear evidence of significant standards risks. One that the committee highlighted in its report and is particularly relevant to this debate is the continuing confusion over roles and responsibilities, especially where responsibility for governance ends and that for operational decisions begins. That raises key questions of scrutiny and accountability. The noble Lord, Lord Wasserman, who has done important work in this area, said that the accountability of police and crime commissioners was an issue, and I agree. He is also right to draw attention to the concept of recall. We now have recall for Members of Parliament. If in principle we have it for one type of elected official, I cannot see a strong argument for not having it for another. However, when recall was introduced in Parliament, the committee had correspondence with the then Prime Minister David Cameron, in which we said that, if we were to introduce this pit that an MP might fall into, we had a responsibility to ensure that MPs knew beforehand the ethical standards by which they were supposed to live and that it was important to have proper induction, so that the rules and obligations were clear. To the credit of that Prime Minister, he accepted the point completely and supported the committee in this regard. If that is true for MPs who may face recall, it should be true for police and crime commissioners. There must be proper provision of induction courses that explain all the ethical risks and pitfalls that might exist.
When we were going around the country and talking to police and crime commissioners, I was slightly disappointed in respect of this final point. The Nolan principles should apply nationally. We quite understand that the PCCs experiment is all about creative localism and we respect that, but that should not create a context in which police and crime commissioners can evade their commitment to the Nolan principles of accountability above all in public life.
My Lords, along with all my colleagues, I applaud the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, for proposing this debate and winning the ballot. I fully support his position in relation to Wiltshire.
I have to confess that when police and crime commissioners were introduced, in a Bill in this House, I was highly suspicious of the whole idea, but I have come to realise that they can be—although they are not always—a force for good. Clearly, they all need to learn from the terrible situation in Wiltshire, and, indeed, the other warnings that noble Lords have given this morning. I have been particularly impressed by Ron Hogg, the PCC for the Durham constabulary. He and Mike Barton, the chief constable, have shown that a PCC can think outside the box and support his chief constable to follow sensible but radical policies. If I dare say it, I think that chief constables can be a bit conformist. I am surrounded by three former chief constables and feel a bit hemmed in here—I do not want to misbehave.
I want to talk about Durham police service’s excellent drug policies—that will be no surprise to anybody—in the context of the recognition of Durham as the leading police service in this country. For three years Durham has achieved an “outstanding” rating for effectiveness in reducing crime and keeping communities safe, and Durham has the third-highest level of public confidence of all police forces. This outstanding performance has been achieved while leading the way with policies that could be described as being soft on drug users and even soft on low-level drug dealers, something I think police services generally are not keen to be reputed to support.
PCC Ron Hogg continues to call for drugs to be decriminalised, so that users will not fear being treated as criminals when considering whether to seek medical advice to help with their addiction. Portugal has proved the success of this policy over 20 years and I think we need to take it seriously. Increasingly, other PCCs are supporting the call for drug policy reform and this has to be welcomed. Durham has lots of other innovative programmes and I shall refer to just two. The Checkpoint diversion scheme has reduced reoffending by about 10%, releasing resources, of course, for more police officers. Under the Checkpoint initiative, introduced in 2015, offenders are selected for diversion to non-criminal justice interventions. The chief constable, Mike Barton, has proposed putting all drug addicts who are arrested through Checkpoint in order to stabilise their lives and get them into treatment. Even some low-level dealers and those caught up at a low level in trafficking are included in Checkpoint: this is really radical stuff, I would say. These people will have been intimidated, pressured or coerced into working for the big guys—we all know about that. This is truly humane, but again, it is a massive resources issue.
Durham’s other target for reform is long-term heroin users: it recommends heroin assisted treatment centres, pioneered very successfully in Switzerland. This programme is costly but highly cost effective. On average, heroin addicts commit 80 crimes a month, according to the Swiss research. Does not treatment, rather than locking someone up in a cell, sound like a good idea for this group? The new Home Secretary has made clear his determination to achieve reform, at least for medical cannabis. I hope our Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, will invite the Home Secretary to visit Durham police, if he has not already done so, and urge him to encourage all PCCs and their chief constables to follow Durham’s example. He could cut crime drastically and save huge resources, as well as saving lives.
My Lords, I completely support and agree with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, said. One useful thing that has come out of this debate is that it is clear that the PCC system, which I support, needs some modification. A great deal more care needs to be taken over a new system for selecting the candidates: the sort of people who should become PCCs.
I want to refer to the case of Edward Heath. I first knew him when he was shadow Chancellor and I was working in the Conservative Research Department. Along with my noble friend Lord Cope I worked for him on the 1965 Finance Bill. Subsequently I knew him when he was Prime Minister and I was working in Whitehall. There are very few people in my life for whom I would put my hand in the fire for their total integrity and personal morality. Ted Heath is one of them. What confuses me is the reluctance of the Home Office to accept widespread advice that an independent inquiry is needed. Now the police and crime commissioner for Wiltshire has refused to do his duty. I assume he has good reasons for doing so and I suggest that those reasons themselves should be brought into the public domain. Now that we know that we need a public inquiry, why is the Home Office being so difficult? I fear that I have a great suspicion of the Home Office itself.
It is awful to say it, but the Home Office has been shown, in part of its organisation, to be deeply corrupt. It is deplorable, but I have asked Parliamentary Questions and the Home Office has revealed that numerous members of its Civil Service staff have been convicted of serious criminal offences in relation to their duties. More recently, it has been very reluctant to disclose the names of those concerned. In January 2012 my noble friend Lord Henley, and in August 2013 my noble friend Lord Taylor of Holbeach revealed in Written Answers that there had been 37 convictions of Home Office staff, most of whom went to prison, sometimes for long periods of up to nine years. Their names were given in those Parliamentary Answers. On
My Lords, like my noble friend Lady Meacher, I was sceptical about the 2011 legislation because I did not like the idea of giving so much power over policing to an individual appointed with a party political label. I thoroughly accept what the noble Lord, Lord Bach, said about the efforts of police and crime commissioners to maintain their neutrality, on which they have to take an oath, but it seems to me that requiring someone who is a party-affiliated commissioner to be entirely neutral is like trying to make water run uphill, so I remain sceptical about it.
Obviously, there has been much reference to the case of Wiltshire Police. I want to add this: if somebody with no public name had been subjected to the sort of treatment that Operation Conifer gave to the memory of Sir Edward Heath, such a person would have been entitled to a review, but figures with the public profile of Sir Edward are clearly in a particularly vulnerable position. Like my noble friend Lord Armstrong, I find the refusal of the police and crime commissioner for Wiltshire to initiate the review which would provide redress to the memory of Sir Edward Heath utterly incomprehensible.
I also endorse what my noble friend Lord Blair has said about the responsibility of the Government. The Government have so far declined to launch an investigation into the conduct of Operation Conifer on the grounds that it is a matter for the Wiltshire police and crime commissioner. However, the besmirching of the reputation of a former Prime Minister is not just a local issue for Wiltshire, it is a national issue.
The Minister admitted to me in answer to a Question that the Home Office has the powers to initiate an investigation but has so far chosen not to do so. Will she ask her right honourable friend the new Home Secretary to look at this again and either press the police and crime commissioner for Wiltshire to reverse his decision—if necessary by providing the resources for an investigation—or, since that decision was taken on demonstrably false grounds, will the Home Office take on its responsibility to put this matter right?
My Lords, as many noble Lords have said, Operation Conifer has created a climate of suspicion around Sir Edward Heath even though we have seen no evidence of any credible allegations made against him. This is why I and many others have called for an independent investigation into Operation Conifer.
“an inquiry … should be considered only where other available investigatory mechanisms would not be sufficient”.—[
Let me list what those other investigatory mechanisms are. Here I have the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Jeremy Heywood, to thank, because in January this year he wrote to me listing who could establish an enquiry. First, he said that a police and crime commissioner can commission an independent review into an investigation conducted by that police force, but the Wiltshire PCC refused, as we know, so it has not happened. Secondly, the Independent Police Complaints Commission can investigate a matter that has been referred to it, but no relevant referral has been made. The Home Secretary does not have the power to direct it to investigate a police force, so that has not happened. Thirdly, the Secretary of State can require Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary to undertake an inspection of a specific police force, but this has not happened. Fourthly, the police and crime commissioner can request that Her Majesty’s Inspectorate carries out an inspection into the activities of its police force. But he has not, so this has not happened.
Let me repeat what the Minister said in April: an inquiry should be considered only in the absence of other investigatory mechanisms. Well, they are absent. I can come to the aid of the Home Office here, thanks again to Sir Jeremy Heywood. This is what he said in his letter:
“the Government has the authority to establish an independent public inquiry … where it appears to [a Minister] that (a) particular events have caused ... public concern”.
He goes on:
“The Government also has the authority to establish a non- statutory inquiry in the form of an ad hoc inquiry.”
So there is now no excuse for the Home Office to say no to an inquiry. I say the Home Office deliberately because I believe that the Minister, for whom I have the greatest respect, genuinely understands the sentiments that I and others have expressed.
We have a new Home Secretary who has already shown his willingness to grasp difficult nettles, so I live in hope. I can well imagine Home Office officials telling him that if he does nothing, demands for an inquiry into Operation Conifer will eventually fade away. Well, we will not fade away and these demands will not fade away.
My Lords, I too thank the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, for securing this debate. I would also like to make it a matter of record that I support the noble Lord in his wish for an independent inquiry of some form or another.
Justice not only needs to be done, it needs to be seen to be done. If there is nothing to hide, why do we not have an inquiry? Having been an HMI for two years, let me tell your Lordships that if that system had been in existence now and I had been the HMI of Wiltshire, an inquiry would have taken place without any doubt at all. I know the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, would agree.
Noble Lords may be aware of my concerns about the introduction of PCCs following the commission that I led in 2013. Our report, Policing for a Better Britain, considered it a failed experiment. Some PCCs and politicians tried to pour cold water on our findings, dubbing them politically motivated. A quick look at the names of those who sat on the Commission—your Lordships will know some of them because they sit in this House—shows that 27 independent universities were involved. Of course the report could not have been politically motivated.
However, it seems clear to me that it would be a waste of time and money to totally abolish the system as it currently stands. That said, I believe there are opportunities for improvement which can be seen in order to tackle some of the flaws which have been pointed out since the inception of the role. They have been adequately talked about before my presentation today.
In light of the recent reporting on funding cuts to police services, the so-called crisis in crime, the rates of violent crime in particular and the looming changes which will no doubt be brought on by Brexit, I find it of vital importance that the role and responsibilities of PCCs are addressed and examined with an open mind and an honest will to improve the service which they provide to the public and to listen to those on the front line. We need to address issues such as what a PCC is and what are their roles. Senior appointment panels have to be re-elected and reappointed. Nobody—or very few people—wants to be a chief constable. Northumbria, the police force of which I was proud to be chief constable for five years, had no one wanting to do the job. It actually approached someone and a very good appointment has been made internally. That is unbelievable. When I went for the job, there were eight applicants—one an existing chief constable. How I got the job, I do not know and perhaps others would agree, but there we go. Other issues that need to be dealt with are the dismissal of police chiefs and police leadership generally.
“you could be forgiven for thinking that we were creating a monster. And I’d be lying if I said there weren’t times over the last three and a half years when I thought we might have done just that.”
She went on in an extraordinary example of honesty by listing several incidents which have given PCCs a bad name, adding that there was no doubt that some of them had brought the office of the PCC into disrepute. She concluded:
“We must not kid ourselves that PCCs are yet universally understood”.
That is a very good starting point for a review of where we are with PCCs.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, for securing this debate. I declare an interest not only as a former senior Metropolitan Police officer but as someone who is gazing across the Chamber at three former Metropolitan Police Commissioners. Of course, that will not influence what I say. On Operation Conifer, I say only that I hope the House will soon be given the opportunity to debate my Private Member’s Bill on pre-charge anonymity.
We on these Benches remain sceptical about the benefits of police and crime commissioners over police authorities—despite some very good examples, such as our very own noble Lord, Lord Bach—and advocate their replacement with panels of locally elected councillors or London Assembly members. However, I take exception to what the noble Lord, Lord Bach, said about party-political influences. As noble Lords will know, police and crime commissioners are now predominantly party-political candidates. In 2012 there were 12 independents; in 2016 only three independents were elected. I accept that they may not be party political in terms of local politics but when it comes to arguments about, for example, resources for policing, I wonder how vocal Conservative police and crime commissioners have been, compared with Labour police and crime commissioners, about the lack of central government funding for policing. There is a danger of politicising the police—of chief constables being selected according to whether their politics align with those of the local PCC. I can think of a famous example of a chief officer being sacked because his political views did not align with those of the police and crime commissioner.
There is also the problem, raised by the noble Lords, Lord Blair of Boughton and Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, of the low number of applicants for chief constable posts. The seventh report of the House of Commons Home Affairs Select Committee in 2016 said:
“It is deeply concerning that there have been so few applicants for recent Chief Constable vacancies … It is also worrying that incumbent deputies often seem to be the only candidates”.
That relates to what the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, said about the difficulty of having two individuals—the chief constable and the PCC—with so much relying on the personalities of the two.
A case was drawn to my attention where serious allegations were made about the chief constable of a particular force. Rather than initiating an independent investigation, the police and crime commissioner is alleged to have passed those accusations to the chief constable, including the identity of the accuser, placing that person—a member of that force—in an invidious position. Eventually, in 2014, following further allegations from other members of the force, that chief constable was suspended and the matter was investigated by the IPCC. But a misconduct hearing conducted by the police and crime commissioner, rather than sacking the chief constable, recommended eight final warnings, and the chief constable was reinstated. It was only after concerns were raised by the chief officer group of the force, the Police Superintendents’ Association of the force, the Police Federation of the force and Unison, and a public petition of more than 1,000 signatures calling for the chief constable’s resignation, that the police and crime commissioner began the process requiring the chief constable to resign, which he subsequently did. As the noble Lords, Lord Bew and Lord Wasserman, said, there is clearly a need for greater accountability of police and crime commissioners. The person who contacted me asked, “What happens when the police and crime commissioner is guilty of misconduct?”—a question that I did not have an answer to.
As for the role and responsibilities of police and crime commissioners, they already have a huge area of responsibility, not just for the police but for crime and disorder reduction. The Association of Police and Crime Commissioners briefing provided for this debate says:
“PCCs work in partnership across a range of agencies at local and national level to ensure there is a unified approach to preventing and reducing crime”, and:
“Police and Crime Commissioners are actively involved in work that goes beyond policing including on victim services, mental health, community safety, reducing offending, child sexual exploitation and abuse, youth justice and beyond”.
Despite that, the Government have pressed ahead with giving police and crime commissioners other responsibilities, such as for the fire service. When one considers the sort of scrutiny the London fire and rescue service has been under this week in the Grenfell inquiry, one has to agree with the Home Affairs Committee report, which said:
“Adding further to their responsibilities … is an interesting idea but one which we believe requires detailed scrutiny and should be left until later”.
I am also concerned that an unintended consequence of these additional responsibilities for police and crime commissioners will be the erosion of the role of locally elected councillors and London Assembly members. Coupled with the erosion of central government funding, is this part of a government strategy to undermine local authorities and local democracy?
Police authorities mainly comprised elected representatives from a range of political parties, magistrates and independent members who could make up for any gaps in representation; for example, of minorities. There were representatives from different parts of a police force area—urban versus rural, for example—and local problems and concerns could be championed by individual police authority members and addressed. If not party-politically neutral, they were certainly more politically balanced. Local councillors on police authorities could balance the needs of police funding, which is increasingly falling on local authorities as central government funding for the police reduces, against the needs of other local services; whereas police and crime commissioners only have to consider raising money locally for the police. Crime and disorder partnerships, based on local authority areas, could be better synchronised with police authorities.
As other noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Scriven, have said, there is concern about democratic legitimacy, public awareness and accountability. Democratic legitimacy and public awareness of who holds the police to account and how to make representations are still as lacking as under the old system. According to the APCC briefing, PPCs have,
“increased the transparency and accountability across the policing landscape through their directly elected role”.
I am not sure the evidence backs that up. Turnout for the police and crime commissioner elections in 2012 was only 15% and in 2016 was between 23% and 26%. I expect PCCs are as largely invisible as their police authority predecessors. Indeed, the Home Affairs Committee said that,
“public engagement by PCCs … is an extremely important part of their role if they are to be truly representative of, and accountable to, their local areas … We would like to see all PCCs … putting the highest priority on engaging with their electorates”.
Contrary to what the noble Baroness, Lady Seccombe, said, arguably the PCC system costs more than the system that it replaced. For example, you have not only the salaries of PCCs but of deputy police and crime commissioners. A PCC can appoint anybody they like to that role. Of course, in addition there is the cost of the elections, and sadly we have already had one by-election as a consequence of the tragic death of a PCC. All these costs add up.
As elected representatives, the only way that police and crime commissioners can be held to account is by police and crime panels. As the Home Affairs Committee report says,
“panel members need to be properly trained, resourced and supported”, but of course the only training, resources and support they will get are those provided by the police and crime commissioner himself or herself.
Overall, we think the old system had its drawbacks but the cost-benefit analysis for police and crime commissioners comes out negative.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, for securing this debate on the role and responsibilities of police and crime commissioners. It is a question that he has prompted in the context of the handling of Operation Conifer by Wiltshire Police and the approach of the Wiltshire and Swindon PCC. The Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 gave PCCs responsibility for the totality of policing within their force area, and further required them to hold the force chief constable to account for the operational delivery of policing.
The Policing Protocol Order 2011 states:
“The public accountability for the delivery and performance of the police service is placed into the hands of the PCC on behalf of their electorate. The PCC draws on their mandate to set and shape the strategic objectives of their force area in consultation with the Chief Constable. They are accountable to the electorate; the Chief Constable is accountable to their PCC. The Panel within each force area is empowered to maintain a regular check and balance on the performance of the PCC in that context”.
The protocol also states:
“The PCC is the recipient of all funding, including the government grant and precept and other sources of income, related to policing and crime reduction and all funding for a force must come via the PCC. How this money is allocated is a matter for the PCC in consultation with the Chief Constable, or in accordance with any grant terms. The Chief Constable will provide professional advice and recommendations”.
In respect of the chief constable, the protocol says:
“At all times the Chief Constable, their constables and staff, remain operationally independent in the service of the communities that they serve”.
During Oral Questions on
“chief officers are held to account in respect of operational matters by their police and crime commissioner”.—[
How exactly is the PCC allowed to do that if the Government’s view is that operational matters are purely the responsibility of the chief constable? In holding the chief constable to account, can the police and crime commissioner, within their powers, give directions to the chief constable on how they should conduct “operational matters” or changes they should introduce, or is the holding to account at the end of the day in reality limited to the nuclear option of the power to dismiss? Could the Government in response indicate how the power to hold to account in respect of operational matters can be exercised by a police and crime commissioner within their powers?
“Which elected person, if any, had the statutory power—if they chose to use it—to challenge how the Operation Conifer investigation was being conducted or even to stop it?”.
In response the Government said:
“The elected power who would have the authority to undertake any of the issues that the noble Lord is talking about would be the PCC”.—[Official Report, 11/10/17; col. 230.]
That again comes back to the issue of the role and responsibilities of a PCC to hold the chief constable to account in respect of operational matters, since presumably the Operation Conifer investigation was an operational matter. When the Government said that the PCC could challenge how the investigation was being conducted, did the Government also mean that the police and crime commissioner had a power of direction in this regard? In other words, can the Government say in what way the police and crime commissioner could have challenged how the investigation was being conducted and what actions he could then have taken within his laid-down powers and responsibilities?
If a PCC does have the power to set up a review into how an investigation is being conducted or has been conducted by their police force, what powers does the PCC have to implement any recommendations arising from that review, which may well be recommendations on operational matters which the Government say are the responsibility of the chief constable and not the PCC? Surely the PCC would not be in the position of being able to set up such an inquiry or review, but then not be able to implement any recommendations arising on operational issues, if their chief constable declined to implement those recommendations? Again, I would like a response from the Government on this specific point.
Similarly, the PCC is responsible for drawing up a budget, and it is presumably a matter for the PCC as to how specific they are in allocating money to different activities and functions, including operational matters. Can a PCC, in drawing up a budget, allocate specific sums of money to addressing specific types of crime such as cybercrime, fraud, burglary, domestic violence or moped cycle crime, for example? If the PCC can do that, is that not also getting involved in operational matters, since the PCC, through the budget allocations, would be determining or at least heavily influencing what level of available police resources should be allocated to addressing different sorts of crime—an allocation with which the chief constable might not agree, or might feel was an operational issue that was their responsibility and not that of the PCC? I would like a response from the Government on the specific point of the extent to which the PCC, through drawing up the budget and the detail they go into in doing so, can in reality make decisions affecting operational matters which, according to the Government, are apparently the sole responsibility of the chief constable.
Then there is the issue of what PCC candidates promise or claim in their election addresses. One I have seen, for a sitting PCC seeking re-election, said that their record over the previous four years had included,
“seeing an overall reduction in crime and incidents year on year”, and,
“ensuring that our local police are out in their community, rather than stuck behind a desk”.
Is a PCC accountable for “seeing an overall reduction in crime and incidents year on year” and “ensuring that our local police are out in their community”, or are those operational matters that are the responsibility of the chief constable? Once again I would like a response from the Government on that point.
If there is an overall increase in crime and incidents year on year, it will of course be interesting to see whether a PCC seeking re-election would accept responsibility for that in their election address, or whether the tone would change, with the PCC then maintaining that that was an operational matter for the chief constable and that he or she—the PCC—would be holding the chief constable to account for it.
There is of course the Policing Protocol Order 2011, which sets out to all police and crime commissioners, chief constables and police and crime panels how their functions will be exercised in relation to each other. Even with the 2011 protocol, are the Government satisfied that all police and crime commissioners understand clearly in practical terms their powers, role and responsibilities, including in relation to chief constables and police and crime panels, and do the Government consider that all police and crime commissioners have the same view about the practical application of their powers, role and responsibilities? On how many occasions have police and crime commissioners, either individually or collectively, sought the advice or understanding of the Home Office on the practical application of their statutory powers, and what have been the issues they have raised? Do the Government seek to ensure that there is a consistent view among PCCs of how their role and responsibilities should and can be interpreted and developed, and, if so, by what means do the Government seek to do that?
I sense that some PCCs, such as my noble friend Lord Bach, have a very clear view about the extent and breadth of their role and responsibilities. I am aware, too, of the numerous and varied initiatives that Dame Vera Baird has initiated, or been a key player in, in her capacity as PCC for Northumbria, and I get the strong impression—as my noble friend Lord Bassam of Brighton said—that she is held in high regard for the very proactive way in which she has interpreted and developed her role and responsibilities as PCC. Other noble Lords have made favourable references to the work of other PCCs.
I am not so sure, though, that clarity about their role and responsibilities applies across the board with PCCs. I do not believe that the Government had a very clear idea either on that matter when they passed the 2011 Act establishing police and crime commissioners. There were generalities about the role and responsibilities of PCCs, and not least in relation to chief constables and police and crime panels. My feeling is that the relevant individuals concerned in each police force have been left largely on their own to interpret what the 2011 Act and the protocol actually mean when it comes to specifics, and what they should and should not be doing, and can and cannot be doing. As a result, power of personality has often been a crucial factor in determining what actually happens, and that is why I believe there are still significant differences in the way that PCCs interpret their working relationships and role and responsibilities. That is why some PCCs have a high and positive profile within their areas, and others seem to be rather less visible to their constituents, and rather less active in developing and promoting new and imaginative initiatives to help reduce and prevent crime, and support victims.
My noble friend Lord Bassam of Brighton and others raised the issue of a review of how the role and responsibilities of PCCs have worked out in practice and how effective and accountable working relationships involving PCCs have proved in reality. I await with interest the Government’s response to this point and to the many other points that have been raised, including by me and the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, in this debate.
My Lords, I first thank the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, for securing this debate. He told me he had secured it and thought I might not be very happy, but I am very happy that he secured the debate as it gives us another chance to debate this very important issue that I know is of such importance to noble Lords. Parliament’s only PCC, the noble Lord, Lord Bach, participated in this debate and other noble Lords have spoken. It has been quite a wide-ranging debate—necessarily so—and across the Chamber views have been expressed on a variety of issues relating to the role and responsibilities of police and crime commissioners.
Since the introduction of PCCs in 2012—40 of them in total, as the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, pointed out—everyone now has a direct say in policing in their area through their locally elected PCC. Police and crime commissioners have brought real local accountability to how chief constables and their forces perform and are working hard to ensure that their local communities have a stronger voice in policing, as my noble friends Lady Seccombe and Lord Wasserman pointed out. I note the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Scriven, about his PCC. Others may have other points to make about theirs, but they operate in the full gaze of the media and must justify their record to the public every four years via the ballot box, as my noble friend Lord Wasserman pointed out.
I was very glad to hear from my noble friends Lord Wasserman and Lady Seccombe about some of the good work that is going on in their areas, and I have seen at first hand what the PCC, who is the noble Lord, Lord Bach, is doing in Leicestershire. This is in stark contrast to the police authorities—I must declare an interest as I sat on a police authority—which were not particularly visible and were not felt to be particularly accountable. I note the point made by the noble Lords, Lord Armstrong and Lord Scriven, about their return, but on a personal level I would not want to see it.
The noble Lord, Lord Scriven, made a point about Ministers stepping in to deal with the lack of democracy in the PCC system. As they are directly elected, PCCs are directly accountable to their electorate, and local communities will have their say at the ballot box when the time comes. Police and crime panels have the appropriate powers to scrutinise the actions and decisions of the PCCs effectively. For instance, panels have a statutory power to request information from PCCs, should that be necessary.
At the 2016 PCC national elections, 9 million votes were cast, and PCCs are currently receiving more than 7,000 pieces of correspondence from the general public every month.
PCCs are also providing an impetus to reform. As we have heard, PCCs such as Vera Baird, whom I have also met, are proposing innovative solutions to delivering policing more effectively. PCCs are taking a lead role in driving collaboration between forces, which is a very welcome change, and with other blue-light partners to deliver more effective services and better value for money for the taxpayer. I have seen that in Greater Manchester and in Leicestershire with the noble Lord, Lord Bach.
As was recognised by the Home Affairs Select Committee in its March 2016 report, PCCs are here to stay and their introduction has worked well to date. I also note the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Bach, which I have seen time and time again, that their role has not been politicised. In fact, I have seen PCCs not afraid to challenge their own political party on some of the things that are happening. The police remain independent, and that is very pleasing to see.
A number of noble Lords raised questions concerning the Government’s role in relation to the powers of PCCs. PCCs have been elected by the public to hold chief constables and the force to account, making the police answerable to the communities they serve. The police are, rightly, operationally independent of government. It would not be right for government to intervene in or influence the exercise of a PCC’s functions.
I must reiterate that the exercise of a PCC’s powers in relation to the commission of any specific inquiry must be a matter for the PCC in question. The noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, talked about holding the force to account. Section 36 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act places a duty on the chief constable to provide to the PCC any information necessary to hold the force to account.
The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, made a bit of a side point about drugs. I would expect that from her, as she does things very skilfully. She made a point about drug users being made into criminals by the police. The police and, certainly, the Government primarily want people to recover from drug dependency, as opposed to wanting to make criminals of them.
My noble friend Lord Wasserman asked a very interesting question on recall. It was at the forefront of discussions some years ago, but it is good to hear him bringing it back. There is definitely a debate to be had. However, extending the policy of recall beyond MPs to other elected officers requires careful consideration, and we would need to work with others in elected offices to understand the precedent that might be set.
My noble friend Lady Seccombe talked about neighbourhood policing and working with residents and communities. It is such a valuable aspect of local policing. Whether it is in Salisbury or London, these officers play a vital role in keeping us safe every day. There are many examples of the great work they do.
The noble Lord, Lord Hastings of Scarisbrick, talked about the police being inclusive, the question of maintaining operational independence and the context of unjust and unfair policing towards BME communities. He made a very important point about the diversity of the police. It is important in policing all communities inclusively. I am pleased to say that the proportion of officers from a non-white ethnic group has been increasing in the past decade. I agree with the noble Lord that, to be effective, a force must mirror the community it serves.
The noble Lord, Lord Bassam, talked about diversity of PCCs. It is something that all political parties and none would support in terms of engaging people not only in the policing function but in the political process of choosing their PCC. In 2016, 9 million votes were cast, which was a 67% increase in the number of votes cast in the election in 2012, so the turnout is not high but is on a very good upward trajectory.
The noble Lord, Lord Blair of Boughton, talked about the powers of HMIC. While it might be possible for the PPC or the Home Secretary to commission HMICFRS to review whether an investigation was conducted in a way that met the standards required for policing, we do not believe that it is appropriate for the inspectorate to review all evidence gathered and conclusions reached. On the point of the inspection of Wiltshire, it has consistently reached overall “Good”, although I can understand that noble Lords might not entirely agree with that point.
The noble Lords, Lord Blair of Boughton, Lord Hastings, and others, talked about strategic reviews of the police as a whole. The noble Lord, Lord Blair, pointed out that the last royal commission was in 1962. However, a number of key reports have led to police reform subsequently, including the Scarman report in 1981, Sheehy in 1992 and, of course, the Macpherson report of 1999.
The noble Lord, Lord Bach, talked about addressing the issue of police funding reductions. Prior to the police funding settlement, the Minister for Policing—I have said this at the Dispatch Box on many an occasion—spoke to every police force in England to understand the level of resource required to meet policing needs. We have provided a comprehensive funding settlement, with increasing investment of over £460 million in 2018-19. The noble Lord will recall the Home Secretary saying recently that he absolutely understands some of the pressures which the police have been under, particularly in light of events over the last year or two in terms of terrorist attacks and other things that have happened.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, talked about the challenge posed by flawed recruitment processes, and recruiting senior police. The noble Lord, Lord Hastings, may also have mentioned that, or it may have been the noble Lord, Lord Butler—they have been a sea behind me, but it was one of them. The issue of choosing police leaders is so important. People need to be able to demonstrate both leadership and be very good in their policing role. In many ways, a career in policing should be a vocation that is attractive to the brightest and the best leaders in society. The Government want to see police ranks opened up, with flexible entry and exit paths to encourage diversity of experience.
The noble Lord, Lord Birt, asked what the police were doing on moped crime. It is clearly a concern, and I assure the noble Lord that the Government have worked with the police, industry and other partners to develop a comprehensive action plan on what is a very serious problem in our attempt to keep the public safe.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, asked about the process for complaints against the PCC. Non-serious complaints go to police and crime panels but, as I am sure the noble Lord knows, when complaints are of a serious and criminal nature, they will be directed to the IOPC.
Moving on to the issue of Operation Conifer and the PCC for Wiltshire and Swindon, I have heard of concerns today, as I have heard previously, about the refusal of the locally elected PCC to commission an inquiry into Operation Conifer, which investigated, as noble Lords know, claims of child sexual abuse made against the late former Prime Minister, Sir Edward Heath. I understand the strength of feeling in this House, which I have heard expressed many times. I fully recognise the desire of those who knew Sir Edward personally to protect his reputation when he is no longer able to do so himself. I understand the disappointment at the PCC’s decision not to commission an inquiry. On the point of enough funding to commission an inquiry, Wiltshire has £17.9 million in reserves.
However, that does not change the Government’s position. It is our view that it is rightly a decision for the PCC and that he has the necessary powers and, as I have just said, the necessary funding. This concerns an investigation led by Wiltshire Police into a past resident of the county. The high profile of that individual does not of itself make this a national issue, but I understand the point about it being of national interest. The Government have no plans to launch an inquiry into how this investigation was conducted. It is still open to the locally elected PCC to do so himself, but it would not be appropriate for the Government to step in simply because he has chosen not to.
It is extremely important at this point to remind ourselves that Wiltshire Police’s own report strongly emphasised that no inference of guilt should be drawn from the fact that Sir Edward, had he still been alive, would have been interviewed under caution in respect of a small number of allegations. I can see the sensitivity and concern that those words have garnered. The purpose of such an interview would have been to gain his account, which would have been as important as other evidence gathered as part of the wider investigation. Because he was being accused of an offence, it would have been important for Sir Edward to enjoy the same protections as anyone else in that position and to benefit from an interview under caution. By doing so, the police are able to advance their investigations, and suspects’ rights are protected. Every day people are interviewed under caution and no action is ever taken against them. However, I can understand the feeling in this case, but as the police rightly noted, an interview cannot and should not be interpreted as a sign of guilt. We need to remember that.
We also need to remember that only a court can determine whether someone is guilty and that when an accused person is deceased and cannot present their own evidence to the court, this is not possible. There is no guarantee, unfortunately, that an independent review of Operation Conifer would provide a definitive answer that noble Lords so understandably seek.
The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, asked whether Operation Conifer was referred to the PCC panel for scrutiny, which is a good question. Of course, PCC panels have a role in challenging, scrutinising and supporting each police and crime commissioner. I do not know the answer in the specific case as to whether it did, but it is something that I can take back and ask.
The noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, asked about IICSA, and, of course, the PCC for Wiltshire is of the opinion that IICSA—the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse—is the correct commissioning body for such a review. I must reiterate, and I think the noble Lord was alluding to this, that IICSA was established to consider the extent to which institutions in England and Wales have failed in their duty to protect children from sexual abuse and exploitation. It operates independently of government and, within its terms of reference, decides what it investigates and how. It would be inappropriate for the Government to seek to influence those decisions. I think noble Lords are clear—certainly I am—on IICSA’s role, which is distinct from the role of Operation Conifer.
The Henriques report was commissioned by the Metropolitan Police, not the Government, so the recommendations are largely for the College of Policing which sets the standards for policing. We are very grateful for the lessons it has taught us about such investigations. The noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, my noble friend Lord Hunt and the noble Lord, Lord Turnbull, made the point about victims. There has been much discussion recently about the approach the police take to allegations of sexual offences and abuse. The College of Policing is currently considering the recommendations of the Henriques report and will announce its response in due course.
Of course, great effort has gone into building public trust in police investigations into the very sensitive and distressing matter of sexual abuse. It is important that this continues. Starting an investigation from a position of doubt is unlikely to encourage victims to come forward. Existing guidance says that when an allegation is received police should believe the account and record it as a crime unless there is credible evidence at the point the allegation is made that determines that no crime has been committed. In this case it should be recorded as an incident.
Can the noble Lord indulge me? I am literally at time and I implore noble Lords not to stop me from talking. Perhaps the noble Lord and I can talk afterwards.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked whether PCCs can give directions to challenge police constables and, specifically, whether they can set up their own reviews. Our view is that PCCs can establish a review into the conduct of an operation in order to assess the efficiency and effectiveness of the force.
Finally—and I am definitely testing noble Lords’ patience—there is the point about the Home Office being corrupt. Thousands of people work in the Home Office every day. I come across many of them. In every walk of life, most people do their job with great enthusiasm and professionalism. We will always get members of staff who stray from that, but to go as far as saying that the Home Office is corrupt I would strongly deny. I conclude by thanking all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who took part in this debate and made a great many interesting contributions.
As to what the Minister said about the Operation Conifer affair, she holds a very straight bat for the Home Office, but we shall be returning to the matter because, as the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours, and others have said, there are issues of justice in this that cannot be allowed to rest. No doubt we shall need to talk again to the police and crime commissioner, but I do not think we have heard the last of this matter in this Chamber or more generally.
The debate was extremely interesting. I formed the impression that what we think about police and crime commissioners rather depends on the area from which we come; some are better than others. There are still aspects of the system that we have not got right and will need to be examined again.
I thought the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, about operational expenditure were very important and need to be considered very thoroughly. The Home Office has been apt to use the doctrine of operational independence to avoid almost any kind of query about police operations. Although I believe that the principle of operational independence is extremely important, once an operation is over—as I said before—the doctrine of operational expenditure cannot absolve the chief constable from having to account for the way in which an investigation has been conducted or for its consequences. It suggests that we need to refine this doctrine a little more than we have done.
Finally, police forces traditionally have been guided that they must believe child abuse allegations. As one speaker suggested, that goes too far. They must take allegations seriously, of course, but they must examine them because this is an area in which false allegations seem to be exceedingly prevalent. People should be taken seriously, but the possibility of falsehood or deliberate conspiracy to make false allegations should never be overlooked. I again thank all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate.