My Lords, arrangements for the misconduct hearing of former chief constable Mike Veale are a matter for the Cleveland police and crime commissioner and it would be inappropriate to comment further while those proceedings remain ongoing.
My Lords, I remind the House that I have used every means open to me—Motions of regret, Oral Questions, debates—to try to help bring the notorious Mike Veale to book ever since, as chief constable of Wiltshire, he conducted an appallingly biased investigation of the allegations of sex abuse against Sir Edward Heath. I also remind the House that in Cleveland, where he is chief constable, he is due to face a gross misconduct hearing, to which my noble friend referred. It was announced a year ago but has not even started. Meanwhile, Veale lives the life of Riley on £100,000 a year as adviser to the so-called Conservative PCC for Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland, who must have taken leave of his senses. This scandal really must end. How on earth can the Home Office stand by helplessly while a disgraced ex-policeman rakes in public money? May I ask that arrangements be made for a small cross-party group from this House to see the Home Secretary as soon as possible?
My Lords, I am more than happy to request that of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary. I hope that my noble friend would agree that, through all his years of effort, a remedy is on its way to being sought through the misconduct hearing. In terms of the individual’s work in Leicester, that is, of course, a matter for the Leicester PCC. It might be that my noble friend, as well as my request for him to see the Home Secretary, might himself request that of the Leicester PCC.
My Lords, how much longer must this farce go on? I am grateful to the Minister for her reply to my noble friend Lord Lexden, as I shall I call him, on this matter. I very much welcome the chance to talk to the Home Secretary about it. But you have a twice disgraced ex-chief constable awaiting a gross misconduct hearing that, by law, should have been heard months ago still advising for good money a police and crime commissioner in holding Leicestershire police to account. You could not make it up. A request for a meeting is actually the bare minimum. The Home Secretary is never short of advising on right and wrong; why are she and the Home Office so silent on this scandal?
My Lords, it is a matter for the legally qualified chair to convene a misconduct hearing. It is usually within 100 days but can be longer if the interests of justice will be served. Therefore, the LQC—the legally qualified chair—has obviously made a judgment on that. In terms of the issue of Leicester, that is a matter for the Leicester PCC.
My Lords, to be fair, some of us have had meetings with the Home Secretary, who is obviously concerned about this. One obviously understands that the Government cannot intervene in the internal conduct and affairs of the police, but surely there is something a bit odd here. As my noble friend Lord Lexden said, here is someone who is under investigation for gross misconduct. Surely, at a time such as this, they would be asked to stand aside until the matter is cleared up for them, rather than being promoted and given enhanced status inside the police service. Is there not a way of getting a message to the police authorities that this is appalling behaviour, which led to nonsensical accusations which proved to be based on lies, and demands a sensible handling of a kind which, at present, does not seem to be obvious?
I do not disagree with my noble friend that sensible handling is required. That is why I made the suggestion. The Government will not intervene in a matter with PCCs. I suggested to my noble friend and perhaps also suggest to my noble friend Lord Howell that there might be a delegation from noble Lords to go and see him.
My Lords, it is unacceptable that something as serious as this has been going on for more than a year without any resolution at all, not even a day in court. I understand that the Minister cannot comment on an individual case, but can she undertake to review how the process of misconduct hearings takes place nationally? It just cannot be in the interests of justice for this situation to continue. It is not fair, either to the accused or to the accuser.
I do not disagree with the noble Baroness, but I reiterate that the legally qualified chair can, in the interests of justice, take longer than 100 days to convene the misconduct hearing. I do not want anything I say at this Dispatch Box in any way to undermine a misconduct hearing, which is why I am so cautious about the matter.
My Lords, I was going to ask the same question as the noble Lord, Lord Howell. Why should Mr Veale not stand aside? I thought the Minister said in her response that she agreed with the proposition put by the noble Lord, Lord Howell. Does she think Mr Veale should stand aside while this investigation is under way?
I think noble Lords will all support the upholding of the rule of law, that justice is served and that anyone is innocent until proven guilty. The misconduct hearing will see that course of justice resolved.
My Lords, many thousands of very good police men and women are doing a great job 24 hours of every day, every week, including many on this site, but is it not a comment on the current state of the police force at senior management that the BCU commander for central and east London can issue an email at lunchtime today to say that he has been appointed to help lead the Met’s response to a recent finding by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary, which has placed the Met into a form of advanced monitoring? I thought the Home Secretary described it as “special measures”.
I think it is one and the same thing, in the sense that the Met Police will have to show obvious signs of improvement before the engage process, as the Home Secretary described it, is removed.
My Lords, the Minister will know that police and crime commissioners were established as elected postholders to increase accountability of the police forces to the local community. In the light of experience, does she think that has worked out well? If not, is it not time to put them to bed?
My Lords, I think there are some excellent examples of PCCs up and down the country, including the noble Lord, Lord Bach—Parliament’s only PCC and a very good one indeed. Should the PCC not perform well at his or her job, they can be removed at the ballot box.
Will my noble friend the Minister accept that it is now generally acknowledged that a series of interrelated police operations—Yewtree, Conifer and Midland—were heavy-handed, disproportionate and founded on inappropriate assumptions of guilt? It is evident that there were manifest failings of procedure, governance and natural justice. Perhaps a complaint in this House was that the police were marking their own homework. When will anyone be held to account?
In answer to my noble friend’s first question, I hope I have outlined the process by which remedy can be sought and secured for anybody accused of improper behaviour or misconduct in office. The whole system has changed, in the sense that now a police officer cannot just run, by retiring or resigning from their post, without facing the consequences of their actions.
Should not the legally appointed chair in Cleveland be asked to explain why a year has gone by without her starting these extremely important misconduct proceedings? Can the Home Office at least get an answer from her?
The legally qualified chair is independent of government. Again, my noble friend might wish to put that to the legally qualified chair. It would be wrong for the Government to intervene in such a process.