– in the House of Lords at 2:37 pm on 9th January 2023.
To ask His Majesty’s Government what plans they have to revise the (1) employment contracts, and (2) disciplinary regulations, for police officers.
My Lords, police officers hold a unique position in society and are therefore protected by a unique set of terms and conditions, which are enshrined in legislation. Regulations are updated regularly following consultation with policing stakeholders, and the Government have no current plans to revise that approach. In October, the Government announced a review into police officer dismissals, ensuring that the system is fair and effective at removing those who are not fit to serve.
My Lords, we have a virtual contribution from the noble Lord, Lord Campbell-Savours.
My Lords, following Metropolitan Police Commissioner Sir Mark Rowley’s powerful expression of concerns over the handling of police misconduct allegations and the need to sack the worst offenders—as well as similar comments from the formidable noble Baroness, Lady Casey, on the need for early dismissals, and, more recently, the shocking revelations from the noble Baroness, Lady Burt, about the six-stage, year-long police officer dismissal process—can the Minister explain why the whole police disciplinary procedure cannot be reviewed in line with those of other professions? With the worst cases, dismissal should come first. More widely, there should be a speedier appeal procedure.
My Lords, as I have just said, we announced a review into that in October. The terms of reference are under active discussion and will be published in the near future. I will just correct the noble Lord: there are not six stages to the dismissals process; there are actually only three in the performance regulations, but officers can appeal against the outcome of those stages. Accelerated hearings are often missed, but if there is sufficient evidence of gross misconduct and it is in the public interest for the individual to cease to be an officer without delay, the chief constable can hold or chair accelerated misconduct proceedings.
My Lords, is it not imperative to enable the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to sort out the terrible problems, about which he has spoken so fully, as soon as possible? No review—action, please.
As I have said, we will be publishing the terms of reference in that review very shortly. The current system provides routes for chief constables to dismiss officers through accelerated hearings, as I have just outlined.
My Lords, His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary’s report, published last November, said that
“it is too easy for the wrong people both to join and to stay in the police.”
One of the recommendations was that any candidate for the police should have a face-to-face interview with existing police officers. When that was put to the Minister in the other House, it was said that there was an expectation that that would happen. Does the Minister agree that the inspectorate has put forward a requirement, not a recommendation, for some action to take place?
From memory, there is a face-to-face aspect to the vetting and interviewing process—if I am wrong on that, I will come back and correct myself. On the report to which the noble Lord referred, he will be aware that there is a requirement for policing bodies to provide a response to the recommendations in that report within 56 days of its publication. Those responses will be imminent, in that case.
My Lords, the Met’s own figures show that the number of officers suspended from duties on full pay has risen by almost 600% over the last three years. This excludes a growing number of others subject to management or restricted duties owing to concerns about their performance or conduct. This is not a statistical quirk but a consequence of systemic issues with the disciplinary procedures. This needs to be addressed urgently, because it affects forces across the country and compromises the safety of the people whom these police officers serve. We do not have time to wait for a review; it needs to be dealt with now.
My Lords, I respectfully disagree. I think that the appropriate process is to review this and, as I say, the review was announced in October. The terms of reference are under active discussion and will be published very soon.
My Lords, in view of all the legislation that we keep passing here, giving the police greater and greater powers, I would have assumed that there would be some urgency to this sort of revision. We need higher standards of discipline, self-control and integrity within our police forces if we are going to give them all these extra powers.
I completely agree with the noble Baroness; we absolutely need all those things.
My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for outlining that there is an expedited procedure in certain circumstances. However, can he please outline whether or not an officer is suspended, as is common in most professional situations, while that expedited procedure is undertaken?
I am afraid that I do not know the answer to that; I will have to write to my noble friend.
My Lords, the Minister will know that the majority of our police officers do a great job, often in the most difficult circumstances. However, we have seen a number of high-profile cases that have undermined the public’s trust and confidence in our police—cases such as that of Sarah Everard or even of the head of the police watchdog himself having to resign over historic allegations. Is not the question for the Government: what are they going to do to work with the police to restore the necessary public trust and confidence in our police?
I join the noble Lord in agreeing that we owe our police officers—the vast majority of whom do an excellent job—our thanks and praise. He will also be aware that there have been a number of reports published on these subjects. The police forces will be coming back imminently with their responses to the HMICFRS report, to which I referred earlier. As I said, I think the report specified that it will be within 56 days. It is absolutely incumbent on the Government to work with all police forces to ensure that they deliver the highest possible standards.
My Lords, is it not the case that there are three stages, but there are three appeals, so there are six stages, which is why the process takes so long? Can the Minister confirm that the terms of reference will include the time it takes to go through the procedures, so that they are speeded up, and that that will be an important part of the review?
I said earlier that this is under active discussion. I am not part of those active discussions, but I cannot imagine a set of circumstances where they would not be considering the speed of the process.
My Lords, why has it taken from October to January just to come up with basic terms of reference? How long will it be before this review, whenever it actually begins, concludes, given the concern throughout the country and certainly across your Lordships’ House?
I am afraid I do not know why it has taken a couple of months to get to this stage, and I do not know how long the review will take, but I imagine that will be dealt with in the terms of reference.
My Lords, significant concerns have been expressed in your Lordships’ House today about the fact that this has taken since October, so will the Minister undertake to write, and place a copy of the letter in the Library, to tell us how long he imagines this will now take?
I will go back to the Policing Minister, have a discussion with him and then write, based on that discussion.