Metropolitan Police Reform - Question

– in the House of Lords at 3:08 pm on 27 November 2023.

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Photo of Lord Lexden Lord Lexden Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords) 3:08, 27 November 2023

To ask His Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the progress of reform within the Metropolitan Police.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, reform of the Metropolitan Police Service is vital and the Government fully support the commissioner’s plan, A New Met for London. It is the responsibility of His Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services to assess force performance improvement and for the Mayor of London to hold the commissioner to account for the progress being made.

Photo of Lord Lexden Lord Lexden Deputy Chairman of Committees, Deputy Speaker (Lords)

My Lords, I called on the Government exactly a year ago to give Sir Mark Rowley the stronger disciplinary powers for which he was asking in order to root out crime and serious abuse in the Met, which so shocks our country. Instead of taking action, the Government instituted a review. When will Sir Mark finally get the powers he seeks? Must not a thorough clean-up of the Met include calling to account the police officers who failed so grievously during Operation Midland, that infamous investigation that unforgivably hounded two great public servants, Lord Bramall and Lord Brittan? Finally, is it not astonishing that, after several years, the Independent Office for Police Conduct has only now got round to just one serious investigation arising from Operation Midland? That is into the conduct of Mr Steve Rodhouse, the man in charge of the disgraceful operation. On past form, this could drag on for years while Mr Rodhouse enjoys a full salary. Do not those who have suffered deserve better than this?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, my noble friend is right to point out that we launched a review. That review was concluded and the results were published in September. Noble Lords will be aware of the contents of the review. As regards introducing the powers that Sir Mark clearly needs and has asked for, some of that will require primary legislation; it will form part of the Criminal Justice Bill, which is due to reach Committee stage in the Commons and be debated in January. Some of it will require secondary legislation. We expect that the first tranche of changes will see amendments to the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2020, which should be implemented around April; the second tranche, which covers wider misconduct, vetting and performance measures, is expected to be introduced around June.

Photo of Lord Browne of Ladyton Lord Browne of Ladyton Labour

My Lords, resignations are now overtaking retirement as the biggest reason for officers leaving the Met. This year, every month but May has seen more resignations, and the equivalent of 100 full-time officers leaving. Given the importance of institutional memory to policing, what assessment have the Government made of the reasons for this ongoing exodus? Consequent on that assessment, what discussions has the new Home Secretary had with the Mayor of London and the Met’s commissioner about the challenges inherent in retaining Met personnel?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My Lords, the first thing to say is that officer strength at the moment is 34,899—at least it was in March 2023—which is up from 33,367 in March 2010; that is the highest number of officers the Metropolitan Police Service has had to date. As regards the conversations of the Home Secretary, the Home Secretary and the Policing Minister have met with the commissioner in the past two weeks. We fully support HMICFRS in identifying areas of poor performance and have seen the commissioner act swiftly to set out his planned improvements, which are necessary, through the plan that I just mentioned, A New Met for London. The Home Office is also a member of the HMICFRS police performance oversight group. We monitor progress and ensure that the Metropolitan Police gets the support it needs from across the policing sector to improve as quickly as possible.

Photo of Baroness Butler-Sloss Baroness Butler-Sloss Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee), Chair, Ecclesiastical Committee (Joint Committee)

My Lords, having heard the Minister’s dates for secondary and not primary legislation, why on earth is it taking so long?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The noble and learned Baroness asks me a very good question; I am afraid that I do not understand the inner workings of the secondary legislation and SI process, but I will find out.

Photo of Baroness Doocey Baroness Doocey Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Policing)

My Lords, last month, the police watchdog published an urgent report warning of the serious risks posed to London’s most vulnerable children by the Met’s ongoing failures in child protection. This issue was first highlighted in a damning report by HMICFRS six years ago. It cannot be allowed to continue. Have the Government met the commissioner and the Mayor of London to demand action now—that is, not in a month’s time or a year’s time? This is serious and it must be sorted out now.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The noble Baroness is quite right that this problem dates back. As she pointed out, in October, HMICFRS issued two accelerated causes of concern due to significant failures in how the Metropolitan Police responds to children reported missing and also to those at risk of child and sexual criminal exploitation. As I mentioned in a previous answer, the Home Secretary and the commissioner have met a couple of times over the past week, as has the Policing Minister. HMICFRS publishes quarterly reports on the progress that the Met is making with regard to child protection. In regard to the two recommendations that have recently been mentioned, HMICFRS has provided two recommendations encouraging swift and tangible progress on those issues to the Metropolitan Police with timelines for delivery by the end of this year.

Photo of Lord Woodley Lord Woodley Labour

My Lords, the recent increase in the number of massive demonstrations in central London is a positive sign of a politically engaged population. However, they place huge extra pressure on our police, with many officers—perhaps hundreds if not thousands—being drafted in from right across the country to help. What assessment has the Minister made of the impact on police capacity, effectiveness and morale?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

The noble Lord makes a good point. I thank all the officers from around the country who have been drafted in to assist with the policing of these protests. I was very pleased to see that, at the weekend, the protest passed largely without too much trouble. As regards morale, that would be for the commissioner to share with us but, as I said, conversations are current, topical and ongoing.

Photo of Lord Cormack Lord Cormack Conservative

My Lords, I revert to a point made by my noble friend Lord Lexdon in his admirable Question. Two Members of your Lordships’ House who are now sadly no longer with us, Lord Brittan and Lord Bramall, were traduced in an almost unimaginable way as a result of Operation Midland. I know that noble Lords throughout the House feel very strongly on this. Why can there not be, even at this stage, a proper investigation into Operation Midland, including precisely what went wrong and why?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

My noble friend raises an interesting subject. It has been raised with me at this Dispatch Box 14 times over the past two years. I am afraid that my answer is not going to change. It will remain consistent across those 14, now 15, answers: the Government have no plans to interfere in this.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords)

My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Lexden, made an important point about serious misconduct, as did the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss. The Minister said that he was going to take it back. This is of extreme urgency. If the Metropolitan Police is to command confidence and trust, it will take two years to deal with the approximately 1,000 police officers who are suspended or on restricted duties. The public have to know that those 1,000 officers and however many are uncovered by the commissioner will be dealt with quickly and speedily according to new misconduct regulations because the current ones seriously do not work. Can the Minister tackle this as a matter of urgency?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I agree with the noble Lord that it is a matter of urgency—of course it is—but it is also urgent that we get it right and make sure that all the possible unintended consequences are dealt with well in advance of implementing what are in some cases new, pretty draconian regulations, particularly with regard to how police officers might lose their careers. It deserves careful thought rather than coming back to the Dispatch Box and unpicking mistakes that might be made because we acted in haste.

Photo of Lord Rooker Lord Rooker Labour

Can I ask Minister about his answer to the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss? My understanding is that primary legislation is drafted by parliamentary counsel and that statutory instruments are drafted by the department’s lawyers. So what is the problem inside the Home Office? It is in charge of the lawyers there; it is not parliamentary counsel. It ought to be quicker than it is at the moment.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

That is perhaps the case but, of course, we still have to find parliamentary time for these things.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Labour

My Lords, why do we have to wait for the Criminal Justice Bill before the statutory instruments can be produced in this particular case? Could we not move to a statutory instrument straightaway so that this long delay, which seems to be all-pervasive here, can at least be shortened to an extent?

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I would very much like to see it shortened. I do not know the answer to that but I will come back.