Examination of Witnesses

Policing and Crime Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:59 pm on 15th March 2016.

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Dame Anne Owers, Professor Dame Shirley Pearce and Alex Marshall gave evidence.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley 4:30 pm, 15th March 2016

We will now hear evidence from the Independent Police Complaints Commission and the College of Policing. This is our final panel today and we have until 5 pm. I should explain to our witnesses that we are bound by a timetable motion, so if I cut you off in mid-sentence at 5 o’clock, I am not being rude; I am simply fulfilling my obligations as the Chair.

Q Jack Dromey:

Good afternoon. I have questions on two issues. One relates to the IPCC more generally and the second relates to bail, given the very important evidence that we have heard during these hearings.

On the IPCC’s role more generally, we heard evidence this morning from the Police Federation, which used the words you will have heard in the past about a “crisis of confidence” in the IPCC. In the previous Parliament, significant additional resource was put in, including by way of top-slicing. Now with a set of proposals being made at the next stages to develop and enhance the role of the IPCC— an additional resource for the IPCC—convince us that it will work.

I have one final point to throw in. In the evidence from the superintendents, they made powerful points in relation to how the inspectorate regime works and also about what they described as the difficulties of a blame culture within the police service and the importance of proportionality. Coming back to how it operates in other areas, you will know all about the parallel with pilots and the duty to report. If they report, they are not automatically disciplined as a consequence. However, if there are several incidents, action is taken on the systemic problem. Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Health, only last week talked about a culture of encouraging people to own up and take ownership of what they get wrong. I distinguish between that which clearly should be the subject of disciplinary action and what the police organisations said to us today. Dame Anne, convince us you can put it right.

Dame Anne Owers: I will do my best. As you say, we were given additional resources. Those resources, of course, had to be converted into buildings and, more importantly, people, and those people had to be inducted and trained and got going. Next year we envisage we will be in steady state, having virtually trebled our staff and also hugely increased the number of investigations that we do. When I first came to the IPCC, we were taking on just over 100 investigations a year. We envisage this year it will be about 450 and next year our target will be somewhere between 500 and 700. So it is a massive expansion in a short time, and of course it takes time in order for that to settle.

I am very aware of the comments not just from the police side, but from complainants and bereaved families about the length of time of investigations and the quality of investigations. I think you have heard from the National Police Chiefs’ Council about some of the things that you cannot avoid in investigations being long, but we need to make sure that we get through them as quickly as we can. The Bill gives us some of the powers that we need to be able to get off the mark quickly: for example, the power of an initiative so we do not have to wait for something to be recorded and referred, and the ability to more quickly close off an investigation by giving us the power to find a case to answer ourselves.

You referred to the health service, and health service staff have a duty of candour in relation to investigations. We have been looking for some time for something similar to apply to police witnesses in investigations so that we can be sure we get to the truth as quickly as possible. The combination of greater resource, which is now settling in, and greater powers will be helpful, and it is our determination that we will use them well. Also, as the Home Secretary announced in Parliament on  Second Reading, we have pointed to the fact—we put this up to the Home Secretary ourselves—that our current structures need to change so that we can be an effective organisation at the size we now are, which is why we put up proposals for a single accountability and decision-making structure so that we can be as effective as possible. I hope that answers your first question, and we realise that you will be looking to see that we do all those things.

On the second part of your question, I am on record as saying that I think that the police complaints system focuses too much on blame and that it is too much seen as a gateway to the disciplinary system, rather than as a way of resolving problems. You would not have that in a commercial organisation. A commercial organisation would seek to put right what had gone wrong, but it would also be in a position where it sees complaints as really useful management information, rather than as things that terrify people because they think they are going to be dismissed. This Bill goes some way towards dealing with that in the sense that it now defines a complaint, broadly, as an expression of dissatisfaction. It is giving powers to resolve that swiftly, if possible and if the complainant agrees. It is also giving ourselves, or the police and crime commissioners, who will sometimes have to review those investigations or decisions, the power to direct or recommend remedies. At the moment, the appeals system has complaints being upheld, but complainants largely do not want them to be upheld; they want an answer. The Bill goes some way towards trying to create a more effective complaints system, but I would pass over to the Committee the extent to which you and others still think that it disentangles itself sufficiently from the necessity of finding blame, rather than finding the truth.

Q Jack Dromey:

You make a very powerful point on that issue. I am familiar with continuous improvement cultures in blue chip companies from my former being. One element of that is that it is absolutely key that there is candour and that people constantly learn from the mistakes that are made to ensure that they do the job better in future. Do you want to say something more about the duty of candour?

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

I think we are getting into the realms of very lengthy questions and potentially lengthy answers, and a number of people want to get in. Perhaps just a quick word on this.

Dame Anne Owers: I can write further to the Committee on this, if that would be helpful.

Q James Berry:

My question is to Chief Constable Marshall. I should declare that I have worked as a barrister, and I lecture at the College of Policing—it is good to have experience. The College of Policing led on the barred list. That responsibility was given to you. Could you tell the Committee how it has worked in the time that you have had ownership of that portfolio and how the changes in the Bill will help to take it to the next stage?

Alex Marshall: The overall purpose of the College of Policing is: to build up the knowledge base in policing so that people can make evidence-based decisions; to set the educational standards for people joining policing and the education for people when they are in policing;  and to set standards for forces and individuals. In that context, we have been operating the list for about 18 to 20 months, and it has achieved one place to go for all forces to ensure that someone who has been dismissed for gross misconduct in policing, or who left but would have been dismissed for gross misconduct, can not get back into policing. The Bill puts that on a firm footing to make sure that we have the authority to do that and that, if we choose to do so, we can publish details from the list. We will still require forces to submit the data to us and to collect it in a consistent way .

Q James Berry:

Thank you. This is my second and final question. You run the senior command course, on which I have had the pleasure of lecturing. That is the course senior officers go on in order to qualify to be a chief officer, effectively. Could that course be opened to senior fire officers to prepare them for appointment to chief constable posts in a single-employer model?

Alex Marshall: I came from there today—that is where I have been this morning—and it is already open to people from outside policing. For example, other Home Office departments and other parts of the military, and it will certainly be open to fire officers. The issue at the moment would be that to become a chief police officer, you must pass the four-day selection process, complete the course successfully, and be a constable. We will look at these proposals on how we bring people to that level and standard. It might just help very quickly to say that the current course has different elements such as professional policing skills, which is all about professional policing skills, and modules on leadership, ethics, business skills and working in partnership. Many of those areas, of course, will be common to senior leadership in many other organisations.

Q Jake Berry:

Coming back to the point about your role, I think you were in the room when we had quite a lot of evidence from Sally Burke. She gave us some powerful evidence about the ability of police officers, when they arrive at someone’s house, to deal with young people in mental health crisis. Specifically what support could the College of Policing give officers to ensure that they get appropriate training to deal with situations like that? Is there more that the Bill could do to support that work?

Alex Marshall: I very much support the way in which the Bill gives greater protection, particularly to young people suffering from mental health crises and keeps them out of police cells, where they should not be. I think it reinforces the right areas. This is a very important issue for our members, particularly for the people on the frontline of policing. We have relooked at what we know about mental health, what the knowledge base is, what standards we set in this area and what education should be laid out.

We recently finished a consultation on brand new guidance for everyone who works in policing on dealing with mental health, reflecting the concordat and the work with voluntary organisations, and we will publish that in the next few weeks. There is still a lot we can do to improve the education of those officers and to set clear standards but, equally, the onus must sit with other organisations, particularly health services, to have the professionals on hand, particularly out of hours, to deal with someone who is in a crisis.

Q Jake Berry:

I have one final point on this. You said that you were about to publish it. How long after publication will it be until it becomes accepted as practice?

Alex Marshall: It went out to a three-month consultation period that finished about six weeks ago. From memory, we are now adopting the consultation responses, including from charity and voluntary sectors. That will be published by us and then we will put it into the curriculum for everybody joining policing and for their training throughout policing. We will publish it to forces but, of course, we then rely on forces to adopt and use it.

Q Craig Whittaker:

Dame Anne, could I just come back to you? It was really good to hear that the Government were listening to your ideas and allowed you to get on and do the IPCC work. Could I just touch on what you said? I think that you said that the Bill goes “some way” towards being an effective complaints system. Do I detect that we could have done more?

Dame Anne Owers: The decision was made, and I understand why, to proceed by way of amending current legislation, rather than starting with a blank sheet. There are still a lot of tie-ups between complaints and discipline in a way that you might not do if you started from scratch. To be honest, I am grateful for what there is, so I am not about to say that the exercise should not be done. I understand exactly the pressures of legislative time and so on. There is still quite a considerable tie-up between the two, but I hope that, between us, the police and crime commissioners and ourselves will be able to develop a more effective way of handling complaints in the first instance. You should not start an investigation by saying, “Who dunnit?” You should start an investigation by saying, “What happened?”

Q Jack Dromey:

May I ask a completely separate question? Alex, I think this goes to you. We heard evidence earlier today—this morning from two of the three police organisations and this afternoon from the National Police Chiefs Council—in respect of the provisions on bail. Sara Thornton, in particular, raised concerns about the sheer scale of the numbers involved because of the trigger that is proposed in the Bill. In her words, because of the bureaucracy that would be attached, large numbers of superintendents would have to supervise the making of the necessary arrangements. Separate concerns were expressed about what we have come to call the Dhar clause, arising out of what happened in relation to the Dhar case.

I have read your evidence, and the final paragraph says that

“in relation to the Bill’s changes to the length and authorisation of pre-charge bail, the College is currently evaluating the outcomes of a pilot study that may provide a clearer indication of costs or benefits to these…changes. Until the evaluation is complete the College will be unable to provide a final view on this issue and we will endeavour to update Parliament”.

I have not seen an impact study prepared by the Government. There may be one in the Department, but I have not seen it. It seems from what has been said here that it is common ground that we need to change the bail arrangements and how they work. Against the background of the reservations that have been expressed, one would hope that you have evidence-based legislation, as opposed to legislation to be followed by an evidence base.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

You are asked to confirm an opinion, or not, but carry on.

Alex Marshall: We share the opinion that bail needs to be very closely managed and that long periods of bail are bad for everyone in delivering good justice. What we have been doing is separate from the legislation: we are looking at how bail operates in local forces and what tighter management controls might make a difference. We have not had the data analysed yet. We have been finishing it in the last couple of weeks, but early indications are that around 30% of all the people who are arrested are put out on bail and in the forces we looked at—about half of those in England and Wales—70% of those who were bailed were bailed for more than 28 days. The rough number of people arrested each year in England and Wales is just under 1 million: about 950,000, down from 1.5 million a few years ago. That gives you an idea of the scale.

We then looked at the reasons why bail went beyond 28 days. They include getting professional statements from doctors and others, getting phones and computers analysed, taking detailed statements from vulnerable victims of crime, getting banking information and details, and getting forensics analysed and back to the investigation. We agree that the time limits should be closely monitored, but can see the resource implications of requiring a superintendent and others to be involved in what looks like a very high volume. The onus will rest on many people across the system to respond much more quickly to requests from the police conducting their investigation.

Q James Cleverly:

Dame Anne, there are proposals in the Bill for super-complaints. Could I have your views on the impact that will have on public confidence in policing and the integrity of the process of policing, rather than the individuals?

Dame Anne Owers: Yes, we have noted those. The proposal is that they would come to the inspectorate of constabulary in the first instance, not to us. It will be interesting to see how that pans out. We asked for, and have been given, a power of own-initiative to be able to go into an individual investigation when we need to. We would need to see how the super-complaints work because, at the moment, between ourselves and the inspectorate of constabulary we have quite a lot of powers to go in and look at themes and issues that are arising. We are always slightly worried that a gateway will open that then leads to many things that we cannot do anything about but will be expected to. We are waiting to see what happens.

Q James Cleverly:

Okay, fair enough. Following that up, you mentioned the interrelationship between yourself and HMIC. Are there crossovers? Could there be convergence? Could you and should you work together closely, or indeed is there a requirement for two separate organisations?

Dame Anne Owers: My view is that there is a need for two separate organisations because investigating, which is inevitably reactive and responds to an incident, is different from inspecting, which is essentially preventive and regular. There is a close connection between them and with the work that the college does. Insofar as our work reveals problems and issues and we make recommendations, there is then an opportunity for HMIC to look at whether those recommendations are more  than pieces of paper when it goes round and does its police effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy programme inspections. There is also an opportunity for the college to reflect on whether that should feed into authorised professional practice and standards. Between us, we ought to be able to create a virtuous circle.

Professor Dame Shirley Pearce: I think we are now working much more closely together. We have a concordat about how our executive and those at non-executive level work together. We have a system whereby the standards are set in one place—the forces—and assessed in another. It also requires us to look at and to monitor quite carefully the powers in the Bill, as we develop much further away from a system where we have a barred list of people who have been struck off, and towards having lists of people who are qualified to do the job and have licences to practise—therefore, we hold a list of people who have skills—to see how those powers are implemented. Do we actually have the right powers?

We welcome some of things in the Bill to give the college powers for individuals, but when it comes to forces delivering things consistently, we are still dependent on a rather heavy-duty code of practice which still only requires forces to have regard to it. As we implement this tripartite system more effectively, we are going to have to watch that we have all the right powers in the right place.

Q Amanda Milling:

My question is for Dame Anne on the complaints framework. Can you see the logic of a single complaints framework for both police and fire under the single employer model?

Dame Anne Owers: I think there is a problem about that. It is a problem about our specific remit and about some of the incidents that may happen in a fire situation. Our remit is over bodies exercising policing powers. It is very clear. That can extend to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, it can extend to some of the immigration functions of the Home Office and it is going to extend to gangmasters, but it about the exercise of policing powers. I think there is real difficulty in just transporting the Police Reform Act onto bodies that do not do that.

Also, under the PRA, every death or serious injury must be referred to us so that we can decide whether it needs to be investigated. I think there would be real difficulty if that provision were to be applied to anyone, for example, who died in a house fire. I do not think the two run together: we have considerable concerns about whether that complaints system is suitable for the fire service.

Q Carolyn Harris:

The Bill allows for individual PCCs to decide if they will receive and record crimes. Do you think this is workable, or should there be a nationwide, uniform process which fits all sizes?

Dame Anne Owers: You mean recording complaints?

Dame Anne Owers: I have a lot of sympathy with that question. We are worried about the inconsistencies that may arise where, in some forces, the PCC will elect to be the person who receives complaints and in another force it may be the force itself. If you imagine, for example, a major public order incident which may involve quite a lot of forces, and we could have people directed to quite different bodies for complaints; or,  indeed, forces which share a professional standards department, as some of them do. We would have preferred to see a system where either it is the PCC, or it is the force, under the oversight of the PCC.

However, I do think, as I am sure PCCs will say, that PCCs have developed some really innovative ways of dealing with complaints, some of which have worked very well. It would be useful to extrapolate broad principles and standards from them. I think it will be necessary to do that in regulations and in the statutory guidance we produce, otherwise I think issues of fairness and consistency may arise in those choices. That is one concern that we flagged up about the Bill.

Q Craig Whittaker:

I want to go back to what you said about putting a time limit on bail. Surely, the current system, where we have no restrictions on bail, must be counterproductive? You said people would have to react more quickly, but surely a time limit focuses minds, makes people react more quickly, becomes much more productive and frees up more time in the long run? Surely, that seems like a common-sense approach?

Alex Marshall: I can see the purpose of a time limit. All I will say is that, so far, from the data we have looked at, the numbers are very high in terms of people who need to be bailed or who are bailed—whether they need to be, of course, becomes an interesting question—for more than 28 days to receive back forensic analysis, phone analysis, computer analysis, doctor statements and victim and witness statements from vulnerable people. Yes, of course, if people are working to a deadline, we might see a better response from all those other parties I have just listed. I just say: be careful about the resourcing consequences of imposing 28 days if that is not achievable by all those other parties. But yes, I get the common sense of your point.

Q Mims Davies:

I want to pick up a question that I have asked during the day of different witnesses and put it to Alex. It is regarding the requirements around the rank structure, the changes there, how the current structure fulfils the requirements and how you envisage things going forward in terms of your role.

Alex Marshall: Last year, the College of Policing conducted a leadership review, saying, “We know that the nature of police work is changing quite substantially. What, over the next 10 to 15 years, do we need in terms of police leadership?” We have made 10 recommendations, which I think taken together would make quite a positive difference. One of them looks at hierarchy in policing. To put it in very simple terms, in a serious emergency the command structure in the police and other emergency services and other agencies is a very useful way of being clear about who is in charge, what the lines of accountability are and where difficult, critical decisions are made.

Having excessive hierarchy in any organisation, including the police—this is what we learnt during the leadership review—stifles innovation. Also, we want the professional at the front end to be a well educated, well trained, skilled individual who is accountable for the decisions that they make, like the community midwife coming to your house. We want that person to be taking responsibility for their decisions. We do not want hierarchy that stifles that decision making or innovation in the organisation. We think that at the moment the number of ranks in policing is probably too many, and that work is happening at the moment.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

If there are no further questions from hon. Members, I thank the witnesses for their evidence. It has been really helpful and insightful .

Dame Anne Owers: I just want to signal that we have some comments to make on the provisions about investigations of chief constables and others and about whistleblowers, which we can write to the Committee about if that would be helpful.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Charlie Elphicke.)

Adjourned till Tuesday 22 March at twenty-five minutes past Nine o’clock.

 Written evidence reported to the House

PCB 01 Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue Service (GMFRS)

PCB 02 College of Policing

PCB 03 Home Office

On the basis of the programme order, the deadline for amendments to be considered at the first line-by-line sitting of the Committee on 22 March is at the rise of the House on Thursday 17 March.

Resolved,

That, at this and any subsequent meeting at which oral evidence is to be heard, the Committee shall sit in private until the witnesses are admitted.—(Mike Penning.)

Resolved,

That, subject to the discretion of the Chair, any written evidence received by the Committee shall be reported to the House for publication.—(Mike Penning.)

Copies of the written evidence the Committee receives will be made available in the Committee Room.

The Committee deliberated in private.