Clause 13 - Complaints, conduct matters and DSI matters: procedure

Policing and Crime Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 4:30 pm on 22nd March 2016.

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Question proposed,That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of George Howarth George Howarth Labour, Knowsley

With this it will be convenient to consider new clause 9—Proportionate protection for members of police forces who admit mistakes—

The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision for the Independent Police Complaints Commission to offer proportionate protection to members of police forces subject to an investigation or a complaint who are honest in admitting their mistakes.”

This new clause would ensure that where members of police forces are honest in admitting their mistakes, the Independent Police Complaints Commission gives them credit for that in subsequent investigations or complaints.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Home Affairs) 4:45 pm, 22nd March 2016

The amendment would ensure that, when members of police forces are honest in admitting their mistakes, the Independent Police Complaints Commission gives them credit for that in any subsequent investigations or complaints. The purpose of the amendment is to promote the importance of creating a learning rather than always a blame culture in the police. I will start with a rather unusual parallel.

I remember the first time I ever went to the Ford plant in Dagenham. There were 3,000 inspectors. Eventually, a “right first time” culture evolved, through team working and engaging the workforce. In particular, at the heart of that culture was the encouragement, “If you get it wrong, own up; if you can think of a better way for the job to be done, say so.” I think that that was absolutely right. Indeed, that culture of continuous improvement is at the centre of the success of the automotive industry, and we see it elsewhere in the private sector. As I will say in a moment, the Government are also proposing it for the public sector, so we must move towards a situation where members of police forces feel supported to speak out when mistakes happen. We therefore want to start a conversation with the Government about how they can take a proactive role in developing it.

The police are told in the police code of ethics that

“you must never ignore unethical or unprofessional behaviour by a policing colleague, irrespective of the person’s rank, grade or role… You will be supported if you report any valid concern over the behaviour of someone working in policing which…has fallen below the standards expected.”

However—this point pre-empts new clause 8—members of police forces have very little understanding of what, if any, protection is on offer. According to the Government’s consultation on the subject:

“Police officers feel unable to admit to a mistake without fear of being subject to disciplinary proceedings.”

We therefore want to build on what is already starting to happen in the police service, such as the good work of the College of Policing on learning from mistakes.

On where the police service is now, however, in evidence to the Committee, police leaders contrasted the police complaints system with the systems in the airline and nuclear industries, where a real effort has been made in the interests of public safety to develop a learning-based approach to accidents and mistakes. On the one hand, pilots are encouraged to report if they overshoot the white mark; and, on the other hand, the nuclear industry, with which I am very familiar—I dealt with British Nuclear Fuels and the United Kingdom Atomic Energy Authority for many years—has placed a huge emphasis on, “If you get it wrong or if you make a mistake, own up, because we need to learn from those mistakes if we are to ensure that we maintain the highest standards of safety.”

Indeed, it is interesting that the Secretary of State for Health has just announced his intention to encourage such a learning culture in the national health service to institute:

“An NHS that learns from mistakes.”

His recent statement to the House should inform the nature of our debate:

“In addition to greater and more intelligent transparency, a culture of learning means we need to create an environment in which clinicians feel able to speak up about mistakes. We will therefore bring forward measures for those who speak honestly to investigators from the healthcare safety investigation branch to have the kind of ‘safe space’ that applies to those speaking to the air accident investigation branch.”

That is precisely the parallel with airlines that I drew a moment ago. The statement continues:

“The General Medical Council and the Nursing and Midwifery Council have made it clear through their guidance that where doctors, nurses or midwives admit what has gone wrong and apologise, the professional tribunal should give them credit for that, just as failing to do so is likely to incur a serious sanction.”

The Secretary of State is saying, and rightly so, that medical professionals should be given credit for admitting mistakes, which of course does not defend anyone who has done something unacceptable that deserves disciplinary action, but in terms of the culture that he is trying to create, he rightly argues that credit should be given where people own up. The statement continues:

“The Government remain committed to legal reform that would allow professional regulators more flexibility to resolve cases without stressful tribunals.

NHS Improvement will ask for the commitment to learning to be reflected in all trust disciplinary procedures and ask all trusts to publish a charter for openness and transparency so staff can have clear expectations of how they will be treated if they witness clinical errors.” —[Official Report, 9 March 2016; Vol. 607, c. 17-18WS.]

It is not often that I praise the Secretary of State for Health, but he is absolutely right on the kind of culture that should apply in public services. I have seen it apply in the private sector. Of course it is early days following the announcement by the Secretary of State, and we do not know how successful the project will be at the next stages, but we very much hope that Police Ministers will take serious note of his political will to institute a culture of transparency and openness.

Finally, I draw a strong distinction between on the one hand serious matters that have to be properly pursued through the investigatory arrangements and on the other what happens in the world of work—in the public and private sectors—where mistakes are sometimes made. It is far better that those mistakes are owned up to and lessons are learned, rather than having a culture where people fear that if they own up, they might suffer as a consequence.

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

May I start by saying that I agree with the spirit of new clause 9? Police officers and police forces should be encouraged to honestly acknowledge their mistakes, and they should be commended for doing so with the aim of ensuring that they do not make the same mistake again. That is why the Bill introduces a range of reforms to simplify the complaints system and, importantly, to make it less adversarial. The Bill redefines a complaint as an “expression of dissatisfaction” against a police force, moving away from linking every complaint with an individual. It also provides forces with much greater discretion in how they can resolve complaints in a reasonable and proportionate manner, encouraging them to seek swift resolution with the complainant.

For allegations below the threshold of gross misconduct, regulations already provide for management, rather than disciplinary action, to be taken where appropriate, but our reforms will go further. We will bring forward regulations to integrate the recommendations of the independent Chapman review into the disciplinary system. That will refocus the system back on learning lessons, ensuring that necessary managerial interventions short of dismissal are focused on transformation.

None the less, we are clear that where a police officer commits an act of misconduct, the public and his or her fellow officers have a right to expect that that officer is held to account and that his or her actions are fully and transparently investigated. A blanket assurance that any police officer should always receive protection from facing the consequences of their actions will not achieve that. I hope that we would all agree, given the conversations we have in surgery appointments, that constituents want to see their complaints properly and fully investigated with full transparency. It is incredibly important that we deliver that.

It is not the role of the Independent Police Complaints Commission to determine protection for those who admit or apologise for committing misconduct. For the IPCC to consider an officer’s contrition would be inappropriate, not least as the IPCC only investigates the most serious and sensitive allegations. The IPCC must establish the facts of the complaint and other matters and then put forward an assessment of whether there is a case to answer. Following any investigation, an appropriate sanction taking into account any mitigating  factors should rightly be considered by the force or, in cases of gross misconduct, by a disciplinary panel chaired by an independent qualified person. The College of Policing is developing benchmarking guidance for chairs of disciplinary panels to assist them in making judgments about mitigating and aggravating circumstances. That also implements a recommendation of the Chapman review.

Chief officers have an important role to play through their leadership, setting the organisational culture within their forces and supporting the learning and development of their officers and staff. We heard last week from Chief Superintendent Irene Curtis that there should be a

“sense of proportionality in how we deal with conduct issues in policing.” ––[Official Report, Policing and Crime Public Bill Committee, 15 March 2016; c. 19, Q16.]

Our package of reforms will achieve that, without compromising the need to ensure that misconduct is dealt with fairly and robustly to maintain public confidence in the police. I therefore hope that the hon. Gentleman will withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

First, for the avoidance of doubt, we are absolutely not seeking a blanket exemption. Where police officers are guilty of misconduct and deserve disciplinary action, that action should be taken. We are focused on having a culture that is not a blame culture, but one of continuous improvement that improves how the police operate. The Minister gave a tantalising hint that regulations will be introduced in due course. If they are combined with the work being done by the College of Policing, I hope that we can move towards something that is more akin to what has been successful elsewhere and that commands the confidence of the police service. We will discuss it in more detail shortly, but that is the final point I want to make: the public want to have confidence in the complaints and disciplinary arrangements, but so, too, does the police service.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 13ordered to stand part of the Bill.