Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 80 - 99)



  80. Going to the Bill, with which you are familiar.
  (Mr Morris) It is not exactly exciting reading, I am afraid.

  81. I understand that. Which do you particularly agree with of the proposed reforms that are in the Bill?
  (Mr Morris) I think the main bit around the Bill that we feel comfortable with is that we have had such an important input to it. It has not suddenly hit the service, it has not suddenly hit the Superintendents' Association. What we have been doing since Jack Straw was the Home Secretary is discussing these things. Perhaps the speed at which things changed was a little difficult, trying to get it all in to respond. Many of the ideas we have discussed. That leaves myself in a difficult position with some of my colleagues who perhaps have not had the benefit of discussing it at various levels and then ask "why the hell are we agreeing to x, y, z?" There are some important things there about moving the service forward as a modern organisation. Perhaps the bits that we are still worried about are how we are expected to finance that given the current round of budgets in particular and allocation of funds to forces.

  82. Before we come to finance let us go through one or two of the things within the Bill that you can tell us whether you agree or disagree with. Do you share Sir David's concern about the Home Secretary's plans to give more power to the Home Office and take some away from the local forces?
  (Mr Morris) We do have concerns and we tried to explain those. For superintendents it is quite straightforward, if we are not performing we would expect our chief constables to take us to task and do something about it.

  83. What would you expect to happen to a chief constable if he was not performing?
  (Mr Morris) That is the problem. It would appear that the Home Secretary can demand certain levels of performance but has not got the stick to enforce it with. It is understandable that somebody should want to be in that position. I do believe it is entirely right that an elected representative who then becomes Home Secretary should demand certain levels of performance. I need not tell the Committee about the British constitution and how you keep the legislative body and the enforcement side and the judiciary apart whilst there are obvious overlaps. Our main concern comes about perhaps not with this Home Secretary but in the future. The opportunity for political appointments at chief officer level come to mind and that raises a whole new terms of reference for policing this nation that I think we would feel very uncomfortable with.

  84. Are there any plans to change the method of appointment of chief constables?
  (Mr Morris) Not that I am aware of. As I tried to say in our response to the White Paper, the opportunity for somebody to be mischievous in the future is quite clear in our view. Not that we suggest the current Home Secretary would do that.

  85. You mean in getting rid of people he did not like rather than appointing people he liked?
  (Mr Morris) That, plus it has already opened the door to make it possible to have a political appointment. In particular, if you take another leap forward in time, as many people have, and say we have got too many forces at 43, if you get it down to a manageable number of ten then the pressure on those people to conform to a political will rather than an operational need is going to be quite significant.

  86. Do you think that 43 is a reasonable number or too many?
  (Mr Morris) It is very difficult because the localness that we have, I think, is absolutely vital. Whether that can be translated still through Basic Command Units is another matter. There are economies of scale that quite clearly are being overcome by forces working together. If we were to redesign the UK now I do not think we would design it around the 43 forces but then I doubt whether we would stick to the baronial boundaries that we have between the counties as they are at present either.

  87. You see some merit in reducing the number?
  (Mr Morris) I think sooner or later we will have to look at it in more detail.

  88. You do not want to see it reduced to the point where all influence is in the hands of someone in the Home Office?
  (Mr Morris) That would bother me.

David Winnick

  89. Getting rid of chief constables, I see the reservations that you have expressed in your paper but in practice that happens nowadays, does it not? There was a very recent case that you are familiar with, as are the rest of us, when the Home Secretary indicated that a chief constable should go and go he did. What is going to happen is simply this will be more directly a way in which the Home Secretary will say what he will say, namely the chief constable should go. What is wrong with that?
  (Mr Morris) In that case I think it is unfair to pick up on a personal issue that I do not know the full circumstances of. I do not disagree in general in principle with the idea that a Home Secretary should have the ability to do it but, if I can keep it on a practical level, if one of my constables was not performing I would expect the sergeant to do something about it and if he or she did not then I would tackle the sergeant. All the way up the line that is the case. If it was my chief inspector then I would expect the chief constable to have words with me or threaten to remove me from the post I was holding.

  90. There is a difference, is there not—
  (Mr Morris) Yes, quite considerably.

  91.—between those ranks and the chief constable in charge of an area which chief constables are in charge of where one would have thought the Home Secretary would be very sensitive to not taking any action unless it was pretty well justified? The reaction in the media and in the House of Commons if he or she was to act in a way that was considered wrong would be pretty obvious, would it not?
  (Mr Morris) I would hope it would be. This is on a personal level rather than just the Association because obviously I cannot talk to 1,300 superintendents about this specific one. A chief constable is appointed by a police authority and I do wonder whether the Home Secretary's wrath should be directed at the authority rather than the chief constable, albeit that the end result may be the same.

Mr Cameron

  92. You have slightly answered my point. The police authorities do not seem to have much of a role in the Bill. Do you think that the real responsibility of hiring and firing chief constables should be with the police authority?
  (Mr Morris) Yes, I do. We do have this tripartite structure which gives the police authorities quite a lot of discretion and a role to play within policing. Some of them are answerable to their electorate because of their positions and some are appointed. I believe it has worked fairly well but it would appear that there are flaws that we could overcome if we strengthened their role. I think that would have a firmer basis in our current constitution than what is being proposed.

  93. Is there something that is not in the Bill that really disappoints you? One of the things we talked about with the Metropolitan Police Commissioner the other day was the disciplinary procedures which make it very difficult for superintendents, your members, to manage their forces in many ways. Does that disappoint you, that there is not a proper reform being done there?
  (Mr Morris) The superintendent on a BCU, of which I have commanded two, is in a difficult position because we have this historical basis with the police regulations but we now also have employment law. Although police officers are often referred to as not being employees, they can certainly call upon that legislation. There is a double edge to that. On the one hand it affords them some protection but it is also something to hide behind. It is not that simple—I have tried it—to sack a civilian member of the service. I would rather see one set of rules for all of us if that could be achieved but we would need the discipline regulations to make the public realise that we are accountable as police officers with the quite awesome powers that we have at our disposal.

  94. Is that the most disappointing thing that is not in the Bill or is it something else?
  (Mr Morris) I think there are a number of things. If I could focus on one. Because it is called a Police Bill it is naturally pointing towards the service but the service exists within a larger judicial system and getting our side of it right will improve things but it will be rather like pouring water into a leaky bucket. I think there are a lot of other things that need to be considered in the round rather than just pretending the police are going to solve everything.

  Mr Cameron: Thank you.

  The Committee suspended from 4.24 pm to 4.35 pm for a division in the House.


  95. Right. Let us see how long we can get away with this time. We were just going through what you agreed with in the Bill. You dealt with the new powers the Home Secretary is proposing to grant himself. Is your Association happy with the police complaints provisions in the Bill for independent authority?
  (Mr Morris) We understand and would like to see the service to be in a position where the public primarily have faith in a complaints system, I think that is absolutely critical. Second to that, but perhaps no less important, the police must also have faith in it. Our concern—and this bounds back from our colleagues in Northern Ireland—is where do you get the investigators from and if they are retired police officers will it achieve independence in the eyes of the public which is clearly of concern. Secondly, if the investigations are not adequate and are not properly conducted, and the police are upset by the result, then the adverse publicity could rebound on the whole system.

  96. The publicity could not be any worse, could it, than it has been up until fairly recently, not immediately but fairly recently.
  (Mr Morris) Perhaps that is a little unfair on Sir Alistair Graham and his colleagues. I think the lack of credibility at some times has been extremely damaging so we do need to change. I have just got concerns about how it would take place.

  97. Would you make a change or would you not?
  (Mr Morris) No, I think it has got to be done, yes.

  98. Community Support Officers, where does the Association stand on that?
  (Mr Morris) We understand the need for them, we understand that lots of Community Support Officers in different guises are out on our streets now. It is vital that we are able to talk to them. I think we can do a lot with them to help with training, with understanding their role and how we can work together. The problem comes, and I think you alluded to it earlier when questioning Sir David, around Schedule 6, is it?

  99. We can check that.
  (Mr Morris) I just do not know how this 30 minutes came out, where it came from and what the effect will be. It is quite clear when an officer says "You are under arrest" and lays on hands and says the caution that that person is under arrest. When a detention starts does not seem to have been explained satisfactorily. Is it when they are first spoken to or is it when they are told, as they would under PACE perhaps, that they are being detained? We have to question what the difference is between a detention and an arrest.

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