Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 420 - 439)



  420. If there was something that Parliament saw as nationally undesirable which a police force was doing, the Home Secretary would have the power to stop that which he does not have now. Is that the case with this legislation?
  (Ms Leech) My understanding is the legislation is intended for the Home Secretary to make interventions which would apply across all forces and not to direct individual forces to individual operational practices. He might be able to do the latter through the Clause 5 route of identifying that he thought the particular force, through not adopting the practice, was failing in some way and then directing the chief officer to put that right by an instruction but certainly it is not the intention of Clause 7. We have not assumed that Clause 7 would be the route you would use if you wanted to tackle an issue in an individual force. We have assumed the Home Secretary would be more minded to operate through Clause 5 and that would be the intention.
  (Mr Peel) I would just make one point on Clause 7 and that is the regulations. What we are saying is we think we ought to be consulted. It could be that the Home Office will say "We are consulted in that you will notice that the regulations are drafted to go before the Central Police Training and Development Authority, CPTDA". The difficulty we have with that is that came into existence or we knew about it before we knew about this Bill. We have appointed our representatives on that CPTDA. Of course who we appointed are people who are specialists in training, which is what that body is about, they are not specialists in drafting Bills or drafting regulations.


  421. We will be ready for that.
  (Mr Peel) Thank you.

  Chairman: If they try to get away with it that way.

Mr Cameron

  422. We had ACPO making the same point. ACPO are disappointed they are not being consulted and yet the Central Police Training and Development Authority are.
  (Dr Henig) That is right.

  423. Everyone does seem to be concentrating on Clause 7. How serious do you think this is? It has been put that a future Home Secretary, less liberal and reasonable than the current one, could use this to do some quite extraordinary things. I draw your attention to Part 1 "The Secretary of State may by regulation make a provision requiring all these forces in England and Wales to adopt particular procedures or practices". To take two examples. Could the Secretary of State say "You must arrest picketing miners or you must arrest members of the National Front"? How bad is this? Is it something that Parliament should be really worried about or do you think it is being blown up?
  (Mr Peel) No, I think you are absolutely right. I am not suggesting the present administration would do that, on the other hand things could change. Once it is there it is there and yes it could—could—be used for that purpose and that is what worries us.
  (Ms Leech) Ultimately I suspect it is to do with the courts. It would be open to the courts I think and maybe the courts would be asked to determine whether or not picketing miners, for example, could be said to be an operational procedure in practice or whether that is actually an operational decision, if you like. It is around those words and what is a procedure and practice. Is that a generic thing which is about a particular policy approach which applies across all forces or can it obtain to the level of detail that you are talking about.

  424. You are sufficiently worried about it. It is of that magnitude.
  (Dr Henig) It needs to be flagged up as a concern.
  (Mr Peel) It must be considered.

  Chairman: Okay. Now we take a great leap forward to Clause 28: resignation in the interest of efficiency and effectiveness.

Bridget Prentice

  425. Yes. I have been very interested in your responses so far. Mostly it seems to me you are concerned you have not been consulted as much as you might. I just wonder why you think the Home Office has found it necessary to take more power to dispense with chief constables? What is the thinking behind that or do you have any views?
  (Dr Henig) Clearly in the recent past there have been one or two difficult situations which may well have led to consideration of this area of powers. There have been in the past—though very few—some difficult cases involving chief constables, let us be clear about it. I support any opportunity to try and find a way through. Actually if you do have a difficult situation and if you do have a chief constable, as we have had in the past, who had to be perhaps filtered out and retired then you can carry out that process as effectively as possible so I do support that. It does not happen very often but it happens very occasionally and we know of times when it has arisen in the last five years. Clearly I think that needs to be there. We do not have any problems with the existing powers.

  426. You have no problems with the existing powers?
  (Dr Henig) That is right.

  427. What do you think about the powers that are now going in Clause 28?
  (Ms Leech) It is Clause 29 we have more problems with. Clause 28 extends the existing powers, both of police authorities and of the Secretary of State. That is around the situation where the chief constable, it is agreed, should go in the interests of the efficiency and effectiveness of the force. We have, as Dr Henig said, less difficulty with that than with the concept of suspension. We welcome the ability of the police authority to take a judgment about whether that is appropriate in the light of public confidence locally in the force but we think it is wholly inappropriate that the Home Secretary should take the power to direct the police authority to suspend.
  (Dr Henig) It is 29 which is the problem for us rather than 28.

  428. This is the point I want to get to. You said existing powers have been used a few times in the past. Roughly how many times in the past?
  (Dr Henig) I am not sure they have been used. I think they have been there in the background.

  429. They are clearly there.
  (Dr Henig) The Home Secretary's powers I am not sure have been used. I think the police authorities have exercised their power once or twice. There have been one or two, I do not want to go into details, there have been a couple of cases, and it is at the end of a long road, there has been an accumulation of problems, if I can put it in those terms. It has become very clear that a chief officer should actually be retired and that process has finally come to an end. I think we should do all we can in that situation to get to that end point. It has become apparent for quite some time that there is a major problem, these things do not just arise. 28 I think is trying to help that process, which is always going to be difficult, wholly exceptional, it is always going to be difficult, just help that process to come to an end as soon as possible.

  430. What do you think is the thinking behind the view that the Secretary of State should have?
  (Dr Henig) This is 29?

  431. Yes.
  (Dr Henig) I think this could be a very different situation. 29 could well be a situation where something blows up in an area, these things can happen as we have seen. There could be perhaps a major demonstration, somebody gets killed in the course of this demonstration, not necessarily anybody's fault in particular but it could happen, it could cause a big outcry, there could be a great media taking up of this crisis and the Home Secretary could come under pressure to do something. He might well feel that the way of dealing with this particular situation is to want to suspend one of the chief officers involved. Now the crisis might have blown over locally, the crisis might have resolved itself, people might feel locally that there was no longer a problem. I think there could be a difference of view nationally and locally as to whether suspension is needed in that situation and that is what we are worried about. For a Home Secretary to be able to say to a police authority "You must suspend X" if the police authority does not feel that actually that is warranted, that could lead to a direct conflict. What if 17 members of a police authority said "No, we do not agree, we do not feel suspension in this case is appropriate" I can see all sorts of problems here. It is actually unprecedented, it does not exist at the moment. What we were talking about before, it was the end of a long road where there had been problems. The police authority agreed there had been problems and it was trying to expedite this very unusual and out of the way situation. 29 could be something of a very different kind.

  432. Could it not be the case that the 17 are actually incompetent themselves and really the Home Secretary does have to take a view rather than allow the police authority to carry on regardless?
  (Dr Henig) That is possible and it may very well be that the 17 say "we do not agree with the Home Secretary" and the 17 presumably then resign. It seems to me that does lead to a crisis of confidence because how is it then that there are 17 members of a police authority who are so incompetent, all 17 of them, including three magistrates and five independent members, that it has led to this situation. I cannot see that there could be that kind of difference. Normally speaking, if there is a complex political situation, let us say there has been a big demonstration, let us say there has been a fatality, you would expect in the local police authority there would be a division of view, there would be people who would take different lines on this one. I think therefore, again, in a situation of this kind you would expect that there would be some sort of consensus between where the Home Secretary was coming from and some members of the authority, if not all members of the authority. I find it hard to conceive of a situation where the Home Secretary feels "yes, we have got to suspend this chief officer" and none of the 17 members of the police authority see that is a need. I think that is a real unprecedented flashpoint of a kind that I think could be very dangerous.

  433. You think it is almost so unlikely, almost impossible, that such a situation would arise?
  (Dr Henig) I find it hard to see how this would arise, yes, I have got to be honest.

  434. You think on that basis there is no need for the Home Secretary to take this further?
  (Dr Henig) No, I do not actually. I think if the Home Secretary feels that there is a major crisis, that what he needs to do is to actually urgently talk to the police authority. What is the nature of the crisis, does the police authority think there is a crisis? If the police authority is of a different view, why are they of a different view? Where are the differences? There must be a way in which there can be some negotiation here. Police authorities themselves, as I have already indicated, are used to operating through consensus measures, that is how they operate as local bodies. What we would say is not that the Home Secretary should not have this power but that it should be operated together with police authorities which would actually strengthen it. It should not be operated potentially against police authorities because if the Home Secretary comes and says to me, or to Anthony, or to any other chairman, "you will suspend your chief constable" and the police authority did not feel that that situation was warranted, you have a recipe there for conflict which in the tripartite structure is wholly undesirable.

  435. What then do you think are the practical implications of requiring a chief constable to "resign" rather than "retire"?
  (Mr Peel) I think we have all puzzled slightly over this because all section 28 does is to add "resign" to "retire". I assume it is something to do with pensions but it is an assumption we can only make. So you could get a chief constable who is late 40s, early 50s, long before he gets to his retirement, who wants to resign and presumably if he resigns there is a different situation with this pension. I do not know, I am to some extent guessing, but I suppose equally if he has resigned, he has resigned from that particular post rather than the policing service as a whole and he could presumably apply for chief constableship somewhere else. I have to say we are guessing, we do not actually know what the rationale for that reason is.

  436. You think there is a pension implication?
  (Mr Peel) I think there is a pension issue to it but I cannot lay my hand on my heart and say I know that because we have not actually asked that question.

  437. Perhaps when we see the Minister we will be able to tease that out of him.
  (Mr Peel) It could be a worthwhile question. Otherwise I do not see any particular logic to it.

  438. Could I ask one final question on your comments on clause 28. You say that "The power for the Home Secretary to require the police authority to suspend the chief constable is however inappropriate and further evidence of the Ministers centralising agenda. . ." Why do you use the phrase "further evidence of the Ministers centralising agenda"?
  (Mr Peel) I think it is just one other matter out of a whole range of matters which we believe are doing that. It is giving the Home Secretary direct control, if you like, it is hopping over the authority down to the chief constable. It is just one other matter, there are a whole range of them.

  439. Are you suggesting that the whole Bill has a centralising agenda?
  (Ms Leech) Yes.

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