Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 540 - 559)



  540. Is this really just the first step towards a national police force?
  (Mr Denham) I do not think it is. A sensible recognition that criminals will not stay in one area suggests that there are some things, some levels of consistency which have to go beyond the individual force. Potentially anti-terrorism operations is another area. That is not a move towards a national police force, it is not changing the police force boundaries or the roles and powers of police authorities, but it is recognising that some policing functions actually have to be consistent across a wider area if we as the public are going to be properly protected.

  541. Does that suggest that some police forces would merge?
  (Mr Denham) As you know we looked at that when writing the White Paper and we took a very clear view that we did not want to precipitate a major or wholesale reorganisation of police forces. Our view was very clear, you can only absorb a certain amount of change in any system at any one time. If we go for a massive reorganisation of police forces that is all that we could have done, forget about police performance, and all of the rest of it. Whilst historically no one can really defend the mass of police forces, which is based on a mixture of Anglo-Saxon Kingdoms and the results of the Norman Conquest, which is largely middle 60s boundary reorganisation thrown in, and you might not start from here, we do not want to see a wholesale upheaval. There are provisions within the Police Act if police authorities want to bring forward proposals for change, but I am not aware of any imminently going through.

  542. Are you sure it will not be possible for directions to be given to a police officer in relation to any single investigation?
  (Mr Denham) Yes. That is the intention of Clause 5.

Mr Watson

  543. Can I seek clarification on something you said about Clause 6 and police vehicles, did you say that police vehicles might be included under Clause 6 to give central direction?
  (Mr Denham) No, I did not.

  544. Clearly there could be huge economies of scale if there was central direction. There appears to be no collation of data about what contracts are held by each police authority, either by the Association of Police Authorities or the Home Office?
  (Mr Denham) I did not indicate that I thought we were about to do this for police cars. It is not an issue on which I think we can take a particular view.

  545. Do you think there could be economies of scale if there was central direction?
  (Mr Denham) I guess if there were economies of scale there might be. You have probably raised an issue on which more research should be done. It is equally possible that the needs of different forces are quite considerable. The needs of the force that has large stretches of motorway might be very different to areas which are predominantly rural and the types of public order that people have to deal with might vary. I rather suspect that the idea of a simple standardisation as a solution is not right.

  546. Do you think that under the current system it could be that one chairman of the Police Authority would decide to buy a rather more expensive model, say a German-made BMW, where another chairman might go for a more robust and cost-effective Rover 75. Is that possible?
  (Mr Denham) Going back to Mr Russell's question, I hope that these are issues which will be looked at by the best-value process at the very least. This is the way in which these things should be exercised. I have absolutely no doubt that the hypothetical chairman you are talking about would be well satisfied with his Rover 75, knowing which constituency you come from.

  Chairman: I feel a contract coming on!

Mr Watson

  547. The point is, we do not see any statistics about what cars are purchased, how many there are and what the price is. No one seems to be collating this central information, so we cannot really analyse whether people are getting the best value?
  (Mr Denham) I think it is a very interesting question and perhaps I can come back to the Committee in writing.[4] The question being raised it would be of interest to see which forces have chosen, if they have, this area of best-value to look at. The best-value framework is one that we would expect to pick this up over time.

  Mr Watson: Thank you.


  548. On this regulation of Operational Procedures and Practices I think you agreed in the Lords to make it subject to an affirmative resolution?
  (Mr Denham) It has been subject to an affirmative resolution. We are giving some consideration, Chairman, to whether the drafting of the Clause could not more closely reflect the answer that I have just given to Mr Russell about the cross-border national interest. That is what is intended already in the drafting of the Clause by the reference to the national nature of the issues. We are giving consideration to that and, indeed, I think this is an area where the views of the HMIC, as to whether that need is established, might well be helpful, so we are giving consideration to the detailed drafting of the Clause to make sure it does what we want it to do and not things that we do not.[5]

  549. Sir David Philips of ACPO was rather agitated by this and he said that historically, "We", ACPO chief officers "have been the authors of operational policing policy, mainly because if anything goes wrong operationally we are the people who have to appear in the coroner's court or are precariously liable for the action of our officers". That is a fair point, is it not?
  (Mr Denham) There is no doubt that ACPO have to be centrally involved in the production or the guidance, whether we are talking about the regulations here or the codes of practice that are dealt with else where. It is absolutely our intention that that will be the case. ACPO is represented directly on the CPTDA, which is the body which will be charged with drawing up regulations and guidance, that will establish a group to draw up the details of guidance and ACPO will always be well represented in the group drawing up the guidance. I think it is sensible to say that there are areas of policy where some other inputs are also useful, and other areas where it is purely a professional matter that that may not be the case, but ACPO will be involved. I had an exchange of correspondence with David Phillips round the time of the White Paper making that assurance. I am sure Lord Brooke has said this in the House of Lords, but I will be committing ourselves to that in the committee.

  Chairman: In part two turning to complaints and misconduct in the Bill.

Mr Prosser

  550. Minister, the setting up of the Independent Police Complaints Commission has been described by some as the most important provision in the Bill, do you think its constitution is independent enough?
  (Mr Denham) I think that it is. You always have this problem that if the Government sets up anything the Government sets it up, and it is difficult to see how more independent you can be. I think the constitution is independent. What is important about it is not just that it is established as an independent body, but the system is designed to have safeguards built in so that complainants do not end up feeling that they have been fobbed off, or their complaint has been unreasonably not recorded or not investigated, so you have this ability to appeal. Also the IPCC would, of course, be able to investigate on its own behalf in a substantial number of cases and to manage the investigation in another substantial number of cases. The extent to which the whole system looks as though it depends on the Police Service investigating itself, whether it is one force investigating itself or another force investigating a force, that will change significantly. I think the perception of the current system as being too much the police investigating themselves will change when the IPCC comes in.

  551. What about the chairmanship of the Commission? He or she will be appointed by the Queen, that truly means it is a gift of the Minister, would it not have been better, more transparent and more independent if that had been with the consent and advice of Parliament?
  (Mr Denham) I might take advice on whether there would be any precedent for that sort of appointment by Parliament. The normal practice over a huge range of public bodies that are regarded as independent is for ministerial appointments. I do not really see a particular problem in following that precedent in this case.

  552. With respect to the Chief Executive of the Commission, the Home Secretary will have powers to approve, which could be translated as powers to veto that appointment as well?
  (Mr Denham) Again, it is the normal procedure with non-departmental public bodies. My own feeling is that probably Home Secretaries are more likely than, perhaps, if you like, the Members to produce people who want to be effective and independent.

  553. One of the contrary examples we have been given is the chief executive of the Electoral Commission. I think that it is not within the gift of Ministers to approve the chief executive of that body?
  (Mr Denham) I will look at that further. That is Mr Younger, is it? Who made that appointment?


  554. It was the chief executive.
  (Mr Denham) If we look across the range of government bodies there are some that do and some that do not. It is normally the practice of the Home Secretary or a Minister to approve. My feeling, to be perfectly honest, is I think that modest level of involvement is probably helpful to the system in making sure you have somebody who is going to be vigorous in pursuing the system. I am not always sure, if I am quite honest, if the system is allowed to produce its own people that it produces people who are going to have independence and the vigour we would like. The argument does not all stack one way in terms of having an effective organisation. I can see no particular reason why a Home Secretary would have a motive not to have an effective IPCC.

Mr Prosser

  555. Thank you. I move now to police discipline, we have heard quite a lot of evidence from many senior police officers about how archaic the present system is and how inflexible it is and how drawn out it is and lots of other defects. You made the point yourself that police bills do not come along every year, would this not have been an opportunity to have a comprehensive reform of the police disciplinary arrangements?
  (Mr Denham) The disciplinary arrangements were changed in 1999 after fairly extensive discussions with the Police Service and are therefore relatively new in their current form. Although people have made various suggestions for changes I cannot say that I have yet seen any that really stood out as things that would make a massive difference to the way in which the system operates in terms of the regulations. I think that most of the problems that people are experiencing with the disciplinary system, not all of them, but many of them, are about poor management or grievances and discipline issues within the system. If you look at the report by David Muir for the Metropolitan Police Authority into the case of Gurpal Virdi the conclusion there is that the system was run really badly, it was not so much the rules were wrong, but things got locked in, as I understand it, to a very formal disciplinary conduct process instead of being resolved at an earlier stage by good management. I think that is the emerging picture round the Police Service. I think Sir David Phillips said something quite similar when he was at the Committee. We have obviously looked at things like should we impose a time limit, because the length of time of some of these cases is a real worry. There are very big difficulties. What do you do if a case quite legitimately takes a long time and you run passed the time limit, do you say, that is the end of it, there is no disciplinary matter. Whilst I would not rule out reform in the future I was not convinced there was something fundamental we could do in this Bill. There may be opportunities for further tweaking of the system because we currently have different types of different disciplinary approaches for senior and more junior ranks, and we need to bring those together in the future so there will be the opportunity for change. That is basically how we came to where we did here.

  Mr Prosser: Thank you.

David Winnick

  556. As far as the Independent Police Complaints Commission is concerned, Minister, I see that you have been criticised by a number of bodies, the Police Federation and Liberty, and I expect your response is, if both are against you must be about right. Liberty takes the view that it is not as independent as it should be and the Police Federation, surprisingly, perhaps, say, "The Independent Police Complaints Commission should be much more independent and have a far wider remit of complaints investigation." Do you take those criticisms at all seriously?
  (Mr Denham) I think if we compare what the IPCC would be able to do compared with the PCA it is significantly more effective and in practice able to be independent. For example, the PCA currently supervises 800 to 900 cases a year. I understand that less than 100 of those involve one force being investigated by another force into that particular complaint. We are looking at the IPCC which will have the capacity to mount about 1,000 investigations a year on its own account, as well as managing another 1,000, so in terms of the ability to look at the most serious cases and put in people who are working not for the Police Service but for the IPCC there is a big capacity which did not exist previously and a very substantial number of managed cases on top of that. Coupled with that is the ability of the complainant to be kept informed and to appeal if at any point, particularly in other cases where they feel they are not being investigated properly, that provides real protection for the complainant and the system as a whole.

  557. The present situation is unsatisfactory and, of course, it is being, hopefully, rectified by the new body. Up to now is it not the case that the general feeling is that the police force investigating another police force arising from the complaints made, the Police Complaints Authority, to a large extent, if not discredited is not looked upon in any way as an independent body?
  (Mr Denham) That is certainly the perception.

  558. You do accept it has been the perception?
  (Mr Denham) I think the perception has been that the police are investigating themselves. That is not, I hasten to add, the same as making a judgment that has led to a string of wrong investigations or wrong handling of complaint, or whatever, that would be a very sweeping claim to make and I have not seen any evidence to suggest that is right. The problem is that if somebody makes a complaint and they feel it has not been properly investigated it is not surprising if their reaction is to say, the police were investigating themselves. The IPCC I think gives people much greater reassurance that in serious cases they will be able to investigate directly and in cases where, for example, it might be initially agreed that the matter would be investigated by the force itself, the complainant will be told properly about the results of that in the way that they have not been in the past and be able to appeal to the IPCC and say, this was not handled properly. There is both direct investigations and the ability to appeal against something that is handled at a lower level in the system. Neither of those operate in the system at the moment.

  559. Correct me if I am wrong, under the new system which has been proposed of the IPCC the police will have an input, will they not, in complaints being made against another force?
  (Mr Denham) Yes.

4   See Appendix, Ev 164. Back

5   See Appendix, Ev 164. Back

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