Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 80 - 99)



80.  You said, in your submission on the White Paper, that you wanted clear agreement about what "unsatisfactory performance" means; what sort of definition are you after?

  (Sir John Stevens) Basically, along the lines of what I have been saying, what does "unsatisfactory" mean and what does "the public interest" mean; these are terminologies that some of us who have been brought up in the law and trained in the law would perhaps have a better grasp of. But there are one or two phrases there that we have difficulty with, and here I speak not on behalf of ACPO, but I know my colleagues in ACPO have similar problems with it.

81.  You have spoken about operational independence; there is another bit of the Bill that says, the Secretary of State may make provision requiring all police forces in England and Wales to adopt particular operational procedures or practices. Is not that the man in Whitehall, sitting at his desk and saying, all policemen must stand on one leg, or wear pink?

  (Sir John Stevens) I do not know. I think these are the details that no doubt this House will look into.

82.  What would be your view, as a serving police officer, about the Home Office having those sorts of powers?

  (Sir John Stevens) I think it goes back to what I said earlier on. If there is best practice, I was an HMI for nearly two years and we actually used best practice when we inspected forces, if it is about doing a thing in a better way that is better than the way we do it and can be proven, then I do believe those recommendations should have force, not of law but force that we actually have to follow those recommendations.

83.  And they should not be able to insist that you do something, even if you think it is a bad idea?

  (Sir John Stevens) Where I think the trick of this is, if I might say so, is to work through a scenario where they think the operational requirement can be changed because of good practice, and to see that that does not affect us when we are doing particular and personal investigations of the like which I talked about earlier. And the other trick, if I might say so, is to look at the worst case scenario, think of a Home Secretary who may wish to exercise operational control, I do not believe Mr Blunkett or Mr Straw or others wanted to do that, but look at that scenario, to make sure there are safeguards within the Act to ensure that does not take place.

84.  Do you think there are safeguards there at the moment?

  (Sir John Stevens) We will wait and see what comes out of the Houses of Parliament.
  (Mr Blair) Can I just point you to paragraph 8 of Clause 41(a), because there is a very important one in here, which we did talk to the Home Secretary about, which says that nothing in this Section should authorise the Secretary of State to direct the inclusion and an action plan, which is what we have just been talking about, of any requirement to do or not to do anything in a particular case. It is a very important one.

85.  Section 53(a) does say, he may, by regulation, make provision to require all police forces to adopt particular operational procedures or practices, or to adopt operational procedures or practices of a particular description. And that is very precise, what the Home Secretary is allowing himself to tell you what to do, is it not?

  (Mr Blair) I think it is very precise, but I think what will come as the issue that Sir John is raising, which ACPO will die in a ditch for, is the issue about operational independence of any single investigation. And that clause that I read out, I think, is that piece. The key to the whole area about power to give directions to Chief Officers is about what Sir David Phillips describes as "doctrine" and who draws up that doctrine; as long as ACPO is heavily in the drawing up of that doctrine then I think ACPO will be content. If this is, as you say, the man in Whitehall just deciding that it is wearing pink then ACPO will not be content.

86.  But if you are worried about future Home Secretaries and what they might do, are you not worried that that power should not be allowed to sit on the Statute Book?

  (Mr Blair) There is a whole area here where the House has to decide, is there enough on the face of the Bill to give the kind of protection that you are describing and we are concerned about. It does seem right, that where, for instance, police officers involved in gun chases arrive at the border of the county to find that they cannot talk to their colleagues on the other side of the county border, because nobody has ever directed two Chief Constables or two Police Authorities that they should have the same radio system, I do understand why a Home Secretary would feel strongly that he should have those kinds of powers. So there is a piece here of a dilemma. As Sir John quite rightly says, we have got to prepare for the worst case scenario; but I also think there has been too long a period in which 43 feudal barons have said, "We do it our way, and it's not been invented here, so we're not doing it." So I do think there is a balance to be struck; but I agree that perhaps, the face of the Bill and in debate, you will need to consider that issue.

87.  I am sure we will. Just a question, if I may, on the Police Standards Unit. Could you explain how it is different from the Inspector of Constabulary?

  (Sir John Stevens) Yes. We do not know, at the present time.

88.  No, neither do I. Have you thought of what it might be?

  (Sir John Stevens) I think this is something that has to be worked out over time; having met Mr Bond, the Director of that unit. I think they have got to discuss really what the HMIC is delivering and what it has delivered, as distinct from the Standards Unit. I think the Standards Unit, it would appear, is going to be concentrating on Basic Command Units. I think it also needs to concentrate on some of our pan-London delivery as well. So, in all honesty, I do not know.

89.  But would it not have been better, if the Government does not like the Inspectorate, to reform it and change it, rather than set up a duplicating body next to it?

  (Sir John Stevens) I think you will have to ask Mr Blunkett about that.

90.  Are you concerned, running the largest police force in the country, that you are going to have two lots of people snooping over you and trying to tell you what to do, rather than one?

  (Sir John Stevens) I am the most accountable police chief in the world. We have a most complex political kind of environment here in London, which we do not have elsewhere, and I am accountable to so many people I will not bore you by going through the list of them; so another two will not worry me.

  Mr Cameron: We will have the opportunity to ask the Government when they come; but thank you for such a frank answer to my question.


91.  Is the range of tasks assigned to the Standards Unit, even assuming it is a good idea, too ambitious?

  (Mr Blair) We have got a reservation, that it is mentioned on a great number of occasions in the White Paper; but I think it will be an evolving scenario. It seems to be concentrating, in its initial stages, on purely best practice, on BCUs. And HMIC, it has to be admitted, is a very, very small organisation, there are only four inspectors for the whole country; if you compare that with the educational inspectorate, with hundreds of inspectors, then you begin to see the difference. And if HMIC is concerned, as it is, with the overall effectiveness of forces, then it may be that there is room for a Standards Unit that concerns itself purely with good practice and almost exclusively on BCUs, though I think it should be extended to other operational units.

92.  There is clearly a need to improve standards, given the extraordinary variation, for example, in sickness rates, or whatever, from one force to another, there is clearly something wrong somewhere?

  (Sir John Stevens) I think that goes across the board, in terms of what is delivered, and I think that is where the Standards Unit should really get tucked into. We know that certain things will work, even in London, as distinct from Liverpool, or from Manchester, and those things that work should actually be used, especially when we have got the demands that we have got at the moment, which are unprecedented; none of us who have been in policing, at the moment, in London, have ever had the demands like we have now, we can prove that categorically. So any help we can get from a Standards Unit, or any other unit, or people like yourselves, must be welcomed.

Bob Russell

93.  Sir John, in the Metropolitan Police response to the White Paper, about commercial events and the recovery of policing costs, the Met said, and I quote: "We would like to see the legislation and Home Office guidance changed to allow for the recovery of the costs for all the resources which are planned for deployment at an event held for profit." What is the definition of a commercial event, and would it be all events, because, quite specifically, you have not said every event?

  (Sir John Stevens) Here I will bring in Mr Luck, otherwise he will accuse me of bringing him along to say nothing.
  (Mr Luck) Indeed; and we are looking particularly at events like football matches, etc., and we would need to tighten up what those sorts of definitions are. But, clearly, the Metropolitan Police is involved in considerable expense, in policing a number of matches across London, and in one case we have been looking at recently, Chelsea Football Club, we have a very small amount recovered, only £300-odd, really, for police officers directly involved within the ground, and yet many thousands of pounds involved in the public order and other operations outside of the ground.

94.  Is this policing activities outside the ground or inside the ground?

  (Mr Luck) We can only, under current rules, recover the cost of police officers directly inside the grounds, and, of course, the football clubs have responded by putting in more stewards, etc., and, indeed, in many clubs, the safety certificate is issued with only one or two police officers that need to be actually inside the ground; it is only those officers whose costs we recover. In fact, there is a whole extensive piece of work under way now within the Police Service, certainly within the Met, about the cost of recovery, and indeed income generation; and, indeed, in collaboration with the MPA and the GLA and the Mayor's office, we have got consultants looking and advising on this very area.

95.  But if the Metropolitan Police were given the powers, who is going to decide which are commercial events; if a football match is, in fact, deemed to be a commercial event, some would say it is a public activity, who would make that decision?

  (Mr Blair) I think this is actually a matter for public debate, and I think the Authority needs to be involved in it. But the figures are astonishing. A Category C, which is one of the biggest matches that, say, Chelsea raises, our costs are £28,000; we recover from them £397. And, in terms of the precept that they pay, that one match is more expensive than Chelsea pays in its policing precept. Now what we are looking at, of course, is that the 500 officers every Saturday, who go and police the various matches in London, are not policing their local communities, and it is a very expensive item. What we want to do is to protect the charity events, like, say, the Marathon, and so on, from having costs imposed on them; but some of these football clubs are extremely big and extremely profitable businesses.

96.  And would you now give us the figures for Leyton Orient?

  (Mr Blair) Again, that is exactly the piece we need to be careful of, and we want to be sure that we are not penalising small and struggling clubs, and it is a difficult area. But having policed, in a previous life, Royal Ascot and seen the enormity of the policing operation there, in relation to the cost that was recovered from Royal Ascot, I know how difficult a piece of regulation this is to justify. In those cases, a very large proportion of Thames Valley Police was actually standing round outside that racecourse.

97.  Would you not accept though that if a decision was made to try to recover policing costs at so-called commercial events, the lawyers would have a field day in determining what was a public event and what was a commercial event? Because I would suggest that, whether a football supporter is going to watch Leyton Orient or Chelsea, he, or she, is a taxpayer and has contributed, through his, or her, taxes, towards policing?

  (Mr Blair) I think it is a complex area, but it is one that at the moment is extremely heavily weighted in the favour of the commercial enterprises. I know, taking a different view, if you go to Romford on a Friday and Saturday night, there are at least six or seven enormous clubs, which all pile out at two o'clock in the morning, with some grave difficulties. Now we have no ability to charge the owners of those clubs for the fact that we have to put police officers there, at two and three in the morning, to cover that issue; and I think that is something that, in terms of an organisation that is expending very considerable amounts of public finance, we ought to consider seeing how we could get into a charging regime.

98.  And would the same philosophy for football also apply to Wimbledon tennis, Twickenham rugby?

  (Sir John Stevens) Interestingly, Wimbledon tennis is one that we do recover a lot of money from.
  (Mr Blair) Yes; and it is, in fact, oddly, football that is the most difficult.

  Bob Russell: I am fascinated by that last response.


99.  Before you move on from that, who decides whether you are able to...

  (Mr Blair) It is Home Office Regulations, it is a very clearly laid down regulation that says you can only charge for the officers inside the ground; all other officers are at public expense.

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