Examination of Witness (Questions 1 -
THURSDAY 7 FEBRUARY 2002
1. Sir David, welcome. Thank you very much for
coming. This is the first of a number of sessions we are going
to be holding about the Government's police reform plans. Before
we commence that, can I just ask you to help me with another little
matter entirely unrelated to the Police Bill. Have you ever been
involved with the Birmingham pub bombings case?
(Sir David Phillips) In an indirect sense, yes.
2. In what capacity?
(Sir David Phillips) I was the Deputy Chief Constable
of Devon & Cornwall when the Devon & Cornwall force undertook
the final investigation into the matter.
3. Okay. Have you ever heard it suggested that
a tape of some sort, a surveillance tape or some sort of log exists
that demonstrates that all the suspects are really guilty rather
(Sir David Phillips) I am not aware of any tape that
4. Or, indeed, any information that indicates
(Sir David Phillips) I cannot recall.
5. The reason I raise this subject with you
is because twice in the last six months people have rung me up
and told me they have spoken to you and you have told them that
such material does exist and my feeling is that it ought to be
disclosed if it does.
(Sir David Phillips) I am not aware of any such material.
6. And you are not aware of having any such
conversations with anybody to that effect?
(Sir David Phillips) I have had conversations in a
general sort of way but not specifically around an issue of that
sort that I can recall.
7. So as far as you are concerned, and you were
involved with the Devon & Cornwall inquiry, there is no material
in existence that points towards their guilt?
(Sir David Phillips) Not that I am aware of.
Chairman: Thank you. Shall we move on. Mr Cameron
is going to start off on the national policing plan.
8. Good afternoon, Sir David. Just to help the
Committee, could you explain a little bit about what policing
plans are currently produced locally and what do you think might
be added by a ministerial national plan, which is virtually Clause
1 of the draft Bill?
(Sir David Phillips) Under the present arrangements
the Chief Constable formulates a draft plan which, after consultation
with his authority, they adopt. In creating that plan there are
provisions to gather public opinion, to look at the issues that
are of concern in the community. The plan is composed on that
basis but it takes into account the Home Secretary's objectives
9. How does that work at the moment? The Home
Secretary's objectives are taken into account through what mechanism?
(Sir David Phillips) Because most plans will have
a series of performance outcomes and when we list the performance
outcomes they will take account of what the Home Secretary's priorities
are. For example, if the Home Secretary's priority is about the
reduction of burglary, that will be included. In all probability,
at least to date, there is a good deal of overlap between the
public concern and the Home Secretary's issues as well.
10. One would hope so. What do you think the
national policing plan that is set out right on the front page
of the Bill is going to add? Is this not quite marked centralisation?
I am leading the witness, as it were, Chairman. What do you think
it is going to add, first of all?
(Sir David Phillips) I imagine that the purpose of
the national plan is to say can we do a little bit more to make
sure that local plans have a greater sense of corporate direction
and if they are kept at a strategic level I do not see any particular
difficulty in that. If, however, the national plan starts to be
very prescriptive and we move into micro-management of localities
then the danger is that there will be an insufficient buy-in at
a local level. I suppose it is the way the mechanism is used that
will be important. As I say, if the thing is kept at a strategic
level it could have value in this sense at least: if you were
looking at something like drugs and you felt there needed to be
initiatives in relation to addicts who were committing crime,
a national plan may be an opportunity to incorporate other national
bodies, it may be a way of bringing into this mechanism other
agencies, the health service and whatever. If a national plan
sets out to achieve some crime reduction phenomenon that would
clearly require the connection and the willingness and support
of other agencies, other Government departments, this might be
a useful opportunity for doing so. In that sense I think it could
carry quite a bit of weight.
11. But do you not sense from the Bill and what
you have read that the intention is for the national plan to go
much deeper? As you say, the Home Secretary at the moment can
set objectives which you incorporate into local plans, agreed
with your local police authority in the proper democratic way,
but do you not feel this one is going to go much deeper? Is that
not what runs through this Bill?
(Sir David Phillips) There are a number of things
in the Bill which do concern me but, as I say, if the national
plan is kept at a national level where we start to look at how
we might galvanise all the aspects which can affect public disorder
and crime then it would be very useful and there would be a reciprocation
downwards, so you would be able to get the buy-in of other agencies
at a local level.
12. Okay. That is a very clear answer and obviously
you will come on to other parts of the Bill with my colleagues.
Could you tell us a bit about Basic Command Units? There is a
lot of reference to that in the Bill and the explanatory note.
In size and responsibility, how do they vary across the country?
(Sir David Phillips) They vary very considerably from
100 or so officers to several hundred officers. One of the reasons
for that is that as far as you can you seek coterminosity with
other agencies, particularly local authorities, and they are of
very different sizes, but also towns have a very different composition
and in rural areas there is some trade-off between space and concentration.
In other respects too forces have found different models which
are better for their operations than others. I have been always
cautious about this over-emphasis on the notion of Basic Command
Units. Basic Command Units do manage, if you like, front level
services but they do so with frequent dependence upon and full
involvement with force resources. In many forces the deployment
of patrols is managed centrally for reasons of efficiency, so
the radio system, if you like, is centrally controlled. In many
forces the specialist provision, their scientific provision, their
forensic provision will be provided centrally for all sorts of
reasons. So there is a danger in imagining that a BCU is a complete
entity. It is not, it is an organisational unit within a police
force as a whole. We are at times, I think, in danger of being
too comparative as well between BCUs.
13. Is there too much stress on BCUs in what
the Government is trying to do in the Bill?
(Sir David Phillips) I have suggested to them that
perhaps there is. The entity that they need to concentrate on
is the police force because essentially BCUs are not independent
and the command of the entire police force is with the chief constable.
14. My next question is do you think it is right
the Home Secretary's powers should intervene right from the chief
constables down to the BCUs? That seems to be a very important
question, how far the tentacles of the Home Secretary should go
in this force? It does extend it quite considerably, does it not?
(Sir David Phillips) I think if there is an express
intent to deal directly with BCUs then certainly ACPO would be
resistant to that. Our view is that if a police force is to be
inspected or examined then you must look at the BCUs as well as
you must look at the fingerprint department, as well as you must
look at any department in the police service. There is no reason
why anybody who has a proper reason to examine police affairs
should not be able to look at any entity. Now clearly a key component
is the Basic Command Unit, it is a key component, but that does
not mean that it should be separately accountable. You have to
bear in mind that its ability to deliver will be hugely affected
by the policies of the force and the accountability of the superintendent
is direct to the force and many of its provisions are from the
force. I have no concerns about it being inspected but I do not
think we should regard it as some sort of local police force.
15. We had the Metropolitan Police Commissioner
here for a discussion the other day and we were looking at the
irony with him that in this Bill the Home Secretary is taking
a power to force chief constables to resign as well as to retire,
he is taking quite a lot of power there but, on the other hand,
there does not seem to be a lot which gives BCUs or chief inspectors
in the local nick a bit more power over the way they manage their
force. In businesses throughout the world people are looking at
how to decentralise decision making. Should not the police force
be going the same way and why does the Bill not do it?
(Sir David Phillips) Police forces are very decentralised.
Command decisions have to be taken often by sergeants. They are
not necessarily taken by superintendents, they are taken by sergeants
and frequently by officers acting on their own authority. Administratively
most police forces have decentralised many of their activities
a good deal but it does not mean to say that decentralisation
is always a good thing, it can produce poor co-ordination. A very
great deal of crime is cross-border crime. Our ability to handle
incidents when you have a relatively thin front line depends on
your ability to use all the force resources rapidly. So there
are limitations on how far you can take decentralisation.
16. In terms of the management, in the Bill
the Home Secretary is taking a power to dismiss chief constables
but as I understand it the BCU Commander does not have the power
to dismiss a constable who is not doing a very good job. He is
not corrupt, he is just not very good at the job. Is there not
a disconnection there?
(Sir David Phillips) I do not think so. As I said
at the outset, the BCU commander is not in charge of a local police
force, he is a part of a police force. The provisions to dispense
with people's services are things which have to be managed carefully
and with sensitivity under the chief constable by the forces'
arrangements including its personnel department.
17. Do you think that is satisfactory at the
moment, those powers?
(Sir David Phillips) The powers to
18. Say a constable is not corrupt, he is just
not very good at his job and he probably ought to be pursuing
another career, as I understand it, it is very difficult to say
to that constable "I think you ought to be doing something
(Sir David Phillips) I am not sure that you always
achieve these ends by formal powers. Good managers often manage
to manage their staff without having to invoke formal powers.
Formal powers do exist. Disciplinary powers exist as well. These
things usually operate at the margins. In my experience when officers
know they are not suited to police work, and their commanders
can see they are not, usually they can find the right formula
for that person to seek a different career. If people are not
effective they are usually not happy in what they are doing. In
my time as a chief constable over nine years I have not found
many cases where people are so inefficient that they are debilitative
to the organisation and feel a strong need for an additional means
to dispense with their services.
19. My last point on this question. It is not
so much what the chief constable thinks. I mean if someone in
an office of ICI, way down the command chain, is not doing their
job properly, it does not take the Chairman of the company to
say "You should do something different". I am just arguing
should there not be something more in the police service in terms
of decentralisation? Your argument seems to be "No, you are
roughly happy with the current status quo".
(Sir David Phillips) My position on that would be
that whereas probably I would not know whether one constable or
another was particularly efficient in a station in Kent, I would
expect the inspectors to know and I would expect the superintendent
to know. If the superintendent has a problem with that officer,
he has access to the procedures which would allow him to take
appropriate action which could result in that officer being disposed
of. The superintendent works within a system of rules, as do I.