Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 1 - 19)




  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 than innocent?
  (Sir David Phillips) I am not aware of any tape that indicates that.

  4. Or, indeed, any information that indicates that?
  (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.

Mr Cameron

  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 as well.

  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 different".
  (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.

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