Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 20 - 39)



  20. Thank you for that. I would like to ask about the Standards Unit and Her Majesty's Inspector of Constabulary. We put the question to the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, "What is the new Standards Unit going to do that HMIC cannot do" and he said "I do not know". Do you share that view or do you know what the Standards Unit is going to do?
  (Sir David Phillips) I am aware of what its terms of reference are and they are great and considerable. I think I would come at it from a slightly different way. We have argued for a long time that we do not have a sufficient mechanism within ACPO not only to develop and propound good policy but to make sure, as far as we can, that it reaches all corners. The need for there to be a better mechanism to spread good practice I think is identifiable. Whether or not that could be done through the Inspectorate is another question. There is some ambiguity of role in this sense for an Inspectorate or a Standards Unit. If you are on the one hand required to be the auditing authority, the body which will move in when there is apparent poor performance but, on the other hand, you are also the body which identifies good practice and you introduce it. The difficulty is that you are seen with caution and suspicion on the one hand but then you are expected to be received with open hands on the other. This is what always makes that role a difficult one. This is not simply a police issue, I think it is true of all organisations, somehow you have to find a way round this. I think the thing that perhaps concerns me about the Standards Unit is the extent to which the involvement of ACPO and its policy making activity is recognised. My greatest concern in the Bill is the way that policy is likely to be formulated.

  21. By the Home Secretary, is that the concern, or by the Standards Unit?
  (Sir David Phillips) The Home Secretary through the Standards Unit. If you look at the Bill, the Bill says that policy will be created as codes or as regulations and that this will be drafted by the training department. The training department will take notice of whoever they wish to consult. The nearest that we get to a mention of ACPO is we are one of those who they may wish to consult. Now, historically, we 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 who are vicariously liable for the actions of our officers following our operational directives. It may be an issue of parliamentary draftsmanship that because we do not exist as a legal entity we cannot be referred to on the face of a Bill but that seems to me an insufficient reason to deal with this matter. If you were to take it literally it looks that we might be one of the very few agencies who resign their policy making function to its training department in entirety. It is quite important, I believe, that operational policy receives the professional support of the professionals in the service. I am quite sure that the Home Secretary intends that to be the case but it is not on the face of the Bill and if you look at the Bill it does not give us much of a role at all. It is a concern to me that in some fashion or other there needs to be a recognition that operational policy has the professional support of the service. Take, for example, if we are to stop a suspect armed vehicle on the motorway. In those sorts of tricky situations clearly the policy on those matters will be based heavily on our experience of doing those things. It seems odd that in the way this has been structured the training department, who may or may not be police officers, will write the policy for those things which will later be approved and whoever they think should be consulted will be consulted. As I say, it may be an issue of construction but I think it is an issue that we should have concern about.

  22. That is a much bigger issue for you than whether there is HMIC and the Standards Unit, it is more that relationship between ACPO and the Standards Unit and who is writing policy, is that right?
  (Sir David Phillips) The greatest issue for me in the Bill is this question of operational policy. This is the territory that ACPO have been hugely involved in. Personally I have been involved in writing policy in respect of covert policing operations, in respect of major crime inquiry, homicide inquiry. Intelligence issues is another matter very close to my interests. I can see the virtue in there being codes of practice around, for example, intelligence issues because if we are to have an intelligence system we have got to be able to share information. That means that it has to be collected against the same standards of probity and against the same criteria for recording everywhere, so you need to have a common system. Having the Home Secretary's approval of a code seems to me to be a sound idea, it is just how that code gets to be constructed.

  Mr Cameron: Thank you very much indeed.


  23. Do you foresee a day when the Standards Unit and the Inspectorate are merged?
  (Sir David Phillips) I think that is quite possible, Chairman.

  24. Is it desirable?
  (Sir David Phillips) I have got to say it looks rather ambiguous to us, as I am sure it does to the Inspectorate. Whom am I being inspected by? What is the difference of role? I would have thought that if it was not the Inspectorate's job to identify good practice then what are they there for?

  25. It might be argued, might it not, that given the huge variations in sickness rates, detection rates, retirement rates, from one force to another that the Inspectorate has not really done its job as well as it should have done? Do you think there is anything in that?
  (Sir David Phillips) I would like to say some words about comparison because it is sometimes unfair and invidious, particularly in respect of things like detection rates. In respect of have they done a good job or not, surely the issue is if they are not doing a good job then make sure they do, not necessarily provide them with a competitor. I am not certain that a free market in inspection is the best way to approach inspection.

  26. Can you see an argument that since these huge differences, and everybody understands there are some reasons for the differences, have persisted over a long period and the Inspectorate has not put a stop to them or improved them significantly that another body might be necessary?
  (Sir David Phillips) I can see that there is a greater need for a body to work with us in identifying better ways of doing things and helping in the promulgation of policy. For a long time I have argued that there should be far greater correspondence between the Home Office's investment in these things and ACPO's investment in these things. We have developed business areas around things like investigations, road policing and so forth, you would think that there would be a corresponding organisation within the Home Office. If we had corresponding arrangements it might be better because there is a public interest that I recognise in many of my operational policies, so I do not have a difficulty with that. If it was to deal with apparent failings then surely that is what an Inspectorate is for and maybe the Inspectorate might need a special unit within it which is particularly skilled at examining these problems. I do want to say that there is a great danger in comparing statistics without context. One of the issues in our response to the White Paper is—I do not shy away from these comparisons—if we are to make more of them we need a more sophisticated basis for understanding these things. The bald statistics may not tell the story. If we take, for example, detection rates, a lot will depend upon how the crime figures themselves are made up. If the bulk of your crime is attacks upon vehicles and minor damage nowhere in the world is there a higher detection rate for minor damage. If there is a differential between forces they have to be looked at with care. Likewise—

  27. Is there a common standard?
  (Sir David Phillips) Is there a common standard for comparison?

  28. Yes, now.
  (Sir David Phillips) In my view, no, I do not think there is sufficient interpretive sophistication around statistics.

  29. Should not the Inspectorate have been making sure that is happening?
  (Sir David Phillips) Perhaps so. I have been arguing for a long time, and to the Home Office, that the current nature of crime statistics is misleading. There are political difficulties where I recognise that if you change the counting rules one side might say "you are fiddling the figures". That should not be a reason for us to continue with an absurd set of crime statistics. The crime statistics are legal, not social. If I look at violence I want to distinguish between homophobic violence, domestic violence, stranger related violence, I do not want to distinguish between whether it was a section 45 or some technical level of violence under a piece of legislation that is 140 years old, and yet those are the statistics. I can see no particular reason why we should give the same weight to homicide as to minor damage when we count them up and aggregate them. I think we could have a far better way of taking an index of crime performance. What we have got now I think creates more public alarm than need be because in many areas of crime, crime has been falling and the police have been very successful in reducing those levels of crime. The increases that we have seen have been largely about recording more minor assaults and more minor damage, hence the public gets a false impression of what is really going on in the crime figures.

  30. You would expect the Standards Unit to take an early interest in that?
  (Sir David Phillips) I am sure they will.

  31. What about one or two of the things that have been widely portrayed as scams, such as TICs, taking into consideration? There was some fuss about that in Kent but that was before your time. Do they still feature?
  (Sir David Phillips) There are very few offences taken into consideration today given the nature of the process. That is one reason why I am concerned about the current emphasis on detection rates. I believe that my job is to reduce crime and if we are good at that, and I think we have been, it is because through the intelligence systems we have developed we have focused on the people who commit the most crime. Those people are usually the ones who are best practised at avoiding detection and probably you will have to set a trap to catch them. So you catch them for one offence knowing they have committed many and hopefully you do something which interrupts their pattern of offending. If I was going to be judged by detection rates I would dispense with all that because the investment in catching prolific offenders would give me a poor statistical return, I would concentrate on shoplifters or minor assaults or juveniles. I think we need mature ways of judging police forces because sometimes performance indicators can skew behaviour and produce some of the practices, like the one you have referred to, which are not professional and have no value as far as the public interest is concerned.

Bridget Prentice

  32. You speak very persuasively on that analysis of statistics which brings me, in a sense, to the next part of questioning. I am going to ask you about Clause 6 of the Bill. Do you not think that it is a bit of a pity that we should have to have Clause 6 in the Bill which is about the regulation of equipment? Is there not something absurd about the fact that different police forces use different equipment and they cannot work together if they have to? What is the obstacle between police forces which stops them using the same equipment? If you were in the army and you were testing a new weapon, you would decide which was the best one and you would not have a multiplicity of different ones, would you?
  (Sir David Phillips) I am not sure we are quite the same as the army in this regard. Equipment probably plays a lesser part in our affairs and there is probably less of a need for standardisation. You can see why in an army it might be essential that kit is standardised so that in a catastrophic situation, when regiments become mixed up or whatever, you can re-form and share what is left. Nonetheless, I take your general point, I think we should be moving towards standardisation of equipment and, by and large, we have set up informal ways of doing so. Most of our people who are involved in equipment purchase seek to form groups so they can get a good price when they buy things. We have increasingly been doing that with the vehicle fleet so that we can deal with fleet suppliers and buy vehicles with built in wiring so we do not spend a lot of time customising them and the rest. I think these provisions are not necessarily to say we are failing to do it and, therefore, there must be a power to cause us to do it. I think the Home Secretary has in mind that around some things there may be public sensitivity, in particular weaponry, in particular things like—I do not know—CS gas, whatever, where there does seem a good reason to have a common standard. With 43 police forces it is conceivable that you might have 40 who say "Yes we agree with this" and three which do not or you might have police authorities that are very reluctant about certain kinds of equipment. I think that is more likely to be a sort of reserve power. I rather imagine that if the power is in place, and indeed, in a sense, it is really a restatement of a previous power, there will be little difficulty in getting conformity. The area where this is of greatest significance is information technology. The reason why we have not got common information technology is not churlishness, it is simply that we never started from a common position. We have never really had the ability to provide common equipment. A very big part of our contribution to the modernisation programme is the recommendation of Project Valiant, which is our effort to produce a ten year plan so that eventually all police forces have a common information technology arrangement, so that we find the means of delivering that because ACPO's position is we need to be able to share information. The arrangements we have now are costly and unsatisfactory. We have to find a route towards a common information technology strategy and one which is common with the criminal justice system as a whole.

  33. Thank you for that. I am pleased to hear it is not churlishness because, as you say, if we are to share intelligence then clearly having 43 different IT systems is not the best way of going about that, perhaps. Can you give me some other examples of why it is necessary for the Home Secretary to direct chief constables, not so much about the purchase of equipment but about having coherent and consistent practices and procedures? Why are chief constables not doing that off their own bat?
  (Sir David Phillips) I am sorry, could you explain that?

  34. It says in Clause 7 of the Bill that the Home Secretary will direct chief constables about looking at "coherent and consistent practices and procedures". Why have chief constables been reluctant to draw on best practice in the past?
  (Sir David Phillips) This is where, as I said earlier, I expressed some concern. Let me say something about ACPO. ACPO is not a staff association. This is a body which is there to promote exactly those things where we need common practices, procedures and standards to develop those things. We spend a huge amount of our time doing that. Really we have no staff, we have no people beyond our administrative staff. So it involves leaders of different committees and portfolios and so forth in using the resources of their own force, usually, to work on a national project to produce something and that is what we have done over the years. We have done our best to produce common policies. If I can give you some examples. I put together, when I was Chairman of the Crime Committee because I felt the need to deal with this issue, both a public code of practice in respect of informants, covert activity and all those kinds of things, and common working practices. In putting those things together we included the Crown Prosecution Service, the Customs Service and so forth. So far as I am aware those arrangements are adhered to. To some extent they have been overtaken by the regulation and Investigatory Powers Act but that was partly based on the codes we had written. Likewise the investigation of homicide, rape and other major crime now follows a very clear plan laid out in the policies we have written. ACPO has produced huge amounts of policy. Our difficulty is keeping it up to date, keeping it fresh, because if we take something like covert policing, any case before the criminal courts tomorrow can change the rules and therefore we need to change our rules to take cognisance of that. How do you keep it up to date? There is a danger of these things being piecemeal because there is not a central provision of trained people to write the policy, if you will. We were at one with the Home Secretary in recognising that we needed something which would allow us better to formulate policy and in the Bill, the vehicle that they have determined upon is the CPTDA, the central police training organisation. My concern is not whether that is being done but that we are not recognised properly in the Bill as having a critical role in providing the professional endorsement of that policy. Policy is complex often, if you are going to write policy around something and then provide a doctrine which is going to be taught to your officers this requires careful composition and has to be attentive to what you learn. I see the need, and I do not resist the need for the provision. It is how it is recognising the role of the chief constables and ACPO in supporting it.

  35. In a sense you are reiterating what you were saying about the Standards Unit?
  (Sir David Phillips) Yes.

  36. If ACPO was seen to be more involved, either because it was written into the face of the Bill or made clear in the explanatory notes, or wherever else it should be made clear, you would be happy with that system because there would be a cohesion around the country on the policy areas?
  (Sir David Phillips) At the present time ACPO's policy is placed before the Chief Constables' Council where all the chief constables of the country meet and if we endorse something we stick to it. Effectively it is not the case that we are an anarchic organisation, each chief constable pursuing different policies, by and large there is conformity. In some areas there needs to be more stricture around that conformity and, indeed, intelligence procedures might be one example. We do not resist the Home Secretary's signing off policy, if you will, it is simply that somewhere or other—When we legislate we always have to be concerned about the worst case scenario. You could read the Bill and see that operational policy could be written without any reference to police officers.

  Bridget Prentice: Thank you.

  Chairman: We will pursue that point with the appropriate ministers. Mr Winnick has some questions about complaints and misconduct.

David Winnick

  37. Do you feel, Sir David, that the independent police complaints commission will be accepted or recognised as being more able to deal with complaints, which perhaps from your point of view may not be so appropriate, as the Police Complaints Authority?
  (Sir David Phillips) In a sense I suppose time will tell. I think it will largely depend on how effective it is, whether it is seen to be fair by all parties rather than whether it will or not simply from its constitution. My impression about police complaints is that they are investigated generally with extraordinary thoroughness. The difficulty is in convincing people that police officers investigating other police officers is going to be as objective as you would hope it would be. That is the difficulty. It is a difficulty of confidence and public perception. We have to remember too that it is not necessarily the perception of the general public. The sense of injustice is one that rankles with people. I have always understood in my police career how bitterly people feel about injustice. I think it is in our interests that the complaints system gets us off this hook, if you like, that the most serious complaints should be looked at by people, those who feel a sense of injustice, the public are confident are completely outside the influence of the police themselves. I do not have a difficulty with that at all, in fact I have always supported it.

  38. So what it would mean, in effect, is that the police element would be totally removed, would it not, once such an authority or commission, as it is described, comes into being?
  (Sir David Phillips) In respect of some levels of complaint I think. It would be very difficult to investigate the police without the co-operation of the police because you may not know where things are. This is the issue I have raised many times about disclosure. People talk about disclosure in criminal cases as if there is a particular file and if only we could page through that file then we would know what we need to know. In reality, of course, the issues which are in question have traces and provenance all over the organisation conceivably. If you want to have an effective investigation you need the co-operation of the police. I imagine that those investigating complaints independently will still need the active support of police complaints and discipline departments in their endeavours to secure documentation, to make sure the early steps are taken to preserve scenes and the like. I am confident that the police service will be positive in their approach to this new organisation.

  39. That is an interesting comment and one which will be welcomed because there may be a feeling that the police would resent, not where you are Chief Constable, such an independent investigation into allegations which may be false or otherwise, who knows, and therefore the degree of co-operation which one would like to see may not be forthcoming. Are you really persuaded that that is not going to be the case?
  (Sir David Phillips) I am confident it will not be the case. Bear in mind injustice can also be felt by the police and the police officers themselves may welcome independent investigation of these issues.

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