Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witness (Questions 120 - 139)



  120. And in your experience are they sufficiently rigorous?
  (Mr Morris) The HMI's office?

  121. Yes.
  (Mr Morris) Their inspecting is extremely rigorous, it is whether a chief constable could ignore them or perhaps do little about it and the same problems then arise the next year in reports. That tends to suggest that there is a need to change but whether a whole new unit has to be created is another matter. If there is a Standards Unit we will work closely with them because it is 118 at the moment, changing every day, BCU commanders who are going to be very closely scrutinised and will probably receive much of the attention of the Standards Unit in the forthcoming years.

  122. You would agree that the persistent large variations in detection rates, sickness rates and retirement rates around the country is a problem that the Inspectorate does not seem to have solved?
  (Mr Morris) If I could take you up on that point. The detection rate in Dyfed Powys looks impressive, the detection rate in the Metropolitan Police looks fairly poor, or very poor depending on your perspective, but the Metropolitan Police probably detect more crimes than they get in Dyfed Powys in a year. You have to be extremely careful about that. You also have to be extremely careful with percentages because two per cent of nothing is still nothing. If you are making comparisons you have to be certain you are comparing like with like. The sickness is clearly of concern but one force that has a retirement on ill health pension record that is regarded as good also has a very great problem in deploying officers out on the streets because they have lots of them in the offices who are not fit enough to go out on the streets. They also had one of the largest drops in detection rates last year. If you are going to make the comparisons, I accept the need to do it but you have to be very clear about why you are looking at it and what the impact is of doing it. Sadly, if you concentrate on statistics, as we have seen with the education profession, and my wife is a GP so I know what they can do as well, the tendency is to work at the figures and not work at improving the service.

  123. One problem that has been put to us is that it is virtually impossible for a chief constable to do anything other than take account of what the medical advice is. Whereas in other professions the medical certificate would be one of the factors you would take into account in deciding what to do with someone, it is absent in the police. If the chief constable had discretion he would perhaps be better placed to address these high levels of retirement through alleged sickness.
  (Mr Morris) I think in the vast majority of cases the sickness is actually real, it is not alleged. Some of the officers feel very upset at having to leave.

  124. In that case why by a factor of six to one are there these huge variations from one force to another? I take into account the point you make about the different metropolitan areas.
  (Mr Morris) If you look at the GMP, the GMP took the decision that all their officers must be fit for public order duties. So they have one of the fittest forces but also one of the highest numbers of people being cast on sick. We are dealing with the rash rather than the underlying problems. I have got 30 years in in August, it would still be better for me to suddenly develop a bad back in August and go off on a sick pension than it would be to retire under normal circumstances. I think that is absolutely outrageous, that any officer could be put in that position and could benefit from that or somebody could retire on a much shorter length of time than 30 years and receive a better position than somebody who completes 30 years.

  125. Yes.
  (Mr Morris) I think the underlying problem is wrong. The second thing is that I think when forces have taken considerable steps to deal with people, the courts have said the regulations state quite clearly they must be fit for operational duties and that means going out on the street. If you have got a bad back, a bad leg, an elbow, a shoulder that cannot move, you cannot go outside and arrest people so people are then in a position to say "I have to go out on sick".

  126. You would like to see some discretion no doubt?
  (Mr Morris) I think some of the officers would as well. In my experience, some have been quite upset that they have felt they could still continue in a more sedentary role but the service would not allow them to.

  Chairman: I can well understand that. That is helpful.

Mr Cameron

  127. If I could just pick up a question that Mr Malins asked Sir David which was this fascinating point about the powers which will be given to traffic wardens to let them have all the powers of a constable in terms of stopping traffic. Are you aware of this?
  (Mr Morris) Yes.

  128. What do you think it means?
  (Mr Morris) I am afraid lawyers will interpret what it means exactly. I would like to see traffic wardens with a greater degree of power to stop moving traffic for traffic offences.

  129. Would that include breathalysers for instance?
  (Mr Morris) No, I think that would be problematic to them. We are talking about, in the main now, local authority traffic wardens having the power to stop traffic which perhaps, as Sir David said, had driven the wrong way down a one way street whereas perhaps before they did not have that power. The difference with a police officer is if you are driving home and I am of a mind to stop you, I have the power to stop and just ask questions about your driving licence, your insurance, etc.. Now that general power just to stop traffic, hopefully not just because I feel like it but because I feel there may be something wrong, is perhaps something I would not like to see traffic wardens have. If they have seen an offence being committed with a moving vehicle then it seems ludicrous that they cannot intervene and deal with it swiftly.

  Mr Cameron: I think we need to pursue that when we have the Minister in front of us. It is a very good point.


  130. Just going back to disciplinary proceedings. You will be aware that two or three years ago some changes were made to the disciplinary proceedings, for example a chief constable was given the power in extreme cases to hold a hearing in the absence of a defendant, as it were, if he thought the defendant was malingering; so far as I know that has never been used. It remains a mystery to those of us who are not police officers how it is possible to string these out for years at a time with officers suspended on full pay. I wondered if you would be able to assist with inquiries?
  (Mr Morris) I think you would have to take it up on the individual cases, why they did not do it, of course. It does seem odd that somebody could do that. If you will forgive me, I will take it the other way round, also. Sometimes we have officers suspended who ought not to be and the review of that suspension has not taken place.

  131. Officers suspended for very trivial incidents which could be resolved while they are still working.
  (Mr Morris) I think most forces, and I am certain of this, have got procedures that would review the suspension and you could have circumstances where an officer would be quite happy to resign but cannot because they are on suspension. I think that needs to be looked at as well. Your point is well made, Chairman, that it does seem to be an anomaly that the power was given and has not been used but without all the details of each individual case I could not explain why. It seems odd that nobody has tried it.

  132. The fact that you have mentioned you would like to see it, is that something that would require legislation or a change to the rules or is it something that could be done now if a chief constable wanted to do it?
  (Mr Morris) Which particular change are you referring to that I mentioned?

  133. The point about not suspending for long periods of time in answer to a trivial offence, or allowing them to resign early if that is what they want to do.
  (Mr Morris) I think this is the difficulty we have in the police. I think it is fair to say the police regulations were brought in because of the appalling way police officers had been treated in the past and they were given special regulations to cover and protect them but there was not the employment legislation in the past. I think the time has come for us to look seriously at employment legislation and say whether it actually covers us. If it does then the need for some of those regulations can be removed. It could well be if the Home Secretary has a mind to that he could sack a chief constable under the employment regulations. If that is the case then they also must have the right to appeal under that and take him to a tribunal and if he does not do it properly he could be taken to task by that tribunal. There are reasons for us to look at it in some detail about why we cannot adopt employment legislation now. Given that many of our staff -UNISON made the point it annoys people being called "civilians"—our support staff who are not badged police officers are treated in that way, maybe there are grounds for saying it would simplify things and it would be quite clear as to how people would be treated and what safeguards would be in place for their benefit if they are mistreated.

Mr Cameron

  134. Are you saying that if police officers, PCs, were subject to employment law you would be able to scrap a lot of the disciplinary proceedings that make managing local police forces so difficult?
  (Mr Morris) I think the problem I have, and this is where my argument will fail a little bit, if not completely, is that the difficulty there is the public need to see that police officers are held to account for the powers that they use. That is different from the regulations that govern whether they are dismissed from the service, except that some of the regulations will also include that.

  135. Two points have been obsessing me. One is that the Metropolitan Police Commissioner said that a lot of complaints against police officers do not come from the public but come from management effectively and yet you have to go through this long disciplinary procedure.
  (Mr Morris) Yes.

  136. In a conversation I had in my constituency one of your members said "my problem is an appallingly performing constable but once he has done his two years' probation there is nothing I can do about it". If you move to a situation where you have employment law rather than disciplinary procedures, would you not solve some of these problems?
  (Mr Morris) I think there is a view within the service that that would make it easier. If they have not tried sacking a non-badged officer, a civilian to use the phrase they do not seem to like, they will not realise how difficult it still is. However, I think it would simplify matters to have just one way of doing it.

  137. One law for everybody.
  (Mr Morris) One point I would like to make, and this is often overlooked, is we do not set out to recruit lazy and incompetent officers and we do not train them to be lazy and incompetent, something happens along the way, which is a management issue that we must tackle, that allows them to become so disgruntled that they do not perform well. That is unacceptable as well as the officer themselves not performing.

  Mr Cameron: Absolutely. Thank you.


  138. And also people just get into a rut and would perhaps be happier doing something else.
  (Mr Morris) It could well be. You then wonder how some officers with 30 years' service—I could not do it now—still work shifts, still go out every day and night doing a fantastic job and feel so upset that some of their younger colleagues do not feel that way. It is so possible for officers to be highly motivated and so willing to do all sorts of things throughout their service but that is the strength of managing people who are so different and the service is not good at that, we tend to be very task oriented and not people centred.

  139. Can I just switch to one other subject. There has been talk of the need to keep people longer in specialist detective squads. I recognise that there is a balance to be made, that once you have achieved a level of expertise you need to maintain it and make good use of it, but one of the things we discovered in the 1970s and 1980s was that these squads became a law unto themselves sometimes and began to behave badly, putting it as generously as I can. One of the conclusions that was come to after the investigations was that people were spending too long in detective squads and there needed to be some sort of movement between beat policing and detection and the idea that you went into a detective squad and never came back into uniform perhaps was not a good one. Do you agree we are now in danger of going back to the past?
  (Mr Morris) I do not think any of us would want to go back to the situation that some forces found themselves in. The level of corruption was frightening. As one officer put it to me, when you realise that the bad people are inside the organisation as well as outside, there is very little that you feel you can do about it, and none of us would want to be in that position. That being said tenure, which was the answer to it all, created enormous problems and was incredibly expensive because we were training people for a short period of time. This is where you have to take a bigger picture of all of it. The service, until recently, had not got a standardised appraisal system for the whole country for skills and abilities, the training and the way we look at our officers and making sure they are motivated has not been 100 per cent. You have to come down to say that it is a management issue as to whether somebody who is under-performing or is not doing their job properly because they are doing unlawful things, that is something the management should be tackling.

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