Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 240 - 259)



Angela Watkinson

  240. Are there any other measures not in the Bill that you would like to see included?
  (Mrs Berry) I think that there are certainly changes to the Bill that we would like to have seen included. I say "included", we would like to see made. At this moment in time I do not think we have given full consideration to what we thought should have been in the Reform Bill. I think I answered a question from yourself earlier that a lot of the changes as far as police reform are concerned do not necessarily need legal changes. I think that what we are disappointed about in general with the police reform debate is that there is a raft of policing that is not referred to either in this Bill or in that debate and that is things like how we manage traffic, how we manage public order and disorder, those do not get any mention in any of the policy papers or, indeed, in this Reform Bill. I think those are omissions from the general discussion on the subject.

  241. Do you feel that is a matter for legislation or internal management?
  (Mrs Berry) I think it is probably a matter for structure and administration of police forces and at this moment in time that does not have a part in this Police Bill.

  242. My next question relates to the development of specialist detectives. How do you foresee the right balance being struck between that development and ensuring their accountability?
  (Mr Elliott) This is a very good question. There are two main drives to the police reform and I think Jan has talked about the missing drives. The two main drives are reassurance policing, which is basically about uniformed policing and this idea of tackling criminality. When the proposals for a cadre of detectives was put to us we had some concerns. First, we think that perhaps some detective skills have been lost by a poorly administrated tenure policy which simply says that when somebody has been in a job for a period of time, say five or seven years, they are discarded and put somewhere else, which seems a rather foolish way of doing things, it should be much better managed in personnel terms. Equally, some of us were concerned that there should be an interchange of skills between the uniform branch and the CID branch so they did not become separate entities within a single service. In the past there has been the accusation that that has happened in some big forces. That might have been the case in some forces where a CID officer would not give any weight to a uniform officer's opinion. Whilst we support the idea of a well trained detective group, we would want to see everybody go through the same probation period, have similar promotion exams and prospects and an interchange of skills between all the branches in the service so that the best people with the widest experience and ability get to the top, so it would be difficult for us to see how somebody could get all the way to the top just by simply being a detective. We do see that there needs to be a re-skilling of detectives because criminals are much smarter nowadays than they were in the past.

  243. Would you see that re-skilling as including prosecution skills, as CID officers used to take their own cases to court, and that would have obvious implications for the CPS?
  (Mr Elliott) I think that works against much of the drive nowadays in independent CPS and in actually having people with the particular skill doing a particular job. If we are talking about investigative skills, I do not know that you would naturally have prosecution skills as well.

  244. You used to.
  (Mr Elliott) We used to but sometimes things move forward. I think the idea of the Crown Prosecution Service was to input a certain degree of independence into prosecution decisions and I think a degree of professionalism.

  245. Before we know the outcome of the ballot on new pay and conditions, how critical is that going to be to the rest of the proposals for police reform?
  (Mr Elliott) We do not know the result of the ballot because we have still got votes to count, there are some postal votes and we do not want to count the ballots until we have got the postal votes in which will not be until next week some time. The one thing I will say about the ballot is I think we have had a fairly high turn out. I think that shows police officers are very concerned about the service now and the service in the future. Jan and I and colleagues have been going around the country, we have probably been to in excess of 50 per cent of every force in the country to talk to our members about the proposals within the Police Negotiating Board and the proposals within the reform in general. We have had some very interesting meetings, some lively meetings and some not so lively.

David Winnick

  246. Very lively I would have thought.
  (Mr Elliott) We have had some very lively meetings, yes, Mr Winnick, very, very lively meetings. I think that shows that people are very concerned about the way the policing is perceived nowadays. One of the continual things which comes through from police officers is that by and large there are less of them doing it than there were in the past, although the numbers are going back up again, and doing a bloody good job. The way they are painted in the press frequently does not reflect that.


  247. I am afraid that is something we all suffer from, Mr Elliott.
  (Mr Elliott) No.

Bob Russell

  248. Surely not.
  (Mr Elliott) Some of us do. It just seems to have been incessant recently, in the last year or so. It is difficult for the public to have respect for the service if the service is going through that particular problem. I think there has been a great frustration amongst police officers in that respect. They are very concerned about the reform in general. I think the two things are to a degree separate, although it might be more difficult for people to accept some reforms.

Angela Watkinson

  249. What do you think is needed to restore morale?
  (Mr Elliott) I just think occasionally people should tell officers they are doing a bloody good job, and that should come from the very top of the organisation including politicians who are responsible for policing. I think a good deal of support for police officers, verbal support and physical support, picking out the good bits of work they do or good ideas they come up with would be a real boom to the service. I know the Home Office spent a lot of money on attracting some personalities to say how difficult the job was and advertising it, it would have been far better, possibly, if they had got real police officers with some politicians' support to actually say how difficult the job was and how fulfilling the job was with some support from senior officers and politicians.
  (Mrs Berry) Can I just add to that. Police reform has to take place, we have to move on, we have to develop, we have to modernise. It is important that reform is the right reform. It is also terribly important that the police service is able to recruit police officers in the future and for that we need to be able to attract the right calibre of person. Certainly the difficult meetings that we have attended over the last six weeks, a lot of police officers feel very under valued and they need that to be built up. The comments that Clint makes with regard to saying the right things on occasions, they feel very hurt by some of the ways in which they have been reported. Whilst any organisation the size of the British police service is bound to have people who do not do us any favours, there are an awful lot of police officers out there who do a superb job day in and day out and they feel terribly under valued by what has been taking place recently. That was the message which came through loud and clear at every single meeting we went to. The ballot is important but police reform is also important and the valuing of our police service is important also.

  250. Do you think the Bill is an appropriate vehicle for amending the police pension arrangements?
  (Mr Elliott) I am not exactly sure what the proposals are in amending the police pension arrangements because first of all we have been talking about some police pension arrangements at the Police Negotiating Board. In particular we have been talking about ill health proposals and I think we have been very helpful in trying to get the message across that ill health retirement should be a last resort rather than a first resort. We think that during the 1980s and the early 1990s some chief officers used it as a first resort rather than a last resort for a variety of reasons and that might be partly to do with the way we civilianised in the 1980s and 1990s. I am not quite sure what changes to the police pensions' regulations you are considering. One of the things that I think was mentioned in passing was partner pensions. The police pensions are out of date in terms of partner pensions, there is no doubt but I think it is one of many in the public sector that does not allow for proper partner pensions. We made a claim for partner pensions at the Police Negotiating Board in January of this year to see if we could get some minor amendment to reflect that partners should have the same rights as widows or widowers under the police pension scheme. Apart from that, I do not know exactly what proposals you think might be appropriate to amend the police pensions because at the end of the day we think that is about the extent that we would want at this moment in time.

  251. The percentage of pay that forms the pension contribution for police is very high.
  (Mr Elliott) Eleven per cent contribution.

  252. For the fire service, it is much higher than average, probably twice the contribution from the public service.
  (Mr Elliott) We recognise that but the scheme pays earlier than some schemes because of the early retirement age of police officers, 55. We recognise that but it is a scheme that is suited to the service and tailored to the service.


  253. The Metropolitan Police Commissioner said to us the other day in relation to ill health retirement that he would like a certificate of ill health to be something he took into account when deciding whether to retire an officer and not binding on him.
  (Mr Elliott) It is not. A certificate of ill health is not binding on the chief officer. In actual fact, the way the regulations are written, it is the police authority that makes the decision. The police authority has a good deal of discretion in making that decision. The exact words in the regulation I think are "the police authority may retire on ill health". It goes on to talk about the certificate of disability. It is absolutely down to the chief officer through the police authority to decide to keep somebody on despite the fact that there is a certificate of ill health, and many chief officers do. In fact, ill health retirement under the same sets of regulations were very rare in the 1970s and early 1980s.

  254. What led to the sudden change?
  (Mr Elliott) Probably civilianisation during the mid 1980s meant that officers who might have been able to find a sedentary job were not able to do that. I think forces have been more imaginative about that now and they are finding some jobs for people who are not fully fit for a full range of police duties. That is happening now, some forces have reduced their percentage number of ill health retirements as a total of all retirements using the legislation which exists now.

  255. What the Metropolitan Commissioner said was that "No-one can actually leave the service without a medical pension unless a doctor gives a medical opinion, that is the right course of action. It is not a decision made by myself, it is a medical decision."
  (Mr Elliott) I do not believe that is true. The doctor answers the medical questions to say whether the individual is fit or not fit and what for. The doctor can actually say that the individual is not fit for a full range of police duties and the police authority effectively can still decide to retain that individual in service.

  256. It is a common misunderstanding, I think. I am a bit surprised that chief officers appear to be under that illusion.
  (Mr Elliott) I am not, thank you. All pensions legislation is very complicated and they rely to a very great degree on other people's advice. I am not surprised because one or two chief officers have the same view as the Commissioner, which I believe is false.

David Winnick

  257. I see an editorial in the Police magazine on the ballot, which Mrs Watkinson was referring to a few moments ago, said that the ballot will be "more of an opportunity for police officers to answer back at the Government, politicians and pundits, who have spent more time burying the reputation of our service than praising it". Then it says "They...have helped create a picture of a Police Service that is riddled with incompetence, corruption...and sexism". Are those your views?
  (Mr Elliott) I think I made my views fairly clear, that the press have been painting that view of police officers in Britain. When we have been going around the country talking to groups of our members that is the sort of feedback we have been getting about the press coverage that has been incessant—that would not be too strong a word—over the last couple of years or so.

  258. One would get the impression there, would one not, that all of these allegations about corruption and incompetence are totally without any foundation and yet it was not so long ago that we had the previous Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police telling us the numbers of officers he believed were utterly corrupt, rotten apples who should be out of the service—over 100 at the time, not now I should add—and then we remember the Serious Crime Squad in the West Midlands and a few other cases. I am wondering if the Police Federation, or the magazine itself, believes, therefore, that politicians and the media should not make such accusations or report such matters?
  (Mr Elliott) We have never supported corrupt officers. We think it is perfectly reasonable for people to report cases that are obviously of public interest. We feel that recently there has been a drive in the press to pick up particularly ill-health issues and similar issues and report them in an unfair way. There is no mention, for instance, of the 11 per cent contribution we make, no mention that chief officers can decide whether an individual does or does not go. The officers do not choose to leave on medical, for instance. That is one of the issues that concerns me greatly. Officers go through a medical process and a doctor of the chief's choosing sees the individual and the chief makes the final decision. There have been regular, regular cases brought out in a sensational way in the press to demonstrate that. It is almost as though they are trying to attack the police pension through this particular process. The vast majority of officers would not support the odd malingerer there is in the service or the individual that beats the system, they are as angry as anybody else about that.

  259. Would the Police Federation's view be that those who have criticised the police, indeed including people like the previous Commissioner of Metropolitan Police, are anti-police?
  (Mr Elliott) No. We have never argued about reasonable and evidenced criticism. Obviously it is of public interest that these things go on in the service in the relatively small way that they do. It is difficult to get the balance right sometimes. We think the balance has been rather against the service rather than for the service.
  (Mrs Berry) I think it is a matter of balance because I think the perspective that has been put across is not a very balanced view of policing. I think that is what has brought out the anger and the frustration in police officers. When Sir Paul Condon, I think it was, addressed this Committee on complaints and discipline he referred to a number of corrupt officers and I think the final number of corrupt officers was far less than he quoted to the Committee. In no way do we support corrupt officers. We have enough work to do without also supporting malingerers. The vast majority of police officers do not fall into those categories and I think it is important that message is got across sometimes rather than some of the misinformation that tends to get through to the press.

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