Select Committee on Home Affairs Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 560 - 579)



  560. It will not be totally independent of the police?
  (Mr Denham) We think about 1,000 cases a year will be investigated entirely independently of the police by investigators who are employed by the IPCC. That, of course, will be reserved for the most serious and most difficult cases. There will be other cases which will rely on police investigation, probably another 1,000, where the IPCC will manage or supervise them very directly, whereas at the moment the PCA will invite or ask another force to investigate, but the investigation is entirely the responsibility for the investigating officer from that force, the PCA has no ability to say it should be investigated in this way or you need to take the following concerns into account. That is quite a different procedure.

  561. Perhaps this is a little delicate and controversial, but when it comes to the chair of the new body—how can I put this, as I say I am trying to be as delicate as possible—would it not be useful if it was not seen immediately as an establishment figure? You know pretty well what I mean by an establishment figure?
  (Mr Denham) I think it is very important that the chair of the IPCC is seen by everybody as somebody of complete integrity and somebody who will run an organisation and lead it with vigour and establish it to do the job of maintaining public confidence in the Police Service. I think that is important not just from the public's point of view or Parliament or Ministers but for the Police Service as well.

  David Winnick: White, male, middle-class?

  Bob Russell: It sounds like you, David.

David Winnick

  562. Except for the class!
  (Mr Denham) That covers a lot of people who would hate to be described as establishment figures. What they will turn out to be in that sense I do not know. When you set up a new organisation like this you have one opportunity to get it right, and you have to have the right team in charge of it for the first few years. I am not here today to rubbish the work of the PCA, I think people have worked extraordinarily hard, but the legislative framework they have worked within and the powers that they have had have made it very difficult to overcome this perception problem which we were talking about earlier.


  563. Just going back to police retirement or police discipline, we have had conflicting evidence on whether a senior police officer is bound by medical evidence when considering retirement or whether he just has to take it into account. Can you help us there at all?
  (Mr Denham) We are not talking about discipline here?

  564. No, early retirement on medical grounds?
  (Mr Denham) The regulations—to avoid in any way misleading the Committee I may want to follow this up in writing[6], Chairman—I think require medical evidence to be taken into account and there is a test which is based essentially on the ability of the officer to carry out the normal duties of a police officer. I do not have the exact wording in my mind, but it is along those terms. One of the things that we have made progress with police reform is actually to have a definition which is not quite as stringent as that. Perhaps I can bring you up to speed on that. I am fairly certain, Chairman, that an officer cannot say, "I am just not taking into account your medical condition", I am pretty certain he cannot just dismiss it.

  565. He is not absolutely bound by it. He must take it into account but he is not bound by it. We have had some bizarre cases of people coincidently of 27 and a half years—which I understand is the point where the pension maximises—of somebody suddenly becoming too ill to carry on with their duties.
  (Mr Denham) What we need to do and what we will do is to have a much more consistent system for assessing people's medical capability in those circumstances. What we will be taking forward is a system where there is a good deal of independence between the assessment of somebody's medical condition and the Police Service itself. Again, I can certainly write to the Committee setting out how that is going to be done.[7] It is true at the moment I think that in some forces at least there is perceived to be too much closeness, for example, between police surgeons who are involved in this and the medical assessment. I think the issue here is to ensure that we have a level of independence and a clear objective criteria, and a clear objective assessment of people's medical conditions.

  566. Do we think the problems lie with inadequate management or inadequate regulations?
  (Mr Denham) I think a change in the regulations will help, because there have been variations in the interpretation of the existing regulations as to quite how fit somebody needs to be if they are 50 to carry on being a police officer. An agreed change in the procedures so they are consistent from force to force is essential. I also think that good management in the wider sense of ill-health issues is very important too. Of course we need to do some other things ourselves, we hope to be introducing from April next year a national approach to occupational health, which we have not had previously. We do recognise that the Police Service have to make some input into this to support officers too.

  Chairman: Thank you very much.

Mrs Dean

  567. Minister, in what way has the Police Act of 1996 been deficient in the detail in requiring the removal of chief constables?
  (Mr Denham) There are two issues here, one is there is not a suspension power at the moment and we think that there should be suspension power. Secondly, the removal power is, I think, somewhat over-elaborate, particularly where it is initiated by the Police Authority, because there is some duplication of hearing the same evidence and the same representations over and over again. What we are seeking to do in the Bill is, firstly, to make it possible to suspend a chief officer where their removal is actually being actively considered in the interests of confidence in the force. Secondly, we are simplifying the powers to remove a chief officer. Finally, the approach in the past has always been that if the chief officer has to go it is through retirement. Particularly with much younger chief officers coming through to simply say that you have to retire as opposed to being required to resign does not make sense, so the ability to require somebody to resign is also part of the proposals.

  568. That is intended to aid those who are younger.
  (Mr Denham) You have chief officers now who are 41 and 42, the idea that if their performance fell below an acceptable standard and you retire them on pension at 42 seems to be a bit unacceptable. If somebody is required to resign you may well have to make appropriate financial provision, as you would do in other circumstance where people's job contract was changed. When the original rules were drawn up the assumption was that people became chief constables pretty late on in their policing career, when they would probably have achieved their full pension rights and be over pension age. That, again for very good reasons, no longer applies.

  569. Would you envisage a watershed age? Are you likely to set an actual age below which you would ask somebody to resign rather than retire?
  (Mr Denham) I do not think we have thought about a watershed age as such. You would have to treat each case on its merits, to be honest.

  570. You would not agree therefore with the Police Superintendents' Association who said, "A chief constable is appointed by a police authority and I do wonder whether the Home Secretary's wrath should be directed at the authority rather than the chief constable"?
  (Mr Denham) We would all agree that the police authority is in the front line. The police authority appoints the chief constable, employs the chief constable, it is the police authority one would normally look to to deal with matters of performance, conduct and so on. The question really is whether that is such a secure system that one can always rely on the police authority to do what is right in the interests of people in their area, or whether there is not a case for the Secretary of State being able to act. For some time now the recognition of the principle that the Secretary of State should be able to act has been accepted in law, we are not introducing a new principle here by saying the Secretary of State can over-rule the relationship between the police authority and the chief constable, what we are doing is developing that in this legislation. It has been the case for some time that the Secretary of State has had the power to require a police authority to require a chief constable to retire.

  571. In what circumstances would you expect the Home Secretary to use the power in clause 29 to suspend a chief constable?
  (Mr Denham) The power in the Bill, if I recall, is that there will be two tests essentially. One is that it is necessary to maintain public confidence in the Police Service, so something very serious would have had to have happened for the judgment to be that the chief constable should no longer be actively in their post. Secondly, the Secretary of State would have to be actively considering using further powers to require the chief constable to retire or resign. So they are both quite tough tests and they are in the legislation because it should be laid down in legislation so people know the grounds on which they could challenge the Secretary of State if they thought he was using them in an arbitrary or capricious way.

  572. On either, are you able to say how often you think the power would have been used in the last ten years?
  (Mr Denham) It is very difficult to say. Over a long period, about 20, 25 years, we think there are a couple of cases where chief constable have been required to retire. One was where the Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police was required to retire. There have been probably—and this is actually quite hard to pin down—a similar number of cases, possibly slightly more, where chief constables have come to the end of their careers earlier than would otherwise have been expected but without the formal use of the powers. One of the things we have tried to look at in this legislation is actually that the difficulty of using the powers is such that sometimes the process has not been a particularly transparent one where action has had to be taken where there has been dissatisfaction. I think it is better to have an open, transparent and accountable system where, if the Home Secretary has taken action or indeed a police authority has taken action, that has been done in the open and through proper procedures, with proper regulations setting down what the rights of representation are, what evidence should be put in front of the chief officer and so on.

David Winnick

  573. I wonder, Minister, whether any consideration has been given, apart from the powers which will be in the Act for the chief constables, to have powers whereby the Home Secretary would be able to act if a police officer of whatever rank but not a chief constable has been dealt with in a disciplinary way which perhaps would not be considered appropriate by Ministers?
  (Mr Denham) No. We have not thought about it in those terms. If the disciplinary action arose from a complaint or an allegation of misconduct as set out in the IPCC part of the Bill, then the IPCC would have the ability to intervene if they were not satisfied with the disciplinary action which had been taken. So there is in a sense the ability, through that route at least, to have somebody else looking at whether they are satisfied about disciplinary action which has been taken.

  574. So if the measure was actually in force, which obviously it is not at the moment, and there was the current case of Commander Paddick, would he be able to have his case looked at by the IPCC?
  (Mr Denham) You have asked about a very specific case and I would rather not speculate on the answer to that question here. It may be we would have to take a hypothetical case of somebody who had been suspended for a period. Could I come back to you, Chairman, on that point, partly because it has been asked in open Committee and I do not want to speculate but to give you an accurate answer.[8]

  Chairman: Yes.

David Winnick

  575. I see from the London press that the case—and obviously I do not want to go into details and it would be inappropriate to do so—is causing a good deal of disquiet and I am wondering if the Home Secretary is considering the matter in any way at all?
  (Mr Denham) We would regard this as an operational matter for the Commissioner.

  576. Purely and simply for the Commissioner?
  (Mr Denham) I know the Chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority made a statement on the issue earlier today and I believe the MPA were meeting today. We would not normally expect to be involved in something at this level of the Police Service.

  577. You seem a bit hesitant, perhaps it is a bit embarrassing, so I will not pursue the matter.
  (Mr Denham) No, it is not, Chairman. I am just very well aware that it is an issue which incites a great deal of public comment and it does involve a named individual, and I do not want to make any comment which would give any idea at all that this has been handled outside the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police or the Metropolitan Police Authority.

  David Winnick: I respect your comments.

Mr Watson

  578. Could I take you to the subject of police specials. We have had some written evidence, which was very forcefully reinforced by the Police Federation lobby last week to those of us who went to meet them, about the use of specials as additional auxiliaries in police forces. They want to see a huge increase in numbers—25 per cent I think of the total number. To what extent do you think that is realistic and had you considered that when it came to framing the new legislation?
  (Mr Denham) We certainly want to see an increase in the number of specials. That would be a very substantial increase, of course, to 40,000. There has been a decline in recent years, partly because of people joining the Police Service as a whole, partly because of management issues and dissatisfaction with the way specials have been deployed, and partly because some police forces have understandably been demanding a higher level of commitment and professionalism from specials if they are to be fully deployed. We are working at the moment on ways in which we could improve the management, training and recruitment of specials. We are looking, as we said in the White Paper, at whether or not it would be appropriate to pay some sort of allowance to specials in recognition of their essentially voluntary service and a number of other measures under way at the moment. We share with the Police Federation a desire, which of course is rather a new one for them now, to see the number of specials increased.

  579. I know it is difficult but could you say what your best estimate of what the increase could be over, say, the next three or four years?
  (Mr Denham) That is difficult but I would like to see a substantial increase on the numbers we have at the moment.

6   See Appendix, Ev 164-5. Back

7   See Appendix, Ev 164-5. Back

8   See Appendix, Ev 165. Back

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