Select Committee on Home Affairs Second Report



43.  Part 4 of the Bill develops existing powers under the Police Act 1996 for the removal of chief constables and other senior officers in the interests of efficiency or effectiveness. It is police authorities who appoint chief constables and can call on them to retire. The Home Secretary can already require a police authority to call on a chief constable to retire in the interests of efficiency or effectiveness. Both a former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police and the current President of the Association of Chief Police Officers have acknowledged:

    "In the recent past...existing powers have been shown to be not effective in taking care of the public interest and the reputation of the service. Therefore I fully acknowledge the need for reform and the need to extend some of the powers".[41]

    "I think the powers that the Home Secretary had previously under the Police Act were seen to be deficient in the detail".[42]

44.  The main changes proposed in the Bill appear to be that the Home Secretary will be able to require a chief constable to resign (as an alternative to retirement) and that he will be able to suspend a chief constable. According to the Minister, the provision for resignation is because chief constables are getting younger.[43] Compulsory retirement would bring with it an immediate pension, but resignation would not. The Joint Committee on Human Rights has considered whether the potential loss of pension rights might breach the European Convention and has concluded that it is unlikely to do so.[44]

45.  The proposed power for the Home Secretary to suspend a chief constable is not supported by the Association of Police Authorities:

    "We welcome the ability of the police authority to take a judgment about whether that is appropriate in the light of public confidence locally in the force but we think it is wholly inappropriate that the Home Secretary should take the power to direct the police authority to suspend...For a Home Secretary to be able to say to a police authority "You must suspend X" if the police authority does not feel that actually that is warranted, that could lead to a direct conflict".[45]

46.  The Minister told us:

    "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".[46]

47.  The operation of these procedures is to be subject to a protocol agreed with the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Association of Police Authorities. We welcome this. However, it is not clear from the evidence we have received or from the debates in the Lords why exactly the Government feels these extra powers are required or why the existing powers have proved ineffective. Clearly it is difficult to explain in public how the powers would have been used in relation to actual cases in the past. Nonetheless, in an era of evidence-based policy making, we would have expected the Minister to be able to put a more persuasive case for these new powers.[47] It is no particular comfort to be assured that these are powers to be used as a last resort.[48]

48.  We believe that, if the Home Office has concluded that strengthened powers are needed for the suspension and removal of chief constables, it should be able to give a fuller explanation of how they might be used. We would expect these powers to be used only in exceptional circumstances.

49.  We recommend that the proposed protocol on the operation of the powers to remove senior officers be published before the Bill reaches report stage. We hope the House, before agreeing to these clauses, will press Ministers for a fuller explanation of why they are necessary and why the matter cannot be left to police authorities.

50.  We note that the Metropolitan Police Service would also like the Bill amended to allow for a senior officer who has become eligible for retirement but who is suspended for disciplinary or criminal proceedings not to be allowed to retire until those proceedings have been completed.[49] Officers below the rank of chief officer can be prevented from retiring. It is anomalous that this does not apply to the most senior officers and runs the risk, in rare cases, of bringing the police service into disrepute. A senior officer within two years of retirement under a fixed term agreement could, if suspended, be confident of retiring before any disciplinary case was concluded.

51.  We recommend that police regulations be amended to prevent the retirement of any senior officer suspended on disciplinary grounds until the matter is resolved.

41   Lords Hansard, 12 March, col. 733 (Lord Condon, former Metropolitan Police Commissioner). Back

42   Q. 41 (Sir David Phillips). Back

43   Q. 567 (John Denham). Back

44   Fifteenth Report, 2001-02, HC 706, para 24. Back

45   Q. 427 (Ms Leech) and Q. 431 (Dr Henig). Back

46   Q. 571 (John Denham). Back

47   Q. 516-7 (John Denham). Back

48   Lords Hansard, 12 March 2002, col. 734 (Lord Rooker). Back

49   Ev 121. Back

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