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Session 2007 - 08
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Public Bill Committee Debates

Draft Police (Conduct) Regulations 2008

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairman: John Bercow
Ancram, Mr. Michael (Devizes) (Con)
Battle, John (Leeds, West) (Lab)
Blackman, Liz (Erewash) (Lab)
Blunt, Mr. Crispin (Reigate) (Con)
Burden, Richard (Birmingham, Northfield) (Lab)
Coaker, Mr. Vernon (Minister of State, Home Department)
Cryer, Mrs. Ann (Keighley) (Lab)
Engel, Natascha (North-East Derbyshire) (Lab)
Fallon, Mr. Michael (Sevenoaks) (Con)
Gwynne, Andrew (Denton and Reddish) (Lab)
Huhne, Chris (Eastleigh) (LD)
McCabe, Steve (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)
Mates, Mr. Michael (East Hampshire) (Con)
Ruffley, Mr. David (Bury St. Edmunds) (Con)
Russell, Bob (Colchester) (LD)
Wilson, Phil (Sedgefield) (Lab)
Mick Hillyard, Committee Clerk
† attended the Committee

First Delegated Legislation Committee

[John Bercow in the Chair]

Draft Police (Conduct) Regulations 2008

4.30 pm
The Chairman: Is it the wish of the Committee that the regulations and rules be taken together?
Hon. Members: No.
The Chairman: For the information of the Committee, and especially the hon. Member for Reigate, this matter is not subject to a vote. It suffices for one member of the Committee to object to the regulations and rules being taken together. In such circumstances, they must be debated separately.
The Minister of State, Home Department (Mr. Vernon Coaker): I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Police (Conduct) Regulations 2008.
I look forward to the debate on the three statutory instruments before us this afternoon. For the benefit of the Committee, I will make a few introductory remarks laying out the thinking behind the three as they are related to each other, but I will of course refer to each one separately.
The three statutory instruments establish new sets of procedures governing police disciplinary matters in response to the recommendations of the Taylor review. The Police (Conduct) Regulations 2008 establish procedures for taking action on misconduct by police officers and special constables. The Police (Performance) Regulations 2008 establish procedures for dealing with issues of unsatisfactory performance and attendance on the part of police officers, apart from senior officers and special constables. The Police Appeals Tribunals Rules 2008 provide for appeals to a police appeals tribunal against the findings and specific outcomes from both those sets of regulations. The statutory instruments have been prepared following the recent passing of the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 and enjoy the full support of the Police Advisory Board for England and Wales and the Independent Police Complaints Commission.
It might be helpful if I set out the background to the making of the statutory instruments, including the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2008. The Taylor review was conducted by William Taylor CBE, QPM—a former Commissioner of the City of London police, and former Her Majesty’s chief inspector of constabulary for Scotland—and looked into the effectiveness of disciplinary arrangement for police officers. The programme board that guided and informed the review consisted of representatives of all the main police stakeholders and other invited organisations, such as the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Police Federation, the Police Superintendents’ Association, the Chief Police Officers Staff Association, the National Black Police Association, and representatives of the special constabulary, the IPCC, Unison, Liberty and the Advisory, Conciliation and Arbitration Service.
Bob Russell (Colchester) (LD): The Minister said Unison was consulted. Where do the police community support officers fit into the regulations, and is that why Unison was involved?
Mr. Coaker: The police community support officers are subject to alternative provisions, but we thought it appropriate in discussing the regulations to involve all the various bodies that have some sort of say on police staff in the broadest sense.
The Taylor report made 19 recommendations in total. The ones that I would like to highlight are: that the police officer disciplinary arrangements are most appropriately determined by Parliament after extensive consultation; that a new single code should be produced to be a touchstone for individual behaviour and a clear indication of organisational and peer expectations; that the new procedures, although regulated, should be based on the ACAS code of practice on disciplinary and grievance procedures; that conduct issues should be separated into two distinct groups of misconduct and gross misconduct, in order to promote proportionate handling, clarify available outcomes and provide a better public understanding of the policing environment; that the police service must manage the disciplinary arrangements dynamically in order to drive through changes to the internal culture of the organisation and promote acceptance of responsibility at all levels of management; and that the procedures for dealing with the unsatisfactory performance of a police officer should be reviewed. The report’s recommendations were accepted by the programme board and Ministers. The PABEW was asked to take forward the process for implementing the recommendations.
Let me emphasise some points about the regulations. First, the Taylor review found that the current system for dealing with police misconduct can be slow and disproportionate. It gives little or no encouragement to managers to deal swiftly and proportionately with low-level misconduct matters. Disciplinary hearings were seen as more akin to criminal court hearings and even low-level misconduct matters were decided by three-person panels of senior police officers. The new system ensures that police managers are given the responsibility and ability to deal with misconduct in a fair and proportionate manner at a local level. Time scales are built into the process to ensure timeliness in all misconduct and gross misconduct cases. An independent member appointed by the police authority will sit on gross misconduct panels to bring a public perspective to the holding of police officers to account.
Secondly, as hon. Members have heard, the Taylor report proposed a new single code as the touchstone for individual behaviour and as a clear indication of organisational and peer expectations. Together with all stakeholders, we have produced the new standards of professional behaviour for police offers, which form part of the conduct regulations. The standards set out clear expectations of the behaviour that the public and colleagues expect of all police officers.
The Taylor review also proposed that the misconduct procedures be based on ACAS principles to modernise the system and make it easier for individual officers and the police service generally to learn lessons and improve the service to the public. A key point that emerged was the need to shift the emphasis and culture in police misconduct and unsatisfactory performance matters from blame and punishment to development and improvement. The change in the disciplinary procedures for police misconduct is seismic. The police should be congratulated for the way that they have embraced the changes. They have negotiated for a considerable period, so that this House can discuss conduct regulations that have the full support of all who were involved in their drafting.
Mr. Michael Ancram (Devizes) (Con): I am grateful to the Minister for the helpful explanatory memorandum. Paragraph 8 on “Impact” talks about
“potentially significant non cashable savings”.
Will he tell me what those are?
Mr. Coaker: We could have a long debate about that. Let me give an example of a non-cashable saving. Because of the timelines that are being introduced, the system will operate in a more expedient period. That will create savings, although no money will be received back. Also, an officer will now know quickly whether they are subject to misconduct or gross misconduct. The fact that they will be told quickly will not necessarily result in a cash saving, but there will be considerable savings in the officer’s time and in the emotional upset caused to them. The proposals have the full support of the police service at all ranks, without exception. It can therefore be expected that morale will improve. As morale improves, output will improve. That will not result in a cash bonus, but officers feel that this is a better procedure and one that they themselves will be involved in.
The regulations are a huge step forward for the police service. When we talk to police officers, they comment on the fact that to a certain extent, the procedure has been like a court martial procedure. I am sure that all of us, in our various guises and professions, know only too well that good conduct regulations are about not only penalising individual individuals for doing something wrong, but allowing people to learn, develop and build on their experience. That forms part of any good system. That does not mean that where there is gross misconduct of the sort that we could all identify and give examples of, it should not result in the most serious sanction, as it can do for gross misconduct. For too long, however, good human resources and personnel procedures and practice have not been in place within the police force. The Taylor review identified that fact, as did all the people involved, and they have come forward with the regulations. As such, the regulations mark a significant step forward and will be of huge benefit to the police force and the public whom it serves.
As I have said, the new procedures are based on ACAS principles, and we are grateful for the work of ACAS representatives in advising officials on their development. The report stressed the importance of carrying out a full assessment of the alleged conduct at an early stage, with a view to implementing a proportionate response. The new procedures have incorporated the requirement for that objective assessment to take place at an early stage.
I have identified the measures as a significant step forward. All the reports link together and are supported by all the police organisations, both senior and staff organisations. I congratulate them on the work that they have done.
4.42 pm
Mr. David Ruffley (Bury St. Edmunds) (Con): Let me welcome you, Mr. Bercow, and note that when we both entered this place in 1997, I little realised that you would rise to the heady heights of the position you occupy today and I would be but a humble shadow police spokesman. Let me not forget to welcome the hon. Member for Gedling to his new role as the Minister of State, Home Department. It is a well-deserved promotion; I have always enjoyed debating with him on previous occasions and I am sure that that spirit of honest inquiry will continue.
The regulations are not based wholly and exclusively on the Taylor review, but they draw heavily on it. It would be helpful for the Committee and members of the police service who are listening to the debate, or who read it, to understand that the Opposition broadly welcome the principles of the Taylor review and those enshrined in the regulations. The Taylor review found that the current system for dealing with police misconduct, and indeed, poor performance, is overly bureaucratic and legalistic and provides little encouragement for line managers to deal swiftly and proportionately with misconduct hearings, particularly low-level misconduct hearings. Misconduct rather than performance is the subject of the order.
The issues were well exemplified in an article in the May edition of Police magazine, which is absolutely required reading for any politician, or indeed, member of the public, who wishes to get a handle on what concerns the police service at any particular time. The article stated that the cost of maintaining professional standards at the Metropolitan Police Authority alone is a staggering £43 million per year under the present regime. The Government’s prediction, which I hope comes to pass, is that such costs, which are replicated to a slightly lower magnitude in other forces in the country, will fall if the regulations are adequately implemented and have the desired effect.
On the specific issue of disciplining misconduct or gross misconduct, it is worth reminding ourselves of the principles of the Taylor review and, more important, the post-publication consultation and further work to which the Minister referred, which resulted in the drafting of the regulations. It is always good to go back to principles, and I am keen to put that on the record. Police disciplinary matters are a sensitive issue for police officers up and down the country who want to know what Her Majesty’s Government and Opposition are doing regarding pay and conditions.
I support the principles in the regulation. Police officer discipline will remain regulated by Parliament and will not be subject to the uncertainty of what has been described as the free market of employment law. As a result of the Taylor review and subsequent consultation—we must read across to the excellent Morris inquiry into the Metropolitan Police Authority—international experience was quarried to see whether taking the oversight of police regulations away from Parliament and leaving it to employment law, employers and employees was a good idea. In other words, the issue was about putting the disciplinary regime on a different footing. Australia was looked at—we always look there for good police practice—where the decision was that it was better for Australian parliamentary bodies to continue to have oversight. That has been the result in the drafting in front of us. There was a big debate on the matter, but I believe that it is correct for Parliament to have ultimate oversight.
The second principle is that the framework should be simple and, as the Minister mentioned, the ACAS model has largely been adopted. The third principle is that there should not be a big stick sanction punishment regime for the small minority of officers who, from time to time, fall beneath the standards that we expect, due to low-level misconduct or—in an even smaller proportion of cases—gross misconduct. Typically, although not necessarily, that would lead to criminal proceedings. Rather than heavy-handed sanctions, the process should be about learning and development and how we can learn from our mistakes.
The fourth principle is that the system will be much less quasi-judicial. Investigations do not need to be centred on the crime model. Hearings should be less adversarial and, where possible, those charged with misconduct should have less of an incentive to get—I borrow from American TV series—“lawyered up.” Police officers who are the subject of a complaint should not automatically believe that they need legal advice, as that adds to the length and cost of inquiries. The regulation seems to provide a better way, by using a lighter touch regime—not always a fashionable phrase in these dire economic times. However, I agree with the Minister about the proposal and on the thrust of lighter-touch regulation in this matter, although not necessarily in the context of economic policy.
The fifth principle is that, as the Minister pointed out, conduct issues will be assessed as misconduct or gross misconduct. That division will help us to understand better, or remind us of the need for proportionality in distinguishing different types of inappropriate behaviour in what, I stress, is a tiny minority of cases concerning police conduct.
The sixth principle is that issues of misconduct should be dealt with at the lowest level. The Taylor review makes it clear that, all things being equal, such matters should not be decided above basic command unit commander level. A pure misconduct issue should not automatically be the subject of hearings by large numbers of the ACPO ranks and take up a lot of time—it might be possible, but it should not be the norm.
The seventh principle is that investigations should be less formal and should be proportionate to the allegation. The eighth principle—an important one on which I wish to return with specific questions to the Minister—is that the system should have strict time limits with consequences for unreasonable failure to comply. There are plenty of time limits in the regulation, but I want to return to my concern with that in a moment.
The regulations contain a cultural shift: less blame and harsh punishment and more emphasis on learning from mistakes. A full assessment of alleged misconduct will be carried out at an early stage with line managers who will be the officer immediately above the officer who is the subject of a complaint.
The Opposition support the broad thrust of the regulations, but how does the Minister think the Government and senior members of the police service will ensure that the time limits are stuck to rigorously? The whole point of the regulation is to impose a bit more structure and to get things moving a bit more quickly. What will happen if overworked managements in different police forces miss the 30-day period within which a final hearing must be held?
A second question has been raised with me by sergeants and inspectors who will, on average, be involved more often at an earlier stage as a result of these regulations. The Police Federation has concerns about training. In its view, forces seem only to be investing in training a handful of senior managers who are then expected to cascade that training, or their e-learning, down to the officers who have to invoke those processes. How well will the line managers who will be doing more of the earlier intervention be trained? I have been told that if training is not sufficient there is a risk that there might be 43 different levels of enforcement of the regulations. What steps are the Government taking to ensure that training is carried out properly in delivering the new police discipline regime? Are more resources being earmarked? Is more guidance being sent out on what training should be done, whether from the Home Office or more specifically the National Policing Improvement Agency, or have instructions been given to the inspectorate of constabulary? It would be interesting to know how that will be taken forward.
My next question relates to probably the most important point I have to make. The Minister did not mention it, but it is described rather well in recommendation 6 of the Taylor review, which states:
“Given that the approach to, and the processes for, police discipline will radically alter if the key proposals in this report are accepted, it is important that the issues of ‘taint and disclosure’ are re-assessed.”
One of the reasons why poor behaviour or misconduct is not readily admitted by police officers who are the subject of a complaint is the consequence it will have for them when they are called to give evidence in a court of law on any future unrelated case. They are obviously worried that any defence counsel could seek to undermine their credibility as a witness by drawing attention to a record of prior misconduct which would be on their disciplinary record.
Changes to discipline procedures will have an effect on the nature of investigations into misconduct. Has the Minister given any thought as to whether the changes will have any impact on the taint and disclosure problem? If because of a disciplinary problem an officer becomes less credible when giving evidence in court in future, justice clearly is not served. If it is lower level he might wish, under the new regime, to accept a verbal warning. Is that still disclosable to defence counsel? My suspicion is that it probably will be, but that does not address the problem identified in the Taylor review. Whether it is the old or new review, the taint and disclosure problem is one that Taylor thought was worth looking at. Could the Minister share with us his and the Department’s latest thinking on that?
The Taylor review suggested that perhaps
“the CPS should have a higher level of awareness of the background and context”—
of a misconduct charge against an officer—
“but what goes to the defence needs re-examination.”
In other words, what goes to the defence counsel about an officer’s prior disciplinary conduct record needs re-examination. What re-examination have the Minister and his officials conducted?
On those specific questions, posed in a spirit of honest inquiry, I draw my remarks to a conclusion. I shall not be voting against a set of proposals that the Opposition support for the reasons I have given, but answers to my questions, which were raised by officers who knew that I would be debating the regulations with the Minister today, would be greatly welcome.
4.57 pm
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Prepared 28 October 2008