Draft Police (Conduct) Regulations 2008

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Bob Russell: I join the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds in his opening fawning comments, Mr. Bercow. I notice that the numbers on the Opposition Benches have depleted somewhat since the proceedings started, and I shall do my best to ensure that they do not deplete any further. I declare an interest in that my son-in-law is a police officer. He has yet to discuss with me the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2008, but I am sure that it is a subject of hot debate throughout the police forces of the United Kingdom.
I do not think that anyone will oppose the general thrust of the regulations, but I should like to put one specific question to the Minister. In part 2 on page 7 under the heading “Police Friend”, regulation 6(c) reads:
“where the officer concerned is a member of a police force”.
What other officer would be involved who was not a member of a police force? I intervened earlier to ask what the purpose was of Unison being consulted. It was my understanding that the Police Federation represented police officers, but could the Minister explain the involvement of a trade union? I am not criticising that; I am just puzzled as to why it has been involved.
I turn to a point that I have made in the past. The hon. Member for Keighley and I are both members of the Home Affairs Committee. This is another lost opportunity for the wider police family to come together, because police community support officers are clearly part of the wider police family. However, as I understand it from my earlier intervention, PCSOs are dealt with under different arrangements. Two people wearing uniform might be joined together in a misdemeanour: one a PCSO, the other a police officer of whatever rank. He might be a special constable or a full-time officer. As I understand it, they would then have to go through two separate disciplinary paths. Will the Minister confirm that?
I raise that point because the Minister made comparisons with a court martial. I think that I am the only hon. Member present who served on the Committee that considered the Bill that became the Armed Forces Act 2006, which was designed to bring together all sectors of Her Majesty’s armed forces in a common disciplinary code. In the spirit of joined-up Government, members of the armed forces were brought together in a single disciplinary code. However, as I understand it from the regulations, the Home Office feels that there should be two separate disciplinary paths depending on where people are in the police family. I think that this is a lost opportunity. I will not oppose the regulations, but I invite the Minister to seek a remedy at an early stage in the interests of the future of policing in this country. As I understand it, the Police Federation is at best reluctant and at worst totally opposed to embracing police community support officers into their family.
5.1 pm
Mr. Coaker: I thank the hon. Members for Bury St. Edmunds and for Colchester; I appreciate their warm remarks and hope that my answers do not disappoint them. Both hon. Gentlemen are very anxious for people to recognise their support for the regulations. As the Minister responsible for the regulations, I put it on the record that I fully accept their endorsements. I hope that that is of help to them.
I agree with virtually all that the hon. Member for Bury St. Edmunds said about the importance of these changes and of the principles that we have adopted. Without rehashing or repeating the points from my introductory remarks, there is a significant change. Most change that is worth its weight brings about a cultural shift. It is easy to change regulations and rules. What makes a difference in an organisation is when the rules support and reflect a cultural shift. Following on from the Taylor review, this debate is about a cultural shift. It is difficult to ensure that the details in the regulations suit all particular circumstances. That is why it is so important that we have involved the various staff associations and bodies.
I will try to answer a couple of the specific points that were made. It is important that there is no time limit for the investigation of misconduct or gross misconduct. It would be wrong to say that an investigation into an officer’s alleged misconduct or gross misconduct should last for x number of days or months. The reason for that is obvious. Some investigations must take longer to be fair to the individual. It would be difficult to predict what the time limit for an investigation should be in every circumstance. Therefore, it is only right and proper to say that the investigator should take the time necessary for a proper investigation.
The time limit starts when an officer is given written notice that the case is being referred to a hearing or meeting following the completion of the investigator’s report. Following the investigator’s report, the written notice goes to the individual officer. If it is a misconduct hearing, 20 days would obviously be the time limit, and if it is a gross misconduct hearing, 30 days is the time limit. I hope that that is of help to the hon. Gentleman. If there is a failure to meet the 20 or 30-day deadline, which is only relevant because we have not time-limited the original investigation, an officer could raise that as an argument at the hearing or meeting that would take place to consider the allegations made against them. Should they be found guilty of misconduct or gross misconduct, that might be grounds for part of the appeal, should they decide to take the case to the police appeals tribunal.
The hon. Gentleman made an extremely good point about training. There is no doubt that training is crucial, particularly with regard to misconduct hearings and in cases where we—without wishing to be disrespectful—want middle managers or immediate managers, rather than senior managers, to look at misconduct hearings. We therefore expect training to be available. We have asked the National Policing Improvement Agency to look at how it ensures that appropriate training packages are put out to individual officers. Training is also being delivered by approved external providers. I understand that all forces have run training for managers and panel members. Indeed, police authorities are already training some of the independent members who will be involved. That is an important issue and it is being taken forward. We will need to accelerate that process, but training is clearly a crucial part of it.
On taint and disclosure, further work is needed. That important point is the subject of ongoing discussions between the Home Office, the Crown Prosecution Service and the Police Advisory Board working party, which aim to produce further guidance in due course.
Mr. Ruffley: It would be useful if the Minister gave some hint as to what options the CPS and the other agencies are looking at. I raise that point because I hit upon it while reading the Taylor review at midnight last night. Logically, it should be termed, “disclosure and taint”, because that is what happens: there is disclosure and then someone is tainted. That is not referred to in either the regulations or the explanatory notes, but it is a problem whether we approve the regulations or stay with the existing regime. I am not at all clear what the way forward might be, and I cannot find that information laid out anywhere. If there is disclosure, whether under the old or the new regime, it seems to me that there will be taint.
Mr. Coaker: The only thing that I can say is that the hon. Gentleman has identified an issue that is not yet fully resolved, which is why ongoing discussions are taking place. It might help—I always to try to be helpful on such matters—if I keep you, Mr. Bercow, and the hon. Members for Bury St. Edmunds and for Colchester informed of those discussions as they progress, as I cannot yet give a definitive answer to that question. I reinforce the point that there is an awareness of that issue, and that discussions are ongoing to try to resolve it.
The hon. Member for Colchester asked about regulation 6(1)(c). Special constables are not part of a force, and the provision is phrased in that way because special constables are covered by these regulations. We have involved Unison because police community support officers, although not covered by the regulations, could act as an officer’s friend and because it represents HR staff members who might be involved in dealing with such issues. Frankly, we also thought that it was good practice to involve Unison, because we wanted the broadest possible consultation and involvement. I understand the hon. Gentleman’s point about there being two parallel sets of procedures. However, this is the appropriate way forward and it has the support of all the staff associations. For that reason, I commend the regulations to the Committee.
Question put and agreed to.
That the Committee has considered the draft Police (Conduct) Regulations 2008.
Bob Russell: On a point of order, Mr. Bercow. An hon. Member requested that the regulations and rules be taken separately. What is the position when the hon. Member who made that request has left the Committee?

Police Appeals Tribunals Rules 2008

5.11 pm
Mr. Coaker: I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the Police Appeals Tribunals Rules 2008.
I thank the hon. Member for Colchester for his comments and I will be brief in discussing police appeals. The Police Appeals Tribunals Rules 2008 provide for appeals against findings or certain outcomes of cases considered under the new conduct or performance regulations. Appeals should be dealt with in a timely and proportionate manner; time scales are built into the rules to ensure that they are. The police appeals tribunal chair will have the power to dismiss an appeal at an early stage when there is no prospect of success and no other compelling reason why the appeal should proceed. The tribunal will have the power to overturn the finding of the original panel that considered the conduct or performance case and amend the sanction imposed.
The police appeals tribunal is a three-person panel for senior officers and a four-person panel for non-senior officers. For senior officers, the chair is selected through the Judicial Appointments Commission and must have five years’ legal standing. The second member is the chief inspector of constabulary or another inspector nominated by him. The third member is the Home Office permanent secretary or another Home Office director. For non-senior officers, the chair is selected through the Judicial Appointments Commission and must have five years’ legal standing. The second member is a member of the force’s police authority. The third member must be a chief officer from the officer’s force or another force, especially if greater independence is thought necessary. The fourth member is a retired staff association representative.
The chair will have the casting vote, and may also decide the case on papers and dismiss it without convening the panel if he or she considers there to be insufficient grounds and there is no other compelling reason why the appeal should proceed. I say again that there is no appeal against the decision of the tribunal or the chair. The only challenge, as in all such situations, is through judicial review.
With those brief remarks, I hope that the Committee will accept the rules.
5.13 pm
Mr. Ruffley: I, too, will be commensurately brief. Paragraph 4.2.36 of the Taylor review states:
“Any appeal body would require a clear mechanism for feeding back learning into the service.”
The idea that officers should be encouraged to learn from their mistakes also bears on this issue. I am not sure how the new appeals system demonstrates a clear mechanism for feeding back learning into the service. Will the Minister enlighten us on that matter?
5.14 pm
Mr. Coaker: Our expectation is that a tribunal decision will be clearly laid out in front of the panel. That information, report, judgment and decision should be communicated to other officers. The panel might also decide to give guidance to the individual officer concerned. Appeals panels produce reports and guidance that can be disseminated and distributed in the appropriate way to ensure that the necessary learning is gleaned. Hopefully, whatever led to the appeal and judgment might, in future, lead to better practice.
Question put and agreed to.

Draft Police (Performance) Regulations 2008

5.16 pm
Mr. Coaker: I beg to move,
That the Committee has considered the draft Police (Performance) Regulations 2008.
The Taylor report recommended a review of the existing unsatisfactory performance procedures that deal with individual poor performance or attendance of police officers. That recommendation has been implemented through the new performance regulations, which set out the procedures for dealing with such matters.
The new procedures provide a fair, open and proportionate method of dealing with unsatisfactory performance, and will hold police officers to account for such behaviour. They are also intended—this is the cultural shift that we are talking about—to encourage a culture of personal responsibility among individual police officers, and support learning and development for both individuals and the organisation. When circumstances require it, there must be appropriate sanctions for poor performance. However, we must also ensure that improvement is an integral part of any outcome. Even where an individual must be dismissed, there will be learning opportunities for the police service.
We believe that the performance regulations will create a performance environment for police officers that more closely reflects that which exists in more “normal” employment practice. I do not want to go through the various timelines and stages involved—the three-stage process—but I think that the regulations are appropriate, will lead to improved performance and will be generally welcomed by the police service.
5.18 pm
Mr. Ruffley: It is worth putting on the record the view of Her Majesty’s Opposition regarding the performance regulations as they relate to the conduct of individual officers. Performance management is slightly different and is a term normally applied at force level. I hope that all members of the Committee agree with the principles enshrined in the regulations. They set out the standards of professional behaviour expected of police officers and special constables, and include an expectation that officers act with honesty, integrity, self-control and tolerance, and that they treat members of the public with respect and courtesy. We agree on all those things.
The procedures relate to the small minority of officers who fall below the standards of performance that their line managers and the public would expect. The regulations go into some detail as to how line managers will have to exercise a different assessment of the performance of officers under their command. There was a problem—the procedures are not just there for reasons of spin or to clog up the legislative timetable. Paragraph 4.2.52 of the Taylor review highlighted the lack of use of capability procedures in dealing with poor officer performance, and that needed addressing. Part of the problem was that sometimes, poor performance was confused with misconduct. Conceptually, we understand the difference between poor performance and misconduct, but quite often the two can merge and be a grey area.
I have some questions with which I wish to draw my remarks to a conclusion. The first is a point of clarification. Recommendation 4 of the Taylor review said:
“An early review of the Unsatisfactory Performance Procedures should be instigated as they are a key part of the holistic management of public concerns about policing and the effective internal management of performance.”
Is the provision the result of the early review that the Taylor review refers to—on unsatisfactory performance procedures—and is it fair to deduce that what is before us is pretty much the last word from the Government on reform of the poor performance regime? Is more work under way, or should we expect further work and reviews?
My second question, which is about training, is one I that have raised before in the context of misconduct, but it applies with equal force to the management of poor performance. Just as line managers will have better to understand the assessment of misconduct or gross misconduct at an early level, they must also have a better understanding of what constitutes poor performance, and how to handle it when they pull in an officer at the first stage and make them aware that their performance is inadequate. What resources, if any, will be devoted to this? My guess is that chief constables will be required to find any training moneys from within existing budgets, but if so, what dissemination of best practice is afoot? Will it again be through the National Policing Improvement Agency? When will such guidance be issued and what form will it take? It is all very well talking about new regimes, and I have no problem with how the regulations are set out, but they will not bite and operate as effectively as they should unless we have both a clear understanding of the training for line managers and an ongoing assessment of how the new regime operates. We, and the police service, will certainly want to return to this issue six or 12 months after the new regime for misconduct and poor performance has been put in place to see how line managers feel. Are they getting the support, training and guidance to make a very good set of proposals work in the real world rather than just look logical and acceptable in theory?
My third question relates to regulation 58 of the Police (Conduct) Regulations. It places a responsibility on the chief officer of a police force to store a record of poor performance proceedings and special case proceedings brought against every officer concerned, together with the finding and decision. Will that information be collected centrally by the Home Office and compiled in such a way that comparisons can be made both over time and between forces? If Parliament is to continue to be responsible for overseeing the regulation of police force discipline and performance, it could be argued that we need the facts available on a national basis fully to understand how the current regulations will operate in practice.
My final question is about central data collection. Is the Minister contemplating making comparisons across forces and over time? I am not necessarily saying that that is a good thing because, by and large, if the opportunity arises, one should resist the temptation to centralise data. Is that in the Minister’s mind and could he share his thoughts with us? With that last question on the thorny issue of centralisation of data, I shall resume my seat. I await the Minister’s replies with great interest.
5.27 pm
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Prepared 28 October 2008