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21 Oct 2008 : Column 50WH—continued

There is an extensive case history, documented in parliamentary debates—I am sure the Minister has had to read them or summaries of them—Home Office questions and correspondence between successive police commissioners, Home Secretaries and Home Office Ministers. However, 26 years on, there are still, unfortunately, outstanding issues.

First, I shall mention the apology to which I have already referred. An apology was issued by Sir Paul Condon, who said that

That apology was accepted, or considered acceptable at the time. However, the fact is that that was issued 13 years ago, and the matter is still unresolved. Therefore the apology has worn rather thin, and it would be appropriate for a further apology to be issued, reflecting the fact that the matter did not end with Sir Paul’s letter.

The second impasse relates to the compensation figure. In fairness, I should point out that the matter has been before the Court of Appeal, which did not award aggravated or exemplary damages. However, as I have just quoted, it seems that the Met believed that there was a very strong case for offering Mr. Warren compensation. At one point, £95,000 was mentioned, but it came forward with a figure of £85,000, which was well above the sum awarded by the court, and recognised that the Met knew that it had done wrong and that it had to be seen to be offering a financial settlement that repaired some, but clearly not all, of that damage.

The third sticking point, which can never be resolved, is the Met’s reluctance over decades to record Mr. Warren’s allegation of perjury against the medical officer. Crimes may now be recorded over the internet, and everyone in the police force knows that every allegation of crime must be recorded, but for decades the Met refused to record Mr. Warren’s allegation. However, we are where we are, and the medical officer is deceased, so there is no point in pursuing that issue, and it is impossible to continue down that road.

I anticipate that the Minister will refer to the fact—I want to address this pre-emptively—that the perjury allegation was investigated. That was stated in correspondence from a previous Home Secretary, the right hon. Member for Norwich, South (Mr. Clarke). Mr. Warren contends that the court papers make it clear that perjury was never fully investigated in the way in which the letters to me allege that it was, and that what was investigated was bias.

One could argue about the fine detail of what is or is not in the relevant court papers, but I emphasise that in 1994 the Met acknowledged that it had a serious case to answer, and the offer of what was then a substantial sum of £85,000 acknowledged its failings in the case. Mr. Warren and I do not find that offer acceptable. He has not worked for the past 26 years because of the apparent vendetta against him, which made him leave the force. If one considers the cost involved and the anguish experienced, the offer of £85,000 was paltry.

Where does Mr. Warren stand 26 years after the fatal party? He has been unable to pursue the career to which he had, until then, devoted his life. He wanted to
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continue carrying out his daily business as a policeman in, as Sir Paul Condon described, an exemplary way. He suffers to this day from the legacy of that vendetta. He has had the false allegations about his mental health thrown back at him by neighbours decades after the fateful party in April 1982, because his case, as the Minister knows, has received considerable coverage in the local press, the police press and publications such as Private Eye. It is a well-known case locally.

The case smacks of the bad old days of the Met. It features attempts by less principled colleagues to throw a straight policeman out of the force, with a medical officer working for the Met producing a medical certificate stating that Mr. Warren was suffering from a personality disorder with paranoid tendencies, which the courts later found to be unlawful. It contained offers, which were unjustified in Mr. Warren's view, of medical pensions designed to persuade him to leave the force. Perhaps it was simply a case that his face did not fit and he was too honest for the job that he was being asked to do.

Twenty-six years down the track, it is time for justice to be done. Mr. Warren now suffers from cancer, and it is likely that it will take his life. All he wants at this point is the knowledge that his struggle for justice was not in vain, and a simple apology and settlement. I implore the Minister, the Metropolitan police and the Home Office to give this man the closure that he has tried to obtain for the past quarter of a century.

12.45 pm

The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department (Mr. Alan Campbell): I congratulate the hon. Member for Carshalton and Wallington (Tom Brake) on securing this debate. The issue is longstanding, as he said, and I pay tribute to his commitment to his constituent in pursuing it. However, I am not sure what I can say that is new on the matter. As the hon. Gentleman has made us aware, the issue has a very long history, having run for nearly 26 years. It was raised in debates by the hon. Gentleman and his predecessor on at least two occasions—in 1994 and 2000. In the light of its long history, I do not intend to go into it in great detail, but it is important to set out the main points.

In January 1985, a medical certificate was issued to Mr. Warren by Dr. Charles Bott, the selected medical practitioner for the Metropolitan police, certifying that Mr. Warren was medically unfit and suffering from paranoia. The decision set out in the certificate was overturned on appeal by the independent medical referees appointed by the Home Office, but in 1986 another medical certificate was issued by Dr. Bott, and in 1988, the second certificate issued by him was declared by the administrative court to be unlawful, based on the technical ground that, when a medical officer of the force has already expressed a view that is adverse to a particular police officer, he cannot lawfully act as the qualified practitioner for deciding whether the same officer is permanently disabled. In acting as a qualified medical practitioner, Dr. Bott was performing a quasi-judicial function and was under a duty to act fairly.

During the hearing that year, Mr. Warren was awarded £13,312.53 by way of full compensation. The court did not order his reinstatement, and exemplary damages
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were refused. In 1989, Mr. Warren appealed to the Court of Appeal, seeking reinstatement and exemplary damages. Although the appeal was dismissed by the Court of Appeal, he was awarded a modest sum of a further £3,500. In response to claims that Mr. Warren had told lies against Dr. Bott, the Court of Appeal determined that Dr. Bott did not act unreasonably or irrationally, and that he had reached his decision in good faith. Lord Justice Balcombe, who presided over the case, believed that it was important to express in his concluding statement that

with regard to Mr. Warren and his case. He urged Mr. Warren to recognise that there are two sides to the story.

It must be noted that Mr Warren’s case against the Metropolitan Police Service was considered by both the High Court and the Court of Appeal, and that full compensation was awarded. In April 2000, after many years of protracted correspondence, the Metropolitan police wrote to Mr. Warren stating that, after careful consideration of the case in its entirety, it would make an ex gratia offer of £85,000, which had already been offered, and that the offer would be available for a further 28 days, after which it would be permanently withdrawn. Mr. Warren did not accept the offer and declined it by telephone.

Correspondence on 8 May 2000 to Mr. Warren from Sir Ian Blair, in his then role as deputy commissioner, formally closed the matter. The letter clarified that no further correspondence about the matter would be entered into, any letters received would not be acknowledged, and that any telephone calls would be promptly terminated. I understand that, on behalf of his constituent, the hon. Gentleman wrote to the Metropolitan police on 24 July 2008 asking for his case for compensation to be reconsidered. It was explained to him that it would not be reconsidered, and that the case remained closed.

I understand why the hon. Gentleman wishes to bring the case to a resolution and to help his constituent, particularly in the light of Mr. Warren’s state of health. However, this is not a matter in which Home Office Ministers have a specific role, following the creation of a police authority for the MPS on similar lines to police authorities for other forces. The Home Office has no legal authority to intervene in a matter of this kind, as it is a dispute between the hon. Gentleman’s constituent and the Metropolitan Police Service. However, I am confident that the Metropolitan police will be aware of today’s debate.

Tom Brake: I have heard the argument before that the Home Office has no remit in the matter and I must express some surprise at that. The Home Office clearly intervenes repeatedly in relation to policing issues and I am sure that it has regular dialogue with the Metropolitan Police Service, the police authority and the Mayor in relation to these types of issues. Therefore, it is astonishing simply to say, “It’s not within our remit and we cannot intervene or seek to influence the matter.”

Mr. Campbell: I have listened to the hon. Gentleman and he has clearly listened to my comments. It is not simply a matter of saying that the Home Office has no remit; he is talking about a case that has been to court and that clearly has legal aspects. I reiterate: the Home
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Office has no specific role in regard to the matter. The arrangements are that the creation of a police authority for the Metropolitan police in line with other police authorities means that the Home Office has no legal authority to intervene. The Home Office clearly has a view about policing matters, but the parameters of the case in respect of it being a legal dispute between a former employee of the Metropolitan police and the Metropolitan police means that it is not something on which the Home Office can directly intervene in the way he is asking. I want to make that clear.

I also want to make it clear that I have listened carefully to what the hon. Gentleman has said about the actions of the Metropolitan police and I understand very well his sincerity in raising the issue. He has a view that has been echoed in parts of our media about what the Met’s intention might be on these matters, but there are other views and sides to the case. The facts, on which we can all agree, are that the Metropolitan police has made an apology—although I heard what the hon. Gentleman said about the timing of that—and it has made an offer. As he politely threatened at the beginning of the debate, I am sure that he will not let the matter rest. I have pointed out the limitations of Home Office Ministers with regards to the issue, but I am confident that he will look at what appropriate channels are available to continue pursuing the case on behalf of his constituent. Unfortunately, the line that he has taken today cannot be pursued and the assurance he is seeking from me is not one that I can give.

Tom Brake: I do not know whether the Minister was about to conclude his remarks, but soon after he began his response, he said that he believed that the police had acted fairly in the case. Although I am sure that he now knows from his briefing where Mr. Warren is in relation to the incident, he may not be aware that the inspector who kicked the whole process off by issuing the invitation to a blue movies party when Mr. Warren was supposed to be on duty was offered some words of advice about how he should conduct himself as his punishment for organising that event during police time. I hope that the Minister would agree that the outcome has been very different for the two key protagonists in the case. My constituent, Mr. Warren, has suffered immeasurably, whereas the person who kicked off this whole sorry saga has suffered with some words of advice.

Mr. Campbell: I was about to conclude, so let me say this. I understand that Mr. Warren and, indeed, the hon. Gentleman are more than frustrated about these matters. However, there are channels of investigation for the Metropolitan police—not only in relation to looking into the case of Mr. Warren, but the other issues that the hon. Gentleman has raised. There are also ways in which the Metropolitan police can be held to account for how it has investigated the matter and dealt with it over a period of time. Unfortunately for the hon. Gentleman, I have to say to him today that Home Office Ministers do not have the authority that he is asking for and therefore I cannot give him the reassurance that he seeks.

12.54 pm

Sitting suspended.

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National Skills Academy (Crewe)

1 pm

Mr. Edward Timpson (Crewe and Nantwich) (Con): It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Sir John, in my first Westminster Hall debate. I thank Mr. Speaker for granting me the debate. I also congratulate the Minister on his new role and wish him well in it.

This important debate has three purposes. The first is to establish common ground on the fact that there is a skills shortage in the rail sector, that it will continue to be enormous and that maintaining the status quo is simply not an option. The second purpose is to recognise that the current system of vocational training for apprentices, although well meaning, is still too disparate, is not working for the railway industry and is not meeting the ever-growing demand for specific rail engineering skills. The third purpose is to proffer a potential solution to the acute skills deficit in the form of an employer-led and apprentice-focused national railway skills academy in Crewe.

I invite the Government to view such a proposal as providing the most effective and sustainable vehicle for meeting the inevitable surge in demand for railway engineers and technicians, as well as ensuring that our young people have the opportunity to build a strong and long career in the railway industry. I hope to tease out from the Minister the prospect of a fifth round of funding for the national academies in the next three to six months. I hope that we can have an assurance that the Government are looking at that closely for the near future.

On 5 June, the Secretary of State for Innovation, Universities and Skills recognised the skills gap in the rail industry in rather stark terms:

What is interesting about that statement is that the one skills area identified with no recognised national employer-led skills academy is engineering, which needs to be put right. Crossrail is only one of a number of rail investment projects that will see the demand for skilled labour rise. It is expected that, by 2012-13, Network Rail, Transport for London and Crossrail expenditure will have risen by 50 per cent. to approximately £9.5 billion.

In its review of the transport sector, the “Skills in England 2007” report said this about the rail industry:

Against a backdrop of an insufficient number of engineers to meet the current capital expenditure, it is not difficult to see why we are heading towards a serious shortage of skilled workers, which could threaten the delivery of some major rail schemes. That is backed up by research from both the sector skills council, GoSkills, and the Railway Industry Association. To see the effect that the shortage is having on the railways, we need only look back to 2004, when Network Rail was forced to fly in 12 mechanical engineers from India to ensure that
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the £15 billion west coast main line upgrade was completed on time. That enables us to appreciate the severity of the situation. Whether it is rolling stock maintenance, mechanical or electrical engineering, civil engineering or infrastructure maintenance, the cupboard is in danger of becoming bare.

The average age of a member of the railway engineering work force is 56, which does not bode well for its future. We must create a new generation of skilled workers to free the railway industry from the current constraints on its output. There are areas of the railway industry where apprenticeship schemes are working and bringing some success, but as the severe shortage of skills demonstrates, those schemes do not even come close to meeting the demand.

So what is needed? I shall suggest three things. First, we need the development of a clear career route for all those entering the railway industry. Secondly, we need a national co-ordination of skills that brings in a single new gold standard for industry training, which is what the national academy is looking for. Thirdly, we need the re-energising of the rail industry as a vibrant, highly skilled and valued career choice that helps to improve social and economic inclusion.

I have been spending time in Crewe visiting the various railway businesses, both passenger and freight, and seeing at first hand the apprentices working on steam engines, on overhauls and on freight. Two things become clear when one spends time with those young people—I say young people because we are talking about both men and women. They value the work that they do and are dedicated to it, and they see it as providing a real future for them and an opportunity that they might not otherwise have had.

One of the goals set out by the Learning and Skills Council is to

That could have been written for the rail industry, because it fits perfectly not only with the situation that the rail industry is in, but with where it needs to be now and in the future.

National skills academies are defined as

It seems to me that a national railway skills academy would meet all the core elements of a national skills academy. I return to my earlier point—engineering is a huge sector that lacks cohesiveness in its training and apprenticeship schemes. A national centre at Crewe with regional training centres of excellence that draw on and complement existing schemes around the country would provide the backbone that we need to ensure that the reskilling of the railway industry starts now, rather than when it is too late.

Why Crewe? My first point is clear: why should it not be Crewe? Crewe is a strategically and geographically vital part of the railway structure. It is at the heart of the railways. It is synonymous with the railway industry, but perhaps over and above that it has people with the experience, expertise and passion to drive the railway industry forward. In addition, the academy would provide
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a much-needed boost to the regeneration of Crewe. Many young people in Crewe are looking for direction in their lives. Those who have discovered the apprenticeship schemes running in Crewe that I have described are thriving in that environment. Unfortunately, the lack of funding for setting up apprenticeship schemes means that young people are being turned away at a time when we need more engineers to fill the skills gap.

We have reached the unfortunate position of knowing that we need the skilled labour, yet the skills gap is increasing—this at a time when the skills are most needed. The danger is that the schemes that we have to move the rail industry forward, such as Crossrail, new high-speed links and the regeneration of the railway network, are lost at the time when they are most needed. We need to equip the rail industry for the changes and expansion that lie ahead. To do otherwise would represent not only a lost opportunity but another generation lost to the railway industry.

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