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Lord Mackay of Drumadoon: My Lords, as the Minister has been unable to give as full an answer as some of us would like, will he undertake to look at the legal implications of the environmental assessment? It is my understanding that a project of this magnitude will not only require the assessment to be made public, but must afford an opportunity to the public to comment on it in order that the Government comply with their obligation to the European Union.
I hope that reassures the noble Baroness that accessibility is something which we accept needs to be addressed very carefully, both in terms of travelling to and from the parliament and accessibility within the parliament building itself for those working in and visiting it.
One thing which I have not mentioned is timing. It has always been clear that permanent accommodation for the parliament is unlikely to be completed in time for the first full sitting in 1999 or early 2000, though we are, of course, aiming to have it ready as soon as
I close by addressing the point made about historical considerations. I understand them and I am sensitive to them. Scotland has a proud and long history. That must not be lost sight of. Indeed, it should be properly reflected in the parliament building itself. The new parliament building must also, however, reflect the modern world of which Scotland is such a successful part. It must be a parliament which future generations can be proud of. A careful balance must therefore be struck.
My right honourable friend has made it clear that his mind is open on the most suitable site and, until the results of the studies which have been commissioned are known, there is little point in predetermining the eventual site. The good, strong and new points that have been made during this debate will feed in to that discussion and the eventual decision. I can assure all noble Lords that their points of view will be very much taken into account.
Baroness Carnegy of Lour: My Lords, I thank all those who have spoken in this debate. It has been a very interesting one because we have heard a number of different points of view. Some noble Lords knew more about the state of the research and the internal conversation on the subject than others. My noble and learned friend Lord Mackay knew more than I did and so did my noble friend Lord Selkirk. That was interesting because they had developed their thinking rather further. My noble and learned friend clearly did not much like working at the high school and I understand that. I believe that something can be done about it if it is necessary.
The general vote of all noble Lords was, I believe, either for Calton Hill or to wait until the members of the Scots parliament have assembled and then decide. There was not a great vote for Haymarket. In fact, the noble Earl, Lord Mar and Kellie, gave us something of a warning about what will happen if trains run underneath the parliament. I hope that the Minister will take note of that. It will no doubt come into the environmental assessment which he is hoping to receive.
The Minister certainly told us some things which I did not know and we are very grateful to him. He was totally unsupported by his colleagues on the Labour Benches who are supposed to be keenest of all on this project. It was difficult for him. He did his best. He gave us a lot of extremely useful information. He expressed surprise that noble Lords on this side of the House were interested in this project. I believe that he underestimates us as people. A number of us have been in politics for a long time. When we believe that an idea is likely to be difficult to work we warn and point out the difficulties. We have been doing that for some time. I can assure the noble Lord that we shall be very energetic at looking at the legislation when it comes.
I hope that the noble Lord will convey to his right honourable friend the Prime Minister that we of course understand that modern buildings can be exciting and that the parliament should also be exciting, forward looking and good for a long time, but that does not mean that it cannot be in old buildings. Any Scot knows that. Any Scot with any sense of history knows that. I hope that we shall not be too carried away by modernism because that could be a mistake. I do not say that it would necessarily be a mistake--only that it could be. I thank all noble Lords who have participated and I beg leave to withdraw my Motion for Papers.
Lord Harris of Greenwich rose to ask Her Majesty's Government what action they propose to take following the speech of the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis on the disciplinary system of the service at the Metropolitan Police Federation meeting on 6th October.
The noble Lord said: My Lords, the background to this Unstarred Question can be stated briefly. On 6th October, Sir Paul Condon, the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis, addressed the annual meeting of the Metropolitan Police Federation. The Home Secretary was present in his capacity as the police authority for London. Sir Paul used the occasion to express grave concern about the present disciplinary system in the service. He pointed to the large number of officers facing investigation on disciplinary charges who went sick or retired on medical grounds. Sir Paul said:
The Association of Chief Police Officers supports the Commissioner. In its evidence to the House of Commons Select Committee on Home Affairs, it referred to that conduct as an abuse of the system. It said that the system effectively rewarded wrongdoing, especially when there was no pre-existing medical condition. The association said that feelings were heightened by the fact that the suspended officers received pay throughout the duration of their suspension while an officer not subject to investigation who had the misfortune to suffer a lengthy illness could be reduced to half pay after six months and no pay at all after 12 months.
Perhaps I may give just one example of the absurdity of the present situation. A senior officer retired on medical grounds. He was being investigated after serious allegations were made against him relating to corruption and fabrication of evidence. He was filmed running in the London Marathon 10 days before his medical examination, which reported that he was not fit to appear before a police disciplinary hearing. The gentleman concerned is now living in Spain, receiving an enhanced pension. Of course, he may be entirely innocent, but that sequence of events hardly creates a mood of confidence among the general public.
I shall give another example. Two detectives facing serious disciplinary charges claimed to be suffering from illness soon after they became aware that an investigation was about to take place. They are now running a business together without any apparent difficulty. Again, their ill-health has miraculously improved.
I return to Sir Paul's speech. He referred to a "significant minority"--his words--of dishonest officers who were engaged in corrupt practices and, in some cases, even more serious crimes and who had endeavoured to intimidate fellow officers in their attempts to avoid detection.
That brings me to the extremely important question of the burden of proof in police disciplinary proceedings. The present regulations require evidence to be proved beyond reasonable doubt--the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, is well aware of the criminal standard of proof--rather than the "balance of probabilities" which is the civil standard. However, it is the civil standard of proof that is applied in disciplinary proceedings in Scottish police forces. As far as I am aware, that has created few, if any, difficulties. The civil standard is applied also in the Prison Service and in Her Majesty's Customs and Excise, many officers of which work side by side in major drugs investigations with officers from the police service. How can such a distinction be tolerated any longer?
I am well aware of the difficulties facing honest officers when confronted by malicious allegations made by professional criminals in an endeavour to shore up an otherwise weak defence. We have to take those concerns seriously. It is not my intention to suggest that the views of the Police Federation on these issues should simply be swept aside. Indeed, I urged the previous Government to take the federation's anxieties rather more seriously than at that stage they were prepared to do when we were debating the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill.
We have to try to strike a new and fairer balance between the interests of police officers facing investigation for serious disciplinary offences and the interests of the police service as a whole and of our society. Like the Commissioner and, I believe, the general public, I consider that the overwhelming
My Unstarred Question asks what the Government propose to do about that situation. I am sure that the Minister will tell us that the Select Committee on Home Affairs is studying this matter at the moment and that he has to await its report. That is entirely right. However, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Williams of Mostyn, will also tell us that once that report is received, Ministers will treat this issue as a matter of considerable urgency. We cannot afford endless delays. Given the Commissioner's stark description of the situation, I believe that this matter is too serious to be delayed by endless periods of consultation. The blunt reality is that the Home Office has been aware of the concern of chief officers for a very considerable period of time. The last Home Secretary chose not to take action before the election. I make no comment on that other than to record it as a fact. I very much hope that the present Government, recognising the critical importance of this problem, will act decisively as soon as possible in the New Year.
I believe that the present Commissioner is a decent and civilised man. He has done much to insist on the highest standards of conduct within his force. A lesser man would not have chosen to make the speech that he did at the meeting of his own federation. Only a man of high courage and determination would have done that. I believe that he deserves the unqualified support of Parliament.
Lord Bethell: My Lords, it is thoroughly appropriate that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, should table this Question at this particular time. The speech made by the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis is a matter of extreme importance. In effect, he is saying that there is something wrong in the Met. He makes the very serious allegation that there is corruption abroad and that the authorities require further powers to deal with it. This is a matter that must be dealt with immediately and with the utmost seriousness and severity.
At the outset I should declare an interest, as I am bound to do, in that I am a paid part-time adviser to the Police Federation of England and Wales. I have not however been asked by that federation to speak in this debate. In this matter I speak entirely for myself. My views may or may not coincide with those of the federation.
The level of corruption gives Sir Paul cause for concern. He believes that he needs additional powers. In recent weeks one has read in the Independent and the Guardian that there may be as many as 200 corrupt officers in the Met. I am sure that every policeman who deserves that name agrees that if that is the case these people should be dealt with immediately. The noble Lord referred to their dismissal from the force. On the contrary, I believe that they deserve to be charged with corruption, if that is the case. Not only do they deserve to be dismissed from the force; they should be punished
One wonders why the commissioner has chosen to go public at this time. Perhaps the Minister can indicate to what extent the fears of the commissioner are shared by the Government. This is worrying. I am unaware of the position of the Government on this point. Do the concerns of Sir Paul find reflection in the views of the Government? Is immediate severe action proposed by the Government or is the commissioner exaggerating a little? Certainly, a good number of articles on this subject have appeared in both the Guardian and Independent.
Bogus claims of ill health are a very serious matter. I listened carefully to what the noble Lord said about this matter. However, this is not as simple a matter as some may believe. A police officer who is charged with a disciplinary offence cannot just obtain a chit from his friendly GP to say that he is feeling a bit poorly. He must obtain evidence from a police authority. If that evidence about his health is not enough, I suggest that evidence from the doctors who are treating him should be made available to the disciplinary hearing and to the court. I refer not only to the views of the medical men and women but also the medical records of the doctor. If an officer believes that he can ask to leave the force on full pension as a result of ill health it should be up to him to prove that that is the case.
The question of the right to silence is one that has arisen many times. I recall the stalwart work on this subject by the noble Lord, Lord Harris, when noble Lords debated the Police and Magistrates' Courts Bill in 1994-95. I am not sure that it is wise to change this fundamentally as indicated by the noble Lord. However I believe that the police as a whole would accept a change to the right to silence along the lines that now apply to criminal matters as proposed by the previous government. Will the Government consider that possibility? What powers does the commissioner want, and what do Her Majesty's Government think about them? Are they inclined to accept the concerns voiced by the commissioner and by ACPO? Should there be the high standard of proof beyond reasonable doubt in disciplinary matters that might lead to the dismissal of a police officer from the force? The noble Lord, Lord Harris, has made a strong case in that regard.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris, also pointed out that police officers were frequently subject to malicious allegations and had to take split-second decisions in the midst of very difficult and perhaps violent episodes. In the case of armed police officers in particular, it has been said that if they act too quickly they may find themselves subject to a criminal charge of murder; if they act too slowly they may get a bullet in the head. I ask the Government to bear in mind that police officers are in a very special position. In the past two hours two people have been murdered in the metropolis in drug-related crimes. The police are rightly concerned about their safety as well as the safety of the public.
It is quite right that the noble Lord should raise this matter. There is something particularly nauseating about a person who is employed to uphold the law enriching himself by breaking the law. If the commissioner believes, as clearly he does, that something must be done quickly and that there are more than 100 such cases, let us see swift action but without panic and overreaction. I should be most grateful if the Minister can indicate to what extent he shares the concerns of the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis.
It is a rare occasion, but I find myself in general agreement with everything that the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, has said and I expect that the noble Lord, Lord Williams, too, is in agreement. There is just one matter on which I am not in agreement with the noble Lord, Lord Harris and I will not presume to second guess what the reply of the noble Lord, Lord Williams, will be.
I hope that after the Home Affairs Committee produces its report there will be an opportunity for these matters to be discussed, obviously in another place but also in this House. That is not a matter for the noble Lord but for the usual channels. It is something that I am sure the noble Lord will be prepared to pass on.
I echo what my noble friend Lord Bethell said about the police being in a very special position. We owe an enormous debt of thanks to the police, not only in the rest of the country but in London itself. As the noble Lord, Lord Harris, has done, I will quote from the speech of the commissioner.
Another point which will have general agreement is one quoted by the noble Lord, Lord Harris. We believe that the overwhelming majority of police officers--and again I am quoting from the speech of the commissioner--are honest, decent, brave people who have never and will never do anything bad criminally or in terms of discipline, and they deserve the
There are obviously some concerns, and the noble Lord, Lord Harris, made the case quite clearly that there are a number of police officers who are bent and it is important that the Home Office is prepared to address these particular concerns. It is something that affects a tiny minority. As the commissioner made quite clear, it is important that whatever we do--and here I would not necessarily follow what the noble Lord, Lord Harris, had to say about where the balance of proof may or may not lie--it is important, to echo the commissioner, to ensure that we have a fair system which balances justice for police officers with protection of the public and the good name of the service.
I have only one question to address to the noble Lord. He might not have an answer on this occasion but I would be grateful if he would write to me in due course. There is considerable concern about the numbers of officers taking early retirement. Some take early retirement for the reasons set out by the noble Lord, Lord Harris; some take early retirement because they would like to have early retirement and argue that there are medical reasons why they should take that early retirement.
I remember from my previous portfolio in the department of Education and Employment that there was a considerable problem with a large number of teachers taking early retirement--possibly because of the stress of teaching or possibly because the pension structure was rigged in such a way that it was much easier to take early retirement through what were possibly bogus claims of ill health.
If it is possible, I would like the noble Lord to address that point. Is he able to give figures on the costs of early retirement to the Met--and for that matter, other police forces, but as this question relates solely to the Met perhaps he could confine his answer to that. Can he also indicate whether there are any plans in place to ensure that that early retirement--pursued not necessarily for reasons of criminality or to avoid disciplinary proceedings but purely on the grounds of bogus ill health--will be addressed in due course?
The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Home Office (Lord Williams of Mostyn): My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, for initiating this debate. Few of us have spoken but it is of enormous public importance, and not just in the metropolitan area.
The Home Secretary takes it very seriously indeed when a man of the commissioner's standing and seniority makes these assertions--and I entirely agree with the description of him by the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich. He has said that there are corrupt, rogue officers in his force and he does not have sufficient powers to deal with them. The noble Lord, Lord Bethell, has asked about numbers. Of course, by definition, I cannot give them. He asked specifically whether the Government share the commissioner's alarm. Undoubtedly, unambiguously, yes. We would be derelict if we did not.
We know from what Sir Paul has said that it is a very small minority of officers, but even a small number, as the commissioner rightly says, have a corrosive effect on the organisation and a debilitating effect on their colleagues. In fact they are traitors to their colleagues. We share absolutely the commissioner's determination that these individuals cannot continue to serve. They cannot tarnish the high reputation of the force. The public must have confidence in the police officers who serve them.
Let me give an example from my own experience. If you are prosecuting serious crime and there is a general feeling, an innuendo, very often unjust, that police officers are corrupt, then the fact is--and it is a blunt, brutal one--that guilty defendants escape because of wrong allegations supported by corrupt practices by officers who have no connection at all with the case in point.
So we deal with this matter with the utmost seriousness. I make this statement on behalf of the Government: the current system for dealing with officers who fall short of what is expected of them is not satisfactory. It is fair to say that the police staff associations have been working with the Home Office to achieve better procedures.
The staff associations, along with everyone else who is concerned, recognise that the introduction of procedures to deal with unsatisfactory procedures in the police service, as opposed to malpractice, is long overdue. I pay tribute to Ian Westwood of the Police Federation, who is the only member of the original working group still involved, who has put dedication and knowledge into this work. I think that I can tell your Lordships that I can understand these problems. I have acted for the Police Federation over the years--true, in defamation rather than criminal matters--and I have prosecuted large, serious police corrupt practices. So I know the difficulties. I know the difficulties of producing evidence which will be up to the criminal standard in a disciplinary context.
Apart from that first statement, I say on behalf of the Government that we have to find a means to separate procedures for dealing with misconduct from those which deal with unsatisfactory performance. The two are qualitatively different. The mischiefs which they reflect are different.
The problem is that the current system has to cover the whole range of unacceptable behaviour, from corruption and gross misconduct at one end of the scale to lateness, poor paperwork, and minor incivility at the other. That is just not tolerable in a modern police service.
What has been suggested is the introduction of a new system, parallel to the procedures for dealing with misconduct, which would allow managers, which is what senior police officers are and have to be, to deal with staff who are merely inefficient or do not have the required ability to do the job. That would be much more in line with management practice in other areas of employment. We would not need to have the whole complicated business of formal disciplinary proceedings. That is the approach which the Government intend to follow.
Sir Paul does not stand alone on the aspect of misconduct. Many of his senior colleagues have said the same. It is a difficult area. We need robust and speedy discipline, balanced with fairness to officers who I entirely accept, as the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, said, are unusually vulnerable to malicious allegations. They are not uniquely vulnerable--doctors and other professionals are vulnerable--but we do not disregard the point, which is well taken, made by the noble Lord, Lord Bethell. I believe that there is general agreement on the need for a fast-track dismissal procedure to enable chief officers to deal decisively and swiftly in the most serious of cases.
If you speed up the process, you have to ensure that you have, as an integral part of the process, the necessary safeguards to ensure a fair hearing for both sides, but we believe as a government that it is essential for chief officers, for the officers' morale, and for the public, that we see swift results. Protracted proceedings dilute the effectiveness of the system. They bring about a public perception that sometimes these matters are not taken seriously.
It is of course worth noting that a suspended police officer is suspended on full pay until the outcome of the hearing. It is in everyone's interest that that should not be allowed to continue for any longer than is necessary. I have taken part, in various capacities, in disciplinary proceedings. At present they are just not tolerable in their length and delay. Length and delay of course tell harshly on the innocent police officer. One needs to bear in mind the stress and strain that the man or woman is under if wrong allegations are made and the proceedings drag on for months, sometimes for years.
Double jeopardy is a question that is frequently raised--the possible overlap in some cases between criminal and disciplinary proceedings. There are of course instances of misconduct which do not, or may not, amount to a criminal offence that could be seen
The Home Affairs Select Committee of the other place--I believe that another place is fortunate indeed to have its present chairman; I do not believe anyone could imagine someone more dedicated to eradicating corruption in the police force than Chris Mullin--decided to take this on board in July of this year. It is taking evidence from a range of groups and individuals, including the commissioner, and, of course, Home Office Ministers. I believe that Mr. Michael gave evidence yesterday. It expects to report at about Christmas time. This is not one of those reports that will disappear.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Greenwich, asked me specifically--I am happy to give him my answer--whether the Government will treat this as a matter of considerable urgency. The answer is yes. We have now a Home Secretary who is determined to see that these matters are got right. I believe that I can say fairly and not just because I am his junior Minister, that when he puts his mind to things he delivers what he has promised. Therefore, there is no doubt about that.
The noble Lord, Lord Henley, helpfully gave indications in respect of two aspects. First, he asked whether we should have an opportunity of an early, certainly better populated debate. He rightly said that it is not for him or me to dictate to the usual channels. All I can say is that this is a matter of such public importance that I hope the usual channels can be successfully massaged. As regards costs, I shall write to the noble Lord. He wanted Metropolitan figures as well as nationwide figures.
We must strike a balance between the needs which I hope to specify. First, we must ensure public confidence in the system which deals with police officers who have acted wrongly. Secondly, we must ensure that senior officers have the ability to manage their staff effectively. Thirdly, we need to protect police officers from malicious, mischievous, unfounded complaints. Those are difficult tests; they are not incapable of reconciliation. We are waiting for the report of the Home Affairs Committee before making any changes to the system. We will of course consult with all those who are entitled to be consulted. It is our duty to do so. We will make changes and our aim is to give chief police officers the powers they need in the context of the individual serving officer having the protection which he or she deserves.
This has been a short debate. Often, short debates in your Lordships' House relate to important topics and sometimes there are long debates about less important matters. One cannot but think of four hours spent on the ancient universities--the curiosity is that
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