From Parliament’s Lords Debates yesterday, 05 December 2013 with links and bullet points added:

Police: Independent Police Commission Report

Motion to Take Note

4.11 pm

Moved by Lord Harris of Haringey


and particularly that by Lady A Harris on Forensic experts etc

5.29 pm
The Earl of Lytton (CB): My Lord, I too welcome the opportunity to debate this report. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, for that and to the noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, for his work and for the work of his commission members as far as it goes.

We can all agree that good policing is of vital importance to all of us. My starting point is the historic understanding that policing would not be subject to political interference but would be self-governing. This meant that the police were also self-co-ordinating and self-managing in policy and operational terms.

The Association of Chief Police Officers—ACPO—effectively moved into that role as the embodiment of senior ranks, guardians of its professionalism and integrity and of police management. That embodiment remains pivotal. It advises the Home Office, represents Britain abroad in Interpol and Europol and co-ordinates the 43 police forces across England and Wales. In this role it issues guidance, directions and advice which carry great authority and are used in legal proceedings. It seems to me still to have a controlling if no longer a monopoly influence in the College of Policing and thereby a major say in policy, while retaining operational matters to itself. Its members and directors are senior police officers.

Given this unique and authoritative pan-police oversight, why do we continue to see instances of widespread and critical failings,

  • manipulation of crime figures,
  • falsification of evidence
  • and perversions of the course of justice that are routinely reported and have attracted the scrutiny of two if not three of the major Select Committees in the other place?

For all the inquiries, codes of practice, reports, debates and judicial investigations over many years, why is ACPO membership apparently unable to manage policing and why has police-on-police investigation persisted for so long?

ACPO Ltd, as I believe it is properly called, with its trading subsidiaries and affiliates, involves serving officers. They include areas of procurement, and I will pause there,

  • road safety,
  • vehicle crime,
  • data on individuals—I will pause there, too—
  • security systems,
  • security accreditation and many others.

I know of about 20 but I believe that there are far more. Many are commercial enterprises for gain. They derive from paid public office but where does the money go?

Recently, the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, whose members pay about £4.2 million into ACPO Ltd and have been asked to stump up more, commissioned General Sir Nick Parker to advise on value for money for that sum. He was not asked to look at the wider issues or allied commercial operations of ACPO Ltd, which in 2009 generated over £9 million from the sale of data alone. Neither does this ICP report look into that.

But there are many question marks. For instance, ACPO Ltd Criminal Records Office merchandises data on individuals derived from police national computer records. Its website curiously stipulates that payments for search services go through the Hampshire police and crime commissioner’s bank account. I am not clear whether parallel arrangements affect other areas of activity or how they affect PCC independence but I am curious.

The application of the harassment Act seems to be another area where, despite ACPO guidance, forces give an impression that they do as they please, and there are similar queries in many other areas of ACPO and police activity. The legality of some ACPO guidance has been queried by the courts. It is not therefore just a question of individual professionalism; I believe it is one of corporate integrity that we need to concentrate on.

In all this there are huge potential conflicts of interest—commercially, professionally and in operational self-governance at the most senior level. I do not believe that the measures suggested in this report will overcome these. Furthermore, I believe that trustworthy and diligent officers are afraid to speak out because there is an utterly inadequate whistleblower facility. Such a situation clearly cannot continue. Political courage and resolve are needed. I therefore have several questions for the Minister, starting with some on transparency.

First, how can we ensure that senior officers are seen to be and remain free from bias?

Secondly, should they be involved at all with parallel commercial activity, especially in the areas of procurement, accreditation and selling data?

Thirdly, is there a case for a mandatory register of officer interests via an independent registrar with a power to insist on divestment in appropriate circumstances?

Fourthly, how many ACPO limited operations, subsidiaries and affiliates are there, what do they do and what happens to the money they generate? Can we have a list of them and details of their accounts placed in the Library?

Fifthly, how many directives, guidance notes and advisory documents are issued by ACPO to police forces and to others, how are they used, what peer reviews occur and what is their status in legal proceedings? Can we have a list of the current ones in the Library, please?

Sixthly, what are the principles for the gathering, storage, use and merchandising of personal data by the police and how many databases are actually in use, centrally or by individual force, or indeed by ACPO Ltd, its subsidiaries and affiliates? Who is being allowed access, on payment or otherwise, to this information? What further steps to ensure proper oversight do the Government intend to put in place?

Finally, on the other point that I have raised, can the Minister tell us whether a fully independent ombudsman or whistleblower commissioner cannot be set up so as to be a safe, confidential and effective conduit for concerns? In the round, does the Minister not agree that it is high time for a thorough, fully independent and rapid investigation into these matters, perhaps by a senior criminal judge unconstrained by the terms of reference? If so, it seems to me that before we go much further with the recommendations of this report, there is some more fundamental work to be done so as to restore confidence in a vital national institution.

About these ads