Metropolitan Police Service Debate

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Department: Home Office
Wednesday 29th June 2022

(1 month, 2 weeks ago)

Lords Chamber
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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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My Lords, with the leave of the House, I will repeat a Statement made in the other place by my right honourable friend the Policing Minister, Kit Malthouse:

“With permission, I would like to make a Statement about the Metropolitan Police Service, following the decision yesterday of Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire and Rescue Services to place the service in the ‘Engage’ process, which has been described as a form of special measures.

The public put their trust in the police and have every right to expect the country’s largest force to protect them effectively and carry out their duties to the very highest professional standards. They expect them to get the basics right. While very many Metropolitan Police officers do exactly that, it is clear that the service is falling short of these expectations and that public confidence has been severely undermined.

The Government support the action that the inspectorate has taken to escalate the force into special measures and address where it is falling short. The public also elected a mayor to bring governance and accountability in their name, and I now expect the Mayor of London, as the police and crime commissioner, to act swiftly to ensure that he and the force deliver improvements, win back public trust and make London’s streets safer. We expect him to provide an urgent update to City Hall explaining how he plans to fix this. Now is not the time for the mayor to distance himself from the Met. He must lean in and share responsibility for a failure of governance and the work needed to put it right.

Over the last three years, this Government have overseen the largest funding boost for policing in a decade, and we are well on the way to recruiting an extra 20,000 police officers nationally, with 2,599 already recruited by the Metropolitan Police, giving it the highest ever number of officers. By contrast, as many Londoners will attest, the mayor has been asleep at the wheel and is letting the city down. Teenage homicides in London were the highest they have ever been last year, and 23% of all knife crime takes place in London, despite it having only 15% of the UK’s population. While other forces are making good headway, the mayor has serious questions to answer. He must get a grip.

There are many areas of remarkable expertise and performance in the Met and in many areas the Met is understandably the best in the world, but there have been persistent Met failures on child protection and, earlier this year, following the catalogue of errors found by the independent panel which looked at the investigations into the murder of Daniel Morgan, the inspectorate issued a damning report on the Met’s approach to tackling corruption. There have been exchanges of extremely offensive messages between officers and, of course, we had the truly devastating murder of Sarah Everard by a serving officer. It is reported that the inspectorate has raised a number of further concerns in its recent letter to the Metropolitan Police. It makes for sorry reading. The inspectorate reportedly finds that the force is falling far short of national standards for the handling of emergency and non-emergency calls, and there are too many instances of failure to assess vulnerability and repeated victimisation. An estimated 69,000 crimes go unrecorded each year, fewer than half of crimes are recorded within 24 hours and almost no crimes are recorded when victims report anti-social behaviour against them. The inspectorate has also found that victims are not getting enough information or support.

Other concerns are thought to include disjointed public protection governance arrangements; insufficient capacity to meet demand in several functions, including high-risk ones such as public protection; and a persistently large backlog of online child abuse referrals. The inspectorate also highlights an insufficient understanding of the force’s training requirements, and I am afraid that this list is not exhaustive. All this has deeply undermined public confidence in the Metropolitan Police Service and we have not heard enough from the mayor about what he plans to do about it. Blaming everyone else will just not do this time.

As I have already said, it is vital that policing gets the basics right and that there is proper accountability for those in charge. Every victim of crime deserves to be treated with dignity, and every investigation and every prosecution must be conducted thoroughly and professionally, in line with the victims’ code. Recent reports of strip searches being used on children are deeply concerning and need to be addressed comprehensively. We have a cherished model of policing by consent. The police force is a service—a public service—and the public must have confidence in it. Plainly, things have to change.

The Government are working closely with the policing system to rewire police culture, integrity and performance. Last October, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary announced an independent inquiry to investigate the issues raised by the conviction of Wayne Couzens for the murder of Sarah Everard. In the same month, the Metropolitan Police commissioned the noble Baroness, Lady Casey of Blackstock, to lead an independent and far-reaching review into its culture and standards. We welcome the College of Policing’s new national leadership standards, aimed at ensuring continuous professional development. Policing is a very difficult job and demands the highest possible training standards.

The process to recruit a new Metropolitan Police Commissioner is well under way and the Government have made it crystal clear that the successful candidate must deliver major and sustained improvements. The whole country, not just London, needs to know that our biggest police force is getting its act together. The Mayor of London, supported by his deputy mayor for policing and crime—a role that I once had the privilege to hold—is directly responsible for holding the commissioner and the Metropolitan Police to account. The mayor needs to raise his game. He has an awesome responsibility, which he has hitherto neglected. This is not an insurmountable problem but it is extremely serious. Trust has not been shattered beyond repair but it is badly broken and needs strong leadership to fix it. Through the police performance and oversight group, the Government look forward to seeing the Metropolitan Police engage with the inspectorate, produce a comprehensive action plan to sort this out and be held to account by City Hall.

The national system for holding forces to account and monitoring force performance is working well. Sunlight is the best disinfectant and every public service must be held to account. I am grateful to the HMICFRS for its work. It now falls to the Metropolitan Police and to the Mayor of London to make things right. It is with some personal sadness, given my admiration for so many who work in the Met, that I commend this Statement to the House.”

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Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for the points they have made. I join them in deeply regretting the death of Zara Aleena and all the other people they mentioned—far too many —who have been killed and the examples of poor or bad practice within the Metropolitan Police. This underlines the reason we are here today, which is the “engage” process that has been triggered. I think we probably all agree on that. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, made the point that we all have our part to play, and I totally agree with that.

Both noble Lords also made the point about the Statement given in the House of Commons being different to the one shared beforehand. I listened to my right honourable friend’s response, and, basically, the points he made reflected his experience while he was deputy mayor for policing in London. That was the reason he gave; I repeat it here. Clearly, what he said was part of the experience he had.

The noble Lords, Lord Coaker and Lord Paddick, made the point that it is depressing to read the report, and both were absolutely right that so many Metropolitan police officers are excellent—they are. They run into danger as opposed to running away from it. I think there will be police officers in the Met who are glad that this has happened, because it gives a fresh opportunity to address some of the very serious issues that I have addressed at this Dispatch Box time and again.

Both noble Lords mentioned Child Q in their questions. That was a particularly shocking episode. As both noble Lords probably know, the use of strip-search is covered by Code C of PACE 1984, which sets out the processes that police must follow when using that power. It can be carried out only by police officers of the same sex as the individual being searched. When searching a child, an appropriate adult must be present, unless the child specifically requests otherwise and the appropriate adult agrees. This is set out in the PACE code and must be followed by the police.

Since the publication of the safeguarding report into Child Q, the Met has ensured that officers and staff have a fully refreshed understanding of the policy for conducting a further search, particularly the requirement for an appropriate adult to be present. It has given officers advice around dealing with schools, ensuring that children are treated as children and considering safeguarding for under-18s. It has delivered training on adultification to all front-line officers in the Central East Command Unit, which covers Hackney and Tower Hamlets. It has reviewed the policy for further searches for those under 18 and made changes to ensure that it recognises that in these circumstances a child may be vulnerable to being a victim of exploitation. It has also introduced new measures so that an inspector must now give authority before the search takes place, to ensure there is appropriate oversight. A Merlin report must also be submitted to ensure that the safeguarding of the child is the priority.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, talked about the answering of 999 calls. I understand that 70% are answered within 10 seconds, but clearly we could do better. That is probably the answer there. The noble Lord talked about the victims Bill. Pre-legislative scrutiny ends at the end of July, and we expect the Bill to be introduced in September or October.

Both noble Lords talked about a combination of abuse of position, which of course the Angiolini inquiry is dealing with, and corruption, which HMICFRS did an inspection on, on the back of the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel report. The acting commissioner publicly committed to implementing all the 20 recommendations that it made. Most importantly, the noble Baroness, Lady Casey, has done her review into the culture in the police. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, talked about some of the cultural manifestations, with gay men and black people being treated as somehow less than their white or heterosexual counterparts. I think the noble Baroness will have delved into that. There were also of course the terrible murders committed by Stephen Port. In many ways, those investigations were treated less properly than they should have been.

Both noble Lords asked me about the process for appointing the Met Police chief. Obviously, it is written into law. I cannot comment on individuals who have applied, but the Home Secretary will take into account the comments of the Mayor of London.

The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, asked me about the 69,000 crimes that go unrecorded and said that in 25% of stop and searches the reasons are unrecorded. I cannot confirm or deny that because I do not have the figures before me, but I will write a note to him on that.

Lord Kennedy of Southwark Portrait Lord Kennedy of Southwark (Lab Co-op)
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My Lords, I sat here listening to the Statement that was read out by the noble Baroness. I know they are not her words, but I found some of the comments about the Mayor of London quite offensive. I could not believe it when my noble friend then said that the Statement had been shared with the Opposition in the other place and those bits had been left out. When Oppositions and Governments work together, common courtesies such as sharing Statements need to be respected. The fact that those comments were left out so that the Front-Bench spokesman did not see them before they were delivered at the Dispatch Box is totally out of order; doing things like that is not the way to operate. There is no reason for that other than making cheap political jibes. It is an awful way to behave. I assume that the Home Secretary had approved that; can the Minister confirm that she had approved the Statement before it was read out in the other place? If she did approve it, it is just awful for a member of the Cabinet to have done that. Let us also remind ourselves that this is the Home Secretary who was found guilty of breaching the Ministerial Code for bullying; we should remember that that is why the Government lost a previous ethics adviser. That is not the way to operate at all. These are serious matters that need serious commitment from the Government and from the Mayor of London to work to get things right, and behaviour like that is totally out of order.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My Lords, on whether the Home Secretary approved it, I saw the “check against delivery” vision of it, so I cannot comment any further than that. However, when these things happen, instead of the back and forth that we saw a lot of in the Commons, with people blaming each other, I will take the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, that we need to work together to resolve these things. Every victim, incident and controversial issue that has happened is the rationale for this “Engage” process to have been triggered. In some ways we should be not glad that it has happened but pleased that the process is now in place to stop these sorts of things happening, as they have been all too frequently.

Lord Berkeley of Knighton Portrait Lord Berkeley of Knighton (CB)
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My Lords, I apologise to the noble Baroness for jumping the gun earlier. However, perhaps I can compensate for that by building on something that she said which I agree with. Before I say that, I should say that I do not demur from any of the condemnation that we have heard from noble Lords about some of the terrible things that have happened. However, it seems—this is where I agree with the noble Baroness—that we have to as a society consider what we are asking the police to do, and not only the police but the NHS. One thing that we somehow have to get a hold on is the sheer number of people who are drunk, mentally ill or addicted to drugs, and the amount of time that casualty officers, police officers and even prison officers seem to spend dealing with these things, writing up the reports. Somehow, we almost need a third agency to deal with these people—I have mentioned this before in your Lordships’ House and it even found some favour—to allow the police to concentrate on the job they do. When we consider judgment on the behaviour of the police, it is worth pointing out these problems and what we expect of them in those circumstances.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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The noble Lord points to the very good work that the police often do, and to non-policing work that the police often do. He mentioned mental health problems, which the police very often deal with on a Friday and Saturday night, and probably other nights of the week as well. I recall that, some time ago, we made a decision not to put people with mental health problems into custody suites because it is clearly the wrong thing for them, and never to put children into custody suites. He also brought to mind the benefit of a multiagency approach. We all need to work together to tackle these problems so that it is not solely the job of the police.

Baroness Neville-Rolfe Portrait Baroness Neville-Rolfe (Con)
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My Lords, we have had some sobering exchanges but, like the previous questioner, I want to go wider. My noble friend knows how much I care about improving effectiveness and value for money. I also have a son in the Met, although I have not been able to talk to him today. However, I know that policing is difficult. I am keen to know from her what is being done in training and guidance to the police—and, indeed, through the multiple legislation that we put through this House—to decrease the huge burden of paperwork and bureaucracy and allow the police to be freed up to do their job properly and professionally.

Baroness Williams of Trafford Portrait Baroness Williams of Trafford (Con)
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My noble friend mentions a number of things there, and training is critical to the effective functioning of the police in what they have to deal with. We have talked a lot recently about the training of police to deal with domestic violence issues, which I think has much improved over the past few years. There is complexity. Some bureaucracy is obviously necessary, because if things go wrong, processes have to be followed. On judgments of effectiveness and efficiency, HMICFRS makes those judgments regularly.