The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Williams of Trafford) (Con)
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.”