Category Archives: keith vaz

Winsor will mean more cops on the beat

PolicePolice forces have hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of keen qualified applicants queuing to join up, many already working successfully as PCSOs or special constables.

The  Winsor reforms announced yesterday should be welcomed, first and foremost because they  will allow many of those brave men and women, who would otherwise be blocked, to step up and become full-time, fully-fledged police constables.

A lower starting salary of £19k, with existing PCSOs and Specials allowed to join at £21k, rising to £22k or £23k after 2-3 years, means the public will get more full officers on the beat. The current system where officers have to start on £23,259, rising to £27,471 within two years, means forces cannot let excellent PCSOs train as police officers, because they cannot afford to pay them, while other well qualified applicants are turned away or made to wait for years.

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I recently served for four years as a member of the Kent Police Authority. Because we planned properly, made savings and took difficult decisions others avoided, Kent Police are increasing neighbourhood policing by 520 officers and are still recruiting and training new constables.

Unfortunately many other forces have imposed long-term recruitment freezes and resorted to sacking all officers with over thirty years experience. These are the only two ways they have to manage police officer numbers under the current extraordinarily inflexible police regulations. These in effect guarantee officers a job for thirty years if they get through two years probation.

I was disappointed that Tom Winsor did not initially seem prepared to reform this, particularly as I had already taken much of the flak by introducing a bill in parliament. That led to an unflattering cartoon of me in Police Review, but it also got Chief Constables on the record to support reform of a police privilege the like of which is enjoyed by no other profession.

Winsor has now grasped the nettle and recommended severance, the equivalent of redundancy, to be available where necessary for police, albeit subject to generous compensation, and for this to be available as early as April 2013. This should stop the absurd current practice of police forces sacking experienced and specialist civilians so that unsackable police officers can be paid more to do their jobs, and I hope that minister will have the courage to push this through.

I believe that Tom Winsor is also right to insist that officers should only be paid for having the full range of warranted officer skills if they can actually be deployed.

However,  I know some officers who have been disabled by violent attacks in the line of duty, yet are still doing valuable police work, albeit that they cannot, because of the attack, perform the whole range of police work. They might, as Winsor recognises be as well or better off financially taking an injury award and ill-health pension, but  some will still not want to give up their police warrant. In such special and sensitive circumstances I believe we should allow Chief Constables discretion.

As a fit and spry 54-year old Mr Winsor might have been wise to see discretion as the better part of valour before entering into so stark a critique of male Met officers’ fitness or quite so detailed a prescription of the future fitness regime to which they should be subjected. However, as Winsor has written 80 pages about health and fitness in a report which runs to 630 pages with 150 pages of appendices, officers who do not read all of it can at least use the two weighty volumes (retailing at £91 and not to be sold separately) to help with their work-outs.

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Police WILL be under democratic control

PoliceFor over forty years the police have too often evaded democratic oversight of their operations by pointing to a 1968 judgment by Lord Denning (R v Metropolitan Police Commissioner, ex parte Blackburn [1968] 1 All ER 763)

On Monday the policing minister, the excellent Nick Herbert, killed off the idea that Denning’s judgment exempts the police from democratic control – which must surely be the corollary of tax financing of public services. He stated clearly for the record that the ambit of operational independence, i.e. where the police answer only to the law (and hence judges) and not to political authority, was limited “to specific operational matters and the decisions the police have to make as constables in arresting somebody and in pursuing investigations”.

The common law will now develop in a new context. Judgments which followed Denning, e.g. stating a police authority “is subject to the overall direction of the Secretary of State” or that it is for Chief Constables “to decide how available resources should be deployed”, will have to be reconsidered.

This is because Parliament has spoken. Statutory Instruments in theory represent the will of Parliament. The reality is that they are written by civil servants, signed by a minister and, in the vast majority of cases, go through on the nod without being debated in Parliament.

I did not feel that this was an acceptable way to deal with the Policing Protocol Order, which sets out the division of powers between Chief Constables and the Police and Crime Commissioners who will be elected in November. Parliament should agree this and not just representatives of the Association of Chief Police Officers and the current unelected police authorities.

That is why, with the support of the majority of the Home Affairs Committee and other MPs such as Douglas Carswell and David Hanson, I ‘prayed against’ the Order and obtained Monday’s debate. Judges will now be able to resolve disputes between elected Commissioners and Chief Constables, not on the basis of what Lord Denning thought in 1968, but according to the intentions of Parliament in 2011 as set out in the Policing Protocol Order 2011 and the Hansard record of Monday’s debate.

Extracts from debate

Keith Vaz: “I pay tribute to the hon. Member for Rochester and Strood, who has taken a strong interest in the protocol and was extremely active on the Home Affairs Committee in ensuring that we put a recommendation on it into our report. As r h and hon. Members know, he is due to become a father for the first time in early March, but I would say that the protocol is probably his first child. He was determined that we not only put it in the memorandum, but had a debate, and Members on both sides of the Home Affairs Committee supported him wholeheartedly. He believed, as do we all, that proper parliamentary scrutiny of important proposal is important. …”

Mark Reckless: “It is a pleasure to follow the right hon. Member for Leicester East, the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee. He has referred kindly to the protocol as my baby or my first child, but I should say, at the very least, that the Minister – I am not sure whether this is the right phrase – shares its parentage, as well as that of the overall policy …

… The protocol is a clear and significant document. I should like to put on record my appreciation of all sides of the tripartite, particularly the police. Adrian Lee, the chief constable of Northamptonshire, speaking for the Association of Chief Police Officers, has gone a long way and, in some areas, given significant ground; Tim Godwin and the Metropolitan Police Service have also moved a long way. Given the traditional position of the chief constable having direction and control, it is significant, as noted in paragraph 8.1 of the explanatory memorandum, that the MPS “Specifically welcomed the clear statement that the elected local policing body  would set the strategic direction and objectives of the force.””

The Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice (Nick Herbert): “They [the police] answer to police authorities now, but they will answer to directly elected police and crime commissioners. It is not the intention in the legislation or the protocol to interfere with such operational independence, but we did not think that it would be wise to try and define it. We sought to give clarity in an accessible form to what the legislation says, and have set it out in the protocol.

Mark Reckless: It is welcome that the protocol develops that clarity. I think we all agree that it is not sensible to try to define operational independence in law and that chief constables should have the day-to-day control of their forces, but does the Minister accept that there has been some uncertainty about police authorities and the issues they deal with, and about the remarks made by judges in some cases? I gave an example in relation to oversight by central Government. The protocol and the will of Parliament as expressed in the agreement between the parties we have witnessed today set a new context in which the common law will evolve.

Nick Herbert: I agree, and I think that my hon. Friend will be reassured by my later comments about the judgment he mentioned … Where an accommodation has to be reached between the elected police and crime commissioner and the chief constable [e.g. over whether to use Tasers], the idea that the chief constable could make such decisions regardless of the views of the elected police and crime commissioner is, in my view, erroneous. I am happy to make that clear. I can see that my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood is concerned so I will give way to him briefly.

Mark Reckless: Were the police and crime commissioner not to give a budget for Tasers, the question of the chief constable’s being able to deploy would not even arise, because the budget is a matter for the PCC.

Nick Herbert: My hon. Friend must be correct when it comes to the new deployment of such a weapon; the issue is whether chief constables could go on deploying existing Tasers. However, I have stated that the Government’s view, which is that while a strict interpretation may be that is an operational matter for the chief constable alone to determine – that would be for the courts to decide – realistically, a chief constable would not be able to pursue such an operational decision in the absence of support from an elected police and crime commissioner. I hope that that also helps to answer the points raised by the Chair of the Select Committee.

I hope those comments also address the concerns raised by my hon. Friend the Member for Rochester and Strood, who described Lord Denning’s famous judgment in R. v. Metropolitan Police Commissioner, ex parte Blackburn, in 1968, as “exorbitant”. Lord Denning said that the police were accountable only to the law, but it is now widely agreed, I think, that that is a narrow and legalistic interpretation of police accountability. The police must now answer to someone for the kind of policing they practise; somebody must set the budget for them and set the plan, and the people must have a voice. The idea that the police answer only to the law in the exercise of their functions is surely relevant only in relation to specific operational matters and the decisions the police have to make as constables in arresting somebody and in pursuing investigations, where it is widely agreed and accepted by all sides that there should be no political interference.”

Reckless Raises Questions To The CPS

Earlier this week, as part of the Home Affairs Committee evidence session into unauthorised hacking by News International, Mark had the opportunity to question Lord Macdonald, the former Director of Public Prosecutions, and Keir Starmer, the current DPP.

On Wednesday the Home Affairs Select Committee published its report on phone hacking and the police. Mark helped to ensure this report criticised failings at the CPS as well as with the police.

This was further highlighted in the House of Commons by Geoffrey Cox QC MP during Wednesday’s debate on media and the police;

Mark responded to this later in the debate;

As a result of Mark’s probing and his letter to Lord Macdonald seeking clarification, political blogger Guido Fawkes ran the following story. This subsequently led to Lord Goldsmith appearing on Newsnight as further questions regarding responsibility for apparent failures by the CPS were posed.

Mark Reckless has now written to Keir Starmer, the current Director of Public Prosecutions, for clarification on many of the unresolved issues raised during Parliament’s examination of the phone hacking scandal. You can view the letter here.

Police Playing Politics Again

Sir Paul Stephenson made the right decision last night to resign and take responsibility for his force’s mistakes and, at least as importantly, his own mistakes as Metropolitan Police Commissioner.

Listen to Mark Reckless on Westminster Hour – Click Here

Unfortunately, he tarred his resignation with a nakedly political statement which distracts attention from what I believe is the real reason for Sir Paul’s resignation.

We had hoped that Scotland Yard had left behind the appearance of party political involvement with the resignation of Sir Paul’s predecessor, Ian Blair, whom I helped question last Tuesday only to be told that he was far too important to be aware of alleged industrial scale phone hacking at the News of the World.

Sir Paul though appears to have gone, not by telling the country why he really needed to resign, but by launching a transparent personal attack on Prime Minister David Cameron.

Sir Paul’s suggestion that he kept his appointment of Neil Wallis as a PR adviser secret to avoid giving the Prime Minister sensitive operational information is simply ridiculous. Why did he not just disclose his contract on the Metropolitan Police website – as he should have done when Mr Wallis was first appointed?        

Keith Vaz, who chairs the Home Affairs Select Committee on which I serve, has rightly noted that Sir Paul’s resignation statement does not disclose the real reason for his resignation, saying:

“It is a very brave decision, and I’m shocked by it, actually, because I don’t think there’s anything in the statement in particular that points to any wrongdoing or inappropriateness on the part of the commissioner.”

Keith Vaz did, however, read out a statement last Tuesday which I believe is the real reason for Sir Paul’s resignation, and about which Sir Paul must have known our committee was likely to question him this Tuesday.

That was what Sir Paul said when he was at an ACPO conference in July 2009 and the Guardian published new evidence concerning the scale of phone hacking at the News of the World. When asking John Yates to look into the issue again in light of that evidence, Sir Paul concluded by indicating that he expected it to be dealt with so that a statement could be made later that day.

It seems therefore that the decision to spend little more than eight hours in July 2009 reconsidering evidence of phone hacking, and the failure to review the eleven thousand pages of material which the Met then had from Mulcaire, can be traced to the very top of the Metropolitan Police.

Shozna Wins Place in Regional Final of The Lyca Tiffin Cup 2011

Jay of the Shozna, with the Mayor and Mayoress of Medway Sylvia Baker and Cllr Ted Baker, and Mark Reckless MP

The Shozna restaurant in Rochester has won a place in the regional final after being chosen to represent Rochester and Strood by Mark Reckless MP in the prestigious Lyca Tiffin Cup 2011 competition.

The national competition is held each year to find the best South Asian restaurant in the country.

This year 60 restaurants were nominated. Shozna, having won a place in the regional final will battle with other restaurants from the same region to become one of the national finalists in the Lyca Tiffin Cup 2011 Grand Final. The competition is in support of World Vision.

Within the next few weeks a mystery diner will visit the restaurant and judge whether the restaurant deserves to represent their region.

Mark Reckless MP, said:

“I am delighted that, following the public vote on my website, my nomination for Shozna has been accepted. I hope that Shozna will be chosen to represent our region in the Grand Final of such a prestigious award. I am particularly impressed with the amount of work Shozna does with local schools and children to promote healthy eating.

I am sure everyone in Rochester and Strood will be supporting our restaurant.”

Shozna owner Jamal Uddin Ahmed, better known as Jay said:

“I’m thrilled and excited to have been nominated for the regional final. It’s good to be recognised for all the hard work we do.

I would like to thank everyone who voted for us, and Mark for putting forward the nomination.”

The Mayor of Medway, Cllr Ted Baker said:

“I’m very pleased with how they operate. The staff are always attentive and the ambience of the restaurant is very good. I wish them the very best of luck in the competition.”

Keith Vaz MP, Chair of the Tiffin Club said:

“We are delighted with the nomination of Shozna. It will really put Rochester and Strood on the culinary map.”