Mark Reckless, MP for Rochester and Strood, joins Tony McNulty, former Labour Minister for Policing, and Jeremy Paxman on BBC’s Newsnight to discuss Theresa May’s speech to the Police Federation highlighting the urgent need for real reform in policing.
Category Archives: police
Writing ahead of his debate, Home Affairs Committee member Mark Reckless tells Central Lobby why he is calling for PCCs to replace ACPO within a year.
Democracy rests on the proposition that law is made by the representatives of voters. If the voters do not like the laws, they can throw out their representatives and choose new ones. In reality, the rules that govern us are often not made by Members of Parliament or other elected figures. Rather, laws are determined by a panoply of apparatchiks and quangos that decide, immune from the wishes of the electorate, how the people shall be governed.
Few areas of policy are more important than how the police operate. Historically, the police have been directed by ‘guidelines’ issued by the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) – telling the police, on a national basis, how they should behave and what policy directives they should follow.
ACPO stood alongside the variety of quangos who, as Daniel Hannan and Douglas Carswell identified in The Plan, posed a challenge to the restoration of our democracy to good health. Daniel and Douglas pushed strongly for there to be locally elected sheriffs – now known as ‘Police and Crime Commissioners’ – who would take the role of ensuring that local policing is both accountable and tailored to local needs.
ACPO, however, was eager to defend its fiefdom. Its leader, Sir Hugh Orde, threatened to resign rather than see the police become democratically accountable. However, the legislation for Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) was passed and elections were held in late 2012. Admittedly, turnout in those elections was low. There have been, notably with Ann Barnes in Kent, significant mistakes made by PCCs. However, for the most part, PCCs are beginning to find their feet and play an important role in police accountability. I am optimistic that PCCs, in the long term, will be successful in bringing a careful degree of local accountability to the police service.
Given this sea change in how the police are held accountable, ACPO has become increasingly redundant. As General Sir Nick Parker pointed out in his independent review of ACPO, the organisation has a ‘complex and unorthodox’ structure as a private company and lacks transparency and accountability. We should not pay over £4 million every year to maintain an organisation that often serves to undermine the democratic independence and legitimacy of locally elected PCCs.
That is why I am hosting this Westminster Hall debate to examine ACPO and assess whether Parliament supports proposals being considered by PCCs to wind down ACPO, with only a further year’s transitional funding made available for this purpose. Empowering PCCs, rather than the entrenchment of the police establishment, is the best pathway to restoring democratic faith in policing.
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.
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.
After a mere eighteen months the coalition government has made substantial progress in rolling back the damage done to our civil liberties by the authoritarianism of the last government. Ordinary British people must have the right to go about their daily business without an overbearing nanny state watching, monitoring or demanding information from them. The scrapping of ID cards, deletion of innocent people’s data from the national DNA database and reforming the criminal record check system so it is fit for purpose were all unreasonable overreaches by the last government which we have rolled back. They not alone damaged the freedoms of each and every British citizen in the United Kingdom but also wasted our tax money on massive Whitehall bureaucracies.
But there is still much work to be done, the European Union is another source of intrusive regulations which goes against the traditions of British justice. The UK must extract itself from the European arrest warrant, a system which provides the vital function of tying up the UK police in nonsense cases like extraditing alleged Polish pig thieves. The UK is now infamous for the widespread use of CCTV cameras which blight the country. These can be useful in preventing crime but should only be used where they make sense and not blanketed across the country.
Terrorism is a serious danger to Britain, but the abuse of anti-terrorism laws undermines public support for legitimate public safety laws. The use of intrusive laws by local councils for matters ranging from school catchment enforcement and littering is surely not generally justified. Everyday across the UK absurd rules are regretfully enforced by the police. These range from an event in Chatham High Street in July 2009 where an amateur photographer was arrested, to a father being questioned by police for taking a picture of his daughter eating an ice-cream in a shopping centre in Scotland, allegedly for reasons to do with terrorism.
It is clear that the legacy of the last government in the area of civil liberties is of an overbearing, distrustful state which used laws to harass normal people. This government is moving away from this to a more sensible and common sense approach consistent with British traditions of liberty.
We are told that the Foreign Office Sir Humphrey has asked each government department to report on opportunities (and inevitably for the FO ‘risks’) to repatriate powers from the EU. The fact that every department is involved shows how far the EU’s power intrudes and, of course, the principle of the acquis communitaire implies that once powers are taken by the EU they are not to be returned.
The only way we can even hope to get key powers back from the EU is to confirm that the result of any renegotiation will be put to the British people in a referendum, so that they can decide if they wish to stay in the EU on those terms. Only if there is the prospect of such a referendum will other EU countries or, equally importantly, the Whitehall mandarins, be incentivised to get power back.
Last Monday’s vote was on the principle of an EU Referendum and on this issue Conservative ministers cannot blame the LibDems for not doing what Conservative MPs and the electorate want, and holding a referendum on EU membership. That is because holding such a referendum was LibDem policy prior to the coalition. Indeed, until ten days ago, you could still sign up on the LibDem website to support their campaign for an In/Out referendum.
Some LibDems seemed to split hairs in last Monday’s debate, suggesting that their manifesto promise was for the next time there was a fundamental change in the EU, but Nick Clegg has now confirmed in the Observer that now is such a time, writing:
“the European landscape is about to change. European integration has always evolved in fits and starts, driven by crises and upheaval. Now it’s happening again and the question is: how do we in the UK respond?”
The LibDems answered their leader’s question in their manifesto. There should be a national referendum on EU membership. Last Monday’s debate and vote showed that this is also what Conservative MPs want.
We even now have the perfect opportunity for such a referendum – November 2012 – to coincide with the first elections for Police and Crime Commissioners (PCC).
Sir Humphrey is fighting a rearguard action against democratisation of policing, agreeing a Protocol to curtail PCC powers with the Association of Chief Police Officers (ACPO) after the police bill was through the House of Commons, and now trying to insist on Whitehall oversight of police budgets. Only a decision to hold a referendum on EU membership, and why not with those PCC elections in November 2012, will get Sir Humphrey to do the people’s bidding.