Thank you, Madam Deputy Speaker.
Many of us will have heard this morning and last night the dignified and gracious interviews with Mina Smallman following the announcement that Her Majesty’s inspectorate is moving the Metropolitan police into what is called an “engage” phase. The way that the disappearance and then the deaths of Mina’s daughters were investigated, and the fact that altered images of their bodies were shared widely by some officers, have come to epitomise the problems within the Met that we, the Mayor of London and London residents have been so concerned about for some time.
We know that tens of thousands of people work in the Met and, of course, we know that so many have that sense of public duty that reflects the incredibly important job that they do. They have been let down by poor leadership, lack of resources and an acceptance of poor behaviour. It is for them, as well as for victims and the wider public, that we seek to drive forward improvements.
The announcement yesterday comes after a long list of serious conduct failures from the Metropolitan police: the murder of Sarah Everard by a serving Met officer, the conduct of officers following the murder of Bibaa Henry and Nicole Smallman, the strip-searching of children such as Child Q, the conduct unveiled in the report of the Independent Office for Police Conduct into the Charing Cross police station and the
“seemingly incomprehensible failures to recognise and treat appropriately a series of suspicious deaths in the Stephen Port case”.
The list of failings from the inspectorate makes for grim reading and goes way beyond those more high-profile cases: it includes performance falling far short of national standards, a barely adequate standard of crime recording and the quality of basic supervision to officers. All that has undermined public trust, and we all have a role to play in building that trust back up. As the Mayor of London has said, a first and crucial step for the new commissioner will be to start rebuilding trust and credibility in our communities.
The Minister’s announcement about what needs to be done is incredibly weak. He talks about support for victims, but where is the victims’ law that the Government have been promising for years? We know there is a massive increase across the country in the number of cases collapsing because victims drop out—on his watch. He talks about reform to comprehensively address the strip searches on children, but he has totally failed to bring forward the new guidance on strip searches that we have been calling for for months. He talks about reforming culture, but he only refers to two long-term inquiries that may not provide answers, even though we know that action is needed now.
The Minister is right that the system for holding forces to account has worked in this case, but we need change to follow. We need a national overhaul of police training and standards. There is much to be done on leadership. We need a new vetting system. We need to overhaul misconduct cases, with time limits on cases. We need new rules on social media use. We need robust structures for internal reporting to be made and taken seriously, and we need new expected standards on support for victims, investigation of crimes, and internal culture and management. That is for the Home Office to lead.
The Met cut its police constable to sergeant supervision ratio after the Conservatives cut policing, and after the Olympics—when the Minister was deputy mayor—it was cut more than any other force. A police sergeant said this morning:
“I do not have a single officer that I supervise that has over 3 years’ service, so not a single officer that policed pre Covid.”
Does the Minister now accept that, no matter how much he promises in terms of new, young and inexperienced officers right now, the Met and forces across the country are still suffering from the loss of 20,000 experienced officers that his Government cut?
Policing should be an example to the rest of society, and supporting our police means holding officers and forces to the highest possible standards. The concerns today are about the Met, but we know there are problems in other forces, too. Can the Minister confirm how many other forces are in this “engage” phase, and which forces they are? Can he outline what the steps the Home Office is taking now to drive up standards in the police across the country?
The British style of policing depends on public trust. The public deserve a police service that they not only trust, but can be proud of. Victims need an efficient and effective force to get them justice. Our officers deserve to work in a climate without bullying, toxic cultures. We need to see urgent reforms. The Government can no longer leave our police facing a perfect storm of challenges and fail to lead that change.