Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington debates involving the Scotland Office during the 2019 Parliament

Queen’s Speech

Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington Excerpts
Wednesday 8th January 2020

(4 years, 5 months ago)

Lords Chamber
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Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington Portrait Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington (CB)
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My Lords, I am sure your Lordships’ House will want to congratulate my old friend—I used to be his boss but he is certainly a friend now—the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Gower, on his outstanding maiden speech. It was interesting that, when he was introduced into the House of Lords, as we marched in there was a guard of honour of MPs and Members from Wales and elsewhere. I am not sure that I have seen that before in my 15 or 16 years in the House. That was all about him.

I have known the noble Lord for a long time. As a senior detective, he was involved in one of the most difficult operations in Europe. I remember someone saying to me, “I think, Commissioner, it’s about time you go out and find out what he is doing.” I did. He was working in the Balkans, in areas where other people did not want to work. While there, he showed bravery, courage, honesty and integrity. That came out in his speech, together with his charm. Since policing, his highly successful political career has been stellar. We welcome the noble Lord and look forward to hearing a lot more from him on European policing, on which he is an expert. I congratulate him on his speech.

It was 20 years ago this week that I was appointed Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. As many noble Lords will know, it was a police service that was lacking in confidence, from the public and within itself, having been found wanting by the public inquiry led by Sir William Macpherson. Many in the service claimed that morale was at its lowest point ever. We sought to restore confidence and pride in being a police officer. At the heart of this was the need to grow police numbers, to provide the support so badly needed by those responsible, day in, day out, for policing our streets and keeping us safe in our homes.

We inherited a police service of 26,405 police officers. On record, we were losing 400 officers a month. In six to nine months of my taking command and working with my team, the Metropolitan Police probably would have ceased to exist. As a result, we got massive support from the Prime Minister of the day, the Home Secretary, and subsequently from the then London Mayor, Ken Livingstone, the London Assembly and all the politicians who were necessary to ensuring that we tackled this crisis. Together, we tackled it, and together, we succeeded.

I am afraid that the past decade has seen the reversal of this situation, as we have heard in your Lordships’ House today, with police numbers falling and crime increasing, through knife attacks and the worrying growth of county lines drug dealing. I am sad to say that we have also witnessed political support and engagement dwindling for those brave enough to undertake a policing career. That is a fact. However, I am delighted that we once again have a Prime Minister and a Home Secretary who recognise the value and importance of a strong and respected relationship. This is reinforced by the new government commitment to provide the service with an additional 20,000 police officers in England and Wales. My friend, the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, explained that we probably need 40,000, but this will restore the status quo. It is a positive start which cannot and should not be sniffed at. It will take some time to deliver.

I also welcome the pledge for the introduction of police protection legislation to provide the police with additional powers, support and protection, a move which I believe will provide further confidence and support to our officers as they perform their duties each day. The assaults on police and other emergency services are an absolute scandal—this cannot continue.

Police officers must be meticulous in all that they do, especially when investigating crime. It must be very depressing for all of them—although part of the job— when they see those convicted of some of the most serious crimes imaginable being released back into the community well before they deserve to be. I therefore welcome the Government’s plan to introduce tougher sentencing for violent offenders and to end automatic half-way release for serious crimes, which I believe will strengthen public confidence in the criminal justice system. I welcome the introduction of statutory duties across multiple public agencies to work together to prevent and reduce serious violent crime in communities, and the renewed attention committed to victims’ rights is more than welcome.

It is key that the Government address the vulnerable in our communities. Earlier this week, it was announced by its chairman that the National Police Chiefs' Council also welcomes the royal commission. However, as has already been addressed, it will be necessary for that not to be seen in isolation. For anything to succeed, it must be a combined approach to what is a serious problem.

As Gilbert and Sullivan wrote

“A policeman’s lot is not a happy one.”

It probably never was or is. However, it will be a much happier one with this Government’s renewed focus on supporting our police service and our dedicated and brave police officers, who keep us all safe in our beds at night.