HL Deb 28 November 1995 vol 567 cc513-5

2.47 p.m.

Baroness Sharpies asked Her Majesty's Government:

Whether they intend to review awards for bravery to police officers.

The Minister of State, Home Office (Baroness Blatch)

My Lords, my right honourable friend the Minister of State at the Home Office, David Maclean, has called for a full report on how the system is operated by the Home Office. If changes are needed, they will be made.

Baroness Sharples

My Lords, I am grateful to my noble friend for that reply. Does she agree that the police are fighting a continuous unarmed battle of war against criminals? Does she agree further that we have perhaps become so inured to violence that we no longer recognise true courage?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, there is no doubt that police officers undertake difficult and dangerous work. We do not doubt their courage and professionalism. As my noble friend knows, some police officers tragically pay the highest price to protect us from violent crime and from those who seek to undermine our democratic life. We shall rue the day that we ever lose sight of that.

Baroness Faithfull

My Lords, does the Minister agree that we should recognise good work when good work is done? I refer in particular to the West case. According to the Bridge report, a policeman on the beat knew the family, knew friends in the neighbourhood and heard what children were saying. That led him to the house in Cromwell Road. He later pursued the matter to such an extent that inquiries were made and the present case was brought to court.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, it would be inappropriate for me to comment on any particular act of a personal nature. There is scope within the police forces for the chief constable, or the commissioner of police in the Metropolitan Police, to recognise commendable or brave service. There are other awards outside the police forces—the Queen's Gallantry Medal, the George Medal, the George Cross and a commendation for bravery, which includes bravery in the air.

Lord Mottistone

My Lords, as regards the Queen's awards as opposed to local awards, is it not the case that they are made extremely late because so much procedure has to be followed? In the case of the police, the law must first take its course before those who have been brave are so awarded, but by the time the award is made the whole matter has been forgotten. When there is a clear piece of great gallantry by a policeman, regardless of what happens to the criminal afterwards, the process should be speeded up and awards made quickly.

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, that is certainly a point which could be taken into account when my right honourable friend looks at the way in which the system is working. However, it is worth noting that the highest awards are given sparingly for exceptional acts of bravery and that they are considered against strict criteria. So that it is not just Home Office officials who are involved, the original reference comes from the police force itself. It is considered by officials, and advice is taken from the inspectorate. It then goes to the Cabinet Office, moves on to the George Cross Committee and is finally considered by Her Majesty the Queen. That happens in the case of the highest awards.

Lord McIntosh of Haringey

My Lords, I quite understand why the Minister did not wish to refer to a particular act of bravery in Gloucester. However, will the noble Baroness acknowledge—as I am informed—that the police officer concerned was a woman, although the person was referred to as "he" in the noble Lord's question? However, more generally, in any review that takes place of awards for the police service, does the Minister agree that it is most important that awards should be given irrespective of rank and that we should continue to have the same principle as was properly introduced for the Armed Services in that respect?

Baroness Blatch

My Lords, my understanding is that these awards are given irrespective of rank. They are related entirely to the particular act of bravery. However, as regards the particular case that was brought to our attention, I suspect that that is more commendable service than an act of bravery.