WATCH IN FULL: Introduction of my Ten Minute Rule Bill to require police officers and other policing officials to declare memberships of specific organisations.
Mr Speaker, I beg to move that leave be given to bring in a Bill to require police officers and certain employees of police forces to declare a membership of or affiliation to certain types of society and organisation; to require such declarations to be accompanied by a statement relating to that membership; and for connected purposes.
Secret, or closed, or private societies have often been the subject of ridicule, from Monty Python to The Simpsons, these organisations have been seen as silly; strange; perhaps old fashioned; even today we hear reference to the funny handshake club.
However, look beyond the parodies and you find networks of those with power and authority. Clubs of like-minded individuals, that look out for their own. We know that these networks exist in areas of public life.
Here in the UK, our policing model relies on public trust and consent, and at the heart of the Peelian principles of policing is the idea that public consent is maintained by applying the law fairly and impartially.
The College of Policing’s Code of Ethics states that to demonstrate they are applying the law fairly, police forces should operate with transparency.
The Casey report into culture at the Metropolitan police states:
“The checks and balances provided by robust scrutiny, governance and accountability are vital for public bodies, perhaps especially the police with their duties towards and powers over the public.”
The IOPC’s 2023 report into public perceptions of the police identified ‘increased transparency’ as a key measure the police could take to improve confidence in policing.
With these words in mind, I am seeking to bring forward a bill that, at its heart, provides more transparency to the public.
The outcome of this bill would be to have a public register of associations for all officers and civilians working for the police.
This is not a particularly new idea in this House. In 1997, the Home Affairs Committee published its report, ‘Freemasonry in the Police and the Judiciary’, in which it concluded that:
"We recommend that police officers, magistrates, judges and crown prosecutors should be required to register membership of any secret society and that the record should be publicly available."
In February 1998, the Home Office accepted this recommendation, stating that all new appointments shall have as a condition of appointment a requirement to declare membership of the freemasons.
The influence of the Freemasonry on the police has often been discussed over the decades. Suggestions of influence in high profile cases of police corruption and mismanagement have been shot down due to lack of evidence.
Whilst I am not here to throw accusations, the continuous mention of the Freemasonry raises eyebrows.
And whilst I have used the Freemasonry as an example here, this bill does not only apply to this particular society.
After all, Old Boys Clubs have always existed within the police, and they can take many shapes.
The Casey report into the culture at the Metropolitan police highlighted the use of WhatsApp groups. Closed groups of like-minded individuals looking out for their own. Sound familiar?
Policing culture has, rightly, been under heavy scrutiny in recent years. Allegations of misogyny, racism and homophobia have stuck in the public conscience, alongside claims of corruption and collusion. The government, along with policing bodies, have committed to reform and a number of inquiries and reviews have taken place.
If we are serious about reforming police culture, and I think we should be, then we must leave no stone unturned. This Bill serves to act as one of those many stones in need of turning.
I must stress that this bill is not seeking to prevent membership to societies. I am acutely aware of the right to association, and previous precedent that has been set for this in the ECHR.
We in this house work cross-party. This issue is a policing one, not a party political one. I thank my colleagues who have sponsored this bill, who come from 3 different parties.
I’ve spoken to so many people about this who think something needs to be done, but don’t dare to speak out. So, I am here, speaking out once again about reforming culture within an organisation. I know the change that can be made when people speak up, having previously set my attention on the WRU. And I think we can make change happen within the Police, too.
The Police Regulations Act of 2003 states:
“No restrictions other than those designed to secure the proper exercise of the functions of a constable shall be imposed by the police authority or the chief officer on the private life of members of a police force”
Schedule 1, Regulation 6 of the Act states:
“A member of a police force shall at all times abstain from any activity which is likely to interfere with the impartial discharge of his duties or which is likely to give rise to the impression amongst members of the public that it may so interfere”
I believe that a balance needs to be struck between these two statements, in a way that is still in line with both.
In 2016, the Police and Crime Commissioner for South Wales told Y Byd ar Bedwar,
“If members of a club or society have to disclose, it takes away any hidden agendas”
“It would be best to have one common system for local authorities, police force and health boards. Only then can we ensure everybody is being treated equally.”
For 20 years, I was a teacher, subject to DBS checks but not a register of interests, as I am now as an MP. I feel very strongly about the significance and role of culture within organisations, particularly in public services. ALL organisations have a responsibility to change their culture for the better, by being honest and transparent about matters relating to governance and day-to-day operations.
Of course, one might argue that if such declarations should be made in the police, then they should be made by Members of Parliament, given that we are lawmakers. To them I say, why not.
At its inception, Members of the Welsh Assembly as it was then, were required to declare if they were a Freemason, and face criminal charges if they were found to be a member and have not declared as such. When advised that this may be in conflict with human rights laws, the Assembly looked again at their policy. Now, Members of the Senedd are required to make declarations of membership of any society or organisation. This seems an incredibly sensible approach.
Being part of societies can be inherently positive, in enhancing friendship and fostering new connections. However, if there is potential for membership of a group or society to be used in protecting individuals from consequences, and in hiding the truth, then this must be addressed.
Restoring trust in the police is a monumental task and I’m under no illusions that this bill is a magic wand. But, transparency is absolutely essential to that task. As lawmakers, it is in our power to make change happen, changes that allow for trust in the police to regrow.
To quote from the Home Affairs committee report from 1998, ‘Freemasonry and public life’:
“The solution is a simple one. It requires no bans or proscriptions, which generally have no place in a democratic society. It merely requires public servants who are members of a secret society—or "a society with secrets" as freemasons used to say—to disclose their membership.”
It’s time to move beyond secrecy.
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