Motion made, and Question proposed, That the sitting be now adjourned.—(Anne Milton.)
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Brooke, to discuss a subject in which I know you are very interested. You may have to restrain yourself from nodding, disagreeing or making a contribution. I am pleased that we have been granted the opportunity to debate this important subject; it is a shame that the 643 other hon. Members were not able to join us, or at least a good portion of them. However, the relationship between children and the police is important and topical.
We come here in an environment of falling youth crime figures, which is welcome, and a falling number of young people held in youth offender institutions. We also come here in the wake of significant recent publicity about child sexual exploitation and the role, historically and recently, of the police in recognising and dealing with that.
We are also here at a time of continuing high levels of children in care and, as an interesting article in today’s Times shows, high levels of children suffering from mental health problems—all children and young people who disproportionately come into contact with the police. Perhaps even more topical is the relationship between the police and children and young people who are vulnerable to being radicalised and end up leaving our shores to go and fight for causes in other places, which is another aspect of the relationship between children and the police that I want to touch on.
Clearly, as I think we would all agree, a good, positive, constructive relationship between the police and children and young people is needed from an early age; it is important to get off on the right footing. If I remember rightly, thinking back to the ancient history of my school days, the local bobby was a friendly figure that we could not just ask the time from, but confide in. The police community liaison bobby would come to the school regularly and was somebody we could trust and approach, not somebody we feared.
The attitude is very different these days, 40 or 50 years on. We increasingly see headlines about high levels of stop and search involving young people, although, fortunately, there has been progress on reducing that through the initiative from the Home Secretary. We hear a lot about children in the care system in particular—very vulnerable children—getting into trouble with the police. The debate about the age of criminal responsibility is ongoing; at the age of 10 in this country, that is obviously one of the lowest in the western world.
There seems to be a looming mindset in society that often sees children as part of the problem, rather than, as I would support, part of the solution to society’s ills. Too often, we are telling young people and children what not to do, rather than encouraging them to take their initiative and develop their character and self-confidence. There has been a culture of what I call “No ball games here”, where society is becoming increasingly intolerant of children and young people in public spaces, with a willingness to label their behaviour as social or anti social, when in fact it is normal, growing-up behaviour for children, teenagers and so on, as we have all experienced.
In that environment, the all-party parliamentary group for children, of which I am a vice-chair and in which you are involved, Mrs Brooke, produced a comprehensive and worthwhile report entitled “‘It’s all about trust’: Building good relationships between children and the police”. It was published at the end of October, following an interim report that we published in July and 18 months of work in which we interviewed and took written evidence from senior police officers, front-line officers from Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and Her Majesty’s inspectorate of probation, police commissioners, the Youth Justice Board, justice organisations, children’s charities, youth groups and, crucially, a great many children and young people. We held a number of evidence sessions at Westminster, took many written submissions and arranged a visit to Cookham Wood young offenders institution.
On behalf of the all-party group, I thank all the many people who were involved and gave generously of their time in this study, and especially the police for their enthusiastic and positive engagement. I am sure that Baroness Massey, chairman of the all-party group, would like me to make that point and to thank our secretariat, the National Children’s Bureau, for the enormous amount of work it did in producing the report.
The report’s aims were threefold. We asked, first, what do children and young people think about the police, and what are the experiences of particularly vulnerable groups of children and young people who have higher levels of contact with police forces? Secondly, how do police forces work and engage with children and young people? Thirdly, does police practice and the policy and legislative framework underpinning the work of the police need to be improved to promote better well-being of children and young people?
The report comes in a climate, as I saw in my time as Minister for children and young people, of a disproportionate cut in youth services at local authority level, which in some cases has removed a number of safe, positive places for children and young people to go to. Alongside that, however, I have to say that that has helped to foster a new partnership between many people in the youth sector: between youth charities, local authority youth departments and, in many cases, private businesses that are interested in providing facilities and helping young people.
There was also the Government’s “Positive for Youth” paper, which I published two years ago, and which came up with lots of innovative projects going on with young people. There has been the roll-out of 63 myplace state-of-the-art youth centres, mostly in inner-city areas around the country. Initiatives such as OnSide, which took on some of those myplace centres, have engaged young people with the local community, the police, businesses and many other organisations. However, we all need to realise that there has been a disproportionate cut to what is seen as a soft touch—youth services at local level—which is unfortunate.
The inquiry’s work was based on two key principles that reflected our commitment to the UN convention on the rights of the child: first, that in every context, every person under the age of 18 should be treated as a child first and foremost, with all professionals who come into contact with them having regard to a child’s welfare and well-being. Too often, we treat children—if they are under 18, they are children—as mini-adults, rather than age-appropriately, particularly when it comes to contact with the police that may lead to arrest and custody.
The second key principle on which we based the inquiry was that children and young people’s voices must be heard and their opinions respected, which is a subject that you and I, Mrs Brooke, have often raised in Committee on various pieces of legislation over the many years in which we have worked on those subjects.
The report comes up with a number of worrying, if not wholly surprising, findings. The inquiry heard that children and young people’s attitudes towards the police are often characterised by feelings of mistrust and sometimes fear, and that encounters between the two groups are often characterised by poor, unconstructive communication and a lack of mutual respect. However, many children and young people accepted that the police have an important job to do and work to make their communities safer, although many also said that they do not believe that the police are there to protect them. That is particularly worrying because, as we all know, children and young people are statistically much more likely than older people to be victims of crime. It is therefore even more important that they see and appreciate that the role of the police is to protect them.
Some children and young people told us that they feel humiliated by the police and are convinced that the aim of the police is to target and undermine them. As one person said to the inquiry,
“if young people feel like they are being targeted, this alone is enough to create a negative attitude towards the police—regardless of whether… the police are in fact targeting them.”
It is worth noting that feelings of mistrust and negative perceptions can be passed on from generation to generation. Some young people who gave evidence described being wary of the police from a very young age, before they had actually had any interaction with them, because of the negative attitudes of their own parents, older siblings or other family members. That cultural apprehension about and mistrust of the police is much more difficult to address and remedy, hence my opening gambit that the earlier we establish positive relations and images for young people, the more likely we are to succeed.
There is some inevitability in all this. A degree of confrontation is inevitable. The police represent authority at a time in young people’s lives when they are perhaps least likely to be receptive to having their behaviour regulated—as the father of three teenagers, I think I can vouch for that. However, this is a big issue that affects a large number of children and young people, who do come into contact with the police.
The figures that we have available for 2013, which we put in our report, are that in England and Wales there were 129,274 arrests of children and young people, including 11,369 under the age of 14, so 9% of all the arrests were of those aged 13 and younger—young children. The good news is that that represented a fall of some 59% between 2008 and 2013, and the number of young people in young offenders institutions has fallen substantially.
However, stop-and-search has been a particularly contentious manifestation of the frequent interface between police and children and young people. The Home Secretary is to be congratulated on the new approaches that she has driven forward in that respect, but we heard from children and young people that, too often, police still do not explain the process or the reason for the stop in the first place.
The all-party group sent freedom of information requests to all 43 police forces and the British Transport police. Of those 44 forces, 26 responded, so this is not based on a complete response. We learned that between 2009 and 2013, more than 1 million stop-and-searches were carried out on children under the age of 18. What was particularly interesting about the figures was the big divergence between one force and the next. The percentage of stop-and-searches within a force area carried out on under-18s varied from 13% in one right up to 28%—well over one quarter—in another, and in 19 of the 26 force areas, between 20% and 25% of all stop-and-searches carried out were on children and young people. That is worrying in itself. Why are police in one area stopping on average twice as many children as they are in another? That gives rise to concerns about inconsistency in the way guidance and the law are being applied.
There was a feeling among many of the children and young people we interviewed that stop-and-search is being used on children and young people too frequently and without good reason. Clearly, the Home Secretary agreed, given her intervention. Indeed, HMIC itself found that 27% of stop slips, which provide a record of stop-and-search, did not record reasonable grounds for a lawful search. That would provide evidence for the claims made by many of the witnesses who came to us. Another worry is that stop-and-searches have been used disproportionately on certain groups of children and young people, particularly those from black and minority ethnic backgrounds and those from disadvantaged city areas.
Why is all this important? As I said, if the first contact between a child and the police is negative, let alone one that is really unreasonable and unjustified, that will shape the young person’s attitude to the police the next time he or she comes into contact with them. That can change the dynamics of how children and young people view the police—not so much as people who are there to protect them and to whom they should go for help and safety, but as a body that they should be wary of because they are viewed as a suspected offender rather than as the victim they are much more likely to be, as I have already explained.
There is also a worrying impact on certain vulnerable groups. One is children in care. We are all too familiar with the disadvantages to which children in the care system, despite the improvements, are subject. They are greatly over-represented in the youth justice system and among children registered as missing. It is the case that 6.2% of children in care who are aged between 10 and 17 are convicted of a criminal offence or subject to a final warning. That compares with 1.5% of children and young people as a whole, so a child in care is over four times more likely to get involved in the youth justice system.
There is an additional group of people with vulnerabilities through special educational needs, language or communication difficulties and mental health needs. As we know, those with mental health needs account for more than 60% of people in the youth justice system. The needs of those young people can be overlooked or exacerbated in encounters with the police, which can be particularly frightening for them if things are not carried out in a way that is sensitive to their disabilities.
More topically, the way police treat children who have been trafficked or experienced sexual abuse was described to our inquiry as a “postcode lottery”. Those are the very children, as we have seen in Rotherham, Rochdale and Oxfordshire recently, who most need to be able to trust the police, to go to the police when they are being abused in some way, to ask for their help and to be believed and to have their case taken up. However, they can also be at increased risk of involvement in crime themselves, committing offences, often as a survival strategy—stealing food or money—when fleeing from abusers. That is not to excuse their crime, but, again, sensitivity is required as to the particular challenges that they face.
We heard from the witnesses to the inquiry that there is something of a postcode lottery in the way the police deal with children and young people. There are big variations in the figures between police forces. The most vulnerable children, who most need the protection and comfort of the police, can often be those who are least trusting of the police. For too many children, their first contact with the police is in a crisis situation. There appear to be a lack of opportunities to meet and communicate with the police in a positive, non-conflict environment, where they could create the empathetic relationship that bodes well for the future.
That was the negative stuff, and there is a good deal of negative stuff in our findings. The findings in the report are comprehensive and we need to be open and frank about appreciating the extent of the problem, but I want now to look at the good practice, what can be done to improve things and, indeed, where things are improving.
As I said at the outset, the police engaged very constructively and fully with the inquiry. After the report’s publication, we held a summit in the House of Lords. It involved the all-party group and some very senior police officers. There will be a further follow-up meeting in June to report on the progress that has been made. The report will not simply be put on a shelf and left to gather dust; we will keep coming back to it and looking at the progress that police and others are making in taking our findings seriously. The signs that the police are keen to do so are encouraging.
Throughout the inquiry, we saw numerous examples of good practice, which were largely based on encouraging positive contact between children, young people and police at an early stage, not simply when the finger of blame is being pointed at those children or young people. Hon. Members will be familiar with some of those initiatives. The volunteer police cadets initiative is particularly strong in my constituency. They are a fantastic and impressive group of young men and women. Safer school partnerships help to break down barriers and negative perceptions. In some of those partnerships, community support officers are based in schools, where they work with pupils who are particularly at risk of offending.
I want to speak up for the police and crime commissioner in Sussex, Katy Bourne, who has been at the vanguard of efforts such as those I have described. She has engaged closely with the inquiry and been very proactive in promoting this agenda in Sussex. She reported on the results of a 2010 survey of more than 3,500 young people, which showed that younger children who had less contact with the police viewed them far more positively than did older children who had experienced more contact. Surely the reverse should be true. If we and the police are getting it right, the more people see of and know about the police, the more positive people will feel towards them. The survey made it clear that, for too many people, the reverse is true.
Katy Bourne set up the Sussex youth commission, and I have been to several of its meetings. In September, at the Amex stadium in Falmer, we had an event called the big conversation. The young people who participated in that exercise engaged with senior officers, including the chief constable and the police and crime commissioner, and they came up with some interesting and impressive suggestions, which were not rocket science but were well researched and had the backing of other young people. The original members of that group have formed a youth independent advisory group, which will help Sussex police to examine and implement their recommendations and has proposed solutions on an ongoing basis. The police commissioner’s office gives support and training to youth members of the advisory group, which provides a constructive and creative environment in which to challenge existing police practices and policy.
The chief constable engaged fully for the whole of the big conversation event, and I found it really encouraging that at the end he got up and undertook to take away the recommendations; to implement, as a matter of urgency, as many of them as he possibly could; and to report back to the young people on the progress that had been made in doing so. That was a real commitment. The new chief constable, Giles York, is doing a fantastic job and really appreciates the importance of engaging and dealing appropriately with young people. Next week, a meeting of the independent advisory group will focus on the use by Sussex police of stop-and-search. There is some really encouraging stuff going on in my area.
If I may blow my own trumpet, I would like to mention a project that I set up a few years ago called Midnight Football. People had complained to me—as they probably do to you, Mrs Brooke, and to the Minister and shadow Minister—that on Friday and Saturday evenings, young people sometimes get a bit the worse for wear in the town centre, one thing leads to another, there is a bit of antisocial behaviour and the police become involved. Many people say, “There is nowhere else for them to go.” I found out about the Midnight Football project, which started in Dundee, in Scotland, and I went to see the local chief inspector to ask whether we could run a similar project in one of the town centres in my constituency where we had had a few problems. He said that it sounded like a good idea, and he offered to give us a couple of officers for every evening on which we wanted to run it.
I spoke to a couple of local councillors, who were very positive about it and found us a little bit of money—it did not cost much. The local leisure centre offered the use of its facilities between 10 pm and midnight on a Saturday evening, and the local football club, of which I am president, gave us a couple of referees. Interestingly, the only people who were not terribly positive about the project were from the local youth service, who told us, “We already run a football project at 4 o’clock on a Thursday afternoon.” Great, but that is not when the problem is happening.
We went ahead with the project and ran it throughout the summer on a Saturday evening. We had between 40 and 50 13 to 17-year-old boys coming along, and a few girls as well. The project went really well. The police rated it so much that they sent a police football team along to play against some of the kids. That went down fantastically with the kids, especially when the chief inspector was carried off with a damaged knee. The interesting thing about the project was that the dynamics between the police and the kids completely changed. Some of the kids said to me, “If I was not here doing this, I would probably be getting up to no good on a street corner.” For some of the children and young people, their only previous interaction with the police had been when they had been hauled up on suspicion of having done something wrong. The next time the police came into contact with them, they said things like, “You’ve got a handy right foot, haven’t you?” They started to talk about football and some of the positive things that the young person had done. This is not rocket science but that sort of positive stuff absolutely changes the relationship between authority and children and young people, who are too often victimised. We need more such projects to happen in every town centre around the country.
I recognise the pressures on funding for police officers working closely with schools. Gone are the days when the local bobby was seen frequently in our schools telling us how to keep safe. However, it is a false economy not to do more at an early stage with our children and young people. I am glad that the Mayor’s office, for example, has dedicated funds to enabling Metropolitan police officers to continue the work of some of the safer schools projects in London schools.
The volunteer police cadet scheme is open to members between the ages of 13 and 18 and there is an expectation under the national police cadets framework that a quarter of cadets should come from a vulnerable background. That is not rocket science if we want to engage with children in care, those who have disabilities or who are at risk of exclusion. If those children see other kids from the same background putting on a police cadet uniform and engaging positively with the police, they are more likely to take notice than if we tell them that that is what they should be doing. The scheme is a really good one. As Jack, aged 17, told the inquiry:
“Being a police cadet has helped me to build confidence in myself, and it’s also helped me understand who the police are, what they do on a day-to-day basis, and it’s really helped me build relations with officers, and others, in social situations. Also, from a care end, an independence is gained. It’s given me vital experience that can only benefit me when that aspect of life changes.”
That was a common refrain that we heard from young people who took part in the volunteer police cadets and similar projects. It was pointed out during the inquiry that the cadet scheme may appeal only to certain children and young people, and that those who were most disengaged from society and most hostile to the police might be the least likely to consider involvement with a uniformed group that was run by the police. We need to put in the extra effort that is required to show them that the police are their friends and protectors as much as anyone from any other backgrounds.
We saw other examples of good practice, such as that of Telford and Wrekin children in care council. I was keen to promote that organisation during my time as a Minister and to make sure that every local authority area in the country—with the exception of the City of London and the Scilly Isles, which had no children in care—had a children in care council. They are a great interface between children in care and social workers, directors of children’s services departments, councillors and police officers. Telford and Wrekin children in care council has been working with the police to improve negative attitudes towards the police among children in care. To start with, officers have attended meetings in plain clothes, allowed children to try on their uniforms and demonstrated some of their equipment.
There is a gap in police training. I believe that that is a particular problem. In Sussex, the youth commission has enabled young people to have direct input into face-to-face training with police officers, and to do some of the interviewing for senior police appointments. According to Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, 90% of police officers receive no further training on stop-and-search once they have completed their initial training programme. That is why it is really beneficial to deploy children and young people in a training role for the continuous professional development that is required in many aspects of policing. None of that is rocket science, but it is not happening in enough places.
Youth members of Second Wave came to see us. They described working with the Metropolitan police in Lewisham to develop specialist police training for the use of stop-and-search against under-18s. That training programme includes key elements of effective practice to ensure that the stop-and-search process takes place in a calm and positive manner, with young people made fully aware of the reasons for the stop and of how they can raise any concerns. Training methods include role play, trust building and communication exercises, which are presented by Second Wave members.
Data collection on stop-and-search in relation to children and young people is a problem because data are not collected nationally, which is why we had to go down the freedom of information route. Details of where good practice or bad practice are happening are patchy, so we welcome the Home Office proposals for national crime maps and best use of stop-and-search schemes, which will be created by the Home Office and the College of Policing and endorsed by all 43 regional police forces. National consistency, which we do not have at the moment, is crucial. That is why we are greatly encouraged by ACPO’s response to the report, which has been sent out to other hon. Members. I will read out some of the highlights from that response:
“The ACPO National Children and Young Person Business Area were very grateful to the APPG for undertaking this enquiry… the lead of the business area changed to DCC Olivia Pinkney.”
Olivia Pinkney is also the deputy chief constable of Sussex—we lead where others follow. ACPO also said that it was choosing
“to align…priorities with the ones highlighted in the ‘It’s all about trust’ report. Since the enquiry we have developed a new national strategy for the policing of Children and Young People. Within the strategy are 4 key priorities namely: Stop and search; Custody detention and criminalisation; Children in care; Relationship between young people and the police.”
ACPO has also been
“talking with the College of Policing to explore options regarding vulnerability training for officers. We have established a network of strategic leads for the policing of children and young people in every force, and we held our first national conference…last November. We have also established a Chief Officer lead for every region and this will be the mechanism for providing strategic leadership and sharing good practice across the country.”
ACPO says that the Home Office’s best use of stop-and-search scheme will be used, following the scheme’s key principles, which will lead to increased scrutiny and transparency. ACPO looks forward to a further meeting with the all-party group to report on progress. That is positive, constructive and practical action, which has come from ACPO’s engagement with the inquiry, and it is to the police’s great credit.
ACPO also stated:
“Through the College of Policing we will be working with the Early Intervention Foundation to identify good practice in the area of crime prevention and young people. We will be using our national network to share this good practice and also look at promising practice, which is yet to be evaluated.”
We all know the benefits of the Early Intervention Foundation, and you and I, Mrs Brooke, fought to have it established. The principle of getting in early to work with children and young people is at the heart of ACPO’s plans.
There are a couple of other areas that I want to address before I finish; I know that many others want to speak, not least those on the Front Benches. There is a problem with the detention of children and young people. Research by the Howard League for Penal Reform in 2011 found that there were more than 40,000 overnight detentions of children aged 17 and under in police stations across England and Wales, including 2,000 children aged between 10 and 13. That equates to almost 800 children being kept overnight in police cells each and every week. The all-party group welcomes the commitment of HMIP and HMIC to address the situation through a joint thematic inspection on the welfare of vulnerable people in police custody, which will include a focus on children and young people and will report later in the spring.
There is a worry about young people being kept in police custody overnight following charge, because that breaches legislation stating that, if a child or young person under 17 is refused bail following charge, they should be transferred to local authority accommodation prior to their court appearance. That is not happening. There is a further issue about 17-year-olds. A 17-year-old is a child but, as it stood, the guidance referred to under-17s. We are pleased that the Home Secretary has responded and that the regulations are being changed so that a 17-year-old will be treated in the same way as any other child, because he or she is a child.
There is also an issue of how we deal with children and young people with mental health problems. We know that the closure of child and adolescent mental health services in some places led to the police increasingly holding children and young people in detention for child protection reasons. In 2012-13, 580 children and young people aged under 18 were detained under section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983, of whom an estimated 45% were taken into police custody. Again, the all-party group welcomes the Government’s commitment to ensuring that children and young people are no longer detained in police custody under section 136, as set out in the mental health crisis care concordat published jointly by the Department of Health and the Home Office in February 2014.
Children held in custody need to be dealt with differently from adults held in custody. The all-party group recommends that children should be held in appropriate accommodation separate from adults; I have made the point about their going into local authority care. Children should be kept out of police custody wherever possible, and the environment in which they are held should be improved better to reflect the rights and needs of their ages.
The all-party group recommends that the Home Office should ensure that all newly built custody facilities include a separate custody area for children and young people, with police forces designating existing facilities for that use wherever possible, and that a requirement should be placed on local safeguarding children boards to monitor that transfer. There are key issues regarding children and young people with mental health problems who are kept in custody overnight. Practice needs to be improved, and the guidance needs to be beefed up. Those are two key recommendations from our report.
I have a couple of minor points to make and then I will finish on our major recommendations. Children and young people should be able to access high-quality advocacy and legal support during their time in police custody. In some cases, that advocacy will not be provided by their parents, whether or not their parents are available and whether or not their parents understand the situation.
Other responses to how we deal with vulnerable children include the initiative by the communications charity I Can, which has developed a training course called “Talk about Talk.” The course is co-delivered by young people with speech and learning needs to support youth justice system workers, including police officers, to improve the way in which they communicate with children and young people suffering from speech and language difficulties. We need to be much more sensitive to particularly vulnerable groups of young people who are coming into contact with the police.
Finally, our report makes 24 recommendations. All those recommendations are doable, and they are all perfectly sensible and practical. All the recommendations ring in tune with the points that I have raised. First, we want the Home Office, working with the College of Policing and the Youth Justice Board, to identify and share examples of good practice. Governments of this country are rubbish at disseminating best practice. When I was a Minister, I found that if a really good project to safeguard young people or children was taking place in one authority, it was no surprise if the neighbouring authority had never heard of it and was not beating a path to the door to ask, “Gosh, how can we do that here?”
Secondly, every police force should have a designated senior officer of ACPO rank with responsibility for procedures and practice for children and young people. Thirdly, police effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy assessments should include a focus on the quality of engagement with children and young people. Fourthly, police and crime commissioners should establish mechanisms for involving young people in their work, as we clearly already do in Sussex.
Fifthly, the national policing lead for police cadets should encourage police forces to work with the National Volunteer Police Cadets to extend the reach of the volunteer police cadet programme. Sixthly, the Home Office should examine how all police forces could deliver safer schools partnerships; I know that there has been a problem with Government funding for that. Seventhly, the College of Policing should review police training, and I have mentioned some ways that we could achieve that. Eighthly, the College of Policing should promote the direct involvement of children and young people in the training of police in their local areas.
Ninthly, the best use of stop-and-search scheme to promote good practice in relation to the stop-and-search of children and young people should be carried forward by encouraging police forces to improve the recording of data, enabling young people to participate in public scrutiny, promoting clear complaints mechanisms and setting out procedures for police liaison with child protection teams. Tenthly, the national policing lead on stop-and-search should ensure that all police forces have in place independent stop-and-search scrutiny panels. Eleventhly, the HMIC annual review of stop-and-search should report on its use on children. Twelfthly, the Home Secretary should announce that stop-and-search data will be made available to the public in local crime maps, including data on the stop-and-search of children.
Thirteenthly, the Government should revise statutory guidance to the police on carrying out stop-and-search so that the safety and welfare of the child must be a paramount consideration and the date of birth of children stopped should be recorded. Fourteenthly, the College of Policing should publish guidance with an authorised professional practice following public consultation on the use of stop-and-search procedures for vulnerable children. Again, I have discussed that. Fifteenthly, there should be a presumption against the stop-and-search of under-10-year-olds, except in exceptional circumstances. Sixteenthly, the Home Office should ensure that all newly built police custody facilities include a separate custody area for children and young people. Seventeenthly, the Government should amend section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 to ensure that no child or young person is detained in police custody under the Act by 2017, and preferably sooner.
Eighteenthly, the definition of a juvenile in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 should be amended to ensure that 17-year-olds are treated as minors. That recommendation has already been picked up by the Home Secretary. Nineteenthly, the Home Secretary and Education Secretary jointly should write to all police forces and local authorities reminding them of their statutory duties under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, to ensure that where a child or young person is to be detained post-charge, they are transferred to the care of a local authority.
Twentiethly, all liaison and diversion should provide dedicated and tailored support to children and young people. Twenty-firstly, the College of Policing should set up standards requiring all police forces to have a scrutiny panel in place to monitor the use of out-of-court disposals. Twenty-secondly, the College of Policing should ensure that the training of custody officers covers legal representation for children and young people, and the Chartered Institute of Legal Executives should develop an accredited training course for solicitors and legal practitioners wishing to work with children and young people in police custody. Penultimately, crimes committed by children and young people within residential care homes should be managed appropriately. Last but not least, the College of Policing should work with the Youth Justice Board and local criminal justice boards to develop a protocol to reduce the prosecution of children in care.
The recommendations are well thought out. They can be taken on board, as some already have been, jointly by Government, the College of Policing, the Youth Justice Board and others responsible, working with local authorities, to consider how they can be brought into effect over the next few years. I am pleased with the report and proud to be a member of the all-party group that produced it.
There is a problem in this country with how too many of our children and young people view the police. The way to start addressing that problem is to recognise its extent. There is a big differential among certain forces and how they deal with the issue, and there are great examples of good practice already happening that need to be disseminated nationally. Children and young people are the same whether they are in your constituency, Mrs Brooke, mine or those of the Government and Opposition spokespeople. We need greater consistency in practice around the country.
I think that progress has been made, and that there is a genuine recognition of the need to deal with the issue much more seriously and urgently—not least because of recent revelations about child sexual exploitation and the potential radicalisation of children and young people, which the case of three young girls going to Syria has highlighted. This is an important subject. It is important that we get it right for our children and young people. It is important that the police get it right, and I have no doubt that they want to. It will make their job easier if young people trust them, feel safe with them and provide them with information about how they can do their job better.
It is in everybody’s interests for the report to be read and taken seriously, and for its recommendations to be taken up by all parties. I have no doubt that the positive response and attitude demonstrated by the Home Secretary is a good omen in respect of our recommendations being carried forward by the Government over the coming weeks and months.
It is a pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Brooke. I congratulate the hon. Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) on initiating the debate and on his distinguished track record on these issues. Most recently, he has championed the victims of child sexual exploitation and abuse, playing a role in helping to create the great national will to which we in the House must now rise.
I welcome the report of the all-party parliamentary group on children on building good relationships between children and the police. It is, dare I say, one of the finest examples of work by an all-party group in the House in a very long time. The inquiry took the best part of 18 months and involved going out, listening to, engaging with and learning lessons from young people and the police. The report is exemplary, and the hon. Gentleman and all those involved are to be congratulated on what they have done.
I start by telling a story from my constituency that I hope will warm the cockles of the hon. Gentleman’s heart. The November before last, we had the first Erdington convention; there are 10 devolved districts in Birmingham. We had a session on the police, with particular emphasis on the police and young people. In the spirit of the all-party group, a local councillor—I will not mention which party he was from—made a prolonged intervention with a five-point critique of the police for failing to deal with the problem of young people. He must have mentioned “the problem” at least a dozen times. Sitting to my left was Inspector Paul Ditta, who listened patiently. When the tirade ended, he said, “Councillor, you are entitled to your view, but I have to say, I could not disagree more. For us, young people are not a problem; they are a community to be engaged with.” I thought then, as I think now, “Wow. That’s exactly the kind of mindset you want on the part of the police.”
I remember another occasion when a sergeant was presiding over a meeting of the Castle Vale tasking group, which at one stage got quite heated on the issue of ball games. Two individuals in particular were arguing. One of them said, “It’s about time you felt their collar.” The sergeant, again, listened patiently and said, “I’m not sure that that is the appropriate response. What we’ll do is, one of us, together with the youth worker, will go and sit down with those young people, have a chat and help them recognise that they are inconveniencing local people by playing in this particular part of Castle Vale, and encourage them to take advantage of local facilities.” Indeed, one of the sergeant’s constable colleagues said, “We might even challenge them to a game of football.” Again, that is exactly the right mindset on the part of the police.
An oft-quoted Robert Peel maxim is that the police are the public and the public are the police. Effective modern policing is based on mutual trust and the building of good relationships—in this case, crucially, at the earliest possible age—between people and the police. Indeed, as the all-party group’s report states, children’s first encounter with police officers can have a lasting effect on how they view the police and how they subsequently engage with them as adults.
Again, I have seen such examples—good and bad. On the one hand, I remember in Rossendale and Darwen talking to a community group, and an excellent local community activist said that her daughter, who is now 18, had known the local police constable and the local police community support officer since she was eight. They were on first-name terms; in fact, they even sent each other Christmas cards. On the other, there are bad examples. I remember a young African man from Kingstanding in my constituency who came in with his mother to see me and spoke graphically about his experience of having been stopped and searched. He is a fine footballer of the future and an admirable young man who has never been in trouble; his behaviour is exemplary. He said to me, “Jack, I was out with my mum in the high street. I crossed the road to go to another shop. As I came out, I was stopped and I was searched, and I couldn’t believe it. I asked, ‘Why?’ I couldn’t believe it. Then, I saw my mum on the other side of the street, looking distressed.” He said, “I felt humiliated.” He went on to say, “I know bad boys, but I’m not one of them, Jack.” Fortunately, that young man from a good family will not draw the wrong conclusions, but too often there have been such bad experiences, which have poisoned the relationship between young people and the police.
Therefore, for the reasons that the hon. Gentleman spelled out in considerable detail, first impressions are crucial. It is vital that the police deal with their relationships with young people in the right way.
The report is balanced in its approach; it celebrates what is good and the progress that has been made, but it is also challenging. It is worrying that it found that there is a lack of trust in the police on the part of too many children and young people, and that encounters between the two can often be characterised by poor and unconstructive communication and sometimes, quite simply, a lack of mutual respect.
As set out in the United Nations convention on the rights of the child, children and young people have a distinct set of rights and entitlements. As the all-party group found, however, even if improvements are being made, the policy and legislative framework governing the police does not yet pay sufficient attention to the particular needs of children and young people. That must now change.
I will now touch upon certain areas of the report. First, there is the controversial issue of stop and search. The hon. Gentleman was absolutely right to say that only a small proportion of searches lead to arrest and are, to be frank, ultimately found to be justified. The fact that we have too often had too many stops and searches has been damaging to police relationships with young people; there is no question about that. There is that particularly stark statistic in London—someone is seven times more likely to be stopped if they have a black face. That cannot be right.
The resentment caused by that has created barriers between communities and the police. Police officers should act only where there are good grounds for them to do so, and they must ensure that the welfare of children being searched is their utmost priority. Therefore, I strongly support the recommendation of the all-party group that the rights and specific needs of children must be reflected in the guidance relating to the stop-and-search process. The hon. Gentleman is also right to refer to the fact that progress has been made, with support from all parties in the House in recent months for changing the framework governing stop and search.
I will move on briefly to the detention and custody of young people, with particular reference to those suffering from mental ill health. We agree with the recommendation in the report in respect of section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983, which deals with detentions, and we also believe that it is inappropriate to detain young people in police custody. It is far better that they are dealt with in other, more appropriate ways; it is better not only for young people themselves, which is the main consideration, but for the police, as less of their time will be taken up.
Again, I see that situation in my own area. It is not based in my constituency, but the Oleaster suite in Birmingham is an excellent example of collaboration between the police, the local authority and the NHS to provide a non-custodial place of safety, and many of the people who go there are young people in distress. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman is right to remind us that so many of the children caught up in the policing system are often not only vulnerable, but suffer from mental health problems, so it is right that we assert that a police cell is no place for young people who are suffering from mental illness.
We welcome the work that is already being done to improve practice across the country. Greater Manchester has been particularly exemplary in its approach. There are many examples I could give, but I will give just one: 17 police constables have had comprehensive mental health awareness training to become crisis intervention officers. The police in the region have also had success with their triage arrangements. Elsewhere—for example, in Nottingham and Derby—I have seen really good examples of the police themselves learning lessons and working in collaboration with other agencies on how those going through trauma in their life should best be supported.
Next, there is the point about good practice. As I have said, the report is balanced, because—I stress this again—it is challenging but also reflects much good practice and urges that that good practice be generalised throughout the police service. I say again that the report is right to identify failures and shortcomings, but also right to celebrate admirable behaviour and practice.
I have seen examples in my own constituency. I remember launching—quite literally—in a shaky canoe on Brookvale park a club run by Sergeant Simon Hensley, which was ultimately joined by a couple of hundred young people locally. Again, there was an incredulous councillor who said, “What’s a canoeing club got to do with police?” As a consequence of that initiative, young people came to have a different relationship with the police. They had a laugh with the police, canoed with the police and—depending on their age, of course—would go and have a drink with the police. In turn, the police were able to identify young people with particular problems in their lives and signpost them towards other routes they could take.
Classically, the role of neighbourhood policing has been not only to detect and fight crime, but to prevent it from occurring in the first place, and that initiative was highly successful. Also, when there was an outbreak of burglaries locally, young people in particular worked with the police to identify the wrongdoers. It is absolutely right that such good practice is showcased and promoted to show what is possible and what works.
The report is right to say that what we have to do at every level—from Government downwards, and at the level of the police service itself—is not only to showcase such examples of positive engagement but to drive that engagement in the next stages. The hon. Gentleman told us the story of some of the initiatives in Sussex. We strongly support the all-party group’s recommendation that there should be a lead for young people in each force.
The hon. Gentleman mentioned youth services and said that local authorities are now under financial pressure. Of course, it is not just youth services that are affected, but the police themselves. Other agencies are crucial to policing. The relationship of the police with young people is particularly important. Therefore, the hon. Gentleman is right to mention the mounting pressures on youth services. I gave the example earlier of police and youth services intervening in a situation before it became a problem, and thereby solving it.
I am bound to say that 17,000 police officers have gone and 32,000 will have gone by the general election. With the thin blue line stretched ever thinner, not only are the public seeing fewer bobbies on the beat—neighbourhood policing in many areas has been hollowed out—but there is potential for a lasting impact on relationships between children and the police. If we believe in the kind of neighbourhood engagement demonstrated in the report—I strongly support it—neighbourhood officers who are able to undertake that engagement are needed.
The report rightly highlights the work in local schools. In another example from my constituency, when the current North Birmingham academy was called College High, five or six years ago, parents were queuing up not to send their kids to the school, which was riven by gang warfare. A highly successful collaboration was instituted between the local police and the school, with a particular police officer attached to it for three years, although not for the whole time. There was an intimate relationship between the police and the school and, progressively, the culture of the school changed dramatically. The head said to me, “It was almost like there was a red mist on the path leading into the school. Whatever problems may have been in the community, they no longer came into the school.” But it is more than that. She said, “Because of how the police engaged with those young people, when going back into the communities from which they came, they had a very different perception of the police.”
Inevitably, the rapidly reducing number of police officers has an impact in terms of the necessary work that they have to do.
I should have mentioned earlier that, when filming a Channel 4 programme, “Tower Block of Commons”, with other hon. Members a few years ago—I was in Birmingham—eventually the police came along and played a football match against some of the young people I was working with. The hon. Gentleman might like to try the same in his part of Birmingham.
Can I try to tempt the hon. Gentleman away from being slightly partisan on this? This week the Metropolitan Police Commissioner, giving evidence to the Home Affairs Committee, confirmed that the number of police officers in London, which had been at 32,000, had dropped to 30,000, but that within the next few weeks the number will have returned to over 32,000. The police force has saved £600 million in the process. So police numbers are on the rise in many parts of the country, but the police will have made considerable savings and will also have prioritised projects, such as some of those involving working with young people, which I have already mentioned.
In the spirit of the all-party group’s work, I am striving not to be overtly partisan, but I hope the hon. Gentleman will forgive me; I had to make the point. It is not just about resource, but if one is to achieve the type of engagements that are necessary, which are described in the report, resource is important. He said, in the context of youth services, that there can be false economies. That is right. What are the medium-term consequences? One must have regard to the avoidance of false economies. Incidentally, on getting it right and sensible economies, if we reduced youth reoffending by 10%, it would save £1 billion but, more than that, the pain often suffered by the victims of crime carried out by young people would be avoided. Therefore, neighbourhood policing is crucial in respect of everything said in the report about the importance of local engagement.
In conclusion—this relates to the point I just made to the hon. Gentleman—resource is important, but it is never enough. What is so good about the report is that it celebrates much that is good and it is profoundly challenging at every level, including in arguing for continuing and fundamental culture change regarding the interrelationship between the police and young people. He mentioned the role that the College of Policing plays in inculcating good practice in all police officers and in communicating to them the problems attached to seeing young people as the problem. The report is an excellent piece of work. I congratulate all those involved in its production. I strongly suspect that there will be a warm cross-party welcome for the proposals.
It is an absolute pleasure to serve under your chairmanship, Mrs Brooke. I congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham (Tim Loughton) on securing this debate and bringing this important matter to the House. I congratulate the members of his all-party group, of which you are an esteemed member, Mrs Brooke, as is the noble Baroness Massey, among others. The report “It’s all about trust” is a comprehensive, extensive and thorough piece of work that shows what all-party groups can achieve when their members get together to do incredibly detailed and thorough work.
My right hon. Friend the Member for Lewes (Norman Baker), then Minister for Crime Prevention, attended the launch of the report. His successor, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hornsey and Wood Green (Lynne Featherstone), gave the Government’s response to the noble Baroness Massey on 14 November last year.
Young people may come into contact with the police for various reasons and it is crucial that, when they do, police treat them in a way that is appropriate to their age and status as children. The police have a statutory duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children and they must take it very seriously. My hon. Friend made interesting points about early familiarity and getting to know the police, and about not being fearful and there not being a “them and us” situation. He makes exactly the right points. The report is informative about such ideas, and I will mention my thoughts about how those can be achieved.
My hon. Friend also said that children are often treated as mini-adults. We are in a strange world for children and young people. They grow up so quickly: the age of sexual maturity is being reached at an ever younger age, but the age of emotional maturity is not coming down. There are children who are sexually mature, but not emotionally mature. There is a temptation to treat children as adults.
As a mum, I often want to treat my children as mini-adults and expect them to behave as mini-adults, but I have to remember that they are children. Children behave in ways that adults would not, and they do things that an adult simply would not do. A child’s relationship with certain individuals can mean that those people appear almost parental. Those in authority—particularly the police—have to remember that their relationship with a child is a distorted one compared with their relationship with adults.
My hon. Friend talked about the use of stop-and-search on under-18s, as did the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey). I am proud of the steps taken by the Home Secretary with regard to stop-and-search across the board. The Government are clear that powers of stop-and-search, when used correctly, are vital in the fight against crime. Regardless of age, the powers must be applied fairly and only when needed. No one should be stopped on the basis of their race, ethnicity or age.
My hon. Friend mentioned different outcomes in various forces, some of which are clearly better than others. He also talked about the police and crime commissioner in his constituency, Katy Bourne, who was the first evidence giver in the report’s evidence sessions. Clearly, good work is being done in Sussex. He is right: we should all learn from that and ensure that all forces take on board such good work. All forces can learn. There is always more that can be learned, even for those that are exemplary at the moment.
In summer 2013, the Government launched a broad public consultation on the use of stop-and-search powers, following which the Home Secretary announced a comprehensive package of reforms. The measures are designed to ensure that the powers are used lawfully and proportionately and in a targeted and intelligence-led way.
An important announcement was the best use of stop-and-search scheme, to which all 43 forces in England and Wales and the British Transport police have voluntarily signed up. The scheme introduces public scrutiny and ensures that the police collect and publish thorough data on the outcomes of stop-and-searches. Additionally, the Government have revised Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 code of practice A to provide clarity to police officers on what “reasonable grounds for suspicion” means.
There is no doubt that the Government’s reforms will impact positively on all sections of society, including children. To support all that work, the Government commissioned the College of Policing to review the national training on stop-and-search for all officer ranks. It is undertaking that review with the Equality and Human Rights Commission, and we have specifically asked that the college consider children as part of it.
On young people in custody, children who come into contact with the police are afforded important safeguards by virtue of section 11 of the Children Act 2004. It places the police under an obligation to make arrangements to safeguard and promote the welfare of children when exercising their functions. Additionally, the 1984 Act provides a clear legal framework for all interactions in police custody, and there are special provisions for children and young people.
In the past 18 months, two significant legal changes to the PACE codes of practice have impacted specifically on children and young people. The first was an amendment to code G to ensure that police officers ascertain whether when adults are arrested it is also necessary to arrest a child and bring them into custody. The second change was that, following the Hughes Cousins-Chang judicial review in April 2013, the Government amended PACE codes of practice C and H to give 17-year-olds the same safeguards in police custody as children aged 10 to 16. Specifically, that concerned the provision of an appropriate adult and the provision for the police to inform the child’s parent or legal guardian of their detention.
I feel particularly strongly about that because of the work we are doing with the modern slavery strategy and the Modern Slavery Bill. We have seen significant evidence that child victims of trafficking need additional support. We are trialling child trafficking advocates with the assistance of Barnado’s. I hope the evidence from that trial will enable us to introduce those advocates across the country in the near future specifically for child victims of trafficking. Obviously, the learning and evidence we receive from that trial will assist in all children-in-custody issues.
My hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham talked about the identification of victims, an issue that appears across the board in so many areas of safeguarding and vulnerable people. Often, the first time the authorities will find out that someone is a victim, whether that is of slavery, child sexual abuse or other forms of abuse, is when they come into contact with the police through a custody sergeant. They often will have been arrested for committing crimes that they were forced to do as a result of their circumstances. We need to make it a matter of course that the police and in particular those first points of contact identify victims, spot the signs and do not treat them as criminals. By getting in at the earliest possible opportunity, we will ensure that children are not criminalised when they should not be and be able to give them the support they need and find the genuine criminals. I feel strongly that we need to ensure that all police officers are trained in victim identification.
My hon. Friend talked about 17-year-olds. We discussed that issue in the Modern Slavery Bill, which refers to those “under 18”, and the Serious Crime Act 2015, where we looked at how various provisions affected 16 and 17-year-olds. The Government have recognised that there continue to be some ways in which 17-year-olds are treated as adults in the 1984 Act. For that reason, the Government launched a review of the provisions, and it reported to the Home Secretary in October. It recommended that all provisions in the legislation that treat 17-year-olds as adults should be amended. The Government are clearly committed to making that change.
Another recent change we made was in the Serious Crime Bill, which I am pleased to say became an Act this month. That change was to remove the term “child prostitution” from legislation, which was an incredibly important step. It could be called symbolic, but it is more than that, because it says that children cannot choose to enter into a life of prostitution. Children never choose to be prostitutes; they are always the victims. I am pleased that we could make that change through the 2015 Act.
The most significant provision of PACE concerning the overnight detention in police custody of 17-year-olds has been amended. The Government seized an opportunity in the Criminal Justice and Courts Act 2015 to ensure that the requirement to transfer children to local authority accommodation will now also apply to 17-year-olds who have been charged and denied bail. In addition, just this week Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary published its thematic inspection of the treatment by the police of vulnerable people in custody. The report covers the treatment of children and some of its findings are extremely concerning. It is hard-hitting in its call for improvements, particularly on the unnecessary overnight detention of children in police custody. The Government welcome the report and are carefully considering its findings.
The police play a crucial role in safeguarding children and young people from abuse. As well as their duty to investigate criminal offences, the police have emergency powers, for example, to enter premises and ensure they can provide immediate protection for children believed to be suffering, or likely to suffer, significant harm. Officers work with a number of partners in protecting children, including community safety partnerships, drug action teams, the multi-agency risk assessment conference and the multi-agency public protection arrangements. They have a duty to share information with other organisations, if that is necessary to protect children. Shared offices and such models as the multi-agency safeguarding hub are designed to encourage partnership working and the exchange of information needed to protect children and the public.
The police have an important role in protecting missing children. Children and young people make up approximately two thirds of missing reports in the UK. Although the vast majority of people who go missing return or are quickly found, many vulnerable children and adults suffer harm and exploitation while missing. Some never return. Identifying and ensuring the safest return possible for those vulnerable children and adults is a key part of the police service’s child protection and wider safeguarding roles. Protecting those at risk of abuse and exploitation is a key priority for the Government, and we work closely with the police to deliver the aims of the cross-Government missing children and adults strategy. The strategy highlights the issue’s importance and provides a core framework for local areas to consider whether they can and should do more to protect children and vulnerable adults who go missing. It requires a range of local and national partners, including the Government, to contribute to the prevention, protection and provision of support for missing persons and their families.
Every effort must be made to prevent looked-after children from being drawn unnecessarily into the youth justice system. Where the police come into contact with looked-after children who may have committed an offence, they have a range of powers that enable them to exercise discretion on the necessary response. Such approaches as community resolution may allow them to resolve the situation without children being charged over relatively trivial incidents.
I was struck by Members’ contributions on antisocial behaviour. My father is a pub landlord, and he was the chair of the local pubwatch. They had problems with kids playing football in one of the car parks, and all the residents were complaining. My dad said, “Why do the police not pick a ball up and play football with them? Why are they trying to arrest them? These are kids. They are not doing anything wrong. They are playing.”
I visited a slavery safe house recently that backs on to a primary school. I asked, “Do you have a problem with the school? Is the school nervous about the fact that you have people in here who have been through some of the most horrendous experiences?” They said, “No, the school is very understanding. There is nothing more wonderful for those victims than hearing the laughter of schoolchildren playing at lunch time. To hear those children out at break time, kicking a football, playing and laughing—those joyous noises make such a difference for those victims.” I will suggest the Midnight Football idea to my local police.
I want to mention the street pastors. I am sure many of us have them in our constituencies. I went to join the Leek street pastors a while ago, on the night the Christmas lights were being switched on. Lots of young people were around. The street pastors were fantastic. They have many weapons in their arsenal, but my favourite were the lollipops. They would go around near the bus station and places where young people might be hanging around—possibly looking like they were about to cause trouble, if one wanted to see it that way—and hand out lollipops. It turns out that, particularly when any sort of tension or aggression starts, the lollipops act like dummies. People suck away on them and the sugar rush gets a bit of sobriety into their bloodstreams, should they be slightly older and therefore allowed to drink, and they all calm down. They suck away like a child sucking on a dummy, and all the aggression goes. It was fantastic, so I recommend lollipops as a very good approach.
The Government take domestic violence and abuse extremely seriously and recognise that young people can be victims in both the home and their relationships. We are continuing to work with victims groups and other Government Departments to raise awareness and signpost where to seek help, which is why, in March 2013, we extended the definition of domestic violence and abuse to include 16 and 17-year-olds, with additional wording to capture coercive control.
The Government deplore the sexual abuse and exploitation of children and will not tolerate at any level failure to prevent harm, support victims and bring offenders to justice. We must protect children from sexual exploitation so that we never again have another case like those in Oxford, Rochdale or Rotherham, where local authorities and the police failed the children whom they had a duty to safeguard. The police have already taken action. For example, all chief constables have committed to a policing action plan that aims to raise the standards in tackling child sexual exploitation. Police and crime commissioners also have a clear role in holding chief constables to account. Nevertheless, the Government are clear that more can and should be done to protect children from sexual abuse.
There are three key challenges for the police. First, to improve the quality of their child sexual abuse investigations in order to bring offenders to justice. Secondly, to improve the identification of victims and survivors, including victims of organised offending, which we discussed earlier, so that they can better target offenders and protect those at risk of further abuse. Finally, the police must improve the support that they provide to victims during investigations. That means that they must focus on the credibility of the allegation, not the victim and their behaviour; they must work together with local agencies, particularly social services, and better share information to ensure that victims and offenders do not slip through the net; and they must work together with the National Crime Agency and other police forces to better identify organised child sexual abuse.
On 3 March, in our report on tackling child sexual exploitation, the Government set out a number of actions to support the police and local agencies to address the challenges that they face. Those actions include: giving child sexual abuse the status of a national threat in the strategic policing requirement; funding a new network of regional police co-ordinators, located in regional organised crime units, who will help to better identify organised child sexual abuse across police force boundaries and ensure that cases are tasked appropriately; and setting up a new centre of expertise to combat child sexual exploitation. All that will help the police and other agencies to understand national data and evidence and the front-line practice and models of integrated working that work best.
Preventing and disrupting offending must be a priority for the police. That is why, on 8 March, the Government commenced new powers, including sexual harm prevention orders and sexual risk orders, which the police can apply for where an individual poses a risk of sexual harm in the UK or abroad, and powers to close an establishment that might be used for sexual activity with a child. Finally, the National Crime Agency has a key role to play in tackling these disgusting crimes. Through the national tasking process, it leads work to identify those individuals and organised groups of offenders who pose the greatest risk to children, and agree a comprehensive, targeted response.
Clearly, this is not a simple matter; if it was, we would have dealt with it years ago. The report from my hon. Friend the Member for East Worthing and Shoreham and the all-party group makes for compelling reading and sets out some excellent recommendations. He has worked so hard, both with the all-party group and when he was a Minister, to raise awareness of this incredibly important issue. I pay tribute to my hon. Friend and his all-party group, and I pay tribute to this debate.
With the leave of the House, I would say that we have had a good debate, but in my case it was a 45-minute uninterrupted soliloquy, which is a first in my 18 years in the House. I am pleased and grateful that we have had the opportunity to air the really good points from our inquiry, which were published in the report. There was a good degree of consensus from both Front Benchers that we need to recognise these issues, which we can and must take up and progress for the good of our children and the good of policing in this country.
I am grateful to the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey), and strongly recommend that he organise some football in his part of Birmingham —either at midnight or another time of day—and get the police involved. Members can be part of the solution, working with children and the police.
My hon. Friend the Minister mentioned street pastors: I have been out with my local street pastors and police, and I shall be going out with the police again in a couple of weeks to see their new triage system, which includes a mental health nurse. The last time I went out with the police in Worthing, before Christmas, far from it being young people causing problems, those causing the most antisocial behaviour were the off-duty members of the police force having their Christmas dinners in various establishments around the town. In many cases, young people can give advice to police officers as well.
I urge the Minister to disseminate the good practice that the report flags up, particularly the really good initiatives in Sussex resulting from the energy, enthusiasm and good services of our police and crime commissioner. It also helps that we now have a really good chief constable, something with which we have not previously been blessed in Sussex.
My hon. Friend was absolutely right when she reinforced the importance of early familiarity. If we can get it right in the early stages and recreate the much more friendly, natural, empathetic relationship that school kids had with the police in my time at school—the same is probably true for other Members—when we naturally trusted the police, we will have a far better chance to avoid children falling into greater crimes and child sexualisation. We might also be able to avoid the more recent problem of radicalisation, because the police could share the intelligence gained from working with children to keep them on the straight and narrow.
I am grateful to all Members who have taken part in this exercise—it was not so much a debate—and urge others who have not attended to read the report and take it back to their own local police forces. Along with local authorities, their local forces must do their utmost to ensure that policing is fit for purpose and has the sensitivities and sensibilities required for dealing with vulnerable groups of young people. It is a false economy not to do that.
I am grateful for the opportunity to reinforce those points. I hope that, beyond this Chamber, a wider audience has taken note of our work. The all-party group’s report is one of the best examples of how, through cross-party, consensual work with experts, the House can produce really decent research that will benefit us all.
Thank you very much, Mr Loughton, and to all the contributors to that debate. Officially, we must keep going and move on to the next debate, but we are going to try to accommodate a large number of young people in the Public Gallery, so it would be sensible if Members waited a moment while we try to get people in.