I beg to move, That the Bill be now read a Second time.
As hon. Members of this House are aware, since 2010 the Government have implemented the most radical programme of police reform in decades. That programme is bringing about real and substantial change, and has made policing more accountable, more efficient and more effective. At the same time, we have ensured that policing plays its part in helping to get this country’s finances back on track. We reduced police budgets, saving £1.5 billion in cash terms from 2010-11 to 2015-16, and crime has fallen. Today, crime is down by more than a quarter since 2010, according to the independent crime survey for England and Wales.
However, the task of police reform is not yet finished. Last autumn, through the spending review, we protected police spending in real terms over the course of this Parliament, once the local precept is taken into account. But no one should be under the illusion that this settlement allows police forces to ease off on the throttle of reform. Over the course of this Parliament we must continue to apply the lessons of the past five and a half years and ensure that policing can respond not just to the challenges of today, but to the challenges of tomorrow, too.
Crime has fallen, but it is still too high. The public rightly expect the highest standards of integrity and professionalism from the police. The challenges ahead are complex and difficult: the growing threat from terrorism; the changing menace of serious and organised crime, fraud and cybercrime; and the increasing role technology plays in crime. We are also seeing increasing numbers of people having the confidence to come forward to report child sexual abuse and other crimes such as domestic abuse and sexual violence.
The Home Secretary was talking a moment ago about cybercrime and the changing nature of crime. She makes claims about crime numbers falling, but does she not accept that in fact crime is changing? I have here answers from the Home Office stating that it is dealing with 1,000 cases a week of terrorism-related material, 70% of which is from Daesh. There are huge changes in the types of extremist activities online. Does she accept that crime is changing and might not be falling?
I say to the hon. Gentleman that the figures from the independent crime survey show that crime has fallen by more than a quarter since 2010. Crime is indeed changing. That is precisely why we have set up the National Cyber Crime Unit inside the new National Crime Agency, which was formed over the past five and a half years. He cites a figure of 1,000 pieces of internet material, but that is a slightly different issue; it refers to the number of pieces of material on the internet that are now being taken down on average every week by the counter-terrorism internet referral unit. Members of the public and others are able to refer pieces of material to the police, and we have a very good relationship there, with the police working with the companies to take that material down. He rightly says that the quantity of the material that is being taken down, a lot of which will relate to Daesh, is significant. That is one of the reasons why we have not only worked to have the CTIRU here in the UK, but have worked with our European partners to ensure that at Europol a comparable European body has been set up, and it is also working to take down terrorist and extremist material from the internet.
The Secretary of State mentioned the exploitation of teenagers, and I am sure she is aware of the Children’s Society’s “Seriously Awkward” campaign. Several constituents have written to me about this asking whether I could raise the issue of whether there is scope within this Bill to address teenage sexual exploitation, particularly that of 16 and 17-year-olds, and the use of drugs and alcohol. They specifically ask for more powers for the police to intervene to stop the sexual exploitation of vulnerable 16 and 17-year-olds through drugs, through drink, and through coercion and grooming, and for a new offence to be brought forward to deal with those who use drugs and alcohol. Does she think that is a possibility?
The hon. Gentleman mentions the serious matter of the exploitation of those who are perhaps above the age of consent, which therefore raises different issues for the police and for the policing of those crimes. However, the police do have the powers to deal with that today, but I am sure that the issue will be raised during the course of debate on this Bill. It is right to point out that, when we talk about sexual exploitation, it is not just younger children who are potentially subject to it, but teenagers of the age to which he refers.
If policing is successfully to meet the challenges that it faces over the next five years, we must continue to reform it to drive efficiency, new capability, and higher levels of professionalism and integrity. This Bill is directed towards those ends.
Let me turn now to the provisions in the Bill. Many in this House will know of excellent examples of collaboration between the emergency services in different parts of the country. Although each of the emergency services has its own primary set of responsibilities, there is clearly scope to unlock the benefits that can be derived from closer working, including reducing costs. For example, in Cheshire, the police and the fire and rescue service are integrating most of their back-office functions and establishing a single, shared headquarters by April 2018, delivering estimated savings of nearly £1.5 million a year and improving the quality of service to the public.
Will the Home Secretary also urge some joined-up thinking on her ministerial colleagues, because there are some huge opportunities as a result of the devolution agenda? In places such as Greater Manchester, for example, where the boundaries of the police and crime commissioner, the mayor and the fire authority are coterminous, there is an opportunity to join up the services as a single unit. In other devolved areas, there is not that coterminosity, which then deprives them of the same type of shared services.
First, the hon. Gentleman is right about Greater Manchester. Obviously, it has taken a number of steps in that direction. The fire and rescue service has signed an agreement to work with North West Ambulance Service so that it can respond to cardiac arrest cases in the region. The critical risk intervention team in Greater Manchester brings police, fire and rescue and ambulance services together, showing in a very real sense how, on the ground, this collaboration can be very effective and bring a better service for people.
The hon. Gentleman is right that the coterminosity issue is a factor in some of these devolution deals. I am very clear that police and crime commissioners should be involved in discussions about devolution deals as they go ahead, but what we are doing in the Bill is enabling police and crime commissioners to have that collaboration with fire and rescue services—but bottom up, so that local areas will determine what suits them in their local area. The benefits that we have seen in areas such as Great Manchester can be brought to other parts of the country. There are other examples. Hampshire, Northamptonshire and many other places are also looking to put that collaboration into practice under the leadership of police and crime commissioners.
I am grateful to the Home Secretary for mentioning Hampshire before I did. I know that she is looking for reform to continue and for collaboration between the emergency services. I am sure that she is aware of the H3 project in Hampshire between the county council, the constabulary and the fire and rescue service, which is a genuine trailblazer in this area. The partners in that collaboration are already delivering savings of 20%, so is Hampshire not the apple of her eye as she embarks on this Bill?
I am tempted to do that. I should perhaps respond that my hon. Friend the Member for Winchester (Steve Brine) is the apple of my eye when he stands up and makes such a point about Hampshire. [Interruption.] Well, I have to say to my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (James Cleverly) that he has not yet put into practice what he said he wished to do.
Hampshire is a very good example of the collaboration that can work. The Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice has visited Hampshire. He has seen Winchester fire and rescue service and the police station. These are all innovative ideas that provide a better service to people. I commend Hampshire and other parts of the country where they are putting this collaboration into practice.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that collaboration and co-operation are very important when an incident occurs? During and after the Somerset floods, many of my constituents wrote to me and spoke to me about the importance of the emergency services working in tandem. That is the best way to ensure that the most vulnerable in each community get the help they need.
My hon. Friend makes a very important point. When an incident takes place, the three emergency services will often be called and will have to work together. That is why the Government did a great deal of work under JESIP, the joint emergency services interoperability programme, to look at improving how the three services work together—the protocols, the language that is used and the command structures that can be put in place—so that, as my hon. Friend says, they also work together on their emergency response.
The national picture remains patchy. Collaboration should be the rule, not the exception. That is why, as I have said, part 1 of the Bill places an overarching duty on the three emergency services to collaborate. It will help to drive close working across the country when that would improve efficiency or effectiveness. In the case of police forces and fire and rescue services in particular, I believe that there is a compelling case for taking such collaboration agreements a step further. To facilitate enhanced collaboration and strengthen democratic oversight, part 1 provides a framework for police and crime commissioners to take responsibility for delivering foreign rescue services by local agreement.
I am sure that my right hon. Friend would accept that one of the most challenging parts of our country in which to deliver police services is, of course, Northern Ireland. I am sure that she is aware of the fantastic steps that have been taken in Northern Ireland to share training for the police and the fire authority and the huge savings that that has delivered. Could we not learn something in this House from Northern Ireland’s contribution to training?
My hon. Friend makes an important point. Of course, we must recognise that there are particular policing challenges for the Police Service of Northern Ireland, but it is right that the police and the fire and rescue service train together there, and that is a very good example.
To return to the intervention made by my hon. Friend the Member for Somerton and Frome (David Warburton) about the emergency services coming together to deal with the flooding in Somerset, training together can help that emergency collaboration when an incident takes place. Over the past three and a half years PCCs have proved the value of having a single democratically elected figure by providing visible leadership, proper local accountability and real local scrutiny of how chief constables and their forces perform while driving reform and innovation and finding efficiencies to ensure value for money for the taxpayer. In nine weeks’ time, voters up and down the country will be able to hold PCCs to account for their performance and judge new candidates on their proposals in the most powerful way possible, through the ballot box. I believe that it is now time to extend the benefits of the PCC model of governance to the fire service when it would be in the interests of economy, efficiency and effectiveness, or public safety to do so.
There is no doubt that as Home Secretary, the right hon. Lady has altered for ever the landscape of policing in our country. PCCs are an example of that. Does she share my concern about the number of candidates applying for jobs as chief constables? In the case of half of the chief constable posts advertised in the country in the past couple of years, only one candidate has come forward for each job. In the West Midlands, Cambridgeshire and the Home Secretary’s own area of Thames Valley, the deputy has got the top job. They are all excellent candidates, but is it not a worry that so few people are applying at that very high level?
The right hon. Gentleman is right to raise that issue. It is a matter that I have discussed with the College of Policing in the context of its leadership work and with Sara Thornton of the National Police Chiefs’ Council. It is not new to have a small number of people applying for chief constable posts. That is one of the things that happens in policing; people tend to work out who they think will get a job and often do not apply if they think that somebody else will almost certainly get it. That has been the practice over the years, but we have seen a number of cases in which there have been single applicants, which is a cause for concern. That is why I have been discussing the matter with bodies responsible for considering leadership in policing to see whether steps can be taken to change that.
We in the West Midlands are delighted with the appointment of our new chief constable, Dave Thompson, who we think will do a remarkable job, but can the Home Secretary explain to me why he and his colleagues have had to deal with that police force losing 25% of its budget, compared to Surrey, which has lost just 10% or 12%?
May I, too, commend Chief Constable Dave Thompson in the West Midlands? I and the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), were aware of the work that he did in relation to gangs, which he was doing with the Home Office for a number of years. Once again, the Labour party seems incapable of recognising the settlement that has been given for policing over the next four years, and the fact that we have given that stability to police financing over the next few years.
I return to the topic of collaboration between the emergency services. Where a local case is made, the Bill will enable a PCC to take this one step further by integrating the senior management teams of the police force and the fire and rescue service under a single chief officer. This single employer model will allow the rapid consolidation of back-office functions without the complexities of negotiating collaboration agreements between the PCC, the chief constable and one or more fire and rescue authorities. I should stress that under these reforms police officers and firefighters will remain distinct and separate, as set out in law, albeit supported by increasingly integrated HR, ICT, finance, procurement, fleet management and other support services.
In London, we intend to strengthen democratic accountability by abolishing the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority and bringing the London fire brigade, managed by the London fire commissioner, under the direct responsibility of the Mayor.
These reforms to the arrangements in London are supported by all the key bodies, including the authority itself.
The vast majority of police officers and police staff discharge their duties with integrity and professionalism, upholding the best traditions of policing in this country. But where the actions of a minority fall short of the high standards that the public are entitled to expect, there need to be arrangements in place so that the conduct in question can be properly looked into and the matter resolved in a timely and proportionate manner.
In the previous Parliament we took steps to improve standards of police integrity and to strengthen the police disciplinary system. Disciplinary hearings are now held in public and overseen by an independent legally qualified chair. Police officers who are dismissed now have their name held on a “struck off” register so that they cannot join another force. Where corruption is involved, officers can for the first time be prosecuted for a specific offence of police corruption, and the Independent Police Complaints Commission is being beefed up to take on all serious and sensitive cases.
However, there are still significant shortcomings in the current system: indeed, almost three quarters of people complaining to the police are not satisfied with how their complaint is handled. The current arrangements are seen by the police and the public alike as being too complex, too adversarial, too drawn out and lacking sufficient independence from the police. So the provisions in part 2 will build on the reforms that we have already introduced and make the police complaints and discipline systems simpler, more transparent and more robust.
I appreciate the Home Secretary giving way. Is she as concerned as I am about the length of delay in the disciplinary process and transparency about the failings in relation to Poppi Worthington’s death in Cumbria? What will the Bill do to speed up the process and increase transparency in such circumstances?
The hon. Gentleman is right to raise a case about which many people were deeply concerned to see what had happened and how it was handled. I understand that there is an issue for the IPCC in relation to a possible inquest, and the interaction between the IPCC and the inquest. These are challenges that we need to consider very carefully to ensure that the proper process can take place in a timely fashion, and that people do not find that these processes appear to be dragged out for a significant time. There are genuine issues sometimes in relation to inquests and IPCC investigations that have to be properly dealt with and addressed, but I know that everybody was concerned about the appalling case that the hon. Gentleman referred to, and he is right to raise it, as I know he has done previously in this House.
Part 2 builds on the reforms in relation to police complaints and disciplinary systems, and the changes will ensure we can strip away much of the system’s restrictive bureaucracy, remove the opaque categorisation for handling complaints and streamline the complex appeals process by replacing the existing five avenues of appeal with a single review of the outcome of the complaint.
The police will be given a new duty to resolve complaints in a reasonable and proportionate manner, while also having greater flexibility in how they meet that duty. We are also injecting greater independence into the system by strengthening PCCs’ oversight role and making them the appellate body for those appeals currently heard by chief constables. It will also be open to PCCs to take on responsibility for other aspects of the complaints-handling process, including the recording of complaints and keeping complainants informed of progress.
The Bill will create a system of “super-complaints”. These are complaints that can be brought by a designated organisation, such as a charity or advocacy body, on a particular issue, which might relate, for example, to a pattern of policing that could undermine legitimacy. This will enable national or cross-force issues to be examined by the inspectorate, the IPCC or the College of Policing, as appropriate.
Part 2 strengthens the protections for police whistle- blowers by enabling their concerns to be investigated by the IPCC, while protecting their identity so that they have the confidence to come forward without fear of jeopardising their own careers. It also enhances public confidence in the police disciplinary system, including by ensuring that disciplinary action can continue against officers after they have resigned or retired, and by placing the police “struck off” list on a statutory footing to ensure that no one dismissed from one police force can be re-employed by another. Taken together, these reforms represent a fundamental overhaul of the police complaints and disciplinary systems.
In addition, part 2 includes provisions to increase the powers and independence of the IPCC. However, we also need to ensure that the body charged with overseeing the system as a whole is itself organised in such a way as to best equip it to efficiently and effectively discharge its enhanced role.
Following an independent review by Sheila Drew Smith and our recent consultation on changes to the governance of the IPCC, I have concluded that the existing commission model, with commissioners having operational responsibilities, is no longer suitable to oversee the expanding organisation in the new system. At a time when the IPCC is growing as an organisation to take on all serious and sensitive cases, it needs to be more streamlined, more responsive to the public and better able to cope with the cases it is taking on. I therefore intend to bring forward amendments to the Bill to provide for a new governance model.
The reformed organisation will be headed by a director general, appointed by Her Majesty the Queen. The director general will have ultimate responsibility for individual case working decisions, including in respect of the investigation of the most serious and sensitive allegations involving the police. Corporate governance will be provided by a board comprising a majority of non-executive directors, appointed by the Home Secretary, which will have oversight of the overall running of the organisation. It follows that as, under the new governance model, there will be no commissioners, we cannot continue with the name “Independent Police Complaints Commission”. The reformed organisation will instead be known as the Office for Police Conduct.
I should add that the IPCC is supportive of the need for reform, and I am grateful for the input and co-operation of the current chair and chief executive during the development of these proposals.
I broadly welcome what the Home Secretary is outlining in terms of the IPCC, but one complaint I have from constituents is about the time the IPCC takes to deal with some very simple cases. Constituents would rather know that there was no case to answer than see things being dragged out. Are there any proposals to have different tracks for more complex cases and simple cases?
Yes. It is important that all cases are dealt with in as timely a fashion as possible. Beefing up the ability of local complaints procedures to deal with what we might see as simpler local complaints may very well enable people to get a better response from that local complaints process, rather than feeling that things then have to be put through to the IPCC, which will have a focus on serious and sensitive cases. Also, the restructuring will help to smooth the process by which cases are looked at by what will be the OPC.
This Second Reading debate is not the time to go into the details of the case of former sergeant Gurpal Virdi, but will the Home Secretary ask her advisers to talk to the IPCC about why it is saying that his complaint should be referred back to the Met’s department of professional standards, given that the complaint was about its behaviour in the first place, in the incomprehensible prosecution that he had to endure last year?
My hon. Friend raises a case that, as I know from our discussions and correspondence, he has taken very seriously and acted on for some time now. I recognise the issue that he has raised. There are questions around this case that relate not just to the IPCC and the police but to the Crown Prosecution Service, and I know that he has taken those up. I will reflect on the point that he made.
In part 3, for the first time, we will create a list of core police powers that may be exercised only by warranted officers, such as powers of arrest and stop and search. Police powers that do not form part of this reserved list can be conferred by a chief officer on a member of police staff or a volunteer, provided that they are suitable and capable of carrying out the relevant role and have received the appropriate training. This will ensure that chief officers have the flexibility and freedoms to make best use of the skills, experience and training of their workforce, whether they are warranted officers, police staff or volunteers.
As Members of this House are aware, volunteers have much to offer policing. Over 16,000 special constables regularly give up their time to help keep our communities safe. However, forces are missing out on opportunities to use those with specialist skills, for example in IT or forensic accountancy, who would be prepared to volunteer their time but do not want to become a special constable. It makes no sense that a chief officer can vest all the powers of a constable in a volunteer, but lacks the ability to confer on a volunteer a narrower set of powers relevant to a particular role. The existing law also puts unnecessary constraints on a chief officer who wishes to maximise the operational effectiveness of police staff. The Bill removes these barriers while strengthening the role of warranted officers. It confers on chief officers the ability to designate police staff and volunteers with those policing powers appropriate to their role.
I am committed to ensuring that the police have the powers they need to protect the public and to prevent, detect and investigate criminal offences, but we should continue to keep the coercive powers of the state under regular review to ensure that the rights of the individual are properly balanced against the need to keep our communities safe.
If I may, I will make a little more progress on this issue. In two instances—pre-charge bail and detention under the Mental Health Act 1983—we need to take action to ensure we get the balance right. Part 4 therefore contains a number of important reforms to police powers. In the case of pre-charge bail, it is apparent that a significant number of individuals have spent an inordinate amount of time on bail only to end up not being charged or, if charged, found not guilty. Of course, the police and prosecution need time to assemble and test the evidence, particularly in complex cases, before coming to a charging decision, but we need to recognise the stress caused when people are under investigation for prolonged periods, and the disruption to their lives where they are subject to onerous bail conditions.
I welcome the provision in clause 53 to increase safeguards for 17-year-olds, in recognition of the fact that they need to be treated as children when in police detention. However, there is also a strong argument for heavier sentences for adults who have been convicted of sexual assaults against 16 and 17-year-olds who, although over the age of consent, are still children in law. Will the Home Secretary consider that proposal?
The hon. Lady raises an interesting point. However, it is possible that the age of the individual can be used as an aggravating factor in relation to dealing with the offence, so it can be taken into account in the case of somebody who is 16 or 17.
Before coming specifically to the issue of mental health, I will deal with the bail proposals. To address the legitimate concerns that have been raised about the current arrangements, the Bill introduces a number of safeguards. First, it creates a presumption that a suspect will be released without bail conditions attached. Secondly, where it is necessary and proportionate to release on bail, this would normally last no longer than 28 days. Thirdly, if this initial period needs to be extended, it can be extended only up to three months on the authority of a superintendent, and any subsequent extension, for a maximum of three months at a time, must be authorised by a magistrates court. The Bill provides for a special procedure in complex cases, such as those investigated by the Serious Fraud Office, but the requirement that prolonged periods of pre-charge bail, and any conditions attached to that bail, are subject to judicial approval is clearly established in primary legislation.
The Government are committed to ensuring better outcomes for people with mental health problems. Those experiencing a mental health crisis and who present a danger to themselves or to others need rapid support and care from mental health professionals. They do not need locking up in a police cell for up to 72 hours.
Over the past couple of years, significant strides have been made in reducing the instances where police cells are used as places of safety, but we must do more. The amendments to the Mental Health Act 1983 will ensure that police cells can never be used as a place of safety for children and young people under 18, and that they are used only in genuinely exceptional circumstances in the case of adults.
I thank my right hon. Friend for all the work she has done with Black Mental Health UK in previous years. Will she meet Black Mental Health UK, Rethink Mental Illness, Mind and other interested parties to discuss their continuing concerns about sections 135 and 136 of the Mental Health Act? They all accept that the Home Secretary has made some fantastic strides in the Bill.
My hon. Friend, who has a fine record of campaigning on these issues, is right to raise that point. The organisations he mentions meet Ministers regularly through the crisis care concordat, but I am happy to look at their concerns. I hope that the Bill will go some way to dealing with some of the continuing concerns, notwithstanding the work we have done over the past few years in improving the police response to people who are at a point of mental health crisis.
I welcome some of the mental health changes being outlined by the Home Secretary, but there is an omission in relation to advocacy. Those individuals detained under sections 135 and 136 are not automatically allowed to have advocates. Will she look at that, because I think it would certainly strengthen some of the Bill’s reforms?
The hon. Gentleman makes an interesting point. Obviously, what we are trying to do through the Bill, the street triage pilots and the extra mental health provision in various parts of the country is to reduce the need for advocacy by reducing the amount of time people can spend in a police cell. Indeed, the Bill also reduces the maximum period of detention for the purposes of mental health assessment under sections 135 or 136 from 72 hours to 24 hours, with the possibility of an extension to 36 hours if a medical practitioner decides that it is clinically necessary. In parallel with those legislative changes, the Department of Health is making up to £15 million available in the coming year to improve the provision of health-based places of safety.
Will the Home Secretary join me in commending Devon and Cornwall police, who, through careful joint working, have made great strides in reducing the use of cells under section 136 over the past year? Does she agree that police forces also need to collect data on how long people are being detained in police vans? We do not want police cells to be substituted by police vans.
My hon. Friend raises an important point. Whenever we legislate, we have to consider the possible unintended consequences. Of course, the whole point of the street triage pilots and the availability of advice from mental healthcare professionals to the police is to ensure that somebody can be taken to a place of safety, not a police cell. A van is not an appropriate place to hold people, either. My hon. Friend is certainly right that we should look at the issues to make sure that we are not inadvertently creating another problem.
Despite what I said earlier, I apologise to my hon. Friend, but I need to make some progress. [Interruption.] The fickleness of woman!
Let me turn to the question of firearms. This coming Sunday will mark 20 years since the appalling murder of 16 children and a teacher at Dunblane Primary School. I am sure the whole House will want to join me in sending our deepest sympathies to those who lost loved ones and to the survivors of that terrible day. We are also reminded of the importance of firearms legislation in helping to prevent such events from happening again.
In this country, we have some of the toughest firearms controls in the world. It is no coincidence that the number of homicides and other crimes involving firearms is relatively low, but we must remain vigilant. Where there is clear evidence of loopholes in the law that can be exploited by terrorists and criminals, we must act to plug the gaps. The provisions in part 6 are directed towards that end.
After extensive consultation, the Law Commission has made a number of carefully considered recommendations for tightening up the firearms Acts. It is simply no longer sustainable, for example, to have uncertainty around what constitutes an antique firearm. The Bill therefore defines that and other terms so that it is clear when firearms, and their component parts, are subject to the controls under the firearms Acts. We are also introducing statutory guidance for police forces on the exercise of their licensing functions under the firearms Acts. That will ensure that the law is consistently applied and all appropriate checks are undertaken when considering someone’s suitability to hold a firearm or shotgun certificate.
Finally, part 8 strengthens the enforcement of financial sanctions, which are important foreign policy and national security tools. The effective implementation and enforcement of financial sanctions are vital to their success. To this end, the Bill increases from two to seven years’ imprisonment the maximum sentence that can be imposed following a criminal conviction for a breach offence, introduces new civil monetary penalties and extends the availability of deferred prosecution agreements and serious crime prevention orders.
If the hon. Lady will excuse me, I am virtually at the end of my speech, and I wish to finish.
Part 8 also introduces a mechanism to ensure that UN-mandated sanctions can be implemented without delay to minimise the opportunities for the dissipation of assets before new sanctions regimes come into force, and to help the UK comply with its international obligations.
I am grateful to the Secretary of State for giving way, and I appreciate that she is coming to a close. She began her speech by saying that crime had fallen, and it is important that we have clarity on that point. I draw her attention to an exchange between the Policing Minister and my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) last week. My hon. Friend asked the Minister whether crime would spike when online crime was added to the statistics. The Minister said:
“The National Audit Office suggested that that would be the case, and we have to accept that.”—[Official Report, 1 March 2016; Vol. 606, c. 917.]
Was the Minister right to say that, and will crime go up when those figures are added?
The statement that I made about crime falling is based on the independent crime survey of England and Wales. That shows clearly that crime has fallen since 2010 by more than a quarter. What we are now doing is recognising that certain types of crime have not been fully recorded in the past. Cybercrime did not suddenly start in May 2015. Cybercrime and fraud took place under the last Labour Government as well as under subsequent Governments. We are now recording those figures and ensuring that they are available to the public. I welcome the fact that we are being open with people about different sorts of crimes that have been committed in the past but were hidden under the last Labour Government.
I am virtually on my last sentence. The Bill will continue the Government’s commitment to reform public services, not for the sake of it but to deliver more responsive, accountable police forces that continue to cut crime and keep our communities safe. I commend the Bill to the House.
The Opposition welcome most of the measures in the Bill. Indeed, we have led calls for some of them over many years. In the last Parliament, I am proud to say that the shadow Health team, and in particular my hon. Friend the Member for Liverpool, Wavertree (Luciana Berger), raised public awareness of the growing practice of holding in police cells people who are in mental health crisis. We congratulate the Home Secretary on acting to outlaw that practice, and she will have our full support in doing so.
The Home Secretary will also have our full support on measures in the Bill to do with firearms, as she has just explained, alcohol licensing and child sexual exploitation. However, I urge the Government to read what my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) has said about the action plan that was published a year ago. She pointed out that there has not been sufficient progress on a number of points within it. I encourage the Government to take action quickly. In other areas, such as the reform of police complaints, accountability and police bail, we have long called for change and, encouragingly, there now appears to be consensus for it. However, we do not think that the Government have gone far enough. As I will come on to explain, we will press for changes in those areas to strengthen the Bill.
On the theme of changes, Labour’s First Minister of Wales has today aligned with Plaid Cymru in calling for policing to be devolved, so will the right hon. Gentleman assure me that his party will support Carwyn Jones and will table amendments to devolve policing to Wales?
That is an interesting proposal, but it is the view of the Labour party in Wales. It is not yet the view of the party at UK level, but we will give it serious consideration.
Let me be clear: welcome as many of the measures are, the Bill falls short of providing what our emergency services need. It does not add up to a convincing vision for the reform of emergency services that is equal to the scale of future challenges or the threat we face as a country. Right now, our police and fire services are halfway through a decade of real-terms cuts. The Home Secretary began by claiming that her record was one of reform. The reform we are seeing is in fact the demise of the successful neighbourhood policing model that she inherited from the previous Government. She has presided over worryingly low morale across police and fire services, as is also the case—on the Health Secretary’s part—in the ambulance service. That low morale needs to be addressed.
We all know that savings have to be made, but no one will be impressed by the Home Secretary’s complacent answers when such points were made earlier. Is my right hon. Friend aware that West Midlands police has lost 1,538 officers or 18% of the total, compared with Thames Valley police—her area—which has lost just 90 officers or 2% of the total? Is he aware that West Midlands police is set to lose another £10 million of funding, the biggest cut for any force outside London?
My hon. Friend makes precisely the point I was coming on to make. Whatever Ministers claim, 36 of the 43 police forces face cash cuts in the coming year, while all of them face real-terms cuts. As he has said, West Midlands police will lose £10 million in real terms—the precept does not cover that—and my own Greater Manchester police will lose £8 million. At the same time, he needs to consider the cuts to fire services, because West Midlands fire service will have a cut of 45% in its budget over the decade. In effect, the budget will halve, and the same is also true for Greater Manchester. [Interruption.] It is true. Ministers seem not to know that fire services are being cut in half. I put it to the Home Secretary and her police and fire services Minister that that prompts this question: can they be sure that their cuts to police and fire services are not exposing our big cities to unacceptable levels of risk? What assessment have they made of their capability to deal with a major incident or a Paris-style attack? Experts in the fire and rescue service would argue that their cuts have already gone too far.
I do not think that the hon. Gentleman can have been paying attention. We have just had an exchange in which the Home Secretary acknowledged that online crime is about to be added to the crime figures. As he may know from his constituency postbag, crime has changed in recent years. We have seen reductions in traditional volume crime—burglary, car crime—and crime has moved online. When Ministers stand at the Dispatch Box and complacently say that crime has fallen, I am afraid that they are not representing the real picture. The real picture will look very different when the figures are published in a couple of months’ time.
There is a simple answer: because the current practice was recommended by the independent Office for National Statistics. The Home Secretary may want to take credit for everything, but I am afraid that she cannot do so. It was independently recommended, and just as the previous Labour Government accepted statisticians’ independent recommendations, so must she. The picture will soon look very different, and I caution her against the complacent statement, which she made again today, that crime has fallen. Crime has changed, and the figures will soon show that crime has in fact doubled.
I believe we would all accept that the right hon. Gentleman is right that crime is changing, but does he accept that crime fighting should also change and that one decent, talented computer programmer can achieve more against cybercrime than 1,000 uniformed police officers?
I agree with the hon. Gentleman that cybercrime or online crime is one of the biggest challenges that we face, but there would probably be agreement across the Floor of the House that, among the 43 police forces in England and Wales, there is not yet the capability to investigate cybercrime. That is an issue for everybody. My question is how those forces will develop that capability if they face year upon year of real-terms cuts? I just do not think that that is sustainable.
The hon. Gentleman must also think about public safety and the cuts to fire services. There are cuts to the fire service in London and thousands of the number of firefighters, pumps and stations is being cut all over the country. Thousands more are set to go following a local government settlement that has inflicted the biggest cuts on urban areas. The embarrassing truth for Ministers is that if their northern powerhouse catches fire, there will be no one there to put it out.
As a former chairman of the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority, I ask the right hon. Gentleman whether he will concede that at the same time as the reductions that he has spoken of, the London fire brigade had the best performance year in its recent history.
Again, I urge Government Members not to be so complacent. The hon. Gentleman may have seen that there was a fire in north London, around Euston, in the last couple of weeks where the London fire brigade missed its response target and, sadly, there was a fatality. I would not be so complacent if I were him, because fire services up and down the country are missing their recommended response times. If he believes that the cuts to London’s fire brigade and to fire and rescue services around the country can carry on in the way that his party proposes, I think he is putting public safety at serious risk.
The Government’s answer to the funding challenges is to have greater collaboration and greater use of volunteers. Neither is wrong in principle; the question is how they will be implemented. There are risks inherent in both policies if they are done in the wrong way. Together, they do not add up to a convincing solution for the future of emergency services. Patching two leaky buckets together does not make one that works. As the police and crime commissioner for Northumbria, Vera Baird, said today, the Bill looks suspiciously like a plan for “policing on the cheap”.
My right hon. Friend talked about leaky buckets a few seconds ago. This country has faced tremendous floods over the past few months, and fire and police services have been stretched to the limit and have drawn in resources from all over the country. What will happen if there is a much more widespread flooding problem in the future? We will not have the resources, will we?
What I have heard from my fire services in the north-west is that they did not have enough resources to cope. Greater Manchester fire services were drawn up to Cumbria when the bad weather hit, but when the flooding came down to Greater Manchester, they did not have enough resources to cover it. We heard at Christmas about a hastily concocted plan to cut the incident response units, which are there to deal with a dirty bomb. These cuts are going too far. The question the Government have to answer is simple: can they give us a guarantee that there are enough fire and police resources in place to ensure that if a major incident or Paris-style attack were to happen in one of our big cities, public safety would not be compromised? I do not believe that they have answered that question and, until they do, I will keep on asking it.
As I was saying, the Bill looks like a plan for policing on the cheap. I will come back to part 1 later, but first I will go through the measures that we support.
Part 2 deals with police accountability. Although there has been progress in that area, I think it would be accepted on both sides of the House that there is much further to go. Ongoing historical cases such as Hillsborough, Orgreave, and the Daniel Morgan murder, stand as testimony to the uphill struggle that ordinary people face in holding the police to account, even when there is clear evidence of wrongdoing. As the Home Secretary said, there is no sign that public confidence has improved, given that so many people who are dissatisfied choose not to pursue their complaint.
There is also evidence that the current system is not as fair as it should be to police officers who face disciplinary charges, with professional standards branches encouraged to adopt a heavy-handed approach. We agree with the Government that the system for handling complaints is in need of serious reform, and we welcome clarification that all complaints should be recorded, ending the confusion that comes with leaving that decision up to police officers. I give a cautious welcome to the new role for police and crime commissioners in that area, but it is still early days for PCCs, and many have yet to show that they can effectively hold a whole police force to account. An individual who is close to the force on operational matters may struggle to hold it to account on disciplinary matters. That is an open question, and the Government should not have too much trust that that will materialise.
I am sure my right hon. Friend welcomes the fact that the Independent Police Complaints Commission will be able to bring misconduct charges for officers who have retired. Does it seem strange, however, that the only penalty that seems to have been proposed for a retired officer who is found guilty of misconduct is to say to them, “You can’t come back and work in the police force”? That is no penalty at all if they have already retired.
I will come to that point in a moment, but I agree with my hon. Friend and I will demonstrate why his point is entirely valid.
We support measures in the Bill to refocus and rename the IPCC, and to strengthen its independence by allowing it to initiate its own investigations and carry them out directly, rather than relying on police forces. We also support protections for whistleblowers, and potentially the most powerful proposal in the Bill is the power to bring super-complaints.
I recently held a seminar with Baroness Doreen Lawrence, which brought together groups that are still campaigning for justice, such as the Shrewsbury 24 campaign, the Orgreave Truth and Justice campaign, and Justice 4 Daniel. There are common threads between them all, but the way the system works currently forces them all to plough their own furrow individually, and it does not allow them to join forces. The super-complaint proposal could rebalance the system in their favour, which is why I welcome it so strongly.
I know that the Home Secretary has still to publish details on how that proposal will work, but I offer to work with her and I encourage her to allow a number of often small campaign groups to bring a complaint together. For instance, if the Stephen Lawrence campaign had been able to join forces with the Daniel Morgan campaign, or if the Orgreave campaign had been able to join forces with the Hillsborough families, history could have been very different. At our seminar we heard from all campaigns about something that they hold in common: the unacceptable levels of collusion between the police and the press. If the Government fail to honour the police’s promise to victims of phone hacking and to set up the second Leveson inquiry—as we have been led to believe from reports—I hope that the route of the super-complaint will open up another avenue for campaigners.
The right hon. Gentleman said that it is still early days for police and crime commissioners, but less than a year ago the Labour party was arguing for their abolition. People will soon go to the polls to elect new PCCs in Hampshire and around the country. Could we have clarity: will PCCs exist under a future Labour Government, or will they be abolished?
I have been very clear about that. With the election things have changed, and we do not oppose police and crime commissioners. I am prepared to give them a chance and I believe in stronger accountability for the police. I did say—I stand by this—that it is hard for one individual, albeit an elected individual, to hold the weight and might of an entire police force to account, particularly when that person is also dealing with operational matters. That is a stretch, and I do not think that the office of PCC has yet shown itself able to do that. I would prefer to build on the model of the PCC and broaden it out, perhaps more to a London-style model where a broader range of people hold the police force to account.
Is the right hon. Gentleman aware that: police and crime commissioners do not have operational responsibilities; this measure would transfer powers away from the chief constable to the PCC, thereby adding a layer of independence; and that if a complaint was serious, the IPCC is there to deal with it independently?
Of course the PCC works with the chief constable to set budgets and priorities, and of course that has an impact on the priorities of the police—the relationship is complicated. I am not setting my face against it, but I say to the Government that, as I will come on to explain, just throwing fire services in with PCCs has not been thought through adequately.
One of the most welcome proposals in the Bill, as my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock) said a moment ago, is the closing of the loophole whereby officers can escape disciplinary proceedings by resigning or retiring. Clause 22 stipulates that disciplinary proceedings may be initiated up to 12 months after somebody has left the force. I welcome the intention, but the 12-month period could, as my hon. Friend said, be unduly restrictive. We know from recent experience that it may take many more years for campaigners to uncover wrongdoing. Many of the Hillsborough families feel very strongly indeed about this, yet the measure would not have helped them. Why is there any time limit at all? Wrongdoing, whenever it occurred, needs to be corrected and people need to be held to account. Will the full range of disciplinary sanctions be applied, including reductions to pension entitlement in the most serious cases? That is what campaigners want to see.
Reform of police bail is also overdue. The current system has been criticised from both sides: that it unfairly leaves people languishing for long periods; and that, for those who pose more of a risk to the public, it is toothless. What is therefore needed is a more targeted approach that does not place unfair restrictions on the liberty of people who are low-risk or whose guilt is far from proven, but is much tougher where it needs to be, in particular in cases of serious crime or terrorism. I have to say, however, that on this the Bill does only half a job. It relaxes police bail requirements for the majority of people, but it fails to bring in tougher conditions for those who pose a greater risk. We welcome the new presumption against bail and the time limits, but it has been suggested that because the threshold for extension is so low it simply requires an officer to have acted diligently the proposals may make little difference in practice. I hope that is not the case.
The big problem is that the Government have failed to act on toughening up the police bail regime. The case of Siddhartha Dhar, who absconded while on police bail and went to Syria via Dover, is a prime example of the unacceptable loophole in the current system. People will find it truly shocking that terror suspects can waltz out of the country without any real difficulty. I find it astounding that the Government have not moved to close the loophole.
The shadow Home Secretary is right to raise this important point and case, which the Select Committee considered and took evidence on. One issue is the ability of agencies to communicate immediately when passports are to be surrendered. Does not my right hon. Friend agree that as well as changing the law, we need to change practice so that the police immediately inform the Passport Office, which then informs Border Force? That all needs to be done immediately when there is a terror suspect.
Absolutely. People would expect that terror suspects would be placed on watch lists immediately —the minute they are placed on police bail—but it appears that that did not happen in this case.
The Prime Minister told the Liaison Committee in January that he would look carefully at stronger police bail powers, but the Bill does not deliver them and nor does it close the loophole. The basic problem is that police bail conditions are not enforceable. As such, the Bill misses a major opportunity, so we will press the Government hard in Committee to correct the situation. We need a tougher and targeted police bail regime that, when dealing with more serious offences, can impose enforceable sanctions, such as the confiscation of passports and travel documents in terrorism-related cases.
The proposed reforms on mental health are timely and much needed. Given the levels of stress and insecurity inherent in 21st-century living, mental health will be one of the greatest—if not the greatest—health challenges of this century, so it is essential that the police and the criminal justice system develop basic standards to deal with it. We therefore strongly welcome moves to ban the use of police cells for children in crisis and to introduce limits on their use for adults, and we also support limiting the time for which people can be held. Our concern is not with the measures themselves, but whether they can be delivered in practice.
As shadow Health Secretary, I revealed in the previous Parliament how the Government had not honoured their commitment to parity between physical and mental health, but instead cut mental health more deeply than other parts of the NHS. As a consequence, mental health services in many parts of the country are today in crisis. Only last week, Richard Barber, a councillor from Golborne in my constituency, contacted me to say that he had worked with professionals for two days to help to find a tier 4 bed for a highly vulnerable young man who was close to suicide. Shockingly, no beds were available anywhere in the country. As the Royal College of Psychiatrists has pointed out, banning the use of cells, as welcome as that is, does not solve the problem of why those cells are used in the first place. Similarly, reducing the time limit for assessment does not itself guarantee enough trained professionals to deliver the new standard.
The combination of the changes could put professionals in a difficult position. Assessments to detain under the Mental Health Act 1983 cannot be completed until a bed has been identified, so the Bill could put professionals in the invidious position of having to choose between breaking the law, by going over the 24-hour period if a bed cannot be identified, and not breaking the law but releasing someone who should be detained. It is therefore essential that, alongside the Bill, the Home Secretary and the Health Secretary issue new instructions to health service commissioners to open sufficient beds and train sufficient professionals to deliver these welcome new commitments.
Does my right hon. Friend agree that one omission is that this information is not kept nationally? If we are to monitor whether what is proposed is being put into practice, we will need that information, but at the moment it is not available. Without it, we will never determine whether we are meeting the targets.
That is the problem. Professionals searching for a bed are in a desperate position because of the lack of information. The risk is that if the new requirements come into law without a plan to commission the extra beds and professionals needed, that could have perverse consequences by putting professionals in a difficult position. I hope that that does not happen, but I say to the Home Secretary that much more than £15 million will be needed to create adequate bed capacity to deal with the problem.
Finally, I come to the proposals that give us the greatest concern, the first of which is for a major expansion in the number of volunteers. The Home Secretary was right to praise the role of specials, but we argue that volunteers should add value, rather than replace core police provision. As we have revealed, police forces in England are facing a decade of real-terms cuts. We lost 18,000 officers in the last Parliament, and many more are set to go in this one. That is the context in which the House must consider the proposal in the Bill to extend the use of volunteers.
The House should not endorse the principle that volunteers can safely backfill the gaps left by cuts to policing. As has been pointed out, the Bill in effect gives police volunteers the ability to use CS gas and PAVA spray, but most people would argue that those functions should be restricted to full-time officers. We are not opposed to the greater use of volunteers, but they should come on top of a protected core of police officers to add value, rather than being replacements.
I say to all Government Members that an increased reliance on volunteers is no way to backfill cuts to core provision. Volunteers can add value—they can extend the reach of emergency services—but they are no substitute when filling the gaps left by cuts to front-line services that potentially leave the public at risk. The hon. Gentleman might be happy with a part-time police force or a part-time fire service, but I can tell him that most of my constituents would argue that that is not acceptable and that we need sufficient full-time resources on the front line to keep people safe.
Will the right hon. Gentleman take this opportunity to correct what I can only assume to be an inadvertent slur on the many thousands of people in the part-time police force, the part-time fire service and the part-time armed forces who put their lives at risk, and do so because they are driven by a sense of public duty? Will he take this opportunity to remove that slur on the professionalism of all those individuals?
Clearly the hon. Gentleman was not listening because I praised the role of police specials and said that there was a role for volunteers. I happen to believe, however, that it is not fair to put those volunteers in dangerous positions without the powers, without the training and without the resources to do the job properly. If he thinks that emergency services that are increasingly run by volunteers represents the right way for us to go, I can inform him that Opposition Members seriously disagree with him.
The most worrying part of the Bill is part 1, given its implications for the future of fire and rescue services. Fire services have already faced severe cuts over the past five years, and they face another five years of deep cuts to front-line services. Our worry is that the Bill could make them even more vulnerable and could lead to fire and rescue services disappearing altogether as separate services. There is a real concern that the proposals to put fire under the control of police and crime commissioners has simply not been thought through. I am sure that the Home Secretary agrees that this is a major change, so will she answer this question: where is the Green Paper or the White Paper examining the pros and cons for such a change to the governance of our emergency services?
Putting aside the fact that we consulted on collaboration between the police and fire services, the right hon. Gentleman says that he does not think that those services should come together, so perhaps he will explain why his colleague, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey), said last October:
“I think that police and fire services logically sit within the context of a combined authority.”—[Official Report, 14 October 2015; Vol. 600, c. 376.]
I am afraid that the Home Secretary needs to be corrected on a lot of that. First, although, yes, she did consult, she consulted purely on the process by which a PCC would take over fire, not the principle of whether they should do so. I stand entirely by the comments of my hon. Friend the Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey). A combined authority is not a police and crime commissioner; it is a very different thing altogether. Such a structure keeps fire within local government, which is where it has been for some time.
There is another reason why independence is important. The Home Secretary proposes a single-employer model, which could lead to the end of a separate fire service, but there are good reasons why the fire service has traditionally been separate from the police. In some inner-city areas with a history of tension with the police, the independence of the fire service is important because that means that the service can continue to operate even if there are difficulties or a stand-off with the police.
The Knight review considered the possible benefits of greater collaboration, which we support, and an expanded role for PCCs, but it also advised the Government to pilot the proposal carefully, given the complexity of governance. However, the Bill goes much further than that and, most worryingly of all, it takes away any say for local people. It effectively allows a PCC to make a case to the Home Secretary and then gives her full power to decide, thus completely cutting out the role of local elected representatives, not to mention the public. What on earth happened to the Government’s commitment to devolution? Just as with metro mayors, it looks like these expanded PCCs will be mandated from the centre. The Government have not made the case for changing the fire service in this way, and nor have they shown how the independence and funding of the fire service will be protected under the new system. The fire service, as the junior partner in the arrangement, will be more vulnerable to cuts.
I know that the concerns I have outlined are held by not only Labour councillors, but Conservative councillors, as the nods that I see from Government Members appear to indicate. I give notice tonight that unless the Government can show how fire services will be protected, with local people given the final say, Labour will vote on Report to oppose this ill-thought proposal. Our fire services have been chopped and changed enough. It is time to make a stand for the fire service and to show the thousands of dedicated firefighters that we recognise their important separate role. Rather than letting the service end up as a division of the police, which is what the Government seem to want, Labour will propose an alternative future for the fire and rescue service and how it responds to future challenges, which will include a statutory responsibility to deal with flooding.
I am sure that I have heard the Policing Minister say more than once that he used to be a fireman. Well, it seems that this former fireman has been given a mission—perhaps to lull people into a sense of false security—of overseeing the demise of the fire service as a separate entity. I can tell him tonight that we are not going to let it go without a fight.
As the right hon. Gentleman knows, we have worked together on many matters. I respect his opinion and I have listened to what he has said. However, notwithstanding the Fire Brigades Union bluster, he must understand one thing. He has said that crime is changing, although he refuses to accept that it is falling, but it is a fact that demand on the fire and rescue service has been on a downward trend for the past 10 years—it has fallen by about 42% in England during that time. Does he not accept that, and does he not accept that that is the reason for part of the change that the Bill is delivering?
Crime has fallen—that is absolutely correct—but the risk of a major incident has risen lately, and the recent floods have shown that the emergency services can face considerable pressures. It is not for me to set out the right level of provision; it is for the Government to say how far the fire cuts can go before we expose the public to unacceptable risk. Does the hon. Gentleman think it is acceptable for the fire service in Greater Manchester to be effectively cut in half? Many experts in my area do not consider that that is acceptable and believe that the cuts have already gone too far. It is for the Government to prove that they will guarantee public safety.
The back-of-an-envelope plans for police volunteers and merged emergency services spoil what would otherwise be a good Bill. The Home Secretary and I have worked constructively together in the past, so I hope that she may be prepared to work with me to address some of the concerns that I have outlined. In that spirit, Labour will not vote against the Bill, but unless there are real moves towards a tougher police bail regime, more accountability for retired police officers and better protection for the fire service, we will seek Divisions in the House on Report. Come what may, we will continue to argue that our emergency services cannot keep us safe in a changing world when we have year-on-year cuts such as these. What the services need is a convincing, funded plan for the future that they can get behind and that can keep the public safe, and if the Government will not provide that, Labour will.
I am aware that some Bills are driven by the civil service and some are driven by No. 10, but this Bill is driven by the Home Secretary, and I congratulate her on that. I have worked closely with her over the past few years in many of the areas covered by the Bill, and I know that she has held meetings at the Home Office with a variety of interested parties who, in the past, may not have had access to the Home Office. I also know that she has hosted conferences, including, in 2013, a conference with Black Mental Health UK at the QEII Centre to discuss policing in respect of, in particular, African-Caribbean people with mental health problems. Once again—and I am not ashamed to say it—I congratulate the Home Secretary on bringing the Bill to the House.
I also congratulate my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris). He is the unsung hero of the debate on mental health, both in the context of the Bill and when the Secretary of State for Health is addressing the House. He is chairman of the all-party parliamentary group on mental health, a job he has done for more than two years, and he has been dogged and determined in pursuit of many of the reforms that are contained in the Bill. He is a great man, and we are all lucky to have him here today.
We need to be clear that we cannot simply will places of safety into being. I know that the Home Secretary understands that. We cannot just shut our eyes and think really hard and hope that it is all going to be all right. There is a need for the political drive and determination to provide them, so that people can be looked after and treated with respect during their time of crisis.
The Home Secretary is absolutely right to say that a police cell is no place for an ill person. Being ill is not a criminal offence. Being ill and black is not a criminal offence, but we know that people of African Caribbean descent who are suffering a mental health crisis are more likely to be subjected to force, to be detained or to be subjected to a community treatment order. That is not right. We need to address these unfairnesses in the system, because they are ensuring that a large number of people who need our help are frightened to engage with those who are able to offer it, because their experience up to this point has been so unsatisfactory. That is one of my pleas today.
We cannot make demands on the police to change the way they do things in providing places of safety unless we actually provide places of safety. My experience of the police is that, in most cases, they want to do the right and proper thing by the people they are protecting and looking after. Most police officers are left distraught at the idea of having to take an ill person or a young person to a police cell as opposed to putting them into the care of healthcare professionals in a hospital or a place of safety that has a bed to offer them.
This is not in the Home Secretary’s gift, but the truth is that there are not enough beds in this country for mentally ill people who are suffering a real crisis. There is nothing more boring than Members of Parliament standing up in this place and saying, “Well, I’ve been warning about this for years”, but I am going to be boring because I and others have been warning about this for the past 10 years. My right hon. Friend the Member for New Forest East (Dr Lewis) and I were warning about it before being joined by my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis in this place six years ago. We need more beds, and I hope that the Home Secretary will be uncompromising in her discussions with colleagues in the Department of Health to ensure that they are in a position to support our police officers in doing the right thing and the best thing.
My hon. Friend is genuinely trying to be constructive and to find a way forward, but I just do not think that police stations are the right place to take ill people. It might be unavoidable in some circumstances, but we need to minimise those circumstances. All too often a police cell is used as a place of safety, but that is not right. However, I entirely accept the spirit in which he made his intervention.
Does the hon. Gentleman agree that someone having a heart attack is in crisis and in a life-threatening situation, and that, likewise, someone who is in severe mental torture is experiencing a crisis and in a potentially life-threatening situation as well? Why does he think the two should be treated differently?
My hon. Friend—for that is what I call him—knows that I do not think that the two should be treated differently, which is why he and I have joined forces on so many occasions in the past and will do so in the future to make sure that the reality changes. There is slow progress, but it is progress none the less. My hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis is helping us to make progress, but I do not disagree with my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones).
As well as a lack of acute beds, the choice of health-based places of safety for an assessment in many places is incredibly limited. I will now draw on the excellent and concise briefing provided by the Royal College of Psychiatrists. According to the Care Quality Commission map, there are no health-based places of safety for under-16-year-olds in many local authority areas, including Devon, Norfolk, Lincolnshire, Bristol or Bath. That is not good and it is not sustainable.
It is not all doom and gloom. There is clear evidence that, where local areas have emphasised long-term preventive measures and put in place crisis outreach and triage teams, they have already improved their services, so they would easily be able to provide the care set out in the Bill. We have heard from the Home Secretary —it is worth repeating—that the crisis care concordat has been a great driver. She also knows that most Department of Health-funded schemes have managed to reduce significantly the number of people being detained under section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983. For example, in areas where street triage is operating—this is not in the whole force area, but specific parts of a force’s area—pilots have delivered massive reductions in the use of section 136. I recall my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis having an Adjournment debate on that very subject a year ago.
I have huge respect for the hon. Gentleman and for his campaigning on these issues over many years. I am listening to his speech carefully. Does he agree with the point that I made that £15 million is not enough, as there is a huge shortage of crisis beds across the country? Does he think that there may be risks in enacting these proposals before major investment is put into mental health crisis services?
I do agree that we need more beds. It cannot be right that children and adults at a point of crisis are sometimes driven hundreds of miles from their homes to receive treatment. The right hon. Gentleman may recall that one of his predecessors, the right hon. Member for Kingston upon Hull West and Hessle (Alan Johnson), had an Adjournment debate a few months ago on how we treat children who are in mental health crisis, and he pointed out that one of his constituents was being treated 200 miles from his family home. That is not acceptable. The right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) did say that, outside the cut and thrust of this place, he had a good working relationship with the Home Secretary. It would be fantastic if, on this matter, the two Front-Bench teams could work closely together, along with the Secretary of State for Health, to make sure we get this right.
Let me look briefly at the successes of triage, of which my hon. Friend the Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis will be aware. There has been a 20% reduction in Derbyshire; 13% in Devon and Cornwall; 39% in Thames Valley; 31% in Sussex; 27% in the west midlands; and 26% in West Yorkshire. The reductions in the number of people being put under police custody under section 136 in these areas were greater still. For example, there was a 50% reduction in Derbyshire; 85% in Thames Valley; 11% in Devon and Cornwall; and 44% in West Yorkshire. Those are real numbers that have real meaning and that are making a real difference to many people’s lives.
The Royal College of Psychiatrists and other interested parties are calling for the Bill to be amended so that the Secretary of State for Health is obliged to report back to Parliament on the range of crisis responses in each area. That could include street triage teams, availability of acute psychiatric care beds, and health-based places of safety. That sort of information would help the Home Secretary and her team to deliver on their worthwhile pledge, and that pledge needs the support of the Department of Health.
I have spoken for longer than I wanted to, but, in conclusion, I point out that a mental health event is not a criminal event. It is a health crisis. We need to look after people with care and compassion and commitment. It is no good just talking about things. It is no good looking good, as some woman once said to me—it is important that we spend more time being good. We need to be good, not to look good.
I welcome the opportunity to speak in today’s debate and share the sentiments of the Secretary of State in recognising the 10-year anniversary of the events in Dunblane.
In Scotland, we have seen a record reduction in the number of crimes committed in the past 40 years, and violent crime is down by almost 50%. Crime risk is lower in Scotland than in the rest of the UK and the police budget will be protected in real terms, despite a 9% cut to Scotland’s budget. That has allowed additional support for a wide range of services, including community policing, specialist support for forensics services, tackling serious and organised crime, drug enforcement and counter-terrorism work. I will not be able to vote on much of what is contained in the Bill, yet it will have some impact on my constituents. In those parts that affect Scotland, the Government must do all they can to provide assurances and clarity.
Specifically, concerns have been raised about the immigration powers in the Bill. Article 33 of the refugee convention states:
“No Contracting State shall expel or return…a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened”.
That fundamental duty is one of the central pillars, if not the central pillar, of the refugee convention and the Government are bound by that duty as a matter of domestic and international law. It is therefore concerning that clauses 62 and 66 appear to give the Secretary of State power to require ships intercepted in UK water to be detained and sent to a port outside the UK. The charity Liberty is worried that that purports to give the Secretary of State powers to refoule refugees on any such boats by returning them to foreign ports.
Nothing in the proposals requires the Secretary of State or her enforcement officers to use those powers in a way that is compatible with the refugee convention and the work of the European Court of Human Rights. They must lawfully process and assess those people’s claims to asylum and determine whether they can be lawfully removed according to the Dublin regime. Nor can the Government use their enforcement powers to identify alleged breaches of the UK’s immigration law to impose penalties or bar refugees from making asylum claims on that basis. I therefore ask the Minister to say unambiguously today that he intends to comply with the refugee convention and the European Court of Human Rights.
The SNP is supportive of the provisions in the Bill on firearms, but a number of elements may extend the competences of the Scottish Parliament and I ask the Minister to assure the House that he will work closely with the Scottish Government to ensure the problems do not arise and that consent motions are sought when required. In particular, I seek assurances from the Government that the provisions about lethal barrelled weapons do not impact on the Air Weapons and Licensing (Scotland) Act 2015. On that note, the provision in the Bill on fees could potentially extend the executive competence of Scottish Ministers and would therefore require a legislative consent motion.
Giving police the power to require arrested persons to state their nationality, applying to arrests for all offences, seems to go beyond the purpose of immigration. It will affect devolved powers on policing and the investigation of crime and therefore the UK Government must continue to engage with the Scottish Government on those powers. In Scotland, our police forces can already ask any person who is detained to provide details of their nationality, and those powers will be replicated in the Criminal Justice (Scotland) Act 2016.
If passed, the Bill would represent a real change to the law in Scotland on police questioning on arrest and in custody. Currently, those arrested or detained must, when required, provide information about their nationality. Failure to do so constitutes an offence, the maximum penalty for which, as the law stands, is a fine. The Bill, however, would increase the maximum sentence in Scotland for failure to state nationality on arrest to both a 12-month term of imprisonment and a fine. It also introduces, again in Scotland, a power to require such a person to produce a nationality document, with the failure to do so constituted a new offence with the same maximum sentence. Such changes represent an important increase in the significance of such powers to any individual whose nationality is called into question on arrest. They could also implicate the devolution settlement and the Sewel convention since they concern devolved matters. I therefore urge the UK Government to engage with the Scottish Government on these provisions and to ensure that the powers will not undermine the wider police powers to ask questions on nationality.
Finally, it is imperative that any implications for Scotland of this legislation are scrutinised closely. Again, I urge the Minister to work closely with the Scottish Government to monitor any impact the Bill could have on the devolved Parliament.
We have a very close relationship.
As my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne has pointed out, in my role as chair of the all-party parliamentary group on mental health I very much welcome the parts of the Bill that relate to sections 135 and 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983. It is an issue in which I have long taken an interest in this House, and I had an Adjournment debate on it in Westminster Hall in 2013.
A number of people have influenced my thinking about the importance of the changes in the Bill, particularly as regards some of the work that has been done by West Midlands police. In particular, I want to mention Inspector Michael Brown, who has an interesting blog that other hon. Members might wish to look at. He is a mental health blogger and came to see me in my constituency office four or five years ago to talk about how the nature of policing was changing in society, the importance of dealing with mental health on the ground, and how the nature of policing meant that police officers were putting themselves in situations in which they were essentially having to make decisions about whether or not to use the powers under the Mental Health Act, as well as about whether they had the ability, knowledge and training to make such decisions.
If we look at the history of the Mental Health Act, we can see that it was initially conceived to cope with people who were absconding from asylums. It was updated in 1983, including through the section 135 and 136 provisions, and today’s changes are very important as the Mental Health Act needs to reflect the more modern experience of policing and of working with health professionals. Sometimes, we need to question whether we should go further in changing the Mental Health Act, because one downside of police officers specifically being given powers to detain people is that that raises issues to do with liberty and whether somebody is capable of making their own decisions, even when they are in mental health crisis. The fundamental point, which my hon. Friend also made, is that I do not think that any civilised person would say that there should be any circumstances in which a child suffering a mental health crisis ends up in a police cell. I welcome the changes to section 136.
The Bill also confers regulation-making powers on the Secretary of State to define when an adult should legitimately be placed in a police cell.
I thank my hon. Friend for giving way, and particularly commend the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker). Through the Bill we are trying to say—including to the other agencies to which the shadow Home Secretary referred—that a police cell or a police vehicle is not the place for someone in a mental health crisis. As the Ministers responsible for policing, we have to say that we are the port of last resort, not the port of first resort, which, I am afraid, is a situation that the section 135 and 136 legislation has got us into in some parts of the country. We need to get away from that.
I thank the Minister for that intervention. He makes a powerful point. I have been a strong advocate of the street triage schemes that have been rolled out across the country. I was taken out by the street triage team in Birmingham and sped on a blue light to the centre of Birmingham, where a man was threatening to throw himself off the new Birmingham library. As the Minister knows, street triage is an effective combination of a police officer and a trained psychiatric nurse, both of whom present themselves at the point of crisis. That is the way we need to go, where we do more to get the police working with health professionals.
I apologise for further delaying the House. Where it has not been possible for whatever reason to get the street triage team to the scene, we can have mental health professionals in custody suites. That point of entry gets around the data protection issues and people, who often know the mental health professionals, can be treated in a completely different, more civilised way, as we would expect our constituents to be treated.
Street triage sounds ideal and superb. Am I correct in assuming that the psychiatric nurse and the police officer both have negotiator training? My hon. Friend mentioned an incident in which someone was threatening to throw himself off a roof. Is negotiation part of the training of the street triage team?
Such teams find themselves in extremely difficult and often dangerous situations, in which they have to deploy negotiation skills, as well as assessing the condition of an individual. That is vital work being done at street level.
I very much welcome the changes and the reduction in the time that somebody can be detained under the Mental Health Act but, as my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne and others said, we should aspire to reduce it further to less than 24 hours. We should seek an appropriate length of time for somebody to be assessed psychiatrically for the nature of their condition. The reforms in the Bill should be considered as part of a cross-government approach to dealing with people with mental health problems.
The changes that the Bill introduces should be seen not in isolation, but in the context of the availability of places of safety, which my hon. Friend talked about. The £12 million or £14 million identified by the Home Office in conjunction with the Department of Health is a start, but we need much more emphasis on further funding to provide acute psychiatric places, including the roll-out of liaison psychiatry in accident and emergency departments.
The crisis care concordat introduced by the previous Government has been an effective mechanism for bringing together various partners to improve crisis care. Much more work across government is needed to increase its effectiveness.
Although the number of deaths in custody has not been high, some of those have been of people detained under section 136 of the Mental Health Act. We should be mindful of the issues raised by the use of restraint by police officers in such cases. I highlight that to the Minister as an issue that needs to be considered. There is some evidence that in certain circumstances the police have used excessive restraining powers when dealing with people under sections 135 and 136 of the Act.
I welcome the broadening of the definition of a place of safety under section 135, which can mean somebody being kept in their own home, or in close proximity to where the crisis incident took place in order for them to be assessed appropriately.
These are changes which many people have called for over many years. I am very pleased that the Home Secretary and the Front-Bench team have listened to the representations made by police officers on the ground and by health care professionals. The way we treat people in a state of mental health crisis says much about the sort of society we want to build. These are significant steps in improving our approach to dealing with people in mental health crisis, but they are only one part of the story.
We need to do more work to achieve parity of esteem between mental and physical health, and we are some way along the route. The Government have made a series of welcome announcements on mental health in the past few weeks, particularly on crisis care and community care, but we must go further. People in mental health crisis should receive compassionate care. They should be taken to an appropriate place and dealt with with dignity and humanity, which is very important to the way that we treat mental health in Britain today.
This has been an interesting and encouraging debate where there seems to be camaraderie across the Chamber. We have seen the hon. Members for Winchester (Steve Brine) and for Braintree (James Cleverly) flirting with the Home Secretary. Two of them have now disappeared from the Chamber. The hon. Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris) has been lavishly praised by the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), and I shall lavish praise on the hon. Member for Broxbourne. This is a very odd debate, and it is still only seven minutes past six.
I congratulate the hon. Member for Broxbourne on an excellent speech. He underplayed his own contribution to what the Government have done in respect of the Bill. He has been a great campaigner on mental health issues, and we are extremely grateful to him for all that he has done, as we are to the hon. Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis in his capacity as chairman of the all-party group. The Government are right to introduce those clauses that respond to concerns raised by Members over a number of years. Finally, we have something in legislation.
In the spirit of praising those on the Government Benches, I thank the Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice for writing to me on 11 February, telling me, and asking me to pass on to members of the Home Affairs Committee, that the Bill gives effect to five separate recommendations made by the Committee in reports published in the previous Parliament. I do not know whether it is because one of our former members is now the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Home Secretary and while he was in Marsham Street he slipped a number of those recommendations into the Bill, but whatever the reason, we are most grateful. The Minister’s letter is a courtesy that I cannot remember being extended to me and the Committee by any previous Minister under successive Governments, and we are extremely grateful. We always like to know that Ministers at the Home Office read our reports, and we like it even better when Ministers write back to say that they will implement some of the recommendations.
When I took over the policing responsibility 18 months ago, I asked for the previous reports by the Home Affairs Committee—they had been gathering dust because there were quite a few. What has really and truly happened is that we have cherry-picked what was feasible and what we could deliver, and we have placed it in the Bill—with the help of the Home Secretary’s PPS.
I thank the Minister, and I say to him that he should carry on cherry-picking if that results in changes that find favour with both sides of the House.
On mental health, the Bill will ban the use of police cells as places of safety for under-18s, and the Committee has never believed that they are the right place for such people. I acknowledge the work done by my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones), who has also campaigned on these issues over a number of years. He is one of those who have always said that people with such illnesses should be in police cells only in exceptional cases. That applies, of course, to children, but also to adults.
The Committee likes the idea of police officers consulting members of the medical profession before removing a person to a place of safety, and we think it is right that there should be a maximum period of detention.
My right hon. Friend is right that the intention is, quite rightly, not to have under-18s in police cells, but to go back to the point made by the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker) and others, that will happen whether we like it or not, unfortunately, if the beds are not available locally.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. That is why these things have to be done in partnership with the local health authority and the local authority. If there is no provision, police officers are left in the position of having to make decisions about people with mental illnesses, and we do not want them to be in that position, because they are not qualified to make such decisions. The Police Federation, too, needs to be thanked for its work on this issue, because it was the first to point out that many people in custody suites should not be there, because of their mental health conditions, and it would prefer them to be in another place. My hon. Friend is therefore right: these issues are all part of providing even better support for such people.
The Committee welcomes what has been said about police bail, which of course reflects one of our recommendations. We published our report on the issue on 20 March 2015. We were moved to do so because of the evidence given to us by a number of individuals, and particularly by Paul Gambaccini, who made the powerful point that the continuous extension of bail caused individuals huge distress.
Paul Gambaccini also said, and we agreed with him, although this is not part of the Bill, that when the police finish an investigation and find that there is no evidence, they should say not that people are not being prosecuted because there is insufficient evidence, but simply that they could not proceed because there was no evidence, which was the situation we found in the Paul Gambaccini case. It is important that that happens.
I wonder whether the Home Affairs Committee Chairman would agree that that does not need to be in statute. Surely it is simply common sense for the investigating officers to do such a thing, because this is not just about Paul Gambaccini—there were lots of others. The reason we have not put that in the Bill is that neither I nor the Home Secretary see the need for it to be on the statute book—it is just the common-decency way to treat people.
What the Minister has said today is extremely powerful and important, and it will give great comfort to people such as Paul Gambaccini. That is a common-sense approach to the cases of people have been on bail continuously but where no evidence is then found. People should conduct these investigations in a timely fashion. What the Minister has said will be something we can use as an example of good practice.
The shadow Home Secretary, who is not in his place at the moment, mentioned the case of Siddhartha Dhar, whose sister came to give evidence to the Committee—it was an emotional time, but it was important evidence. We were concerned that his passport was not handed over when he became a suspect. The police actually sent him a letter asking him to come along and surrender it; of course, by then, he had left the country—he had booked his departure, got on a coach with his family and crossed the border, and he was gone. He is probably still in Syria, although we do not know for sure.
The Minister may think this is also a matter of common sense rather than statute, but it is important, where we have terrorist suspects, as the shadow Home Secretary said, that we insist on their passports being handed over when they are in the custody suite; we should not wait to write to them and say, “Please will you hand over your passport?” because they will have used the opportunity to leave the country, as Mr Dhar did.
This may be a matter of common sense rather than statute—this is not a criticism of individuals, but us looking at a system—but many years ago we said to the Justice Department, “Wouldn’t it be a good idea to ask a foreign national prisoner to surrender their passport to the court at the time of sentence?” The Prime Minister has now said that that is a very good idea and we must ensure that it happens.
Those are common-sense suggestions. I know it requires a whole inquiry by the Home Affairs Committee to come up with them, but why have they not been implemented before? That is my concern. I welcome absolutely what is being done on police bail—it is the right course of action—but the handover of passports is very important. The Committee has been trying for some time to get the new director general of the Passport Office in. He has so far eluded us, but we will write to him again and remind him that he needs to come in; otherwise, we will be writing a very stern letter. He has an important contribution to make to this debate. When the Prime Minister appeared before the Liaison Committee, he also said he would look at these issues.
I welcome what is being suggested with regard to the reform of the Police Federation. Its new management, if I can call them that, have made substantial changes. It is right that the federation’s core purpose should be amended to include a commitment to acting in the public interest. However, a recent letter from the chief executive and the chairman touched on some of the promises made about returning subscriptions to police officers because the federation had amassed huge reserves. I know the Policing Minister loves talking about reserves, and the federation had amassed quite a lot of reserves, so the Committee suggested that it hand some of them back to PCs, rather than collecting more subs. We also suggested that a smaller amount be spent on legal action, because the federation is spending quite a lot on supporting legal action. The Bill helps us along that road, and I hope that the other issues—the Bill does not mention reserves—will also be looked at.
The fifth area where the Bill implements recommendations by the Select Committee is police integrity. We are pleased that there will be a new statutory police barred list for officers and staff who have been dismissed, and that a police advisory list of those who are under investigation for matters amounting to gross misconduct is also included in the Bill. The Bill also places a duty on senior officers and policing bodies to check job applicants against the list before employing them and to report to the College of Policing.
Shortly the Committee will open up a review of the work of the College of Policing, and Alex Marshall will be coming before us. The Home Secretary talked about the massive changes she has made, and no Home Secretary has ever made such dramatic changes to the landscape of policing. However, I think we have neglected the College of Policing. I rate it very highly, and I think Alex Marshall is an excellent chief executive. We need to call it the Royal College of Policing. We need to make sure it stands on a par with some of the other royal colleges, such as the Royal College of Nursing, and with the British Medical Association and other organisations. I think we are getting there.
Because the college was absolutely brand new, we first had to get it established, bedded down and gaining the confidence that the Chair of the Select Committee has referred to. There are more powers for the college in the Bill, and it will evolve, but it was brand new and it had to have confidence of people across the country, particularly that of the police.
I hope that we will look at some of these issues when we come to review the work of the college in the next Session.
I support what is being done on police complaints. As I have sometimes said to my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham, perhaps the police at a local level could adopt the John Lewis approach—“If there is a complaint, try and sort it out.” When members of the public complain about us, as I am sure they do very rarely [Interruption]—yes, it does happen—we take that more seriously than we do letters of praise, because we want to get the system right. If somebody complains that we did not spend enough time with them at a surgery or they are unhappy with a letter that we have sent, we spend a disproportionate amount of time on that—more than we do on other members of the public. Sometimes it is better to say, “Sorry, we got it wrong”, at a local level. Not everyone can have the privilege of coming before the House and saying sorry in such a public way, as the Minister did on the police funding formula, but he did it and he survived, and he has grown stronger as a result. The police should do this at a local level. I have a bit of an open mind about some of the suggestions, but a time limit is absolutely vital: we cannot have things going on for ever and ever.
I fully support what the Government are doing on firearms, although, to reiterate the Committee’s previous recommendations, we think that there are too many pieces of legislation relating to firearms and they should be consolidated in one Act of Parliament rather than be found in different places. I think that Opposition Front Benchers will be very open to a suggestion of consolidation, because it is quite difficult to find every single piece of information.
On collaboration with the fire service, I take a different view from the shadow Home Secretary. I have an open mind about this. Better collaboration between the emergency services might help local people. I suppose I am driven by the fact that, on 14 January, 10 ambulances were parked outside Leicester Royal Infirmary delivering patients and not collecting them. We have only 25 ambulances in the whole of Leicestershire, so to find 10 outside the infirmary made me worry about our emergency services system. I am open to persuasion. I am happy to look at this carefully, and I am sure the Committee will also want to look at it to see whether it will work. The hon. Member for Braintree (James Cleverly), who is here, is the former chairman of the fire authority for London, and perhaps we will call on him to give evidence, if he is free. We want a system that is going to work; we do not want to amalgamate and collaborate and then the whole thing collapses. We want the system to be better rather than worse.
I also have a bit of an open mind about volunteers. We do need a professional police service. We need to be careful about using volunteers, because there are issues of vetting and of who should be accepted. Of course, the idea that the public should be part of policing is very important—it is all about Neighbourhood Watch. I do not see as many of those signs in Leicester these days. There are lots of photographs of Vardy and Mahrez on lamp-posts, but not many signs about neighbourhood policing—I had to get that in somewhere, Mr Deputy Speaker. We need to tread carefully with regard to volunteers. If we do that, we can get a better police service.
I do not want to open up a new debate on the police funding formula, because that will only encourage the Minister to mention it again when he winds up, but we do need a timetable on police funding. The Minister said that he was waiting for the review from the National Police Chiefs Council. I have written to Sara Thornton to ask her whether she thinks her review will somehow stall what the Minister proposes to do. I will await her response and we will of course publish that letter. All this has to be paid for. We have new legislation—those of us who have been in this House for a number of years will have seen policing Bills before—but in the end it all costs. We need to sort out the issue of funding, because we do not want to end up being bitten by having good legislation that is supported by the whole House and being unable to pay for it. I hope that we will look at that in future.
It is a pleasure to have the opportunity, relatively quickly, to speak again in a debate about policing. It shows how important we in this House consider policing to be that we have a good attendance today, with so many colleagues from across the House, on a cross-party basis, welcoming this wide-ranging Bill, which is evolutionary rather than revolutionary, and which moves policing on in our country.
Some of us who stand up in this place to talk about policing have direct experience of it, but for the majority of us, our most direct experience—apart from family connections, which I have—is of our local force. I put on record my thanks to the Lancashire constabulary, which does a fantastic job. It has had some tough funding settlements over the past five years, but has nevertheless continued to prioritise fighting crime on the frontline. Crime has continued to come down on the streets of Lancashire, which I welcome. The shadow Home Secretary and I had a lively debate earlier about whether crime is in fact coming down, but we have to acknowledge that while the face of crime is changing and online crime forms a larger part of the crimes committed today, we can only use the measure that we have now. We will all watch with interest what happens to crime numbers when online crime is included.
It would be churlish to say that police funding has not been under pressure—as I said, we have felt that pressure in Lancashire, as it has been felt throughout the country. However, I welcome the commitment of my right hon. Friend the Chancellor of the Exchequer to protect police funding in real terms in this spending review period, with the proviso that police and crime commissioners across the country will increase the precept. Lancashire’s PCC has a bit of form on this, because he has increased it in every single year when he has had the opportunity, and I do not doubt that he will do so again. It is important that we protect police funding in real terms, because police forces face a big challenge in keeping us safe.
I particularly support the changes in the Bill in relation to police volunteers and police community support officers, who are now such an important part of policing. When they were first introduced, they were referred to as “Blunkett’s bobbies” and were not hugely popular. I remember speaking to people in the police force who said, “Having these PCSOs is undermining policing.” However, only this week I was driving along Grane road, between Rossendale and Darwen, and there was a major road traffic accident at which the first person on the scene was a PCSO, who was doing a fantastic job of directing traffic. PCSOs are a really important part of policing both nationally and in my constituency.
Clause 28 extends chief officers’ powers to use PCSOs and police volunteers more effectively. I particularly support giving PCSOs additional duties and extended powers. Given that policing is changing, as we have all acknowledged, it is right that we give chief officers the freedom to utilise fully all the resources that they have available. I echo the comments of the right hon. Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz) about having an open mind to the use of police volunteers. As we have heard, one person who volunteers as a computer programmer might be able to do as much to tackle cybercrime as 1,000 police officers. Clause 28 and other measures that cover the role of PCSOs show how policing has changed. We have moved on from the days when Blunkett’s bobbies were slightly unpopular and viewed with suspicion by other officers. PCSOs are now valued not only by the communities they serve, but by fellow officers, chief officers and civilian staff in the police force.
PCSOs are important in the provision of community policing. In our previous debate about policing, Members on both sides of the House said that the first thing to go when police forces come under pressure—I do not recognise this in Lancashire, however—is the community police who talk at events and meet young people. PCSOs and police volunteers can fulfil that role.
Clause 29 gives the College of Policing a greater role in designating the training of police volunteers, which will ensure that, even though someone is a volunteer, they will be trained to a rigorous high standard similarly to their colleagues. As more volunteers carry out roles on the street that might traditionally have been fulfilled by warranted officers, members of the public will expect them to have received high-quality training so that we have a good experience when we interact with them. That is important, so I hugely support clause 29.
Clause 30, which is also part of the short set of provisions in the Bill relating to PCSOs and police volunteers, extends the police complaints system to cover police volunteers, which will ensure that there is fairness and consistency when people complain about the police. We the public demand that high standards of discipline are maintained whether we are dealing with a PCSO, a police volunteer or a warranted officer.
The Home Secretary said that 16,000 special constables —specials—currently serve shoulder to shoulder with police officers. Any Member who interacts with a special constable will probably not realise that that is what they are, because they look like every other type of police officer. They are warranted officers who work shoulder to shoulder, as volunteers, with paid police officers. One of the great benefits of special constables is that they are drawn from all walks of life. They represent policing by the people, for the people.
The Met has done some fantastic work in supporting specials in London. It gives them a council tax reduction and travel concessions are available. Other forces throughout the country also provide such perks, for want of a better word, and I hope that they will continue to do so.
While many of us can stand here and say that special constables do fantastic work, the case of Andrew Blades, one of my constituents, gives us a cautionary tale. He volunteered as a special constable for 2,500 hours over six years, but at the end of that period, he lost his job. He might also lose his home and he is going to lose his future career. In the course of his work as a special constable, he did what I think was a tremendously brave thing: he moved an unmarked police car, which he had the authority to drive, across the street to block the path of a scrambler motorcycle, which was uninsured, had no MOT and was non-road legal, in order to stop the crime of that motorcycle terrorising the community and to protect a fellow officer. The thanks he received was a prosecution for dangerous driving. The Policing Minister helped at the time and we put Mr Blades in touch with the special constables’ legal advice service but, frankly, I do not think he received adequate advice. He chose to plead guilty, so he now has a conviction for dangerous driving, meaning that he is unable to continue his business as a driving instructor.
Things could have been different if, as a special constable, Mr Blades had had the protection of the Police Federation, which is the subject of clauses 37 and 38. I support the extension of the Freedom of Information Act to cover the Police Federation and the way in which the Bill will make it more transparent and open to its members. However, the Bill misses the opportunity to extend the protection provided by the Police Federation to cover special constables. Before the debate, I spoke to Police Federation representatives. They are in advanced talks with the Home Office about whether room can be found in the legislative programme to pass primary legislation that would enable the federation to protect special constables, but I hope that there will be an opportunity in Committee, on Report or in the other place to make the changes required through the Bill.
That point is particularly important because the Police Federation for many years regarded special constables with some suspicion. In fact, it took the view some years ago that the role of a special constable undermined both the federation’s role and that of the warranted officers with whom specials stand policing our streets. At the Police Federation’s 2014 conference, however, its members unanimously passed a resolution calling for protection to be extended to cover specials. That should not surprise us, because day after day they stand shoulder to shoulder with paid, warranted officers, working the same beats, hours and shifts, to protect the public and keep us safe. I hope that the Minister will look at this missed opportunity and work with the Police Federation to address it.
When that legislative opportunity arises, the Government should also look at Police Federation subs for special constables. I have mentioned the Met’s superb work in providing a council tax reduction for specials. Police Federation subs are not insignificant and a volunteer special constable might query whether they should pay about £30 a month for the privilege of being a member. When we make the legislative change that I set out, I hope that we will be able to find the money—from central Government funds, rather than from those of individual forces—to pay the subs of special constables on their behalf.
The shadow Home Secretary made a good point about when officers choose to retire. There was previously clearly a loophole whereby officers could avoid an investigation by retiring or resigning from their post. As someone who was born and brought up in Liverpool, I, like the shadow Home Secretary, was well aware of the allegations relating to Hillsborough and the ongoing investigations into them. A 12-month arbitrary cap on the period for which officers can be pursued is probably not correct, so I hope that we will be able to look at that again. The situation could be treated similarly to the statute of limitations in tort law, whereby the limitation starts to run only from the date on which the tort—the wrong, in this case—is known about. That would be a reasonable adjustment for the Government to make, because there was clearly a police cover-up regarding Hillsborough and the extent to which serving police officers might have been implicated could not have been known within 12 months of the incident. The Government have an opportunity to look at that, so I hope that we will be able to explore it further as the Bill goes through the House.
It is an honour to follow the considered speech of the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry). He was brave and absolutely right to add to the calls to extend the 12-month period. I sincerely hope that the Government will agree to do that on Report.
The public put a huge amount of trust in the integrity and professionalism of the police, and rightly so, but nobody is infallible. When the police mess up, the public want to know that they will be held properly to account. Public confidence is vital for effective policing, and police accountability has come a long way in a relatively short space of time. It is easy to forget that it was only in 2002 that the last Labour Government set up the IPCC in response to the Stephen Lawrence case. That was a huge step forward, but compared with other public services the police remain under-scrutinised. Too many investigations are carried out behind closed doors. Too many reports are supressed. Too many officers take retirement rather than taking the rap for their mistakes.
Some clauses in the Bill will make real progress on a lot of those issues, and that is welcome. The widening of the definition of a complaint in clause 11 is sensible, and will, I hope, allow greater scrutiny. It is good to see that officers will no longer be able to dismiss complaints as fanciful without recording them. Most welcome is the beefed-up role of the IPCC in investigating complaints. The fact that it had to wait for a referral before acting was always perverse, and I am glad that it will now be able to act with greater freedom when it thinks that wrongdoing has occurred. The move from managed to directed investigations with more IPCC oversight is also a step in the right direction for transparency and accountability. It is right that the IPCC will now be required to investigate all cases that involve chief officers.
The House will be aware of the tragic case of Poppi Worthington in my constituency. I have raised it a number of times on the Floor of the House, and I know that the Ministers on the Front Bench are well aware of it. The failings of the police in Cumbria in the aftermath of Poppi’s death are deeply troubling. Not only has the case raised questions about the conduct of my local force, but it prompts wider questions about the overall system and structure by which the police are held to account. I am concerned that for all the positive steps they contain, the proposals represent a missed opportunity to deal with those issues.
I want to raise three specific issues: first, the information that is available to police and crime commissioners to allow them to perform their roles effectively; secondly, the disciplinary processes and the role of the IPCC; and, thirdly, new rules for officers who leave the force. In Cumbria, we have just welcomed back Jerry Graham as our chief constable following a leave of absence for ill health. In his absence, the deputy chief constable, Michelle Skeer, acted up in his position. That is normal procedure, and it meant that Ms Skeer was at the helm in recent months, during the revelations about Poppi’s death. The problem is that she was also one of the officers criticised by the IPCC in its report into police failures in the Poppi case. That report has still not been published, and I maintain that it should be made public immediately.
Not only was Ms Skeer criticised, but the police and crime commissioner was not made aware of the IPCC’s findings when he confirmed her appointment as the acting chief constable. I understand that it is often a formality for the deputy to act up when the chief constable is laid low, and in the vast majority of cases that will make sense, but it requires oversight and confirmation by the police and crime commissioner. Otherwise, what are they there for? Surely the Government must agree that in that case, it was inappropriate for Ms Skeer to act up without the commissioner being apprised of the findings of the case against her. It must be possible to address that problem in the Bill. That has not happened yet, but there is a clear opportunity to do so on Report if the Government have the will to act.
For an officer to head a force, and to have oversight of all disciplinary matters, when she has been heavily criticised by the IPCC is highly problematic. It looks wrong to the public, and it damages trust. That situation should never be allowed to occur again, but I see nothing in the Bill to correct that flaw in the original procedures. Should not police and crime commissioners be provided, as a matter of routine, with draft IPCC reports, even when the reports cannot be published for legal reasons? When the decision is made to appoint a chief constable or a deputy, or to allow people to act up in those roles, the IPCC ought to give the police and crime commissioner all the relevant information about as yet unpublished investigations into that individual, even if that information is available only in draft form. If commissioners are to be more than simply window dressing, sustained at considerable expense to the taxpayer, they need to be able to access the information that allows them to do their jobs properly.
On discipline, the Bill is surely an opportunity to improve the current processes.
I thought it might be useful to say at this point that the Under-Secretary of State and I, having listened to the hon. Gentleman’s speech and the other contributions, will look carefully to see whether we can address in Committee or on Report the concerns that he has sensibly raised around that issue. One way or another, we will try as best we possibly can to address the matter in the Bill.
I thank the Minister for intervening now, rather than waiting until his summation. What he has said is really welcome.
If I can find my place, I will continue what I was saying about discipline. One reason that I have been given for the continued suppression of the report in the Poppi case is that disciplinary action is still ongoing against two officers. However, the draft report was available to Cumbria constabulary exactly a year ago. The IPCC has said that it is “extremely surprised” at the delay, but it appears to have no ability to compel the force to get on with the process. We are left with a situation in which a force is in control of the disciplinary process, but by delaying that process it can hold up the publication of a report that is critical of that force. I am not saying necessarily that Cumbria constabulary is deliberately doing so, but that is clearly the effect. That cannot be right. Surely, the IPCC could appropriately be given more power to compel a force to complete disciplinary action in good time, rather than ending up with a situation such as we have in Cumbria.
Finally, I want to address what happens when officers retire or resign from the force when they are facing disciplinary action, as several hon. Members have mentioned. There has rightly been focus on the length of time for which a former officer can still face disciplinary proceedings after leaving, and whether 12 months is sufficient. The shadow Home Secretary has compellingly set out why it is not, and he has already been joined in expressing that view by one Conservative Member. I also want to focus on the suggested sanctions. Someone will correct me if I am wrong, but I have raised the matter with the shadow Home Secretary.
My clear reading of the legislation is that where an officer retires before disciplinary proceedings against them can be triggered, within the 12 months or whatever period is set out—they can now, for the first time, be found guilty of misconduct, which is a real step forward and should be welcomed—the only sanction currently proposed is to put them on a list that will prevent them from working in the police force again. However, as they have just retired, which was how they have sought to escape justice in relation to any misconduct, telling them that they cannot come out of retirement is surely no kind of deterrent whatever. I very much hope that can be reconsidered in Committee.
I am sure that the hon. Gentleman has consulted the police conduct regulations and will know that sanctions under the police disciplinary regime are intended not to punish officers but to maintain public confidence in the profession. The worse that can happen to a serving police officer is to be dismissed without notice, so it would be rather perverse if there was a more extreme sanction for someone who had retired.
The sanction would not be more extreme because there is no chance of any workplace sanction after that. In the hon. Gentleman’s speech, he can tell me what he thinks the effect on public confidence in the police would be if someone guilty of misconduct—at Hillsborough, Orgreave or in one of the many other cases—was merely put on a list preventing them from serving again, rather than having any other sanction imposed on them. My right hon. Friend the shadow Home Secretary mentioned the prospect of being able to reduce the pension entitlement of retired officers in certain circumstances, which I hope the Minister will consider carefully.
One of my very sad but important duties is to remove a pension from an officer because they have committed certain types of offence. Sadly, I have to do that weekly. There is already such a sanction, and others, including criminal sanctions, can also be taken. The ability to remove a pension is already in statute.
But what if they have retired?
I am getting into the rather unusual situation of wanting to ask questions of the Minister who has intervened on me. If my understanding is wrong, I hope he will point that out now or in his summation, but I understood that the only sanction available for an officer who had already retired was not to reduce their pension further, but simply to put them on a list to prevent them from going back to the job from which they had retired to escape accountability.
I hope I can clarify the situation. I have served on the professional standards sub-committee of the Metropolitan Police Authority, so I can tell the hon. Gentleman that we are discussing the difference between a conduct sanction, for which the maximum penalty is dismissal from the force, and a criminal offence, for which pension forfeiture is one of the options. We must not confuse the two elements.
That is helpful. I must say that I was not confusing the two of them, but I am grateful to the Minister for attempting to provide clarification.
I think we are clear that, at the moment, there is no such sanction for a finding of misconduct against an officer who has already retired. That is surely still a gap because it seems palpably absurd to suggest that some sort of blacklist would be a sufficient deterrent or, if that is not what the sanction is for, to give a sense of confidence and justice. I really hope that the Government will think again about this issue. They should also consider whether community work could be mandated in certain appropriate circumstances in certain fields for officers who have subsequently been found guilty of misconduct. I suggest that what is being proposed will simply not be enough to meet the real need for people to have greater confidence that retired officers can be sanctioned.
I am listening very carefully to my hon. Friend’s speech and I understand his frustration, but does he not realise that it would be very difficult to take someone’s pension off them? For someone who has retired and been paid a pension for 10 years, it would be difficult to take their future pension payments off them, but how does he envisage recouping the money that they had received for the previous 10 years? I understand his frustration, but that might be very difficult to do in practice.
I understand that there are clearly practical difficulties. At the moment, there would not be such a 10-year situation, because the Government suggest that it would happen within one year. We must, however, balance any logistical difficulties with the fact that it would be the exception rather than the norm. To take the example of the appalling conduct of certain senior officers at Hillsborough, the idea that they could escape with no sanction whatsoever is galling. We have a chance to change the system and to tighten it up further than by the welcome steps that the Government have already set out, and I really hope we can do so.
Labour Members who have been pushing for all of this should give credit to the Government because, at least in this respect, they want to make genuine progress. For all the valid criticisms that we make of many aspects of her role, the Home Secretary genuinely wants to increase the level of accountability and transparency in any area of public service that, for too many years—through generations—has avoided the kind of scrutiny given to other areas of the public sector. However, I think we can do significantly better than the proposals currently on the table, and I hope the Government will now consider that.
It is a real pleasure to take part in today’s debate, and I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to speak. I welcome the Bill. I will focus on part 1, which outlines the measures to encourage greater collaboration between the emergency services. I have spoken about that several times in this place.
Encouraging greater collaboration between the blue light services makes perfect sense. Across those services, there is a common and joint purpose, and they have significant synergies. They serve and protect our communities, ensuring we are safe and secure, often in the most difficult of circumstances. For that, we must be incredibly grateful, because they often put their own lives at risk to protect us.
As several hon. Members have said, each service faces change in terms of demand and new challenges. Crime is falling, but the nature of crimes is changing. The number of incidents that fire and rescue services attend is falling, thanks in part to the fire prevention work that they undertake, but there is increased demand for the ambulance service. It is therefore right to review the way in which the services operate.
There are some excellent examples of collaboration between blue light services across the country, such as co-location of offices, shared training, joint communication centres and joint operations and fleets. The common benefit of such collaborative models is that they deliver savings and, more importantly, better outcomes for the public. The issue, I am afraid, is the lack of consistency across the country in collaboration. The overall picture can best be described as patchy.
While I am pleased to report that in December, Staffordshire fire and rescue authority agreed to undertake a review of the ways in which it could work more closely and collaboratively with Staffordshire police, I am disappointed that it took so long—about six months—to get to that position. In the meantime, fire engines were removed from both my local fire stations in Cannock and Rugeley, as well as from other stations across the county. I therefore welcome the statutory duty for blue light services to keep collaboration opportunities under review, as is set out in clauses 1 to 5.
The Bill goes a step further on collaboration between police and fire services, which I welcome. Clauses 6 and 7 extend the remit of police and crime commissioners to include responsibility for fire and rescue services. I have called for that provision and secured a Westminster Hall debate on the topic last November. It will therefore come as no surprise that I am particularly pleased to see it in the Bill.
The introduction of police and crime commissioners has created greater transparency and democratic accountability in policing by replacing the unelected and unaccountable police authorities. The public can exercise their approval or, equally, their disapproval of a PCC’s guardianship at elections, judging them on both the police precept and the local policing and crime performance. PCCs have the opportunity to review and set strategic priorities to respond and adapt to local needs, and must manage that within a challenging financial landscape.
PCCs have had to reform and look at ways to innovate and create efficiencies to protect and enhance front-line policing. For instance, the police and crime commissioner in Staffordshire, Matthew Ellis, has not increased the police precept, but has created savings and better outcomes for the public by introducing technology so that police officers can spend more time out on the streets, rather than behind a desk. The performance of PCCs has depended on reform. With more transparency in terms of data, such as crime trends, their performance is open to public scrutiny.
There is now only one exception in respect of local direct accountability: fire and rescue authorities. Although the authorities are made up of elected councillors, they are not directly elected to their positions by the public, but simply appointed. It is important that that is not confused with democratic accountability. To take Staffordshire as an example again, the fire and rescue authority has increased the precept, even though, as I understand it, it has significant reserves. It is time for change. That is why I welcome the extension of the remit of police and crime commissioners to include the responsibilities of fire and rescue authorities. Extending the transparency and accountability of fire and rescue services, and applying the same principles that have been applied to the police, will rightly enable the public to scrutinise their performance too.
The governance and single employer models will take collaboration to another level and, in essence, will see the integration of the management and back-office functions of the two services. However, it is important to note that they will remain operationally distinct. No one is suggesting that police officers should fight fires or that fire officers should arrest criminals. The integration that will come about through PCCs taking responsibility for fire and rescue services will improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the services.
Forgive me, Madam Deputy Speaker, but I had to leave the Chamber for 30 minutes earlier. Does my hon. Friend agree that although the services will be distinct operationally—policemen don’t do fires and firemen don’t do policing—it would be good sometimes if they were on the same radio network, particularly when an incident is called in?
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. Co-responding would bring better responses to certain incidents, particularly emergencies.
The efficiency and effectiveness of the services will be improved by cutting out the duplication in back-office functions, procurement, management and offices. Significant savings could be made from integration. Our PCC estimates that in Staffordshire alone, about £4 million of savings could be made by integrating management and back-office functions.
Although I recognise that there is some collaboration within services, I believe we could go an awful lot further.
This is not just about saving money. Effective integration will create better outcomes for the public as resources are focused on the frontline, creating more viable and visible services. It will be possible to take a more holistic view of the way in which incidents are responded to by both services. Again, that will create better outcomes for the public and lead to a more efficient use of resources.
Under the Bill, a PCC will take on the new responsibilities only where the case is made locally. Although I have raised concerns about the changes being voluntary rather than mandatory, I understand why this is the case in an era of devolution and localism. I am reassured to some extent by the statutory duty for fire and rescue authorities to co-operate with PCCs as they develop a business case and by the ability to escalate the decision to the Secretary of State if there is disagreement, with an independent review panel assessing the business case. When the Minister winds up, I would be interested to hear in more detail how those two processes will work in practice. Although I accept that there is a need to co-operate, the processes need to be genuinely robust to address the underlying resistance to change. I would also be interested to know how frequently the reviews could be undertaken, should there be a need to revisit a business case.
I have talked about public accountability. If we are genuinely to ensure that PCCs are clearly and directly accountable to the public for both police and fire services, I feel that their title needs to change. What plans does the Minister have to change the title of PCCs to reflect their new responsibilities? The suggestions have included public safety commissioners and community safety commissioners. A title with a broader scope could open up the opportunity for the role to be expanded further to include other blue light services over time, such as the ambulance service. After all, there are many incidents in which all three services are involved and to which they all respond.
As I see it, the Bill is the beginning, rather than the end, of the blue light services’ collaboration journey. I urge the Government to create a strategic road map towards further integration to create consistent, connected and co-ordinated front-line services that are more resilient and more responsive to the changing needs of the public and our communities.
I broadly welcome this Bill, and I will touch first on its proposals for mental health services and then on some broader issues, including those raised by the hon. Member for Cannock Chase (Amanda Milling). Credit must go to the Government for addressing police interaction with those who suffer from mental health conditions. Is this issue the fault of the police? No, it is not. In many cases, they are picking up the failure of the rest of society, but they have specific powers that the Bill proposes to change with regard to sections 135 and 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983.
Sections 135 and 136 are unique because they give the police powers to remove the liberty of somebody who has not committed an offence or been suspected of doing so. Section 135 is used if someone is suspected of a mental disorder that could lead to them becoming a danger to themselves, not being kept under control, or being unable to care for themselves. A magistrate can authorise a warrant for police officers, with a doctor or another mental health care professional, to carry out an assessment and enter someone’s property, and to evaluate them and section them for up to 72 hours.
Section 136 refers to people in a public place and states that a person who is
“suffering from mental disorder and to be in immediate need of care or control”
can be taken to a “place of safety” if it is felt that they or others need to be protected. There are clear reasons for such provisions, but I think they have been made worse by the non-joined up approach to dealing with people who have mental health issues. Is that the fault of the police? No, it is not. The steps taken in the Bill will help, but will they solve the problems? No they will not, because until we hard-wire mental wellbeing and mental health into public policy, these problems will continue to exist.
Under the 1983 Act, a “place of safety” includes a hospital, a police station, an independent hospital, a care home, or any other suitable place. Clauses 59(2) and 60 move away from the practice of taking people to police stations. For example, clause 59 will allow someone to be kept at home, although I understand from talking to mental health professionals that that already happens in some cases, which I welcome. Not using the default position of taking someone to a police cell must be welcomed. Clause 60 states that a suitable place of safety could be someone’s house or flat, or another place that a responsible management deems suitable. I have some problems with that because it puts the onus on the police to decide what is a safe place, and I do not think that is fair on the police officers in attendance.
I thank the hon. Gentleman, who is a friend, for giving way. Not only does the police officer have to consider what is a safe place, they probably also have to decide how ill the person is with whom they have come into contact. That must be very difficult at times.
I agree, and as has been mentioned, there is good practice in co-locating police officers and other emergency services with mental health professionals.
My other problem is with who takes such a decision. Clearly, if someone is in crisis and faced with a choice of being taken to a police cell or being allowed to stay at home, most people will stay at home even if that is not the safest place for them. Likewise, their relatives or carers may feel that they have no choice but to take the default position of keeping somebody at home. Perhaps when the Bill goes to Committee we should examine exactly how the measure would work in practice, because it could also lead to the problem being masked. Like the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), I think that we need a place of safety. That does not necessarily have to be a bed—I will come to that issue in a minute—but we need places where people can be taken and properly assessed. These statistics may suddenly disappear, and people might not be placed in that position—the local health commissioners might suddenly say that we do not need a place of safety, but that is not currently the case. We need clarification on what is deemed a place of safety.
Clause 59(5) states that the police must consult a health professional before using section 136 of the 1983 Act. It requires a police officer, where practicable, to consult a doctor, nurse, approved medical professional or another person as specified in the regulations—we have not seen those yet—before using their section powers. Again, I have some problem with that provision. I can see it working in practice in a situation such as those outlined where there is good triaging work, but it is a big call on a police officer in a difficult situation when somebody is in crisis—especially if they are threatening to take their own life—if practical steps have to been taken to consult a mental health professional. The thrust of the provision is right, but I am not sure how it would work in practice without a clear indication that local police forces have ready access to mental health professionals. I accept, however, that in some places great work is being done on that with joint working.
Clause 60 refers to the place of safety and police cells. Should a police cell be a place of safety for somebody with a mental health issue? It certainly should not. Subsection (6) prohibits the use of cells for those under 18, and I completely agree with that. The only problem is that if there are alternatives to the police cell, what will be the default position? People say that more beds are needed, and in some areas that is a problem. In other areas, however, we need places of safety to take people to. We cannot separate the crisis that faces housing in London, for example, and mental health issues. If we have proper supported housing and other projects for people to go to, that is the alternative. A bed is not always the answer to these problems. The Crisp report demonstrated that 500 people had to travel 50 km to access a mental health bed. However, because such statistics are not kept nationally, how will we know whether the targets are being met? At the moment, statistics are kept sporadically, and perhaps in Committee we should insert some provision for them to be kept nationally.
The thrust of the Bill is right, and clause 60 provides regulatory powers to the Secretary of State on the use of police cells as a place of safety for those aged 18 or over. The regulations will set out the circumstances in which a police cell may be appropriate for someone waiting for an assessment. I do not question for one minute the Government’s direction of travel in not wanting to place people with mental health issues in police cells, but some examination of what those regulations would mean is important. Clearly, if beds or places of safety are not available locally, people will wait a long time. I have spoken to police officers in my area and a police cell is the last place they want such people to be in.
Measures to reduce the maximum detention time from 72 hours to 24 hours are welcome. However, I would even question the 24-hour limit, which I think is linked to Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 regulations. These people are not criminals, so why do we have to use the same time limit? Guidance for commissioners from the Royal College of Psychiatrists on section 136 says an assessment should be made within three hours. In Committee, we should try to reduce the time limit down to a maximum of three hours. I am not criticising civil servants for drafting the provisions thinking they would fit in with the PACE regulations, but the inference of criminality stigmatises people who are clearly not criminals.
The chair of the Health Committee, the hon. Member for Totnes (Dr Wollaston) raised the issue of when the 24-hour period starts. Does it start from when the person is detained in a police van or police car, or does it start when they arrive at the place of safety? This could make a big difference if people are being transported long distances to a place of safety. These issues need to be considered.
The issue of health service advocacy is completely missing in the Bill and needs to be addressed. Under the Mental Health Act 1983, there is provision for independent advocates for people with mental health issues. There are some exceptions, however, one of which happens to be the place of safety under sections 135 and 136 of the 1983 Act. People need advocacy and I would like some provision in the Bill to allow access to it. People in crisis will not be in a position to argue for their rights or to ensure they make the right decisions. The idea that advocacy is an exception rather than mandatory under the Act again puts pressure on statutory services to take it seriously.
I do not want to be churlish. I recognise that the Government are trying to move forward and I welcome what is being proposed, but the practical implications perhaps need to be considered in Committee. Alongside that consideration, we need a debate about what is a place of safety. In some cases it will be a bed, but the hon. Member for Broxbourne has other examples of places of safety run by charities and others. Unless the provisions in the Bill are implemented alongside changes to the health service and the voluntary sector, the issue, which is perceived to be a problem, will be placed unfairly back on to the police. We need to ensure the two are linked up. I hear what the Government say about £15 million being made available, but that is a drop in the ocean compared with the problems we face. We need to ensure that local commissioners work with the emergency services and others when commissioning local services. This is not just about beds. I am coming around to what the hon. Member for Broxbourne said as perhaps more appropriate.
The hon. Gentleman is talking about short-term crisis houses, which tend to be run by the third sector. They are community based and people can go to them for between three and five days at that moment of crisis to be sorted out before they go back home or back into the community to stay with friends or relatives.
Yes. It is time to consider that proposal irrespective of whether such houses are provided by the voluntary sector or the statutory sector. A network of that type of provision across the country would get away from the use of police cells. As the hon. Gentleman knows, they could be commissioned at a local level, and third sector development could provide very good value for money. I welcome the proposed changes, but they need to be amended in Committee.
I broadly welcome the Bill, but my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham) is right to say that we cannot consider it in isolation away from the funding of our police forces or of our fire and rescue services. The hon. Member for Cannock Chase gave the impression that this is all about driving through efficiency locally, forgetting that more than £2 billion has been taken out of policing by her Government in the past six years. In addition, money has been taken out of local fire and rescue services. Before she claims that I am arguing for inefficiency, I stand proud to be the Member of Parliament for the most efficient police force in the UK—Durham. However, efficiency has been achieved at a cost. The central Government grant has been cut and 350 officers have had to go. She talks about precepts and making local government accountable. That is fine, but the system needs to change. An increase in the precept in Durham, on both the fire service and the police, will not fill the gap created by central Government cuts. In a perverse way, the Government seem to be moving money away from more deprived areas to the more affluent areas of the south.
On the relationship between the fire services and the police, I am not opposed to efficiencies relating to the back office or anything else, but the hon. Lady did say she did not want the police fighting fires and firefighters catching criminals. I agree. We need to be clear that there will be no merging of the frontline. I will support anything that can make the service better for people and more efficient. The firefighters and police officers that I know want that, too.
I understand the sentiment the hon. Gentleman expresses, but does he agree that there are circumstances in which police officers and firefighters may want to stray over the line into each other’s areas of responsibility? There was a famous case not very long ago where police officers stood back and watched somebody floundering in a pond almost drowning, because it was not their job and they did not feel trained enough to go in and save that person. They had to wait for the fire service to arrive. Surely there are circumstances where having complementary skills can be beneficial to the safety of the public.
Well, yes, but that is not about blurring their roles. I do not think that that is what the public want. They want their police officers to protect them and their streets, and they want their firefighters to respond to house fires and other types of emergencies—road traffic accidents and so on. The public want specialist skills and I would be totally opposed to any blurring of the lines.
There are some positive measures in the Bill that are a step forward. I caution my right hon. Friend the Member for Leigh that, while we need to table many amendments, voting against the Bill on Report would not be understood by the public. It would give the impression that we did not care about the things in the Bill that should be welcomed. Instead, we should be highlighting the things that are ideologically driven.
Just to clarify, I was talking not about voting against the Bill per se—as I said, it is a good Bill, and we like many of the measures in it—but about voting on Report against the proposals on fire, police bail, which, if not strong enough, we will want to strengthen, and police accountability, where we believe that retirement should not free police officers from having to facing up to past wrongdoing.
I apologise to my right hon. Friend for the misunderstanding. I thought he told the House he would oppose the Bill on Report, which I would not, but I look forward to his amendments because there are clear ways that the Bill could be improved and strengthened, as he said.
In closing, I broadly welcome the Bill. I hope that in Committee we can address the issues around mental health so that the Bill can do what the Government want it to do, which is to improve the situation. I suggest that they work with the charities sector and others who have raised some of the concerns that I have mentioned tonight. I hope that we can get to where the Government want to go and avoid the situation of people with a mental illness ending up in police cells. It could also take the burden from front-line police officers, who, although they try hard, are not qualified to deal with such situations.
I will limit my speech to part 1 of the Bill, which deals with collaborative working, and specifically to the provisions to bring fire authorities under the umbrella of police and crime commissioners, and the changes to the London Fire and Emergency Planning Authority. I served for many years on the Metropolitan Police Authority, and I was, until just prior to my election to this place, the chairman of the LFEPA, so I have seen at first hand the police authority structure, the current fire authority structure and now the workings of the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime in London. I have also seen at first hand the confusion sown by the existing structures, particularly within the London fire authority. That confusion exists in the minds of voters and firefighters, and it also sits in the minds of the members of the fire authority itself.
Since the introduction of PCCs, we have seen a clear line of accountability from the electorate, through the PCCs, to chief constables and ultimately police officers themselves. There is no ambiguity about where the buck stops, and that is absolutely how a democracy should work. The people who hold and deploy budgets, and who set agendas and priorities, should be accountable to people at the ballot box, and that is what we see with PCCs. I therefore welcome the shadow Home Secretary’s statement that the Labour party’s position on PCCs has evolved. That is a mature position. I would like to see it evolve further and for him to embrace the model, but we will take one win at a time.
In comparison with the PCC system, the LFEPA, when I chaired it, had a mixed fleet of members: some were borough councillors; some were London Assembly members; and some were direct appointees of the Mayor of London. None—myself included—were elected to sit on the London fire authority, as every single member was appointed by the Mayor. The local government appointees were appointed on a proportional system, based on the local government elections, which created the perverse situation that the Mayor, as the only one of us elected with an explicit fire and rescue mandate, did not have a majority on his own functional body
I referred to the confusion among members. We had Labour and Liberal Democrat members describing themselves as “the opposition” on the London fire authority, despite the authority as a whole being the executive body. We also had the ridiculous situation where I, as the chair of the authority, had almost a Prime Minister’s Question Time-style monthly grilling by other executive members, of whom I was no more than the chair. If members of the fire authority do not understand its function—if they believe they are the scrutineers of the executive, rather than part of it—and misunderstand its scrutiny role, how on earth are members of the general public, or firefighters themselves, expected to understand it?
Chapter 3 of part 1 of the Bill remedies that situation by introducing a much clearer line of accountability so that the Mayor can take a direct role in the governance of the London fire brigade, rather than acting via the rather cumbersome mayoral direction process, as set out in primary legislation, which is what currently happens. The Bill provides for a much clearer golden thread from the Mayor, through the deputy mayor for fire and emergency, the London fire commissioner and the London fire brigade, to the voters, as should be the case.
I would like that model replicated around the country so that people can understand how the system works. We currently have a weird mixed fleet with fire authorities. Some are nothing more than a committee of a county council, while others have mixed systems with some councillors and some direct appointees. This incredibly cluttered system is past its sell-by date, if it were ever within it—I am not sure it was ever the right structure for fire and rescue.
There are also far too many fire authorities in the country. Fire authorities and brigades do a good job, but I struggle to comprehend how the fire and rescue requirements of east Sussex can be so fundamentally different from those of west Sussex.
I am listening carefully to what the hon. Gentleman is saying, but will not the Bill make things even more complicated by providing for local authority control, traditional fire authority control, potential elected mayoral control and then another model of PCC control—even within that, as the Bill states, there are three models of PCC oversight? Will that not be even more complicated?
I do not believe that it will be. Ultimately, the Bill will result in a gravitational pull to clear, clean lines of accountability. I foresee that the elements in the Bill that facilitate but do not mandate will prove to be a more effective model. I predict—I would be willing to be pulled up on this in the future—such a gravitational pull. It is what firefighters, police officers and the general public want, and it is what the House should also want.
Although I have been very supportive, I shall be a critical friend on one particular issue, for which I apologise to my right hon. Friend the Home Secretary. I was quietly critical of a measure in the primary legislation that created the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime in London that introduced an explicit requirement for a scrutiny committee on the London Assembly. I cannot imagine any circumstance in which the London Assembly would not have a scrutiny committee for either its policing function or its fire function. In my mind, the explicit provisions in schedule 2—proposed new sections 327H and 327I of the Greater London Authority Act 1999, if my memory serves me right—are superfluous. I will not die in a ditch over this, because I think that the function is necessary, but I am not sure that an explicit requirement in the Bill is needed. Having worked in the old cluttered universe in both policing and fire in London, and having seen how much clearer the lines of accountability are now that we have a Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime—the functions have been very ably discharged by my long-standing good friend and colleague, my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse)—I cannot wait until we have an equal amount of clarity in the fire service.
The shadow Home Secretary raised several concerns about whether the Bill would lead to cheap policing by the back door and the convergence of roles. I remind him that the fire department in New York conducts both the fire and emergency response that one would expect from a normal fire brigade and also runs the ambulance service in New York. There is no blurring of roles. The ambulance crews are explicitly ambulance crews and the fire crews are explicitly fire crews. It is only at the top of the organisation, with emergency call handling, mobilising, deployment, finance procurement and so forth, that there is convergence. I hope that such a model will be replicated here.
The Bill represents absolutely the right direction of travel. I have seen how cluttered and ungainly the current system is. It is absolutely right that we move to much clearer, cleaner lines of accountability, and I commend the Bill to the House.
The Bill legislates to deliver some of the Tory manifesto’s policing commitments. The people of England voted for that manifesto, and the people of England are within their rights to expect to see those commitments delivered. The people of Scotland did not vote for those commitments, and the people of Scotland will rightly not be subject to the greater part of these reforms, because policing is devolved to the Scottish Parliament. The people of Wales did not vote for the Tory manifesto either, but they will have no choice but to accept what London tells us to do in the greatest part of our policing.
Plaid Cymru sees no reason whatsoever why police priorities should be dictated by the UK Parliament and not the Welsh Parliament—the National Assembly. Given that policing is devolved to Scotland and Northern Ireland, we see no reason why it cannot be devolved to Wales. What is it that makes Wales an exception? The four Welsh police forces are unique within the UK. They are non-devolved bodies operating within a largely devolved public services landscape. They are thus required to follow the dual and diverging agenda of two Governments. Additionally, all four forces in Wales reflect the need to provide a service in Welsh and English. North Wales police does this with great effectiveness and is held up as a model among public sector organisations in Wales for its language training support and initiatives.
Transferring responsibility to the Welsh Government would not be the tectonic shift that many in this House claim it would be. Relationships between the Welsh forces and UK services such as the police national computer and the Serious Organised Crime Agency would continue as at present, as is the case in Scotland. Why should not the people of Wales be given the same democratic freedom enjoyed by the people of Scotland? Doing so would lead to greater clarity and efficiency by uniting devolved responsibilities, such as community services, drugs prevention and safety partnerships, with those currently held by the UK Government.
It is not just Plaid Cymru saying this. The Silk commission was established by the Tories and comprised all four main political parties in Wales, including the Conservative party. Its members spent two years consulting the public, civil society, academia and industry experts on the powers necessary to empower and strengthen Wales. It received written evidence, heard oral evidence and visited every corner of Wales. It heard evidence from the police themselves and from the Police Federation calling for the devolution of policing, and the report recommended accordingly.
I note that the Labour party in Cardiff has today published an alternative Wales Bill calling for the devolution of policing. I welcome the Welsh Labour party’s U-turn, although it appears to have been immediately flushed down the U-bend by the Westminster party. That is hardly surprising, and today’s response will serve to remind people in Wales only that Labour vetoed the devolution of policing last year. Indeed, it is evidence that Labour says one thing in Wales and is not listened to by the party here in Westminster.
The Bill provides an opportunity to bring Wales into line with the rest of the UK. Had that been done before the 2010 election, Wales, like Scotland, would have been spared the unnecessary imposition of elected police and crime commissioners. The people of Wales did not want them and only 14.9% of us voted in those elections.
That said, I would like to take this opportunity to raise the significance of how we equip the police to deal with another issue, which a number of Members raised earlier: the growing threat of cybercrime, which affects every police force. Indeed, the College of Policing estimates that half of all crimes reported to front-line police staff now have a digital element. I hope to present a ten-minute rule Bill on Wednesday that would simplify the present complexity of statute, as well as showing the need to improve the training of criminal justice professionals in matters relating to digital crime. Given that only 7,500 police officers out of a total of 100,000 in England and Wales have yet received such training, I am disappointed that the Government’s Bill has not yet been used as an opportunity to remedy a lack of understanding and an ambiguous interpretation of existing laws to protect the public against cyber-abuse and fraud.
It is a great pleasure to come so far down the batting order because we get to hear what everyone else has to say, and I was particularly pleased to hear the right hon. Member for Leigh (Andy Burnham). He and I were brought up in the same city at the same time, although we obviously had different reactions to the years of Militant and Derek Hatton, with me being radicalised in one way and he, unfortunately, the wrong way.
It is a great pleasure to support this Bill because it finishes the job of policing reform. When I was deputy Mayor for policing in London I was, of course, in the thick of it during the great years of policing reform that saw the creation of police and crime commissioners. In many ways, I am the Home Secretary’s very own Frankenstein’s monster because I was the first creation of the Bill that reformed the governance of policing to produce the statutory deputy Mayor for policing in London.
One thing that frustrated me immensely in doing that job was my inability to compel, cajole or encourage some of the other people who were sitting in the same control room, rushing to the same emergencies, flashing the same blue lights—effectively doing broadly the same job—to collaborate. It seems extraordinary, does it not, when those people seem to work so closely together, that we have to legislate here to compel exactly that collaboration between forces that are in the broadest sense doing the same things.
I therefore believe that the Bill provides a big opportunity to establish and embed among the security forces the idea that they should all work together much more closely. I shall go through some aspects of the Bill and I shall add some tweaks and nuances along the way, in the hope that Ministers might consider what I have to say later in the Bill’s progress. Collaboration is one important element in that context.
One service in particular—it is not an emergency service—gives us an opportunity to include it in the family of collaborative services dealing with emergencies and crime in their widest sense. I am talking about probation. It is often the case that police officers deal with exactly the same human beings as does the probation service, yet at the moment the collaboration between the two is broadly voluntary. I would like the Minister to consider the idea that probation should be included in this compulsion for collaboration, alongside some of the other emergency services, because I think it could have a big impact on criminal justice generally.
As I listen to my hon. Friend’s description, I am thinking of an incident on the ground. I am reflecting on the fact that without proper co-ordination, there might not be anyone in charge. I assume that SOPs— standard operational procedures—will automatically appoint someone in charge. That will be decided very quickly at a major incident.
My hon. Friend is exactly right. As he knows, a gold commander will be appointed, and more often than not it is the senior police officer in charge of the incident. Control is taken, certainly in London, through the control room, in tandem with the fire office and other emergency services required. The system already operates in emergencies, and the fact that we are having to outline that in legislation seems extraordinary, although nevertheless necessary.
When I was chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority, I was astonished by the sheer time involved in dealing with complaints. There were reams of paper and endless committee meetings. My hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (James Cleverly) sat through hours and hours of many of those complaints hearings, some of which were frivolous and some not, but all of which, hopefully, were taken seriously. Any measure that streamlines the complaints system should be welcomed by all, police officers included.
I think that the idea of super-complaints is a knockout. As chairman of the Metropolitan Police Authority and deputy Mayor for policing, I would receive, endlessly, what were essentially super-complaints from charities and other organisations claiming that systematic problems involving the police needed to be addressed. If we could find a way of organising mini-inquiries into some of those issues—which is, essentially, what super-complaints would be—we might secure quicker resolutions.
One of the big issues, which the police themselves resolved in the end, was the investigation of rape. It became clear that the way in which the police investigated rape was seriously deficient, and that rape victims were not being dealt with properly at the front end—the inquiry desk at the police station. Once the mounting voices of complaints became so loud that the police had to do something, strangely enough, we secured change straight away. I think that if a charity involved in women’s welfare, or indeed men’s welfare, were able to lodge a super-complaint—rather like the Office of Fair Trading, or the Competition and Markets Authority—the issues could be resolved much more swiftly.
There is no doubt that one of the things that have undermined confidence in the police is the idea that someone can resign just before being subject to disciplinary action. We have seen police officers do that time and again, and they are often in collusion with a leadership that does not want to become involved in a significant inquiry into someone’s conduct. The extension by 12 months seems about right to me. There might be a case for 24 or 36 months, although I think that a lifetime might make matters more rather than less complicated. The extension beyond retirement is certainly welcome.
There will be rejoicing across the land at the final abolition of the Association of Chief Police Officers, in word if not in deed. It is great to see ACPO finally erased from the statute book, for all sorts of reasons. However, there is one small tweak that I would quite like the Minister to consider. One of the duties that are to be transferred to the new Chief Officers Council, or whatever it is called, is the requirement to co-ordinate the national police response to national emergencies. I was on the eighth floor of Scotland Yard on the Monday night of the 2011 riots, listening to the present Metropolitan Police Commissioner—who was then acting Deputy Commissioner—ringing all his mates in the police forces and asking whether they had any spare coppers to deal with the riot as 22 of London’s 23 boroughs went up in flames. It became clear to me that the idea of voluntary co-ordination was never going to be entirely seamless. I think that devising some method of compelling police forces, in extremis, to send officers to the aid of cities, or other areas, that needed them—rather than that being done on the basis of an understanding between police forces—would be useful for future resilience.
I welcome the proposed changes in the treatment of 17-year-olds in police custody. I think we are slowly beginning to realise that 16 and 17-year-olds are in a particular position of vulnerability: that they are still children in the eyes of the law, but are being treated inconsistently with that. The changes in the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 that will allow them to be treated as children, and given the protections that are afforded to children, are extremely welcome. They weave into a general theme, which is building up in the House and which has been mentioned earlier in the debate, concerning the status of 16 and 17-year-olds in the law generally. Like the Children’s Society, I believe that we should extend protections to that group.
I also think that we should consider extending child abduction warning notices to 17-year-olds, because they are often useful in that context. Either during the later stages of this Bill or during the stages of a sentencing Bill, if one is forthcoming, I shall be looking into the possibility of protecting those children through a general aggravated sentencing framework relating to offences against children, as well as the possibility of extending sentencing for child cruelty.
I greatly welcome the extension and strengthening of licensing conditions. I think that it is a fantastic move. As we all know, alcohol is an enormous driver of offending, and an enormous absorber of police time. The recent pilot trialling the alcohol abstinence monitoring orders in Croydon was so successful that the Minister has extended it to the whole of London, and we hope that it will subsequently be extended to the rest of the United Kingdom. However, there are a couple of tweaks that I would like the Minister to consider, because I think that they could make this tool really effective.
The first of those tweaks relates to police bail. Conditions apply to it, but, at present, none of them is a requirement to abstain from alcohol. I think that a huge volume of work that is currently dealt with in magistrates courts and beyond could be removed if the police could offer offenders the option of police bail on condition that they wore an alcohol monitoring bracelet for one, two or three months. If offenders breached that requirement, they would effectively be breaking the terms of their bail, and could end up in the criminal justice system as they did before. Vast swathes of paperwork in the magistrates courts would be reduced at a stroke. The police would have the power to manage alcohol on a real-time basis in their own communities.
One of the privileges of being the Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice is being part of the Ministry of Justice as well as the Home Office. What my hon. Friend is talking about, essentially, are out-of-court disposals, and I think that we are moving in that direction rather than in the direction of police bail when it comes to such matters as sobriety bracelets.
I welcome the Minister’s support. He has been a great proponent of the use of such bracelets, and I think that one of his first acts in office was to extend their use. I do not really mind how the bracelets get on to a person’s ankle. We know from the Croydon pilot that they are 92% effective. I do not mind whether this is done by means of out-of-court disposal or police bail, as long as it is done swiftly. We know that the best kind of criminal justice is swift and certain, and the bracelets are exactly that.
In the context of alcohol abstinence monitoring orders, there is another tweak that I should like the Minister to consider. In the United States, a system has been highly successful, and is spreading across the whole country like a virus. Authorities are allowed to charge for physical testing. People turn up twice a day to blow into bags to prove that they have not been drinking, and they pay a buck a test, which finances the whole project. It is self-financing: the polluter pays. That is a brilliant principle. We do not have such a power in this country, but it would be wonderful if we could insert it in the Bill. In the case of the pilot in London, the Mayor had to put in half a million quid and the Secretary of State for Justice had to put in another half a million. Instead, we could start this project and charge the criminals for their own disposal. Surely that makes sense. The money is money that those people would be spending on alcohol anyway, and they would be saving it because they would not be drinking: they would be wearing the bracelets. We know that the model works in the United States.
I am a great supporter of the Bill. I shall be monitoring its progress during all its stages over the next few weeks, and I hope that the small and helpful tweaks that I have suggested will somehow make it into a Bill which, as a result, would go from being good to being great.
The Conservative Government were elected on a manifesto commitment to finish the job of police reform. Having worked for the last eight years or so primarily in police law—and I should declare that I have represented many police forces, and lecture at the College of Policing—I have some knowledge of the subjects that we are discussing. I was pleased to be elected on the basis of that manifesto.
Let me recap what has been achieved by the Conservative Government, and, previously, the coalition, over the last five years. Police and crime commissioners have brought local democracy and accountability to policing. A police misconduct system has meant that, for the first time, hearings have been open to the public, there have been independent legal chairs, and there is a disapproved register of officers who have been dismissed and cannot seek re-admittance. A National Crime Agency has been established to tackle organised crime, and is now headed by the excellent Lynne Owens. A College of Policing has been established to improve police training and guidance, beefing up Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, and the Association of Chief Police Officers has been reformed to become the National Police Chiefs Council, led by the excellent Sara Thornton.
Our manifesto, however, included a promise to finish that job of police reform, to overhaul the police complaints system, to develop the role of police and crime commissioners, and to encourage closer collaboration between the police and other blue light services. And, as I said in my own election literature, we need to ensure that we give the police the tools they need to do their job, because crime and criminals are always changing and we must do what we can to minimise legislative drag. The amount of police-related legislation that has come through this House in the past five years shows that this Home Secretary is very much committed to doing that. I want to speak to those four key themes briefly if I may.
My first point relates to the police complaints system. The whole purpose of the system is to increase public confidence in the honourable profession of policing. The Chapman review found that the system was complex and lacking in transparency, but it did not need a retired major general to work that out. If the system cannot be understood by the public, let alone by police professional standards departments, it will not command their confidence.
There is a clear case for simplification, and I am pleased to say that that is being realised in at least six areas of the Bill. Replacing the dichotomy between a complaint and a direction and control matter with a mere expression of dissatisfaction will remove a misunderstanding that has resulted in many appeals and legal challenges. The confusion over whether a complaint should be recorded at all has led to a number of appeals and legal challenges, but now, virtually every complaint will be recorded. The introduction of a single route of appeal, with the appellate body having to decide whether a complaint has been handled in a reasonable and proportionate way, will remove the five avenues of appeal which were confusing to individuals without legal representation.
Furthermore, having all complaints against chief officers dealt with by the Independent Police Complaints Commission will resolve the need to refer matters to other police forces and ensure that when the most senior officers are the subject of a complaint, those complaints are dealt with entirely independently. Additionally, there will be a presumption in all kinds of complaints being investigated by the IPCC that the investigation will be an independent one rather than a directed one. It is important, however, that where the IPCC takes control of an investigation and has the power to decide whether a matter should be referred to a misconduct panel, the appropriate authority—the chief constable—should be consulted and the consultation should be genuine. There are cases in which the IPCC might say that the officer does not need to be referred to a misconduct panel but the appropriate authority thinks that the officer should be so referred. In such cases, the appropriate authority in the force is far better placed to know what the local standards and priorities are.
I am also pleased to see the beefing up of protection for police whistleblowers. The police conduct regulations include a duty on police officers to report misconduct by their colleagues, but this is obviously a difficult standard to follow where there is a threat or perceived threat of reprisals. This beefing up of protection is very important in that regard.
Another important feature of the Bill is the extension of Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary’s powers to non-police organisations that perform what were traditionally police roles. The public have a right to expect that where public functions are outsourced, a service that receives taxpayers’ money to perform those services will do so no less professionally and will be monitored no less rigorously than before. HMIC having the power to extend its investigations to private companies is therefore very welcome indeed.
I must respond to a point made by the hon. Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock). I am sure that it was well intended, but I think he perhaps misunderstood my intervention and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Braintree (James Cleverly). Case law relating to professional regulation across all fields—doctors, dentists, nurses, barristers, solicitors, police officers—makes it quite clear that the purpose of sanctions in professional regulation is to maintain the reputation of and public confidence in the profession, not to punish the registrant. In my view, therefore, it would be wrong to suggest that a sanction that was not available when someone was serving in office when disciplinary proceedings took effect should be greater than that for someone who is still in office.
The hon. Member for Barrow and Furness went on to talk about the docking of pensions. The police have the power to do that when an officer is convicted of a criminal offence. There may well be a case for extending that power and adding it has a power at first instance, but I do not see how such a power could be used differently depending on whether an officer had retired at the time the misconduct came before the panel. [Interruption.] The hon. Gentleman says that he did understand my point but did not agree with it. Fair enough. His point is certainly worth exploring, but I think that it would cut against the nature of the police conduct regulations, which in respect of sanctions have remained unchanged for a very long time, and against the whole thrust of case law in the field of professional discipline.
On this specific issue, does my hon. Friend think it is worth exploring extending the slightly arbitrary 12-month period after retirement during which someone can be pursued? Should the fact that someone has been retired for 12 months mean that they can escape punishment?
On this issue, the Berrys are ad idem.
My second point relates to developing the role of police and crime commissioners. I entirely agree that PCCs should have a greater role in the complaints system. That will add a level of independence to it, and they, rather than the chief constable under whom the officer complained about serves, will become the appellate body with respect to complaints. They will also have the power to deal with local resolution. I personally would have gone further by introducing a power of recall for PCCs, but perhaps that is a matter for another day.
My third point relates to encouraging collaboration between blue light services. This is probably the most far-reaching aspect of the Bill. I ask the House to consider what would happen, knowing the cost of public services and of the estate and knowing the amount of co-working that blue light services do, if we were to step back and start from scratch. I suggest that for reasons of efficiency and effectiveness we would choose to have shared premises, shared control rooms, shared back-office staff, shared first responder services for incidents such as crashes and explosions, and shared local accountability. There is a strong case to be made for that to be the direction of travel for blue light services across the UK.
However, the Bill does not mandate collaboration. It introduces a duty on the police and the fire service to consider, and keep under consideration, whether blue light collaboration would increase the efficiency and effectiveness of the services. So this is not collaboration for the sake of it; it would involve collaboration where efficiency and effectiveness would be improved. I believe that that is what local residents and taxpayers would demand of their blue light services. Nor is the Bill prescriptive about how collaboration should take place. It can be done to suit local needs.
My fourth point relates to giving the police the tools they need to do their job. This is very much how the House should approach legislation relating to the police, with officers on the ground telling us what powers and resources they need to tackle the changing nature of crime. When they tell us that legislation passed by this House is not working in the way that we intended, we should do all we can to put that right. In Kingston, which is covered by my constituency and that of my hon. Friend the Member for Richmond Park (Zac Goldsmith), we have done just that by encouraging the council to purchase extra police officers to police the town centre as a result of problems created by the night-time economy. Also, the local council and the local police force have set up a Korean information centre with a specific police and community support officer employed to help the Korean community with the issues that it is facing.
The House has responded in a similar way in the Psychoactive Substances Act 2016, which bans the supply of psychoactive substances and their possession in prison, and in the Investigatory Powers Bill, which will ensure that the police’s current powers are brought up to date to deal with the challenges that we face from the new technologies that criminals are using. In this Bill, Parliament will provide powers of entry and arrest to deal with suspects who have breached bail, and there will be new provisions with respect to sexual offences relating to live streaming on the internet. There will also be provisions on the use of decommissioned and antique firearms, and a new offence of being in possession of the tools to convert an imitation firearm. All these powers are important for the police in their day-to-day fight against crime.
The Bill contains a smorgasbord of provisions, all of which will improve policing on a day-to-day basis and complete the job of police reform on which this Home Secretary and her team have worked so hard for the past five years. I do not have time to touch on the important provisions on the treatment of 16 and 17-year-olds in custody, on the reduction of pre-charge bail, and on the reduction of the use of police cells for people detained for reasons connected to their mental health. None the less, I welcome this Bill because it enhances the transparency of the complaints system, it puts together a framework for bottom-up collaboration between our blue light services, and it provides very important updates on the police’s powers. For those reasons, this Bill is worthy of the support of the whole House.
I have had the privilege of hearing everybody speak in this debate, and I am delighted that I, too, now have the opportunity to participate. As a former Metropolitan police officer, I speak with some pride on this issue. I wish to make some brief observations, but, like my hon. Friend the Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse), I will start by saying that the Government are of course committed to finishing the job of reforming the police. It is not an easy task, but a very necessary one, and I broadly welcome the Bill.
The Bill is the cornerstone of police reform, which has now been going on for the past five years. It is the last part of the solid foundations that have been laid for the future of policing in the UK. It will help to build up public confidence in policing at a time when policing is becoming ever more complex.
I am pleased that the Government are committed to improving the efficiency of the police force. It is about not just numbers, as we hear so often, but efficiency. It is something about which I feel quite passionate. Enhancing the democratic accountability of the police is crucial. The public must have confidence in those who serve them, and ensuring that there is a direct democratic link to their police forces only serves to enhance that confidence.
This Bill will not only provide justice for the victims of crime, but ensure that those who have come into contact with the police have the correct protections in place. Recently, we have seen that we cannot allow confidence in the police to be undermined by what has now become a media frenzy surrounding many high-profile cases. We must guarantee that, if there is evidence to take a case forward, the correct safeguards are in place to ensure that all those involved in any police investigation are tried not by public opinion, but in the courts.
Briefly, let me make a number of points about this Bill. First, I am pleased that the police complaints and disciplinary systems will be altered and that there is greater protection for police whistleblowers. It is crucial that people feel enabled and protected if they bring forward a serious complaint or issue.
I have to admit that, when police and crime commissioners were first mooted, I did not particularly agree with them, but after seeing them in operation over the past three and a half years, I have changed my mind. I now fully support them and think that they are one of the best things to happen in the police service. None the less, I do have concerns about them becoming the appellate body for appeals—currently, that is the job of the chief constable. I look at that measure with a deal of trepidation as there could well be political connotations to such a move. I ask the Minister this: can we have full confidence that dealing with complaints will be both fair and impartial? It is such a crucial part of policing, that we must ensure that public confidence in policing is not subject to any level of doubt. I need absolute assurance from the Minister that there will be no unfair element to this process. As a police officer, I spent a number of years investigating complaints against fellow officers. Although it is often said that police should not investigate the police, I have to say that a more rigorous method and form of investigation would be hard to find. I say that as the standards that we expect of each other are so high. When an officer transgresses criminal law or indeed the disciplinary code, the investigations are ruthless.
Let me move on now to the concerns surrounding the extension of powers to police and community support officers and other staff. Although I am not against chief officers having greater control and powers over volunteers, I believe that there is no substitute for a fully trained, warranted police officer. It is important that there will be a list of core powers available only to police officers, and it is crucial that volunteers are not supplementing roles and duties that should be undertaken by officers who are thoroughly trained and who have experience of the duties of policing day after day. That said, the special constabulary has an important role to play, and its contribution should not be underestimated.
Although I appreciate that the initiative of using volunteer police officers in Lincolnshire has been seen as a success, the proposal requires greater scrutiny and discussion before any major changes to the structure of policing is made. This Bill, as I have mentioned, is crucial in ensuring public confidence in the police, and supplementing police duties with people who are not adequately trained could possibly undermine that confidence. I look forward to hearing the Minister address those points, as I know that he has given this Bill a huge amount of thought.
I do have concerns about collaboration between the emergency services, but, as much has been said on that subject in this debate, I will not dwell on it too much, except to say that success of such collaboration will be very much down to whether local police and fire chiefs can make the arrangements work. Indeed there is some intrigue over the single employer model, which could be fraught with problems. I am unsure how chief officers from very different services who have to tackle their own distinct problems can oversee the duties of another agency of which they have very little experience. I know that the Bill mentions training, but I would like to hear what training will be given to prepare them for such a role.
Importantly, I also have concerns about transferring the power to appoint assistant inspectors of constabulary from the Home Secretary to Her Majesty’s Chief Inspector of Constabulary. I believe that the Home Secretary, as an informed and impartial judge on matters to do with policing, is best placed to ensure that these crucial roles are filled with people who are robust, experienced, independent and up to the task of the vital role of inspecting how the police operate and whether they are up to standard. The current system has worked admirably, and I am, as yet, not convinced of the need to change it. Sir Tom Winsor, Her Majesty’s chief inspector of constabulary, is a competent leader of the organisation, but, as this is all about independence, the Home Secretary is best placed to do the job.
May I move on to the amendment of police powers under sections 135 and 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983? I have heard what has been said by my hon. Friends the Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris) and for Broxbourne (Mr Walker). The review of the Department of Health and the Home Office was right to highlight the overuse of police cells as places of safety, especially for children and young people. Will the Minister tell us what locations will be used as places of safety given the reduction in the use of police cells, and how will the definition of places of safety be drafted correctly to ensure that it reflects local capacity and is flexible enough to ensure that different police forces with diverse capacity issues can respond to local needs?
There is some difficulty around understanding the practical role of police officers in the situations in which they find themselves. It could be the middle of a wet, windy night, under Archway bridge in Holloway, or it could be on a railway track between Euston and Scotland. It is very difficult. It could be a domestic scene, with somebody who has gone absolutely berserk and wrecked the house, and now holds his or her family with a knife. It is about getting in there, getting hold of that person and ensuring the safety of others, as well as their safety. Sometimes, the police station is the only place or the most immediate place that somebody can be taken to. It does not necessarily need to mean a police cell, of course. It could be a detention room or a surgeon’s room. I believe that there is further discussion to be had about that.
I strongly support the changes that will be made to arrangements for how the National Crime Agency enters into collaborative agreements with other law enforcement agencies to enable the quick identification of foreign national offenders. The Bill will supplement powers to give the police and immigration officers more opportunities to establish identity and nationality on arrest and obtain documents from foreign nationals when they cannot use existing search powers, which has always been a stumbling block in the past.
There will be a statutory requirement on all defendants, regardless of their nationality, to state their name, date of birth and nationality in court. These are strong measures that will enable the police and immigration officers to identify and detain foreign national offenders. Like probably most Members, I received an email from Liberty talking about the dangers of this provision for foreign nationals, but if we travel abroad to eastern Europe, to places such as Romania where they carry ID cards, as a visiting foreign national we have to carry our passports—it is the law. I see nothing wrong in having to state where one comes from.
Generally speaking, this is a strong Bill that is crucial to reforming the police service in England and Wales. I look forward to scrutinising it and discussing it with Members from all parties as it makes its passage through the House. I commend the Home Secretary and the Policing Minister, as well as their support staff who work so diligently, on this key plank of police reform. As a parting shot, I would say that there is only one thing missing for me, and that is the regionalisation of police forces, but perhaps that is for another day and another Bill.
From the start, I want to make it clear that we welcome many of the proposals in the Bill. There are many constructive and positive proposals on which we will seek to build in Committee. We welcome, for example, the improvements to—nay, the fundamental reform of—the IPCC, an organisation that is badly in need of that.
In a very good debate, both the shadow Home Secretary and the hon. Member for Rossendale and Darwen (Jake Berry) made a powerful case for the fact that Hillsborough demands that those who covered up are called to account. We therefore hope that the Government will think again about the 12-month limit. We also welcome what was said by my hon. Friend the Member for Barrow and Furness (John Woodcock), and the constructive response of the Government, about having to learn lessons from the very sad case of Poppi Worthington.
We welcome the additional steps to protect police whistleblowers and the updates to the firearms and alcohol licensing legislation. The Chair of the Home Affairs Committee, my right hon. Friend the Member for Leicester East (Keith Vaz), made a powerful case for the more general consolidation of firearms legislation, but the steps contained in the Bill are a welcome step in the right direction. On alcohol licensing, I hope that the Policing Minister listened to the rather intelligent contribution made by the hon. Member for North West Hampshire (Kit Malthouse) about appropriate changes that might be made during the passage of the Bill.
We welcome the improvements to how the police deal with people suffering from mental health crises and the fact that police cells will no longer be considered a mental health safe place. To this end, there were some first-class contributions from the hon. Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker), my hon. Friend the Member for North Durham (Mr Jones) and the hon. Member for Halesowen and Rowley Regis (James Morris). We will certainly seek to work together across the House on the legitimate issues of concern that have been raised.
We welcome the measures to ensure that 17-year-olds detained in police custody are treated as children, and at this point I pay tribute to the hard campaigning work done by my hon. Friends the Members for Rotherham (Sarah Champion) and for Kingston upon Hull North (Diana Johnson) on this issue over many years.
We also welcome the proposals on police bail, but my right hon. Friend the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee was right to point out that the case of Paul Gambaccini underlined that we have a system open to abuse, with protracted uncertainty. On the other hand, however, the shadow Home Secretary was absolutely right robustly to argue that there are also dangerous loopholes and that the Dhar case shows that further steps need to be taken to ensure that terrorist suspects do not flee our shores.
It is often at the most difficult, traumatic and devastating times in a person’s life that they come into contact with the emergency services. The police, fire and ambulance services are the final safety net in the most difficult situations. That is why at the heart of this issue is the fact that the British public want to know that if they dial 999 in the most desperate times, there will be a police officer, firefighter or a paramedic ready to come to their assistance. They want to know that the officer, firefighter or paramedic who comes will not take too long, is properly trained and has the right equipment. Providing such a service and, crucially, ensuring that it is well resourced and adequately funded and staffed, is surely one of the most important duties of any Government.
Equally, at the other end of the spectrum, it is the Government’s duty to do their utmost to ensure that citizens do not get into that critical situation to begin with. This can involve preventive work, whether that is good neighbourhood policing or the fire service’s excellent work on fire prevention such as that at the ground-breaking Safeside facility in Birmingham, close to my constituency. Crucial, too, are good community relations, education work, preventing harm and risk, and stopping people from getting to that critical desperate stage. Achieving that is the crucial duty of any Government, but it is those duties that I have described that Ministers all too often fail to honour.
The Home Secretary once again asserted today that police reform is working and crime is falling. In the debate, we heard some good examples of progressive police reform over the past five years that we support, such as the establishment of the College of Policing, which the hon. Member for Kingston and Surbiton (James Berry) referred to in his contribution. Nevertheless, for all the talk of reform, the Bill cannot cover up the fact that the Government have failed to protect the police. Some 18,000 police officers have gone—12,000 from the frontline and 1,300 in the past six months alone. Nearly 5,000 police community support officers have gone. Community policing has been increasingly hollowed out, putting the community at risk. There is increasing evidence of growing concerns among the public about the visibility of their police service on the one hand and, on the other, a crisis of morale in the police service, whose members serve this country so well.
In the previous Parliament there were cuts of 25%. In this Parliament, we have already had the broken promise from the Government that they will protect budgets, as £160 million in real terms will be cut in the next year. The public are being asked to pay more for less. The hon. Member for North West Hampshire was right to talk about resilience, but there must be growing uncertainty about the capacity of our police service to respond at a time of a crisis such as that in 2011.
The Government have also failed to protect the fire service from the sharp knife of austerity, as they cut it by 23% in the previous Parliament. When that is taken with the cuts in this Parliament, the fire service is being cut nearly in half. According to the National Audit Office:
“Savings have come predominantly from reducing staff costs.”
Thousands of firefighters have gone and response times are getting longer. In the west midlands alone, 294 full-time fire personnel have gone.
Not only have the Government failed to protect funding for our crucial emergency services, but they have slashed funding in the most unfair way possible. The Policing Minister waxes lyrical about being a former firefighter, and I pay tribute to his origins. We have much in common, but my understanding of firefighters is that normally they put fires out. On this occasion, the Minister started a fire with the omnishambles of the review of the police funding formula, for which he was good enough to apologise on the Floor of the House. That Home Office blunder means that high-need, high-crime areas such as Northumbria and the West Midlands have seen cuts that are twice as big as those in Surrey.
Similarly, the Government have failed to address a fire funding formula that, in the words of the National Audit Office, means that
“the Department has reduced funding most to fire and rescue authorities with the highest levels of need.”
Time and again we have seen this unfairness of approach and broken promises to the public.
As for the protestation that crime is falling, it is certainly true, as we have said repeatedly, that volume crime is falling—for example, cars are now much more difficult to steal. However, crime is not falling; it is changing. Only six days ago in this Chamber the Policing Minister acknowledged in answer to a question that as people are now more likely to be mugged online than in the street, when at last the truth is told on crime and those 6 million crimes are included in the crime survey of England and Wales, the survey will show a very substantial increase in crime. May we have an end to the protestation of that which is plainly wrong?
I am a little concerned that we seem to be going down the route of accepting that physical crime is no longer happening. In my constituency, violent crime is up by 24%, and it is worth acknowledging—[Interruption.] It is worth acknowledging on both sides of the House—Government Members should stop pointing their fingers at the Opposition—that there is still a significant issue around physical crime. People are worried about the lack of a police presence on the street and about everything being moved online, and such a focus could really undermine that police presence.
My hon. Friend is absolutely right. If one looks at the profoundly worrying trends in violent crime and sexual crime, it is clear that, after a generation of progress, we are now seeing, in the words of Sir Hugh Orde, a tipping point being reached, with worrying signs of some of the most serious crimes going up. Let us have an end to the protestation that crime is falling when it is doing nothing of the kind.
The sensible measures in the Bill—there are many—cannot hide the fact that the Government are failing to protect the emergency services and the public in the way they should. On the fire service, they talk of collaboration. The Opposition understand the power of collaboration. I have seen it first hand, and the Policing Minister will have seen it as a result of his previous experience, as well as now as a Member of Parliament and Minister. The Opposition absolutely understand the importance of greater collaboration and integration, not just between police and fire, but with the national health service, local government and a range of statutory agencies.
There are already some innovative and effective examples of blue-light collaboration across the country, many of which were initiated by Labour police and crime commissioners. One that I saw first hand in Coventry was led by the fire service and involved excellent joint working on getting vulnerable people and taking pre-emptive action to protect them. In Greater Manchester, local authority leaders have worked with fire, ambulance and health services to oversee excellent examples of joint working and more meaningful integration. Irlam fire station in Salford is one of the first in the country to host fire services, police and paramedics under one roof, which means that front-line officers are working together every day to improve the service to the public. The station also provides vital community health services.
Those are some of the excellent examples of the best practice in collaboration that we very much want to encourage, but there is a real risk under the Government’s proposals that the fire service will become a poor relation to the other emergency services, disappearing as a statutory service in its own right—the notion of a single employer being profoundly suspect—and potentially being taken over by a police and crime commissioner, whatever local people and locally elected representatives have to say. I was surprised, in what was a good contribution, that the hon. Member for Braintree (James Cleverly) downplayed the importance of the voice of locally elected representatives being heard. The Opposition say yes to greater collaboration, but it must be led by local need and with local agreement from all parties concerned. That was why the shadow Home Secretary was absolutely right to say that a simple takeover by a PCC, supported by the Home Secretary, regardless of what local people want, cannot be right.
On volunteers, there is a long and honourable tradition —several Members on both sides of the House spoke to this—of specials on the one hand and neighbourhood watch on the other. I made a presentation on Friday to Maureen Meehan from the neighbourhood watch scheme in Stockland Green. She is an outstanding woman who has helped to run that scheme for 29 years in her local community, so there is a long and honourable tradition of voluntary contribution. However, as our brilliant police and crime commissioner for Northumbria, Vera Baird, has rightly said:
“Volunteers have a very important role to play in supporting policing, but not to place themselves in potentially dangerous situations…When the Home Secretary consulted on her proposals to increase volunteers’ powers, I said at the time she was trying to provide policing on the cheap.”
Moreover, the public demand it as absolutely vital that essential police functions are discharged by police officers. That point was made by the hon. Member for Gower (Byron Davies), speaking from his experience as a former police officer. Many volunteers want to support the work of police officers, but do not want to do their jobs for them. As Vera Baird has said, the use of CS and pepper spray should be undertaken only by full-time officers who are regularly trained in their usage and, importantly, in the law surrounding their use. As such, we will probe the Government’s proposals rigorously. We will oppose plugging gaping holes in the police workforce with volunteers, as well as any further moves to privatise essential police functions.
Let me return to the positive, but stake out where we hope to go during the passage of the Bill. We genuinely welcome measures to change the police’s treatment of those with mental health problems, but mental health care still does not have the parity of esteem that the Prime Minister recently spoke about. My hon. Friend the Member for North Durham made a powerful contribution in that regard. As other services contend with funding reductions, there is a growing crisis in our mental health system, and progress on the concordat has been painfully slow. As a consequence, sadly, the police are still all too often the service of last resort. In January, The Guardian revealed that they are spending up to 40% of their time on mental health-related incidents. We are glad that the Government recognise, as we do, that police cells are no place for those suffering from a mental health crisis. However, as the shadow Home Secretary said, banning inappropriate places of safety alone will not solve the problem of why police cells are used in the first place—a lack of beds and alternative places of safety.
There is a great national will to tackle the evil of child sex exploitation. The one measure in the Bill on that is a welcome step in the right direction, but it is not, in itself, enough. The most recent data from the NSPCC, which have been brought to the attention of us all, estimate that half a million children are being abused. Yet, as my hon. Friend the Member for Rotherham has worked so hard to expose, and as the shadow Home Secretary said, one year on from the landmark summit held by the Prime Minister to determine a response to child sex exploitation, which was a very welcome initiative, many of the Government’s key pledges remain unfulfilled. The national child abuse taskforce still has not been established. As a result, the whistleblowing portal has no taskforce to report to if more large-scale child abuse cases arise.
On firearms, as the Chair of the Home Affairs Committee said, we welcome the Government’s proposals updating the existing law in line with the recommendations of the Law Commission. We are keen to work with the Government on the next stages, including on explicitly outlawing new threats such as the printing of firearms by 3D printing machines. The Home Office recognised that as a problem three years ago, but has failed to act thus far, so we hope that we can make progress in the context of the Bill. We will seek to amend the Bill to stop the sale of not only firearms, but something equally injurious to health and safety: zombie knives, which are terrible weapons that can have only one purpose—to inflict grievous harm on the individual.
I am pleased that we see in the Bill welcome progress that has been argued for on both sides of the House, as has been reflected in the debate. There is much common ground—of that there is no doubt—but, as the shadow Home Secretary said, we will try to improve the Bill, and there are fundamental issues in relation to fire, tougher police bail and more accountability in the complaints arrangements that we will seek to reach agreement on. Sadly, if that proves not to be possible, we will divide the House.
We cannot let the debate conclude without paying tribute to the people about whom we have been talking all day. We agree that the brave men and women in our emergency services are ordinary people doing often extraordinary things in the most difficult circumstances. They deserve nothing but the best from this House of Commons, and that is precisely what we intend to stand up for.
I say genuinely that this has been a really good and sensible debate, and it has been conducted in the correct tone, apart from some of the bits in the speech of the shadow Policing Minister, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey). Let us take the bits we agree on and work from there.
I was slightly surprised to hear the shadow Home Secretary say that we should do more. Anybody would think that this Government had been in power for 20 years—they probably will be—but his party had 13 years to modernise the police force and the other emergency services.
I thought there was a slightly critical tone about the fact that I used to be a firefighter. I am very proud of that and it is an obvious thing for me to mention, just as colleagues across the House mention specialist roles that they have held. When I was in the fire service, I wanted to protect the public better and to have the same skills, equipment and emergency services as other countries. This Bill will help address that. It will not be done on the cheap. We need to ask whether we need two chief executive officers, two finance directors and two health and safety officers. Do we need so much bureaucracy at the top of our emergency services taking money away from the frontline? We see examples around the country of collaboration taking place, but there are also examples of collaboration not taking place. That is why the Bill is very important.
The Chair of the Home Affairs Committee apologised to me for the fact that he would not be back for the wind-ups, but he said some very important things about the need for public confidence in the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Common sense is needed. It is clear that more complaints could be dealt with at constabulary level. That will often mean just saying, “Sorry, we got it wrong. We didn’t intend to get it wrong —that’s the last thing in the world we wanted to do.” It is important to say very early on that only serious offences should get to the IPCC. The Home Secretary and I were just telling each other that we will need to table a lot of amendments in Committee to remove the word “commission”. Further amendments will also be tabled.
The Bill is not perfect. I could accuse Labour Front Benchers of moaning, but I will not—I am trying to work collaboratively. The fire service needs to work more closely with the police, the ambulance service, the coastguard and other emergency services. We need to make sure that we get more for the taxpayers’ buck. [Interruption.] That is enough chuntering from Labour Front Benchers. Let us see what we can get.
Rather than address what is coming from Labour Front Benchers at the moment, I will address some of the points that were made during the sensible part of the debate. Mental illness is no different from any other illness, and it must be treated as such. For too many years, the police force has been used as the first, rather than last, point of call. Even though police officers are well trained and do good work on our behalf, they are not mental health professionals. They are also not experts on many other conditions, including learning difficulties. Sometimes we have to use them to provide a place of safety, but that should not be the case. Unless we actually put a stop to that and say, “Enough is enough,” we will not get the provision we need from other agencies. That is a really important part of the changes. The firearms changes have been needed for some considerable time, and we can work together on those.
I say to the Scottish National party that we will work closely with the Scottish Parliament. There was no consensus at all among political parties on the Silk commission, which is why we are in the position we are in. There was no consensus on the Silk commission between the Labour party in Wales and the Labour party in this House, so how could we have got consensus on the matter? As we go into Committee, let us work on what we can work on to try to make the Bill better. Let us not decry our emergency services and say that they cannot work together, because they can.
No; I am going to conclude. On that point, in a debate that has been particularly important, let us make sure that we deliver what the public sent us to do, rather than sitting here and moaning at each other.
Question put and agreed to.
Bill accordingly read a Second time.
Policing and Crime Bill (Programme)
Motion made, and Question put forthwith (Standing Order No. 83A(7)),
That the following provisions shall apply to the Policing and Crime Bill:
(1) The Bill shall be committed to a Public Bill Committee.
Proceedings in Public Bill Committee
(2) Proceedings in the Public Bill Committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion on Thursday 14 April.
(3) The Public Bill Committee shall have leave to sit twice on the first day on which it meets.
Proceedings on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading
(4) Proceedings on Consideration and proceedings in legislative grand committee shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion one hour before the moment of interruption on the day on which proceedings on Consideration are commenced.
(5) Proceedings on Third Reading shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at the moment of interruption on that day.
(6) Standing Order No. 83B (Programming committees) shall not apply to proceedings on Consideration and up to and including Third Reading.
(7) Any other proceedings on the Bill (including any proceedings on consideration of Lords Amendments or on any further messages from the Lords) may be programmed.—(Jackie Doyle-Price.)
Question agreed to.