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Policing and Crime Bill (Second sitting)

Debated on Tuesday 15 March 2016

The Committee consisted of the following Members:

Chairs: †Mr George Howarth, Mr David Nuttall

† Berry, Jake (Rossendale and Darwen) (Con)

† Berry, James (Kingston and Surbiton) (Con)

† Bradley, Karen (Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department)

† Brown, Lyn (West Ham) (Lab)

† Caulfield, Maria (Lewes) (Con)

† Cleverly, James (Braintree) (Con)

† Davies, Mims (Eastleigh) (Con)

† Dromey, Jack (Birmingham, Erdington) (Lab)

† Elphicke, Charlie (Lord Commissioner of Her Majesty's Treasury)

† Harris, Carolyn (Swansea East) (Lab)

† Jones, Gerald (Merthyr Tydfil and Rhymney) (Lab)

† Jones, Mr Kevan (North Durham) (Lab)

† Milling, Amanda (Cannock Chase) (Con)

† Penning, Mike (Minister for Policing, Fire, Criminal Justice and Victims)

† Saville Roberts, Liz (Dwyfor Meirionnydd) (PC)

† Smith, Jeff (Manchester, Withington) (Lab)

† Whittaker, Craig (Calder Valley) (Con)

Ben Williams, Marek Kubala, Committee Clerks

† attended the Committee

Witnesses

Cassandra Harrison, Deputy Director, Policy and Public Affairs, Barnardo’s

Iryna Pona, Policy Adviser, Children’s Society

Alan Wardle, Head of Policy and Public Affairs, NSPCC

Winston Roddick, Chair, Association of Police and Crime Commissioners

David Jamieson, Police and Crime Commissioner for the West Midlands

David Lloyd, Police and Crime Commissioner for Hertfordshire

Vera Baird QC, Police and Crime Commissioner for Northumbria

Chief Constable Sara Thornton, Chair, National Police Chiefs Council

Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley, Metropolitan Police

Dr Julie Chalmers, Specialist Adviser, Royal College of Psychiatrists

Sally Burke, Get Maisie Home Campaign

Dame Anne Owers, Chair, Independent Police Complaints Commission

Professor Dame Shirley Pearce, Chair, College of Policing

Alex Marshall, Chief Executive, College of Policing

Public Bill Committee

Tuesday 15 March 2016

(Afternoon)

[Mr George Howarth in the Chair]

Policing and Crime Bill

Examination of Witnesses

Cassandra Harrison, Iryna Pona and Alan Wardle gave evidence.

Q 45 We will now hear evidence from Barnardo’s, the Children’s Society and the NSPCC. We have until 2.45 pm for this part of the session.

I thank the witnesses for coming along and providing us with the benefit of your advice. We really appreciate it. Perhaps you could introduce yourselves, starting with Iryna.

Iryna Pona: I am Iryna Pona, and I am a policy adviser at the Children’s Society. I lead on our policy work with vulnerable adolescents.

Cassandra Harrison: Hello, I am Cassandra Harrison, and I am deputy director for policy and public affairs at Barnardo’s.

Alan Wardle: I am Alan Wardle, head of policy and public affairs at the NSPCC.

Q I will ask an open-ended question. Is there anything more that the Bill could do that would prevent child exploitation online?

Alan Wardle: It is really good that the Bill covers child sexual exploitation, although it is a bit of a missed opportunity in that there is only one measure, which relates to the livestreaming of child abuse—that is obviously a very serious matter. In terms of the prevention agenda, there are some things that could be done on child abduction warning notices, which Cassie can talk about in particular. In terms of child sexual exploitation, we are increasingly seeing that so much of this is done online. It is about understanding how children increasingly live their lives. The child sexual exploitation plan brought out last year made no real mention of the online elements. Again, it is about thinking about how we can better integrate the online and offline aspects, particularly with local police forces. We are concerned that, although the capacity of the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre has quadrupled recently, and it is doing some great work, local police forces do not necessarily have the skills or expertise to be able to deal with some of these crimes. Making sure that each police force has a dedicated online team that has the skills and capacity to look better at these issues would help to prevent child sexual exploitation. I am happy to talk about that in more detail later if that would be helpful.

Q Who will talk to us about it in more detail? Cassandra was it?

Cassandra Harrison: I can talk to you about some of the prevention measures that we would like to see. It is not specifically about online abuse. Like the NSPCC, we welcome the fact that the Bill is closing the loophole in relation to online streaming. Child abduction warning notices are used by the police to collect and document evidence in order to dissuade people they suspect of grooming children from contacting those children by saying they have no permission to associate with them. The effectiveness of those notices is limited because breaching them is not a criminal offence. The Government responded to this and created sexual risk orders and sexual harm prevention orders.

The Solicitor General, in the passage of the Serious Crime Act 2015, committed to reviewing the effectiveness of the notices, including how they interact with child abduction warning notices. The process is supposed to be that when child abduction warning notices are breached, things are escalated by the police, who can use one of the legally enforceable orders. However, there is no clear indication at present as to whether that is happening in practice. Some anecdotal evidence we have suggests that that is quite patchy and in some cases no further action is being taken, which is quite concerning. We would like the Government to use the Bill as an opportunity to commit to report publicly on the use of those different measures, and to make sure that they are working effectively to protect children. What we all want is early intervention and prevention of this terrible type of abuse, which we know can have a terrible impact on children.

Iryna Pona: To add to what Cass has said about child abduction warning notices, we would also like to see provisions in the Bill to enable police to use child abduction warning notices in relation to vulnerable 16 and 17-year-olds, because 16 and 17-year-olds are a separate group. They are very vulnerable to being sexually abused. At the same time, because legally they can consent to sexual relationships, they are often seen and responded to in a different way. Practitioners and police are not always sure how they can best protect them.

We believe that the Bill should address the gap in the law that says that police cannot use child abduction warning notices to disrupt predatory individuals who are targeting vulnerable young people aged 16 and 17. Currently, child abduction warning notices can be used only in relation to a very small group of 16 and 17-year-olds—those who are in the care of the local authorities, but only those who are under care orders under section 31 of the Children Act 1989. The majority of young people aged 16 and 17 who are in care are looked-after children under section 20 of the Children Act, so the majority are not covered and are very vulnerable to being targeted.

In addition, we know that young people seek help from local authorities because they are homeless. We estimate that about 2,800 young people are accommodated by local authorities every year, often under section 20, but not under section 31 or other provisions, because sometimes local authorities do not accommodate them as looked-after children, so for years they live in hostels and other types of accommodation. We know from our practice that they are very vulnerable to being targeted for sexual exploitation and police have very limited powers to disrupt that exploitation.

The sexual risk orders that Cass mentioned are very helpful but they require a high evidential level of proof. The guidance on sexual risk orders says that child abduction warning notices are complementary to sexual risk orders and can be used as speedy early intervention tools, so not being able to use them for vulnerable 16 and 17-year-olds is a big gap that it is to be hoped the Bill will address.

Q You mentioned in passing the College of Policing, and perhaps the interpretation of how to put this legislation into effect might vary from police force to police force. How serious an issue is that?

Alan Wardle: We think that it is worrying. In particular, as I mentioned, in the online space there is a huge variation in how police forces respond to this. The report last year by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary into online child sexual exploitation found that over half of police investigations were either inadequate or required improvement, which we think is not really good enough. It is quite often forgotten that what happens in some of these delays: computers which were seized had not been examined for up to six to 12 months, and in some cases that have been followed up, those delays meant that more children were abused in real time.

There is a serious issue. Particularly with the nature of CSE and online CSE, that whole idea that a victim, the offender and the police force are all in the same area is increasingly untenable. How do we ensure that police forces are not operating as individual businesses, and all have the best technology? Are they procuring that in the best way? How do we ensure that the best technological brains are helping the police to identify and track these children and offenders? The variety in performance across the country, in terms of how the police are dealing with online offences, presents real challenges—we do not underestimate the challenges for the police, who are making a lot of effort, but the pace at which technology is moving and offenders are operating mean that they are always playing catch-up.

We need to be much smarter about how police forces are resourcing each other, and crossing and supporting each other in terms of sharing best practice, technology and tools that identify risk, because we hear from forces that some of the tools are not being used for cost reasons. There is a lot of irregular or, I should say, uneven practice across police forces that needs to be levelled out on online grooming and the way in which online criminals are targeting vulnerable children.

Q Two related questions. First, Alan, you made reference to the importance of prevention. For example, I have worked closely with the Dot Com Children’s Foundation on prevention strategy and primary schools helping young people to avoid risk and harm. Are there any additional proposals in the Bill that you think we might focus on in terms of the prevention agenda?

Secondly, you made reference to the HMIC report and the uneven approach across the police service to tackling the obscenity of child sexual exploitation and abuse—there is now a great national will to do so. Will the three of you say something further about your views on the resource allocated to that? I am aware of the tremendous pressures on the police service, with the West Midlands here today increasing its public protection unit from 300 to 800 to cope, but it is still struggling. Are there points that you would like to make to us about resource and more evenness—your word—of approach in the next stages?

Alan Wardle: I will take the second question first. One of the issues is that you need specialist staff online, but increasingly front-line officers need to have an understanding of how online permeates every aspect of how children live their lives. A couple of weeks ago, we heard of a case where a girl had taken a picture of herself—she was under 16—and put it on Instagram. There was a boy at the school, and one of his friends got it and started looking at the picture, sharing it from his phone—we know it was not the boy. The phone was then captured. Because no children were deemed at risk, that was then put in a file where he will probably not get it for six to 12 months—this is a 14-year-old boy. At that time in his life, it is massive. The police do not really have any understanding of the impact.

These things need to be dealt with in real time, so, rather than that, how do you deal with that child in that instance? It is not necessarily that we are saying you need thousands more police officers; it is more about how you ensure that police officers, particularly front-line police officers, have the skills for and understanding about online, how young people are living their lives and how those two are enmeshed and embedded. If you are able to deal with some of those things in a quicker, more responsive way, assessing risk properly and dealing with these situations, that could be a way of freeing up police resources.

There are resource issues, but it is not necessarily a case of throwing a huge number more of police officers at it; it is also about ensuring that, as well as having specialist police officers at CEOP and the local level, the front-line police officers understand the online threat and how young people are living their lives, because for them there is no real distinction between the on and offline worlds.

Q And on the prevention agenda?

Alan Wardle: On the prevention agenda, I do not necessarily think that the Bill is the right place for this—I am not sure. There are not necessarily many legislative solutions, other than the ones that my colleagues have talked about. We argue, as a lot of organisations do, that statutory personal, social and health education is a really important preventive measure. It helps children to understand issues such as consent and to talk about topical issues that have been in the press recently such as sexting. That would be helpful, but I am not sure whether it is within the Bill’s remit. Police forces should have a much greater understanding of the nature of this crime. Speaking to and engaging with young people and understanding at a local level what children are worried about and what concerns them is one of the most important ways of preventing CSE.

Cassandra Harrison: If I could pick up the points about prevention and resourcing, the police spend a huge amount of money—I understand that it was estimated to be about £1 billion in 2015—investigating allegations of child abuse. If we were more effective in prevention, perhaps we could reroute some of that money and save it in the longer term. Of course, such things are always easier said than done. As Alan said, it is really important for police forces to engage in that kind of early intervention and prevention work.

One of the things that I would like to take the opportunity to raise is harmful sexual behaviour. If prevention is core to tackling CSE—and we all believe that it is—we should look much more closely at how the system deals with children who display sexually harmful behaviour. There has been a recent surge in awareness of that. The internet and technology have played a role in making it more visible and in increasing its prevalence through access to online pornography, for example. Some of that behaviour is not a cause of concern—for example, sexting between teenagers who are in a consensual relationship—but there is a wide spectrum. At the extreme end is peer-on-peer sexual abuse, where children exploit other children and there is an age gap or a power imbalance—for example, in a gang context.

There is a significant overlap of the risk factors and characteristics of the children who display harmful sexual behaviour and those who are victims of child sexual exploitation. They include low self-esteem, learning disabilities and a history of abuse or trauma. It is estimated that about a third of cases of child sexual abuse are committed by young people—children—under 18, which is a significant proportion of that type of abuse. A lack of access to support can work counter to early intervention. We should make sure those children get the support they need so they do not go on to abuse others later in their childhood or as adults. We would really like to see Ministers use this Bill as an opportunity to give that point greater consideration and think about what role the police can play in that.

Q Do you believe that there are enough resources—training, education and the latest technology—to help tackle CSE at a local level?

Iryna Pona: May I answer that and add to what Alan and Cassandra said about prevention and resources? One of the issues we have seen through our work and the policy work we have done is that there is a lack of data. The police need to know where to target their resources so they are used efficiently. For our latest report—“Old enough to know better?”—we asked police forces through a freedom of information request how many 16 and 17-year-olds they have recorded on their system as at risk of sexual exploitation. In those cases, they are able to intervene early, and they have intelligence about how children can be targeted.

The responses we received were very diverse; there was no consistency. Only six police forces could give us real numbers, and some refused. Some of the numbers we were given were in three digits and other were just two-digit numbers. The discrepancy in the systems for flagging and assessing children is an issue that can perhaps be addressed by giving better guidance to police forces about how those young people should be flagged on their systems and how those cases should be followed up from identification and early intervention through all the stages to sentencing. When those young people turn 18, there is an issue of how they are passed on to services for vulnerable adults and supported appropriately in a way that meets their needs. That is one of the issues that can help the police to allocate their resources and know how much they need to target different areas.

Q Anything else on resources?

Alan Wardle: Again, I think it is a question of how resources are allocated and prioritised. There is an issue we have come across, again, with registered sex offenders, where there was a company providing monitoring software for registered sex offenders, called Securus Software, which had to withdraw from the market because police forces were not prepared to pay the £40 a go that it costs to monitor a registered sex offender. We would say £40 is pretty small beer; if someone is a registered sex offender that money would go to monitoring the websites they are on. It can look at patterns of words, to see if they are moving back into reoffending behaviour. That is one prevention piece that is very important: how do we ensure that people who have already offended, who are serving community sentences and suspended sentences, do not continue to reoffend?

We do hear of some cases where there is a bit of a false economy going on: to save a small amount of money and not to monitor sex offenders—the risks that that is storing up are vast. We know the police are under pressure; but how do we make smart choices so that such technology is shared across police forces, and so that they know what is most effective, what is working well and what is good at managing risk? Those are the sort of things that we hear quite a lot of. It is about how to make sure that those decisions are being made in a sensible way, across the country.

Q Do you welcome the additional support, or the additional provision of the super-complaints system detailed within the Bill; and is it a system where you could see yourself triggering a complaint against a force or a police officer?

Iryna Pona: I think it is welcome that the Bill aims to ensure that the complaints system is transparent, and that when you make complaints against the police you are informed of all the different stages that your complaint is at. I think it is a welcome focus. I think it would also be helpful to ensure the same thing in relation to victims of crimes. Currently there are huge discrepancies between different police forces and from case to case—for example in how much the victims of sexual offences are informed about the investigation of their case. It would be good if the changes made for complaints could be mirrored in relation to victims.

Q Is it specifically the ability of third parties to trigger a complaint?

Cassandra Harrison: I have to say I am not familiar with all the detail of what is being proposed, but, as Iryna said, there should be greater transparency, and if third party organisations like mine had the ability to trigger complaints where we thought it appropriate, when we were working with young people and we felt they were not properly served, we would welcome that.

Q Basically the idea is that if you take things like, for example, the outrage that we saw in Rotherham around the CSE, where there were lots of individuals who were treated very badly, it would enable a third party with an overview to speak to all the victims and trigger a complaint on their behalf, rather than having not to. Is that something you would be keen to be involved in?

Cassandra Harrison: It sounds sensible. I suppose, thinking about it at the moment, my only caveat would be that I would want to be very sure that the young people and children involved would be happy, in terms of the kind of participation that was being proposed.

Q I have a specific point for Iryna, but I want to say welcome to all three of you, whom I work with lots on a daily basis. Your work, Iryna, with the Children’s Society, particularly on missing children, is incredibly valuable; I thank you for all you have done on that.

I wanted to ask something specific about something that struck me as you were talking about child abduction notices. Obviously, the Children’s Society has had a big campaign about 16 and 17-year-olds, and you will know that section 2 of the Child Abduction Act 1984 is clear about the fact that it applies to 16-year-olds and under, not to anyone older, and that is the reason for the current position. I take the point that you make, but I wonder whether you can envisage any situations—I am thinking particularly of honour-based situations—where a child abduction notice issued about a 16 or 17-year-old who had left home of their own volition, perhaps because of honour-based problems, might end up being detrimental to the child. Do you have any thoughts on that?

Iryna Pona: I think the child abduction warning notices will be informed by intelligence from all the different people who are involved in the safeguarding of young persons, so the police will be able to decide whether they will issue such warning notices if they also know that there are concerns around someone who maybe left home because of an honour issue. But we are talking about some of the vulnerable young people who will have a range of different agencies involved in their lives, and those agencies would know about different safeguarding concerns around young persons. So, hopefully, when a child—a 16 or 17-year-old—left, fleeing from home because of particular issues, the police would know those concerns and would not disrupt things. It depends on where the young person will go and they should be able to provide protection to that young person.

Q With honour-based violence, though, the evidence I hear—the testimony from those people who have escaped that honour-based violence—is that often the police did not understand the threat they were under. We know from the HMIC reports that there is a lack of understanding by the police of honour-based violence, and it needs to be addressed. We know of some of the most tragic cases, where the police made the child go back to the parents, even though the child had made the decision to leave and was legally able to do so. I have concerns around that, so perhaps we should talk outside the room about how such notices operate.

Iryna Pona: It might be useful to have guidance in that particular case, where we are talking about vulnerable young people, where there are safeguarding concerns and concerns about how police and local authorities can work together to provide the best response, including when and how they can use child abduction warning notices.

Q Two of you touched on this issue earlier on. Sara Thornton, who will give evidence later this afternoon, spoke last year of the two new challenges to the police of vulnerability and information, and, crucially, information sharing to spot vulnerability and protect the vulnerable.

It has been raised with us that there are problems about co-operation. For example, sometimes the NHS is not always what it should be in terms of co-operation on data sharing. What is your view on that, because it is a key issue? And might this Bill be an appropriate vehicle to take further steps on that?

Alan Wardle: Yes. That is a very important point. Identifying the number of children who have been sexually exploited has been challenging, and it is difficult to do so from the way that police statistics are collected, which will not identify children who have been sexually exploited. One of the things that we do know is the impact that grooming and sexual exploitation can have on the lives of young people and children. You will have seen the impact on young girls primarily in places such as Rotherham, but so few of those children get any support to help them to recover from that abuse.

Actually, there is the link from that to the health service. How can we ensure that the police have duties to ensure that information about who those young people are is shared with local clinical commissioning groups, for instance, because we would argue that all children who have been groomed should get the therapeutic support to help them to recover from that abuse? Most people think that those girls who had been groomed automatically get therapy counselling; very few of them do, which is shocking, frankly, given what they have been through.

We think that better data collection and data sharing about these children across the public services, to ensure that they are identified and better supported to help them to recover from the trauma they have been through, is absolutely vital.

Q There is a duty to co-operate in the Bill, in another context. That is something you might want to give consideration to, in terms of further representations to us.

Alan Wardle: Particularly around the data aspects of that, yes.

Q I was just wondering about the data sharing and the duty to co-operate, and about what is appropriate and how children end up being exploited in a particular situation. Is schooling an area where you feel there should be better information about what is appropriate and where data should be shared when inappropriate behaviour has been found, perhaps within the school community in lessons?

Cassandra Harrison: Absolutely. Schools have a really vital role to play in protecting children from sexual exploitation. We know that they are the one universal service that sees pretty much all children, apart from those outside mainstream education.

It is really important that they can understand what is appropriate for them to share and for their role—it is schools, but also police and the health service, which has also been mentioned. In addition to any legislative proposals that would help to strengthen information sharing, which I would really welcome, we should not underestimate some of the cultural challenges, which are some of the hardest ones to get over. There already are certain duties, but making sure that those are really enacted in practice and giving people the understanding and confidence to be able to know when to do something is a really important part of that.

Q Do think this is a mainstream issue, with inappropriate behaviour coming into mainstream, and schools, charities and people such as you—and the police at the extreme end—are picking up the pieces? Do you think in the Bill we can make a real change on that and get action earlier?

Cassandra Harrison: Certain stereotypes about victims of child sexual exploitation and who is affected have been quite prevalent, whereas actually we know from our work on the ground—last year, over 3,000 young people were affected by sexual exploitation—that this happens to children from all different kinds of backgrounds and communities, so we need to be careful to make sure we understand that, in your words, it is a mainstream issue, particularly, as Alan said, with the increase of online abuse. We carried out some research with our services recently that showed that this is now really affecting all children, because all children use the internet as part of their daily lives.

In terms of what might be able to be done, I think some of what you are hinting at is around sexting and things like that, which schools are increasingly seeing but perhaps they are not sure how to deal with it. I have already talked a bit about harmful sexual behaviour and making sure we have an appropriate response to those children, and I think providing greater clarity to schools—I think some work is already underway—to help them to be really confident about what kind of situation is concerning, and whether they need to take action in terms of the police or whether they can just deal with it in the school environment in an appropriate way, with the involvement of parents as appropriate, is important.

Alan Wardle: The sharing of that information is key so that schools do have that. Cassie is right that on the one hand it is an issue that affects children from all sorts of communities, but we do know that children who are particularly vulnerable are often targeted, whether that is within the school and whether with adults and whether those are children in care or perhaps, as we often see in places like Rotherham, girls who are going off the tracks a little bit at a certain stage in their life.

So how do schools, GPs and so on identify those children who are most at risk and then share that information and communicate that across the public services so that there is a joined-up response in local areas? Local areas need to see what types of behaviours are worrying them—is it grooming by certain groups or communities, or are there particular issues with peer-to-peer abuse within schools?—and make sure there is a tailored response to each of those. But actually one of the key things is making sure that information is shared across to ensure that we are seeking to best protect those children at an early stage rather than waiting for it to escalate to some of the problems we have seen in other places.

Cassandra Harrison: My understanding is that where children themselves have displayed harmful sexual behaviour but they are under 10 years old, because they are under the age of criminal responsibility that information is not necessarily shared, so if an incident happens when they are teenagers, the fact that there were incidents at an earlier age might not be picked up. That is something that might want to be considered.

Q You mentioned schooling and medical services, but do you think that providers of digital platforms have a greater role to play in prevention and in sharing data?

Alan Wardle: Yes, as a short way of saying that. A lot of the tech companies are doing a lot of good work, particularly around ensuring that, for instance, a proliferation of illegal images of children is not able to be sent through their networks and so on. However, we do think that more can be done. There are some technologies that are available: anti-grooming technology, for instance, which some social network sites have.

There is a real lack of transparency among some of the big tech companies about how they moderate their sites, how many people have been groomed, how many images are being shared and how long it takes to respond to these things. So we know that they are doing things, but there is a lack of transparency. Again, openness about that data and sharing that data would be very helpful so that we would be better able to respond from a policy perspective to what is going on online, because that is where most children are. A lot of the big players—the Facebooks and the like—are the good guys. They are the ones who are around the table, having the conversation. More of the problems are with the unregulated sites in places such as eastern Europe, where it is very difficult for law enforcement to get to, and with ensuring that we get information about them and help parents and children to know what is going on so that they are better able to protect themselves.

Q We still have a bit of time left, so it might be helpful to ask whether there are any issues in the Bill that you have concerns about and about which we have not asked any questions. Is there anything you want to raise with us that we have not had the foresight to anticipate?

Cassandra Harrison: I wanted to raise an issue that is not currently in the Bill but is something I would like to be considered. It is in relation to taxi licensing. The Bill clarifies and streamlines the system for the licensing of alcohol premises, and under the Licensing Act 2003 authorities that carry out licensing for premises that sell alcohol are under a duty, when carrying out their functions, to promote objectives that include protecting children from harm. We think there is a strong case for creating an equivalent duty for authorities that license taxis and minicabs.

We know from our direct work with children and young people that taxis often feature in CSE cases, that they are sometimes used to traffic children around towns and around the country. In some cases, taxi drivers have been perpetrators of CSE; the vast majority have not, of course, but they might have seen something. Taxi drivers have real potential to be our eyes and ears in the community but they often do not know exactly what to look for or might not feel that it is their role to intervene.

A lot of taxi licensing is very much down to local discretion, and placing a duty equivalent to the existing one for premises that sell alcohol could drive CSE prevention within taxi licensing, to drive some of the good practice that already exists. For example, in cities such as Oxford they have information when people apply for a taxi licence. When taxi drivers have to sit their local knowledge test they are asked about CSE issues and are given information and procedures. That would really drive that, and hopefully make it much more consistent across the country. It could have real benefit.

Q It seems to me that with all the issues concerning children and young people—CSE and some of the other things you have spoken about—to help to prevent some of the horrific things that happen there is a plethora of things that will form a package. We obviously have the Policing and Crime Bill, which you are here to talk about today, but there is also the Investigatory Powers Bill going through. Do you think that as a package that is good thing, or not?

Alan Wardle: I should say that Ministers Bradley and Penning are both hugely committed to the issue and a huge amount of work has been going on. One of the challenges is that the pace at which things are happening, at which children are living their lives, at which technology is moving and at which some of these horrific things are being uncovered, means that it is a real challenge for Ministers, for law enforcement and for everyone to try to keep up with what is going on. So I suppose I should contextualise what I said earlier with that recognition.

One thing about the Investigatory Powers Bill about which we expressed concerns before but which, I think, has been rectified, is that from our perspective what is vital—putting aside the counter-terrorism aspects and the serious organised crime aspects—is that the police have the capacity fully to investigate the cases and take them where the evidence leads them. Whether it is grooming gangs or people who are trading illegal images of children, we know that they are very complex crimes, most of which are committed online. Blocking off avenues for the police to pursue will have a hugely detrimental effect on vulnerable children.

I would commend the way the Bill is set up at the moment, having gone through pre-legislative scrutiny from the serious organised crime aspect, particularly provisions looking at internet connection records. I think it is vital that that can be done. The NSPCC runs ChildLine and has to protect, on average, about 10 children a day whose lives are in immediate danger. So, selfishly from our perspective, we need to ensure that the police have the capacity to trace IP addresses for children whose lives are in immediate danger.

We think the Bill is fit for purpose to do that. In order to keep children safe it is important not to undermine the police’s ability to investigate fully these crimes that are very complex and often perpetrated by organised criminals.

If there are no further questions, I thank the witnesses for their evidence, which has been really helpful. We do appreciate it. We can now move on to the next panel, the members of which are already here.

Examination of Witnesses

Winston Roddick, David Jamieson, David Lloyd and Vera Baird gave evidence.

Q We will now hear oral evidence from the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners. There are several police and crime commissioners here. We have until 3.15 pm for this session. Several of the witnesses are probably known to many of us, but for the sake of the record, could they introduce themselves, starting with Winston Roddick?

Winston Roddick: That is my name, and I am the police and crime commissioner for north Wales. I am also the chair of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, and chair of the police reform and transformation board.

Vera Baird: I am Vera Baird, police and crime commissioner for Northumbria. I am chair of the supporting victims and reducing harm strategic group of the Association of Police and Crime Commissioners, which I hope you find impressive for the length of its title, if nothing more.

David Jamieson: I am David Jamieson, police and crime commissioner for the west midlands.

David Lloyd: I am David Lloyd, police and crime commissioner for Hertfordshire. I am also vice-chair of the working in partnership to improve policing board on the APPC, and the resources panel of the APPC, and I chair the emergency services collaboration working group.

Thank you. You are very welcome and we look forward to an informative and productive session. Jack Dromey.

I must take the opportunity, Winston, given your announcement last week, to wish you all the best for the future, following your distinguished service.

Winston Roddick: Thank you.

Q May I ask you two related questions? First, the proposal to allow chief officers to designate powers on volunteers has been described by one of your number as an attempt to get “policing on the cheap”. In the light of the police funding and workforce reductions since 2010, do you have any concerns about that area of the Bill? Secondly, what issues are raised by the proposal to arm directly employed and volunteer PCSOs with CS spray?

Winston Roddick: On the first question, with regard to volunteers, I disagree strongly with the view that you have just repeated, which you heard from another person. The idea behind volunteers is not to buy policing on the cheap. It has one effect, which is bringing the people closer to the police and involving the public more in the police. Many members of the public feel that they want to contribute and have something worth while to contribute, and the police should not stand in the way of them volunteering to do so. I have empirical experience of meeting the people of north Wales on an almost daily basis with regard to their interests in policing, and many of them have expertise that they can share with the police.

Q The point is very well made. There is a long and honourable tradition going back 150 years of special constables, and of excellent work done by neighbourhood watches and police and crime panels. The people are the police, and the police are the people. Therefore, the role of the citizen is key. Can I press you or any of your colleagues further? Is the proposal to arm volunteer PCSOs with CS spray appropriate?

Winston Roddick: I have serious reservations about it. I speak only personally; my colleagues will express whether they have reservations. I think that the proposal raises points of principle about arming members of the public to do something by the use of arms, which goes further than the common law principle of acting in reasonable self-defence. You have to be very careful before you extend the right of one person to attack another by the use of any means. If we introduced it, it would certainly need tight regulation and tight teaching about how such implements should be used.

Q The other witnesses might have a different take on that.

David Lloyd: In Hertfordshire, we do not call them volunteers; we call them specials. In the fire service they have a different name for it. It is quite normal to have volunteers working alongside; the tradition of having special constables in the Met is just as old as the Met itself. That must be right. Surely it must be for the chief officer to decide whether or not those people are able to do it. In my home village of Flamstead, our policing, broadly, is done by specials. Everyone in Flamstead is perfectly happy about that. To suggest that such people are not able to have the same training would be to misunderstand the role. Provided that the right training is in place, there should be no problem whatsoever.

Clearly, if a special turns up once every three months—there are not many who do—you may well not wish them to have exactly the same capabilities, but otherwise the specials in my village are out every single night. They are doing exactly the same job as a regular.

David Jamieson: Mr Howarth, I do not think that there is a problem with specials. They have a fairly long history and a well-defined role. I think that what was being suggested is that volunteers should come in at other levels. I have volunteers; I have 20 youth commissioners who have volunteered to give part of their time, and they do excellent work helping me keep in touch with people under 30, for a start. Then there are other people who work in communities. I know that in Jack Dromey’s constituency we have some excellent people who work very closely with the police as volunteers, doing a lot of work to bring security to the streets. That sort of volunteering work is the essence of what good communities are all about, and the police should give it every support.

Where I would have a problem—this is where I would be listening very carefully to what my chief constable said—is if we were bringing in volunteers to help with complex negotiations and investigation. I would have some difficulty seeing how we could keep levels of professionalism and security of information going if volunteers were involved behind the scenes in the actual process of investigating crimes. That is much more difficult. If my chief constable was going down that road, I would be very interested to hear a convincing argument as to how that was the right way to use volunteers.

Vera Baird: May I suggest that it is better to park specials —about which there is probably not much argument—and to concentrate on the essence of the Bill, which is to give policing powers to volunteers who are not specials? We have lots of volunteers and they are excellent—from neighbourhood watch to court observers and people who scrutinise the way in which cases have been run, especially rape cases. If they have not succeeded, we try to make constructive commentary about it. We have speed watch and a lot of very welcome and serious contribution from volunteers, but they do not have police powers.

What is now proposed is to safeguard a core of police powers and to keep them for police and police only, but it is a very small core. It is about arrest and stop and search, and all the rest will be available to be allocated to anyone who comes into the ranks of volunteers on any basis decided by the chief officer.

I have to make one point very clear: at a time when there have been such significant cuts to policing—in Northumbria we have lost 1,000 members of staff, plus almost 800 officers—bringing in volunteers with police powers is not going to be adding value, which is what volunteers are usually for; it is going to be the substitution of volunteers for people who have historically been contracted to do the job.

They will be people who are not paid, who are not contracted, who have no disciplinary link over them, who have no processes to go through, who are supervised in what way we do not know, who will not be supervised or overseen by the IPCC, and yet who will be able to have every power except the core ones. For instance, they will be able to execute warrants on houses, which means they will be able to break into houses to execute a warrant. If this power is given, they will be able to detain people for 30 minutes, as PCSOs can do now, though they will merely be volunteers and not contracted. They may be able to caution people and to take down their first account of something they are accused of. Presumably they will be able to strip search people. They will be able to exercise the discretion that a police officer does now, to decide whether an offence may have occurred and whether it should be investigated and what should follow—all of this without any of the contractual supervisory power that there is over somebody who is employed.

I do not want to call it policing on the cheap. I think it has to be thought through very carefully and, if it is to proceed at all, it has to go extremely slowly and incrementally. It is not going to be the case that a chief officer will know each and every volunteer in order to give them appropriate powers. How would that work, anyway? The public need to know exactly what powers those who have authority over them have. It would be giving powers by the chief officer to a category of volunteers. The average volunteer in Northumbria did 19 hours a year in 2014, so these are not going to be people who are well known, yet if they are in a category they will be given powers.

There is pressure on chief officers now because of the loss of staff—there is no doubt about that. If you are in a position where you have to go out after Raul Moat and you have 10 half-trained volunteers or nobody, of course you are going to have to have resort to them. It is a shame that chief officers have been put in that position, but they have been, so I suggest a very careful and slow process to avoid substitution for really qualified contracted people whom we have lost.

Q Can any of you see an opportunity—some of these issues were brought up by our previous witnesses—in areas that are very fast moving, particularly in the digital space, for example with social media, where there is a lot of activity that I and, I suspect, many warranted police officers find bewildering? For example, could subject-specific experts be brought in to volunteer alongside warranted officers and give the additional knowledge that it would be very difficult to have permanently embedded in a force area?

David Lloyd: Exactly that. In Hertfordshire only the other week I was at an awards evening, next to a special who had been brought in specifically because of his IT skills. He has far greater IT skills than anyone in the constabulary and does that for free. He sees that as giving something back to society. It is very helpful to have, and you can dip in and out and use those skills in a specialist way, because it is no longer the case that if you sign up as a special you have to go out on the streets arresting people; you can be there and working in those specialist areas.

I disagree with Vera. Clearly, things are very different in Hertfordshire from how they are in Northumberland—and we have not lost any police officers, either. One of the reasons it is different is because we think about other ways of using people and volunteers, too, so that we get a far more effective, efficient use of local people. That is the way to do it.

David Jamieson: We have lost 2,500 officers and staff over the last six years, so we are not in the comfortable position that some areas are in. [Interruption.]

I remind the Committee that this is not a debate, but an evidence-taking session.

David Jamieson: To answer Mr Cleverly’s point, there can be no substitute for officers who have the skills that we need to investigate complaints and crimes. With the chief constable, I am looking closely at how we build up that level of expertise.

Q You expressed an opinion as a statement of fact and I want to explore that.

David Jamieson: Which fact do you mean?

You said that there can be no substitute—

David Jamieson: First, if you have volunteers coming in to work on computers or IT, you would need those who supervise them to have at least the same knowledge as the people coming in. [Interruption.]

Q I hear one question from several voices: why?

David Jamieson: I am giving a view from my perspective as a police and crime commissioner. I would be very worried if I did not have officers with sufficient capability to understand what those who were working in the force were actually doing. That applies to all levels of work, whatever sort of investigation was going on. There is a good example in forensics, where we bring in particularly scientific knowledge. Those in the force know what they are calling for and what they want out of the forensics team. Whether they have the high levels of scientific skills in those offices is a different matter. I think that you are getting to where I am. In the end, we have to have full-time, trained officers to do those jobs. Could we bring in specials and the others we have talked about with other skills, apart from those walking around the streets? Yes, of course we could. However, we have to be very careful if we are bringing people in to do highly complex work that involved cases and access to all the computer systems. We would need very close safeguards before we did that.

Vera Baird: I would jump at the chance. We have one guy—

Can this be a brief response, because we have a lot of ground to cover?

Vera Baird: Yes. We have got one guy now who is funded by his firm, which is a financial business, to come in one day a month and help in exactly that kind of way—how to deal with online fraud. The more expertise of that kind that can be brought in, the better. It does not require one to have police powers.

How would we categorise him?

Vera Baird: He is a volunteer, but he does not have police powers; he does not need them. It is giving volunteers police powers that is the problem.

Q I have worked as a barrister in independent practice for West Mercia, Northumbria and Hertfordshire police—all very fine constabularies, as is yours, Mr Roddick. I want to come back to a point Vera Baird made earlier. You gave a long list of things that these volunteers would be able to do without being supervised by the IPCC under the police misconduct regime. Would I be correct in assuming that you would not object to them having those roles if they were under that regime?

Vera Baird: No, I gave you an equally long list of why it would not be appropriate. They are not contracted, they are not under a disciplinary regime, there is no guarantee of adequate—

Police officers are not contracted anyway, but if volunteers are under a disciplinary regime does your objection fall away?

Vera Baird: No, not at all. It is about the contractual nature of it. A disciplinary regime that is external would be excellent and would be absolutely imperative, but there is a need for much more than that.

Special constables are under the disciplinary regime.

Vera Baird: Yes, they are, but we are not talking about specials.

So what is wrong with volunteers being under exactly the same regime?

Vera Baird: There is nothing wrong with it, but it is not sufficient. That is the point. I have given you a long list, and I am exhorted by Mr Howarth not to repeat it.

Q Fine. I will move on to something else. One of the other proposals in the Bill—an entirely different one—is to transfer some of the functions currently exercised by the chief constable to police and crime commissioners, under the police complaints system. Transferred functions could include hearing appeals where complaints have gone against the complainant, so you would be doing that, if you wished. Is that something you would support?

Vera Baird: I would be satisfied to do appeals from complaints. If appeals were rendered independent, then doing them would give me some oversight of how the complaints had been done internally, yet without requiring me to have a whole separate police force to do the complaints, as it were. I would welcome that, but I would need some more staff, so I would need some more budget, Mr Penning.

Yes, if they are brief. I thought that question was very specifically directed, but if any of the other witnesses want to add to that they are welcome to.

David Jamieson: For completeness, I agree with Vera on the point about dealing with some of the appeals that are currently dealt with by chief constable. That would give people greater confidence in the system. One of the problems we have at the moment is that people feel that the police investigate themselves. Whether they are right or wrong in making the assertion that that is not the right way of doing it, people feel that that is wrong.

For us to have the ability to do the appeals, if we go further and look at models 2 and 3, there really are some problems there. I think somebody called it statutory navel-gazing, in that we are trying to put so many statutory layers into the system that we are actually going to create a bigger problem. One issue is that if we took on the whole of the complaints, in some cases I would have to ask for an investigation to take place, but I have no powers to tell the chief of police to do the investigation. In effect, if an investigation needed to take place, I would have to look at it and say, “Yes, an investigation needs to happen. Chief constable, I am now giving it back for you to do.” So we would build in an extra layer, which I do not think would be very helpful to the public.

Unless there is anything that either of the other witnesses desperately wants to add to that, I intend to move on.

David Lloyd: I wonder whether or not we have got the complaints system right. I imagine that everyone in this room has received complaints from members of the public about policing. Very often, they have forgotten the complaint by the time we have managed to get back to them, and there needs to be more independence in the process. Frankly, we have to find a way of breaking the link between discipline and customer service. Because we have not really done this the process is perforce a very lengthy one, which means that very often someone who just wants an apology only gets it after 12 months. That is not the best way of doing it. There are lots of things we should be doing. In fact, Vera is leading the way on complaints, up in Northumberland, so she has—unusually—hidden her light under a bushel. Although this might happen, I think that this is a good starting point for us.

Vera Baird: There is provision in the Bill to allow that. It would allow a sort of pre-complaint customer service resolution, which is what we are trying to do.

Sorry to interrupt, but we have 10 minutes left and several people who have not yet had an opportunity want to ask questions.

Q I will ask three rapid questions about part 1 of the Bill. Where there is not a local agreement, the proposals allow the PCC unilaterally, in effect, to make the case for a takeover to the Home Secretary. Do you support the principle of hostile takeover? Given that the geographical areas of police forces and fire services are not coterminous, will that make reorganisations of these areas particularly challenging? Do you think that any of your members would be interested in raising revenue via the privatisation of front-line fire services?

Q Just picking up on various pieces of evidence and reviews, collaboration has been described as patchy, probably at best, although there are excellent examples of good practice. I am interested to understand your views on the duty to collaborate and, specifically, on looking to extend the powers of PCCs to include responsibility for fire and rescue, and whether that would address the barriers that you might have seen on getting collaboration between and integration of the two services.

We will take four questions. Then between you, where there is a common view, perhaps one of you could express it. Where there are differences of view—

Q My question is for Mr Roddick. Given that Wales is in a unique situation—Welsh forces are answerable to the agendas of two separate Governments —what are the implications of the Bill as it stands for the forces of Wales, in your opinion?

Finally, Jake Berry—I hope we will then have time for all the questions to be answered.

Q My question is specifically on volunteer police community support officers. In terms of pressure on budgets, do you think that the ability to use volunteer PCSOs more fully will remove pressure on budgets? Do you think that it is appropriate for police forces to use reserves to preserve the role of existing PCSOs, or should they be replaced with volunteers?

Who will answer first? Perhaps start with the north Wales-specific question.

Winston Roddick: I will, because there is a Wales-specific question, to which I will come in a moment. On the use of the expression “takeover”, I do not think that this is anything like a takeover: it is a first-class example of highly necessary collaboration. The statutory duty of myself, the police service and all chief constables is to provide an effective and efficient police force, and value for money, and to reduce crime. The additional words for the fire service are to save lives. While we share those common objectives, it makes perfect sense to me to work in unison—with a small “u” this time—to achieve the objectives.

As far as Wales is concerned, the need for collaboration does not respect geographical boundaries; it does not respect political boundaries; and it has to follow the pattern of crime and the needs of the people. For example, I suppose the European countries and Switzerland collaborate with other European countries; the Americans collaborate with the Canadians; and I am sure Scotland collaborates with the north of England. Therefore, devolution does not stand in the way of collaboration, and the need for collaboration does not stand in the way of devolution. Devolution, and the different position of Wales, is not a sound reason for not putting effective collaboration into effect.

David Lloyd: I will not say anything about Wales—unusually. On collaboration, it is right and proper that we have a greater duty to collaborate. If anything, I would say that the Bill perhaps does not state its intention firmly enough. I was reflecting on the fact that only two people around this horseshoe are from counties that have a fire authority. Most are combined fire authorities. That duty to collaborate could be more firmly noted so the direction we are heading in is clear. It is difficult to convince local fire authorities that they should collaborate, so I think that if we firmed that up a little it would be better.

To answer your question directly, I am comfortable that a case for takeover can be made. If there is a way of getting better value for money for local taxpayers and a more efficient service for individuals, it is incumbent on us to do it. I am very comfortable about that. I note the difficulty with geographical areas. That is something that has to be worked through. If we start it in the areas where the two work perfectly well and worry about the other areas afterwards, that is a better starting place than worrying about the few where there is a difficulty.

I am required by the programme motion to bring proceedings to a halt at 3.15 pm. David Jamieson and Vera have slightly less than five minutes to share between them. I do not know which way round you want to do it.

Q Can I ask you to talk about privatisation?

David Jamieson: What has not been addressed in the Bill is this. There could be two reasons for a merger between police and fire. One is that there would be better governance—one assumes better governance of fire—but I have not yet heard a convincing case come out of the Home Office about whether the PCC role is a better way of handling a fire authority. When I hear that case, I will get much more excited about doing it.

The other thing is, would working together with the fire authority lead to benefits and savings? I would say that that depends on where you are in the country. The geographical differences make a lot of difference to what the benefits will be. We have begun to look at those benefits. In a large urban area such as mine—the second largest force in the country—they are much smaller than they would be in a large rural area, where there could be benefits from co-locating fire stations. The benefits in an area such as mine are very much smaller.

The issue of privatisation was raised. I suppose that that could happen anyway. That would be up to a PCC. Those are issues that Parliament has now delegated to PCCs to decide. I will not be going down that road, but there may be those who choose to do so. It will help PCCs during the passage of the Bill and when it becomes an Act for the Government to have the courage of their conviction. If they believe that PCCs are a better way of handling the fire governance, let them say so. I think it is wrong for PCCs to be able to make a unilateral decision in their area.

Vera Baird: I am in favour of the duty to collaborate. We already collaborate hugely with the fire service on day-to-day operations. The duty to collaborate will just mean that we all have to sit down. We have started a collaborative board in my area, which will have the fire chiefs, the chair of the fire authority, the portfolio holder from the county council that runs the other fire service—we have two forces—myself, the chief constable and the fire officers on it. We will have to go through our properties systematically to see what we can share. We already share some. We will go through things such as training and the great crime prevention work that the fire service already does through things such as the local intervention fire education course. It is out in areas where fires start and deprivation leads to crime. There are great opportunities for us to work collaboratively to provide a better services and make savings, and we will seize them with both hands.

Governance—takeover—is completely irrelevant until issues of governance actually arise. I think the Government have started at the wrong end in trying to press the change of governance, as David put it, without stating any rationale for it.

Q Mr Howarth, we have a minute remaining.

Ms Baird, you recently said:

“When I was elected as Northumbria’s police and crime commissioner…the role was little valued and barely understood”.

By that, I suggest you meant that you had to do the job to see how it worked.

Order. I just tried to bring you to a halt because we have now reached 3.15 pm, which brings us to the end of the time allotted for the Committee to ask questions of this group of witnesses. I am sure that your last comment will elicit some correspondence, but I am not sure that the whole Committee needs to hear it answered. I thank the witnesses for their wise evidence. If there is any disagreement between us, it is certainly conducted on a friendly basis.

Examination of witnesses

Chief Constable Sara Thornton and Assistant Commissioner Mark Rowley gave evidence.

Q We will now hear oral evidence from the National Police Chiefs Council and the Metropolitan Police Service. We have until 4 pm. Will the witnesses introduce themselves?

Sara Thornton: My name is Sara Thornton. Until a year ago I was the chief constable of Thames Valley police. I then became the chair of the National Police Chiefs Council, whose responsibility is to bring together the chiefs—primarily those in England and Wales—to work together, co-ordinate and collaborate on operations.

Assistant Commissioner Rowley: My name is Mark Rowley. I am assistant commissioner with the Metropolitan police. On top of my responsibilities with the Metropolitan police I am the National Police Chiefs Council lead for counter-terrorism.

Q Welcome to both of you. May I begin by asking about bail? The provisions in the Bill follow on from deliberations in this House, including by the Home Affairs Committee. I have two questions. The first is more general, on what was described last week as the Gambaccini case, where individuals are indefinitely on bail. The Bill seeks to address that. What are your views on that and the associated practical problems?

Secondly, I know that Mark has previously expressed concern about what we called last week the Dhar clause. In other words, if the police are to be required to take certain steps in respect of bail in future, the view has been expressed that as the law stands there are not sufficient powers for the police to prevent what happened in the Dhar case. I would be grateful for comments on those two related questions.

Sara Thornton: If I may, I will take the more general issue first. You referred to the Gambaccini issue. We understand absolutely the difficulties when people have uncertainty hanging over their lives for a very long time, so we absolutely understand when politicians want to legislate to deal with that. We are quite comfortable with the criteria, but the concerns we have are threefold. The first is in respect of the 28-day and three-month timescales and the basis for them. The College of Policing has done some survey work that looks at all bailed cases. The average times are a lot longer than that. Very often, people are bailed for a long time because of reliance on third parties—for example, third-party statements, whether they are medical evidence or cases from social services, or whether they are about phone downloads or computer equipment investigations. There are real issues about why people are sometimes on bail for a long time and the timescales do not seem to take much account of that.

The second issue is about the impact of bureaucracy. There has been some work—I think it is in the House of Commons Library—about just how many cases this legislation might apply to and the time it will take, in terms of superintendents’ time and court time. I understand that there are suggestions about how much that might cost. I know that the superintendents are concerned, because we have fewer of them than we used to have and the whole process in the Courts Service is to try to reduce the number of cases going through the courts. That is a second, practical issue.

Thirdly, I suspect that the consequence of this will be that far fewer people will be released on police bail. In some ways, that is a good thing, but I think a lot of people will be released on police bail but will still be a suspect in a live criminal investigation. So you are, in effect, creating a new category of person. The difficulty with that is they are subject to no requirement to review the case, and no framework, so potentially it is more problematic. If that were me, I do not know whether I would prefer to be on bail or still a suspect in a live criminal investigation.

Assistant Commissioner Rowley: I agree with all the general points that Sara has made. Speaking to the Home Affairs Committee on the back of a particular case, but without discussing that case, there was some debate around offenders who are on bail before charge—this is before charge, not post-charge.

Parliament has, in the past, legislated—this is not just about terrorism, but about all offences—to enable police to put conditions on people who are on bail before charge. Those conditions might simply be to make sure people do not flee—like handing in documents, a passport and so on—or they might be to stop reoffending, such as restrictions on association with believed criminal associates. We make the point that this is a very odd piece of legislation, because while Parliament legislated to allow these conditions to be put on, Parliament did not make it an offence to breach those conditions. That creates something that I have previously described as toothless. When someone breaches, the police have a power to arrest, but then have to release pretty much immediately, so it is of limited value.

Let me give some facts about the context of counter-terrorism, which was discussed previously. We are arresting a little shy of one person a day in the counter-terrorism network across the country—it was 339 people last year. About one-third of those arrests result in bail. Four in 10 of those on bail are there for terrorism offences, five in 10 for financial crime, fraud and so on, and the other one in 10 for a range of other matters. We look to use bail conditions to try to prevent people fleeing the country and to prevent reoffending, but we face the challenge that to breach the bail conditions is not an offence.

As we try to control the risks posed by potential terrorists, we have three things we can do, broadly. The first is surveillance. Surveillance is a very resource-intensive activity and is only used against the most dangerous individuals. The second control, of course, is ports controls, which, despite everyone’s best efforts, will never be completely perfect. The third control for people on bail is bail conditions and some ability to enforce them. In that context, it seems odd to have these powers that are unenforceable.

I will finally extend it beyond terrorism, because the same issues apply to officers dealing with complex cases, perhaps involving child abuse or domestic violence, where their long investigations sometimes involve digital evidence and there are real dangers about offenders and victims coming back together during the investigation. Those conditions are useful in that circumstance as well. Again, the lack of robust enforceability is a challenge. We have had conversations with the Home Office on these points, and I am aware that it is thinking about whether there is more that can be done.

Q I should declare that I have been instructed in cases involving both of the witnesses in their previous roles as chief constables. Can I ask first about the Dhar case? There was a lot of public scrutiny of that case, but there were a number of complicating factors behind it, including the availability of passports. Generally speaking, as well as increasing the legal powers to enforce breach of bail, is there something to be done within the police service about the operational practice around seeking the correct bail conditions and enforcing them?

Assistant Commissioner Rowley: I will not talk about an individual case, because in every case you look at, you think there are some things to learn from it. I absolutely accept that, Mr Berry, and there are things we can learn from that case. The point about enforcing is exactly my point. Our ability to enforce is limited, and that affects the conditions that officers apply and how they follow up. If you know you are putting a power on somebody where you have little ability to follow up, that affects how you use it. That is an understandable reaction.

Q Since that case, is there now routine consideration of flight risk for CT cases, to ensure that all action is taken to mitigate the risk of flight?

Assistant Commissioner Rowley: There always has been routine consideration. We are constantly looking to see if there is anything more we can do to reduce the risk of flight in any one case. That goes all the way through to our border systems in trying to spot people leaving the country, and all the way back to how we deal with people on bail.

Sara Thornton: If I may, I will give a volume crime example. If you were to bail somebody with conditions whom you were investigating for, say, domestic violence, maybe the condition you would put on them would be not to go near the victim. If that is breached, all you can do is arrest the offender and bring them into custody. The custody clock starts again and so, frankly, what you would probably do is bail them out pretty quickly. So there is very little, in fact there is no, sanction for that breach.

Q Coming to the more general point about the limitation on the length of time you can hold someone on pre-charge bail, Chief Constable Thornton, you said that some people would not be released. What else would the police do to respond to that limitation on your powers in cases where at the moment you are taking longer to investigate?

Assistant Commissioner Rowley: There are several steps you can take, aren’t there? I share the concerns that have been articulated. We could always look at whether there are ways we can accelerate some components of investigation, and there will always be work we can do to improve on that front.

There are some fundamental limitations around issues that have been discussed already, such as digital evidence and some of the increasing challenges faced in that space. There is also the dependence on third parties for evidence—different professions and different expert witnesses. It is not in our gift as police officers and investigators to speed up any of those. That is a real challenge for us.

As has been said, you end up with this decision: do we keep somebody on bail or do we keep them under investigation but not on bail? I am not sure that the latter is actually a preference, but it is simply how the police will have to adapt in some cases, if the case is going to take a long time. You lose the guarantee that somebody is going to return to custody, and the suspect probably loses some understanding of the exact timescale of what is going to happen.

Q Finally, are there any particular categories of offending in respect of which you are especially concerned about having a restriction on the time you can bail someone for pre-charge?

Sara Thornton: There are certain offence types and sorts of investigations. Any investigations that require the examination of digital forensic material will be problematic. Often, child sexual abuse investigations, where you have masses of third-party material within social services, can be problematic. Indeed, so can financial offences where you have got frauds and you are trying to get information from banks. It would be a mixture of different sorts of offence types, but also investigations that involve certain sorts of evidence.

Q Will you say what powers you actually need and how the system would work if it were an offence to break a bail condition?

Assistant Commissioner Rowley: In the same way that at the moment it is an offence to breach a bail condition post-charge, one could bring the same sort of approach pre-charge. You would not make it life imprisonment; it might be a year for the maximum sentence or something like that. It would not be the most serious offence but it would give some degree of traction.

If you were considering legislation, you could think about whether you put that in place for breaches of bail for all matters or just for serious crime and terrorism. There are ways you could consider it. You could consider how a subject may appeal to a judge against the conditions put on them. There are things you can put around it, but fundamentally it is the ability to say, “If you breach that condition, there is some follow-through from the legal system.”

Q Sara raised the issue of domestic violence. It is terrifying for a woman.

Assistant Commissioner Rowley: Exactly.

Q Would you cover that?

Sara Thornton: Absolutely. If it was an offence to breach police bail, for which somebody could be charged, not only would there be a sanction; it would also mean that when you look at their criminal record in future cases, you know that they have a history, on the record, of breaching bail. I am not completely confident whether a police bail has been breached now, but it almost certainly would not get to be a criminal record and I am not sure it would be that transparently available to all other police officers.

Q May I raise a completely separate issue? Sara, I remember an event that we were at last year where you talked about the new challenges of vulnerability and information. We heard earlier very impressive evidence from children’s organisations. In the Bill, we talk about a duty to collaborate and to co-operate, but in a different context. In relation to information and vulnerability, do you think ensuring that all statutory agencies fully and properly play their part in the identification of vulnerability by way of data sharing is something that we might usefully address in the Bill?

Sara Thornton: In terms of data sharing, I do not think that the problem is with legislation or lack of legislation. I think it is, for whatever reason, a lack of will or of a culture. Sometimes, frankly, it is lack of understanding of the law. I am not sure it needs any further legislation.

Q Will you comment on the potential changes to the rank structure and whether there is a feeling at the moment that it is fit for purpose?

Sara Thornton: The College of Policing completed a leadership review last year. It made 10 recommendations, one of which was to look at the rank structure. As part of the debate about implementation, the question was asked, “Who owns the rank structure?”. It was unclear whether it was the Home Secretary, the chief constables or the college, thus the reason for this in the Bill.

My colleague, Francis Habgood, the chief of Thames Valley, is leading some work with the College of Policing to look at potentially rationalising the rank structure. Some of the work they are doing at the moment is looking at five key levels. It is very much a work in progress, but I think that all chiefs, when they read the leadership review, understood the issue and were pretty confident and supportive that we needed to do some work on it.

Q Police and firefighters perform very different roles. Firefighters have a right to strike, as is reflected in their particular terms and conditions. Police officers face significant restrictions on their public life and business interests that do not apply to firefighters. For many retained firefighters—part-time firefighters—a second job is essential. Do you think it would be unnecessary and inappropriate to inflict these terms and conditions on firefighters?

Sara Thornton: We already have experience in police forces. As a chief constable, I had police officers and police staff. Police staff were largely unionised, they could strike and they were not subject to the same terms and conditions. My argument would be that chief constables are quite used to running an organisation where there are different terms and conditions of service—some people can strike and some cannot. When I was a chief officer, on the few occasions when the unions did strike, it caused some minimal tension, but it was manageable.

Q I was going to go on to ask about the changes to the firearms legislation and whether you believe it will help to keep the public safer.

Sara Thornton: My colleagues who run the National Ballistics Intelligence Service have been very involved with the work of civil servants and the Law Commission on this area. It is not an area I am expert in, but I understand from them that they are very supportive of the clarity of definition in the terms “lethal” and “component parts”, and of the offence for articles that would convert a firearm. Their one concern is on the definition of “antique firearm”. They would like the addition that it should be something that was manufactured prior to 1919, to make it absolutely clear. If that was added to the Bill, then they are very supportive of what is in there.

What is interesting, from doing some research for this appearance today, is just how many antique firearms are involved in crime. It is a significant number, and it is important that we deal with them.

Assistant Commissioner Rowley: If I may add to that, from a counter-terrorism perspective, one of the handful of factors that gives us an advantage in the UK is the low availability of firearms. It is not something that we should be at all complacent about because it is clearly not at zero and we have seen changes in the marketplace, so if Parliament is prepared to tighten up these loopholes, that is just another step in trying to maintain the competitive advantage that we have.

Q May I go back to collaboration? I will ask much the same the question that I asked the last panel, which is on the patchiness in the collaboration between emergency services. While we have examples of excellent practice across the country, there are examples where there has been resistance to change. I am interested in your views on the duty to collaborate and the extension of responsibilities. Specifically, I would like to understand how you feel about the single employer model and how that could improve the efficiency and effectiveness of the services.

Sara Thornton: Of course, the pattern of collaboration for police forces has not primarily been among emergency services but with other police forces and, in some cases, with local authorities and other organisations. There are substantial amounts of collaboration across the country—whether with regard to counter-terrorism, organised crime, the provision of firearms or the provision of technology—that are largely between forces.

In terms of collaboration with the fire brigade and the ambulance service, I think the duty to collaborate, which is on the face of the Bill, sends a very strong signal from Government that, “This is what we want you to do.” As you say, there are already some collaboration activities. They are patchy, but quite frankly there has never been that duty to collaborate. I think this is Parliament saying to the forces, the fire service and the ambulance service, “We want you to do this.”

In terms of what it says about police and crime commissioners, as I have understood it, where a local case is made, there can either be the governance arrangements or, indeed, the single employer. Again, that is where the local case is made—I think that provides a reasonable safeguard. Of course, there are areas where the police service is not coterminous with the fire service, but that is not the majority of areas. There are cases—for example, Dave Etheridge, my former colleague from Oxfordshire who was here earlier today—where they are part of the county council. It would be quite difficult to extricate part of the county council, but in a lot of places, if a local case is made, it seems to me that it is not insurmountable.

Since this was announced, I have met the chief fire officers. We have set up a little working group of chief police officers working with the chief fire officers. They are coming to the chief constables’ council in April because we are very keen to talk and to work out how we can shape this together to ensure that we can work together to protect the public.

Q May I ask a follow-on question? Sara, the duty to collaborate is welcome—of that there is no doubt. We are seeing ever more collaboration and integration not just with police and fire, but with other statutory services. We heard evidence earlier about the importance of dialogue between the police service and the fire service. We have elected representatives for the police service and we have elected representatives for the fire service, so is it not right that any eventual coming together should be by way of agreement between those elected representatives?

Sara Thornton: As I understand it, it talks about where a local case can be made. What I do not understand—I can give you a further note on this—is whether anyone can be forced into it. I would have to look into the detail on that, but, as I have read it, the local case suggests some sort of agreement.

Q The local case is made by the PCC to the Home Secretary. That does not mean that the views of locally elected representatives responsible for the fire service can be taken into account. That cannot be right, can it?

Sara Thornton: I think if the Home Secretary were to consider such an application, she would want to know what the views of the local fire authority were and I am sure that she would take those into account. It might be that you want to put in some qualification that, as part of that case, views need to be sought and to be part of the argument.

Q I have one final point. Recent police research revealed that the PCC governance of police forces, as opposed to the old police panel governance, has saved the taxpayer around £2 million every year. If there were similar savings to be made by the extension of PCC governance to the fire service, do you think that both the fire service and the police service could usefully use those savings to prioritise front-line services?

That is a difficult question.

Sara Thornton: Collaborations of all kinds deliver all sorts of benefits. They can concentrate expertise, save money, help you to deal with crises and share best practice. In the same way that we already have collaborations with the fire service, which are about shared control rooms and shared estate to save money, if there is more of that, there is more potential to save money.

I thank the witnesses for their evidence. Not only the brevity, but the accuracy of their responses means that we managed to finish earlier than anticipated. The Committee will be suspended for 15 minutes.

Sitting suspended.

Examination of Witnesses

Dr Julie Chalmers and Sally Burke gave evidence.

Q We will now hear oral evidence from the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the “Get Maisie Home” campaign. We have until 4.30 pm for this session. I ask the two witnesses to introduce themselves for the record.

Dr Chalmers: My name is Dr Julie Chalmers. I am a specialist adviser in mental health law to the Royal College of Psychiatrists. I am also a community psychiatrist, and I chair the multi-agency section 136 group at the college.

Sally Burke: I am Sally Burke. I am mum to Maisie, a 14-year-old girl who is struggling with mental health issues. She is also on the autistic spectrum.

Q To start with, what are your general views on the provisions in the Bill about amending the Mental Health Act 1983?

Dr Chalmers: First, we welcome the focus on mental health crisis, following on from the excellent work that has been done by the concordat. The college is very much behind the principles that are driving the changes to legislation. Having said that, there are some very sensible changes. For example, there is the issue regarding clarification of a public place. My colleagues in the British Transport police and the healthcare workers who work alongside them have struggled with that issue. That is a very important change, because we know that the railway line is an important issue with suicide.

However, we have to step back and see section 136 in a much wider context of crisis care. I would be concerned that the legislation cart is coming before the horse. There have been significant changes in the past two years. Certainly, the number of people who are going to a health-based place of safety has increased. As you may know, the figures are variable, but it looks like about 80% of people, if not more, now go to these places. So there have been considerable improvements within the health services in their response to crisis.

We cannot do our job if we do not have the resources. Changes to the law could put pressure on the crisis services at a number of points, and I can expand on this if the Committee wishes. For example, there is the suggestion of changing the length of time to 24 hours. In principle that is an excellent idea. We want to reduce the time that people are subject to detention, particularly when that has been prompted by someone who is not a mental health professional. I think that 24 hours is a realistic timeframe in which to do that if the resources are in place. Generally, the areas that keep figures will tend to be the good areas. However, it is possible to meet people’s needs within a relatively short period of time, and do the assessment within several hours of presentation. That is perhaps not within the three hours that the college would set as the gold standard, but it is certainly within that longer period. It does become a problem if someone is intoxicated, or if they come in overnight when resources are less available and that gets passed on to the daytime services. There may be a knock-on effect.

The main problem that I see with the laudable aim of reducing the time for which people are subject to detention is when we come to the very small group of people who are subject to section 136 who need to be detained in hospital. As you have probably heard, approximately 20% of people need to come into hospital, and some of them will need to be detained under the Mental Health Act. If we cannot identify a bed for a person to go to, we might very quickly run up against this 24-hour time period. Then we—the AMHP, the approved mental health professional—are left in the most appalling situation. It is the job of the AMHP to make the recommendation for admission to hospital based on two medical recommendations. We have to say which hospital and which bed that person is going to. If we cannot identify that, then after 24 hours we will be in a position of acting unlawfully, because we have no way of detaining the person. I note that the Bill as it is currently written suggests that someone could be detained on clinical grounds. There is a lack of clarity around on what grounds we could extend.

I want to flag up to you the very important point that we may be in a situation where we cannot find a bed. That is not just me shroud-waving. The Committee will be aware that the Lord Crisp commission has highlighted the appalling situation where we are struggling to find beds. On occasions, we have to send people away, usually to independent hospitals. I will say a word about the difficulties there. Something like 500 people in a month have to travel more than 50 km to find a bed.

It sounds easy, “Let’s just find a bed in an independent hospital. Why wouldn’t they want to take somebody?” My team is in this position several times a month, where we will phone around several hospitals looking for a bed. Perhaps this sounds ungenerous, but sometimes it feels that if you have a choice you can cherry-pick the kind of patients you want to take. Often we think we are offered a bed, then we send the details and it is turned down. I am really concerned. Although I welcome it in principle, I just want to flag up the important resource issues that we might come up against with the 24-hour period.

Q Like you, I welcome the broad provision that has been put in place but I have this concern. What will happen is that people will not be taken to a police cell—which is what we are trying to avoid—but will likely be kept at home because that is now deemed as a place of safety.

Without statistics being published, we will see the number of people being referred to police stations going down, but we will not know what has happened to them. Do you think there should be in the Bill an onus on a local force to keep statistics of what happens to people under sections 135 and 136? Otherwise, we could get a situation whereby the problem just gets masked rather than solved.

Dr Chalmers: Your point is very well made. As early as 2011, the inter-agency group made a plea for good statistics. If you do not know what is happening we cannot track it.

If I could just take you back. I think we need to distinguish section 135 from section 136. Section 136 will never occur in a person’s home. What I think the Bill seeks to address is the lack of clarity about whether you could undertake the assessment in the patient’s home when you had entered with a warrant. It is the police who will administer, if you like, the warrant. They will act on the warrant accompanied by the AMHP and a doctor.

Up to now it has been unclear whether you could stay in that person’s home to undertake the assessment, or whether the Mental Health Act as written required you to remove a person to a place of safety. I have done many assessments in a person’s home, and I think that is probably better than removing them, particularly if it is not clear that you will actually detain somebody in hospital. It is important to clarify that.

Your point about data is particularly pertinent to section 135, where those are not collected nationally. Of course, there are two 135 warrants. There is the one to enter a person’s home to remove to a place of safety, and one to return them to hospital. We do need those data.

Q Can I clarify the position? The Bill would require a police officer to consult a mental health professional or nurse before removing someone from a place of safety, where it is “practicable to do so”. What is your view on that wording?

Dr Chalmers: My personal view is that that has slipped in. As far as I am aware, that was not consulted on. I do not necessarily know what the college position would be, other than to say it is always a good thing to talk. I would say that as a psychiatrist.

I just wonder whether that needs to be in legislation rather than in regulations or in the code of practice, because it is straying into an area of telling people what to do using the law, which I am not sure is particularly helpful. What we do know, based on evidence from the street triage projects, is that where people work together and there are conversations between police and healthcare professionals in some areas, it has led to significant reductions. If you include this provision, we are behind. The services are very patchy and variable. In some places it would work very well because police would have immediate access to somebody with authority to give advice. In other places, they would be foundering. Without bringing the resources alongside the law, there is the risk of setting people up to fail. Allowing things to develop in localities can find the best way of working, because there might be different pathways.

I have sidetracked your question, because I wonder whether we need to scrutinise whether that is a wise thing to have in statute rather than in regulation or within the code of practice.

Q May I ask one last question on advocacy? Clearly, some individuals have family members or others to explain the law or situation to them. In many of these cases, individuals have no one. What is your view about making it a requirement for people to have access to advocates?

Dr Chalmers: It would be a pragmatic response. There are pragmatic responses and principled responses. It is essential that people have good information explaining in easy, accessible language what is happening to them and their rights at that point. Nursing staff in section 136 suites are well placed to do that. Again, I would imagine that that is patchy, but it is something that should be built into the specifications and reviewed.

The pragmatic answer is that for people on longer-term sections, for whom there is a statutory right to advocacy, the responses are patchy, so we have not got it right for the people who already have a statutory right to advocacy. I think stretching it to 3 o’clock in the morning is going to be very difficult.

Q If I may address Sally: thank you for coming here today and for providing very detailed information about the journey you have been on with Maisie in advance of our meeting, for which we are all extremely grateful. As someone who has experienced the problems faced by yourself and Maisie at first hand, can you tell us a little about those experiences and what further you think we can do in the Bill to try to help parents who find themselves in the same situation?

Sally Burke: I have to state that of all the agencies we have worked with in crises, the police have gone the furthest in improving how they are with Maisie and understanding her. I welcome the Bill for not putting children in a cell as a place of safety. Maisie has not been in that position—just the thought of it—I did not realise at the time the damaging effect it would have had on her.

As Maisie’s parent my main concern was to keep her safe, but I was in too much of a state seeing my child doing the things that she was doing to make a long-term decision. With hindsight, I was able to reflect on what the police need to do in that crisis. I am now more hardened to it, so if Maisie wraps something around her neck, I can say, “Take that off”. Before, I would be going to pieces asking, “Oh, what do I need to do? I need to find a pair of scissors, but everything is locked away in a safe, so find the keys”. It is an awful predicament to be in, but you do get hardened to it, as you know, and a lot of police officers are hardened to those scenarios.

You need to have officers who can talk about mental health to parents. The approach of a lot of the front-line officers who turn up depends on their view on mental health. An older generation chap would think, “It’s attention-seeking, this. What do we do with this girl?” But younger people who we have had out seem to be more sympathetic and have more of an empathy on mental health and can deal with Maisie on a much friendlier, teenage level, which brings her down. If you have somebody who has quite a negative view on mental health thinking that she is having a behaviour fit and wants some attention, trying to bring her down in that scenario is not as effective.

It is also important to help a parent make a decision about the best way forward and the best place to go for safety that will have the best impact on that child in the long run. That is really important. My confidence has grown massively over the past two years since we first went into crisis. The first time I went into crisis with Maisie, if somebody had told me they were taking her to the moon right now to keep her safe, I would have said yes, because it was so horrible. You just cannot comprehend how you feel, as a parent. So I think it is about educating the officers who go out to these calls.

I have helped our local police force. I have been to conferences there and have heard the mental health cop talk to the officers and say, “60% to 70% of our time is spent on mental health conditions, yet we get hardly any training; 6% to 7% of our time is on criminal offences, or crimes, and how much training do you get for those activities?” When you see it in the balance, I think that would really help families and youngsters in mental health crisis.

Also, if you could sew into that, with your magic wand, some training on autism and learning difficulties, because that comes across as a bit of a grey area. Some officers just do not know what autism is and how to treat a child with autism. When Maisie is in crisis, she does not like to be touched, but an officer will come up to her and say, “Come on, Maisie, it’s okay” and she will freak out because she does not want to be touched. So there needs to be some education around how best to approach a child in that crisis scenario.

Thank you, we really appreciate that. We have the College of Policing coming next so I and other colleagues, I am sure, will raise that issue with them. That has been extremely helpful.

Q Sally, thank you very much. Your point about the amount of time police spend dealing with this is exactly why we want to do what we are doing in the Bill. It had been too easy, I think, for all agencies to let the police deal with this problem. It had become a police problem, but it never should have been. Police should always have been the last resort; it should always have been other agencies stepping in. You say you have not had the personal experience of a 136, but I wonder, as you have come into contact with police, whether you have had any experience of the mental health triage that I know many forces have rolled out as part of the crisis care concordat?

Sally Burke: She has been 136, but not taken to a cell. She has been taken to the adult 136 suite in a mental health unit, or to our local A&E department. With the triage, do you mean the concordat?

Well, the triage; so having mental health professionals with the police at the same time. Is that something you have experienced in your area?

Sally Burke: No; I wrote it down as Julie was talking. It is a postcode lottery, with the concordat and there being mental health staff available. As part of our campaign, just this January, we got a children’s mental health team as a wrap-around service, because we did not have anything. If Maisie went into crisis at a weekend or out of hours, there was no child and adolescent mental health services team available for her at all. It was, where do we put this child? As for concordat and triage, no.

In our experience of Maisie’s bespoke package, agencies say that they will work together, but it is actually worse for us as a family, because they will talk to one another, but they don’t listen. [Laughter.] No, they don’t. They each have their own system, and boxes that they need to tick, and they do not cross over for the child. It is not what is best for the child; different agencies have boxes that get ticked in their protocol and it does not fit across the board, so lots of things get left because nobody wants to be accountable for this child.

At the end of the day, Maisie gets sent to units all over the country and every professional who works with her says it is more damaging for that to happen, but nobody wants to take the responsibility. So at the end of the day, we have got a child who is going through lots of trauma and not getting the help because, on paper, it looks great that all these agencies are working together, but, certainly where we are, it is not working.

Q Accountability comes through so many times on so many different cases. Can I suggest that my officials speak to you and we try to get together and look at what is happening in your specific area? Perhaps we can see if we can push things through.

Sally Burke: That would be lovely.

You could go and see where triage is taking place, outside your area so that you can experience that as well.

Sally Burke: I feel that the NHS has made so many cuts—especially in our area, with mental health—that the police have had to take the brunt of where to put these children. If you continue to show that that is their responsibility, they are never going to put the money back into children’s mental health and tick the areas.

Q You talked about how local authorities and agencies need to talk together. The beginning part of the Bill is about having a duty of collaboration between the ambulance, police and fire services. If we had a magic wand, where would you want a duty of collaboration to lie?

Sally Burke: In regards to mental health?

Q In regards to Maisie. How would it make it better for Maisie?

Sally Burke: Maisie has got post-traumatic stress disorder, so she can go into crisis at any point—even from a song being played on the radio, if that takes her back to memories that are not very nice. It is about having somewhere that is safe and suitable. If she had a broken leg, you would not put her in a cell because the general hospital did not have a bed. It is about having a professional who is caring—the police do care, I do not mean that—and properly trained to deal with that, because it is a medical condition.

Q Dr Chalmers, if there was a duty of co-operation and you had a magic wand, where would you make it happen?

Dr Chalmers: If I had to choose one area—

You can give us as many areas as you like: we have got a listening Government.

Dr Chalmers: A duty of co-operation—and real co-operation—would be between NHS England, clinical commissioning groups and local services, to have a dialogue around crisis care.

Q Local council services?

Dr Chalmers: Yes, local authority, health and social care—and it should be accountable. There are two things that the college would like to bring to your attention for consideration. One is that there should be reporting through CCGs to the Secretary of State about the state of crisis services in the area and how they are developing, or not, against the concordat aims. There is also an anomaly within the code of practice to the Mental Health Act, which requires people like me—section 12 doctors, AMHPs—to be bound by the good practice in the code, but requires commissioners to just take account of it. They should have a statutory obligation to work within the code of practice, because the principles underpinning the code of least restrictive option would work. We should focus that on our area—what we are doing in our area to provide services that could avert crisis and alternatives to the dreadful situations that everyone finds themselves in, where they have to do the least worse thing.

Q I want to ask Dr Chalmers about that place of safety and the work with CCGs and local authorities. I have experienced that in my patch: there is a kind of falling through the cracks, where the police do not want to use their cells as a place of safety. Do you feel that perhaps there should be some community hub, house or building? How would you term a place of safety? Is there some kind of crisis centre that we are missing, which CCGs could provide?

Dr Chalmers: I think we are always going to require the current, classic, hospital-based place of safety. In my ideal world that would be co-located with physical health services. In the use of section 136, among the problems that we see people presenting with, the problem of intoxication—not just with alcohol but now with so-called legal highs and synthetic cannabis—can cause people to crash very suddenly. Somebody who looks as though they are in crisis can become very physically unwell. There is an argument for having centres of excellence in urban areas, on the model of centres for stroke and cardiac emergencies, where the expertise is situated and you can move between one and the other.

For some people we also need some level of security. In its guidance the college specifies what a good section 136 suite looks like. I had the unfortunate news from a Health and Safety Executive investigator where someone was taken to a hospital-based place of safety where you could just open the door and walk out, and a tragedy ensued. For some people, there has to be a degree of security.

My colleagues in the child and adolescent faculty would highlight that a safe place for someone in crisis to be assessed is also necessary, particularly for children. The rough and ready survey that was done suggested that of the children who were picked up on a section 136, 30% do not have mental health needs and instead need social care and social responses. In an ideal setting, there would be a safe place for children to go that is age appropriate, too. Rooms have to be safe, so they look stark and sterile, but you can imagine a safe place for children where their families could come. Often with a section 136 suite there are no places for families to come and visit.

There is some evidence about alternative places before people are placed on a section 136, such as crisis houses. The crisis concordat is very good at flagging up areas of good practice. There was an initiative in Leeds that has been very successful. There was one using the Richmond Fellowship in Sussex, and that has been reported on. As I understand it—this may not be correct—the numbers were so small that they have expanded the resource to be a safe place to be in crisis. There is also the use of peer support. In London, users of service have provided safe places—they call them cafés—where people can go and be in a safe place with people to talk to.

I started by saying that you should not see 136 in isolation. I think you will get into trouble trying to fix one small part of the system; you will have knock-on effects and unintended consequences. You have to see it in the round of crisis responses.

It is now 27 minutes past four. We have got three minutes left and two Members who want to ask questions. I do not think it is possible to get answers to two questions in the time available.

Q I am the MP for Lewes in Sussex, and we used to have one of the highest rates of patients with mental health problems being in police cells, but that is turning around. I want to highlight that it can work. Katy Bourne, the police and crime commissioner, has now allocated for mental health nurses to go out with the police. Is that something that you would like to see rolled out nationwide? It has certainly transformed care for patients in mental health crisis in Sussex.

Dr Chalmers: Certainly in my experience working in Oxfordshire—the city of Oxford was one of the nine pilot projects—we saw remarkable changes. There was a substantial reduction of, I think, 85% in the use of police cells as places of safety. Alongside that, there was a willingness among the commissioners and, in particular, the providers to increase the number of hospital-based places of safety. I would not be too prescriptive with the models, because there are a range of models. There is the nurse who goes out or there is someone in the control room. I think in the West Midlands they have all-singing, all-dancing ambulance, police and mental health all going together. If you give guiding principles, areas can perhaps decide what is best for them. I would hope that that would be driven by what is best for patients, rather than what is best for the budget.

Thank you very much. On behalf of the Committee, I thank both of you for bringing your great wealth of professional and personal experience to our attention. It is very helpful. If there are no further questions, which there are not, can we move on to the next witnesses? Thank you.

Examination of Witnesses

Dame Anne Owers, Professor Dame Shirley Pearce and Alex Marshall gave evidence.

We will now hear evidence from the Independent Police Complaints Commission and the College of Policing. This is our final panel today and we have until 5 pm. I should explain to our witnesses that we are bound by a timetable motion, so if I cut you off in mid-sentence at 5 o’clock, I am not being rude; I am simply fulfilling my obligations as the Chair.

Q Good afternoon. I have questions on two issues. One relates to the IPCC more generally and the second relates to bail, given the very important evidence that we have heard during these hearings.

On the IPCC’s role more generally, we heard evidence this morning from the Police Federation, which used the words you will have heard in the past about a “crisis of confidence” in the IPCC. In the previous Parliament, significant additional resource was put in, including by way of top-slicing. Now with a set of proposals being made at the next stages to develop and enhance the role of the IPCC—an additional resource for the IPCC—convince us that it will work.

I have one final point to throw in. In the evidence from the superintendents, they made powerful points in relation to how the inspectorate regime works and also about what they described as the difficulties of a blame culture within the police service and the importance of proportionality. Coming back to how it operates in other areas, you will know all about the parallel with pilots and the duty to report. If they report, they are not automatically disciplined as a consequence. However, if there are several incidents, action is taken on the systemic problem. Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Health, only last week talked about a culture of encouraging people to own up and take ownership of what they get wrong. I distinguish between that which clearly should be the subject of disciplinary action and what the police organisations said to us today. Dame Anne, convince us you can put it right.

Dame Anne Owers: I will do my best. As you say, we were given additional resources. Those resources, of course, had to be converted into buildings and, more importantly, people, and those people had to be inducted and trained and got going. Next year we envisage we will be in steady state, having virtually trebled our staff and also hugely increased the number of investigations that we do. When I first came to the IPCC, we were taking on just over 100 investigations a year. We envisage this year it will be about 450 and next year our target will be somewhere between 500 and 700. So it is a massive expansion in a short time, and of course it takes time in order for that to settle.

I am very aware of the comments not just from the police side, but from complainants and bereaved families about the length of time of investigations and the quality of investigations. I think you have heard from the National Police Chiefs Council about some of the things that you cannot avoid in investigations being long, but we need to make sure that we get through them as quickly as we can. The Bill gives us some of the powers that we need to be able to get off the mark quickly: for example, the power of an initiative so we do not have to wait for something to be recorded and referred, and the ability to more quickly close off an investigation by giving us the power to find a case to answer ourselves.

You referred to the health service, and health service staff have a duty of candour in relation to investigations. We have been looking for some time for something similar to apply to police witnesses in investigations so that we can be sure we get to the truth as quickly as possible. The combination of greater resource, which is now settling in, and greater powers will be helpful, and it is our determination that we will use them well. Also, as the Home Secretary announced in Parliament on Second Reading, we have pointed to the fact—we put this up to the Home Secretary ourselves—that our current structures need to change so that we can be an effective organisation at the size we now are, which is why we put up proposals for a single accountability and decision-making structure so that we can be as effective as possible. I hope that answers your first question, and we realise that you will be looking to see that we do all those things.

On the second part of your question, I am on record as saying that I think that the police complaints system focuses too much on blame and that it is too much seen as a gateway to the disciplinary system, rather than as a way of resolving problems. You would not have that in a commercial organisation. A commercial organisation would seek to put right what had gone wrong, but it would also be in a position where it sees complaints as really useful management information, rather than as things that terrify people because they think they are going to be dismissed. This Bill goes some way towards dealing with that in the sense that it now defines a complaint, broadly, as an expression of dissatisfaction. It is giving powers to resolve that swiftly, if possible and if the complainant agrees. It is also giving ourselves, or the police and crime commissioners, who will sometimes have to review those investigations or decisions, the power to direct or recommend remedies. At the moment, the appeals system has complaints being upheld, but complainants largely do not want them to be upheld; they want an answer. The Bill goes some way towards trying to create a more effective complaints system, but I would pass over to the Committee the extent to which you and others still think that it disentangles itself sufficiently from the necessity of finding blame, rather than finding the truth.

Q You make a very powerful point on that issue. I am familiar with continuous improvement cultures in blue chip companies from my former being. One element of that is that it is absolutely key that there is candour and that people constantly learn from the mistakes that are made to ensure that they do the job better in future. Do you want to say something more about the duty of candour?

I think we are getting into the realms of very lengthy questions and potentially lengthy answers, and a number of people want to get in. Perhaps just a quick word on this.

Dame Anne Owers: I can write further to the Committee on this, if that would be helpful.

Q My question is to Chief Constable Marshall. I should declare that I have worked as a barrister, and I lecture at the College of Policing—it is good to have experience. The College of Policing led on the barred list. That responsibility was given to you. Could you tell the Committee how it has worked in the time that you have had ownership of that portfolio and how the changes in the Bill will help to take it to the next stage?

Alex Marshall: The overall purpose of the College of Policing is: to build up the knowledge base in policing so that people can make evidence-based decisions; to set the educational standards for people joining policing and the education for people when they are in policing; and to set standards for forces and individuals. In that context, we have been operating the list for about 18 to 20 months, and it has achieved one place to go for all forces to ensure that someone who has been dismissed for gross misconduct in policing, or who left but would have been dismissed for gross misconduct, cannot get back into policing. The Bill puts that on a firm footing to make sure that we have the authority to do that and that, if we choose to do so, we can publish details from the list. We will still require forces to submit the data to us and to collect it in a consistent way.

Q Thank you. This is my second and final question. You run the senior command course, on which I have had the pleasure of lecturing. That is the course senior officers go on in order to qualify to be a chief officer, effectively. Could that course be opened to senior fire officers to prepare them for appointment to chief constable posts in a single-employer model?

Alex Marshall: I came from there today—that is where I have been this morning—and it is already open to people from outside policing. For example, other Home Office departments and other parts of the military, and it will certainly be open to fire officers. The issue at the moment would be that to become a chief police officer, you must pass the four-day selection process, complete the course successfully, and be a constable. We will look at these proposals on how we bring people to that level and standard. It might just help very quickly to say that the current course has different elements such as professional policing skills, which is all about professional policing skills, and modules on leadership, ethics, business skills and working in partnership. Many of those areas, of course, will be common to senior leadership in many other organisations.

Q Coming back to the point about your role, I think you were in the room when we had quite a lot of evidence from Sally Burke. She gave us some powerful evidence about the ability of police officers, when they arrive at someone’s house, to deal with young people in mental health crisis. Specifically what support could the College of Policing give officers to ensure that they get appropriate training to deal with situations like that? Is there more that the Bill could do to support that work?

Alex Marshall: I very much support the way in which the Bill gives greater protection, particularly to young people suffering from mental health crises and keeps them out of police cells, where they should not be. I think it reinforces the right areas. This is a very important issue for our members, particularly for the people on the frontline of policing. We have relooked at what we know about mental health, what the knowledge base is, what standards we set in this area and what education should be laid out.

We recently finished a consultation on brand new guidance for everyone who works in policing on dealing with mental health, reflecting the concordat and the work with voluntary organisations, and we will publish that in the next few weeks. There is still a lot we can do to improve the education of those officers and to set clear standards but, equally, the onus must sit with other organisations, particularly health services, to have the professionals on hand, particularly out of hours, to deal with someone who is in a crisis.

Q I have one final point on this. You said that you were about to publish it. How long after publication will it be until it becomes accepted as practice?

Alex Marshall: It went out to a three-month consultation period that finished about six weeks ago. From memory, we are now adopting the consultation responses, including from charity and voluntary sectors. That will be published by us and then we will put it into the curriculum for everybody joining policing and for their training throughout policing. We will publish it to forces but, of course, we then rely on forces to adopt and use it.

Q Dame Anne, could I just come back to you? It was really good to hear that the Government were listening to your ideas and allowed you to get on and do the IPCC work. Could I just touch on what you said? I think that you said that the Bill goes “some way” towards being an effective complaints system. Do I detect that we could have done more?

Dame Anne Owers: The decision was made, and I understand why, to proceed by way of amending current legislation, rather than starting with a blank sheet. There are still a lot of tie-ups between complaints and discipline in a way that you might not do if you started from scratch. To be honest, I am grateful for what there is, so I am not about to say that the exercise should not be done. I understand exactly the pressures of legislative time and so on. There is still quite a considerable tie-up between the two, but I hope that, between us, the police and crime commissioners and ourselves will be able to develop a more effective way of handling complaints in the first instance. You should not start an investigation by saying, “Who dunnit?” You should start an investigation by saying, “What happened?”

Q May I ask a completely separate question? Alex, I think this goes to you. We heard evidence earlier today—this morning from two of the three police organisations and this afternoon from the National Police Chiefs Council—in respect of the provisions on bail. Sara Thornton, in particular, raised concerns about the sheer scale of the numbers involved because of the trigger that is proposed in the Bill. In her words, because of the bureaucracy that would be attached, large numbers of superintendents would have to supervise the making of the necessary arrangements. Separate concerns were expressed about what we have come to call the Dhar clause, arising out of what happened in relation to the Dhar case.

I have read your evidence, and the final paragraph says that

“in relation to the Bill’s changes to the length and authorisation of pre-charge bail, the College is currently evaluating the outcomes of a pilot study that may provide a clearer indication of costs or benefits to these…changes. Until the evaluation is complete the College will be unable to provide a final view on this issue and we will endeavour to update Parliament”.

I have not seen an impact study prepared by the Government. There may be one in the Department, but I have not seen it. It seems from what has been said here that it is common ground that we need to change the bail arrangements and how they work. Against the background of the reservations that have been expressed, one would hope that you have evidence-based legislation, as opposed to legislation to be followed by an evidence base.

You are asked to confirm an opinion, or not, but carry on.

Alex Marshall: We share the opinion that bail needs to be very closely managed and that long periods of bail are bad for everyone in delivering good justice. What we have been doing is separate from the legislation: we are looking at how bail operates in local forces and what tighter management controls might make a difference. We have not had the data analysed yet. We have been finishing it in the last couple of weeks, but early indications are that around 30% of all the people who are arrested are put out on bail and in the forces we looked at—about half of those in England and Wales—70% of those who were bailed were bailed for more than 28 days. The rough number of people arrested each year in England and Wales is just under 1 million: about 950,000, down from 1.5 million a few years ago. That gives you an idea of the scale.

We then looked at the reasons why bail went beyond 28 days. They include getting professional statements from doctors and others, getting phones and computers analysed, taking detailed statements from vulnerable victims of crime, getting banking information and details, and getting forensics analysed and back to the investigation. We agree that the time limits should be closely monitored, but can see the resource implications of requiring a superintendent and others to be involved in what looks like a very high volume. The onus will rest on many people across the system to respond much more quickly to requests from the police conducting their investigation.

Q Dame Anne, there are proposals in the Bill for super-complaints. Could I have your views on the impact that will have on public confidence in policing and the integrity of the process of policing, rather than the individuals?

Dame Anne Owers: Yes, we have noted those. The proposal is that they would come to the inspectorate of constabulary in the first instance, not to us. It will be interesting to see how that pans out. We asked for, and have been given, a power of own-initiative to be able to go into an individual investigation when we need to. We would need to see how the super-complaints work because, at the moment, between ourselves and the inspectorate of constabulary we have quite a lot of powers to go in and look at themes and issues that are arising. We are always slightly worried that a gateway will open that then leads to many things that we cannot do anything about but will be expected to. We are waiting to see what happens.

Q Okay, fair enough. Following that up, you mentioned the interrelationship between yourself and HMIC. Are there crossovers? Could there be convergence? Could you and should you work together closely, or indeed is there a requirement for two separate organisations?

Dame Anne Owers: My view is that there is a need for two separate organisations because investigating, which is inevitably reactive and responds to an incident, is different from inspecting, which is essentially preventive and regular. There is a close connection between them and with the work that the college does. Insofar as our work reveals problems and issues and we make recommendations, there is then an opportunity for HMIC to look at whether those recommendations are more than pieces of paper when it goes round and does its police effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy programme inspections. There is also an opportunity for the college to reflect on whether that should feed into authorised professional practice and standards. Between us, we ought to be able to create a virtuous circle.

Professor Dame Shirley Pearce: I think we are now working much more closely together. We have a concordat about how our executive and those at non-executive level work together. We have a system whereby the standards are set in one place—the forces—and assessed in another. It also requires us to look at and to monitor quite carefully the powers in the Bill, as we develop much further away from a system where we have a barred list of people who have been struck off, and towards having lists of people who are qualified to do the job and have licences to practise—therefore, we hold a list of people who have skills—to see how those powers are implemented. Do we actually have the right powers?

We welcome some of things in the Bill to give the college powers for individuals, but when it comes to forces delivering things consistently, we are still dependent on a rather heavy-duty code of practice which still only requires forces to have regard to it. As we implement this tripartite system more effectively, we are going to have to watch that we have all the right powers in the right place.

Q My question is for Dame Anne on the complaints framework. Can you see the logic of a single complaints framework for both police and fire under the single employer model?

Dame Anne Owers: I think there is a problem about that. It is a problem about our specific remit and about some of the incidents that may happen in a fire situation. Our remit is over bodies exercising policing powers. It is very clear. That can extend to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, it can extend to some of the immigration functions of the Home Office and it is going to extend to gangmasters, but it about the exercise of policing powers. I think there is real difficulty in just transporting the Police Reform Act onto bodies that do not do that.

Also, under the PRA, every death or serious injury must be referred to us so that we can decide whether it needs to be investigated. I think there would be real difficulty if that provision were to be applied to anyone, for example, who died in a house fire. I do not think the two run together: we have considerable concerns about whether that complaints system is suitable for the fire service.

Q The Bill allows for individual PCCs to decide if they will receive and record crimes. Do you think this is workable, or should there be a nationwide, uniform process which fits all sizes?

Dame Anne Owers: You mean recording complaints?

Yes.

Dame Anne Owers: I have a lot of sympathy with that question. We are worried about the inconsistencies that may arise where, in some forces, the PCC will elect to be the person who receives complaints and in another force it may be the force itself. If you imagine, for example, a major public order incident which may involve quite a lot of forces, and we could have people directed to quite different bodies for complaints; or, indeed, forces which share a professional standards department, as some of them do. We would have preferred to see a system where either it is the PCC, or it is the force, under the oversight of the PCC.

However, I do think, as I am sure PCCs will say, that PCCs have developed some really innovative ways of dealing with complaints, some of which have worked very well. It would be useful to extrapolate broad principles and standards from them. I think it will be necessary to do that in regulations and in the statutory guidance we produce, otherwise I think issues of fairness and consistency may arise in those choices. That is one concern that we flagged up about the Bill.

Q I want to go back to what you said about putting a time limit on bail. Surely, the current system, where we have no restrictions on bail, must be counterproductive? You said people would have to react more quickly, but surely a time limit focuses minds, makes people react more quickly, becomes much more productive and frees up more time in the long run? Surely, that seems like a common-sense approach?

Alex Marshall: I can see the purpose of a time limit. All I will say is that, so far, from the data we have looked at, the numbers are very high in terms of people who need to be bailed or who are bailed—whether they need to be, of course, becomes an interesting question—for more than 28 days to receive back forensic analysis, phone analysis, computer analysis, doctor statements and victim and witness statements from vulnerable people. Yes, of course, if people are working to a deadline, we might see a better response from all those other parties I have just listed. I just say: be careful about the resourcing consequences of imposing 28 days if that is not achievable by all those other parties. But yes, I get the common sense of your point.

Q I want to pick up a question that I have asked during the day of different witnesses and put it to Alex. It is regarding the requirements around the rank structure, the changes there, how the current structure fulfils the requirements and how you envisage things going forward in terms of your role.

Alex Marshall: Last year, the College of Policing conducted a leadership review, saying, “We know that the nature of police work is changing quite substantially. What, over the next 10 to 15 years, do we need in terms of police leadership?” We have made 10 recommendations, which I think taken together would make quite a positive difference. One of them looks at hierarchy in policing. To put it in very simple terms, in a serious emergency the command structure in the police and other emergency services and other agencies is a very useful way of being clear about who is in charge, what the lines of accountability are and where difficult, critical decisions are made.

Having excessive hierarchy in any organisation, including the police—this is what we learnt during the leadership review—stifles innovation. Also, we want the professional at the front end to be a well educated, well trained, skilled individual who is accountable for the decisions that they make, like the community midwife coming to your house. We want that person to be taking responsibility for their decisions. We do not want hierarchy that stifles that decision making or innovation in the organisation. We think that at the moment the number of ranks in policing is probably too many, and that work is happening at the moment.

If there are no further questions from hon. Members, I thank the witnesses for their evidence. It has been really helpful and insightful.

Dame Anne Owers: I just want to signal that we have some comments to make on the provisions about investigations of chief constables and others and about whistleblowers, which we can write to the Committee about if that would be helpful.

That is fine.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Charlie Elphicke.)

Adjourned till Tuesday 22 March at twenty-five minutes past Nine o’clock.

Written evidence reported to the House

PCB 01 Greater Manchester Fire & Rescue Service (GMFRS)

PCB 02 College of Policing

PCB 03 Home Office