My Lords, I beg to move that the House do now again resolve itself into Committee on this Bill.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.
House in Committee accordingly.
[The DEPUTY CHAIRMAN OF COMMITTEES (Baroness Gould of Potternewton) in the Chair.]
Schedule 2 [Amendments to the Police Act 1996]:
On Question, Whether Schedule 2 shall stand part of the Bill?
I gave notice of my intention to oppose Schedule 2, as I retain significant concerns about several aspects of the schedule. We had a full debate on those matters on our first day in Committee and I do not intend to repeat what was said. We covered such matters as the way in which BCUs would be organised and their coterminosity; the possibility of a change to operational technique that might not be to the benefit of the police; the problems that could accrue in the membership of police authorities; and the possible extension of the intervention powers of the Secretary of State in police forces and how he will be able to give directions.
My concerns were founded on the comment made by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee at paragraph 20 of its report that it was inappropriate for the Bill to leave so much to subordinate legislation. I agree, but I also made it clear at the end of our many debates on the last occasion that I would not divide the Committee when we reached this stage. I welcomed the Minister’s offer of discussions over the summer months to see whether some of those issues could be resolved between us.
It would be normal for me now to withdraw my opposition, but mine is not the only name on the Marshalled List. I consulted the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, and know that she still wishes to raise some substantial matters that were not properly addressed last time. Although I am not content with Schedule 2, I thought it proper to leave my comments on the record and to invite the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, to continue the debate at this stage.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay of St Johns, for introducing my disquiet by opposing Schedule 2. We believe that the proposals in the schedule would negate all the changes to the 1996 Act.
During the debates on amendments to Schedule 2, we raised concerns about the changes that have been made to the operation of the 1996 Act and the plethora of centralising powers that are being placed in the hands of the Home Secretary. We have severe concerns about the whole matter of governance under the schedule. The changes envisaged around BCUs and, particularly, the many changes to police authorities, where the Secretary of State may, by regulation, make provision in relation to the membership of any police authority, aim to alter the way in which police authorities function. That will interfere with local priorities and police authorities’ plans and reports and it would alter their consultation duties.
This is meddling, fiddling, irksome legislation, which, if passed would totally alter the way in which police authorities operate. It blows apart the carefully designed and, at least, notionally accepted tripartite arrangements, giving carte blanche to the Secretary of State to do more or less whatever he wants. He should not have power to intervene directly in forces and bypass police authorities. That is politicising policing to a sort of tabloid-headline level and is entirely wrong.
The schedule was put into the Bill because of the anger of the former Secretary of State at not being able to sack a chief constable as easily as he had hoped. It is for police authorities to do that—and to do so within rigid guidelines and the law. They should be left to do so, should that be necessary. All over this schedule is the dead hand of government and the desire to alter the 1996 Act, which has served us well.
Noble Lords should not just take my word for it. Ken Jones, the president of ACPO, states:
“At stake is unwise and unnecessary erosion of the tripartite system of police governance which has served this country extremely well. The system, already under strain, is there to serve the public interest and it is from that perspective that I write to you today. Greater powers are taken to the centre at the expense of Police Authorities and Chief Constables.
Effective policing in this country relies very heavily on the consent and support of those we serve. Vital consent and support largely rests on the demonstrable independence of policing from politics, vested interests and other parts of the executive; and to the essentially local nature of policing where its roots, and proper accountability to Police Authorities, best thrive.
We have argued that aspects of the Bill effectively undermine the existing conventions to a great extent and that the case for such fundamental shifts has not been made out. For example crucial checks and balances which currently exist in the 1996 Police Act are to be swept away. To date we have failed to persuade government and, rarely for ACPO, feel that such is the importance of this matter that we must now engage more actively with the decision making processes underway”.
That is why we on these Benches oppose Schedule 2.
Since we had the advantage of discussing the detail of the Bill, I had hoped that we would have arrived at a better understanding of the import of this part. Of course I hear what the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, says—her view is that this is “meddling, fiddling, irksome legislation” and that it gives carte blanche to the Secretary of State. I firmly disagree with that assessment. We will have further opportunities in subsequent amendments to discuss much of the detail of these provisions, so, in this debate, perhaps I may say a few words about some of the recurring themes that we have encountered. I hope that, in doing so, I shall meet the issues raised by the noble Baroness.
I know that the noble Baroness suggests that the provisions in the schedule are evidence of an overly centralising tendency and that this is somehow the last swipe of the departing Home Secretary. However, that is an unjust assessment of the way in which Charles Clarke behaved. One thing that we are all able to rejoice in is that he was very reflective, considerate and considering in the way in which he addressed these issues. I can assure the noble Baroness that her concerns about his approach are not accurate.
If one looks at the provisions in the Bill—
There have now been three, but the comments that I make are equally applicable. I remind the noble Baroness that we are doing a number of things in the schedule that do not centralise but go quite the other way. For instance, we are abolishing the statutory national policing plan; reducing the Home Secretary’s role in the appointment of police authority membership; removing the requirement on police authorities to send three-year strategy plans to the Home Secretary; removing the requirement on crime and disorder reduction partnerships to send an annual report on their performance to the Home Secretary; and transferring a number of operationally focused functions of the Home Office to the National Policing Improvement Agency. The noble Baroness has applauded all these moves and I hope that she will accept that they are decentralising in nature.
Moreover, we are empowering local communities by strengthening the effectiveness of police authorities and CDRPs, introducing the community call for action and ensuring that police community support officers and local authorities have the powers that they need to tackle anti-social behaviour. All these measures give more power to those who wish to take action. I therefore cannot accept the charge that the measures in the Bill undermine the tripartite relationship between the Home Secretary, police authorities and chief officers, through which policing in this country is governed. Nothing could be further from the truth. The tripartite relationship is founded on the respective roles and responsibilities of each of the partners. The Bill does not fundamentally alter the balance of these responsibilities, nor does it tip the scales in favour of the Home Secretary. Indeed, we are strengthening the functions of police authorities and taking steps to ensure the resilience of the command structure in strategic police forces.
I take as an example the membership of police authorities. The Bill simply confers a power on the Home Secretary to prescribe the membership of police authorities in secondary legislation. There is nothing particularly unique or remarkable in that. Legislation in the health and education spheres provides for the detailed arrangements for appointments to primary care trusts and school governing bodies to be similarly set out in regulations.
Moreover, it is already the case that certain aspects of the arrangements for the constitution of police authorities are subject to secondary legislation. For example, the size of a police authority may already be varied by order. The key point is that councillor members should constitute the majority of the membership; this principle continues to be provided for in primary legislation.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for giving way. What she is trying adduce here is that there are other circumstances where it has been perfectly proper in statute that the Secretary of State for other departments has been allocated a power that he or she may or may not apply in particular cases. However, there is a feeling on this side of the Committee that, when it comes to the policing of this country, we are in a different circumstance. We all jealously guard the delicate balance in the tripartite relationship and believe that that balance could be undermined. Perhaps that does not pertain in the health and other services to which she referred. Would the Minister reflect on that?
This intervention may give the Minister an opportunity to think about the reply that she may wish to give to the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay. The position that we advocate is supported by the Association of Police Authorities and by Ken Jones of ACPO. More important, we on these Benches have consistently taken this position on a number of reforms. This is not the place to go into all the details, but I am grateful to the Minister for what she has said. I take it that soon we will have a discussion on this matter to tease out what the Government have in mind and where we stand on this issue. However, I hope that that will not be during the Summer Recess but after it.
We can probably all say “Amen” to that if the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, is of a similar view. I reassure her that we, too, jealously guard the delicate balance of this tripartite relationship and our intent is not to disturb that. The relationship has endured to the benefit of the citizens of our country because we have a better opportunity to do what needs to be done for their better protection. I understand what the noble Baroness says about that, but similar arguments about the need to be careful and judicious were also made in relation to the other situations, as was made clear by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. It is something that we are going to work through. I hope that the noble Baroness is encouraged, as the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, should be, by the fact that we are ready to give the recommendations of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee on this provision favourable consideration, as I indicated earlier. I hope that we can move in the direction of the committee’s proposals in time for Report.
I think that we have all very much enjoyed the fact that we have had a real debate during this Committee stage. We have given real consideration to some of the issues, which have been seriously taken on board, and we will be able to come back to see how well we can do.
A number of noble Lords echoed the concern of the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, about the Home Secretary’s reserve powers to intervene in poorly performing police forces and authorities. I want to reiterate one point: these are not new powers but a simplification and modification of the powers first introduced 12 years ago in the Police and Magistrates’ Courts Act 1994 and updated four years ago in the Police Reform Act 2002. As is now the case, those are powers of last resort, and I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, will agree that, except on one occasion, they have never had to be used, as we would expect.
The Bill seeks to improve on the current powers, based on recent learning, to better reflect how policing failings are identified and addressed. As is already the case, these provisions allow the Home Secretary to require a chief constable or police authority to take specific steps to address any serious failing which has been identified.
The non-statutory process by which the Police Standards Unit supports underperforming forces will continue as before. That will not change, and I assure the Committee that there is every expectation that the new inspectorate will continue, as now, to provide professional advice to the Home Secretary when an intervention decision is being considered. On that basis, I hope that noble Lords will withdraw their opposition to Schedule 2.
Schedule 2 agreed to.
Clause 3 [Delegation of police authority functions]:
Page 2, line 14, leave out subsection (3).
The noble Baroness said: In moving the amendment, I do not wish to appear ungrateful. Clause 3 removes an existing anomaly in the law whereby police authorities, unlike local authorities, cannot at present delegate any of their functions to an area committee or to members; nor can they co-opt members to assist them.
I know that the Association of Police Authorities, of which I currently have the honour to be president, and many of my authority colleagues, particularly in Wales but elsewhere too, have been calling for some time for the anomaly to be removed. The prospect of strategic authorities and forces has strengthened the case for that, because it will be important that any strategic authorities are not seen as remote from the communities that they serve. Mechanisms such as this, which will enable very local decisions to be made locally, will be the key to that. This is obviously of some importance to those of us in Lancashire, given that we are currently going ahead with a voluntary merger with Cumbria.
During our first day in Committee we had much discussion about the growing importance of basic command units as the delivery engines for local policing. Equally, the service is now rolling out neighbourhood policing, which is welcomed and supported by all. It is therefore right that police authorities should be able to delegate to an area committee at BCU level, or in some cases even neighbourhood level, decisions local to that area. I have in mind, for example, decisions about how best to communicate with local people about their policing, about the arrangements for consultation or about signing off the local community safety strategy for the area. The substance of Clause 3 is therefore very welcome. However, having given police authorities the same flexibility as other local authorities, the Home Secretary then seeks to tie their hands through regulation.
In its first sitting, all sides of the Committee stressed the fundamental importance of the tripartite relationship but that relationship will be strong and healthy only if there is mutual respect among the partners for each others’ roles and responsibilities. Taking extensive powers under subsection (3) to regulate how police authorities exercise their delegation functions seems to show little faith in the capacity of police authorities to manage their own affairs responsibly. Police authorities already have extensive powers to delegate action to the chief constable or their own officers, and to my knowledge there have never been any questions raised about how authorities use those powers at present. Indeed, I know my police authority colleagues take very seriously decisions about what and when to delegate.
I am fairly confident that my noble friend will tell me that this is simply a reserve power—a power of last resort to be used only as the nuclear option. But there are other powers elsewhere in the Bill for police authorities to be inspected and for the Home Secretary to intervene if things are going awry. Why are further powers needed here to regulate how authorities manage their own work? This strikes me as unnecessary and unwarranted interference. Police authorities are mature bodies and should be treatedas such.
As I said, the main thrust of Clause 3 is welcome, and in the spirit of mutual exchange I would like to return the favour. My amendment is therefore designed to assist this and future Home Secretaries. As we all know, once one has a power, it is very difficult to resist using it. My amendment would put the Home Secretary out of harm’s way by removing the temptation for him to interfere with how police authorities go about their day-to-day business. I beg to move.
The Minister will not be at all surprised to hear that I support the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Henig. We support the amendment because we want to take out a subsection which once again allows the Secretary of State wide discretion to specify police authorities’ powers. Such provision is completely unnecessary, inappropriate and undemocratic. It does not give police authorities parity with other local authorities which already have powers of delegation without central powers being reserved in this way. This is about delegating powers—probably to BCU level in order that decisions can be taken at the appropriate level; for example, projects involving community participation or CDRP projects. These are local issues and need to be dealt with locally, so that delegation is actually beneficial.
I am going to complete the trio of assent and support the noble Baroness, Lady Henig. When I saw her amendment on the Marshalled List, and then looked into the Explanatory Notes, it was a revelation regarding the Government’s intent. Here we have a consequence of the Government’s own plans to force mergers on police forces: they have had to recognise in statute the fact that police authorities, which will now cover extra-large areas, will need some way of delegating powers to smaller areas. There will have to be more bureaucracy; and I certainly hope that the Government will think again on mergers. But if those mergers are to take place, particularly when they are voluntary, it is essential that no remoteness is felt by the old areas that comprise the smaller constabularies. They still feel they have an important part to play in the wider police authority.
The noble Baroness, Lady Henig, was right to point out two facts, in particular. First, police authorities are mature bodies. We entrust them with significant responsibilities, which they fulfil remarkably well. We are very fortunate in the service that we have from them. It will undermine our apparent confidence in them by saying, “Yes, you can delegate powers, but we are not going to treat you on a par with local authorities; we are going to tell you how you may delegate those powers”. The Minister may say that it is last resort and that the Government will not really intervene, but the difficulty is that it sends a signal, saying, “We are putting you out on a dog leash but we will tug you back when we need to”.
This part of the Bill is misguided. The second point made by the noble Baroness was that there are other last-resort powers that the Government could call in, which I think would be more appropriate. It is right that our attention has been drawn to this subsection, and I hope that the Government will look carefully at the proposal made by the noble Baroness, Lady Henig.
Perhaps I can offer the Government some succour, too. If the noble Baroness is worried about a lovely big fat juicy Home Office Bill shrinking, I have amendments later on that would add extra clauses, so if she takes this subsection out, I could extend the Bill with other matters.
Will the Minister explain why, if Section 107 of the 1972 Act is working effectively, it is necessary to introduce further powers? Is it again the previous argument about establishing much more control from the Home Office, rather than allowing police authorities to function as they have been doing adequately and effectively so far?
On these occasions one should always start with a positive, if one can. I welcome my noble friend Lady Henig’s support for Clause 3, which, as she rightly acknowledges, will allow police authorities greater flexibility to delegate their functions to area committees of the authority or to individual members’ offices.
In making this change to the Local Government Act 1972, we have made it clear that we would be concerned if this additional flexibility led to a proliferation of bureaucratic area committees, which also overlap with the role of crime and disorder reduction partnerships, which we acknowledge and celebrate as working extremely well. We do not want additional overlap with the local overview and scrutiny committees.
Clause 3(3) contains a reserve power designed to guard against such a possibility. It will enable the Home Secretary to regulate the functions that may be delegated to area committees and the membership of such committees. We hope that it will not be necessary for this power ever to be exercised, but we believe that it is necessary to include it in the Bill to guard against things malfunctioning. I am sure that we can think of one or two occasions in history when sometimes these things have not worked as they should. In a perfect world they would quickly correct themselves, but the world does not work like that.
This reserve power is not without precedent. A similar power is contained in Section 18 of the Local Government Act 2000, which relates to the delegation of functions by local authorities operating under similar executive arrangements. It is not unknown in local government. The world of local governance is actively familiar with it, and acknowledges that there is some value in it.
It is not a power that we want to use; it is there to be used in extremis. It is a reserve power that we hope will not have to be activated. My noble friend, like me and others involved in these debates in the House, would expect that when things go slightly awry they can be properly corrected at a local level without the need for external intervention. But we think that the power is important to guard against the odd occasions when that reserve power will be necessary.
I hope that, with that assurance on the reserve nature of the power, my noble friend will feel able to withdraw her amendment.
Two questions have arisen as a result of the Minister’s response. First, with regard to the laudable objective of not having too many bodies doing the same job, does the Minister accept that if we trust police authorities to know their patch and its needs, we should trust them to decide what functions should be carried out by an area body that they nominate? Would it not be strange if they wanted to take over the functions of partnerships that are working well? Furthermore, is the Minister saying that the Government do not want the area organisations that are to be created in this way, to which functions are to be delegated, to cross over with other bodies’ functions or to cover the same geographical area as those bodies? Are the limits that the Secretary of State will be able to control functional or geographic?
The Minister said that one does not want things to go wrong locally and that this power would be a matter of last resort. In the best of all possible worlds, organisations can set off on their own course, and it is difficult to rein them back, but how quick is quick? What do the Government see as a quick response to put things right if this is to be a power of last resort? Are police authorities to be given the Wayne Rooney red card immediately or will they be given time in which to redraw their plans before the Secretary of State imposes his will upon them? I appreciate that that will be part of guidance, but we need to have a flavour of what the Government intend because the Secretary of State is giving himself direct power over police authorities.
I will endeavour to answer the noble Baroness’s questions as best I can. Her final point related to rapidity of response. In such a situation, there will clearly be some sensitivity. I am sure there will be a history to what has emerged; there always is. In those circumstances, the response would have to be measured. I am sure that will create the time for dialogue between the centre and the locality. If something is obviously not working, there will be a need for swift action, but such matters will have to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis. I do not think it would be reasonable to respond in any other way. The response will be determined by the circumstances.
The noble Baroness also asked about functions and geography. Primarily, we are concerned with overlapping functions. In a previous life, I was involved in local government for long enough to know that there are benefits and beauties to complementarity and additional activities being taken on by different bodies and organisations, but when working at local level it is irritating when it is impossible to get to the root of who is responsible for what. It is important to ensure that there is not too much overlap. But these things can be considered. We need to avoid rushing in to make an order under Clause 3(3). If we had concerns, we would want to discuss them in the first instance with the Association of Police Authorities because that would make a lot of sense and would ensure that we understood what was happening in the locality. That underlines the trust we have not only in the APA but also in local organisations to sort themselves out.
That may not be an answer laced with precision, but I am trying to look at this in a workable way. One must consider what actually happens on the ground in the locality to feel how a power such as this may be used sensitively and intelligently to produce an outcome that I am sure most of us want.
I do not want to be unkind to the Minister, but he was a member of a local authority when I was a member of the police authority for Sussex. If he analyses the work that the police authority did then, he will find that there were no complaints whatsoever. Why does he want to introduce something new at this stage?
As I explained earlier, this is not something novel, it is designed to deal with things at the margins where there is an element of dysfunctionality and where it is important that there rests with the Home Secretary an opportunity to help to sort things out, when that is what is required to enable the organisation better to perform its duties. If you like, it is a benign reserve power. I really do not think that the Committee should get hung up on the notion of there being a desire for creeping centralisation. That is not the purpose. It is a reserve power designed to sort things out and be helpful.
I have listened very carefully to everything that has been said in this very interesting exchange. My noble friend may not be surprised when I say that I am not really very reassured. If the problem is now of the sort about which we have heard, I should have thought that Home Office guidance, which we have on all sorts of issues, would have sorted it out. I should have thought that it could be dealt with at that level.
That would be highly desirable. Perhaps I did not talk about guidance, but guidance is there to ensure that these things can be properly resolved. My noble friend is probably right: that is how things will be resolved. However, there may be situations where the reserve power has value and importance.
If we come to the reserve power, perhaps we have a difference about the function of the Home Secretary. I believe firmly that a Home Secretary's role in general terms is strategic. If there are problems such as those to which my noble friend referred, they should be dealt with through tripartite discussion with ACPO and the APA. I hear what he says about this being a benign power. I must say, as a historian, that a benign power today can become an antagonistic, centralising or, even worse, autocratic power tomorrow. That is also my concern.
I am surprised that the Government feel the necessity to have this reserve power. For someone like myself, who is trying to be constructive throughout this debate, because there is so much good in the Bill, clauses like this unfortunately reinforce the view that the whole balance is shifting and that it is not just at this level but at every level that the Home Secretary is taking greater powers. I shall not press my amendment at this point, but I maintain considerable misgivings about the necessity for this particular reserve power. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 3 agreed to.
Clause 4 [Police authorities as best value authorities]:
Page 2, line 35, leave out subsections (1) and (2) and insert—
“The following amendments to the Local GovernmentAct 1999 (c. 27) shall have effect with regard to police authorities—
(a) section 1(1)(d) is omitted; (b) section 1(4) is omitted; (c) section 24 is omitted.”
The noble Baroness said: The amendment stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Dholakia. As I said at Second Reading, we object to the clause on the grounds that it will give police authorities a duty to secure best value, but no power to enforce that duty. The Bill will remove the ability to commission best value reviews. However, we accept the Government's view that the best value process has become unwieldy and bureaucratic. Our amendments would give authorities the flexibility to scrutinise force activity in a way proportionate to the circumstances.
Best value legislation needs to remain applicable to police authorities, especially provisions relating to inspection. That will give the Audit Commission the locus that it needs to participate in joint inspections with the new CJS inspectorate envisaged in paragraph 12 of the schedule. We are, in any event, seeking to have this paragraph removed from the Bill. We do not support the involvement of the Audit Commission in police authority inspection because it does not have the necessary experience and expertise in this area. If the Government are determined to involve the Audit Commission in police authority inspection, the commission has wide enough powers under other legislation which would enable this, and it is always open to the Government to include specific provisions about this in the relevant part of the Bill.
However, the Government rejected these amendments in another place because, while committing police authorities to continuous improvement, they disapplied all of best value and shut out the Audit Commission. That is exactly what I intend.
The Local Government Act 1999 required councils and police and fire authorities to pursue continuous improvement, but, because there was no real understanding of how to make best value work—reflected not least in inspection—they pursued a sort of paper chase. The annual cost in missed service improvements and savings is hard to judge, but a CBI estimate of March 2005, based on Treasury figures, supports the view that it runs into billions of pounds.
A well run value programme should yield a combination of improved services and savings worth 10 times its costs. Continuous improvement methods to review products and services and secure best value can be sought from relevant training organisations through the marketplace. It is out there and it is not the Audit Commission which supplies it. We have permitted a two-tier system of continuous improvement practice to evolve: the practice of the private sector, for which this work is imperative; and a lesser standard in the public sector, which has muddled along. It is therefore extremely important that police authorities are free to secure the advice of any number of the organisations specialising in this field and to demonstrate to the rest of the public sector how to manage continuous improvement and secure best value. I beg to move.
I have a great deal of sympathy with the amendment and I endorse much of what the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, said.
Based on my experience as a former chair of a police authority, the best value duty was an important one. It enabled police authorities to scrutinise and become familiar with detailed aspects of policing which some chief officers would previously have guarded as matters of operational independence. It gave us access to some of those dark and dusty corners which had previously escaped rigorous scrutiny. Indeed, police authority involvement in best value reviews actually helped to strengthen relationships with the force and gave officers greater confidence that authority members understood the issues and challenges facing them.
Of course, it also involved a great deal of red tape and bureaucracy. This was mostly due to the guidance issued by the then Office of the Deputy Prime Minister. When the APA and the Home Office together produced some guidance specifically for the police service, much of that was swept away.
Best value, as such, may now have had its day; I know that colleagues in, for example, the Metropolitan Police Authority are using other forms of scrutiny very powerfully to achieve the same ends. However, the difficulty with what the Government are proposing is that it places police authorities between a rock and a hard place. They will still have a duty to secure best value; they will still be measured against best value measures, or SPIs, as they are now called; and they will still be inspected against the duty. But they will no longer have the levers or the tools to fulfil that duty—that is, the power to carry out best value reviews. If best value is dying, let us kill it off altogether. We do not want to leave authorities with a duty and no power. Powers to inspect police authorities are already being taken elsewhere in the Bill. The Government continue to have powers under the Bill to set strategic priorities and appropriate measures. Why do we need to continue to apply these provisions?
The amendment is best described as rather curious. As I understand it, the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, and my noble friend Lady Henig have explained that police authorities continue to support the notion of best value and want it retained. It has been argued fairly that leaving in place the overarching duty to promote best value while removing the tools provided for best value reviews and best value performance plans might leave police authorities somewhat hamstrung.
The noble Baroness's solution is simply to disapply the entire best value regime for police authorities. That is a strange solution to what is seen as a problem. I do not see it as a problem at all. I cannot accept the analysis. In repealing the duty to undertake best value reviews, all we are removing is fairly acknowledged as an overly bureaucratic and resource-intensive process. Those are terms and words that I would have thought would be more than a little familiar to the noble Baroness, Lady Harris; I recognise them as terms that she might use to describe best value at its worst, when best value becomes more overbearing than useful in getting good value for money from any organisation. As I understand it and as I attempted to make it work in my time in local government, that is what best value is about.
Of course, police authorities, as with any other statutory body corporate, may do anything consistent with the exercise of their functions. They do not, therefore, need express statutory powers to undertake reviews in order to do so. I would have thought that an element of good practice in any organisation involved in local government or in police authorities is that it is important at all times to review the way in which the organisation operates to secure good value for money. Furthermore, police authorities can continue to draw on their powers in Section 22 of the Police Act 1996 to request a report from their chief officer. In other words, the chief officer has a continuing commitment and obligation to ensure that good value is provided through the police authority.
Police authorities will still be able to discharge their general duty to secure continuous improvement in the delivery of police forces’ functions. That general duty is well worth retaining without the cumbersome bureaucracy that best value can have associated with it, although it has often been shown to be positive. In those circumstances, I am puzzled why the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, takes agin what I would have thought would be recognised as a government move that provided for some freeing up.
My noble friend Lady Henig has acknowledged that the Metropolitan Police Authority is using other tools of scrutiny to secure best value. In a sense, that makes the argument for the Government. If that is the case, what is to stop other police authorities acting in a similar way? They do not need the cumbersome nature of some best value practices to carry out reviews or assess performance plans. I would have thought that this would be a welcome change of approach, because it would enable some scope and some use of imagination in how reviews can be carried out to benefit the police authority and ensure that it continues to deliver the services that it is asked to provide at good value.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, for her support. I am disappointed that the Minister finds it a curious amendment. I do not know whether he understood my first sentence in speaking to the amendment. It is still very important for police authorities to secure best value, but the Bill will remove the power to enforce that duty. I heard what the Minister said about police authorities’ ability to get other forms of help in securing best value, but one of my main points was the power of that extraordinary body, the Audit Commission, to inspect the authority. Will it have the wherewithal to say what sort of best value it ought to apply to police authorities? Will it advise them on how they should best seek this advice? It certainly does not have the experience to do that.
When the Minister looks again at what I have said, perhaps he will consider a little more carefully what encouragement I am trying to give the Government.
I do not know whether this is the right thing to say, and it is certainly not in my brief—I know it is always risky—but having heard what the noble Baroness said, I am thinking back to a time when I had the privilege and good fortune to act as the leader of my local authority. Every year, we used to receive something called the auditors’ management letter, which the noble Baroness will no doubt be familiar with. This was long before the days of best value and during what I thought was a rather heavy-handed regime called compulsory competitive tendering—although I freely acknowledge that it had its benefits. What I used to find particularly helpful was not so much the letter itself, but what preceded it: external invigilation and review of important functions of the local authority, including, perhaps, its housing benefits system, occasionally its poll tax or council tax, or whatever regime it was. That acted as a catalyst for a good deal of internal thinking about processes and good management.
I did not require a regime for that to happen. I enjoyed the fact that there was some pressure on the organisation and management to think about how we procured and secured and how we made organisations, functions and processes work. I guess that in this case we are aiming to achieve something not entirely dissimilar. So, yes, police authorities will have a duty to secure best value, but they will have some freedom and responsibility to do it in a way which is most appropriate. That is what we are trying to get at. I hope those comments are helpful and give some colour and understanding to what we are about.
I am grateful to the Minister for his explanation. I remember with fondness many management letters during the20 years in which I was a county councillor. I also remember CCT very well. As I said, it has all failed. It has cost billions of pounds because it has not been used and understood properly. It works in the private sector, but it does not work in the public sector. Therefore, it needs to be looked at again. I still feel very strongly that the Audit Commission should not have any hand in this whatever, because it has neither the necessary experience nor the expertise. It would be wrong for it to be involved. The processes have failed. Having heard what the Minister said, I do not want to labour the amendment much longer. I will withdraw it, but I may well come back to this issue on Report. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 4 agreed to.
Clause 5 [Standard powers and duties of community support officers]:
moved Amendment No. 82:
Page 3, line 31, at end insert-
“( ) In making an order under subsection (1), the Secretary of State shall have regard to the desirability of maintaining the discretion of chief officers of police to designate the powers of community support officers to the extent they deem.”
The noble Viscount said: Clause 5, as the Explanatory Notes tell us, inserts a new power into the list of powers in the 2002 Act that may be conferred on persons designated as community support officers. The Explanatory Notes go on to state:
“If designated with the power set out at new paragraph 4C, CSOs will have the power that constables already have under section 16 of the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 to deal with truants. This power would allow CSOs to remove young people of school age that they believe are absent from school without lawful authority from specified areas and to take them either to their school, or to a place which has been specified by the local authority”.
The amendment in my name and that of my noble friend would insert a new subsection into Clause 5 to make certain that,
“the Secretary of State shall have regard to the desirability of maintaining the discretion of chief officers of police to designate the powers of community support officers to the extent they deem”.
The amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, refers specifically to,
“the power to use reasonable force to detain or control a person”.
The amendments to some degree overlap, the aim being to probe the nature and extent of the powers which the Secretary of Sate might want to introduce in standardising the powers and duties of CSOs under this clause. The Home Office’s consultation demonstrated that there was general agreement that some standardisation of powers is desirable. However, a range of organisations have expressed concern about whether too much standardisation is proposed. Indeed, the APA argues that the consultation that it undertook last year demonstrates that police authorities support only a minimum set of standard powers and maximum local flexibility.
I commend CSOs for the work that they do. It is clear that they bring some reassurance to the public by their presence on the street and help provide local flexibility. Indeed, they can adopt a targeted approach to each area in which they work. I will discuss their important role with children in the next amendment.
Organisations such as the APA, however, are worried not only that, by increasing the CSOs’ automatic powers, particularly the power of detention, the Bill will erode the cost differential of training for full officers and CSOs, but also that the latter will spend less time on the streets and more time behind desks completing paperwork. ACPO has made similar noises, stating that,
“the standardisation of powers for CSOs will bring some clarity to the public as to what CSOs are for. However, we need to guard against them being given powers that lead to abstraction from their major role in providing high-visibility contact with the public. More powers mean more training, equipment, and office time dealing with those powers and Chief Constables must retain discretion in how best to deploy them”.
I remind your Lordships that the Home Affairs Select Committee commented that a reduction in the street presence of CSOs would be counterproductive. I hope that the Minister will explain to the Committee in full the powers that the Government wish to standardise and those that they do not, and to what degree standardisation is removing more discretion from chief constables.
Perhaps I may use this opportunity briefly to discuss truancy. I know that some organisations such as the Police Federation welcome the extension of the power to deal with truants to CSOs—indeed, they highlight the enormity of the problem and the time it consumes. But do these powers really answer the question? The Children's Society has questioned the efficacy of truancy sweeps as a way to tackle non-attendance at school, highlighting that the National Foundation for Educational Research concluded that, while sweeps had raised awareness of the issue, it was,
“less certain of the long-term impact on individual pupil attendance”.
Despite a plethora of initiatives, national rates of unauthorised absence have not changed in 10 years and they increased in 2004-05 to more than 0.8 per cent of available school days. I hope that the Minister will inform us what the Government are doing to re-examine their strategy for tackling truancy and to shift the balance away from enforcement measures in favour of more strategic initiatives that respond to children’s and young people’s reasons for not attending school. They should focus more on some of the good early-intervention initiatives which address family difficulties such as those seen in Kent and recognise that this is one of the more likely roots of the problem. If we can address the causes of truancy, we can help cut the amount of time our officers and CSOs need to spend addressing it. They can then focus on other areas that require more skills. I beg to move.
I rise in support of Amendment No. 82 and will also speak to Amendment No. 84, which stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Dholakia. Amendment No. 82 raises the argument about whether it is better to have standardised powers—which the Secretary of State would be able to impose anyway—or the power of a chief constable to allow local flexibility in determining what powers a CSO should have.
We know that the power to detain will be made standard, so that everyone will recognise that all CSOs, like police officers, have this power. I am opposed to their having this power, because I think it could cause immense problems, especially if an energetic and enthusiastic CSO gets it wrong. There is greater likelihood of that, because their training is minuscule and their experience far less than that of a fully fledged police officer. However, as the Government seem to think it is a good idea to allow power to creep to them, let us at least make sure that they all understand what is expected of them.
I much prefer the stance taken by the APA, which would give chief constables discretion to decide whether their CSOs should be deployed in this manner. I hope chief constables would decide that in consultation with their police authorities. In 2002, when we discussed the powers of CSOs—how well I remember that—ACPO said that CSOs were,
“best seen as a complement to, not a replacement for, the role of sworn police officers”.
In its view it was only for sworn police officers to deal with circumstances where,
“there is a clear likelihood that a confrontation will arise … where there is scope for exercise of a high degree of discretion—for example, where a situation is complex owing to a number of different parties involved … where police action is likely to lead to a higher than normal risk of harm … where there is a clear likelihood that police action will include any infringement of a person’s human rights … where the incident is one which is likely to lead to significant further work”.
We can see that there are clear boundaries to the role of police CSOs. Local flexibility is the key to using them. I hope the Minister will agree that this amendment helps forces get the best out of their CSOs and use them as local policing style dictates. That can only be decided by each force and police authority.
Amendment No. 84 is a probing amendment intended to discover the nature and extent of the powers that the Secretary of State might want to introduce under the clause. It is rather strange that extremely detailed powers are included in Schedule 4 to the Police Reform Act 2002, explaining exactly what powers CSOs can exercise: issuing, in effect, fixed penalty notices; detaining, for up to 30 minutes, suspects who fail to give details; and using reasonable force to detain people in those circumstances. As I said, I am opposed to the power to detain anyway. It always assumes the use of force, however light, and the repercussions of that could be horrendous, even litigious. Apart from the fact that CSOs are not trained sufficiently—nor will they be—in the gentle art of detention, it is entirely wrong that they should be given the power to use force to enable them to undertake it. Apart from anything else, their own safety could be badly compromised; far better that this power be given to a fully trained police officer, who knows when and how to apply force appropriately.
One of the reasons why I want to speak to this amendment is to pay tribute to the Home Office. Heaven knows that in recent weeks the Home Office has not had many friends in this House. I want to take this opportunity to point out that CSOs have been one of the big success stories of the last three years. The Home Office has to take some of the credit for that, both for securing the finance and for making sure that all police authorities came on board and realised their usefulness. That has to be said, and I wanted to begin by saying it.
In Lancashire we saw very early on the value of community support officers. We asked for a lot of them right at the start. I think we had the highest number outside London and Manchester. We used them throughout Lancashire and they were a very effective part of our extended police family. In the next three years, community support officers will be an invaluable and integral part of the rollout of the neighbourhood policing initiative, which both sides of the Committee will welcome. That is why it is so important that we look at that role, see how they have been used, and use them most effectively. They have been successful and will be even more so.
Lancashire was one of the forces to have a pilot scheme in relation to detention powers. CSOs operated with powers of detention in two divisions in Lancashire. In one division it worked very effectively; in the other division it did not. Interestingly, at the end of that experiment, Lancashire Constabulary felt that it did not want powers of detention for CSOs. I think that is a point worth making, because it tried all this. My own preference—although I would not push it too vigorously—would be for the chief constable to have discretion over these areas. I say that only because, as I have already argued, these community support officers are going to be an absolutely essential community resource in the next few years. We need to try, as far as we can, to get the relationship and powers right so that we can use them to maximum effect. While I would not strenuously oppose what is suggested, I would like it noted that I think maximum flexibility and discretion may well be the most effective way forward here.
That is precisely the reason why my noble friend said that this is very much a probing amendment. We really want to see exactly which powers will be vested in community support officers. This was discussed very substantially during previous legislation. We certainly support everything the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, has said.
It might be useful to cast our minds back to look at the extent of the conflict police officers find themselves involved in when detaining people. Many of us are used to seeing this on CCTV and many programmes on television. If those powers are to be used by community support officers it is vital that they are properly trained for that purpose, rather than be expected to perform a task that needs years of police training. If we do not tread carefully, the sympathy that exists at the moment in relation to community support officers will gradually disappear if there is a confrontation between them and the individual being arrested. It might be very helpful if, at this stage, the Minister could indicate two things. First, will community support officers receive adequate training—meaning as good as that given to police officers? Secondly, will they also be subject to the discipline of the Independent Police Complaints Commission?
I thank my noble friend Lady Henig for the compliment she paid the Home Office. It is a rare moment and I will savour it for a long time. I say with all humility that on this occasion it is perhaps justified only because of what has been said by other Members of the Committee, not all of whom were as enthusiastic when CSOs were originally introduced but who have now become stalwart converts to their benefits. I had the great pleasure last week of speaking to a head teacher who had been extremely antipathetic to the thought of working with police officers or indeed with CSOs, and is now extolling their virtues and benefits. We have converts it appears not only all over the Committee but all over the country, which we must of course celebrate.
It is right that people are jealous of that success, because PCSOs have added colour, flavour and intimacy to the way in which the community can respond, which we value. I wish to reassure the Committee that our seeking to standardise some of the powers under which CSOs will operate is only to bring clarity. It is not to bring rigidity or to try to undermine the efficacy of the way in which they work. It would therefore be right to make it plain, in response to the question of the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, that the list of the powers that the Government propose to confer are set out as standard in annexe B of the Explanatory Notes. None of the proposed powers is inappropriate to CSOs. They are already in legislation, which is what the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, indicated, so we should not see PCSOs abstracted from the community as was feared. I understand what the noble Viscount says about their visibility, accessibility and importance. An approach that took them away from that front-line role would be extremely regrettable.
I am not sure whether I misheard, but I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, referred to powers of arrest. I remind the Committee that CSOs do not have a power to arrest, although they have a power to detain. I thought that he did not intend that. The power to detain is worded as a requirement to wait with the community support officer for up to 30 minutes. The use of force is therefore not inevitable. It has been piloted successfully. The power to use reasonable force is separate and will not be a standard power. I particularly endorse the views expressed by my noble friend Lady Henig that the way in which it can be delivered has been found successful in many situations, and on other occasions not so. The power to use reasonable force is a separate power that needs to be judiciously used.
I turn to the truancy sweeps that the noble Viscount raised. They are only one element of the strategy that we intend to use: there are issues on how we respond to truancy in terms of educational welfare, the assessments made at school, parenting orders, the attempts to engage the parents in relation to it, and the now greater connection between the wraparound services and the agencies working together in partnership to identify need and interventions which will encourage children to remain in school. Special programmes for children are being developed. Some of the groups teach them in a slightly different way, which is more interesting and likely to retain their presence at school, one hopes. All those matters have to be undertaken. This is but one extra step, which cannot ever be a panacea but can be an additional support.
Children who are truanting are disproportionately likely to be engaged in anti-social behaviour and disproportionately often at risk. The training for PCSOs is not minuscule; it is often around four weeks and the chief officer has a statutory obligation in that regard to ensure that they have proper training. Training is an issue to which we will return on a number of occasions. It is also right to say that the reason why we are not persuaded that Amendment No. 82 adds value to Clause 5 is that there is, as I have already indicated, provision in the clause that requires the Secretary of State to consult police authorities and chief officers prior to exercising the order-making power. In putting our proposals for consultation, the Secretary of State will in any event need to strike a balance between the benefits of a standardised set of powers for community support officers and the advantages of according chief constables a degree of local flexibility, which has already been echoing around the Committee as one of the benefits that we have been able to derive to date.
The Home Secretary will then have to consider carefully the comments made in response to that consultation. We have been candid about the whole process since last summer. The proposed set of standard powers for community support officers has been formulated following a formal public consultation in which the Association of Chief Police Officers was specifically invited to comment. Our intentions, which will be subject to debate in this House, are set out in annexe B of the Explanatory Notes. The Bill recognises that it is desirable for some powers to be standard and for some to remain available at the discretion of individual chief officers. In deciding which powers should be standardised, the Secretary of State will take into account the relevant factors and views. We believe that the duty to consult achieves the ends sought by Amendment No. 82, and I hope for that reason the noble Baroness, Lady Harris—at whom I am looking, but my remarks are also intended for the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman—will be content not to press the amendment, as it is not necessary. As I said, we understand why it was tabled.
Amendment No. 84, which was tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, who has spoken to it, and the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, singles out one particular power that will for ever be excluded from the standard set of powers. That is at odds with the approach taken in Clause 5. All powers remain at the discretion of chief officers of police, save those designated as standard powers. We see no reason to single out the power to detain for special attention. If, as Parliament accepted in 2002, CSOs should be capable of exercising a power of detention, that power should be one that could be included in a standard suite of powers.
We have already indicated that we will omit the power to use reasonable force to detain an individual from proposed standard lists of powers for community support officers. That power should remain in the discretion of chief officers of police, but detention is a key enforcement power that can contribute to the effectiveness of community support officers. The clause as it stands provides flexibility while ensuring that any order is subject to full consultation and parliamentary scrutiny through the draft affirmative procedure, which provides sufficient safeguards. Accordingly, I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, will be content not to move their amendment.
We on this side are a generous lot and would like to associate ourselves with the remarks of the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, about the CSOs; I shall endeavour to do so. Certainly they have been a great success in many ways. I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, for her support for the amendment. I am glad that the probing amendment was spoken to because that enabled the Minister to give an explanation. I am grateful for her remarks about truancy. We shall read her remarks about the balance between local discretion and standardisation with care, but in the mean time I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Page 4, line 8, at end insert-
“( ) Training for Community Support Officers must include training on the common core of skills and knowledge for the children's workforce developed by the Department for Education and Skills.”
The noble Viscount said: This probing amendment in the names of my noble friend Lady Anelay and myself follows on nicely from the debate on the potential new powers that CSOs may be given under this clause. Amendment No. 83 inserts a new subsection after subsection (6) to make it certain that CSOs receive adequate and appropriate training in working with children and young people.
The Standing Committee for Youth Justice—SCYJ—and APPG on Children have expressed the view that the standard set of powers for CSOs introduced by Clause 5 must be accompanied by statutory requirements for training in order for these powers to be implemented appropriately. I am sure that all your Lordships believe this is essential to ensure the safety and well-being of children and young people who come into contact with CSOs.
A recent Home Office evaluation of CSOs identified that they spend a lot of their time working with children and young people, dealing in particular with anti-social behaviour and “youth nuisance” on a regular basis. Indeed, as I highlighted in the previous debate, some areas designate their CSOs solely to carry out this role. The survey reported that dealing with youth disorder/nuisance was one of the tasks they most frequently carried out, with over half saying they did it daily and 81 per cent at least weekly.
The report also identifies the important role that CSOs can play in getting to know and engaging local children and young people, introducing diversionary activities in the community and ensuring that the voices of under-18s are included in the discussions and debates about anti-social behaviour in the community. It is clear that CSOs in their daily work are highly likely to be working with children and young people. However, there are concerns among many children's groups that CSOs may not possess the appropriate skills and knowledge to communicate and work effectively with children and young people. As such, we believe that there is a strong argument that the safeguarding duty set out in Section 11 of the Children Act 2004 should be extended to cover CSOs explicitly.
Section 11 of the Children Act 2004 places a duty on key persons and bodies to make arrangements to ensure that in discharging their functions, they have regard to the need to safeguard and promote the welfare of children. The police are one of the key bodies covered by this duty, and the guidance on Section 11 states that in order to meet the requirements of this duty, among other things, the police should ensure senior management commitment and accountability; have clear statements of responsibility; ensure that police officers and police staff at all levels are aware of their statutory requirements to protect and safeguard the welfare of children; and ensure that appropriate training, processes and procedures are in place to enable all staff to be best able to support the aims and objectives of the Children Act 2004. While it may be implicit in the guidance that the Section 11 duty falls on “police and police staff”, I hope that the Minister can provide a clear statement and assurance that CSOs are included under the Section 11 safeguarding duty.
The national evaluation report highlighted that many CSOs themselves have expressed concerns about the training they had received and many felt that it inadequately prepared them for their role, and they wanted more practically based teaching methods. Only 38 per cent of CSOs felt that their initial training had prepared them well enough to do their job and 59 per cent of CSOs felt they had encountered situations they did not feel properly trained to deal with. So there have been numerous research studies that have identified difficulties in the relationship between the police and young people. Research by the Home Office with Docking, and Bradley in 1998, identified that young people feel intimidated, disrespected and stereotyped by the police and that the police lacked sympathy and understanding towards them. Research by the Children's Society identified that police are often lacking in the skills needed to communicate effectively with black young people in particular.
In interviews with young people about their experiences of stop and search, many expressed a lack of trust in policing generally and specifically they painted a picture of conflict and confrontation in their daily dealings. Some also reported being frightened by such encounters. The consequence of this is that many young people often lack confidence in the police and some report that they have largely withdrawn from any voluntary involvement with them.
With the proposed increasing role and functions of CSOs, there is a danger that the same problems will arise, worsening the overall relationship between young people and those responsible for promoting community safety. In order to avoid this situation and to ensure the successful implementation of this clause, resources will need to be made available to ensure that CSOs receive adequate and appropriate training about how to work effectively, safely and appropriately with children and young people. To revert to the remarks made in connection with the previous amendment, it is so important that the initial success of CSOs is safeguarded in that respect.
It has been suggested that the best way to achieve this would be to make it a statutory requirement for CSOs to be trained on the Common Core of Skills and Knowledge for the Children's Workforce developed by the DfES. As your Lordships know, this sets out the basic skills and knowledge needed by people, including volunteers, whose work brings them into regular contact with children, young people and families. As part of its Every Child Matters children's workforce development programme, the DfES has recommended that all relevant practitioners should undertake the Common Core of Skills and Knowledge, which consists of improving skills in the following six areas: effective communication and engagement with children; young people and families; child and young person development; safeguarding and promoting the welfare of the child; supporting transitions; and multi-agency working and sharing information.
In Committee in the other place, the Minister gave an assurance that CSOs will,
“receive proper and adequate training to deal with young people”.—[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee D, 21/3/06; col. 126.]
However, she did not specify what this training would involve. I hope the Minister can confirm that this training will at the very least adhere to the Common Core of Skills and Knowledge for the Children's Workforce, thereby enabling CSOs to be more equipped to communicate and work positively with the children and young people they come into contact with. In doing so, I hope that she can also clarify whether in line with Section 11 of the Children Act CSOs will receive training in child protection, safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children and young people. I beg to move.
I rise to support this amendment wholeheartedly. I hope noble Lords will forgive me if in some respects I echo what the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, has said. Although she is no longer in her place, I echo the very favourable remarks that the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, made about the development of CSOs, which is clearly very important, constructive and necessary.
We are all agreed that the presence of CSOs can make a very positive contribution to policing and potentially represents a bridge between disaffected young people and the police. We also know that a great deal of CSOs’ time is spent with young people. Over half do so daily and 81 per cent at least weekly. It follows therefore that it is vital that they are properly equipped for this role and for the appropriate exercise of their powers. The noble Viscount referred to their safeguarding duty. It is vital that that should be properly discharged and explicitly included under Section 11 of the Children Act 2004. We hope to get some reassurance on that.
Training is clearly central, as is consistency of approach. The Common Core of Skills and Knowledge, published by the DfES, is the obvious starting point. Indeed, without it, it is likely that many CSOs will be significantly disadvantaged, and the chances of failing to deal properly or adequately with what are often very challenging situations can be very high. As we have heard, many CSOs do not feel adequately trained or prepared and as many as 59 per cent have been in situations that they felt not adequately prepared to deal with. This is very pressing.
The common core of skills consists of six basic areas. They are excellent areas. People have spent a lifetime doing PhDs on each one of those basic areas, which go to the heart of what is involved in dealing with young people. None of them can be acquired without considerable time and thought. That raises questions about the time, level and intensity that will be applied to the training of CSOs. We need reassurance from the Government that they will commit explicitly to a training programme for all CSOs and tell us what it will consist of.
It would also be helpful to know what plans are in place for training not only the current CSOs but the 24,000 new ones that are planned to be recruited. Does the Minister have a timescale for that? What is the figure for the financial resources that will have to be committed, as they will be quite considerable? What will the training programme be, and how long will it take? Without clarity for such plans, the expansion of the number of CSOs—on the face of it, a potentially very positive development—is likely to lead to serious problems.
I strongly support this amendment. If I may, I will speak from my script in the interests of brevity.
Given their close contact with children and young people, it seems vital that community support officers are equipped with the common core skills already described. I seek assurances from the Minister on the other elements of a community support officer’s development that will enable him to set good, clear boundaries for children and young people: mentoring for these officers; the initial training, which has been referred to; and good supervision.
I hope it will assist your Lordships if I give a little psychological and social background to the work of these officers. Speaking very simply, boys growing up without interested fathers or other important positive role models are particularly at risk of developing dissocial behaviour. The Commissioner for Racial Equality, Trevor Phillips, has spoken of his particular concerns that black boys lack sufficient positive male role models, and that not enough black fathers are involved with their sons. I acquainted myself with some young black men in such a position. I am concerned that some of these boys face uncertain futures for lack of such a positive male role model. I know this is also a problem among white families, but it seems particularly apparent in black communities. It seems most unfair that some of these children may grow to be lawless and be punished for that, when they have had no father to show them the right path.
The Home Office assessment report finds that CSOs have a greater ethnic mix than the police force. They tend to be older individuals with a wide range of experience. The report, as has been made clear around the Committee, is positive about what the CSOs have already achieved, but it highlights inconsistencies in their training and development. In particular, the mentoring, which many found so helpful, was available only to 60 per cent of them. One CSO, who received no such support, said:
“I was thrown in at the deep end … they didn’t know what I was supposed to do … it was an absolute nightmare”.
I quote further from the report:
“while there is clear support for it”—
that is, mentoring—
“views in case study reports were mixed regarding the feasibility of mentoring large numbers of CSOs. One force thought formal mentoring would be useful with the imminent rise in CSO numbers, while another thought it would be unsustainable on a larger scale”.
In my view, that mentoring support for the first one or two months of a CSO’s placement in a community is vital, for this reason: if these men and women are to be successful at setting boundaries for children and young people, they must know their own professional boundaries. I quote:
“It was also felt that more clarification of the role in terms of what CSOs can and cannot do was required. For example, one officer said: ‘They need more training about boundaries … they haven’t been given clear training.’ This view was reinforced by other force personnel (constables, duty inspectors and BCU commanders) during the fieldwork”.
Perhaps that reflects in part police officers’ understandable concerns at the undermining of their own professional status, but it also carries with it what would be my paramount concern in this matter: that CSOs properly inhabit their particular role and do not seek either to overreach themselves or to neglect their duty to provide discipline. Good initial training, adequate mentoring and good continual professional development, including expert supervision, are required to build on the initial success of this new role.
I should be grateful if the Minister could say in her reply what the normal expectations will be of the amount of individual supervision a CSO should receive. The Home Office assessment reports that over 40 per cent of CSOs, many of them younger and male, had joined as a stepping stone to joining the police. The relatively high number of CSOs wishing to become sworn officers raises a number of issues for the stability, diversity and morale of the workforce.
It occurs to me that some development of career progression within the CSO force itself might be part of a response to concerns about the workforce. If there were a recognition of certain CSOs’ experience and expertise and their special role as supervisors and mentors, that might aid retention and morale and keep some of the young men in the force—these important role models, one would hope—rather than leaving the force consisting predominantly of elder women, those who currently seem most likely to be retained, according to the report.
If the Minister might consider it helpful to convene a meeting between interested Peers, herself, police commanders or their deputies, the relevant Minister with direct responsibility and civil servants to discuss the development of this CSO role at some time during the course of the Bill, I would certainly wish to attend. It would be very helpful, from my point of view, to learn the direction of travel for CSOs at this critical time from those responsible.
In conclusion, I support the call for common core training for CSOs. I finish at this point, but I look forward to the Minister’s response.
I say again how pleased I am at the supportive comments that have been made from all around the Committee. I hope I will be able to reassure noble Lords about the benefit of the way we are dealing with this important issue.
The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, is right. A large number of our community support officers are doing sterling work with young people. Indeed, when I went to Oxford, I had the pleasure of seeing two CSOs riding around on their bicycles, with a number of children chasing them because they all knew their names and had something to tell them. They are certainly well integrated into the community, and one of the benefits is that they are not frightening figures. They become well known and accepted, and they have a huge opportunity to gather information. I will not say that the two ladies involved were Pied Pipers, but I saw the similarity.
It is important, if CSOs are going to continue to do this work, that they do it well. I say to the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, that one of the important things is not to see the CSOs in isolation. They are going to be very much part of the neighbourhood policing team. If an officer graduates out of the CSO role into an officer role, that officer will not necessarily be lost from the team. I am sure the skills and the community approach will inure to the benefit of any police officer having gone through that.
There has been a lot of concern about the training, but I can reassure noble Lords. To make it clear, the community support officers in the survey—which a number of noble Lords have referred to, but the noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, referred to them first—were those who had been trained prior to the national training package, first launched in 2004. Noble Lords will remember that when CSOs were introduced there was no standardised training, but that has now been brought in.
As we have said, the Police Reform Act 2002 already places a statutory duty on chief officers to ensure that all community support officers are adequately trained to perform the duties and exercise the powers that have been designated. There is already provision in the Police and Justice Bill at new Section 38A(6) to reaffirm this responsibility in relation to the standard powers and duties of community support officers.
I hope that it will please noble Lords to know that the Central Police Training and Development Authority has developed a national package that addresses every element of the Every Child Matters report. This will be available at the end of the month, and has been fully incorporated into both the regular police officer training package and the community support officer training package. Community support officers already receive training in youth and child protection matters. This new package will ensure that they are trained in the common core of skills and knowledge for the children’s workforce, recommended as a result of the Every Child Matters report. There is no difference between the training that community support officers will receive under this module and the training that their regular police officer colleagues receive. We thought that this was important and it is going to be delivered.
There is nothing to suggest that community support officer training is in any way inadequate. To enshrine for police training such a specific project in primary legislation would be, we respectfully suggest, unnecessary and would in due course fall into obsolescence as we change and move forward—considerations that your Lordships rightly take into account when scrutinising Bills before the House.
I hear what the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, says on mentoring and supervision. I have already said that the CSOs will be part of a team, and we will be able to look into those issues more closely. The noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, is right that we hope to increase the number of CSOs. We are committed to having 16,000 CSOs in place by April 2007, up from the current figure of 6,000. The Chancellor announced in his Budget a further £91 million to facilitate this improvement. The training—and the opportunity for us to get better and to deliver a high-quality service—is certainly there.
The noble Earl, Lord Listowel, talked about line management roles. CSOs should always be tasked and debriefed in accordance with the national intelligence model, as part of a neighbourhood policing team. On a daily basis, they discuss with the team leader the issues and incidents that they come across. There is some evidence that young people relate better to the community support officers than to police officers, which may be due to the difference of the role. Community support officers tend to get to know their patch well. We hope that police officers will be better able to emulate that approach when neighbourhood policing teams, which we all encourage and endorse, come more on stream.
The noble Viscount, Lord Bridgeman, raised a question on Section 11 of the Children Act. I confess that I do not have that with me. I could guess, but it is safer if I write to him on that particular point. With that, I hope that the noble Viscount will feel it appropriate to withdraw this amendment.
The Minister has been positive. In relation to what the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, said, are there systems for monitoring the training? I am not talking simply of HMI reporting regularly on its inspections. To make the system more effective, could the Children’s Commissioner look at the adequacy of the training and comment on what precisely happens when people are trained? That might be helpful to take this exercise forward, but I am grateful for the comments that the Minister has made.
If the noble Lord is talking about training in relation to children, I will certainly take that matter back with me. Every Child Matters seeks to ensure that every discipline approaches these issues in exactly the same way. We are increasingly understanding that we can take these issues forward only through partnership working predicated on the core issues that have been identified in Every Child Matters. We can already do monitoring on performance management, efficacy and other such matters, as we have discussed on a number on occasions. I will take the suggestion back, although I do not know whether it will be appropriate. I will certainly record the fact that the noble Lord raised the suggestion.
I am most grateful for the support that I have had from the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, and the noble Earl, Lord Listowel, and I am grateful to the Minister for her full explanation of these training methods. The noble Earl remarked on possible progressions from CSOs to the police force. That needs to be encouraged. Being a CSO is in many ways a form of cadet training for some people, so I hope that this will be borne in mind. Certainly the integration of the training of police officers and CSOs is important. So that noble Lords are fully in the picture, I remind the Committee that the parliamentary bike ride last week was accompanied by two officers, both on bicycles. One was a sworn officer and the other a community support officer. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 84 not moved.]
Clause 5 agreed to.
Clauses 6 and 7 agreed to.
Schedule 3 agreed to.
Clause 8 agreed to.
Schedule 4 [Police bail]:
Page 89, line 36, after “person” insert “aged 17 or over”
The noble Baroness said: In moving Amendment No. 84A in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Dholakia, I will also speak to Amendments Nos. 84B, 84C and 85A. These amendments relate to conditions of bail for children under 17 and to the amendments to the Police and Criminal EvidenceAct 1984 in part 2 of Schedule 4 and in Clause 8. It is proposed in the Bill that, where bail is granted not in a police station, the police will have the powers to impose conditions. These amendments exempt children under 17 from these provisions other than the condition to attend a police station.
This is an issue of the appropriate protection of children and young people. The Standing Committee for Youth Justice has clearly expressed concerns about how to guarantee their protection if they are granted bail on the street and not in a police station, and without the presence of an appropriate adult. Home Office guidance stipulates that the decision to grant street bail to a juvenile should be based on an assessment of the level of risk to the safety and welfare of the young person, and requires that contact should be made as soon as practicable with the parent, guardian or other carer. This is really not good enough; it is well known that a high proportion of young people who get caught up in offending behaviour—including of a low level—can be very vulnerable. Many have health issues, including mental health issues, domestic issues of a wide and complex kind, learning difficulties, and the like.
The assessment of the level of risk to the safety and welfare of a young person on the street is extremely difficult, if not impossible. It may simply not be apparent in such a situation that a young person is, for example, on the autistic spectrum, has a learning difficulty or is mentally unwell. However well trained and experienced the policeman or CSO might be, to make a snap assessment of that kind is really asking too much.
Where street bail is the issue, where the police are concerned enough to be considering bail at all—and we are talking about situations that are of concern—appropriate assessments of that kind become even more difficult. Even where none of those difficult background issues applies, it is likely that a child—and we must remember that we are considering children—will simply not understand what is at stake, particularly the failure to comply with conditions. So the only possible appropriate condition should be that the child attends a police station.
If conditions are attached to a bail decision, all those concerns are greatly increased. Even if there is the most scrupulous training and experience, the proper level of child protection requires that an appropriate adult, or, at the very least, a station sergeant with the necessary level of detachment, should be present. When a child is given the choice of bail, the fact that failure to meet its conditions could result in the child being taken into custody is reason enough for him or her to be taken to the police station.
I asked the Minister at Second Reading, and I ask her again: what is the Government’s position on the proposition that the current PACE protections be extended to 17 year-olds, as the Standing Committee for Youth Justice has been urging and which we heartily endorse? At every stage, we must do everything to ensure that custody is avoided for young people in our community, for we already have far too many vulnerable 17 year-olds in custody. They may seem large and grown-up on the streets, but they are still very young people. I beg to move.
The noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, has done us a service in raising this issue, because it will be the first of a long series of debates that we will need to have on the implications of the Bill as regards younger people. I wish to put on record my gratitude to the Standing Committee for Youth Justice for its briefing on this and other matters and, in particular, for coming along as a group last week to brief noble Lords on a range of issues covered by the Bill.
We now come to a difficult issue. Certainly, we on these Benches do not oppose the use of street bail. It can be extremely useful, not only to the police, for obvious reasons, but to the person who receives it. If I was stopped at midnight as a young person under 17, perhaps I should not have been out, or perhaps I was out because I had been at work—who knows? But it may not be convenient for me to appear at a police station immediately. So, street bail has its practical good uses. However, as soon as conditions are applied to it, we get into greater difficulties. I shall not stray into the issues that I shall raise in my AmendmentNo. 85, but this amendment focuses our minds on the appropriateness of making a wide range of conditions available to the police to apply to young people, for the reasons that the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, has adduced.
We can all underestimate the ability of young people. They can be perfectly able to commit the most amazing and gratuitously wide range of crimes and can be unable to remember, apparently, something that they have been told a moment before about a condition that they may need to obey. But we have to cope with all those who may fall foul of street bail. We have to realise that some may genuinely be unable to understand conditions and that, for them, such conditions may be inappropriate. It is important that the Minister should explain how this power will be used proportionately in relation to young people.
Can the Minister elaborate on the position of a responsible adult? I understand that it is almost impossible that in all circumstances a responsible adult can be present when a person is being granted street bail, and the Government state that a responsible adult should be informed as soon as is practicable. Do the Government envisage that a constable would have power to alter the bail conditions, following representations by a responsible adult, because sometimes young people cannot understand the conditions, whereas a responsible adult may be able to help further?
Before I give a detailed response, perhaps I may say that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, is absolutely right about the possible benefits, both to the officer in dealing with these matters expeditiously and properly, and to the person who is stopped. It may not be necessary to take a child even of 17 to a police station and there could be an important opportunity to do something that may better safeguard the child. There is a positive approach in that, and I thank the noble Baroness for what she said.
I will go through the amendments, but I wish to mention how we see these steps working in practice. If a child is stopped, they may expect first to be asked to phone an appropriate adult, if a mobile telephone or telephone is available. If they do not have a means of getting home, would it be appropriate for the officer to take them home to see whether there was an appropriate adult there to take charge of them? So, there is an issue of safety for the child. Street bail should be looked at in a practical way.
I shall deal with Amendments Nos. 84A, 84B, 84C and 85A together, but I ask the Committee to bear in mind the practicalities of the issue. I absolutely understand the sentiments behind the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, regarding the balance that is required. We intend to consult this summer on the potential for extending to 17 year-olds the PACE safeguards that are currently available to those under 17. I am sure that noble Lords will wish to contribute to that consultation.
I do not seek to minimise in any way the fact that the potential for a young person, or, indeed, any person, to spend time in a police cell is a crucial consideration, because I know that the noble Baronesses, Lady Linklater and Lady Anelay, and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, have often debated the importance of avoiding that, unless it is really necessary. The use of street bail is specifically intended to reduce the need for a person to be taken to a police station, put before the custody officer and placed in detention. Where street bail can be issued, it means that the officer can determine a date which best suits the needs of the investigation; pre-arrange for legal advice, appropriate adults or interpreters to be available when the person answers bail; remain on the street rather than spending time travelling to the police station, processing the suspect and travelling back to their area of duty; and, equally important, remove the need for the person to be taken into custody—and to spend less time in custody when they answer bail, as the officer can better plan the investigation, particularly if there is vulnerability through age.
PACE and the PACE codes significantly recognise the special considerations and protections for people under the age of 17—and I know why the noble Baroness, Lady Linklater, raised that issue. We recognised that in guidance, in Home Office Circular 61/2003, which was issued when street bail was introduced. The circular emphasises the need for special consideration to be given when dealing with a juvenile or other vulnerable person. The same emphasis will be made in guidance accompanying the commencement of this measure; in particular, the importance of risk assessing the individual and of ensuring that conditions are proportionate will be emphasised. Again, as in 2003, we will consult the Children’s Charities’ Coalition and others on the content of the guidance.
It has already been indicated in the other place that we would not envisage electronic tagging as a condition of street bail. However, attaching other conditions to street bail is about raising officer confidence that steps can be taken to minimise the opportunity for the person to further offend while on bail or to interfere with victims or witnesses.
As I explained, street bail aims to keep people out of police detention unless they really need to be there. Attaching conditions proportionate to the offence will increase the use of street bail and should lead to fewer situations when it is considered necessary to lock up a juvenile in a cell. We believe that that is an important objective. With that reassurance, I invite the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
I thank the Minister for her reassuring response. In relation to the presence of the appropriate adult, which is a crucial element when dealing with children, I said that the one acceptable condition is attendance at a police station. I understand the point that the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, made about the proportionate use of bail—using it intelligently and in the interests of everyone concerned. We clearly share the same concern, which is that the priority is to do everything that we can to minimise any kind of custodial situation for young children. I am delighted to hear about the consultation that is being proposed and, in particular, about the review of the PACE conditions as they apply to 17 year-olds. On that basis, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendments Nos. 84B and 84C not moved.]
moved Amendment No. 85:
Page 90, line 22, at end insert-
“( ) A constable may impose the conditions of bail under subsection (3B) only if he has undergone appropriate training or he is under the command of an appropriately trained officer.
( ) For the purposes of the above subsection, “appropriate training” means training equivalent to the training given to a custody sergeant regarding the proper imposition of conditions of bail.”
The noble Baroness said: Amendment No. 85 would require constables to have the appropriate training before they impose conditions on street bail. Currently, a police officer may attach conditions to bail only when a person has been charged or referred to the Crown Prosecution Service for a decision to charge. Clause 8 and Schedule 4 would change that to enable the officer granting bail to consider attaching conditions that the Government intend should be relevant and proportionate to the suspect and the offence. In her response to the previous group of amendments, the Minister made that point with regard to younger people, to which it would also apply—that is the Government’s intention.
The conditions that can be imposed must be necessary to secure that the person surrenders to custody, does not commit an offence while on bail, and does not interfere with witnesses or otherwise obstruct the course of justice. Where the offender is under the age of 17, conditions may also be applied for their own welfare or in their own interest.
The Government argue that there is no need to be concerned about the extension of the process of imposing conditions on to street bail because the proposed measures reflect the bail provisions already available at the charging stage of the process. That is exactly why we think there should be concern about extending this power to the street, away from the custody sergeant, at the time of the charging process. When bail is granted in the police station, the custody sergeant, who has specialist training and expertise, performs a semi-judicial role in deciding whether bail conditions are justified. By definition the custody officer would not be present when street bail is given and instead the officer responsible for deciding on the conditions to be imposed would be the investigating officer, who would not necessarily have the training and experience of a custody officer. It is this matter of deciding whether to impose conditions that concerns us.
We shall pass on from the matter of street bail, which we support in its broadest sense. If one imposes conditions, it is a decision that involves difficult judgments about the suspect’s likely behaviour and about the proper balance between the aims of the conditions and the rights of the suspect. Officers who impose conditions on street bail should have the training to enable them to make these decisions effectively. That seems only common sense.
When the matter was debated in another place, the Minister said that she accepted the argument that training would be needed:
“Of course we will expect officers exercising such powers to be properly trained. We expect that with any powers that the police are given. They have extensive training, and we will expect them to be properly trained in those powers”.—[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee D, 21/3/06; cols. 134-35.]
The problem is that saying is not the same as guaranteeing. It seems sensible to put the requirement for training on this important matter into the Bill, which is why we have tabled this amendment. I beg to move.
Although my name is not attached to this amendment, we support it. The Minister accepted the argument put forward on similar lines in Committee in another place, saying:
“Of course, we will expect officers exercising such powers to be properly trained. We expect that with any powers that the police are given. They have extensive training, and we will expect them to be properly trained in those powers”.—[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee D, 21/3/06; cols. 134-35.]
The point at issue is that, given that extensive training is expected, there is no reason why that should not be included in the Bill, as the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, said. The crucial area is the powers that the custody officer has—some of us have visited police cells. The custody officer makes an important judgment balancing what the constable says with the rights of the individual. It is a very difficult decision in many circumstances, and he does not necessarily follow everything police officers say. In this instance it is important that that element is specified in the Bill.
I understand the concerns of the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, and the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia. However, there is a difficulty because training in all areas is important. We have just spoken about training in Every Child Matters, which is essential. As I have indicated, it will be available at the end of this month and will form part of the training of officers and CSOs. From time to time there will be additional issues, each of which will need training, have their own merit and therefore will have to be undertaken. I am sure that the noble Baroness would not suggest that we list in a schedule every single element of a police officer’s training. If we did, we would probably have the Centrex introductory list, and we would have everything—all of which is important, all of which Ministers will say is essential, and all of which has to have priority.
Chief officers are required to ensure that their officers and staff are suitably trained, competent and able to carry out the range of tasks required. Not just training but guidance will help officers know how to discharge that duty. In the same way, we had interesting discussions about the sort of training that officers should have to issue fixed-penalty notices, cautions and such matters. Guidance and training in these areas are absolutely necessary and I wholeheartedly support that sentiment, but I do not think it would be necessary or right to specifically create a statutory provision for a single area of training nor do I think that street bail would be the only aspect to which such a provision would relate if we were to do so. Attaching conditions is not the exclusive domain of street bail; the noble Baroness is right to say that the station sergeant quite often does that.
We are left in an interesting situation because, at the same time, we are saying that street bail is a good thing and we need to encourage it to be appropriately used on occasions when it is safe and in the interests of justice for it to be undertaken as regards both the potential victim and the offender. We certainly see the merit of that.
If we were to take the provision further, we would have to ask who would give the direction. Would it be the chief constable, the BCU commander or the officer’s immediate line manager, and what would happen if such an officer were not immediately available? There is no provision in the Bill to provide a power to detain in order to await the attendance of a trained officer in command. We would hope that all officers who were able, and asked, to discharge this duty would have the appropriate training.
The aim of street bail is to minimise the time that an officer spends dealing with a situation on the street and, importantly, to limit the period that a person has to be detained by the police. I hope that the noble Baroness and the noble Lord will be reassured by that and by the fact that we very much understand their concerns about getting the conditions right. I have indicated that we do not propose to have tagging or matters of that sort, which would put us into a slightly different league, but, as the noble Baroness rightly said, asking someone to attend, to live at an address and not to commit further offences in the interim all fall within the Bail Act. I respectfully suggest that it is reasonable to expect anyone given bail to comply with those minimum conditions so that we know where to find them if they do not happen to honour their duty and turn up.
I am grateful to the Minister. As I said originally, we do not oppose the idea of street bail, but I think that we make a step-change when we apply conditions to bail. I recall my time as a magistrate—it now seems a distant memory—when one considered whether bail should be granted. Of course, the circumstance was different but the same kind of constructive approach still has to be taken when one considers the safety of the public—and the safety of the individual being bailed, because any breach of bail conditions can have significant consequences for that person.
I assure the noble Baroness that I do not want the Centrex list of when certain training should or should not be given. However, there are moves in the Bill to take us forward to an unknown and untried area which could cause difficulties, and this is one such move. The noble Baroness very properly puts on the record that the Government do not intend one of the conditions to be electronic tagging. But we are left with the practicality of the officer on the beat, and we all want him to be able to do his job effectively, dealing with a person and moving on. But when he goes through the decision-making process, presumably he has to try to deal fairly with a number of people. That decision is highly complex, involving a judgment of the precise conditions.
In that respect, and only because I have concerns about the whole issue of conditions on street bail and how they may be applied proportionately in these circumstances, I will, unusually on these matters, seek to press the amendment.
Before the noble Baroness does that, I should like to understand better why she would do so. The whole point of making street bail possible with conditions attached is that the officer is likely to be risk-averse. If there were a question of either the safety of the individual or the safety of the public, it would be appropriate not to grant bail on the street but to remove the individual to the police station and to carry out an assessment there. Street bail should properly be restricted to cases where it can be delivered safely, speedily and efficaciously without the risk of it being improper. It is a risk-averse process, which will be assisted with training and guidance. I ask the noble Baroness to think very seriously about taking the opinion of the Committee on this matter. She is of course absolutely free to do so but it would be unusually perverse of her in view of her good sense, which normally prevails in such circumstances.
My good sense is going to remain and I will need to press the matter. I entirely agree with the noble Baroness’s intervention. The whole point is that the officer must indeed be able to make a risk-averse decision for his own safety and that of the public, but he also needs to be confident about making the decision to impose the conditions where that is the right thing to do.
This will be one of a rolling number of amendments on which we shall need to express our concerns, although not necessarily by pressing them to a Division. However, this is not a matter to which I intend to return and I wish to resolve it. The noble Baroness has done her own Benches a great service by giving the Whips a little time in which to page people to ensure they are in position and not caused too much discomfort by having their meals interrupted. I therefore wish to test the opinion of the Committee.
[Amendment No. 85A not moved.]
moved Amendment No. 86:
Page 90, line 25, at end insert-
“( ) Conditions of bail imposed under subsection (3B) shall expire on the earlier of-
(a) the time at which the person attends at a police station; and
(b) 72 hours from the time at which he was released on bail.””
The noble Lord said: Our amendment would restrict the maximum duration of conditions on street bail. It specifies that a condition will expire either three days after the person was released or when he attends a police station, whichever is earlier. We do not object to the use of street bail, which has existed since January 2004. It can be beneficial for both the police and the suspect. We do not wish to see people taken to a police station at times that are inconvenient for them or the police. Neither would the amendment stop conditions being imposed on street bail.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights concluded that these provisions would not give rise to a significant risk of incompatibility with the rights in the Human Rights Act 1998, in the light of the legal right of the suspect to apply to have bail conditions varied. Regardless of whether a convention right would be violated, as a matter of strict legal interpretation, we consider the power to impose a condition of an unlimited duration to be unacceptable and to give rise to a serious risk of abuse, for a number of reasons.
First, the conditions attached to street bail could severely restrict an individual’s liberty, including curfews, tagging or restrictions on who they can speak to or meet. As street bail is likely to be used in relatively minor cases, it would be disproportionate to impose these kinds of restrictions for lengthy periods. The conditions themselves could have a more severe impact on the suspect than any sentence imposed for the minor offence. Secondly, there is a risk that these conditions could be used in lieu of a criminal charge and prosecution. If reasonable time limits were imposed, it would remove that risk, requiring the police to investigate the case as quickly as possible and to decide whether to charge the suspect.
The suspect may not appreciate the right to appeal against the condition. If they did understand their rights, they may feel unable to initiate such an appeal for fear that it would jeopardise their case. Including a time limit in the Bill would ensure that the suspect attends a police station, where they will receive legal advice and the quasi-independent involvement of the custody officer.
These concerns were raised in the Commons but the Minister failed to provide satisfactory answers to them. Indeed, she accepted them, saying:
“It is clearly important for our police service to be able to get cases moving along as quickly as possible, and to make sure that cases are referred to the Crown Prosecution Service and that charging decisions are made as quickly as possible”—[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee D, 21/3/06; col. 138.]
It is precisely for these reasons that we believe that time limits are needed: to ensure that there is an incentive for the police to investigate crimes as quickly as possible, and to decide whether to charge a suspect. The Minister also suggested that the Home Office circular on street bail would provide safeguards. In reality, the circular illustrates the risk that the conditions will be used as long-lasting measures if reasonable time limits are not imposed in legislation. The circular poses the question:
“What length of time should a period of street bail cover?”
It provides the following response:
“As long as is necessary to carry out investigations but we would not anticipate any period longer than six weeks and, in most cases, much sooner”.
Those are our concerns. I beg to move.
I shall speak to Amendment No. 87, which is a probing amendment grouped with Amendment No. 86 that would impose a generous time limit of four weeks on all pre-charge bail from a police station. We are simply suggesting that that is more than enough time for the police to carry out investigations and ascertain whether there is enough evidence to charge a suspect. In moving his amendment, the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, referred to some of the issues that have to be taken into account when we have pre-charge bail conditions.
Charging is a significant stage in the criminal justice process, and it is only at that stage that the police need to decide whether there is sufficient evidence to prosecute. The power to impose restrictions on a person's freedom, whether as a condition of bail or detention in police custody before that evidential hurdle has been reached, must be limited. It is important that suspects should know the nature of the case against them and that they will ultimately appear before a court. The Magistrates’ Association stressed the importance of a safeguard as it applies to post-charge bail, pointing out that:
“Magistrates consider bail conditions very carefully in court and require as much information as possible”.
We are trying to attach a reasonable period, and within the context of 28 days. In the context of the terrorism Bill of 2005, Parliament rejected arguments for more than 28 days—the number should be burned in my brain. Indeed, tomorrow the relevant statutory instrument will put that 28-day limit into effect. Parliament rejected arguments for more than 28 days’ pre-charge detention in terrorist cases. If more than 28 days’ detention is not justified in terrorist cases, we do not see why more than 28 days’ pre-charge conditional bail would be needed to enable the police to investigate a non-terrorist case to determine whether a suspect should continue to have those conditions applied.
I note that when the then Minister—Hazel Blears—in another place responded, she said that,
“street bail should be for as short a time as possible, and states that we”—
“should look to a maximum of four to six weeks”.—[Official Report, Commons Standing Committee D, 21/03/06; col. 140.]
We therefore think that our amendment fits in rather nicely with the Government’s intentions and hope that it would be adequate time to satisfy the Minister.
I would be delighted to be satisfied by the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, but I regret that on this occasion I cannot accept her offer. Neither can I be seduced into accepting the offer made by the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia.
Amendments Nos. 86 and 87 both relate to time limits. Bail in the context of street bail and pre-charge bail is used respectively to prevent the need to bring a person immediately into custody or to enable the release of a suspect from custody while allowing the police to continue with their investigation.
Attaching conditions is about raising the ability and confidence of the police to release people from custody for a period sufficient to enable the necessary further inquiries to be completed. I appreciate that the amendments reflect your Lordships’ rightful concern that bail conditions issued by the police rather than court may be seen as an arbitrary use of powers.
That is why, in the case of street bail, we have made provisions which allow a person the right of appeal to a custody officer in the first instance and then to a magistrate. In the case of pre-charge bail, the person is entitled to appeal to the magistrate. That right will be made clear to the person at the time at which the bail is granted and conditions imposed, and a written notice of these rights will also be provided. The police focus must be on progressing cases and determining whether there is sufficient evidence to refer matters to the Crown Prosecution Service for a charging decision.
The application of conditions must be proportionate and stand up to scrutiny. The period for which conditions apply must be relevant to the progress of the investigation. I can see little benefit in applying an arbitrary time limit to the lifetime of bail conditions, although I understand and endorse what my right honourable friend said in the other place in relation to the normal expectation, which might be for that time, but we want to do things as expeditiously as possible and not bring people back unnecessarily early if that would be for no good purpose. We would simply have to bail them again to a time when the investigation was complete.
I respectfully say to both the noble Lord, Lord Dholakia, and the noble Baroness, Lady Anelay, that it would be preferable if the officer had discretion to enable a person to be released on bail either with or without conditions rather than holding the person in custody when they can quite safely be released. Imposing a time would in effect result in the officer having suspects return to or enter custody at a time when there may be no real prospect of the investigation being proceeded with sufficiently, or when the decision can be made on whether or not to proceed.
The point is, if one likes, to reverse the current burden where people are overcautious and therefore engage the individual in the court process when that is not absolutely necessary. We have to be balanced in our approach and ensure that those who go through the process are people who are identified as properly needing to be there. That will give greater confidence to people that proportionality is appropriate. As I said in relation to the other amendment, in cases where there is ambiguity or things are on the cusp, we can anticipate that the police will revert to type. We are all recidivists; we go back to the safe position, and the safe position is not to grant bail.
Home Office circular 61/2003 sets a maximum period of six weeks for answering bail, save in exceptional circumstances. We consider that retaining that operational flexibility will benefit both the investigators and avoid bringing people back unnecessarily. I am very grateful for the noble Baroness’s indication that the amendment is merely probing.
I did not promise that this was a probing amendment, but as there is still plenty of time before the dinner break I shall say that I am grateful to the Minister for her comments. The matter was brought to our attention by Liberty, with which I shall discuss the Minister's response. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
[Amendment No. 87 not moved.]
Schedule 4 agreed to.
Clause 9 [Power to detain pending DPP’s decision about charging]:
Page 5, line 5, at end insert “for no more than three hours”
The noble Lord said: This is another amendment that was brought to our attention by Liberty. It would prevent people being detained for more than three hours pending a decision by the CPS on whether to charge.
On Report in the Commons, the Government added Clause 9. It expressly allows the police to detain a suspect pending a decision by the CPS on the appropriate charge. The only time limit that would apply to the power is the normal time limit for detention pre-charge, designed to enable the police to detain a suspect to secure or preserve evidence relating to the offence for which he was arrested, or to obtain such evidence by questioning.
These purposes are not appropriate after a custody officer has decided that there is sufficient evidence to charge the person and has referred the case to the CPS for this purpose. The evidence relating to the offence would already have been secured and the witness already interviewed. The only purpose for detention in this context is to ensure that the person who would be detained post-charge does not need to be released while the CPS is making a charging decision.
We agree that it is sensible to clarify that a person can be detained for these purposes. We would not wish to see those suspected of serious offences released pending a decision by the CPS because of a possible loophole in the law. However, a time limit is needed so that this power is not used to keep people in custody for longer than necessary. It is also needed to ensure that a person is not kept in detention because of the failure of the CPS to make a charging decision as soon as possible. Three hours may not seem a very long time but, in the Commons, the Minister suggested that the power should not be used when the officer thought that the CPS would take more than three hours to reach a decision. Referring a case to the CPS will frequently involve little more than a telephone call to the duty prosecutor or the out-of-hours duty prosecutor service, which is designed to ensure a 24-hour service.
There is understandable concern that the police should not be required to release someone who they consider to be a danger simply because the CPS has failed to provide a charging decision within three hours. To deal with that, there is already an emergency power for a custody officer to charge a person in cases that would normally be determined by the CPS. That applies where the officer is unable to consult the CPS, a time limit is about to expire, and if the suspect were not charged it would require his release in circumstances where that would not be appropriate. If the specified time limit elapses, a person can also be released on conditional pre-charge bail.
The need for this safeguard was accepted by the Minister in the Commons, Liam Byrne MP. He also acknowledged that the power should not be used if a decision were expected to take more than three hours. However, he suggested that the safeguard should be included in guidance rather than in the Bill. When something as fundamental as individual liberty is at stake, it is unsatisfactory to leave safeguards to non-statutory guidance. As in the case of conditional pre-charge and street bail, strict time limits must be included in the Bill. I beg to move.
I understand the noble Lord’s concern, and he is right to say that three hours was the time limit referred to by my honourable friend in the other place. The only difference between us is whether the limit should be on a statutory basis or in guidance, and I shall explain why. The noble Lord will know that, under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, a custody officer is required to charge a person if there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction for the offence, or to refer that person to the Crown Prosecution Service for consideration under the statutory charging process.
A sensible reading of PACE allows detention for a relatively short and reasonable time, for the purpose of referral to the CPS for a quick charging decision to be made. However, as the noble Lord knows, PACE is not explicit in providing for that detention, and we introduced a government amendment on Report in another place to provide that clarification. We could have left the position as it was, but we did not think it right.
We then indicated that guidance would be issued making it clear that such a period of detention awaiting a decision from the detention officer would be for a maximum of three hours. We remain of the view that guidance is the most appropriate vehicle for dealing with this issue. There may be occasions when the decision takes, say, 10 or 15 minutes more than three hours. If the matter is laid down in legislation, the person would have to be released prior to the expiry of the three-hour period, bailed and asked to return at a later date. That is bureaucratic and benefits neither the police nor, for that matter, the suspect. I am sure the noble Lord will be familiar with circumstances when that has happened.
The basis of the guidance and the three-hour suggested maximum is to require the custody officer and the prosecutor to consider at the very earliest stages the likelihood of a decision being reached within that period. If a decision is not thought likely, the presumption must be to bail that person at that time and not wait until the three-hour period has been reached.
The guidance will make it clear that this is not simply a means to keep a person in police detention and that suitability for bail is to be given first consideration. It will also place a requirement on the custody officer to provide the reasons for any period of detention in which bail was considered suitable but for which the person was detained for up to three hours to await a decision, and for those cases in which a decision was not reached within that period and the person was detained further or granted bail.
Setting a statutory time limit has its attractions, but as we are seeking to ensure that suspects are dealt with quicker and more effectively, we see merit in providing a degree of flexibility and allowing an element of discretion on the part of the custody officer when it is of benefit to the detained person. The way we see it is that if it is going to mean that we see a person more quickly, we should let him go and require him to come back at an appropriate time. That must be to everyone’s benefit, and we do not want to be unnecessarily bureaucratic when an extra five minutes may mean that the person can be charged, bailed and dealt with without having to come back again. Although I understand why the noble Lord has brought this matter back for us to debate, I invite him to withdraw his amendment.
I thank the Minister, but the difference is that custody officers still have powers to take a decision, despite the fact that the CPS may not have reached a decision or may be late in reaching it. I shall take this matter up with the advisers who suggested this amendment to us and discuss it with them. In the mean time, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 9 agreed to.
I think this might be a convenient moment for the House to be resumed. I suggest that proceedings in Committee recommence not before 26 minutes past eight. I beg to move that the House do now resume.
Moved accordingly, and, on Question, Motion agreed to.