Tuesday, 25 January 2011.
Arrangement of Business
My Lords, now that the Minister has joined us, I must advise the Committee before she moves that the first order be considered that, in the case of each statutory instrument, the Motion before the Committee will be that the Committee do consider the instrument in question. I should make it clear that the motions to approve the instruments will be moved in the Chamber in the usual way.
I must also formally advise the Committee that, if there is a Division in the House, the Committee will adjourn for 10 minutes.
Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Codes of Practice) (Revision of Codes A, B and D) Order 2011
Considered in Grand Committee
Moved By Baroness Neville-Jones
That the Grand Committee do consider the draft Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (Codes of Practice) (Revision of Codes A, B and D) Order 2011.
Relevant documents: 9th Report from the Joint Committee on Statutory Instruments and 14th Report from the Merits Committee.
My Lords, the order 2011 obviously relates to the codes of practice that are in operation under the 1984 Act. Under Section 66 of that Act, my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has a duty to issue codes of practice to regulate the police in the exercise of their powers. The proposed revisions to Codes A, B and D will keep the codes of practice in line with legislative change and are, obviously, part of the Government’s programme to modernise the police and to reduce bureaucracy in policing. I will explain some of those changes.
On 20 September, under Section 67 of the 1984 Act, my right honourable friend prepared and published drafts of the three codes of practice for statutory consultation. Representations on the content were taken from a number of independent organisations, such as Liberty and StopWatch, as well as from professional bodies such as the Bar Council, the Law Society, the Association of Chief Police Officers and the Police Federation.
I am aware that the Merits Committee has raised a question about the length of the consultation period, but I stress that the process extended well beyond the normal four weeks. Individual discussions were held with concerned parties following their responses so, although the formal process may have ended at that point, discussion continued on the responses. Indeed, individual forces are conducting their own consultations on how the changes will affect the communities that they serve and on how the changes should be implemented. In particular, the Metropolitan Police is beginning an engagement programme shortly on exactly that issue.
I shall deal with the PACE Code of Practice A first and with Code B and Code C subsequently, given that Code A is the most substantial and will, I suspect, be the code that we focus on. Many of the proposed changes to Code of Practice A follow from the need to reverse the increase in paperwork that hampers police operations and leads to encounters with the public that are unnecessarily prolonged and bureaucratic in character. For stop and account, draft Code A removes the national requirement to complete a form recording each encounter. That potentially frees up many hundreds of thousands of hours of police time, both on the street and in the back office, and will allow officers to increase the quality—and shorten the duration—of those encounters, which should be no more than brief.
It is understandable that some worries have been uttered about that change, particularly in light of the origin of the current national recording requirement. Your Lordships will recall that the Stephen Lawrence inquiry report of 1999 raised awareness of the impact that the police have on the people whom they encounter, particularly in black and minority-ethnic communities. However, since recording was implemented in 2005, we have seen little evidence of widespread disproportionate use of stop and account in relation to black and ethnic-minority communities and a vast increase in police bureaucracy. When examined at a local level, many forces show little evidence of any form of disproportionate use of stop and search as a tactic in dealing with BME communities and consultation with community groups has not really raised concern about the use of stop and account. That is why we propose to remove the national requirement for recording stop and account and leave the decision on whether to continue to record the ethnicity of the person stopped to be decided locally, according to perceptions of local need.
By that, we mean that there will be some communities in which the question of ethnicity is sensitive, so the local police force will judge whether, in the light of that, it is right to continue to record, but the force will not be obliged to do so. In communities where ethnicity is not particularly an issue, we see no need to continue that burden. As the House will know, we take the view that individual police forces know their own communities better than Whitehall and are best placed to analyse their own statistics and understand how they might use the tactic and what its impact on ethnic-minority groups might be.
On the other hand, given the intrusive nature of stop and search, we think it right to continue to have a national requirement governing the minimum level of recording of stop-and-search encounters. Therefore, we are making a distinction between stop and account and stop and search. The proposed changes to Code A do not diminish the importance of recording these encounters or the monitoring of the use of the powers. In accordance with Section 1 of the Crime and Security Act 2010, we are reducing the number of pieces of data to be completed on a stop-and-search record from 12 to seven. We are reducing the quantum of information, but we are not saying that no record needs to be made. We believe that leaving out some of the pieces of information currently demanded, and having others recorded automatically by the new technology, will save many hundreds of thousands of hours of police time.
Key information about each encounter, including the self-defined ethnicity of the person stopped, will still be recorded. Mobile technology is being encouraged and minor amendments have been made to the language of Code A to encourage its further use. The sorts of things that we envisage are airwave radios and BlackBerrys, which could enable the police to reduce the amount of effort and time that they put into each encounter. The outcome of a stop and search will be recorded as part of the custody record for those detained as a result of a stop and search. That means that we will not have, as at present, two sets of records, as everything will be incorporated in the custody record.
Code A also details the changes in the use of Section 44 of the Terrorism Act 2000 stop-and-search powers, which I set out to the House on 8 July last year when I repeated a Statement made by the Home Secretary. The inappropriate use of this power has ceased in the light of the judgment of the European Court of Human Rights in the Gillan and Quinton case. Clearly, more will be said about this in your Lordships' House tomorrow, when we look at Section 44 along with other elements in the counterterrorism review. I very much regret that, due to a hazard of timing, it will not be possible to have a more detailed discussion of those items today, but I have no doubt that there will be further opportunities to take up any issues that remain outstanding.
Comments have also been made concerning the draft guidance that was put in place on the Section 60 stop-and-search powers following the Gillan and Quinton judgment about Section 44. In the light of responses from those concerned, the Home Office amended the September draft of Code A—the draft that we put out for consultation—to make it clear that there is no ethnic profiling or unlawful discrimination in the use of this power. All authorisations under this power must be supported by clear intelligence. Recording of race or any other protected characteristic under the Equality Act 2010 may on occasion be relevant but that must never be the sole reason for stopping someone under Section 60. This is how we arrived at the outcome that we did in order to emphasise, among other things, that consultation does have effect in real life.
Others have suggested that Section 60 should be amended in line with the changes that we have made to Section 44 following the Gillan and Quinton judgment. We have not done this, as we consider that the Section 60 power can be distinguished readily from the provision in Section 44 that the ECHR declared incompatible with Article 8 of the ECHR. We do not think that the relevant section fell foul in the same way. Moreover, there is currently an application for judicial review of a Section 60 stop and search before the High Court, on which it would not be appropriate to try to predict the outcome or to take the debate on the issue further today.
However, Section 60 is used differently across England and Wales. Many police forces authorise the power for use on only one or two occasions a year, whereas others may never use it at all. As a national document, Code A should not restrict the use that forces make of the power based on how other forces operate but should simply cover national requirements and allow local practical application of the power to continue. As I say, this is an area where there is significant variation in use. We should not judge the use of a tool such as Section 60 purely on the basis of national statistics.
Here I want to make an important point. Figures are quoted in the press to the effect that black people are 26 times more likely to be stopped and searched under Section 60 than white people. We regard such statistics as potentially extremely misleading because of the distribution of the actual use of the power. Some 76 per cent of all the Section 60 stop and searches in 2008-09—before this Government came into office—were conducted by the Metropolitan Police in London. I suggest that that means that measuring the use of the power against the ethnic composition of the national population as a whole gives a false impression of what actually goes on. When we compare that 76 per cent with the cosmopolitan population of London—obviously, leaving the remaining 24 per cent for the rest of the country—the results are much less disproportionate.
I turn briefly to the other two codes. Code B governs the searching of premises and the seizure of property. The changes bring the code up to date with changes in legislation and the relevant judgments of the higher courts and are largely technical in nature. The proposed changes provide guidance on the powers to search the premises of individuals subject to control orders as well as on the police’s power under Section 18 of PACE to enter and search premises occupied or controlled by a person under arrest for an indictable offence.
The majority of the changes to Code D, on identification issues, reflect the amendments to the power of the police to take DNA and fingerprints for recordable offences that are made under Sections 2 to 7 of the Crime and Security Act 2010, which was passed early last year. The changes fill existing gaps in the ability of the police to take biometric material in connection with criminal investigations and ensure that the national DNA and fingerprint databases are populated primarily with the profiles of those who have been convicted of offences by the courts rather than with unconvicted people. The detail of how the Government will meet the commitment to adopt the protections of the Scottish model for DNA retention will be outlined in the freedom Bill that is to be introduced shortly. Clearly, that will require amendment to the code in due course, but what we have done is bring the code into line with the existing state of the law.
Code D also provides the police with necessary guidance on the use of mobile fingerprinting equipment, which is a fairly recent advance and is not intended to be used routinely or on a whim in investigations. The equipment must be used only when the police already suspect a person of committing a crime and only when they have a need to confirm a person’s identity, following the example set down in guidance designed to prevent abuse. If an officer is unable to confirm a person’s name or has reasonable grounds for doubting the name given, it would be right and proper to use the devices in those circumstances. An image of one or two fingerprints may be taken and checked against the existing fingerprint database. This reduces the need for arrests purely for the purpose of confirming identity, which will save valuable time and resources both for the police and those whose identity is in doubt. I want also to emphasise, because it really is important, that the fingerprints taken on those devices are automatically destroyed by the devices themselves, so there is no way in which, covertly or inadvertently, fingerprints taken under those circumstances, where they are not available for retention, could be retained. As soon as the search is concluded, the prints are explicitly excluded from the police’s wider powers to take and retain fingerprints on arrest.
Concerns have been raised about how we will ensure that these codes are interpreted and applied in a consistent manner across all forces in England and Wales. The codes need to balance the requirement for central guidance with the freedom for forces to operate specific processes and procedures in the way that meets local needs. We have been trying to strike such a balance, and the Home Office continues to work closely with a range of interest groups on these issues.
The revised codes of practice follow important principles, such as reducing bureaucracy and increasing efficiency as well as protecting the civil liberties of our population at large. I think that the House will agree that the landscape of policing is always evolving. It is important, therefore, that the codes of practice, which are a key source of guidance to the police, are kept up to date and that the public know the position. The changes are fully supported by the police and I hope that they will have a real impact on day to day policing. I commend the draft order and the attendant codes to the House.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her explanation of the order, which brings into force changes to codes of practice under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 in order that the codes in question reflect changes in legislation and policy, including in the light of court judgments. As the Minister has said, the changes relate to stop and search, entering and searching premises, and seizing property and identification. The changes under stop and search remove the requirement to record stop and account, and leave it to police forces following consultation to decide whether they continue monitoring such encounters.
These changes also implement a lower level of information to be recorded for stop-and-search incidents. They make changes in the use for the stop-and-search powers under the Terrorism Act 2000 following a European Court of Human Rights judgment to require a greater degree of suspicion that the person stopped is a terrorist. They give further guidance on the use of the stop-and-search powers of persons and vehicles under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. As the Minister has said, the changes on entering and searching premises, and seizing property, have been made in the light of the judgment in the case of Khan v Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis on the power of the police to enter and search premises.
Finally, the changes on identification take account of amendments to the powers to take fingerprints and samples for recordable offences. They allow fingerprints to be taken on the street using mobile fingerprint technology and they make new distinctions between visual identification taken from images, such as CCTV, and that from eyewitness recognition.
Paragraph 8 of the Explanatory Memorandum to the order refers to the outcome of a four-week consultation with statutory consultees. The Minister has indicated that in reality the consultation went on rather longer than that. But in addition to the statutory bodies, the Explanatory Memorandum states that while this was,
“not a public consultation … subject to 12 weeks’ duration … other relevant organisations, including groups (Liberty and Justice) who have a specific interest in human rights issues”,
Apparently, the main concerns from the consultation, according to the Explanatory Memorandum, were about stop and search and, in particular, whether the changes proposed,
“would allow officers to take into consideration a person’s ethnicity when stopping and searching under this power”,
which comes under Section 60 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act. The department says that it considered the responses and decided to amend its proposals, as set out in the Explanatory Memorandum.
We understand that the Government believe that their proposed changes in relation to stop and search, and stop and account, will reduce bureaucracy and free up to 800,000 hours of police time. Over the past few years, there have been huge efforts to cut police bureaucracy, including changes to the stop-and-account form. Those efforts were extended further by the Crime and Security Act early last year, which included the provisions for reducing the length of the stop-and-search form we are considering in this order.
The issue of the police stop-and-search powers is controversial because the figures show that a minority-ethnic person is more likely to be stopped than someone who is white. African-Caribbean people are already at least six times more likely to be stopped than white people under powers where an officer has reasonable suspicion to carry out a search. Stop and search is a power that is exercised frequently. One figure suggests that in 2009 there were 2 million instances of stop and account by police, and the figure for stop and search was 1 million.
Under Section 60 of the Public Order Act, officers do not require the same reasonable suspicion to stop someone, meaning that the police have maximum discretion. I understand that Section 60 enables the police to stop and search an individual when there are no grounds for suspicion of the particular individual in a designated area for a period of 24 hours. In 2008-09 just under 150,000 incidences of stop and search under Section 60 were used. I come to an issue raised by the Minister on the figures for these stops and searches, which show that a young black man is 26 times more likely than his white counterpart to be targeted, which leads to allegations of discrimination. However, as the Minister has already said, three-quarters of Section 60 stop and searches in 2008-09 were carried out in London, so the disproportionate use of these powers is probably not quite as stark as the “26 times more likely” figure would indicate.
The case of Stephen Lawrence led to measures aimed at tackling alleged police discrimination. That included a specific requirement for recording stops and searches by officers, which meant data becoming available to show whether or not there was overtargeting of minority-ethnic people by police. There have also been press reports that a national community panel set up to reduce the overtargeting of minority-ethnic people was abolished last summer. Will the Minister say whether that is true, and if so whether any alternative provision has been used to achieve the same objective? If the requirement to record stop and account is to go, will the Government replace that important source of information on fairness? While it would be possible for a police force to reinstitute stop and account if local concerns were expressed, it is not clear how police forces would take such soundings. What would constitute a valid local concern and what would happen if a police force decided not to respond to local concerns?
There will also be a reduction in the amount of information recorded on the stop-and-search form in the light of the amendments to Section 3 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act made by the Crime and Security Act 2010. Among the information that will no longer be required is the name of the person who is being stopped and searched, whether anything was found as a result of the stop and search and whether any injury or damage arose as a result of the search. I assume that the Government have no issues with these provisions that arise from the Crime and Security Act 2010.
As the Minister commented, the Merits Committee has drawn the special attention of the House to this order on the ground that it gives rise to issues of public policy likely to be of interest to the House. The Committee said that while changes had been made to the initial proposals, commentators remained dubious about how the rules would be applied in practice. Unlike the Minister, whose Explanatory Memorandum tells us little about the nature of the concerns expressed under the consultation process and the extent to which the Government’s changes to their proposals addressed the concerns raised, the Merits Committee contacted certain interest groups on individual rights for comments on the final versions of the codes. In response, Liberty, as set out in the Merits Committee report, expressed support for the changes that had been made by the Government to their proposals in the light of its representations, but went on to say that the Section 60 power was still too broad and open to abuse and that scrapping the stop-and-account form would make the monitoring of equal treatment in policing harder. Liberty went on to say:
“This will see a direct reversal of a recommendation of”,
“Inquiry into the death of Stephen Lawrence just over a decade ago”,
“ignore recommendations of later inquiries, including Sir Ronnie Flanagan’s independent review of policing in 2008, that this record be maintained, even in the context of rolling back centralised bureaucracy”.
Justice commented that there should be a clearer reminder that there is no police power to compel a person to account for themselves or to detain them to ask them to do so. It went on to say:
“We are concerned that the absence of a recording requirement may mean that disproportionate use of ‘stop and account’ against particular groups … may go unmonitored and unaddressed”.
Stressing that Section 60 powers should not be used routinely but only at a time of particular risk of offences being committed, Justice argued that reducing the items of information recorded would do little to reduce overall bureaucracy and that a reduction in the number of such stops would be a more effective way of saving costs.
The Equality and Human Rights Commission said that a black person was six times more likely and an Asian person twice as likely to be stopped as a white person. Furthermore, it said that certain police forces were also found to have stopped far more black and Asian youths than the ethnic profile in their area warranted. The commission also expressed concern that the reduction in data collection would weaken observers’ ability to hold police forces to account.
I do not think it is unreasonable to say that the Merits Committee was less than impressed with the Home Office’s handling of its proposals and the order, because it felt that more effort could have been made to make it clear to the public exactly what changes were being proposed and how the Government would check whether they were having the intended effect. The committee felt that the organisations it had contacted were sympathetic to making policing less bureaucratic but it remained concerned that the correct balance with an individual’s rights should be achieved. Despite the amendments made in response to the concerns, the organisations all expressed continuing concerns about the variability in the ways in which the legislation is interpreted by police forces across the country.
I know that the Minister has already commented but can she comment further than she has already on the concerns referred to in the Merits Committee report? Can she also comment on how the Home Office will seek to ensure consistency in how the changes are applied and implemented, and how it will monitor whether the changes in the codes—in particular, Code A, which is about stop and search—achieve the effect intended?
There are concerns about carrying out stop and account without recording any information about the encounter, despite the changes that have taken place in policing in recent years, not least through the development and expansion of community policing. Associated with the major reduction in crime that has taken place since 1997, as measured by the British Crime Survey, there has been an increase in confidence in the police at local level, with half of people now saying that the police and local councils are dealing with the anti-social behaviour and crime issues that matter in their area.
We intend to support the measures in this order, including those that we initiated, which also reduced paperwork for the police relating to stop and search under Section 1 of the Crime and Security Act 2010. However, as I know the Minister will recognise, there is of course always a need to take care to ensure that the desire to reduce paperwork is properly balanced with the need to ensure that important and useful information is not discarded or lost.
I am not going to speak for very long; I merely want to ask one question about local accountability. Does local accountability refer to the whole of a police force or does it mean that different things can happen in different places? For example, if the police superintendent in Slough decides that he needs to record things because there is a large—not just ethnic—population from other countries, and the police superintendent in Whitney, which is a long way away but still in the same police area, decides that there is no need to record them, does “local” mean that discretion goes down that far? If not, how far within a police force does it go?
As someone who was involved in one of the many attempts to reduce police bureaucracy, I have spent time speaking to an assistant chief constable about stop and search, and was quite horrified by what has to happen when someone is approached under stop and search or stop and account. There is a constant complaint about police bureaucracy. It actually happens and it eats up a huge amount of resources. I should like to see those resources expended on real police work rather than bureaucracy.
I read the report of the Stephen Lawrence inquiry very carefully, and it exposed irresponsible and very badly organised policing. I do not believe that it showed that stop and search or stop and account needed to be recorded in every case as thoroughly as it is now. Generally speaking, I support these changes, but I would like to know that discretion really is going to move down to the meaningful local level.
My Lords, I thank both noble Lords for their helpful and thoughtful contributions. I am grateful to the noble Lord opposite for expressing the willingness of the Opposition to support these orders. Let me take the points that have been made and allay any anxieties that there may be.
The point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, at the end of his speech about the need to ensure that there is no unnecessary bureaucracy but that valuable information is not lost is extremely pertinent and quite right. What we are trying to do in modifying—it is no more than that—some practices is to try to strike that balance. I shall spend a little more time on stop and account than on stop and search, but I should say on the latter that everyone agrees that stop and search is a much more intrusive activity on the part of the police, so it is really important that, when it takes place, it is fully and properly recorded. For that reason, we have no intention of changing practice on stop and search.
On stop and account, it is certainly the case that not all those who were consulted were as convinced as the Government are that change would be desirable. However, let me say straightaway that, if it is demonstrated that the changes are not helpful, it will be right and proper to think again, and consultation is still going on. One effect of instituting more local obligations on the part of the police will be to ensure that questions will be raised about whether such measures are accepted—which seems to me to be the criterion that we should look at—and whether they give the local population confidence that their security is being protected and that justice is being served. With the police and crime commissioners that we will have in due course, the vehicle for both the obligation and the means for local accountability will be much more clearly stated.
On the question whether discretion will extend to the local level, it is in the logic of giving the obligation to local police forces—in the first instance, to the police and crime commissioner working with the chief constable—to decide exactly how, given local circumstances and the distribution of the local population, recording should take place. The whole point of our proposal is that recording need not be uniform to be helpful in serving the interests of protecting the public and of justice and in gaining the confidence of the local population. That is why we take the view that uniformity and efficiency are not necessarily quite the same thing, given the need to ensure that the systems are not only efficient but acceptable and just.
I should also say that stop and account, unlike stop and search, should be a brief matter in which the policeman simply says, “Why are you here?”. It should not develop into an encounter that is remembered on both sides. That is partly why we think that stop and account should be restored to the normal relationship between an individual and a policeman. If, say, a crowd is building up, the policemen present will want to retain the confidence of the people on the ground. Reducing the bureaucracy associated with stop and account is justified both by the nature of the encounter and because it will help such encounters to be seen as less intrusive for individuals than they might otherwise be. As I said, if it is demonstrated that these changes are not helpful, I have absolutely no doubt that that will be thrown up in the consultation process and that it will be right to respond. Clearly, codes of practice are never the last word.
The arrangements with communities will deliver the necessary monitoring. I was asked whether we would do anything as regards the NPIA-run stop-and-search panel, which has been abolished because it was not inciting any great engagement—community members were not turning up and it did not seem to be very useful. The NPIA is looking at whether a replacement should be instituted. Perhaps noble Lords will not be surprised to hear that we regard the local consultation as an important part of what would replace something that was run by the NPIA and certainly would contribute to it. That issue is still being looked at.
I hope that I have already explained that our approach to consistency is that it should relate to local conditions and not to numerical equivalents at a national level. Having said that, we take seriously the need to ensure that the outcome serves the public interest.
I am wondering whether I was asked about any points that I have not covered.
I asked the Minister whether she had any further comments to make, in addition to those in her opening speech, on the concerns that are expressed in the Merits Committee report both by the Merits Committee and on behalf of the organisations that it had contacted directly, which, while welcoming the changes that the Government have made to their original proposals, were clearly still unhappy with the situation.
Since consistency of application seems to be an issue, perhaps I may come back to the point that the Minister made about that. I appreciate that the Minister has said that there will not be national consistency across the board as forces will have to reflect what may be happening in different areas. Does she think that that is the cause of inconsistencies at the moment, as opposed to police forces taking different approaches and perhaps very different interpretations, which may not be based on what local communities think?
I think that we all have learnt. I would not try to claim that there was never any disproportionality, for instance, in the way in which different ethnic groups have been stopped and searched. The way to regulate the proper use of these powers is with the involvement of the local community, which will be extremely aware of whether the local police are using their powers disproportionately or improperly. That is why we believe that that kind of consultation will have a much more direct and helpful effect on the police using their powers in a proportionate and proper way than waiting to collect a lot of national statistics and then deciding that it looks as if there is something wrong.
I suppose that we are offering a different and, I hope, more practical approach to ensuring that the use of powers is regulated in a proper manner, but I believe that our approach will be effective. Of course, clearly the forces will have to record what they are doing overall and we will get to know over time whether the variation represents satisfaction in local areas.
The Merits Committee was concerned about the relative shortness of the time allowed for consultation. I hope that I have explained that the reality was that the time was rather longer. The committee also remarked on the fact that not all the groups supported all the proposals that we have decided to make. Liberty feels that the powers under Section 60 remain too broad. As I said, a case before the courts at the moment is an element in the situation. Perhaps I should also remind noble Lords that the Section 60 power can be used for only very short periods; it is not in the Section 40 category.
Justice’s concerns were also mentioned. I think that Justice is worried about the absence of statistics—I am afraid that I cannot read the note—but, if there is a problem, we will need to look at that and make sure that absence of information does not lead to improper outcomes. We are clearly embarking down a slightly different road and I assure the House that, precisely because we are doing that, we will watch the outcome carefully. I hope that the House will feel sufficiently reassured that the changes that we are making are intended to have a favourable outcome and that we will monitor their use in a way that will ensure that that is the outcome.
Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2007 (Consequential Modifications) Order 2011
Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, I formally welcome the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, to her new post. I look forward to working with her as I did with her predecessor, the noble Baroness, Lady Morgan of Drefelin, on issues such as today’s debate and more generally.
The order makes amendments to support new vetting arrangements in Scotland that were created under the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2007, to which I will refer from now on as the 2007 Act. Scottish Ministers have recently announced that their new scheme will be launched on 28 February 2011. The order is required to help them with the successful operation of their new arrangements and to make sure that we have the sharing of information across borders. Specifically, the order will enable the Independent Safeguarding Authority to provide information to Scottish Ministers for the purposes of their functions under the 2007 Act, and makes a necessary amendment to the Data Protection Act 1998.
This instrument focuses on amendments to the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 and, as I said, the Data Protection Act 1998. The changes that the order would make to both pieces of legislation are of a technical nature and are being sought so that the scheme created under the 2007 Act can commence as intended, with effect from 28 February.
If I may, I will say a few words about the scheme created under the Safeguarding Vulnerable Groups Act 2006, which would apply in England and Wales, which is commonly referred to as the vetting and barring scheme. Last May, the Government stated their intention to,
“review the criminal records and ‘vetting and barring’ regime and scale it back to common sense levels”.
On 15 June last year, the Home Secretary announced that the intended start to registration would be halted so that the scheme could be reviewed with the aim of making it more proportionate. On 22 October 2010, we announced the terms of reference for the review of the vetting and barring scheme, alongside those for the criminal records review. I am aware that many noble Lords will be keen to know the outcomes of these reviews and I can confirm that the Home Secretary will announce those outcomes very soon. This announcement will propose changes to both the vetting and barring scheme and criminal records regimes, but I am afraid that today I am not able to provide more details or pre-empt the Home Secretary’s announcement.
I would like to make clear that the changes this order makes do not affect the review of the vetting and barring scheme and should not be seen as an indication of any changes to vetting practices within England and Wales. We do not wish to interfere with the wishes of the Scottish Government to proceed with their scheme as planned and so we are making these changes to existing legislation solely to ensure that there are no barriers to the launch of their scheme on 28 February.
Turning to the detail of the order, noble Lords will note that it makes amendments to two Acts of the Westminster Parliament. The first deals with the provision of information by the Independent Safeguarding Authority, otherwise known as the ISA, to Scottish Ministers for the purpose of their functions under the 2007 Act. The second relates to an amendment to the Data Protection Act.
The ISA has, since 2009, been the central body responsible for the barring of unsuitable people from prescribed work with children or vulnerable adults across England, Wales and Northern Ireland. The work of the ISA is focused on making decisions as to the suitability of certain prescribed individuals to work with vulnerable groups and barring those for whom there is a strong indication that they pose a risk to those groups. Its work involves a combination of considering referrals from bodies such as employers, local authorities and voluntary organisations, and looking at those individuals for whom there are grave concerns. It also holds the responsibility for the barring of individuals who have been either convicted or cautioned for a limited range of serious offences.
It is worth emphasising that the decision-making powers of the ISA extend only to England, Wales and Northern Ireland. A separate body, Disclosure Scotland, an executive agency of the Scottish Ministers, has responsibilities for barring decisions in Scotland. The legislation in each of the home territories recognises the bars imposed in the others. However, in order to ensure that the decision-maker in the relevant jurisdiction has all pertinent information available to it, it is vital that the ISA and Disclosure Scotland are each able to make relevant information available to the other where necessary.
This order therefore makes it possible for information relevant to the barring process, which the ISA has gathered, to be shared with Scottish Ministers. This sharing of information cross-border is necessary for the effective working of the Scottish scheme and, particularly in light of mutual recognition of bars, we believe that it is right for the ISA to provide Scottish Ministers with this information.
The second provision, the amendment to the Data Protection Act 1998, extends the current protection that Section 56 of this Act gives to individuals by covering records held under the 2007 Act. This will, for example, protect individuals who have obtained criminal records data under the 2007 Act from Scottish Ministers by use of a subject access request from being forced to reveal that data to an employer. As such, this is an important safeguard which is already in place in relation to the barring schemes in England and Wales and in Northern Ireland and we support the amendment which will give individuals in Scotland the same protection.
The order is drafted so that it would come into force on the day after the day on which it is made. If Parliament approves this order, we intend to have the order come into force in time for the launch date of the Scottish 2007 Act scheme. While the changes this order brings are of a technical nature, it is important that we do not stand in the way of the devolved Administrations exercising their right to govern in accordance with their stated wishes. It is in that spirit that I commend this order to the Committee. I beg to move.
I thank the Minister for his kind wishes and look forward very much to working with him constructively in the future. I thank him, too, for his explanation of the technical nature of the order and the purpose behind it.
The order builds on the important legislation introduced by the previous Government across the UK in response to the Bichard inquiry, which followed the tragic murders in Soham in 2002. As we heard, the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2007 was Scotland’s response to the recommendation for a registration scheme for those working with children and vulnerable adults. We fully support this consequential order and the intentions behind it. Again, I understand that the Minister has underlined its technical nature and that some of the changes and information we request might be more pertinently directed to the Home Secretary when further announcements are made after the review.
In advance of that, I have two questions that the Minister may be able to answer today. First, given the enormous sensitivity of the information contained in the children’s and adults’ barred list, what steps are in place to guarantee the confidentiality of the information provided by the Independent Safeguarding Authority and Disclosure Scotland to Scottish Ministers? Secondly, how is it proposed to store the information? I am sure the Minister will be aware of the stories that blight all Governments about such sensitive information going astray. I would be grateful if he would confirm that proper protection is in place for the storage of that information.
Secondly, the regulatory impact assessment refers to the need for a post-implementation review to measure the time taken to process applications. As the Minister will know, this has been an ongoing source of frustration, particularly for those applying for jobs working with children. It is also potentially frustrating for volunteers who find that their attempts to help out with fairly simple tasks in schools and youth clubs are put on hold while their applications are processed. It may be that the Home Secretary can comment on this, but in advance of that, can the Minister say whether there is anything in the order that might lead to further delays in processing these applications?
Can I ask my noble friend a couple of points on these measures? First, he explained in some detail how the order will allow Disclosure Scotland to obtain information from the Independent Safeguarding Authority in England. Is mirror legislation already in place to allow the ISA to obtain information from Disclosure Scotland? He said that it would be, but I do not know whether it is already. Secondly, is there any way of distributing the costs of obtaining this information between the different devolved authorities? It is an advantage that each authority has access to the other’s material, but there is a danger that it could be interpreted that there should be a monthly update and they would swap the latest information. In that way, each would have an up-to-date database, but again there is the question of security, which has also been raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones.
My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for explaining this order and add my welcome to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, to her new portfolio.
I have a few questions. In the past, there has been a problem with the transfer of information across borders, so it is welcome that this matter is being addressed. I wonder why the amendments made to the Data Protection Act 1998 by the Safeguarding of Vulnerable Groups Act 2006 were not made by the Protection of Vulnerable Groups (Scotland) Act 2007, and have not been made until this Parliament. I wonder why the previous Government did not take that opportunity. Perhaps I should not be asking the Minister but addressing my question to the previous Government. I suppose that taking nine months to get round to this matter is not bad, given the major issues that require this Government’s attention. I wondered whether the provisions of this instrument were a matter for public consultation. However, I noticed that paragraph 8.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum mentions that there was no such consultation, despite the fact that there were two general consultations on the overall protecting vulnerable groups scheme.
Reflecting something that the noble Duke has just raised, how frequently will the Independent Safeguarding Authority be expected to report to Scottish Ministers and has any timetable for reports been established?
Finally, I refer again to something that interested me in paragraph 8.1 of the Explanatory Memorandum. It says:
“The Scottish Government’s response (April 2010) to the second consultation listed changes made as a result of the consultation, which included dis-applying some barring offences around ‘host parents’ to provide more local discretion”.
I wonder whether the reference to “host parents” relates to sleepovers. Many children enjoy going to stay with their friends overnight, although in my day sleepovers were called pyjama parties. Is there any plan to follow the Scottish example in England? I know there is a feeling that it should be up to the child’s parents to appoint the child’s friend’s parents in loco parentis. It is felt that parents should take responsibility for ensuring that the friend’s parents are suitable people to have their child under their roof overnight. If that is the case, how will this provision apply to foster parents in Scotland? Does the Minister know whether foster parents will have the same discretion? Furthermore, is there any plan to follow that example in England? I know that there is a lot of concern among foster parents that they do not have the same discretions as parents have for their own children and that sometimes they have to go running to local authorities to obtain permission for things that they should perfectly well be able to decide for themselves.
My Lords, first, I am grateful for the welcome from all noble Lords for the thrust of this order and for their support for it. I fear that I shall need to take advice on some of the specific questions asked by my noble friend Lady Walmsley—particularly about the nature of the regime as it applies in Scotland—and come back to her, because I am afraid that I am not fully sighted on that. I should add that we have all had pyjama parties recently.
My noble friend the Duke of Montrose asked about mirrored arrangements and reciprocity. I understand that the arrangement by which information will be passed from Scotland to the other countries is already in place. However, I shall check that and, if I am wrong, I shall write to my noble friend correcting myself.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, about the importance of data protection. In looking at these measures, I wanted to satisfy myself as much as I could that proper safeguards would be in place, because, as the noble Baroness said, we are all very conscious of stories about little sticks going missing. I am told that strict safeguards are in place and that Disclosure Scotland also adheres to information security protocols set by a body called the CESG and the Government’s National Technical Authority for Information Assurance. None of the information held by Disclosure Scotland can be stored or transmitted by CD, memory stick or any removable storage device, and no information can ever be transferred to or held on a laptop. I hope that that provides some security on that point.
There was a question about costs. The setting of fees is a matter for the Scottish Government, and fees for vetting in England and Wales would be part of the review announcement that will follow in due course from the Home Secretary. I will follow up the other points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch. As she said, they are more directly relevant to the Home Secretary, but if I need to come back to her with a more detailed response, I will do so.
Overall, I am grateful for the support expressed for this measure. It is technical in nature but marks an important move forward to help our colleagues in the Scottish Government, and therefore I have great pleasure in commending it.
Breaks for Carers of Disabled Children Regulations 2011
Considered in Grand Committee
My Lords, although this instrument marks an important step forward in helping to provide breaks for the carers of disabled children, I am very conscious that this Government are following in the footsteps of the previous Government and of those, many of them in this House—particularly the noble Lord, Lord Rix, whom I am pleased to see, and of course my noble friend Lady Walmsley—who I know have campaigned tirelessly for many years to advance the rights of disabled children. Therefore, it is only right that I should start by paying tribute to all those whose work has led us to this point and to what I hope will be agreement on the next practical step forward.
We know that many in our House speak with huge authority on this subject, as well as from personal experience. I have neither of those qualifications, but it is impossible to listen to them and to the experiences of others and not understand that for many families a short break is almost literally a lifeline. At the very least it provides the opportunity to do the kind of things that most of us are able to take for granted.
The Children and Young Persons Act 2008 amended the Children Act 1989 in order to ensure that short breaks were placed on a statutory footing for the first time. These regulations are being made in order to provide further detail to local authorities about how that duty must be performed. Not only do they set out clearly the range of short breaks that must be offered by local authorities but they also require local authorities to have regard to the needs of different types of carers and to make all that information available to parents and carers. This is, we think, an important step along the road towards better support for the families and carers of disabled children, and I believe it is for that reason that the proposed regulations have been warmly welcomed by the organisation Every Disabled Child Matters.
Short breaks do not, of course, just provide parents and carers with a chance to have some time to do something else; they can also provide an opportunity for disabled children to spend time with a different adult or with children of their own age, helping them to feel more independent or learn something new. That is why we have been clear in these regulations that short breaks should be offered to parents not just as an emergency intervention when things have got really bad but as a way of providing support more generally as part of a package of things to make life a little more tolerable.
However, what seems to have become clear over the years is that short breaks benefit families only if they genuinely provide respite. It is no good, for example, offering a child an hour at a specialist group every week if it is a three-hour round trip to get the child there in the first place and the parent has to sit in the car during the break because it is too far from home to drive back. It is no good either if the only break offered is during the week or if the child’s parent is fine during the week but struggles to cope during school holidays.
That is why it is so important that these regulations are clear that a range of breaks must be in place at different venues and at different times of the day, week and year. I am sure that noble Lords will agree that the service would be meaningless without the flexibility for breaks to be matched to the needs of those families in the local authority’s area. I believe that in most areas parents are beginning to have more of a say about the kind of breaks which really make a difference for them and, crucially, their children, with the result that we are seeing the introduction of all sorts of new breaks.
In addition, Together for Disabled Children, which supports the delivery of short breaks in local areas, reports that there is a link between good engagement by parents in the design of the service and value for money. That is one reason why we have said that we want local authorities to provide information to parents about the services available and to consult them about those services. The short breaks services statement will mean that many more parents can see what is on offer and challenge their local authority where they do not think that the offer is good enough.
The Government are also clear that, in providing a short breaks services statement, local authorities will need to make an assessment of local needs and what local parents want. We know that the opportunities and offers will be different in different areas, and we want local authorities to continue reflecting this in what they offer to disabled children and their parents.
I know that noble Lords will be aware that in December the Department for Education announced that through the early intervention grant it would make more than £800 million available to local authorities over the spending review period for the provision of short breaks. That funding marks an increase from this year and will increase modestly in each year of the spending review. I know that there are questions, to which I am sure we will come, about the ring-fence, but I am sure that noble Lords will agree that in a difficult economic climate this increase is an earnest of our intent and a sign that we are keen to build on the good progress made by the previous Government.
The Department for Education will also publish guidance to accompany these regulations. We are working with a group of local authorities to produce practice guidance, which will provide local authorities with more detail about these regulations, as well as provide good examples of where services have been well received. The guidance document will be published as soon as possible once these regulations have been made. I am sure there will be broad agreement on the importance of providing this detail to local authorities. We believe that these regulations will help to ensure that short breaks services are an important part of the support available to carers and parents of disabled children. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his explanation of the purpose behind the regulations. As he acknowledged, the issue of breaks for carers was taken extremely seriously by the previous Government, which set out the groundwork for these regulations in the Children and Young Persons Act 2008 and set in train a major investment in support for disabled children through the aiming high for disabled children programme. Our main concern now is to ensure that the progress, the investment and the momentum created by the previous Government are maintained.
The whole issue has come to the fore in the very sad case reported in the press last week of Riven Vincent, who has asked her local authority to take her severely disabled child into care as she can no longer cope because of the lack of respite care. Although this single case has hit the headlines, we can be sure that many other parents are struggling with similar crises in their lives. It is therefore vital that we get the provisions right and relevant to meet the known needs of the estimated 700,000 disabled children in England.
The Government have changed the original intent of the legislation in a number of key ways, including: removing the ring-fencing of the funds, to which the noble Lord has already referred; the monitoring and assessment via the children and young people’s plan; and granting greater autonomy to local authorities to interpret their responsibilities in this area. I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure me that the priority for breaks for carers envisaged in the Act will be maintained.
I have a number of questions for the Minister. First, the department’s own impact assessment states:
“We consider that where LAs indentified and funded their own delivery support, only high performing LAs would continue to improve, leaving a mixed picture of services for families in need”.
Can the Minister reassure me that there will be a comprehensive breaks service across the country rather than the rather patchy service suggested by his department?
Secondly, there was considerable pressure on local authorities to prepare for the duty that would have come into force in April 2011, and a great deal of progress has been made. Can the Minister give an assurance that the Government’s new emphasis on local autonomy will not let local authorities off the hook, so that they are forced to give this issue priority rather than responding to vocal local pressures from electors to fund other issues?
Thirdly, how will the Government monitor progress? What information will be collected centrally and how will the quality of local services for the carers of disabled children be assessed?
Finally, how will the Government ensure that the needs of the most vulnerable families are protected, given that disabled children are much more likely to live in poor housing and be in the lowest income groups? For example, children from BME families are the least likely to access the services currently available. Is there not a danger that services will be provided only to those who shout the loudest and not to those who are the most vulnerable and least able to stand up for themselves and argue for provision in their area?
I hope that the Minister will be able to reassure me on these points.
My Lords, I welcome the introduction of these draft regulations by the coalition Government. As your Lordships may be aware, in March 2008, along with the noble Lord, Lord Adonis, I tabled an amendment to the then Children and Young Persons Bill on this matter. The amendment created a new duty for local authorities to help parents caring for disabled children by providing them with breaks from their caring responsibilities. As the Minister has already kindly stated, my involvement in the campaign for short breaks for disabled children has lasted for many years. I think I introduced a Private Member’s Bill about short breaks as long ago as 1994. It went through the Lords but crashed in the House of Commons. I know that representatives from across the disability sector, including Mencap, of which I am president, and Every Disabled Child Matters, will welcome the introduction of these regulations.
The case for this new duty could not be stronger, and I welcome the £800 million identified by the Government over the next four years to help local authorities provide these short breaks. However, when faced with the competing demands of filling potholes, weekly rubbish collections and street cleaning, I fear that the temptation on local authorities to spend money for short breaks in other areas could be very seductive. That is why I would have preferred to have seen these funds ring-fenced for the specific purpose of short breaks, perhaps with a provision also to address the needs of all disabled people, including adults. It is important to remember that for many parents of disabled children, their responsibilities as carers will continue long after their sons and daughters have grown up. This is particularly the case for adults with profound and multiple learning disabilities, where the case for short breaks is arguably even stronger. However, I acknowledge that this is probably a debate for another day.
As we have been reminded, the pressure on funds for short breaks and respite services received much attention only last week, when we saw a great deal of coverage in the national media about Riven Vincent, a mother who asked for her six year-old daughter, Celyn, to be placed into care after she received a letter from Bristol social services informing her that no more respite care would be available. This extremely unhappy story highlights why it is so important for the parents of disabled children to have regular access to short breaks. Despite the pressure of cuts to services, we must ensure that the funds announced by the coalition Government reach their intended audience, together with the new duty on local authorities to provide short breaks. Can the Minister assure me that these funds will be used for those whose needs are addressed by these regulations?
My Lords, I, too, thank the Minister for his explanation and welcome the regulations. I also have some questions. Will Regulation 3(b) have regard to the needs of carers whose break from caring may involve an extended leisure activity such as a holiday, rather than simply, as the regulation says, a “regular leisure activity”? I echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Rix, about the importance of regular breaks from caring, if that is what carers choose, because I believe that regular breaks—a little bit of respite every now and then—can provide long-term stable care for disabled children, which is vital.
Is it sufficient for local authorities merely to publish their short-break services statements on their website? Surely they should do a little more than that. Should they not be proactive in contacting existing carers, rather than just publishing the information, especially in the light of the fact that the Explanatory Memorandum indicates that only a third of those eligible currently receive short breaks? We do not know whether that is simply because they are not aware of what is available and do not apply or whether it is because of shortage of money. Can the Minister say whether the practice guidance outlined in paragraph 8.4 of the Explanatory Memorandum will provide any guidelines on the criteria by which eligibility for the services outlined in Regulation 4 will be assessed?
I move on to a point about ensuring that this all works out in practice on the ground, which of course is very important. Is there any plan to require local authorities to publish a sufficiency assessment? The Minister talked about quality, but will local authorities also be obliged to publish an assessment of whether the quantity of short breaks that they supply is sufficient?
Can the Minister also say whether he expects a large number of applications for short-break services to result from the publication of these pieces of information by local authorities and whether any extra funding is likely to be allocated to local authorities if they report a large increase in the number of carers applying for short breaks? Does he agree that there may be a risk that, although these regulations may widen the number of people who apply for short breaks, the danger is that the funding per capita will go down to the point where the efficacy of the breaks will deteriorate? I do not think that any of us wish to see that.
Finally, can the Minister say when the Government expect to publish the initial practice guidance, to which he referred? How will this guidance be disseminated to relevant groups and how frequently do the Government intend to update it? Groups such as Every Disabled Child Matters will pay very careful attention to the guidance, but individual parents will also be interested in their local authority’s guidance so that they, as individual parents, can hold the local authority to account against the guidance.
I am grateful for the comments made and for the general welcome for the detail of the regulations. I am glad to have had the endorsement of the noble Lord, Lord Rix, and I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Walmsley for her typically probing and detailed questions, some of which I will have to come back to, if she will allow me. I will circulate the letter to those who have an interest in the matter as she raised important questions about monitoring.
There is broad agreement and I am happy to respond to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Whitchurch, who said that she wanted reassurance that we will build on the momentum that has started and the work that the previous Government have done. I accept fully the point that as arrangements bed down, we will want to ensure that they work well on the ground. The ring-fence has concerned many. There is a tension operating between wanting to give local authorities more freedom to provide services that they think are best, and which best match the needs of local people. We need to bear in mind that the needs of carers in a sparse rural area like Cornwall will be different from those for families in more dense urban areas. We are keen to have flexibility, and it flows from there that we want to give that discretion to local authorities.
I hope to provide some reassurance that there is a statutory duty on local authorities to provide those services. On the publication of the statements, I agree with my noble friend that a website is one way of disseminating information but not the only one. Generally, we will all in our different ways want to make sure that people are aware of their rights and the opportunities open to them. I hope that the provision of information and the shining of a spotlight will bring healthy pressure to bear on the providers of services and make sure that they are of high quality. I accept that we need to keep a careful eye on that. It is not enough just to construct a system, but not see how it operates in practice. We will all have a common interest in pursuing that.
My noble friend Lady Walmsley asked about guidance which will be published very soon. The department has been working on it with local authorities and, as part of the guidance, two local authorities have come up with a draft statement of the services that they provide, which we will disseminate widely. One of the arguments in having a non-statutory approach to the guidance is that one can keep it flexible and keep updating it to take account of circumstances on the ground. Services will develop and we can learn from best practice in different parts of the country. We want to keep things flexible to make sure that those lessons are learnt.
On the point about the obligation and duty on local authorities, Regulation 5 requires local authorities to have regard to the views of carers. The guidance will deal with questions of quality. Overall, I welcome the points made about the benefits of these regulations. Some of the broader concerns raised about how things will work out in practice I accept and understand, and we will work to address them.
I will follow up any specific points that I have not addressed and circulate the responses but I hope that, given the support that these regulations have received from voluntary groups and those concerned in this area generally, the Committee will approve them. I have great pleasure in commending them to the Committee.
Before the Minister sits down, I hope that I may gently press two points that I raised. He may wish to reply to them in writing but I would certainly like an answer at some point. First, if we are not careful, those who provide a good service at the moment will carry on providing a good service and those who do not will carry on providing not such a good service. I am not sure where the impetus is for the new scheme to raise standards across England. Where is the impetus to raise standards across the board? There is a danger that we will carry on having unfair distribution.
Secondly—I ask this question in innocence as much as anything because I do not know the answer—how will the £800,000 be monitored? Will there be a mechanism in place to see how a local authority spends it? Is there any mechanism in place to identify what proportion of the money actually goes into breaks for carers, or are the Government just relying on the good will of local authorities to follow up their statutory duty?
My Lords, I accept the force of the noble Baroness’s first point about wanting to make sure that quality generally is raised and that we are able to learn from good practice and spread it more widely. I understand that we are looking at incentive payments for meeting those duties under the early intervention grant. There may be other more detailed ways in which we are following that up and if there are I will come back to her on those. As regards underperforming local authorities, I understand that we have advertised a contract to continue supporting local authorities to deliver better services working with the voluntary sector. That may also be part of the answer to the noble Baroness’s question.
As regards what one does about following the money, as it were, I come back to my point that there is a statutory duty on local authorities to provide these services, as the noble Baroness recognised. However, it is true that one of the consequences of removing ring fences and devolving responsibility for spending money to local authorities is that one does devolve that money and allows local authorities to make those judgments. However, I think that, collectively, a range of people will want to make sure that those statutory duties are fulfilled and that local authorities provide decent services to some of the most vulnerable people and their carers who do a heroic job and need all the support that they can get.
Committee adjourned at 5.03 pm.