House of Lords
Thursday, 9 June 2011.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Derby.
House of Lords: Reform
My Lords, we have no plans to bring forward additional legislative proposals to reform this House, but we look forward to considering the recommendations of the Procedure Committee to provide for permanent voluntary retirement and to make amendments to the arrangements for leave of absence.
My Lords, I assume that the Leader of the House is aware that the wording of my Question is lifted completely and exactly from the seventh report of the House of Commons Political and Constitutional Reform Committee, which urges those proposing radical reform to address immediate issues and concludes:
“This is a pressing issue that cannot wait four years to be resolved”.
Does the Leader accept that?
Not entirely, my Lords, which is why I said in my initial reply that we were looking forward to some of the incremental changes, many of which were born out of the Bill that my noble friend originally proposed several years ago, such as permanent voluntary retirement and improving leave of absence. The draft Bill that the Government published on 17 May includes a whole range of proposals that, given a fair wind, could get Royal Assent by the end of the next Session.
My Lords, since the proposals set out in the Bill tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Steel of Aikwood, are indeed contained within the draft Bill that the Government have produced, how can the noble Lord the Leader of the House not embrace them enthusiastically here and now? Would it not be sensible to make progress in reform as rapidly as possible in those areas where there is broad agreement?
It is all a question of time. I dare say that if we rushed through the welfare Bill, the Localism Bill and the health Bill, and found ourselves with a few extra days at the end of the Session, we might be able to look at this more constructively. However, given the pace at which we have approached government legislation this Session, I do not think that we will have that extra time.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Steel’s Bill is before the House. It has had its Second Reading and awaits a Committee stage. If my noble friend Lord Hamilton were to table an amendment, I am sure that it would be debated if the Committee stage came forward. I have no idea what the Government’s view on that would be, nor indeed what the House’s view would be.
Given that there has been no recent statement, as far as I am aware, that no further Members will be appointed for the next six years, is not the question of a statutory appointments commission urgent for the here and now if we are not to keep escalating numbers, which has such a disastrous effect on all aspects of the workings of the House?
My Lords, I do not recognise the words in the noble Lord’s preface to his question—that there would be no more Peers for the next six years. I am sure that there will be. I have said in the recent past that no government list is being worked on at the moment. The independent Appointments Commission has its own ways of producing names and I do not think that there is a moratorium on it. I and many other Members of this House were Members of a House of Lords that had far more Members than this one and it managed perfectly well.
My Lords, given the Government’s commitment to reducing the number of Members of this House, and faced with the rapidly increasing numbers, is there any intention to learn from the splendid example of these Benches and to bring in a facility to enable Members of the House to retire or to petition for the withdrawal of the Writ of Summons?
My Lords, there is certainly a proposal, which we shall be debating in the next couple of weeks, for permanent voluntary retirement for all Peers. I am not entirely sure that that will include Members on the spiritual Benches of the right reverend Prelates, who of course retire from this House not entirely voluntarily but when they reach their 70th birthday.
On Tuesday, the Leader of the House was emollient and relaxed about when the Joint Committee should report, the date being 28 February, as in the Motion that was passed, yet he has just told us that it is quite possible that a Bill could become an Act in the second Session of this Parliament and that this House could be on its way to being fully elected in the next Session. It seems to me that there is a bit of a conflict between his not worrying too much about the Joint Committee reporting by 28 February and his talking almost in the same breath about a Bill being introduced in the Session that begins next May. Can we again have it from his own mouth that he is quite relaxed about a committee of this significance taking a reasonable amount of time to reach its conclusions?
Although it is rather flattering to be called emollient and relaxed by the noble Lord, what I actually said earlier this week was that it was entirely in the hands of the Joint Committee when it decides to report back to both Houses. I hope that it will do that as quickly as possible. The words that I used in response to my noble friend Lord Steel were, “given a fair wind”. If the committee were to report and the Government were to decide to go ahead with a Bill, it could be in place by the end of the next Session.
My Lords, can my noble friend explain why the Government are sending out a message that they are against reform of this Chamber, for which there is substantial support and which is set out in the Steel Bill, and are instead going headlong down a path towards what can only be described as abolition of this House?
My Lords, this is where we get into a discussion about semantics. The Government are mad keen on reform. That is why they published their Bill. My noble friend Lord Steel’s Bill would create a wholly appointed House. I remind the House that no major political party stood at the last election in favour of those plans. All political parties stood for a wholly, or largely, elected House.
My Lords, the next part of the “mad keen” process will be consideration of the draft Bill by the Joint Committee. Can the noble Lord the Leader say whether all proceedings of that committee will be in public and whether all the papers pertaining to that committee will be made available to the public?
My Lords, I understand that it is normal for these sorts of Joint Committees to hear evidence and deliberate in public. I suppose that it is up to the committee exactly what rules it decides on. No doubt those who sit on it and whoever chairs it will take into account this debate and, if representations are made, I am sure that they will wish to be as open as possible.
Taxation: Healthcare Insurance
My Lords, the Government have no plans to introduce a new tax exemption for private healthcare insurance where it is provided as a benefit in kind.
My Lords, will the Government look into the financial arithmetic here, which, on my estimates, could produce a benefit to the NHS of some £3 billion per annum? The data are quite confusing, because there is the question of how many people in total have had and still have private health insurance and how much is provided by employers. I well recollect that back in 1997, when employer-provided insurance became a benefit in kind, in the case of my company all those other than the top earners withdrew from the scheme because they did not want to have tax bills when they might not necessarily use the scheme. My estimate of the £3 billion saving—
My Lords, I am always happy to see evidence on any matter that could save the public purse considerable sums of money. The study has not been done but I am happy to look at any evidence that my noble friend has. However, I caution him that our general thrust is to get rid of reliefs and to simplify the tax system. That is why my right honourable friend the Chancellor announced the abolition of 43 reliefs in the recent Budget. The latest figures indicate that 2.3 million employees are still provided with private medical insurance by their employers. That would probably cover 4.3 million people in total, so the benefit is still widely offered.
My Lords, will the noble Lord the Minister, if his noble friend provides the additional information, have regard to the fact that, to my knowledge, no private healthcare system provides totally comprehensive cover? Will he bear in mind the anger that a consultant in an intensive care unit expressed to me at the fact that people coming in from the private sector for intensive care were blocking his beds? He accepted their right to do that, but people cannot opt out of the National Health Service, so the proposed measure would not necessarily save the money to which the Minister’s noble friend referred.
My Lords, I am happy to confirm the position, which is quite clear and obviously will not change. As I say, we are not looking at this, but I never say no to ideas that would save considerable sums of money, however remote the possibility that the scheme would work. However, individual choice is the issue around private medical insurance. There is no plan to alter the role of private medical insurance in healthcare provision and there is no loss of entitlement to NHS care for those who take out private medical insurance.
My Lords, leaving aside the financial implications of the Question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Flight, does the Minister agree that to move in that direction at this time would send completely the wrong signals? At a time when we should be supporting and strengthening the NHS, if the Government were in effect to encourage people who could afford it to have nothing to do with it, that would take us in exactly the wrong direction.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that the health reforms seek to ensure that the sort of situation that the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, described, whereby the National Health Service has had to pick up all the failings of the private sector, will not happen again?
My Lords, they may to some extent at the margin remove a burden off the National Health Service, but, equally, under the previous arrangements where partial tax relief was given, there was considerable additional cost to the taxpayer. It is estimated that putting in place some new allowance would immediately cost the Exchequer at least £700 million—probably considerably more—because of the dead-weight effect of offering that relief to people who already have medical insurance.
My Lords, that was not the point that I was arguing at all. I stress again that there is no intention to change the existing relationship. We are not studying any plans to bring in a new benefit in kind in this area. These are all interesting points, and some are important, but I hope that the position is clear.
My Lords, the UK already has a comprehensive system in place to combat this terrible crime and to ensure that child trafficking victims are identified and receive the necessary support. The Government will shortly be applying to the European Commission to opt into the directive. If the application is accepted, Government will work with the Commission on implementation of the directive. Arrangements will also be strengthened further through measures in the forthcoming human trafficking strategy.
I thank the Minister for that response and I am delighted by the news that the Government are going to try to opt into the European directive. However, does she agree that there are issues that still need to be looked at and explored? One of these is guardianship. Will the Government support the article in the directive that requires a child victim of trafficking to have a legal representative, advocate or guardian to support them—as they do in Scotland?
I can assure the noble Baroness that we have studied very carefully the situation in Scotland, and we are continuing to monitor it—although so far, it looks from what happens in Scotland as though the term “guardian” is probably more represented by the term “advocate”. A “guardian” has a slightly different connotation to “advocate”, but we are continuing to look at this matter. Our view is that the UK is already compliant with the directive in terms of child guardians. Local authorities have a statutory duty to ensure that they safeguard and promote the welfare of children. However, I must tell the noble Baroness that while I have been encouraged by what we will do when we are able to opt into the directive and by what is coming forward in the new strategy, I am fully aware that in the welfare of children there is a need for a holistic overview, over and above issues such as the roof above their heads, security, food on the table, education, and those core things that statutory agencies of course supply. I will be following this very carefully to make sure that the holistic view is represented.
My Lords, the assistance and support measures set out in Article 10 of the directive include the provision of,
“appropriate and safe accommodation”.
However, at Barnardo’s, in which I declare an interest as vice-president, we have found that trafficked children are still being placed in unsafe hotels, hostels and bed-and-breakfast accommodation. As the study by the Child Exploitation and Online Protection agency showed, this is likely to be the main reason why a high proportion of trafficked children still go missing, when they really should be safe in local authority care. What do the Government intend to do to ensure that the practice of putting vulnerable children into unsafe accommodation is stopped as soon as possible?
My noble friend is quite right. The number of children in inappropriate care, resulting in children who have been identified as being trafficked going missing, is a very serious problem on which we must bear down. My noble friend mentioned CEOP. I hope that she will take comfort that CEOP will have a new role in this area. It will provide a national focus on the issue of missing children, and its role will in particular include education and training for the police; supporting police operations through targeted research and analysis; operational support for forces in searching for missing children; and ensuring that co-ordination arrangements and capability are placed to manage complex or high-profile missing cases. I would expect the new, enhanced role of CEOP in this area to address some of the problems which my noble friend mentioned, which are serious and need addressing urgently.
My Lords, I can give that assurance. It is something that we are already looking at. As a new Minister, I had my initial briefing from the UK Border Agency. One of the first questions I asked was: what happens at passport control for children coming into this country who are not accompanied by a parent? Of course, there are quite legitimate reasons why children would come in from overseas with an adult relative, but we are aware of some of the case histories—the Victoria Climbié case comes to mind in particular. It is very difficult to say how we address in the short term the passport arrangements for other countries, but we should focus on it to ensure that we pick up those children at that early stage, at the border when they come into this country, rather than later when so much damage has been done.
My Lords, the Government have just announced proposals to merge the highly effective Child Exploitation and Online Protection agency into a new national crime agency. Of course, the previous head of CEOP resigned from the agency after seeing the Government's plans and has said that the submerging of CEOP within a far greater entity will not allow the critical child protection focus that we need. Where will responsibility for combating child trafficking lie within the proposed national crime agency? Does the fact that the Government have said that the cost of the new national crime agency will not exceed the aggregate cost of its predecessors, when the Child Exploitation and Online Protection agency is to suffer a 10 per cent reduction in its budget, simply confirm that it is highly vulnerable children who are likely to be in the firing line from the Government's decision to ram through cuts that are too fast and too deep?
My Lords, I quite disagree with the noble Lord. The announcement yesterday of the national crime agency means that we will set up a body which will have four pillars—which will not be silos; they will work together—of which child protection is a key part. The whole agency will be responsible for gathering intelligence, analysis of that intelligence and a crime-fighting force that will not just be based in the capital but will interact with police forces around the country.
The problems that we face in areas such as trafficking do not confine themselves to local police force borders. Children and adults who have been trafficked are moved around. They are, in effect, in slavery and may not be in the place where they came into the country. That is organised crime and it recognises no borders. I believe that the national crime agency will bear down on that, as it will in other areas of organised crime.
My Lords, I would have to consult the usual channels on the timetabling of any legislation in this House. I hope that my noble friend will be reassured by the fact that, in opting into the directive, if that is accepted, we have already identified several changes that will need to be made in order to be compliant with the directive. They include: widening one existing offence of trafficking for forced labour; amending existing trafficking offences to confer extra-territorial jurisdiction over UK nationals who commit trafficking offences anywhere in the world; making mandatory some measures which are currently good practice—for example, appointing special representatives to support child witnesses during police investigations and criminal trials; and setting out the rights of victims to assistance and support.
My Lords, we remain extremely concerned at the situation in Yemen. Recent events have shown how quickly the security situation can deteriorate. Since 12 March this year, we have been urging all British nationals to leave Yemen without delay by commercial carriers. My right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary issued a statement on 3 June repeating the message in our travel advice to all British nationals to leave by commercial means, adding that people should not plan for or expect the British Government to be in a position to assist them to reach safety. In the other place, on 7 June, he repeated the message that an assisted evacuation will be extremely unlikely. The embassy in San’a retains a core complement of staff. With consular staff in London and at our passport processing centre in Paris, we are working with the embassy to ensure that all those eligible for British travel documents receive them as soon as possible.
I thank the noble Lord for that Answer, but will he be more specific about the situation in relation to members of the embassy staff, who face a particular threat from the authorities in Yemen? Does he agree that, with a president who nominally heads a discredited regime—I witnessed it myself several years ago—and is ignored by Governments of all persuasions, the position there is extremely dangerous and uncertain?
The noble Lord is absolutely right: the extreme danger is unquestionable. We have drawn down the staff at our embassy to a small, core team and a further withdrawal of staff may be necessary if conditions dictate—we are watching the situation very carefully indeed. For obvious reasons, which I know the noble Lord will understand, it would be wrong for me to comment in detail on any contingency plan, but that is the position.
My Lords, are the Government minded to support opposition demands for a presidential council to be established in Yemen to ease the transition from power and to send a clear message to President Saleh that he is no longer fit to rule? Will my noble friend also tell the House whether he believes that the Friends of Yemen group has any further usefulness, given that it is so closely aligned to the old regime?
Our general position is strong support for the Gulf Cooperation Council’s plans, which have been brought forward with considerable detail and support from the neighbouring countries and the whole region. We believe that, for the moment, that is the best plan on the table. I certainly concede to my noble friend that it is not working well at the moment, but that seems to be the best possible avenue through which one could begin to see some kind of settlement emerge. That is all that I can say at the moment, beyond the fact that, of course, the United Nations remains very interested and is watching the situation closely as well.
My Lords, does the Minister agree that it is essential for the British Government to be even-handed in their attitude to all the countries involved in the Arab spring revolution and to wish the local population well in that process? Should that not also include Israel? Have the Government taken steps to ask the Israeli military to exercise restraint and not to shoot at unarmed civilians?
This Question is about Yemen. We certainly aim for even-handedness in pursuing our own principles and values but, unfortunately, as every country has different situations that require delicate and different handling beyond the general principles, we have to appreciate, respect and understand the inner workings of these countries to be effective.
My Lords, the situation in Yemen has been very grave—it has been a fragile state—for a long time. We all owe a debt of gratitude to those members of the Foreign Office who are still prepared to stay in the embassy, given that it has come under attack on a number of occasions. I know that this is very difficult, but, given that we know that Yemen will be the target of groups such as al-Qaeda, will the Minister assure us that in the possible eventual absence of British personnel on the ground, none the less we will be able to monitor properly what is going on in Yemen and not leave it solely to Yemen’s neighbours to pass information to us? I hope that the noble Lord can give us that assurance, without going into detail.
That clearly would be the ideal. I cannot go into precise contingency arrangements for the channels and passage of our information. Obviously, we need to get high-quality information of the best kind. On the question of al-Qaeda involvement, there is constant concern that al-Qaeda training groups are operating in the area. Some people have an interest in pursuing and purveying the story in one way and others in presenting it in another, so getting accurate information is bound to be difficult. Of course, the noble Baroness, with her considerable experience, is right to urge that our channels of information should remain as good and direct as we can possibly engineer.
Electoral Registration Data Schemes Order 2011
Representation of the People (Electoral Registration Data Schemes) Regulations 2011
Motions to Approve
Sports Grounds Safety Authority Bill
Order of Commitment Discharged
My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been tabled to the Bill and no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move a manuscript amendment or to speak in Committee. Unless, therefore, any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the order of commitment be discharged.
Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill
Committee (5th Day)
Relevant documents: 13th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 14th Report from the Constitution Committee and 11th Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
Amendment 217 not moved.
Clauses 74 to 76 agreed.
Schedule 10 agreed.
Clause 77 agreed.
Amendments 218 to 220 not moved.
Clause 78 agreed.
220ZZA: After Clause 78, insert the following new Clause—
“Standards Board guidance
(1) Section 57 of the Local Government Act 2000 (Standards Board for England) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (5) for paragraph (b) substitute—
“(b) may issue guidance on matters relating to—(i) the conduct of chief commissioners, members and co-opted members of police and crime panels and the Police Commissions in England and Wales; and(ii) the qualifications and or experience that monitoring officers should possess.”(3) In subsection (5) omit paragraph (c)”
My Lords, I hesitated before speaking because I intend to be very brief and I was of the view that I would probably finish before everybody had managed to leave the Chamber if I started straight away.
Police authorities currently are covered by the Standards Board for England, but this will not be the case with the new police and crime panels provided for in the Bill. The amendment provides for guidance to continue to be given by the Standards Board for England in relation to the conduct of chief commissioners, members and co-opted members of police and crime panels and the police commissions in England and Wales, and also on the matter of the qualifications and experience that monitoring officers should possess. The current legislation states:
“In exercising its functions the Standards Board for England must have regard to the need to promote and maintain high standards of conduct by members and co-opted members of relevant authorities in England. … The Standards Board for England … may issue guidance to relevant authorities in England and police authorities in Wales on matters relating to the conduct of members and co-opted members of such authorities”.
If the situation is that while police authorities are currently covered by the Standards Board for England but that this will not be the case for the new police and crime panels—indeed, I understand that it is the Government’s intention to abolish the Standards Board—the purpose of this amendment is to ask what the Government intend to do in future in relation, for example, to the new police and crime panels. Is it intended to replicate the functions currently carried out by the Standards Board as far as, for example, the new police and crime panels are concerned and, if so, by which individual, body or organisation? One would have thought that since one of the key functions of the Standards Board for England is to have regard to the need to promote and maintain high standards of conduct, that would be even more important in relation to the new bodies and organisations that will be established under the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill that we are discussing. One finds it difficult to believe that the Government do not intend to provide some sort of substitute for the Standards Board for England, if it is their intention to abolish it, and that they do not intend to ensure that similar guidance is not going to be issued in future in order to maintain high standards of conduct in relation to, among other bodies, the police and crime panels. The purpose of this amendment is to seek to ascertain from the Government what their intentions are in this regard. I beg to move.
My Lords, I rise first to speak in support of the amendment moved by my noble friend Lord Rosser. To some extent, we touched on these matters at an earlier stage. The absence of a standards regime for these new bodies which are going to be responsible for the oversight of the police service in England and Wales is really rather extraordinary. In the previous day in Committee, I gave an example of the sorts of things that could happen where having a robust standards regime would be a better solution than one that says that, if these individuals step over the line and actually break the law, they can be investigated by the police—for whom they have a direct responsibility, of course, which raises some interesting questions—and, if necessary, prosecuted. A standards regime that is going to protect the integrity of those individuals and provide assurance to the public that they are acting properly and appropriately is clearly important. It will be interesting to hear from the Minister how the Government envisage that this will be dealt with.
Grouped with this amendment—rather strangely, I have to say—is Amendment 234. Some of the groupings in this Committee stage have been rather strange, but a group of two amendments on two completely different topics is something that one should perhaps be surprised at. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, will want to speak to Amendment 234 in a moment, and I have also put my name to this amendment. Amendment 234 raises the very important, separate issue about how complaints against police officers are to be handled. I suspect that the unsatisfactory arrangement now contained in the Bill, whereby the chief officer of police or the Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis will act as both the complaints authority and the appeals body for their own officers, will run contrary to principles of natural justice and cause problems in the way in which the police service operates. It will also produce a minefield of arguments, litigation, industrial tribunals and so on—all the sorts of things which the police services are already rife with, for one reason or another. This will actually make matters worse and it will not provide protection for chief officers of police who may be accused of not handling a complaint properly or an appeal properly because they will be seen as part of the same process. So it is really rather important that there is a separate and independent mechanism as part of that.
The other element contained in the amendment which the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, has put forward and to which I have put my name is the question of information. This specifically refers to London but the same principle applies outside London. One of the very important functions of whoever is responsible for oversight of the police must be to know of, and have information about, the nature of complaints that are being made against police officers in a particular area. The second part of this amendment provides a requirement that that information is automatically provided, in this instance to the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, but I suspect the Government would want to ensure that it was also provided to elected police and crime commissioners, if that is what we have, or to police and crime commissions, or whatever the final model is. One of the very important functions of holding a police service to account is to know the nature of the complaints that are being received, to know what is being done about them, to monitor trends and perhaps to dip-sample some of them to make sure that those complaints are being handled properly. That is why this amendment is important.
I hope that the Minister, in responding, will recognise that that function of monitoring complaints and understanding what is going on will be a critical and necessary part of any body that has oversight of the police service.
My Lords, I fully endorse everything my noble friend Lord Harris has just said. I just add that I find it quite extraordinary that this Bill proposes a system whereby the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police would effectively be judge, jury and executioner. It puts a huge amount of power in the hands of one person, which is bad enough without a system where there are absolutely no checks and balances of any description. The proposal is deeply flawed. It also lacks an effective framework to safeguard impartiality.
At the moment complaints against senior officers are dealt with by the Metropolitan Police Authority. There is a very good system and it is dealt with by the Professional Standards Cases Sub-Committee. If officers are unhappy with the rulings of that sub-committee, there is a very clear, very transparent appeals system to the police appeals tribunal. This amendment would restore equivalent safeguards, which I believe is absolutely essential. It would make the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime the appeals body, and I endorse again what my noble friend Lord Harris has said: that in order for that to work it is absolutely essential that the MOPC would have statutory access to information and systems where complaints are recorded. The Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime simply cannot be sitting there waiting for the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to advise it of complaints and conduct matters. It must be able to have statutory access. Without this, I do not believe that it is possible that it can discharge its functions in the Bill; namely, to ensure that chief constables have fulfilled their duty in the handling of such complaints. I believe that it is absolutely essential to put independence, transparency and impartiality back into this process.
My Lords, I support the amendment in respect of one issue in particular, which is the issue in terms of judge and jury where the commissioner would decide on a case and then be the appellant authority. It flies in the face of natural justice. All I ask is that the Minister has a look at that and takes legal advice in relation to it. I am quite sure that at some stage there might be room for changing that part of the Bill.
My Lords, the noble Lord from the Cross Benches interestingly reminds us of the two limbs of the item in the coalition programme for government. The second, which in my view is of equal status to the first, is the strict checks and balances on the first limb.
I support what has been said on Amendment 234. On Monday, I put forward an amendment which specifically addressed the monitoring of complaints to which the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, has referred. It is important to look at how complaints are handled overall as well as individually.
The theme of Amendment 220ZZA surfaced strongly when we debated the Localism Bill a couple of days ago. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, is right to draw our attention to this. Assuming that there will be different codes of conduct, and there should be, how such codes are to fit—when you have members of a panel who will be subject to particular standards and provisions, we hope, in their capacity as local councillors—with any separate code of conduct in this capacity and the need for a chief commissioner to be subject to some sort of arrangement requires a lot more thinking through.
The noble Lord’s point about the monitoring officer, who will I assume be appointed by the commissioner or a member of the commissioner’s office—perhaps we will hear whether the Government have any different idea in mind—is important. I have seen monitoring officers a little out of their depth. It is important that they should have both the tools and the qualifications to be able to carry out what can often be a difficult and sensitive role. I have also seen monitoring officers who are absolutely splendid at the job because they are so sensitive to the huge range of issues that not every monitoring officer spots is going across her or his desk as part of the monitoring process.
My Lords, following the decision on the first day in Committee, this Bill now removes the current arrangements for policing governance. The Government’s intention in relation to Schedule 14 is to ensure that there is a proportionate and effective police complaints system with responsibility for responding to complaints resting at the appropriate level. The Independent Police Complaints Commission will be responsible for the handling of appeals in cases where the complaint is of a description set out in regulations. Such cases may include those where the allegation may amount to a criminal offence or would justify the bringing of disciplinary proceedings. In low level complaint matters, it is appropriate that the chief officer of the force concerned should be responsible for ensuring that there has been an appropriate response to a complainant’s concerns.
The amendment to Schedule 14 would mean that the responsibility for dealing with appeals against low level complaints in the Metropolitan Police would be handled by the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime rather than it resting with the Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. While the Government recognise that this is one way of providing some independent scrutiny of such matters, we are not persuaded that the responsibility and duty to consider individual appeals should be different in London and rest with the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime. The Bill already provides a power to the relevant local policing body to enable it to direct the chief officer to take such steps it considers appropriate if it determines that the complaint has not been appropriately dealt with. The local policing body also has functions to ensure that it is kept informed about the handling of complaints within its force and to ask for information being held on the force’s systems related to complaints. The Government consider that these safeguards are sufficient and achieve the same effect as the amendment suggests. It is the Government’s view that the responsibility for the handling of low level matters should rest with the chief officer of a force, with the local policing body holding the chief officer to account and vested with the power to intervene if it is not satisfied that a specific complaint has not been dealt with by the chief officer to a satisfactory standard.
Moving on to Amendment 220ZZA, this Labour amendment which seeks to insert a new clause after Clause 78 would give the Standards Board for England a role in providing guidance relating to the conduct of chief commissioners, members and co-opted members of the police and crime panels, and the police commissions in England and Wales. It would also be able to issue guidance relating to the qualifications and/or experience that monitoring officers should possess. However, Clause 15 of and Schedule 4 to the Localism Bill will abolish the Standards Board so there would be no practical effect in accepting this proposal.
However, I take the points made about the Localism Bill, which has come before your Lordships’ House in the past few days. In the Localism Bill, with the abolition of the Standards Board regime, it will become a criminal offence for councillors deliberately to withhold or misrepresent a personal interest. This means that councils will not be obliged to spend time and money investigating trivial complaints while councillors involved in corruption and misconduct will face appropriately serious sanctions. This will provide a more effective safeguard against unacceptable behaviour. In order to retain confidence in the policing system, any allegations of criminal behaviour against police and crime commissioners will be referred to the Independent Police Complaints Commission. It will then be for the IPCC to determine the appropriate method of investigation. Allegations of criminal behaviour against members of police and crime panels will be investigated by the police service in the normal way.
We realise that there are two pieces of legislation here. In the light of that, we are negotiating with colleagues to see whether amendments are needed in either this Bill or in the Localism Bill.
I thank the noble Baroness for giving way. It is possible, under the Localism Bill as it stands, for councils to constitute standards committees. It will not be a requirement on them but they could do so. In that event, could a complaint against a councillor member of an authority in respect of his or her service on a police and crime panel be investigated by the standards committee of the council on which he or she serves?
That is a good question. As I indicated to the Committee, we would expect the police to investigate serious complaints so far as the panel is concerned. As I said, however, we are in discussions with colleagues and will come back to the House with a decision on where would be the appropriate place to make amendments to the Bill.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that reply, which raises quite a number of issues. Let us deal first with the question of standards and what is to happen. I accept that the Committee is in the very difficult position of considering a piece of government legislation that is possibly going to change the law in respect of standards, and trying to deal with a piece of legislation where we have already slightly altered the direction of travel, which may or may not revert. The principle that the Minister seems to be enunciating is that there is nothing below the threshold of criminal activity which will be investigated. That is a very worrying situation to create in areas where there will be all sorts of difficult arguments to be had about the extent to which the functions of overseeing the police service are being properly fulfilled. That is a genuine difficulty.
A further genuine difficulty is who will investigate such matters. In the context of the Localism Bill, if we are talking about the investigation of misbehaviour by a local authority member, then the local police force may well be the adequate route to follow. However, where it is the individual or individuals with responsibility for the oversight of the police service in question who are being investigated, for that force to investigate that individual will raise some real and difficult issues unless it is also being said that, under all those circumstances, the individuals will be suspended. Again, I am not sure that that is the import of the other part of the Bill.
Two questions need to be addressed in respect of the Minister’s answer on standards. First, is there anything below the threshold of criminal activity on which there should be some guidance on standards of behaviour? Secondly, what safeguards exist for the police investigating the people who are responsible for oversight? The latter situation could work both ways. It could be the police going soft on the person who is responsible for oversight, or it could be the police investigating more rigorously than might otherwise be the case the person who has been giving them a hard time in their role of oversight.
That is one group of issues that has been addressed in these amendments. I say to the Committee that we really must look at what items we bring together in amendment groupings because it is getting a little bit complicated. I know that on our previous day in Committee we all became confused about where we were and the sheer range of subjects being considered in one group.
The second set of issues related to the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey. Quite understandably, she characterised it as being just about London. But this is Committee stage. Yes, the amendment is cast in terms of London, but the principles apply to everywhere else in the country. If there is a real issue here, we need to look at it across the country and not just in terms of London. Is the Minister saying that there will be mechanisms for an independent appeals process, or will it just voluntarily be done by chief officers of police or, in London’s case, the Commissioner of Police for the Metropolis? How will the power of the local policing body be exercised if it feels that a complaint has not been dealt with properly? Will it simply be a matter of complainants coming to the local policing body and saying, “Hey, our complaint is not being dealt with properly”? In virtually every instance where a person feels that they have a complaint against the police, they will first complain to the police service and then go to the local policing body, which will have no power to do anything about it other than to go back to the chief officer of police and say, “Look at it again”. I suspect that police and crime commissions and commissioners, and the MOPC in London, will end up having to do an enormous amount of complaints work because they will be seen as the route down which you will have go to prod the police to take your complaints seriously.
The final and, I hope, the easiest point for the Minister to answer is on the powers of the local policing body to require information. Is she able to give us an undertaking that that information is about not only mechanisms and numbers but also, potentially, individual cases? There are two reasons for saying that it needs potentially to be about individual cases. First, an individual case may be a matter of local importance—in which case it is important that specific information can be obtained by the local policing body; and, secondly, there is enormous value in local policing bodies having the power to dip sample what has happened in terms of complaints because the dip-sampling process often tells you all kinds of extra information about the way in which the police service is operating in that case.
Finally, can the noble Baroness explain the distinction between a low-level complaint and other matters?
My Lords, perhaps I may begin with that last point. We all understand complaints which involve criminality—that is fairly clear—but below that there are issues about complaints to do with, for example, time-keeping, absenteeism, rudeness and that kind of thing, which I regard as low-level complaints. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Harris, will accept that those within policing are able to make that distinction quite clearly without too much written information in the Bill.
The noble Lord mentioned standards. A PCC will be subject to interrogation by the IPCC and the local police for criminal allegations, and the IPCC will decide which are the less serious allegations. So the IPCC will act as the arbiter of the panels. Less serious allegations will be decided by the PCP. I hope that there is already clarity about what is regarded as a serious or a low-level problem. PCPs will be subject to the standards applicable to local authorities under the Localism Bill. I shall come back to noble Lords on how we are going to handle having the two Bills before the House.
On the points the noble Lord, Lord Harris, made about London, the Government recognise that sometimes people feel that the independent scrutiny of such matters should be in the Bill but, as I said earlier, we do not agree. We are not persuaded of that and it is not our intention to make any changes in that respect.
I shall have to write to the noble Lord on some of the other points he raised. However, I cannot agree with the suggestion he made about revisiting the situation as it applies to London.
Let me be clear: the amendments are couched in terms of London but the principle of an independent element in matters where there are appeals against a chief officer’s decision is important and should apply across the Bill. Clearly there is not an amendment before us which deals with outside London—there may have been one in one of the many groups we dealt with the other day but we lost it in the wash. However, it is an important principle to which we will have to return on Report, as the noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, has indicated.
The point made by the Minister about PCPs—or, in the case of London, the London Assembly—dealing with lower-than-criminality level complaints about the elected police and crime commissioner or the MOPC in London will create a situation where there will constantly be a party political row in the police and crime panels and the London Assembly panel as to whether the person concerned has performed their duties appropriately. If that is in the absence of a centrally laid down and agreed framework of standards, it will be a constant, politically damaging and wasteful process. There is still a need for a centrally laid down framework of standards for the behaviour and actions of police and crime commissioners.
It is certainly possible that it would go the courts. However, I was thinking more of an equally completely draining and pointless political toing and froing over something when, with a clear framework or set of guidance and standards against which any of these allegations could be judged, the situation would be better for all concerned. It seems to me that a PCC, for example, or the MOPC, may have a particular view of the standards they should follow while the PCP or the London Assembly panel might have a different view—that would just lead to endless political argument and rows, rather than saying, “Here is a set of guidance and that is the way we should operate”.
First, I thank all those noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, which has clearly raised a number of serious and important issues. I am left with the impression that the Government, in their enthusiasm in the Localism Bill to abolish the Standards Board, probably overlooked the significance of that decision for this Bill. I think that is why the Minister has been a little on the defensive during these exchanges. I do not think there has been as much joined-up thinking as the Government would sometimes wish us to imagine that there is. A fairly powerful case has been made for continuing guidance in order to promote and maintain high standards and conduct by the members of the bodies that we are talking about within this particular Bill.
I have to say I am not entirely clear—and I would be grateful if the Minister could clear this up—what she has or has not agreed to do. She has made references during this debate to still being in discussion with colleagues. However, I am not clear what the Minister is saying she is still looking at and, by inference, whether she might be coming back to this House at a later date; or even if she is saying that she is looking at some of the issues that are raised by my amendment and will be coming back to the House with further thoughts. There may be no further change at all, but will she be coming back to this House to let us know the result of these discussions she is having with colleagues?
I am grateful to the noble Lord and perhaps I can just clarify that. These discussions between the Home Office and CLG are ongoing and I cannot give the House a definitive answer today as to the conclusions. However, I will promise that as soon as they are concluded—which I hope will be shortly—I will write to noble Lords and place a letter in the Library.
My Lords, I do not want to be too defensive on this but it is a matter that we are looking at. With the abolition of the Standards Board, we need to make sure that that piece of legislation does not have an adverse effect on this particular Bill, therefore there are some discussions going on as to how we resolve the matter and in which piece of legislation we may or may not want to make any changes. It is on that basis that discussions are being taken forward.
I will at this stage leave it at that. I thank the Minister for that further information. I hope that it does lead to some changes to the Bill because the case has been made fairly strongly and powerfully for at least the continuation of guidance on promoting and maintaining high standards of conduct in relation to panels that certainly will be subject to a high level of public scrutiny, bearing in mind the role that they are going to have. However, I will at this stage leave it at that and I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 220ZZA withdrawn.
Clause 79 : The strategic policing requirement
220ZA: Clause 79, page 49, line 8, at beginning insert “Subject to subsection (1A),”
My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 220ZA, 220ZB, 221B, 228B and 228C. These amendments can be split into two groups, though both parts seek to foster appropriate safeguards which will protect the public from the possible whims or vagaries of an individual commissioner exerting inappropriate influence over the police. The first group, Amendments 220ZA, 220ZB and 221B, seek to strengthen the idea of the strategic policing requirement or SPR—a concept supported across the House but one which many think needs to be strengthened to enable it to succeed.
First, my recollection is that the Policing Minister in the other place said in Committee there that a draft strategic policing requirement document would be available to Peers at Committee stage. There has been no mention of this document in discussions in your Lordships’ House thus far. Can the Minister tell us when we might expect to see that document? It is very important that we see it because it will set out the police’s approach to dealing with national and regional threats and help us to understand what the role of police governance needs to be at this level. At present, we are being asked to approve an approach in principle to legislation without being able to scrutinise the detail in this area, when we do not know what the national police landscape might look like. I hope that the Minister might be able to tell us a bit more about that document.
The strategic policing requirement is a crucial component of the changes proposed by the Government. Under a new regime of accountability, driven by a focus on public perception and visibility while constrained by cuts, that requirement could help to ensure that less visible cross-border and specialist policing functions are not neglected while issues such as antisocial behaviour predominate in planning and local police resourcing. Amendments 220ZA and 220ZB therefore propose practical changes that would ensure sufficient time elapses between the Home Secretary producing the SPR and each local policing and crime plan being finalised. The idea is that the timescale would help to ensure that the strategic policing requirement could be wholly and thoughtfully reflected through each force’s local planning, not as an afterthought but as the core consideration that it must be if the public are to be kept safe from what are commonly known as level 2 or protective service threats.
Amendment 221B goes further in embedding the worthy idea of the strategic policing requirement by making all the members of the panel have regard to it. It is hoped that this will assist in balancing the necessary tendency towards parochialism on the part of those with an explicit role to represent a certain area with the duty to have regard to the bigger picture. It could prove a useful factor in ensuring that resources sufficient to protect the public are devoted to less visible or immediate local areas of policing. Finally, on the strategic policing requirement, Amendment 221B makes sure that although the entire police and crime commission must have regard to it, it is the commissioner who must ensure that it is fully,
“incorporated within the police and crime plan”.
I believe this requirement on the commissioner to lead from the top in delivering the strategic policing requirement is an essential component in its success if neighbourhoods are not to be consigned to a postcode lottery of unfairly inequitable levels of local protection from serious threats, such as terrorism and cross-border crime or issues such as domestic violence. That is my first set of amendments.
The second pairing of amendments, Amendments 228B and 228C, relate to the functions of Her Majesty's Inspectorate of Constabulary. We heard from the Minister at a much earlier stage in our deliberations about the importance of that inspectorate’s assessment of police authorities as one means of driving improvement. Noble Lords might recall that it was urgently necessary to change from the present structure because of the inspection results that had so far come forth. It is worth detouring here just a little, if I may, to meet these criticisms: I remind your Lordships that 22 out of 43 police authorities were inspected and not one failed either an Inspectorate of Constabulary inspection or an Audit Commission inspection. I recall that the same level of success has not been achieved by the Government in their departmental inspections, or even by local authorities. So police authorities did extremely well in these inspections because the vast majority of scores assessed their performances as more than adequate or doing well, and a number attained the rank of excellent. That, not surprisingly, was reflected in a recent YouGov poll undertaken for Liberty, which revealed that 65 per cent of the public, on a nationwide sample of more than 2,300, think that the present system of police accountability is serving them well and is preferable to that proposed by the Government.
Whatever the results of these inspections, everybody has agreed that they were important, rigorous and thorough. If they have revealed the case for change, then why on earth should they not be engaged to continue driving improvement and measuring the success or otherwise of the new system? It is by no means clear to me that the Government wish the inspectorate of constabulary to have any duty to inspect police commissioners as they propose to abolish the ability and, indeed, the duty on HMIC to inspect police authorities.
By this stage in our deliberations, I think I can anticipate the Minister’s reply. I might be wrong, but I think it will go along the lines of saying that a commissioner’s fundamental accountability is to their electors and it is these electors who should have the job of deciding whether the commissioner has done a good job. We have had the argument a number of times that if there are to be directly elected commissioners, they will be responsible to their electorate. Of course, this argument is dangerously flawed because it assumes that a commissioner will stand for re-election. Certainly, those commissioners in a second term will not, and even first-term commissioners might not. Where is the accountability then?
Every time we try to put a check or balance in place to rein in a commissioner, the response is always that that runs counter to the Government’s concept that in the last resort, were we to have a directly elected commissioner, they can be accountable only to their electorate. If you accept the logic of that model, it means that you cannot have any strict checks and balances because ultimately it will all be up to the electorate. Under that model, 43 individual party politicians deploying huge resources will be able to exercise fairly decisive and possibly capricious pressure on policing and on the force senior and divisional command teams.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, quite rightly reminded the Committee earlier, the coalition agreement wording refers to strict checks and balances by locally elected representatives. The model currently before the Committee—the one outlined in the earlier amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, which found favour with your Lordships—actually provides these strict checks and balances and does so much more effectively than anything else that the Government have so far come up with.
The amendment seeks to provide another check by restoring the requirement on HMIC to inspect police commissioners who will not just be spending public money but setting public budgets and priorities for the emergency service of last resort in every community. It is important that they should be able to allow any part of the police commission to call in the inspectorate to inspect itself or a component part of the commission, as it can for any part of the force. It is an essential requirement that these inspections should be allowable. I believe that these simple changes could make a world of difference to public trust and confidence in the new system, providing, as they would, requirements on all forces to address the fullest range of threats to the public and also to provide independent verification of the efficiency and efficacy of those charged with overseeing the police and their substantial budgets. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have Amendments 223, 224 and 225 in this group. I support the amendments in the group that would extend the duties to observe the strategic policing requirement to commissioners, for the reasons of which the noble Baroness has reminded us and on which many noble Lords spoke powerfully on previous days. Perhaps I can summarise those reasons as being the temptation for the commissioner to play to the local gallery, which is one of the dangerous aspects of the politicisation of policing to which many of us referred. I share, too, the concern that the words “have regard to” are insufficient. The Constitution Committee put it tactfully, saying that,
“the Government must explain why”,
the wording “is sufficiently compelling”. Those of us whose natural inclination is to go local are concerned about this; it is quite significant. As we come to the end of Part 1 of the Bill, I shall mention the need for strict checks and balances again, even though these are of rather a different kind.
My first amendment, which proposes that,
“any matter within the functions of the Serious Organised Crime Agency”—
I am aware of yesterday’s statement—
“shall be deemed to be … a threat”,
within this provision, is intended to seek assurances from the Minister on the approach to the work that is currently within SOCA. I chose that wording because I did not want to single out one area of criminality above others. I have said this before in Committee. For example, the noble Lord, Lord Laming, referred on the second day of Committee proceedings to child protection. I acknowledged then its importance. He acknowledged that child and adult trafficking, for instance, are—I hesitate to say of equal importance—within the same category. My noble friend Lady Walmsley will speak to a specific amendment on this in a moment.
It might be worth mentioning a letter that I am sure other noble Lords will have received from the Howard League for Penal Reform as we approached Second Reading. It is certainly useful to realise that some of the points that we make over and again are not just ones that we have dreamt up but are of concern outside this House. The letter mentioned the concern that the proposed elected police and crime commissioners would find it,
“electorally enticing to run a campaign aimed at”—
the example it chooses—
“the easy arrest and detention of children, rather than devoting resources to crimes that appeal less to the local media or populace”.
The Howard League for Penal Reform reminds your Lordships about the large number of sentences imposed on children, whom it describes as,
“‘low hanging fruit’ which partly accounts for their … high arrest rates”.
In what it calls the,
“harsh world of electoral politics”,
it is right to remind us of the different parts of the jigsaw.
My Amendments 224 and 225 would change the second part of the definition of a national threat from one that,
“can be countered effectively or efficiently only by national policing capabilities”,
to one that “is most likely to” be countered effectively or efficiently by national policing capabilities. The wording in the Bill, as drafted, of,
“countered … only by national policing capabilities”,
seems too restrictive. One would not want to see an argument over whether that criterion was satisfied when common sense says that the likelihood is that a national policing capability is required with regard to the matter. They may look like two rather small and insignificant amendments, but I am concerned that this part of the definition is too narrow and too restrictive. I hope this is something that the Government might take away and think about again.
My Lords, I have tabled Amendments 221 and 222 in this group, concerning the duty of the Home Secretary to deal with national threats by issuing a strategic policing requirement. As my noble friend Lady Hamwee has already said, the words “have regard to” in the Bill are definitely too weak and need to be changed to a firm obligation. Allowing a PCC to disregard national threats in favour of political expediency or re-election strategies is not a good idea. PCCs are directly elected. There will be political incentives for them to behave partially, particularly in the run-up to an election. Decisions based on a PCC re-election strategy will not necessarily be the best way to address major threats and public order problems.
Imagine a scenario whereby a PCC has been elected on the promise of putting significant additional police officers into an area of high crime and then, two weeks before the next election, is asked to extract those same officers in order to deal with the policing of a major demonstration in London. At best, they will be very torn between the necessity of trying to get themselves re-elected and whether they should “have regard to” sending the officers to London. It is a difficult issue that really needs to be clarified, and to become a firm obligation rather than a suggestion. Under the Bill, the PCC would be free to disregard strategic policing requirements. We cannot afford to have dealing with national threats undermined by decisions taken for reasons of political expediency.
My Lords, this part of the Bill is one of the most important. I speak to Amendments 229 and 230 in my name, and also in support of Amendments 221 and 222 to which I have put my name.
This issue is extremely important because, for most citizens, interaction with the police is obviously about what happens at the most local of levels. It is about what is going on at their street corner, the threat of violence in the streets, burglary and anti-social behaviour. However, people take it for granted that more serious crime is being dealt with somewhere. They take it for granted that terrorism is being dealt with somewhere. However, every part of the country must be making its contribution to that effort. If it does not, there is a real danger that terrorism or serious and organised crime cannot be dealt with effectively. There is a need for a national strategic policing requirement. The Government are quite right to place it in the Bill as they have done.
However, there is a danger in the overall governance proposals in terms of whether the same level of priority will be given under the new governance structure to what the current Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis calls the “balanced policing model”: the balance between the handling of the immediate concern of the local citizen and these national contributions to making the country safer. There is a fear—which has just been expressed by the noble Baroness, Lady Doocey, and by others as well—about the extent to which a directly elected police and crime commissioner, or the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, will necessarily place the same priority on that national obligation as ideally they would. I have heard the Minister of State for Policing get extremely irate on that point. He says that he cannot imagine circumstances in which a responsible person elected to these positions will not take counterterrorism and serious and organised crime seriously. I agree. Most sensible elected politicians would of course give a very high priority to such matters. However, the reality will be, particularly in times of limited resources, that judgments and choices will be made.
I give your Lordships an example. At the moment, police services around the country are facing extremely difficult budget rounds. In those areas of the country without a counterterrorist intelligence unit, questions may well be phrased as to what the appropriate level of requirement for those areas to maintain a level of Special Branch commitment is compared to the past. Local policing bodies, whether under the current model or—even more so—under a directly elected model in the future, may well make a judgment that these issues are not currently significant in their part of the country and that they can reduce their commitment to them. That would be a perfectly sensible and, in many ways, rational judgment.
However, the reality is that even—indeed, especially—in the most rural areas of the country there have been organised terrorist training camps. It is a fact, regrettably, that one of the most difficult threats that counterterrorism now faces is the individual who chooses to radicalise themselves on the internet, is not in ready communication with groups which might otherwise be monitored, who decides to build an explosive device following a recipe obtained on the internet, and who then goes out and does something in a local town centre. There have been a number of such individuals in the past few years. Those are precisely the circumstances under which you suddenly discover that that force would have been very well placed to have retained a good, high, strong Special Branch capacity. Yet that is the sort of thing that is vulnerable at the moment. No doubt the Minister will counter that this is not actually a problem, but it is the sort of thing that should be looked at in terms of the level of budgets that have been allocated for those sorts of things.
Similarly, it may not be apparent that activities and organised crime will impact on, say, a rural village, or even some of the leafier suburbs of London. Apart from the fact that these are often precisely the areas where some of the most serious criminals decide they want to live, it is not the case that they do not impact on those areas. Indeed, we have to take into account the insidious way in which serious crime operates, whereby quality of life is diminished over quite a long period. That requires long-term investment in tackling those problems. It is not something that you can just send in a task force to handle; you have to continually work on those areas. There is a risk. There is the sort of conversation which goes, “Why should we, in this force area, maintain a kidnap unit of this capacity and quality, able to deal with these sorts of incidents? Why do we need to do this?”. The reason is that if you do not, or if you do not contribute to something that is provided on a regional or national basis, when something goes wrong it will be your citizens who are potentially vulnerable.
Yesterday, the Home Secretary produced proposals for a national crime agency. One of the central planks is the ability of the national crime agency to direct resources. This will be an interesting way forward, and it will be fascinating to watch some of the discussions which will no doubt take place with chief officers of police as to how this is to be managed and who will have operational control, and all the sorts of counterterrorism issues that have had to be resolved over the past few years. It will be an interesting and exciting set of discussions.
I have no problem with the concept in principle; all I am saying is that it will be that much harder to direct resources if, when you contact the chief constable concerned, you say, “I am sorry. I just don’t have that capacity because I decided I didn’t need that number of detectives or that number of specialist units in my force area because it is not a day-to-day priority as far as I’m concerned. I know there is a problem as this group seems to be operating across my territory but I no longer have the resources”. That is why the strategic policing requirement is so important. I do not believe that sensible police and crime commissioners or the MOPC will deliberately say, “We are going to run down these things”, but when you are faced with difficult budgetary decisions and you are facing a difficult election campaign, having more police tackling day-to-day street crime and anti-social behaviour is a very compelling argument.
In the long distant days when I was a local authority leader, I remember that whatever my personal priorities were in terms of the value of education or the big spending items, the important thing in the run-up to an election was to divert resources to street cleaning as that was the key driver on how people voted. I hesitate to say that there will be similar key drivers in the election for police and crime commissioners or the MOPC in London, but I suspect that there will be. The danger is that the strategic policing obligations will be put to one side, even if for a temporary period, in the run-up to an election. Therefore, there has to be something in the Bill which gives the strategic policing requirement real teeth and real obligations.
My specific proposal is that we should give more powers and responsibilities to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary. I say that for two reasons. One is that I think that is the sensible way forward. It would mean that the inspectorate would look at the way in which individual forces had chosen to meet their obligations under the strategic policing requirement, and would then report no doubt to the Home Secretary but also to the elected commissioner, the PCP and anyone else involved. Certainly those parts of the report that can be made public should be made public because, if there is a failing in this area, local electorates will want make to take account of it in determining whether they should re-elect a particular individual or deciding whether it is an important issue for their locality. That should be a regular process. Given the pliability of budgets, it should be done at least once a year; otherwise, I am not sure that you will necessarily resolve the matter. That seems to me the appropriate mechanism and it is consistent with the way in which the police service operates.
The other important reason why I think this is the right way forward is that it gets the Government off the hook as regards how much they specify in the strategic policing requirement. I have heard Ministers say—vehemently in the case of the Minister of State—that they do not want to put an enormous shopping list into the strategic policing requirement. As a general principle, that is right. This is not the way to do it because people will simply follow the shopping list, if that is what they are told to do, rather than necessarily working out what is the best way to deliver their obligations under it. However, I have heard counterarguments from chief constables who say that we have to have a document. They are busily preparing volumes of material which they say should underpin the strategic policing requirement.
I propose that there should be a police-led discussion on the most effective way of meeting a strategic policing requirement. The inspectorate would have the key role in determining what it is looking for as it goes round forces to see whether the strategic policing requirement is being met. The Government would not have to specify in mind-boggling detail how many officers should patrol a regional airport, for instance—expect that in that case the airport ought to be paying for them—or specify in enormous detail the size of a force Special Branch or how many detectives it is necessary for each force to maintain so that they have the capacity to receive instructions, guidance and requests from the national crime agency or from the local counterterrorist unit. Those matters would be determined within the police service in discussions led by the inspectorate.
Unless you have this sort of mechanism, it seems to me that despite having a strategic policing requirement there will be no means of making that happen. As a consequence, there is a real danger that over time we will find that we do not have the resources that the country needs to deal with serious organised crime or terrorism.
As my noble friend Lady Hamwee said, I have an amendment in this group—Amendment 225ZA—which seeks to add to the list of threats to public safety specified in Clause 79 against which the police must devise a coherent strategy a threat to the welfare of children.
The important role that the police carry out in child protection processes was emphasised in the 2009 Laming review. On the second day in Committee on this Bill, the noble Lord, Lord Laming, who is not in his place, spoke about the role of the police in relation to child protection. His comments highlight why my amendment is important. He said that,
“it is important that the standard of the child protection service is maintained. To achieve this will require determined leadership, and police constables should be left in no doubt that they have a continuing and prime responsibility to tackle the abuse, neglect and exploitation of vulnerable children”.—[Official Report, 18/5/11; col. 1421.]
A democratic process for electing police commissioners will not guarantee that the protection needs of the most vulnerable are considered. Many of the people, including all children, who rely on the police for protection will not be afforded the right to vote for the police commissioner. Including this short paragraph in the Bill would give those children a voice. Domestic abuse, rape, child abuse investigation, honour-based violence, the monitoring of travelling sex offenders, female genital mutilation and forced marriages are all areas of policing that are unlikely to be identified as local policing priorities by the general population who will be voting for the commissioner. However, they are vital. Unfortunately, they are unlikely to appear in the manifesto of anyone seeking election to the post of police commissioner. That is the reason why I would like to see this issue specified in the Bill.
My Lords, in supporting my noble friend’s amendment—my name is added to Amendment 225ZA—I remind the House that the Home Affairs Select Committee in its December 2010 report, Policing: Police and Crime Commissioners, stated that it saw,
“merit in the suggestion that there be a set of national priorities to which Police and Crime Commissioners should have regard when setting local goals”.
This amendment would help to ensure that child protection is prioritised by police and crime commissioners and would grant the Home Secretary powers through the strategic policing requirement to ensure that that was the case.
The NSPCC strongly supports this amendment and maintains that there should be a provision within the strategic policing requirement to promote the welfare of children as defined in the Children Act. While we are talking about the wider responsibilities that the police and crime commissioners will have and will need to take cognisance of, I should tell the House that I intend to bring forward an amendment on Report that will address the equally important matter of ensuring that victims of crime are properly considered. My noble friend Lady Hamwee has already spoken about victims and I want to reinforce her concerns. Yesterday, I met the Victims’ Commissioner, Louise Casey, and was deeply concerned to hear that victims of crime have absolutely nowhere to go if they wish to make a complaint or, indeed, ask for advice about what they should do. The police can, of course, ignore low-level crime. It is important that the PCC is properly apprised of the responsibility to look after victims of crime as well as the desperately vulnerable children whom this amendment addresses.
My Lords, I must apologise to the Committee for not being here when Clause 5, on the requirement on the police and crime commissioners to issue police and crime plans, was discussed. Had I been here, I would have referred to Clause 79, on the strategic policing requirement. The police and crime plans, whoever draws them up, must always be an amalgam of national, international and local policing requirements. It is always going to be a difficult balance to decide which of those has priority and how the resources are to be allocated to them. That is one of the reasons why I have always been a supporter of the dissenting comments of Dr Goodhart in the 1962 police commission on the need for a national police force to cover the fact that crime does not observe local boundaries.
The time has come to look nationally at these issues and then to make certain that they are covered properly. The question is who will cover them. You could be forgiven for thinking that the proposal for elected police commissioners in areas around the country is putting the local policing issue at the top of the pack. Is that actually so? The Home Secretary, quite rightly, will insist that international terrorism or international drug dealing, for example, are given due recognition. What worries me is that I do not see this issue being resolved by the Bill as drafted or the guidance. I had hoped that I might have found it in the draft protocol. It states that local police commissioners have the,
“legal power and duty to … set the strategic direction and objectives of the force through the Police and Crime Plan … which must have regard to the Strategic Policing Requirement set by the Home Secretary”.
That does not resolve the issue, either.
My concern is that the person who will lose out, if we are not careful, is the person who will have to carry the can through the heat of the day—the chief officer of police or the chief constable. To my mind, there is only one person in an area who should draw up these plans—the chief constable. It should be done necessarily in draft and then it should be cleared with those who have to provide the resources. However, it should also be cleared with those with responsibility for influencing the balance between the international, national and local requirements of policing in that area. We will be doing a great disservice to the chief constables and chief officers of police if we do not make that clear and if we set them the problem of having to resolve something that is not resolvable, with a whole lot of competing people around them who may not necessarily come together in a way that will resolve the matter. This issue is too important for the public to be left not properly resolved.
My Lords, I, too, wish to speak to amendments in my name—Amendments 220ZC, 221A, 225ZB and 228A. Clause 79 provides for the Secretary of State to,
“from time to time, issue a document (the ‘strategic policing requirement’) which sets out what, in the Secretary of State’s view, are … national threats at the time the document is issued, and … appropriate national policing capabilities to counter those national threats”.
I am not quite sure what “from time to time” means in this context, but perhaps the Minister will be able to throw some light on it. The Bill provides for the chief officer of police to,
“have regard to the strategic policing requirement”,
in exercising their functions. One of my amendments adds that the police and crime commissioners must also take into account the Secretary of State’s strategic policing requirement document in exercising their functions.
A further amendment to Clause 79 provides for Her Majesty’s Inspector of Constabulary to report annually on how each police and crime commission and the mayor’s office is fulfilling the strategic policing requirement. The clause places a requirement on police and crime commissioners and the Metropolitan Police Commissioner to have regard to the findings of the HMIC report. The final amendment would retain a requirement, which appears to be deleted under the Bill, for HMIC to report to the Secretary of State on the efficiency and effectiveness of police forces.
Under Clause 5(5), a police and crime commissioner must, in issuing or varying a police and crime plan, have regard to the strategic policing requirement issued by the Secretary of State. My amendment, however, makes it clear that account of the strategic policing requirement has to be taken by the police and crime commissioner not just in issuing or varying a police and crime plan but in exercising all their functions. For that reason, it would provide a much clearer and stronger form of words. I do not wish to repeat the points made by my noble friends Lady Henig and Lord Harris of Haringey, but it is surely necessary to have some checks against any potentially maverick police and crime commissioner and, in short, some acceptable consistency in strategy and approach.
Yesterday, the Government announced their proposals for a national crime agency. In the Government’s view, the new agency represents a major change. It is surprising that in the middle of the Committee stage of the Bill the Government should announce proposals that could, depending on what their intentions are, have a significant impact on the powers and functions of the bodies and organisations that are referred to in the Bill, including police and crime commissioners. Perhaps the Minister can tell us whether the Government see the national crime agency as the creation of a new enhanced national policing force or whether it simply brings together under one roof a number of key organisations that are largely working well at present and will not be helped by the distraction of the cost and time of the creation of a new organisation and its associated bureaucracy.
The Government have said that the national crime agency will be a crime-fighting organisation that will tackle organised crime, defend our borders, fight fraud and cybercrime, and protect children and young people. With a senior chief constable at its head, it will harness intelligence, analytical capabilities and enforcement powers and will have strong links to local police forces and police and crime commissioners. The Secretary of State yesterday said that the national crime agency will comprise a number of distinct operational commands, one of which, the organised crime command, will,
“tackle organised crime groups, whether they operate locally, across the country or across our international borders. Fulfilling a key pledge in the coalition agreement, the border policing command will strengthen our borders”.
Other commands will be border policing, economic crime and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre. The Secretary of State also said that the national crime agency will,
“use … intelligence to co-ordinate, prioritise and target action against organised criminals, with information flowing to and from the police and other agencies in support of tactical operations”,
“the NCA will have the ability and the authority to task and co-ordinate the police and other law enforcement agencies”.
“For the first time, there will be one agency with the power, remit and responsibility for ensuring that the right action is taken at the right time by the right people—that agency will be the NCA. All other agencies will work to the NCA’s threat assessment and prioritisation, and it will be the NCA’s intelligence picture that will drive the response on the ground. That will be underpinned by the new strategic policing requirement”.
The Secretary of State concluded by saying that all areas of the country suffer the effects of organised crime,
“from the very poorest communities to the most affluent, from the smallest villages to the biggest cities”,
and that we owe it to them to tackle it. Her penultimate phrase was:
“The National Crime Agency will do all those things and more”.—[Official Report, Commons, 8/6/11; cols. 232-34.]
That is quite a build-up for an organisation that will have no more money than the aggregate cost of its predecessors, which already face significant reductions in their budgets, including a cutback in a number of front-line staff as a result of cuts made by the Government that are too deep and too fast.
What change does all that mean in reality? Was the Secretary of State’s Statement yesterday jazzed up by her spin doctors to sound much more than it really is; or does it mean fundamental change which will impact on the bodies, organisations and individual positions referred to in the Bill, including police and crime commissioners?
If the national crime agency will be the single agency with the power, remit and responsibility for ensuring that the right action is taken at the right time by the right people, and that all other agencies, including the police, will work to the NCA's threat assessment and prioritisation; that the NCA's intelligence picture will drive the response on the ground; that the NCA will tackle organised crime groups that operate locally; and that the NCA will be accountable to the Secretary of State, where does that leave the Government's apparent intention that policing decisions will be made locally with the advent of police and crime commissioners?
Who will decide whether crime is organised crime and therefore, apparently, the responsibility of the NCA? Will it be the NCA or a police and crime commissioner? What powers will the NCA have to direct police and crime commissioners if the NCA has the power to ensure that the right action is taken at the right time by the right people? Will we have the appointed chief constable, who will head the NCA, or perhaps the head of the organised crime command or another command, directing police and crime commissioners, who the Government think should be elected? Or will a police and crime commissioner be able, if he or she chooses, to ignore the wishes or directions of the NCA? Issues will not always be sorted out over a cup of tea between a police and crime commissioner and the NCA. Sometimes, there will be conflict. Where will the final decision-making power lie: with the police and crime commissioner or with the national crime agency?
I hope that the Minister will be able to throw some light on those issues, because the proposals announced yesterday by the Government, if they mean significant change, as opposed to hype, seem to make the case for my amendments even stronger, in the light of the Government's apparent intended role for the national crime agency, as they ensure that police and crime commissioners have to take into account the Secretary of State's strategic policing requirement in exercising all their functions. They provide for the HMIC to report annually on how each police and crime commissioner and the mayor's office are fulfilling the Secretary of State's strategic policing requirement, with a duty on police and crime commissioners to have regard to the findings of the HMIC report, and give the HMIC a duty to report to the Secretary of State on the efficiency and effectiveness of every police force.
If yesterday's paper on the national crime agency, which was subtitled,
“a plan for the creation of a national crime-fighting capability”,
means what the Government appeared to be saying, it clearly creates potential clashes with a police and crime commissioner. We are entitled to a response from the Minister as to who will have the final decision-making power where there are such clashes. It would be in the Minister's interests to accept my amendments, which are clearly in the spirit of the Government's intention for what the powers of the national crime agency should be.
My Lords, I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, that this is one of the most important debates we are having in Committee and raises some of the important underlying issues with which we need to come to grips in the Bill. I know that we have covered some broad and important issues which concern the balance between local, regional, national and, increasingly, international policing. There is a whole range of issues about the balance between flexibility and direction. There is a constant tendency in almost every issue with which we deal in Parliament to demand devolution of power with very detailed direction from the centre as to exactly how that devolved power should be used. If I may say so, we have heard quite a lot of that over the past hour. Then there is the question of accountability. Several noble Lords have asked where the checks and balances lie and how inspection is conducted. Again, there are some important issues there.
The strategic policing requirement will support police and crime commissioners in effectively balancing local and national responsibilities and driving improvements in their force’s response to serious cross-boundary criminality, harms and threats. How that is done and how tightly that is drawn is, again, a question of balance. I remain of the view that “to have regard to” is the correct way to deliver that balance. The phrase “to have regard to” has been used in a great deal of previous policing administration. It is intended to provide that that is something that you must take into account, but you have flexibility in how you take it into account on a day-to-day basis. That seems to us to be the balance that we need of giving direction but not tying people down too far.
The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, asked about the balance between the local, the regional and the international. With much less knowledge of policing than most of those taking part in this Committee, but having looked at the growth of the international dimension of police co-operation—particularly the European dimension—over the past 25 years, I am struck by how much the balance has changed. Before the Berlin Wall came down, the number of policemen in this country who dealt with international dimensions of crime was relatively limited. When I was at Chatham House and first met the external department of the Metropolitan Police, it was a relatively small body.
As we all know, the international context of policing has been transformed over the past 25 years by the continuing growth of international travel, by the continual revolution in communications, and by the arrival of the internet. Every local policeman has to have some regard to the international dimension. I recall reading in the Yorkshire Post not long ago about a well-known criminal in Liverpool who had been followed by the Dutch police in Amsterdam and arrested and convicted in Jersey, but the crime he was engaged in impacted on Liverpool. That is local and international crime. I was concerned with the question of who would pay for him being sent to prison in England from Jersey. Those are the sort of difficult questions we get engaged in.
The answer, we know, having had a debate about whether we should move towards a national police force or yet another round of amalgamation of police forces down to about 20 rather than 40 in England and Wales, is to promote co-operation. We have a range of shared regional units, and I have happily visited a number of them in recent months, which deal with the specialised units—for example kidnapping, helicopters, dog units, organised crime units and counterterrorism units, all of which are shared by the smaller police forces. To us, that is the way forward.
I say to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, that the announcement of the formation of the national crime agency yesterday was not a further stage towards a national police force; it was part of the continuing process in which we have to handle the balance between international policing and national, regional and local policing. The creation of SOCA and the whole growth of that dimension has been part of the response over the past 25 years to dealing with international co-operation. It was not an important factor for policing 40 or 50 years ago. A balance has to be struck, although no doubt it will change again. The duty to have regard is one that we defend as striking the right balance between flexibility and direction. I cannot answer the many questions which the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, raised about the NCA, but we shall return to it in more detail.
The noble Lord asked about 65 questions and I fear that it might take a great deal of time to answer them all in detail. We shall extensively discuss the exact role of the NCA on a later occasion. I hope that, in general terms, I have answered the question about this not being a road to a national police force.
When the Minister says that we will discuss the national crime agency on a later occasion, does he mean as part of our discussions on this Bill? If he is not quite sure of the answers to my questions, I can tell him that they relate to the potential impact on, for example, police and crime commissioners. Can he assure us that we will have a discussion about the impact of the national crime agency on the Bill that we are currently discussing, or is he talking about discussing it only after we have dealt with this Bill?
Perhaps I may remind the opposition Front Bench that we could have taken the Statement on the national crime agency yesterday but that the opposition Front Bench declined to have the Statement repeated in this House. We could have usefully discussed that yesterday. We shall take the whole issue of the role of the national crime agency further. We can certainly give answers in writing to some of the questions that he has raised on the Floor of the House.
It is certainly true that we did not take the Statement yesterday but there was other rather important business to discuss. I hope that the Minister will accept that, even if the Statement had been taken, it would hardly have been a substitute for discussing the implications of the national crime agency on the provisions in this Bill, which can be discussed properly only during the discussions on the Bill.
My Lords, the issue is that the national crime agency will have the ability to direct resources which would otherwise be under the control of chief constables. That is precisely the substance of the group of amendments that we are discussing now about the strategic policing requirement, and in this instance we will ensure that those resources are available for the national crime agency to direct.
My Lords, most people here know a great deal more about this than I do, but we all know that there is a golden thread between local and international policing which is based, however one organises and restructures the forces, on a necessary degree of co-operation not only among police forces but also between police forces and a range of other agencies. The NCA will help to strengthen the national and international dimension of policing; it is an evolution of where SOCA has already taken us in this regard. We shall discuss this in great detail in due course when we bring forward the necessary legislation next year to establish the NCA. The NCA will be part of this balance, but it will not provide the sort of detailed direction which deprives local and regional forces of the flexibility which they need.
I think that the noble Baroness, Lady Henig, raised a question about planning cycles and the strategic policing requirement. It is well understood that wherever possible one should issue a strategic policing requirement in order to fit in with the financial and other planning cycles of elected police bodies. The reason why flexibility is written into the Bill is that new threats or new events may happen between October and April which will require some changes to the strategic police priorities. That is why there is flexibility in the Bill in this regard. However, it is understood that, as far as possible, revisions in the strategic police requirement should fit in with the requirements and the cycles which local forces are going through.
Amendment 222 seeks to place a specific duty on the Home Secretary to identify national threats based on objective criteria and to draw up a strategic policing requirement based on those threats. We recognise the entirely honourable intention of this. It is absolutely proper for any Government to use an objective methodology to identify national threats for this purpose, but we think that the Bill as drafted, particularly in Clause 79, answers the case. These requirements require, not enable, the Home Secretary to set out national threats and the appropriate national policing capabilities to counter the threats as identified. Clause 79 also provides that the Home Secretary must obtain advice from representatives of chief police officers and of local policing bodies before issuing the strategic policing requirement.
I say to those who raised the issue of checks and balances that we understand that accountability is a process and not just an event. Checks and balances require a number of formal processes which are reinforced by the informal processes, which is why transparency and publication, particularly the publication of HMIC reports, is written into the Bill. The role of the police and crime panels, through scrutiny, is part of the continuing process of checks and balances. The role of HMIC is part of that continuing scrutiny and publication provides informal scrutiny through press comment and other less formal mechanisms. That is fully intended to be part of the Bill.
Liberal Democrat Amendments 223 and 225ZA raise the question of safeguarding and promoting the welfare of children. We are all aware that human trafficking in relation to children is a growing problem which requires national and international co-operation as well as co-operation at the local level. The strategic policing requirement is intended to focus on those areas where the threats and the criminal activity cross the borders of local police authorities. Where problems are within the boundaries of single police forces, they are not within the strategic policing requirement. The question of child trafficking is clearly a strategic policing issue. The Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre—I have great difficulty remembering what CEOP stands for—will be an important part of the NCA. It will be part of the evolution of SOCA into the NCA.
Amendments 224 and 225 have the collective effect of broadening the scope of the strategic policing requirement to include threats that can be countered effectively by local policing capabilities acting in isolation from other police forces. This would risk broadening the strategic policing requirement and taking us back to a situation in which the Home Secretary will issue more and more detailed instructions to local police forces. That is not our intention; we are trying to loosen the degree of central direction of local police forces.
There have been a number of useful discussions on the role of HMIC and whether HMIC inspections should be exactly timetabled. Again, we return to the question of whether we should have flexibility or absolutely require inspections once a year. We consider that the phrase “from time to time” strikes the right balance. It does not put inspections on a totally regular basis, but allows additional inspections from time to time. Local police commissioners may also invite HMIC to come in and inspect. HMIC will thus become more independent from government and more accountable to the public. Inspectors of constabulary will report for the benefit of the public rather than simply reporting to the Secretary of State, and a local policing body will have the power to request an inspection of its police force, supplementing the power of the Secretary of State to do so. These arrangements do not mean that HMIC will not have a programme funded by the Home Office. A programme of work will be approved by the Secretary of State, laid before Parliament and published by HMIC. This is a supplementary provision to enable local police bodies to invite inspectors in when they feel that it is desirable. The question of how often inspections should take place merely repeats existing legislation. I did not hear any noble Lord in the Chamber say that they were dissatisfied with the current pattern of HMIC inspections. Therefore, I suggest that the case has not been made for a change in the arrangement.
I hope that I have now answered all the points in this interesting and important debate. We will look again between Committee and Report at what was said in the debate. I have listened very carefully to what has been said and I hope that noble Lords will not press their amendments.
There were so many questions that I missed that point in my notes. My understanding of what was said in the Commons was that the draft protocol was to be published during the passage of the Bill. Several drafts of the strategic policing requirement have been written. They are undergoing extensive consultation and the Government are concerned that they get this right. This will take some time, but I assure the noble Baroness that the process is under way. I was warned that it was quite possible that a Member of this Committee would get up and wave her copy of the report, but perhaps Members of the Committee have not yet seen the drafts. I assure noble Lords that work is under way and that consultations are taking place.
I may have missed it, but I do not recall the Minister responding to my point in relation to Amendment 230 about placing an obligation on HMIC to report on the way in which the strategic policing requirement is being met, to make the report available to the Home Secretary, police and crime commissioners and MOPC, and to put it, in some form, in the public domain.
I will take that back before I start to drop my notes. My understanding is that the question of how local forces fulfil the range of their functions will be part of what HMIC will naturally report on; it will necessarily be part of an HMIC report. We will look at that again and make sure that we can satisfy the noble Lord.
My reason for pressing the point is that it is extremely important. It is a mechanism that will enable a proper discussion about the real requirements for the strategic policing requirement. It will obviate the need for that to be written into a document that emanates from the Home Office. It will be a process that the police service owns through the inspectorate that will identify and report on whether the spirit of the strategic policing requirement is being honoured. I hope that this will be taken back and considered seriously, because I will press the point on Report unless the Government come forward with a response.
The strategic policing requirement is intended, among other things, to inform the inspectors on the sort of things that they should be looking at. We are all aware that the strategic policing requirement feeds into a range of discussions. The question of whether there is a division between local and national policing is one that begins to dissolve once you get into it. I had a fascinating briefing some while ago about traffic policing and the extent to which it has to be a co-operative activity between different forces. I had not thought it through before. There was a great deal of linkage all the way through. I am impressed by the extent to which our forces already co-operate in the sort of specialised units that the noble Lord talked about, outside London where there are many forces smaller than the Metropolitan Police. We will look at this and make sure that it is fully in the Bill.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for his reply and I thank all noble Lords who participated in the debate, which covered some serious and important issues. That is why we have gone on at such length; it was necessary to cover the topics that we did. I will start with the point about having regard to the strategic policing requirement. My concern is that having regard to something is fine: “Yes, I have had regard to it, Minister, and then I have gone and done something else”. That is not the same as being inspected against it. It is not a matter of balance, but of what happens in practice on the ground. The words “have regard to” will not make people who want to have local policing requirements as a very important part of their menu do anything other than that. Being inspected against it would be the really important measure. I found the arguments of my noble friend Lord Harris compelling when he talked of the national threats that face us and the way in which they cover the whole country. Judging by the way noble Lords listened to that part of the debate, there was a general sense across the House that what the noble Lord was talking about was likely to be the situation.
I am sorry to interrupt the noble Baroness, who has gone on to another point. Does she agree that it would be helpful if the Government could produce before the next stage a briefing on how the term “have regard to” has been interpreted in other contexts? Like the noble Baroness, I have a difficulty with it. However, if we are told that the courts have given it a greater importance and weight than she and I fear, that might be very useful.
I accept that point. If it is a legally backed concept that has a very clear set of conditions attached to it, it is a very different matter from the way that I have been interpreting it, so it would be useful to have that clarification.
On the timing of the issuing of the document, I hear what the Minister says about flexibility, and that is obviously important. However, part of me has a suspicion that documents are sometimes delayed for convenience rather than flexibility. We have known that in the past. Documents have not been available in a timely way, particularly when they have come from the centre. I wanted to emphasise the importance of forces getting the document as early as possible. I accept the flexibility issue provided that that is the cause of the delay, rather than convenience at the centre, which has sometimes resulted in documents appearing late.
I listened very intently as regards the inspections role. My concern with inspections is that they should not be optional. If they are optional, then the good commissioners will have them, because that is how they work, while those who need them are precisely the ones who will not ask. I listened intently, as I said, and I got the sense that the Minister is saying that inspections will carry on very much as they are now, which is exactly what I want to happen. If that is what he is saying then I am delighted. However, I have not found that in the Bill—perhaps I am not looking in the right place. If inspections of commissioners and commissions are to continue as they are now, I am very pleased, because I think that that is the right way forward.
Amendment 220ZA withdrawn.
Amendments 220ZB to 225ZB not moved.
Clause 79 agreed.
Clause 80 : General duty of Secretary of State
Amendments 225A and 226 not moved.
Clause 80 agreed.
Clause 81 : Obtaining advice from representative bodies
Amendment 226A not moved.
Clause 81 agreed.
Clause 82 : Abolition of certain powers of Secretary of State
Amendments 226AA and 226B not moved.
Clause 82 agreed.
Clause 83 : Suspension and removal of senior police officers
Amendments 226C to 228 not moved.
Clause 83 agreed.
Clause 84 : Functions of HMIC
Amendments 228A to 228C not moved.
Clause 84 agreed.
Clause 85 agreed.
Clause 86 : Inspection programmes and frameworks
Amendments 229 and 230 not moved.
Clause 86 agreed.
Clauses 87 to 89 agreed.
Schedule 11 : Crime and disorder strategies
Amendments 230A to 231 not moved.
Schedule 11 agreed.
Amendments 231A and 231B not moved.
Clause 90 agreed.
Schedule 12 : Collaboration agreements
Amendment 232 not moved.
Schedule 12 agreed.
Clause 91 agreed.
Schedule 13 agreed.
Clauses 92 to 95 agreed.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 2.36 pm.
Media Ownership (Radio and Cross-media) Order 2011
Motion to Approve
My Lords, many of us are hungry for news, so naturally local newspapers, radio stations and television services play a vital and nourishing role in communities across the country. Their ability to scrutinise and hold local institutions and officials to account is an essential part of a healthy democracy. This is why rules to protect the choice and variety of local media have long been a feature of the UK regulatory landscape—in particular, the securing of plurality of voice through media-specific ownership rules. I know that the House of Lords Communications Committee gave great consideration to these rules in its 2008 report The ownership of the news. While the committee concluded that there remained a strong case to continue controls over the ownership of news providers, it recommended that local cross-media ownership restrictions should be lifted and that the impact of local cross-media mergers could be examined through the application of the more flexible public interest test. Although differing views within our media remains important, we believe that some of the ownership rules currently in place are a barrier to choice as they are stifling innovation and competition. This is because they no longer reflect the markets to which they apply—specifically, the local media markets.
Recent years have seen a significant decline in the revenues of local radio stations and newspapers. Local and regional newspaper advertising revenues decreased by 5.4 per cent in the second quarter of 2010 and the Advertising Association forecast that their revenues may continue to drop throughout 2011. In addition to this challenging market, local media companies are facing increased competition driven by the growth of digital technologies. Consumers now have, in many cases, free access to a wide selection of digital content that is available whenever and wherever they are able to receive a mobile signal or access a broadband connection. The changes to the local media landscape in terms of declining profits and increased competition represent a permanent reshaping of these markets, and if they are to prosper, they will need to adapt and be given the flexibility to grow. The Government have made a commitment to help the market deal with these issues. In the coalition programme for government we made a commitment to enable,
“partnerships between local newspapers, radio and television stations to promote a strong and diverse local media industry”.
It has always been the intention to keep under review the media ownership rules to make certain that they remain appropriate. This is why the Communications Act 2003 requires Ofcom to review media ownership rules every three years and assess the extent to which they remain relevant. The last such review was carried out in 2009 and concluded that significant liberalisation of the local ownership rules was desirable. Ofcom stated that such liberalisation could give the industry, and I quote,
“flexibility to respond to pressures and remove potential barriers”,
to the success of the local media sector. Ofcom’s recommendations were also supported by the Culture, Media and Sport Committee. In fact, its report Future for Local and Regional Media, published in 2009, urged the Government to go further, pursuing, “more far-reaching reform”. Taking account of Ofcom and the committee’s recommendation, this draft order will remove all the current local cross-media ownership rules—local, not national. Under the deregulated regime to be created by the draft order before the House today, local newspapers, radio companies and owners of Channel 3 licences, subject to competition law, will be able to consolidate, reduce costs and build successful businesses that could otherwise face the possibility of closure.
We are of course conscious that such changes must not in turn have a significant impact on the plurality of local media. Therefore, it is important to note that the public interest test which the noble Lords in this House so vocally championed during the passage of the Communications Bill will still apply under this framework. The Secretary of State, too, retains the capacity to intervene in media mergers on plurality grounds where a merger could give rise to public interest concerns. I would also reassure noble Lords that the national cross-media ownership rules, which restrict the concentration of national newspapers and Channel 3 licences, will remain in place. These rules will continue to protect against the excessive influence of a national media and to safeguard a diversity of views and opinions across the most influential national voices.
However, this draft order will remove the unnecessary and complex local radio media ownership rules which were designed to make certain that listeners in a given area had access to a minimum of two commercial radio operators and the BBC. These restrictions were designed for an analogue world and do not take into account the emerging digital radio landscape. Nor do they reflect the growth of the community radio sector, with over 200 community stations operating in the UK. Listeners now have access to a wide range of radio stations at local, national and indeed global level. We believe seeking to regulate in micro-local markets no longer reflects the wealth of choice available to listeners.
Finally, and again in respect of digital radio, this draft order will remove the rule preventing the ownership of more than one national multiplex. This Government have been clear about their intention to support the radio industry in realising the potential of digital technologies. We believe that the removal of these rules will support the launch of a second national commercial multiplex, which will provide greater choice for listeners and opportunity for radio companies.
Collectively, these measures provide a possibility to promote a successful model for the future of local media and will encourage greater innovation, investment and security for the provision of media at the local level. I assure the House that we are satisfied that the order is compatible with the convention rights, and I commend it to the House.
My Lords, I declare a past interest as chairman of the Culture, Media and Sport Committee to which the Minister has referred, and also a past interest as chairman of two regional newspaper groups, the Birmingham Post group and the Yorkshire Post group.
It always seemed strange to us in the regional press that intricately detailed regulations were set in place for local and regional press, compared with the position nationally where not only has one owner been able to control almost 40 per cent of national newspaper circulation but where the last Government suddenly changed the rules on the purchase of media companies in this country. For years the policy had been that United States companies were prevented from taking over television companies here until proper reciprocal arrangements were in place. Overnight that position was changed, and although there are no reciprocal arrangements and we are prevented from taking no more than 25 per cent of a company in the United States, a company in the United States can take control of a television company here.
The last Government would have done much better to have looked at the position of the regional and local press, which were then under very considerable pressure—and indeed still are. Its advertising has been hit by the internet, its readership has been impacted by the fact that young people are looking for their news elsewhere; and its circulations have been damaged by changes in social habits. Whereas once people brought back their evening newspaper almost automatically after work, now the regular hours of work have changed and habits have changed. Exactly the same thing has taken place in the United States, not only with their newspapers, which face exactly the same pressures, but with their once-dominant evening television programmes.
As far as this country is concerned, all this has been very much to the public harm. Regional newspapers have had to cut back and in my view the public have suffered as a result. I emphasise that regional newspapers have not been the phone hackers employing private detectives to pry illegally into private lives. The regional press has had a very different tradition; it has stood up for local communities and has guarded the public interest against councils and others who have abused their power. It is for that reason that all the opinion polls show that the regional press is in fact much more trusted than the national press.
The irony of all this has been that the regional press has had to fight the commercial battle for survival with one arm tied behind its back. We have all talked about the multimedia world and the fast-changing media, but regional newspapers have been prevented from adapting to that world. This is what this order allows now to happen, and it is for that reason that I strongly support what the Government are doing and what my noble friend Lady Rawlings has said.
My noble friend referred to the argument of no organisation having no more than 50 per cent of local share. No one wants to see local monopolies any more than national monopolies. My only question is whether that should be better ensured through what would be very complex ownership rules or in some other way. My Select Committee considered this very point and its recommendation was that the public interest test was a more flexible tool than blanket restrictions on local cross-media mergers. It proposed that Ofcom should monitor such mergers and that the competition authorities should examine each on a case-by-case basis. I am delighted that the Government have gone down that road and have accepted that. Indeed, there is a role of this kind in all media mergers: a role for an organisation like Ofcom or something similar to review not just mergers but also the existing position of ownership of media companies and to debundle those companies if that dominance has been too great. If we can do that for airports, we can also do it for media companies.
Finally, this is an entirely sensible, first-class reform. It will be widely welcomed certainly in the industry and is very much to the benefit of the public generally. I congratulate the Government on it.
My Lords, I, too, welcome the draft order. I have no current interest to declare, except membership of the Select Committee on Communications, but it would be wrong to conceal the fact that I was for 33 years chief executive and subsequently chairman of a group of radio stations. The commercial radio industry, which has recently gone through a fairly rough patch, welcomes this draft order. Advertising revenue is down, in common with most media. Some of it may be down permanently with the arrival of the internet and some of it may recover if there is an economic upturn.
At the moment, more than half of local radio stations are losing money. Well over half the industry is off the stock market and controlled by private companies, one of which is Global and the other being Bauer Media in the United States. That is propping up companies which otherwise would go bust. Worse still, audiences have slumped, partly because far too many radio stations have been created by the Radio Authority and, to a lesser extent, by Ofcom.
I think I can prove that point by taking the House back to 1994-98 when, with 120 stations, commercial radio had a 50 per cent-plus share of audience against the BBC. Let us fast forward to 2008 when there were three times the number of stations—another 250—and the commercial radio share of the audience had slumped to 41.1 per cent. The problem was that the extra stations did not increase commercial radio’s share. It cannibalised commercial radio’s share and nibbled away at the successful stations which then, in my view mistakenly, cut back on their local output, which was why they got their audience in the first place.
It is good fortune for the radio industry that this draft order gives the industry a chance to reshape itself and to get it right this time. Stations faced with declining revenue and the high costs of running two transmission systems, one analogue and one digital, made the mistake of cutting back on the variable—the local output. I am referring to chains of stations which perhaps owned stations in six cities. As regards local output, a combination of the accountants and the marketing people said, “Oh well, we could cut that out”. They did that while forgetting, as the programme people could have told them, that that was what delivered the audience. The idea that local radio stations were superior in quality to the BBC is ludicrous. Yet even the smallest local radio station would wipe the floor with the BBC in terms of audience precisely because of its local output. Therefore, when the local radio industry lost or reduced its local output, it did a grave disservice to itself as well as to the public.
This draft order gives the radio industry a chance to regroup. It is permissive and not mandatory. No one has to do anything but if they want to do something they now can. I hope that my colleagues in the radio industry will realise that vertical chains do not make much sense for the public or themselves. Some station swaps will go on and there will be groups which own perhaps four stations in one town.
If you are one owner with four stations it is in your own interest to make those four stations different from each other, as do the BBC with Radio 1, Radio 2, Radio 3, Radio 4, Radio 5 and so on. At the moment, four separate owners all chase the same market and duplicate themselves. One owner would serve four markets, so already there is a gain to the public good. More importantly, with four revenue streams coming in, there would then be no excuse for not amortising the costs of local news provision over those four revenue streams. It can be required by Ofcom to return to the glory days of ILR when a first-class local news service was creating the audience.
There will be a gain for both the industry and the public because we are all concerned about the democratic deficit in terms of local news coverage. If we have local radio playing its full part as it once did in local news coverage, we have done something to reduce the democratic deficit. For that reason, I very warmly welcome the draft order.
My Lords, I want to add the support of these Benches to the order. I do not have anything like the experience of my noble friend Lord Fowler in local newspapers or the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, in radio, but the importance of local media is obvious to all of us, whether it is radio, television or newspapers. Surprisingly, we are looking at this order rather late in the day. The other place looked at it in March and, in view of its importance, I do not understand why it has taken us quite so long to consider it.
It is clear that this is extremely evidence-based. As the Minister mentioned, we had the CMS report in April 2010 and the Ofcom report in August 2010. Although the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, did not refer to it, the Communications Committee, of which I declare current membership but was not at that time a member, looked at this whole area and was rather more prescient, strangely enough, than the Newspaper Society. The Newspaper Society’s evidence was described as rather upbeat but the committee was rather more sceptical. It said that such figures which were produced by the Newspaper Society showing buoyant advertising revenue and so on can be deceptive. Of course, 2008-09, in terms of the dropping away of classified advertising revenue, readership and consumer habits in the recession, has been crucial and is why we are in the position that we are today.
In a sense, Ofcom was told to go away and do its homework again by the Secretary of State. I shall come to what I think the reasons are for that. Ofcom acceded to the argument to deregulate further than it originally thought it would on the basis that it thought that local TV, which is very much the brainchild of the Secretary of State, would impact positively on diversity and plurality. I suppose the other argument it gave, quite apart from the competition points that the Minister mentioned, was that the BBC will always be there to provide plurality, and it is very much to be hoped that the BBC will be there. But there is no doubt of the scale of the crisis or of the necessity, exactly in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Gordon, mentioned, to have cross-media businesses that really get to grips with the need for these organisations not to concentrate just in one area of media. In debate, I remember a positive speech made by the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, on free sheets. Perhaps it may have been rather over-regulatory as regards local authorities. Nevertheless, I am sure that the greater regulation of those free sheets from local authorities will help local media organisations, which would be a positive effect.
I move on briefly to the direction in which I think we are heading. The whole purpose of relaxing the cross-media rules is to allow investment in new forms of media, in particular in local television. I am rather more sceptical about this. I am probably somewhere along the lines set out in the Shott report, which was quite sceptical about the future. It said that advertising revenue would support the establishment of only something like 10 to 12 local television stations, but I see that Greg Dyke is rather more bullish about the possibility. In the end, however, this is probably not going to be digital terrestrial television, but local internet television, which is a lot more practical both in terms of the revenue it can raise and the delivery mechanisms. I hope very much that that is the direction in which many of the media groups, which will now be freed up to invest in other forms of media, will go. If the Minister has information on where we are headed in terms of local television and where the Secretary of State is planning to take us, I should like to hear it.
Finally, the question in all our minds is the definition of the public interest in these circumstances. If we are relying on general competition rules to make sure that we have plurality of local media, what is the public interest? What considerations will the Secretary of State, who now of course has all the powers of competition intervention necessary, take into account when looking at what is regarded as “sufficient plurality” in these circumstances, which is the other phrase on which Ofcom placed considerable reliance in its August 2010 report?
My Lords, I cannot declare any interest in the radio, media or press. What a pity that they did not have less interest in me over the last 40 years. But I want to refer to the debate about the public interest. I read the Hansard report on the discussion in the Delegated Legislation Committee that dealt with this matter, and I want to address my remarks to those made by the Minister. I shall quote some of them. He said in introducing the order that,
“a vibrant media sector is an essential part of a healthy society”.
I agree with that. He went on to say that the,
“principles of plurality and diversity have long underpinned the legislative and regulatory regimes that govern our media industry, and they remain relevant today”.—[Official Report, Commons, Third Delegated Legislation Committee, 22/3/11; col. 3.]
The noble Baroness quoted those words today, and said when repeating the Statement regarding BSkyB that these principles would govern how they would make a judgment on whether to hand over or sell BSkyB to the Murdoch press. In reality and in my view, to achieve a vibrant media in a healthy society, plurality and diversity are not enough. There is the definition of public interest, and there is the issue of competition, which has been dealt with and referred to. The Minister claims that all these are just as relevant today.
I think not. It is not sufficient just to have those principles. Today we are witnessing criminal activity on a massive scale by our press. It involves thousands of our people, subject to criminal acts of phone hacking conducted by the press. It is a matter of major concern to us. It is worrying enough that our press feel that that they can conduct these criminal acts, and pay for information to sell papers. It is precisely what they have been doing. Indeed, they have admitted it today in the apology made by News International. It has said that it should not have asked for this information, it should not have paid for it, and it should not have printed it. That apology was made in regard to Sienna Miller. It is an apology by one of the major papers in this country, explaining what News International was doing at that time.
But it is not only that, although it is bad enough in itself. We need to condemn it, and many inquiries are under way. What worries me is that it has polluted a number of our own institutions in this country in the process, and it is all connected to the hacking of phones. The first, of course, is the Metropolitan Police, which in the initial stages refused to accept the case, even though it had evidence to show that this had been going on. It was said constantly, for years, that it was a rogue reporter. We now know that to be untrue. Even the media themselves said that it was not true, saying that it was a rogue paper or a rogue reporter, and concentrated on the News of the World. But it was not true. Information was withheld by the Metropolitan Police from the proper authorities in that matter, and now another inquiry is under way. One inquiry having told me personally that my phone messages had not been tapped—that there was no evidence for it—the next inquiry comes along and tells me that it happened on 44 occasions. You cannot trust the police if they are in fact deliberately giving misleading information. But another inquiry is on the way, and I welcome that.
What then worries me is the role of the Crown Prosecution Service, which has actually played a part in this by agreeing with the Metropolitan Police, although knowing that the information was there and withholding it. Even today, there is more information, and the Crown Prosecution Service has not carried out its proper job. Not only is it bad enough that this concerns our main police force, the Metropolitan Police, but the Crown Prosecution Service has also actively been involved in the same process and is now reopening its inquiry.
The courts have been polluted by this process. Indeed, I did not believe the police in my own case and I wanted to go to judicial review. The first judicial review was refused. Why was that? It was because the police did not give up all the information that they had. It took another judge and another inquiry to overrule that first refusal and grant the review. What is worrying is that our police authorities can fail to give up information after all the offences that have gone on and allow a court to be kidded into thinking it was making a judgment. But not all the information was available. It took another judge to change that. In the circumstances, those are very serious charges.
We might talk about the Press Complaints Commission, a body that is there to hold the press to account of some kind. That is the job Parliament decided to give the commission, but it did not give it any powers to do it. Editors are allowed to appoint their own people. The chair of the commission, the noble Baroness, Lady Buscombe, is a Member of this House. Even the Press Complaints Commission failed to investigate anything to do with phone hacking, something which I believe it has the authority to do. Indeed, it is even worse than that because the chair was fined for libel and damages of £20,000 for being misleading, in libellous statements, about the inquiry that was going on into phone hacking.
That is the body that should have something to report. The police are meant to investigate. The Crown Prosecution Service is not doing its job properly. We are right to say that something is rotten in the state of England at present—that it is not an acceptable proposition. If you talk about a healthy democracy and a healthy media, you had better start doing something about the people who control it because they are in contempt. News International publishes the News of the World, whose owner is—can I say it?—Rupert Murdoch. Nobody wants to use his name; that is the scale of power in the way it is distributed at the moment. When he made that apology, Rupert Murdoch made it for the company. It is no longer just the News of the World; it is the company itself. He is making an apology for the criminal acts that his company was carrying out. This is the very man, when we talk about media ownership, to whom we propose possibly to pass over BSkyB. All the noble Baroness would say when we questioned her about it was: “plurality and diversity”. Well, that is not enough. It does not put any fear into Mr Murdoch. He knows how to use and control that power. We should now be saying that.
For example, when we talk about the fair distribution of information, we are now all agreed that News International was involved in criminal acts. Just look at the papers. You get pages about it in the Independent and the Guardian—the one justification for our good media system is these two papers, which have exposed it years later. But if you look for the apology, where is it in the “Thunderer”, the Times? I invite you to look for it. It is 11 lines stuck on a quarter of a page. Eleven lines about one of the most hideous criminal offences, carried out by the company, and it cannot even acknowledge it.
There is something wrong in the judgment of people who have a large share of our media. If we want healthier media, people should be able to trust them. I therefore put it to the House that the present situation is unacceptable. A healthy democracy does not mean simply diversity and plurality; we now have to do something more about it. We need an independent public inquiry; we need to know what the facts are. If anyone is in doubt about that, they should look at the settlement with Sienna Miller. It said, “We settle; we did wrong; we should not have printed it; we should not have paid for it”. But how did they do it? The settlement means that she will be told in private how the company did it. There is no open court situation exposing it. We listen to all the hypocrisy from the press about super-injunctions. They tell us that we should have open courts and should be given the information, but when it comes to a criminal act, they do not want an open court; they settle with money; they settle with power; and they settle with an agreement not to tell the public how they did it. That is unacceptable; that is not the force and influence that create a democratic society.
We know that there is a delay in the takeover of BSkyB; I hope that that is a good sign that we are not going to give it to News International. I do not know whether the Minister can tell us any more about what is going on with the inquiry, but I ask her to pass on the message that this Government must now consider an independent public inquiry for the health of our own democracy and the media. That is what we should be debating, because that is the issue that the public are concerned about. Let us have that open public inquiry so that we can get to the bottom of this matter and prevent it happening again.
My Lords, as one of those who had the pleasure of serving under the chairmanship of the noble Lord, Lord Fowler, on the Communications Select Committee and contributing to the report that we have had referred to, I add my welcome to the order. It is a dramatically important step forward. Certainly, at a few meetings that I have attended recently, it has been indicated that new plans are in hand to provide back-up for companies in facilitating more independent, local programmes in both radio and television. That is all to the good.
I should like to take up one point about the public interest. Controls exist in the form of Ofcom and the Competition Commission intervening as and when necessary. Although I quite accept that the previous speaker does not think that that goes far enough, it will be of some reassurance to us. The question has been asked as to what the public interest is. Is it really to ensure standards and quality in what is put over? Are we to be certain, for example, that a few eyes will be kept on some of the extremely bad taste which has crept into a great deal of broadcasting, both before and after the watershed? Then if we look at what has happened with children’s broadcasting, we see that the BBC has rather dropped out of it in a number of areas, particularly in radio. Organisations such as Sound Start will be particularly pleased, I am sure, if we have rather more children’s content coming in. Children should be able to draw their own imaginative pictures of what they are listening to, something of which my generation and most of your Lordships’ generation certainly had plenty of experience. Nowadays, there seems to be rather less of it for the young child growing up. With those questions, I should like to be reassured by the Minister that a high standard will be set for “public interest” in the output that we are going to expect.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her very helpful introduction to the order. We have debated media plurality before in the context of the national media, and she will know that it is an issue about which many noble Lords across your Lordships’ House have voiced concerns. In many ways, the fundamental issues remain the same: in a vibrant democracy, it is not in our interests to allow a monopoly of news and opinion to dominate media outlets. Consumers need a guarantee of choice and diversity.
That is why Ofcom, quite rightly, has been cautious in its advice on this matter when it has been sought by Ministers. I have read the advice issued by it on local media rules both in 2009 and 2010. It appears that it is only with some reluctance that it is recommending a further step towards the liberalisation of the remaining rules of local ownership. We understand that reluctance because, whatever the immediate circumstances might be that force us to go along with a more laissez-faire approach, it remains the case that once the rules of ownership are relaxed it is difficult to backtrack should an unhealthy monopoly develop. We have to be satisfied that the Secretary of State remains committed to the fundamental principles of plurality, is alive to any threats and is prepared to intervene under their remaining powers if necessary.
However, we are also sensitive to the difficult commercial environment currently challenging local media. I say to my noble friend Lord Prescott that, on this issue, we differentiate between trends at local and national level, because it is true that local advertising revenues are down and many local newspapers are struggling to survive. As we have heard, those that do survive are cutting back on quality and local reportage. Meanwhile, the pressure of competition from multimedia outlets across a wide spectrum of platforms is damaging the economic viability of local radio. Those services still have a valuable customer base, but are in danger of becoming commercially untenable. The noble Lord, Lord Fowler, and my noble friend Lord Gordon both made powerful cases for strengthening the role of the regional press and local radio in delivering diversity in local media output. We therefore recognise that if the Government were to maintain too strong a grip on the issues of local plurality, it might be at the expense of the very services we are seeking to protect. So, along with our undeniable caution, there is a case for some pragmatism.
As the noble Lord, Lord Clement-Jones, reminded us and as Ofcom pointed out, we are protected from a complete monopoly at a local level by the continuing strength of BBC local radio. But, as we know, the BBC is reviewing the scope of its output in many areas in response to the licence fee cut. Can the Minister update the House on any discussions held between her department and the BBC about its continuing commitment to and resourcing of local radio?
The Government have also created great publicity around their plans for local television. While we are not yet convinced of the commercial viability of these proposals, we nevertheless acknowledge that if they were to be realised, local TV could provide new players in the market locally and thereby increase the diversity of media outlets. However, this would be the case only if the plurality rules were applied to ensure that one proprietor could not own local TV, local radio and local newspapers in the area. In other words, what would stop one person controlling all the commercial radio and TV output in, for example, Manchester? Can the Minister guarantee to the House that, should the order be agreed, the liberalisation of the rules would not be extended to local TV? It would be helpful if she could update us on progress in this regard.
If we approve the order today the last backstop preventing local media monopoly is the Secretary of State and his residual powers to apply the public interest test. So far his track record in this regard is not good. His handling of the debacle of Murdoch’s proposed takeover of BSkyB, which he has continued to support against a barrage of criticism from the public, politicians and media competitors, shows a callous failure to defend the principles of media plurality. My noble friend Lord Prescott has, quite rightly, again raised concerns about the credibility of the Murdoch empire in going forward and seizing further control of national media.
What reassurance can the Minister give the House today that the Secretary of State understands the strong demand for diverse media outlets in this country as part of a vibrant democracy and that he is prepared to actively intervene to prevent media barons’ creating monopolies at a local level? There is a crisis of confidence in his role and we still need convincing that he remains ready to stand up for these principles. On this issue I share the comment of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, that a robust restatement of the role and status of public interest would be helpful.
There remains a residual protection against the development of unfair monopolies in that the Government give a commitment in the Explanatory Memorandum to reviewing the new measures a year after they come into effect. Can the Minister give some clarification as to the nature of that review and how it will be reported back to Parliament?
I hope, with suitable reassurances on these points, we will be able to support the order today.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this interesting and lively debate. I am grateful, too, to those noble Lords who have given the order their support.
I appreciate that the order may raise some concerns about the need to protect a wide variety of opinions and views in our media; equally, we acknowledge the argument that greater consolidation at a local level could lead to a reduction in locally made content. However, we believe that the draft order strikes the right balance between recognising that the local media markets have changed and the need to protect consumers’ interests and needs. The best way to secure high-quality local content and diversity is by creating a framework in which local media businesses can thrive, innovate and compete.
It is these principles which underpin the Government’s current proposals for local television, which will add to choice and balance at the local level. Television is a powerful and trusted medium and local television has the potential to offer many social and democratic benefits to communities and economic benefits to the local media industry. As I said earlier, the rules that this order removes have always been in addition to general competition rules and the public interest test. These remain in place to make sure that there is proper choice to protect against undue concentration.
I turn now to the specific questions asked by noble Lords who have contributed to the debate. I accept the vast knowledge of my noble friend Lord Fowler on this subject and I agree that the regional press are greatly trusted. I thank him for his support, especially in regard to the public interest test. He asked about competition rules, an issue which I suggest should be considered by the communications review. DCMS recently published an open letter inviting responses to high-level questions related to the communications review. Responses to these questions will inform our approach to a communications Green Paper, due to be published at the end of this year, which will in turn be followed by a full consultation and White Paper. I encourage all noble Lords to contribute.
On the question of local newspapers and their ownership, I was interested to read that over 80 per cent of local and regional titles in the United Kingdom are owned by six publishing groups—Archant, Associated News, Johnston Press, Newsquest, Northcliffe and Trinity Mirror Group—which have made some progress despite the downturn over the past two or three years.
I thank the noble Lord, Lord Gordon of Strathblane, for his constructive intervention. With his long experience, he is always interesting when speaking on this subject and I support what he said.
My noble friend Lord Clement-Jones asked why the order took so long. It was due to parliamentary business, the Easter Recess and the Recess we have just had. He asked about public interest and sufficient plurality, as did the noble Lord, Lord Prescott. I assure the noble Lords that plurality can still be maintained through competition law and, where appropriate, the public interest test. Plurality means giving citizens access to a variety of sources of news, an essential part of a democratic society resulting in a healthy media sector.
On the issue of emerging local television and the possibility of investing in further local television, the Government believe that one of the barriers preventing commercially sustainable local television from emerging in the UK was the restrictions around media ownership. With the removal of the rules for local media, which are now no longer necessary, local media companies will be free to affiliate and develop cost-effective local television service models, benefitting from syndication of resources, journalists and technical expertise, much as mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Gordon.
The noble Lord, Lord Prescott, returned to the Sky debate and his concern about hacking. On the merger of BSkyB and where it has got to, this is not the subject of today’s debate. However, I can confirm that the Secretary of State is now considering the responses made to the consultation and will make a statement as soon as possible. This merger is being considered under the public interest rules and I can confirm to the House that these rules will remain untouched by this order. The Secretary of State is following a quasi-judicial process and this is a matter for him. I am sure the House will appreciate that I can discuss only the process. The Secretary of State has followed a very transparent process and has published even more than is required by legislation. As to the phone hacking mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Prescott, as I have said before, these are serious allegations—but they are matters for the criminal courts and not for this debate today.
In answer to the points made by the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, who knows so much about the press and public interest, the public interest takes account of the need for those,
“persons carrying on media enterprises … to have a genuine commitment to the attainment in relation to broadcasting of the standards objectives set out in … the Communications Act 2003”—
which she probably knows well.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, asked on behalf of the Opposition about the removal of the last rule, reluctantly agreed by Ofcom. A strong local media sector that can invest in new content and in high-quality news provision is essential and Ofcom have reported that local media businesses are operating in difficult market conditions. In their report from August 2010, Ofcom said removing all these restrictions was a matter of judgment for Government and Parliament. Removal of these unnecessary rules would allow local media companies to move to new platforms and develop new cost-effective business models and partnerships. Plurality can still be maintained through competition law and the public interest test, wherever appropriate.
The proposals to remove Ofcom’s duty to renew the media ownership rules for every three years—which I think was mentioned—is part of the Government’s deregulatory agenda. It reduces the need to undertake unnecessary reviews and will bring back powers to the Secretary of State. Most importantly, the Secretary of State will have the power to ask Ofcom to undertake a review of media ownership rules as he sees fit.
I believe the noble Baroness also asked about local television and the BBC. The BBC agreed in October 2010, as part of the licence fee settlement, to support local TV by providing capital start-up costs of up to £25 million, and up to £5 million per annum for three years to acquire content. Decisions around the level of provision of the BBC’s own local radio and news services are a matter for the BBC.
I hope I have responded to most of the points today. If I have missed any of the details of noble Lords’ questions, I will of course write to them. I commend the order to the House.
Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill
Committee (5th Day) (Continued)
Relevant documents: 13th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 14th Report from the Constitution Committee and 11th Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights.
233: After Clause 95, insert the following new Clause—
“Application of health and safety enactments to police
(1) No police and crime commissioner nor chief officer of police shall be liable for prosecution under any health and safety enactment in the performance of their duties.
(2) No police and crime commissioner nor chief officer of police shall be liable for damages or compensation for any injuries caused as a result of a breach of health and safety law in the performance of their duties, save where it is proved that the individual acted maliciously or with reckless disregard for the safety of others.
(3) A police officer in the execution of the officer’s duty who believes that an action or actions are necessary—
(a) to prevent crime,(b) to prevent risk to the health and welfare of others, or(c) to save the lives of others,shall not be prevented from taking that action or actions by the intervention of any other public official, of whatever rank, who alleges that there is a health and safety risk to the officer.(4) It shall be an offence for any public official to obstruct a police officer in the execution of the officer’s duty when the officer has decided under subsection (3) that an action or actions are necessary.
(5) A police officer who has come to a decision under subsection (3) shall have no authority to compel others to join with the officer in the action or actions.
(6) Sections 1, 2 and 5 of the Police (Health and Safety) Act 1997 are repealed.
(7) Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary shall issue general guidance on health and safety matters to all police forces for every police area listed in Schedule 1 to the Police Act 1996 (police areas).
(8) A breach of the guidance issued under subsection (7) by any officer of the rank of constable may result in disciplinary action but shall not result in any prosecution or civil action.
(9) A police and crime commissioner shall not be liable for prosecution nor civil action because of any breach of the guidance issued under subsection (7).”
I need to correct a mistake I made in 1996-97. It was not the only one I made then, but it is the only one I may have a chance to rectify at the present moment. Putting the police under the statutory provisions of the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act was my policy and my responsibility. I was the Police Minister at the time; I was the guilty man. Admittedly, I was aided and abetted by the whole of ACPO, the Police Federation, the Police Superintendents’ Association, the whole police department of the Home Office and all the police authorities. In this House, the late Lord McIntosh of Haringey said that it was his duty to oppose things but that there was nothing in the Bill that he could find to oppose.
All the great and the good, and even I, thought this Bill was the right thing to do. It was a jolly good move and put the police on the same basis as other workers, and we thought there would be no problems. In that frantic legislative climate at the end of 1996-97, heading up to the election, the Police (Health and Safety) Bill was given to a Back-Bencher in another place to introduce as there was no time in the government programme—I believe I had led on about 15 Home Office Bills in that last Session. It was bounced through on the nod in another place at 2.30 pm on a Friday, not having received any debate whatever. It then got 45 minutes in Committee, on a Friday. There was no Report or Third Reading. When it got to this House, it had 19 minutes of debate at Second Reading and, since no amendments were moved, it had no Committee stage, no Report stage and no Third Reading stage; and it passed into law. I am not being critical here, because I put through Bills with even less scrutiny. However, this Act received a total of 64 minutes’ scrutiny in both Houses of Parliament. From a total of about 1,400 Members of both Houses, only one Member queried its provisions. So, I pay tribute to Mr Michael Fabricant MP, who at the Committee stage in another place, said:
“The other area that disturbs me is that my right hon. Friend the Minister of State at the Home Office”—
that was me—
“is reported … as telling a seminar: ‘One of the difficulties in moving towards a statutory regime’—such as this—‘has been the fact that policing duties and the environment in which they are carried out are so different from those which generally apply in factories, offices and other static premises’”.
Mr Fabricant went on to say,
“that concerns me deeply … That question must be dealt with, however, as it is at the heart of the Bill”.
He went on to ask what action officers should take when faced with danger. Do they retreat or intervene? He queried the potential conflict between the operational independence of chief officers and the powers of the health and safety inspectors. He said:
“Those problems have not been properly addressed by the Bill”.
For an answer, Mr Fabricant was given the reassuring line to take which I had prepared and approved, having apparently changed my mind in the intervening period since I had addressed the seminar. That answer was:
“A potential conflict remains between the requirements of health and safety and the operational requirements of the police service but it is well understood by all parties. I am optimistic that those conflicts will always be resolved in a sensible manner against the background of the statutory provisions of the Bill”.—[Official Report, Commons, 14/2/97; cols. 578-584.]
Yet, just six years later, two of the finest Metropolitan Police Commissioners who I have ever had the privilege to work with stood in No. 2 dock at the Old Bailey, in the same dock where people are tried for murder and treason, defending themselves against a criminal offence because a brave police officer, PC Kulwant Sidhu, died when pursuing a criminal in the course of his duties and because another police officer had been injured in another incident.
I take this opportunity to apologise publicly to the noble Lords, Lord Condon and Lord Stevens, for the injustice that they suffered from a law that I was responsible for and which went through with inadequate scrutiny. That prosecution was outrageous, wrong, misguided, expensive and so lacking in common sense that it convinces me that one cannot leave a provision on the statute book which can be abused by bureaucrats—admittedly, well-meaning bureaucrats. It should be amended.
I am not alone in thinking that, thank goodness. Your Lordships will be aware that my noble friend Lord Young of Graffham stated in his report, Common Sense, Common Safety:
“Police officers … should not be at risk of investigation or prosecution under health and safety legislation when engaged in the course of their duties if they have put themselves at risk as a result of committing a heroic act”.
The Health and Safety Executive, ACPO and the CPS, my noble friend concluded,
“should consider further guidance to put this into effect”.
My noble friend Lord Young is absolutely right in coming to his analysis of the problem and I believe that the principle of what he has enunciated is now government policy. With respect, however, my noble friend has misdirected himself in his last sentence. He has suggested that the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Health and Safety Executive and the Crown Prosecution Service should get together and ensure that police officers should not be prosecuted for a possible breach of the law. That is not the right way to go about it. If it is the law, it should be enforced. What signal does it send if a cosy deal has been done between the CPS, ACPO and the HSE not to prosecute police officers? No—the approach must be: if we do not want to see police officers in the dock and being prosecuted for that sort of breach, we must amend the current law which allows it to happen.
I believe that my proposed new clause, while no doubt inadequately drafted and with some technical flaws, attempts to do just that. It seeks to ensure that chief officers are not prosecuted for a health and safety breach while trying to ensure that ordinary police officers are not disadvantaged and receive full employment law protection. At the same time, it does not leave a big black hole with no health and safety guidance whatever, because I want HMIC to promulgate non-statutory guidance.
I turn to the specific subsections of the clause. Subsection (1) says that,
“No police and crime commissioner nor chief officer … shall be liable for prosecution under any health and safety enactment”.
Perhaps I should have added, “Nor any other person holding the rank or office of constable” because I do not want anyone, of any rank, to be prosecuted by the HSE for a breach of health and safety.
On subsection (2), which again I fear with hindsight I have not adequately drafted or properly explained, the Police Federation has got the wrong end of the stick. This subsection says:
“No police and crime commissioner nor chief officer … shall be liable”,
“damages or compensation for … injuries caused as a result of”,
a health and safety breach. I do not intend that to apply to police officers in the course of their duty. Of course, all police officers of whatever rank must receive full damages and compensation for accidents at work—that is the normal employer's vicarious liability law. I merely intended that subsection to apply to outsiders or, shall we say, third parties. Hypothetically, if a bobby rugby-tackles a burglar who is running away from the scene and the burglar knocks down some other member of the public, the police might be accused of a breach of health and safety there and be sued. I do not want others to get on the back of the health and safety compensation culture and sue the police without valid reason.
The third subsection goes to the heart of it:
“A police officer in the execution of the officer’s duty who believes that”,
he or she has to take a certain action,
“to prevent crime … to prevent risk to the health and welfare of others, or … to save the lives of others, shall not be prevented from taking that action or actions by the intervention of any … public official, of whatever rank”,
who says, “You can’t do that, Guv. It's health and safety, you know”. That could deal with some of the reports coming out of the 7/7 inquiry on the Aldgate bombing, where evidence was given that police officers were deterred from going underground because some official said that the area was not yet clear. I believe the learned judge's report said that even if the officers had got in instantly, it was unlikely that they could have done anything to save the victims there.
Nevertheless, if a police officer thinks, “There’s something happening and I have to take action on it”, that officer should not be deterred by another official who says, “You can’t risk your life there. You cannot take that risk because I am making a decision that you, as a police officer, are not fit to take that decision for yourself”. That is wrong and my amendment tries to change it. In subsection (4), I say that it will therefore be an offence for a public official, of whatever rank, to try and obstruct a police officer who wants to take that action,
“to prevent crime … to prevent risk to the health and welfare of others, or … to save … lives”.
In subsection (5), I have put that once the officer makes that decision that he or she is going to take a risk, he or she cannot compel someone else to join them. I am not being critical of police sergeants, who are wonderful people, but let us say that a sergeant decides, “I am going to rush into that burning building and you lot are going to join me”. This would prevent him compelling other officers to take the voluntary risk that he or she wished to take, and that is right. If someone wishes to step outside what may be the normally regarded health and safety ambit and risk their life to save a member of the public, that person should not have the power to compel others to make that judgment.
Subsection (6) repeals certain sections of the Police (Health and Safety) Act 1997. I have left in Section 3 of that Act, on the right of a police officer,
“not to suffer detriment in health and safety cases”,
and Section 4:
“Right of police not to be dismissed on certain grounds relating to health and safety”.
That was my attempt, which I accept may be inadequate legally, to ensure that ordinary police officers who suffer an injury are not disadvantaged or sacked and told, “You can't get damages or compensation”. If it is inadequate in its purposes to do that, I am quite happy to have my noble friend the Minister’s expert draftsmen make sure that it covers it.
Subsection (7) gives a responsibility to Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary to,
“issue general guidance on health and safety”,
because we do not want to leave a black hole of no health and safety cover at all. All I am suggesting in this amendment is that the police should not be subject to a statutory requirement to comply with the 1974 Act, but they will of course wish to. Every single chief officer in the land will wish to make sure that all the officers under his or her command are as safe as is humanly possible and able to do their duty.
I have read a comment from a member of the Police Federation who said, “If this proposal of Blencathra’s goes through, we will be back to the bad old days of policemen having to grab dustbin lids to defend themselves”. I say to your Lordships that if this went through, I cannot imagine any chief constable deciding that he was going to downgrade the safety equipment of police officers. When I had the privilege of being a Minister and when the noble Lord, Lord Condon, was police commissioner—this must have been in 1993—he came in to brief me on all the work that the Met was doing to try to find stab-proof vests, because they already had quite good bullet-resistant vests. He was desperate to find vests that would stop knives penetrating them; they are actually more difficult to find than bullet-resistant vests. They had of course developed all the other protective measures, such as shields, and were looking at the ASP side-handle baton. All around the country at that time—and not just when I was Minister, but in the 1980s and 1990s—chief officers were trying to find the best ways of protecting their people. That was long before we introduced a statutory requirement for them to do so. If the statutory requirement is taken away, it will be nonsense to suggest that there will be any serious diminution in the practical health, safety and welfare of police officers. This is a good task for HMIC. The police service is awash with health and safety guidelines and codes of practice. We should give HMIC the job to promulgate these, add new ones and ensure that there is a consistent, coherent system.
Finally, subsections (8) and (9) of the proposed new clause make it clear that if HMIC were promulgating this guidance, it would not then have the force of law and people could not sue and say, “You didn’t follow the guidance, therefore I want compensation”, or “You didn’t follow the guidance, therefore we are going to prosecute you for not following informal guidance”. That is a catch-all.
I am sorry that I have taken so long to describe my amendment, but I think that this is a very important issue. One thing that worries me is the growth of the health and safety culture. In his report, my noble friend Lord Young pointed out that half the stories one hears in the press are not true, such as that of the policeman who could not jump into the paddling pool to rescue a child because of health and safety rules. A lot of those are untrue and a lot are exaggerated. I know that one has to exaggerate things for form—I have done it millions of times. But there is no doubt that police feel held back by health and safety. If they do not all feel that they are held back in some way, there is certainly a view in the press and the media that the police are not responding fully in the way you expect a bobby to do because health and safety requirements are tying their hands. That is damaging to the whole police service.
I believe that this significant gesture—not just in terms of preventing good officers appearing in the Old Bailey on ridiculous charges—of removing the legal framework while keeping a practical working framework of health and safety would do a tremendous amount to reverse the health and safety culture which is perceived to be in the police service. I beg to move.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, for moving this amendment. In his typically generous way, he has been unnecessarily harsh on himself; certainly he owes no apology to me or, I dare say, my noble friend Lord Stevens. At the time that Act was introduced, none of us had any idea it would subsequently be used in the way that it was.
It was an interesting experience to stand as a defendant in the Old Bailey, gripping the rail that murderers, rapists and terrorists had gripped in previous years, and knowing that if the jury found me and my noble friend Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington guilty, I would certainly have resigned from this House and he would have been under pressure to resign as commissioner. It was a very interesting experience.
Had the prosecution succeeded, it would have effectively paralysed operational policing. It would have required probably emergency legislation to rectify matters. In essence, the prosecution was saying that police officers operating above ground or below ground or in any environment apart from flat, ground-level operations, would need to be involved in risk assessments, contractors and a whole range of issues which would have emasculated operational policing. Fortunately, the jury in the trial applied the common sense so sadly lacking in the HSE at the time. To my disappointment, there must have been law officers who were also involved in allowing that prosecution to go forward, but that is by the by.
I realised that the jury was applying the common sense that the HSE had not applied when the expert witness for the HSE, when asked what a police officer should do when pursuing a violent criminal who was a danger to the public and had gone on to a roof to escape, said, with a straight face and with all the gravitas of his office, that at that point the police officer should contact the police station, stop the pursuit, contractors should be called out who should effect and erect scaffolding around the building and put safety rails on the roof before any further action was taken. The jury did what some of your Lordships have done—they started to giggle and laugh. I realised at that point that we probably were not going to have to resign.
The trial judge, Mr Justice Crane, was scrupulously fair throughout the trial, as you would expect, and never expressed an opinion on the merits of the case until it was complete. But once it was over, he said that the prosecution was a waste of time and money and that the HSE had failed to understand the nature of policing in any way. We calculated that it cost at least £3 million in real and opportunity costs—at the time that would have paid for 70 neighbourhood police officers for a year.
However, despite what I have just said, events have moved on and I do not think it is appropriate for the police service, or parts of it, to be exempted from the legislation en bloc. The world has changed; events have changed; the climate has changed. But I congratulate the noble Lord on moving this amendment, which I am sure is a probing amendment. Time has moved on, and to try to go back would bring the Government and this country in conflict with Europe. Complying with European legislation was the genesis of this Act in 1997, so we would be back in that loop of challenge and dispute.
I do not think that this is an opportunity for us to consider seriously taking the police service outwith the jurisdiction of health and safety, but it is a real opportunity for the Minister—either today, subsequently in writing, or at some stage—to reaffirm the need for a sensible balance to be maintained regarding the safety of police officers, which we all value. As the noble Lord said, it so happened that at the time of the prosecution, we had had seven years of an officer safety programme that had brought injuries and deaths to their lowest level for decades. There was a certain irony in being prosecuted as a commissioner and former commissioner just at the point when death and injuries had been reduced to the lowest level almost on record.
There needs to be a sensible balance with regard to the safety of police officers. I can think now of every one of the police officers seriously injured or killed on my watch. I will never forget the anxiety and distress felt by their families and friends. But there has to be a balance between that and allowing police officers to follow their courageous instincts to put themselves in harm’s way to protect the public. I would expect nothing less from them. That is what the legacy of policing is about.
Although the spectre of prosecution remains, I hope that the Minister will feel able to say something reassuring about the balance that needs to be maintained. As we sit here today, a policeman or woman could be doing something today which would lead to them receiving a gallantry medal from Her Majesty the Queen. At the same time, that would provide prima facie evidence that another chief officer should be prosecuted for health and safety offences because, by definition, if they have acted so bravely, they have put themselves at risk beyond the call of duty and beyond what a risk assessment would allow them to do.
I am delighted and grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, for raising this issue today. His generous comments in our direction were very warmly appreciated, but no apology is necessary. It is an opportunity for your Lordships' House not to take the police service outwith health and safety requirements but to reassert the need for a sensible balance.
My Lords, I, too, say to the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, that he owes me no apologies at all. As an old friend and over time, he has shown total support to the police service across the board in a way that others have not. It was very disappointing that some would come up with the saying that we are going back to dustbin lids. To be pointing in the direction of the noble Lord is totally unworthy of whoever said it. I do not wish to take up too much of the time of your Lordships’ House. The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, has led in taking us through why the Bill came into existence in the first place. I remember, while I was chief constable of Northumbria, also thinking that it was a good idea. That was after the stabbing of Sergeant Bill Forth on an estate in Gateshead.
I also associate myself with my noble friend Lord Condon. It was an extraordinary experience to stand in the dock of No. 2 court at the Old Bailey when, only 30 years previously, I stood in that court with three other officers and was commended with them, although mine was a lesser role, for bravery and initiative in chasing three armed robbers over a roof at night and arresting them in difficult circumstances. It was extraordinary to see how policing had changed in 30 years to become what I refer to, taking the health and safety approach, as being risk averse.
Policing is all about taking risks. It is all about putting yourself, as a servant of the public, in harm’s way on occasion. Yes, my noble friend Lord Condon has led on health and safety. I was, as noble Lords will remember, in Northumbria the first chief constable to introduce long batons, reinforced windscreens and, on only that occasion, stab-proof vests, which were not as effective as what the noble Lord, Lord Condon, brought in for the Metropolitan Police. Therefore, no one in this House or elsewhere could ever accuse the noble Lord, Lord Condon, or me of not treating officers’ safety as a primary consideration in our roles as chief officers. I think we will hear from the noble Lord, Lord Dear, who is included in that, as the noble Lord, Lord Imbert, certainly is. To lose an officer through death or severe injury is an appalling thing to live through, and some of us have lived through it.
I shall quickly talk about where we were on the night we were found not guilty at the Old Bailey. I would certainly have resigned if I had been found guilty; I had my letter in the safe and had shown it to some of my colleagues. It would have been absolutely unacceptable for me to continue as Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police in those circumstances. More important than my future and personal commitment was how it would have affected national policing. We had taken advice from three Queen’s Counsel on what we had to do if we were found guilty. As commissioner, I would have had to issue that night an instruction—it would have to be an instruction because it was legally binding—that any police officer in London or elsewhere in the country who was going to go over a fence higher than two metres had to stop, even if that person was chasing a rapist, murderer or terrorist. Do you know what the test of whether he could go over that fence was? It was not of whether he was protecting the public, but of whether the officer saw that the offender’s life was at risk. What an extraordinary reversal of police officers’ duty to the public. Surely nobody can say that that is the correct way for anyone to proceed.
I know that there are legal niceties around European law. I can quote the articles on how we need to continue with the European directive and so on. However, we should start by going back. It is a delight to have the noble Lord who introduced the Bill here. We know why it was introduced. We know about the lack of thought and attention to detail, and the effects of that. The noble Lord was there; he brought it in. I would like to see us look again at this part of policing—the Health and Safety Act. I would like us to look at it in a common-sense way, taking police officers’ views into account. Of course they need to be protected and must not be prosecuted or sued in a way that exposes them. However, why not go back to the Bill, have a look at the original health and safety legislation, and take in the recommendations of the noble Lord, Lord Young, and the details and accounts that have been put forward in the debate that has taken place in this House? We should not ignore what the House of Lords says because we are spending time on this in detail. I know the Minister is a listening Minister; I know the Home Secretary is a listening Home Secretary. We should look at this and see if we can come up with something that allows the police to go forward without the spectre of being prosecuted when they are chasing a criminal over a roof or putting themselves in danger. That is what the police service is paid to do.
As a police officer for 43 years, I was paid to put myself at risk and in danger on occasion. Sometimes the red mist might have come in front of my eyes. Sometimes I might have been other than sensible. However, at the end of the day, that is what I was paid to do.
My Lords, enough weight of artillery fire has been directed at this target to demolish it. I shall take a few moments more with my own artillery to reduce the demolished target to rubble. We are not talking about protective clothing or equipment. Clearly, that is a requirement that all chief constables always have to address. We are not talking about the adequacy of kit and, for example, putting appropriate equipment into patrol cars to cone off and properly protect the scene of a road accident, to protect not only the police officers themselves but others who are still present on the road. All of that is common sense.
The nub of this discussion is that we are not here to inhibit the voluntary assumption of risk. Medals have already been mentioned in this debate. I remind this House of the range of medals that are available not only to police officers but to members of the general public and institutions if they put themselves, as is often said these days, in harm’s way. In descending order, you start with the George Cross. Then comes the George Medal, then the Queen’s Gallantry Medal and then the Queen’s Commendation for Bravery. The circumstances in which those medals are earned will vary. One thing that is laid down very clearly as a matter of public record is the percentage of the assumption of risk. In ascending order, for the Queen’s Commendation for Bravery there has to be an assumption of a risk of 20 per cent likelihood of death. That means there are two chances in 10 that you will die if you do it, and that if you do it you accept that risk. Going up through the Queen’s Gallantry Medal and the George Medal, you end up with the George Cross, which has a 90 per cent assumption of death. Nine times out 10, if you do it you will die. That has to be assumed by the person undertaking that obligation, probably in a split second. It has to be judged in that way. It occurs to me that not only police officers but lifeboat crews, fire brigades, coastguards, the military operating outside theatres of war and certainly the police face such circumstances if not daily, certainly on a regular basis.
I repeat—because it is worth repeating—what has already been said about any chief officer who puts forward a recommendation or citation for the award of medals. I recollect putting forward six recommendations for George Medals on different occasions, all of which were granted. It means that, if you take this subject to its logical conclusion, in writing that recommendation, you are also inviting a prosecution against you for having allowed that act to take place. It has to be a nonsense.
I give one more quick example, not from high buildings or the London Underground. What about public order? Like other Members of your Lordships’ House, I have, on occasions in the past, been in control of very large, serious outbreaks of public disorder, when violence and injury were part of the scene. In those circumstances, if the senior officer, with properly equipped and protected officers, orders those officers to maintain a position—to control a road junction, for example—or to advance against a disorderly crowd, he is, by definition, inviting them to a position where they will incur injury. The case follows that they will incur injury.
I conclude by reminding your Lordships of two instances of about three years ago. The first was in the north of England when two young people died in a very large lake and the police were criticised for not going in to rescue them; I do not know the circumstances, but that was how it was reported. Around the same time, in the Thames Valley police area, a barbeque in somebody’s garden got out of hand. There was an altercation, somebody went and fetched a shotgun, and a man was shot and lay bleeding in the garden. Armed officers were called, and were told to stand off until a health and safety assessment had been made. It is said, rightly or wrongly, that the man, had he been rescued, would have lived. It is said, rightly or wrongly, that he died because he haemorrhaged to death because of the timidity of the police officers who were holding back. I emphasise that I do not know the circumstances of that incident in detail. However, I do know that there was considerable public disquiet about both of those instances, and a great deal of criticism of the police for holding back.
The public quite rightly look to the police, and other uniformed agencies, and almost expect bravery. They expect a degree of putting service before self. We should recognise that in your Lordships’ House as well. We cannot require people to be brave; it is the voluntary assumption of risk that is rewarded with the medals that I have already mentioned. However, we must not inhibit it when it would take place. We must encourage and applaud it. Anything that can be done by Her Majesty’s Government to relieve the circumstances which we have heard described today, and which still hang in the air as a possibility, would be a good thing. For that reason, I applaud and support the generality of the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra.
My Lords, I was chair of the Metropolitan Police Authority when the noble Lord, Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington, as the then Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, was called to the Old Bailey to answer the charges. I well recall the internal impact that it had on the service, and the implications that would have followed had there been a guilty verdict.
However, the context of all of this is one of ensuring that there is a legal framework protecting the health and safety of our police officers. I do not think that anyone is arguing about the importance of doing that. When I ceased to be chair of the police authority, I took over chairing the committee of the police authority which, among other things, monitors the health and safety obligations of the police service. I am not sure where that function might fall under the new arrangements that we are talking about in the rest of the Bill.
Something that struck me powerfully was that one of the responses of the police service—and, indeed, many other organisations—to new legislation is to create an internal unit that is responsible for guidance on it all. That is often quite separate from the people who are making day-to-day operational decisions. Something that I have tried to ensure and, through the committee that I chair, now require is that each senior police manager certifies once a year that they are personally satisfied with the health and safety arrangements in the area for which they are responsible. Each assistant commissioner of the Metropolitan Police takes on that responsibility for their area. That is not really different from what the law actually says about senior managers, but it has helped to mainstream this as part of the normal, day-to-day operational decisions that any police leader would be taking.
That is the critical point. The danger is where you have a department created which says, “This is health and safety law, and this is what the rest of you in the police service must do”. That is the sort of environment in which you get some of the silly responses that you hear reported or which are alleged to have taken place. However, the way forward is to make sure that the person who has managerial responsibility takes all of these factors into account and then makes a proportionate judgment in line with the law—as was the spirit of the original legislation—to protect their own officers and the safety of the public.
I am not convinced that we should be exempting people from the legislation. I am sure that we should be making sure that the response inside each police service is proportionate and seen as a mainstream activity of senior police leaders. Most senior police leaders that I have spoken to acknowledge that uppermost in their minds all the time is not only the safety of their officers but the public’s safety as well. It is a question of acknowledging that and creating a system whereby that happens, rather than it being seen as an external imposition which then leads to some of the rather crazy anomalies that we sometimes hear about.
My Lords, I, too, thank the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, for instigating this debate, although the precedent he sets of seeking to put right past legislative mistakes is rather disturbing for some of us. We would not have much Summer Recess this year if we were to follow his course of action. I had an enjoyable two years as Health and Safety Minister and dealt with the Health and Safety Executive on a regular basis. I recall discussions with the Minister of Defence on some similar issues; not in relation to Armed Forces in the theatre, but certainly in training exercises where some of the same issues obtained because of the need in training to help the Armed Forces understand the dynamics of being in theatre. I have some sympathy with where the noble Lord and noble Lords who have served as police officers are coming from.
However, my experience of health and safety is, first, that the legislation since 1974 has had a hugely positive impact in terms of a dramatic reduction in the number of lives lost and injuries suffered by people in the workforce. One ought to pay tribute to the Health and Safety Executive for the work that it has done. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Condon, when he recognised that and described the HSE as taking what he described as a common-sense approach. Secondly, my experience is that the HSE moved away from a kind of performance-management culture which judged the inspectors on the number of prosecutions that they instituted to one that was much more proportionate. That starts from the basis that if we can encourage employers to do the right thing in health and safety that is our preferred option unless there has clearly been a gross abuse of the law by an employer.
To be fair to the HSE, it has come under considerable criticism in recent years as the number of prosecutions that it has undertaken has gone down, but I think that that has been a common-sense approach. I am sure that the focus of inspectors on giving advice and guidance and seeking improvement is right. The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, referred to the urban myths that often surround health and safety stories in the media. I share that view. When you dig down into some stories in the media, you find that, far from the Health and Safety Executive inspector saying, for example, “You can’t have hanging flowers in pots”, that is often an excuse used by public authorities for reducing expenditure.
The second problem relates to health and safety advisers. I very much agree with the comments of my noble friend Lord Harris, who has great experience of this. One of the problems is that a whole plethora of health and safety advisers has grown up and the advice that they give to organisations is often very risk averse. Sometimes employers run away from the fact that in the end this matter is not the responsibility of the health and safety adviser but of management and the employer. Sometimes employers need to say to health and safety advisers, “You may have given this advice, but it defies common sense and we are going to carry on doing what we want to do”.
If the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, were tempted to press the amendment either today or on Report, he would risk compounding his original error by encouraging us to pass bad law. This matter is much better dealt with through effective dialogue between police forces, the DWP and the Health and Safety Executive. I invite the Minister to encourage her colleagues in the DWP to institute discussions between the police service, the HSE and the Police Federation because it is important that the staff in the police force own any future development. The development of a dialogue and a greater understanding between the three parties is probably the best way forward rather than the way proposed in the noble Lord’s amendment.
My Lords, I am relieved at the way this debate has developed because, when I first saw this amendment, knowing of the noble Lord’s seniority in his party I wondered whether this was some sort of “done deal”. Clearly, that is not the case. It sounds terribly patronising to say this, but the balanced attitude which noble Lords have displayed in their speeches is extremely welcome. The noble Lord, Lord Condon, talked about not exempting the police force en bloc, but where is the demarcation line? I think that all noble Lords have recognised that there needs to be one. Like other noble Lords, I think that health and safety, with a capital H and a capital S, is important and has had an unjustifiably bad press—not that I tend to read that press but one cannot avoid hearing about it. The law in regard to health and safety, and certainly the way in which it is applied, may have gone too far one way, but the pendulum should not swing too far in the other direction.
My Lords, I thank the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, for introducing this fascinating debate. However, I should make clear that we on this side join the Police Federation in opposing the amendment, which would remove from police officers the statutory protection afforded by the Health and Safety at Work etc. Act 1974. We believe that this would be a seriously retrograde step.
I had made a note to remind the noble Lord that a Conservative Government had brought the police service within the health and safety legislation through the 1997 Act but clearly I did not need to do so. Therefore, I congratulate him on mentioning that. Notwithstanding the debate that we have had, I believe that it was the right thing to do. I am not familiar with the detail of the prosecutions that took place, which were clearly traumatic and difficult for two very senior members of the police force. The message I take from that is that the prosecution did not succeed and that common sense prevailed. That is the real message. I am grateful that the noble Lord, Lord Condon, said that and recognised that events have moved on.
Perhaps I may pick up the issue around myths, because health and safety is beset by myths, half-truths, and sometimes downright fabrications. The police have been on the receiving end of this too often. As my noble friend Lord Hunt said, this is sometimes because people want to use health and safety as an excuse for not doing something, sometimes by overzealous application of health and safety requirements and sometimes due to ignorance of the law. The HSE, together with partners in local authorities and the wider health and safety community, has gone to great lengths to push back against these myths and to explain what is required. I shall come back specifically on that in relation to a case that the noble Lord, Lord Dear, mentioned.
My noble friends Lord Harris and Lord Hunt got it absolutely right. My noble friend Lord Harris said that it was important to inculcate health and safety into the mainstream of an organisation and to address it proportionately. Analysis shows that organisations, whichever one we are talking about, with good health and safety management invariably have other good management systems in place. My noble friend Lord Hunt referred to the positive impact of the 1974 legislation. That is right. It has stood the test of time. It is non-prescriptive and is meant to be operated proportionately. My noble friend said that sometimes it is the role of overzealous consultants to encourage people down paths that are not required under the legislation. One of the things on which I would congratulate the Government is the introduction of a register for consultants. It is work that we could claim to have started in our term of office and it will help to address this issue.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, referred to the bad press that the Health and Safety Executive and others get. Let me refer to the report of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Graffham, mentioned by the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra. In Appendix D, entitled “Behind the myth: the truth behind health and safety hysteria in the media”, he picks up one of the issues referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Dear. The appendix refers first to the “Story” and states:
“In May 2007, newspapers published a story concerning the death of a 10-year-old boy who drowned while fishing for tadpoles with his siblings in an outdoor pond. Questions were asked about the role of the emergency services and accusations were made that the policemen involved stood by and watched a boy drown because health and safety rules forbade them from entering the water to save him”.
The report goes on to record the “Reality”. It states:
“Fishermen noticed that two children had fallen into the pond and they tried to bring the children in with their fishing tackle. They managed to drag a girl out of the pond but were unable to reach her brother. One of the fishermen tried to call 999 but was unable to get through so he called his wife. She rang the police and reported the incident. There was some confusion over the location of the incident and this resulted in the police attending the incorrect location. At the same time Police Community Support Officers were undertaking a normal patrol when they came across the incident. They alerted police officers to the correct location. The boy’s step-father and friend arrived at the pond just before the police officers. They immediately dived into the water and brought the child to the surface. The police officers then arrived and one of them dived into the water and helped to bring the boy onto the bank. Unfortunately by this point he had been underwater for 20 minutes”.
That is the gap between the myth and the reality.
I am bound to say that there are responsibilities on us all not to recycle these myths. The noble Lord, Lord Young of Graffham, when addressing the IOSH conference a little while before he was formally appointed, cited an incident some 18 months before when two police community support officers had stood by and watched a 10 year-old boy, who had jumped into a pond to rescue his sister, drown. The noble Lord said that they explained afterwards that they had not had their health and safety course on rescuing people. He also said that if that was thought to be completely exceptional, there was a case only a few weeks before where a man allegedly drove his car containing his two children into the river. He and the boy escaped but his sister was trapped screaming in the car. The two policemen stood by for 92 minutes while a diving team was brought from the other end of the county and said later that they were not allowed to rescue the girl themselves on health and safety grounds, and she died the following day. We all need to be mindful not to recirculate these myths.
Perhaps the noble Lord will accept that my point was not on the facts, which I know; it was on the public perception of inactivity by the police. Criticism followed because there was an expectation that the police would act bravely and positively rather than negatively. I was making that narrow point.
No, indeed, I very much agree with the noble Lord. I was not suggesting that he, by raising the point, was helping to recirculate the myth; I was just indicating how it can unwittingly be recycled, creating the concern that he identified.
The HSE issued guidance in 2009 in a document entitled Striking the Balance between Operational and Health and Safety Duties in the Police Service. That was in response to concern and misunderstanding about how police services can comply with health and safety legislation in their operational work, given the often testing and difficult circumstances in which they are called to act. I understand that work is now under way to draft an explanatory note to the guidance which will help further to clarify how effective and efficient policing can be delivered.
That document, which was jointly produced, illustrates that these are issues of balance. In the principles that the document enunciates, it states that there are particular challenges for the police:
“they have to send officers and staff into dangerous situations in circumstances when anyone else would be seeking to get away from the danger … in fighting crime, the Police Service is, in effect, reducing the overall risk to the public— police officers may need to take actions which put the public and themselves at risk. This is appropriate when the benefits from taking these risks outweigh the sum of all other risks; however, in doing so, police activities may create other risks”.
The guidance sets out why the application of health and safety law is challenging for the police service, but it also makes clear that health and safety duties are not absolute and are generally qualified by the test of what is reasonably practical. It points out that the Health and Safety at Work Act places duties on employers, but also on employees to take reasonable care of themselves and others and to co-operate with their employer, but it does not require all risks to be eliminated. The Health and Safety Executive recognises that even when all reasonably practical precautions have been taken to deal with foreseeable risks, injuries and deaths will still occur.
Let us not forget, as was raised by several speakers in the debate, that dozens of police officers have lost their lives or been injured by putting themselves in harm’s way on our behalf. The guidance also sets out what officers and staff should expect of the police service in terms of good health and safety management systems and how the HSE will approach any investigation of individual police forces.
Following the report of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Graffham, commissioned by the Prime Minister and debated in your Lordships' House in November last year, renewed guidance was issued by the Crown Prosecution Service concerning circumstances where police officers may, in performing an heroic act, have breached Section 7 of the Health and Safety at Work Act in failing to take reasonable care of their own safety. It states:
“In those circumstances, and where the safety of others is not put at risk, public interest would not be served by taking forward a prosecution under section 7”.
The document and the other guidance seems to do just what noble Lords have asked, which is that we need to address this in a sensible, proportionate way and there needs to be co-operation in how these measures are applied.
Although not without challenge, the current system is not broken. As my noble friend Lord Hunt said, the HSE gets challenged as many times for not prosecuting people as for prosecuting people. The briefing we received from IOSH includes a quotation from the chairman of the Police Federation of England and Wales. It reads:
“All the major police officer representative bodies; the Association of Chief Police Officers, the Police Superintendents’ Association and the Police Federation agree the position that the Police (Health and Safety) Act in its current form has resulted in significant improvements in the health, safety and welfare of police officers whilst still allowing effective policing to be achieved”.
The law as it stands serves both the public and police effectively. It is certain interpretations of the law that have produced isolated anomalies. Therefore, clarity of interpretation is needed rather than the unnecessary changes to health and safety law that could turn the clock back decades on the protection afforded to society.
The briefing paper that we have received is clear that, as deliverers of front-line policing, they know that health and safety legislation does not prevent them carry out their duties for their communities. They are clear that since the 1997 Act there has been a real and beneficial reduction in sickness and injury to police officers while on duty. The noble Lord, Lord Condon, made that point. There has been improvement in equipment, technology and training given to officers.
The impact of the amendment would be to remove the statutory protection afforded by the Health and Safety at Work Act from police officers—I think that that was the point made by the noble Lord. It would do that not only when officers were involved in front-line and, particularly, dangerous operations but when they might be involved in more routine duties, if such exist for the police service, and training. The provisions of proposed subsections (3) and (4) would seem to undermine the chain of command and create a possible free-for-all in situations of operational delicacy. Perhaps, in responding, the noble Lord could clarify the definition of,
“public official, of whatever rank”,
and whether that would include a police officer of more senior rank to the individual involved. If that is right, that is an encouragement to ignore the chain of command. That may not be what the noble Lord intended so perhaps he would take the opportunity to clarify that.
It seems to me that if there are issues and problems to address, the solution is not to discard the statutory protection—the Health and Safety at Work Act—but to address issues of training and management systems and not to throw away any engagement with legislation that has served this country well for nearly 40 years, which is why we are unable to support the amendment.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in a very useful, serious and worthwhile debate. It is appropriate to say from the government Front Bench that we will take away the points made and consider whether we have got the balance right. On that basis, I will ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment. I note that prolonged service as Chief Whip does not adversely affect one's rhetorical skills.
The noble Lord, Lord Condon, talked about the need for a sensible balance, and that is what we all want to achieve. The noble Lord, Lord Stevens, rightly said that policing is all about taking risks. My wife and I were invited to attend the Leeds police awards dinner some months ago and the award for bravery was given to a constable from Northumbria who had been blinded when stopping an offender in his car. It was quite an emotional experience.
My only close experience with the Health and Safety Executive was when the parliamentary choir was due to perform in Westminster Hall in 2003. On taking the portable organ into Westminster Hall and playing the 16-foot stop, bits of wood began to fall off the roof. Our first response was to say, “The Minister responsible for the HSE is a contralto in the choir, surely we can override the rules”, but the HSE pointed out that in addition to parliamentarians, there would be senior civil servants in the audience, so it would clearly be dangerous to go ahead with the concert and we had to make do with performing in Westminster Abbey instead.
We all recognise the culture of health and safety that has evolved through the media. I regularly read the Daily Mail, which demands that there should be nil risk to the public in anything that is undertaken in a public place. It then sets out to attack the regulations that were drawn up in response to those demands. That is how we have got to where we are now.
The proposal to repeal this clause would have to go significantly further than the noble Lord, Lord Young, recommended in his independent review of health and safety last year. He did not call for the duty to be removed as it serves both to,
“protect employees and ensure that activities carried out do not adversely affect the health and safety of other people”.
Of course the Government recognise the need to strike a balance between protecting the police and the public while acknowledging that it is in the nature of police duty that officers take risks and should not be at risk of prosecution under health and safety legislation when engaged in their duties.
Following the report of my noble friend Lord Young, the Crown Prosecution Service issued guidance in March—which the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie, quoted—under the title, Heroic Acts by Police Officers and Firefighters, which clarifies the legal situation and highlights the fact that the public interest would not be served by taking forward the prosecution of police officers who act in heroic ways when decisions are likely to be taken in fast-moving and dynamic situations. The Government will carefully consider the extent to which the recommendations of my noble friend Lord Young's report have been adequately met through the CPS guidance. We will institute a dialogue, if it is needed, between the police, the Home Office, the DWP and the HSE, as suggested. We recognise that this has to be a question of balance and we will assess whether the balance has now been struck in the most sensible place.
My Lords, I am so pleased in retrospect that I tabled this new clause, because it has enabled me and the House to hear such excellent speeches from noble Lords such as the noble Lords, Lord Harris of Haringey, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, Lord Condon, Lord Stevens and Lord Dear. Tomorrow when I read Hansard I will come to the same conclusion that I came to when I heard their speeches, namely that between them they have got the solution to this problem.
I do not want the whole police service exempted en bloc from health and safety legislation, or even from its statutory duty. However, neither do I want a situation in which we rely mainly on guidance, so that one day, somewhere, a prosecutor or an HSE person, possibly not following that guidance, will create a situation where a Metropolitan Police commissioner could still be in the Old Bailey in the circumstances that I described, and which the noble Lords, Lord Condon and Lord Stevens, witnessed first hand. I say to the noble Lord, Lord McKenzie of Luton, that common sense did prevail—but in the jury. To me, that was a couple of steps too late; I wish it had prevailed in the HSE and in those who brought the prosecution.
I am perfectly content to withdraw my new clause and will not come back to it on Report. However, I urge Ministers to go back to the Home Office tomorrow with the Official Report and initiate that dialogue, because I am not convinced that the guidance at the moment is enough. I would like to see a few more steps taken to make sure that there is a deeper understanding. The noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, was so right to say that the person responsible for health and safety should not be the health and safety officer but every manager of every organisation, thinking it and doing it. There must also be an understanding in the HSE and the prosecuting authorities of the special, unique nature of the police service.
I conclude by saying that if at the end of the day, after all the dialogue, we still face the possibility that a brave police officer may get a bravery award one day while their commanding officer may be prosecuted for that act, that will be wrong. No matter how many million words of guidance and advice we have, we cannot have a situation where a chief officer is still liable to prosecution for a brave act by one of his officers. Let us initiate a dialogue. I am not volunteering to participate; I have done my inadequate duty.
I was always told that when one went to the House of Lords, one would hear expert speeches. I have had the privilege today of listening to such speeches from all sides, which proves that this House should continue in its present form, because we would never have heard these speeches from elected politicians. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 233 withdrawn.
Clause 96 agreed.
233A: After Clause 96, insert the following new Clause—
“Exemption from civil proceedings for trespass brought by offender
(1) Section 329 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 (civil proceedings for trespass to the person brought by offender) is amended as follows.
(2) In subsection (1)(b), at the end insert “, and”.
(3) After subsection (1)(b) insert—
“(c) at the material time, the defendant was not a constable acting in the course of his or her duty.””
My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 233A on behalf of my noble friend Lord Lester of Herne Hill. Reference has just been made to experts. I am not as expert as my noble friend, and I may get into trouble because I am not going to use all the briefing that he has given me.
Amendment 233A would exclude from Section 329 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003 a constable in the course of his duty. That section is what noble Lords might know as the Tony Martin defence. It was enacted in response to the case of Tony Martin, who shot two intruders in his home thinking they were attempting a burglary. It provides that the court must give permission for an offender to bring a civil suit for an assault committed at the time and in the circumstances that the offender committed the act for which he was convicted. It provides the defendant with a defence to such proceedings provided that his action was not grossly disproportionate. The defendant must believe the offender was about to commit an offence, was in the course of committing one or had committed one and that his actions were necessary to defend himself or someone else, to protect or recover property, to prevent or stop the offence or to catch and secure the conviction of the offender.
At the time that the section was being debated, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Scotland of Asthal, said that the section,
“would strengthen the civil law to improve protection for victims of crime against civil claims for damages by offenders”.
She also said:
“It benefits third parties who are not the direct victim of the offence, but who may have intervened to protect the victim or deter the criminal”.—[Official Report, 11/11/03; cols. 1307-08.]
That was the only indication of the intended use of the section by those who are not direct victims of the crime.
In 2009, there was a case in the Court of Appeal: Anthony Adorian v The Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police. In his judgment, Lord Justice Sedley said:
“There is nothing on the face of the section or in its shoulder-note which manifests an intention to afford the police a novel protection from claims by offenders for objectively unreasonable or unnecessarily violent arrests”.
Only police defendants have invoked this section. Lord Justice Sedley went on to say:
“The consequences should not go unnoticed. In place of the principle painstakingly established in the course of two centuries and more, and fundamental to the civil rights enjoyed by the people of this country—that an arrest must be objectively justified and that no more force may be used in effecting it than is reasonably necessary—the section gives immunity from civil suits, not confined to those involving personal injury, to constables who make arrests on entirely unreasonable grounds, so long as they are not acting in bad faith, and accords them impunity for using all but grossly disproportionate force in so doing”.
In summary, Section 329 has only ever been used by the police, and my noble friend tells me that it has led to a mismatch between civil and criminal proceedings with no equality of arms between police and private individuals. The current position does not recognise that the police are public officers of the state endowed with special powers and that as a corollary they have special obligations that Section 329 allows them to circumvent. My noble friend says that ordinary people may be given some leeway for honest and instinct overreactions when protecting or defending themselves or another from a crime but, on the other hand, a police officer trained in the use of force must be required to justify his or her actions objectively and to use no more force than is reasonably necessary.
I had not appreciated until listening to the previous debate how neatly this followed on in some ways. My noble friend Lord Lester has tabled this amendment and as he is not able to be here this afternoon he asked me to move it.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, on having picked up this point so well from her noble friend Lord Lester. I congratulate him too on putting down this amendment. I hope he will forgive me in his absence for describing him in this instance as a dog with a bone. He has come back to this issue today after first raising it following the judgment in the case that the noble Baroness referred to when the previous Government were in power. He did that in the course of a couple of Bills. At that stage Ministers, including me, I have to admit, had to tell the noble Lord, Lord Lester, that consultations would take place with the police.
There is undoubtedly a point here—the noble Baroness has described it very well. This particular section of the 2003 Act was clearly intended as some sort of response to the Martin case and the Act’s purpose was really intended, or so it said, for other citizens as opposed to the police. There is some sort of at least theoretical clash, as Lord Justice Sedley pointed out in the instant case, between the position of police officers and others on arrests, so it does require an answer from Government.
We said on 25 February 2010—it was me, I am afraid to say—that the consultation that we had said would take place had not taken place by that date. But of course the noble Baroness will know that her Government have now been in power for a good 13 months now—it is 15 or 16 months since I uttered those words—and I am quite sure this consultation will have taken place regardless of government. I therefore look forward to hearing her response to this small but quite important point about the 2003 Act. I presume the consultation has taken place and the Government will be able to tell us what they intend to do about the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Lester.
My Lords, it falls to me to answer this debate. I have to say that I am not fully briefed on whether or not the consultation has taken place. I suspect there was a little bit of irony there from the noble Lord, Lord Bach, and his confidence that this will automatically take place regardless of changes in government, but I will write to him to inform him about how far it has got.
We are talking of course about Section 329 of the Criminal Justice Act 2003. The intention was to benefit victims of crime, together with third parties who are not the direct victim of the offence but who may have intervened to protect the victim or deter the criminal. We are aware that it has so far been invoked only in respect of damages claims by police rather than by others who have sought to rely on the provisions as a defence in a number of cases. As noble Lords have mentioned, Lord Justice Sedley, in the case of Adorian v The Commissioner of Police of the Metropolis, made a number of criticisms.
Section 329 of the 2003 Act is not a licence for the police to use disproportionate force as under the criminal law. The police can use only reasonable force. Neither does the section affect the criminal liability of householders, victims and others. Let us also keep in mind that the section applies only when the offender has been convicted of an imprisonable offence committed on the same occasion as the incident he is now suing for.
With these points in mind, this amendment raises a number of issues. First, is it fair and reasonable under general law to treat a person who holds the office of constable less advantageously than any other member of the public? Secondly, we should be very clear on what the practical consequences will be before making an amendment which would result in making it easier for a convicted offender to sue the police for damages. Thirdly, we need to be a little clearer on how this amendment might work, given that the powers of constables apply 24 hours a day, seven days a week. An off-duty constable who exercises this power to arrest a suspect found breaking into his own private dwelling or a neighbour’s dwelling would still be acting in the course of his or her duty. We also need to consider how the amendment would apply to special constables or others who are lawfully employed to prevent crime.
We note the thrust of the comments in the Adorian case and that the application of Section 329 to the police was not expressly discussed in Hansard at the time that that legislation was passing through Parliament. However, we are currently unconvinced that for the police to invoke Section 329 is really an unintended consequence of that section. Arguably, the police are the people most likely to rely on a provision which restricts liability towards a person who is committing a criminal offence at the time. The reference in Section 329(5)(b) to the defendant believing that his act was necessary to,
“apprehend, or secure the conviction, of the claimant after he had committed an offence”,
might suggest that it was not so very far from Parliament’s contemplation that the police could seek to invoke this provision. But what matters is whether it is right, fair and proportionate for this protection to apply to constables.
I am afraid that as yet we remain unconvinced that the provisions in Section 329 are not right, fair and proportionate in their application to the police. Therefore, we remain unconvinced that they require amendment as the noble Lord suggests. In particular, we cannot see any reason why the civil liability of a victim and a constable who act jointly on the same occasion, or act as individuals on separate occasions, to resist and detain the convicted offender should not be subject to the same threshold.
Nevertheless, as this amendment raises important issues relating to the role and powers of the police, and given that the noble Lord has been patiently pursuing this matter for some time, I can give the noble Lord and the noble Baroness on his behalf the assurance that this Government, while bearing in mind other government priorities, will take one final look at this matter before the next stage. On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness feels able to withdraw this amendment.
My noble friend has made a number of detailed points on the amendment, which I understand. I am prepared now to undergo a seminar by my noble friend when he has read Hansard but the important point is that the Government have acknowledged that this amendment is deserving of some thought. I am grateful for that and I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 233A withdrawn.
Schedule 14 : Police: complaints
Amendment 234 not moved.
Schedule 14 agreed.
Clause 97 : Interpretation of Police Act 1996
Amendments 234ZZA to 234ZZD not moved.
Clause 97 agreed.
Clause 98 : Amendments of the Interpretation Act 1978
Amendment 234ZZE not moved.
Clause 98 agreed.
Clause 99 agreed.
Schedule 15 : Police reform: transitional provision
Amendment 234ZZF not moved.
Schedule 15 agreed.
Clause 100 agreed.
Schedule 16 : Police reform: minor and consequential amendments
Amendments 234ZA to 234BE not moved.
Schedule 16 agreed.
235: After Schedule 16, insert the following new Schedule—
“SCHEDULEYouth rehabilitation orders: alcohol monitoring requirement1 The Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008 is amended as follows.
2 In section 1 (youth rehabilitation orders), after subsection (1)(n) insert—
“(na) an alcohol monitoring requirement (see paragraph 24A of that Schedule),”.3 (1) Schedule 1 (further provision about youth rehabilitation orders) is amended in accordance with this paragraph.
(2) In paragraph 1 (imposition of requirements), after sub-paragraph (k), insert—
“(ka) paragraph 24A(2) (alcohol monitoring requirement), and”.(3) In paragraph 34(4) (provision of copies of orders), after the entry for “an intoxicating substance treatment requirement”, insert—
“An alcohol monitoring requirement Any person specified under paragraph 24A(1)”.
“An alcohol monitoring requirement
Any person specified under paragraph 24A(1)”.
(2) In paragraph 3(1) (duty to give warning), after “youth rehabilitation order”, insert “, other than an order imposing an alcohol monitoring requirement,”.
(3) After paragraph 4, insert—
“Breach of an alcohol monitoring requirement4A If the responsible officer is of the opinion that the offender has failed without reasonable excuse to comply with an alcohol monitoring requirement, the officer may arrest the offender and must cause an information to be laid before a justice of the peace in respect of that failure.”.
(4) In paragraph 21(1) (warrants), after “by virtue of this Schedule” insert “or under paragraph 4A”.”
My Lords, I am most grateful to the Front Benches for allowing a partial degrouping whereby we will debate Amendments 235, 236, 242 and 243 in this group, and in the next group consider Amendment 237A and link with it Amendment 244.
This is a new part of the Bill. The new clause I want to attempt to insert relates to a requirement for alcohol monitoring. This Bill was heralded in the gracious Speech as legislation that would be introduced,
“to make the police service more accountable to local people and to tackle alcohol-related violence”.—[Official Report, 25/5/10; col. 6.]
That is precisely what this amendment seeks to do. It falls within the scope of the Bill as it would give the courts additional powers regarding alcohol-related behaviour and complements police and licensing authorities’ powers. It is consistent with the objectives of the legislation by ensuring that alcohol-related violence is tackled at the point of sale and supply, and by changing behaviour related to alcohol and crime through clearer punishments. The Mayor of London, with whose office these amendments have been prepared, wants to trial a compulsory sobriety scheme in the capital. This amendment would introduce a new clause to allow the introduction of a new sentencing power: the alcohol monitoring requirement. It would amend previous Acts, the Criminal Justice Act 2003 and the Criminal Justice and Immigration Act 2008.
Let me be clear that the amendments would not require the adoption of a scheme, but would simply allow authorities such as courts within the Mayor of London’s region to pilot and evaluate the scheme. The alcohol monitoring requirement would give courts the power to require that an offender should abstain from alcohol and be regularly tested to ensure compliance as part of any community or custodial sentence. If the test is breached, there is a quick and coherent process of possible apprehension, which may mean a night in a police cell and reappearance in the magistrates’ court. That would have to be decided locally. A compulsory sobriety scheme does not criminalise youngsters. It allows the sentencing of those already before the courts to be more appropriate.
I shall try to explain why it is needed, how it will work, and how its introduction in pilots will allow the cost-efficacy models to be tested in practice. Alcohol-related anti-social behaviour and violence plagues our towns and cities, and London has disproportionate levels of these. It threatens the safety and well-being of citizens and is burning a hole in police and NHS budgets. Indeed, the Home Office recently identified that 46 per cent of police authorities find that the night-time economy now accounts for the main cause of overtime payments. In 2008-09, 8.6 crimes per 1,000 population were alcohol related, but in London the figure is 12.4 crimes, which is staggeringly high. Despite under-reporting, last year in London alcohol was flagged against 18,403 crimes of violence against the person, 3,612 incidents of criminal damage and 2,136 theft and handling offences. London has the highest rate of alcohol-related violent crimes and sexual offences in England.
Alcohol also plagues our homes, as much domestic violence is alcohol-linked. In England and Wales, almost half of all violent crime each year—almost 1 million crimes—is alcohol fuelled, costing about £8 billion to £13 billion per year overall. However, the total cost to the nation is nearer to £22 billion when all aspects are considered.
Last year, alcohol misuse cost the NHS £2.7 billion, with 70 per cent of the cost borne by the hospital sector. One in five calls to the London Ambulance Service last year were alcohol related—a total of 60,686 calls, or one every 8.5 minutes. This is a 25 per cent rise since the new licensing laws were introduced. Forty per cent of all A&E attendances are associated with alcohol misuse, but, after 10 o’clock at night, this proportion rises to more than 70 per cent and, in some parts of London, to more than 80 per cent. Many of these attendances involve people who are drunk, abuse staff, are difficult to manage and make disproportionate demands on medical, nursing and security staff at high-cost times, with care of seriously ill patients who are not alcohol fuelled being potentially compromised in the process.
In England and Wales, 319 people were treated in A&E for injuries in violence, of whom 130,000 were intoxicated at the time of injury. That was last year alone. Overall, there were 1 million alcohol-related hospital admissions in England and 54,000 in Wales. If the current trajectory is maintained, there will be 1.5 million such admissions annually by the end of the current Parliament. This is an escalating problem. On top of this, children in homes where alcohol-fuelled violence and aggression occur are at risk of ending up in care and underperform academically. They also learn the behaviours they witness. They are at greater risk of alcohol-related disorders, both medical and social, later in life.
The amendment would allow for the alcohol monitoring requirement as an additional recourse in the courts. The requirement combines rehabilitation for the individual, the potential for reductions in repeat offending and custodial sanctions. More importantly, it will have a wider impact on society by reaffirming that alcohol is not an excuse for criminal behaviour. It also represents a shift in the way we punish offenders by offering clear, immediate consequences if the alcohol monitoring requirement is breached, which is a completely new approach. It is based on the model from South Dakota in the United States, where the benefits include reducing recidivism, reducing the number of people going into prison and therefore the cost of prisons, and allowing offenders to remain with their families and in employment.
A number of key principles are drawn from the original South Dakota scheme. First, the offender must undergo daily testing. Secondly, the offender must pay for their testing in some form, ideally daily or weekly as opposed to a one-off fine. Thirdly, there must be a formal process for apprehension of the offender, or something else if the terms of the programme are breached. Unlike the current system, the new and innovative rules are simple and transparent, and punishment is certain, proportionate and swift. They employ behavioural triage to reserve prison for appropriate offenders, mandate abstinence and offer treatment. In South Dakota over the past six years, 99.6 per cent of tests collected have been negative, showing a remarkable compliance with the scheme.
The three main objectives of the alcohol monitoring requirement are: first, to reduce the number of alcohol-related incidents, particularly those which are violence related, and to improve public safety, perception of safety and public well-being; secondly, to reduce the cost of alcohol-related crime to statutory services; and, thirdly, to support a long-term shift in public attitudes towards the use of alcohol by making a clear statement about the acceptability of behaviour surrounding alcohol consumption supported with clear consequences.
This is how it might work. The person is convicted of an offence that is shown to be alcohol related. In sentencing, the court will have the additional option of the compulsory sobriety scheme. At regular intervals, decided by the court—usually daily or twice daily—the offender goes to a testing point, pays for the test and is breathalysed. If there is doubt, a further test can ensue. If the person is over the limit, the suspended element of their sentence could come into play. The cost of the test could be set at an appropriate level for the individual; it will be substantially less than they would have spent on alcohol anyway and will offset the cost of testing. By each test being paid for, the financial blow to others in the home, such as children, which occurs with a one-off fine is avoided. The offender stays at home with the family and remains sober, remains in work if employed and the children in the family do not bear the cost of the offence.
The punishment can fit the crime. The amendment will allow such a scheme to be piloted in areas that wish to try it. It gives more local levers to alcohol control. I beg to move.
My Lords, I am extremely interested in the noble Baroness’s amendment but it addresses only half the issues. In my experience, the crimes that come about from abuse of alcohol start because there has been an abuse of drugs first. That mixture is important; it is quite rare that it is purely alcohol. In the late-night bars and clubs that I used to see, it was a combination of the two. I do not know how my noble friend the Minister is going to reply, but to ignore any treatment on the drug part of the issue would deal with only half the problem. Unless one deals with that, the noble Baroness’s initiative would be bound to fail.
My Lords, I support all of the amendments of the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and I shall speak particularly to those in my name.
In response to the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, without doubt there is a frequent link between drug taking, drinking, nicotine and a range of other addictions, including gambling. However, alcohol is on a quite different scale to drug taking. Even though drug taking is a big problem, we are talking about a scourge which afflicts many city centres throughout the whole of the country. I shall not repeat all the points that I made at Second Reading but, in addition to London, there are significant problems elsewhere. London is probably the worst of the lot but, in Brighton, in the order of 70 per cent of all admissions to A&E on Friday and Saturday nights are alcohol related. Some cases relate to substances, too, but primarily they are alcohol related. The chief medical officer down there, to whom I spoke last week, said that they were spending in the order of £100 million a year in the Brighton area in dealing with the problems which arise. We have to give careful consideration to the views put before us in these amendments.
Alcohol leads to problems with public disorder, drinking and driving—on which there will be amendments later—and, in particular, domestic violence. I recall particularly the Home Secretary’s statement last summer when she made it clear in a speech to the Women’s Aid conference that the Government’s ambition is nothing less than ending all forms of violence against women and girls. I see an opportunity in the amendment to address issues involving other related topics, particularly violence against women.
I declare an interest as a patron of the Everyman Trust, which endeavours to provide counselling for men—it is mainly men but there are one or two women—who are involved with violence within their families. They come to us because they want to stop being violent. They have a self-awareness of their problem but they do not how to resolve it. In debates in the House, the noble Baroness, Lady Verma, has been involved in encouraging us to try to expand the activities of the organisation.
If we can get these amendments through I can see a further opportunity arising. If the Government were to cast their eyes over wider fronts they would see chances—particularly given their concept of the big society—to pull in a range of people to assist with those going through this monitoring scheme.
I am sorry that the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, is not with us today, and I hope we can all wish him a speedy recovery so that he is back with us quickly. He knows a lot about the police work undertaken in the Thames Valley and I want to mention a model developed there, which started in High Wycombe, where there was co-operation between the police, NOMS itself, which was running the scheme, and Alcoholics Anonymous. Under the scheme, offenders who had either been sentenced, were facing imprisonment but had their imprisonment stayed or alternatively had been given community sentences were obliged, provided they were willing to participate, to attend AA meetings. They went to these meetings under guidance from NOMS and got chitties that confirmed they had attended the meeting and that they were endeavouring to work the 12-step programme, which is used in many places to secure recovery from both alcohol and drug addictions, and, indeed, other related addictions. This worked extraordinarily successfully. It was started in 2007 and the intention was that this was going to be rolled out throughout the rest of that area, and in turn perhaps used in locations in other parts of the country. Indeed, I believe there has been some experimentation with it in the London area.
AA, for those who do not know anything about it, has existed for over 60 years. It has a very strong record in helping people to recover from alcoholism and other related addictions. It has 2.5 million members in 160 countries and a reasonably high level of sobriety achieved among the participants. Most importantly, it is an organisation that provides a free service. It is entirely self-supporting and does not take a penny from any Government in any country in the world. However, along with many other voluntary organisations that I can name—like the Everyman Trust, which I just mentioned, Respect, which assists women who have problems with violence within their families and which also assists the males in those families, and also MARAC, a very well known organisation assisting women with violence—it can be linked in to these kinds of experiments if they are set up within the London area. There is a very significant opportunity here for the Government to think on a broader frame rather than simply seeing it in criminal terms.
The experiment in the Thames Valley, regrettably, has ground to a halt and has not been rolled out in other parts of NOMS or in other parts of the country. It managed to secure an award for one of the best new initiatives taken to deal with people with criminal offences linked to alcohol, but, for funding reasons, it has not been taken any further forward. I can understand in the present circumstances why there is a disinclination to start embracing other changes that may incur additional expenditure, but, balanced against that, we have to look at the costs that are incurred through abuse of alcohol over such a wide front and see whether we cannot perhaps utilise the willingness of volunteers in other organisations to help us to try to find the solution.
I suggest to the Minister, and in turn to the Home Secretary, that they give some very favourable consideration to the proposals that have been laid before the House today and that they look at some of the other activities that have been undertaken by NOMS—starting in High Wycombe and then partially rolled out—to see whether we cannot bring a number of these initiatives together. Perhaps by the time we come to Report, if the Government are willing to give favourable consideration to it, we might even look for one or two additional amendments that would pull in voluntary organisations to ensure that people embarking on sobriety stay with it and avoid the kind of problems we have had in the past.
One thing that any of us who have been involved with drink and drugs knows is that to maintain recovery and sobriety, there has to be an ongoing process. If you put people in prison, get them sober in prison and then let them out through the door, the next thing is they are back on the circuit again if they are on their own. They need support and assistance on an ongoing basis. This provides an opportunity to get different solutions to the problem on the statute book and then in turn to link in to various elements within the third sector which would jump at the chance to be working with Government in providing long-term solutions for people with these problems.
Among the reasons why the High Wycombe model did not work was that it was run entirely voluntarily within that area but such a model is not in the Bill. Getting this into the Bill is very important not just for London but for those other areas that might want to pick up and run with it. It might set a model that the Government can then utilise—a new initiative for the rest of the country.
My Lords, in welcoming this initiative, both as tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, and as supported and encouraged by the Mayor of London, I look forward, if this is successful, to the Boris bins where people will go for their regular breathalyser. The initiative could be one that runs. I particularly support this initiative because, as my noble friend Lord Brooke has mentioned, of its recognition of the role that alcohol plays in crime and, especially, in domestic violence.
As an Alcohol Concern report has shown, there is already clear evidence of the link between alcohol and domestic abuse and, indeed, with child protection issues. Alcohol Concern has documented how often the criminal behaviour is repeated if the alcohol abuse is not tackled. It has many examples of its clients saying, “He only hits me when he's been drinking”—and I am afraid it is mostly a he. The response of advisers such as the alcohol support workers is, “If you knew you were going to hit the person you most loved once you have drunk, do you think you'd have that first drink?”. That is the problem—the fact that so many men continue to take that first drink shows how valuable an intervention aimed at offenders could be. The sobriety scheme could play an important role in this, although it is not enough on its own.
As my noble friend has just mentioned, alcohol referral schemes need to work alongside the sobriety scheme because people who have failed to tackle their misuse of alcohol are likely to need some assistance to work in parallel with this breath-testing. This may involve just a fairly brief intervention by experienced staff but I hope that the scheme would be allied to the provision of such help. Such help will depend on the provision of resources both by the Greater London Authority, if it happens there, and by the Government. It is deeply discouraging that the Department of Health has just cut by 100 per cent the funding of Alcohol Concern, the national agency on alcohol misuse which not only does the bulk of preventive work in this area but helps to set up and support local voluntary agencies that provide front-line services such as the Camden alcohol service agency, in which I declare an interest as a trustee.
Without Alcohol Concern and other national agencies working to ensure that help is available across London and elsewhere for such people who would enter this scheme, we risk this excellent initiative being undermined by dealing only with short-term sobriety rather than longer-term drinking problems. Nevertheless, I warmly welcome this initiative and congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, on introducing it. I look forward to seeing such a pilot, albeit one that I hope is supported with treatment for those who have failed to manage their alcohol abuse.
My Lords, I, too, support this initiative introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff—so much so that I have put my name to Amendments 242 and 243. I will not detain the House for long in explaining why but, briefly, I, like everyone else, also have concerns about antisocial behaviour and crimes. They are the sorts of crimes that are often fuelled by alcohol. My interest is in how the people and communities affected by those crimes are impacted in terms of their own morale and their ambitions for themselves and their families. So when I first heard about this initiative proposed by the Mayor of London’s office, it struck me as something which made sense and was worth a go. For that reason, I thought that this proposal was seriously worth considering and I wanted to support it today, not just because of what it is trying to achieve in reducing the kinds of crime that affect people’s lives in a penetrating and long-term way but because the simplicity of the way it operates. As has been described in detail by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, if alcohol is found to have been the primary reason behind a crime, the offender commits to staying sober, is required to take a test twice a day for which he has to pay, and if he fails that test or does not turn up for it, then straightforward consequences occur.
The initiative has a clear aim and is simple in practice. It is inexpensive once the initial set-up costs are covered—it appears, from the information I have received, to be cost-neutral. The evidence shows that it can work; we have seen it work in the places in America where it has been in operation. For those reasons, I support and commend the amendment.
My Lords, I support the amendment too, but I do not wish to repeat what has already been said in considerable detail about the effects of alcohol on the National Health Service, social services, prisons, police and the general population. I was chairman of the alcohol education centre many years ago at the Maudsley Hospital in south-east London. The problem of alcohol has not changed in its results since the 1970s; however, because of its increased availability in terms of price and outlets, it is now a much greater problem, and we see it on our streets. What I like about Amendment 242 in particular, as well as the other amendments, is that such a scheme can be piloted and evaluated. There have been many attempts to deal with the street problem of alcohol and of other aspects such as drugs, and the experiments do not always work. Evaluation and piloting are, in my judgment, a good idea.
I know that the noble Viscount, Lord Astor, is right about the drugs problem. We should not ignore that, but alcohol is different in one very important respect. It is a very powerful drug—as powerful as many others—but it is socially accepted and expected. That means that people use it without drugs; some use it with drugs but a large number of people use it without drugs and to excess.
My noble friends Lord Brooke and Lady Hayter made the point that it is a question of resources. That is the sort of thing we should build up over a period of time and why I have directed my remarks primarily to Amendment 242. When we see young people on television who are drunk in the street, you know that everyone sitting in front of their television sets is saying, “What do their parents think? What do those kids look like?”. At times like that I make myself think back to how I behaved in my adolescence. I would not like to go into this in too much detail, but—and this is relevant to what the noble Viscount said—I am afraid it is recognised that it is not just a mark of masculinity for men but for women too it is a mark of femininity, in a rather unusual way. That troubles me considerably, because although we all sit in front of our televisions and ask what their parents will say, the reality is that in many cases the parents will not say anything.
That, in a sense, is the problem. If a kid comes home drunk, one would like to think that most parents will wait until they recover but the next day, or in the future, will talk long and hard to that young person about the impact of alcohol. That often does not happen. Some parents do it, which is great; that is good parenting. However, a large number do not know what to do. It does not necessarily mean that they are bad parents, but they do not know how to deal with it. Adolescence is probably the most difficult period of parenting for both parents and adolescents alike. It is a challenge beyond belief at times and it is difficult for many parents to know what to do.
Then there is the more extreme side, where the parenting is of very poor quality or virtually non-existent. In which case, you have to ask who is helping that young person to understand what is happening to them. One of the reasons I like this amendment is the piloting, the evaluating and, as my two noble friends said, the ability to lock it into other support systems. There is a very simple analogy here with speeding, believe it or not. The previous Government introduced a system whereby, below a certain speed—if you were exceeding the speed limit but were not much above it—you could be referred to a speed awareness course instead of having points put on your licence and being fined. You simply went on the speed awareness course and, rather as implied by Amendments 242 and 243, had to pay the cost of that course, which was similar to the fine itself.
The interesting thing is that many people who go on those courses are unaware that speed kills, particularly in urban areas, and is responsible for the deaths and severe injury of many young children. People may have gathered by now that I did such a course. I was doing 36 miles per hour in a 30 miles per hour area at 3 am, taking my kids to the airport. I could not blame my kids entirely, although I felt like doing so at the time. It was a very good course and I recommend it for people generally. Its relevance in relation to alcohol is that some of the young people I have referred to will be unaware of the damage they are doing to their bodies in the long term—to the liver, the heart, the brain and other organs. Most of us who have gone through parenting will have explained this at times. It is not just a matter of making jokes about taking your liver to the dry cleaner. There is a bit more to it than that. It is about explaining what is happening to them and why they need to reduce their drinking. As always with adolescents, one learning experience is never—or very rarely—enough. You have to go through several learning experiences. I spread mine out over quite a few years when I was in that age group. If we can help young people to understand the damage that they are doing, that will be profoundly important.
I make one other point in this respect. We have learnt over the years something that we did not know in the 1970s. Some people are profoundly predisposed to becoming alcoholics and find it incredibly difficult to give up, precisely because alcohol is such a hard drug. In many ways it is more difficult to give up a drug such as alcohol, if you are totally dependent on it, than it is to give up heroin. There are parallels in that area. There is also a parallel with giving up smoking. Some people can give up smoking fairly easily. Others, because of their brain’s predisposition to accept the drug nicotine, find it much harder. Precisely the same applies to alcohol. Therefore, one of the things that could happen if we did this well over a period would be the building up of expertise in recognising those people early. If you recognise a person who has a predisposition to becoming addicted to alcohol fairly early in their career, your chances of getting them off it are much better than they would be otherwise. It is very difficult to get a person who has become a dependent alcoholic off alcohol in anything like a reasonable time, and very often you will fail.
My Lords, I apologise to the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay of Llandaff, and your Lordships’ House for being late. Having waited all day for licensing, it is very embarrassing to be late. I shall therefore be extremely brief.
I speak primarily to the proposed new clauses in Amendments 242 and 243. I was approached by the mayor’s office. I am not entirely clear why, but I am a veteran of the passage of the Licensing Act 2003 through your Lordships’ House, in which I participated heavily because for 24 years I had represented the swathe of the West End which ran from W2 in Bayswater to the far end of the EC postal district, an area in which a great deal of alcohol is consumed. I listened closely to the mayor’s representatives. I agreed my support. It would be wrong, given that I did not hear the start of the debate—although I came in on the speech of my noble namesake—for me to speak at length. However, on the basis of what the mayor’s representatives explained to me in their presentation, I am strongly in favour of an experiment along the lines of these two proposed new clauses.
I realise, rather bleakly, that this idea runs up against the risk of those initials, NIH: “Not invented here”. However, I hope that the Government will be sufficiently open-minded to think that it is worth an experiment. I hope very much that that takes place.
While I am on my feet, I will make one or two points before the Minister responds. The noble Viscount, Lord Astor, made an interesting point. As a number of speakers have said, we will have to come back to this from time to time during debates on this portion of the Bill. I sense around the House an acceptance that, as a society, we have not really grasped the evidence before us that there is a need now for an overarching policy on all psychoactive substances, including drugs, tobacco and alcohol. If we do not grasp that opportunity now, we will all suffer. I accept what the noble Viscount said—that in this case there will be an element of drugs—but the greater problem is that we are not dealing with this in a holistic way.
Secondly, the figures that we have heard today about how alcohol influences our society are really terrible. They are growing and getting worse, and we must do something about it. The frustration I have also heard around the Chamber is that there has not been a scheme—or schemes—that we could get behind which would really have an impact. In that sense, the sobriety scheme seems an appropriate and attractive way to go forward. We will be supportive of that if the Minister is minded to take it further. It seems to give a triple win: it reduces alcohol-related crime and disease; it reduces the costs to our public services, particularly to those of the police and health; and, most importantly, it will help to shift our culture. For those reasons, taken together, one would want to support it.
Having said that, one of the arguments used to persuade your Lordships’ House was that the Mayor of London wants to introduce this as a pilot and would be giving his full support to it. Of course, that name, attached to any project, does not commend itself to this side of the House, but we will be gracious and not oppose it on this occasion.
My Lords, I also support this group of amendments. When Kit Malthouse, the deputy mayor of London—for those who are not aware, he is the putative deputy MOPC for London, so clearly a person of great relevance to these discussions—first raised this matter with me, I admit to being rather cynical about it; first, for the reasons my noble friend Lord Stevenson alluded to about this being just another mayoral gimmick, but also because I did not immediately see that the experience of South Dakota was necessarily relevant to London. However, having looked in detail at the proposals that have come forward from the mayor’s office, and the thought that has gone into them, I think that it is worth reflecting on the fact that nothing is lost by going down this road, having a trial in one or two London boroughs and seeing how it works. If it is useful, you can extend it and use it more widely. That is its basis.
Given the cynicism that sometimes surrounds mayoral initiatives in London, it was interesting to note that when the measure was presented to a cross-party grouping of colleagues in the Metropolitan Police Authority, after people had got over their initial cynicism they said, “This is an idea that is worth trying. Let’s see how it goes. It would certainly be worth supporting and we hope that the Government will support it as well”. Therefore, we have an entirely unanimous debate in this House.
My Lords, this has been a helpful and interesting debate. I fully acknowledge the picture that was painted by the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, when she explained what happens in the NHS as a result of this problem. From the Home Office perspective, we are particularly concerned about crime associated with alcohol consumption and the cost to public services overall. I hope that the noble Lord, Lord Soley, will not mind when I say that I suspect that he and I are of a generation who might be described as baby boomers. Things are very different from when we were younger. That does not mean to say that I did not try alcohol. Like most people, I did and I still enjoy a drink. However, a change has occurred. There is a culture now in this country that it is acceptable to be drunk in public places. For several people to be drunk at one time is no longer regarded as shocking.
Under my new portfolio I have personal ministerial responsibility for both drug and alcohol policy. I want to try to bear down not just on what is seen as an adolescent problem but on a situation that is very different from that which pertained when I was young. Some people who hold down responsible jobs by day do not think that they have had a good time unless they get absolutely bladdered on a Friday and Saturday night. That is causing damage right across the piece. The noble Baroness mentioned the effect of that particularly on the NHS and it certainly affects crime figures as far as the Home Office is concerned. I had an emergency admittance to an A&E department at one o’clock in the morning on a Saturday and observed the chaos that was going on around me. A nurse told me that I was the only sober patient in that department. These are not unique occurrences; they happen regularly up and down the country on a Friday and Saturday night.
I hope that the noble Lord will forgive me, but I wish to make some progress. I support the underlying principles of this amendment, but I am going to have to resist its inclusion in this legislation. However, I do not rule out its possible inclusion in future legislation for the following reason. I believe that many elements of the scheme that has been suggested, which the mayor’s office wants to bring forward—the so-called sobriety scheme—can be achieved without primary legislation. The Home Office will want to work with the mayor’s office to trial a scheme, possibly using conditional cautions, for example, before bringing forward primary legislation. We could test the risks and costs of such a scheme while piloting something quite quickly. The difficulty with just transposing the South Dakota scheme to the UK is that we would run into a lot of difficulties, not least with the European Court of Human Rights, because the South Dakota scheme requires somebody to attend a prison when they are breathalysed; if they do not pass the breathalyser test, they are immediately imprisoned. I think that habeas corpus might come into that somewhere along the line. Imprisoning somebody without trial is not something that we tend to do in this country.
Having said that, we are clear that this measure is worth while and is something in which we want to be engaged. If, as has been mentioned around the Chamber, the trial in London can be taken forward—we can work out all the problems with it and try to overcome them—it will need primary legislation. I assure the House that the Home Office will work primarily with the Department of Health, which is taking the lead on an alcohol strategy that is due out later this year. We will work quickly and closely with that department to ensure that we gain experience from the trial. If it is successful, we will see how we can mainstream it around the country.
I should point out, because several noble Lords mentioned this—particularly the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe—that sobriety in itself does not tackle alcohol-related problems. We know that. Many offenders will require clinical treatment and support to aid their recovery. Therefore, in tandem with the pilot in London, I hope that we will look at what back-up services are needed to address the problem. It is not always the case that alcohol abuse on our streets creates crime. As has been mentioned, domestic violence can be the result of alcohol abuse behind closed doors. It is sometimes much more difficult to find the causes and solutions to that.
Therefore, we should approach this in a holistic way. I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, will accept from me—she and I have worked together on mental health issues, particularly in past years—that I have a genuine interest in this issue. As a Member of Parliament for 18 years, I took a particular interest in alcohol abuse and in programmes to address it. It has often been the poor relation in terms of getting the right support. I take the point that NGOs and charities have a real role to play.
On that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness will feel able to withdraw her amendment. I am genuinely keen to see this issue progress as part of a more holistic approach to tackling the problem and I intend personally as a Minister to try to take this forward and make a difference.
I am most grateful to the Minister, whose sincerity I believe in. I have enjoyed working with her in the past and I hope that we can work on this together. I am also grateful to all noble Lords who spoke in support of the amendment and the other amendments in the group. I completely recognise the need for other strategies in conjunction with this. If we look just at the evidence from South Dakota, it is worth noting that it has an 80 per cent long-term sobriety rate. There is therefore something about using the unique teachable moments, which is what Professor Touquet at St Mary’s has been piloting and developing over the years in his A&E department, whereby you use the fact that the person has presented to get them to address all the problems that underlie alcohol-seeking behaviours.
I also completely agree that the culture change is shocking. I was recently in a student’s room, because she was ill. A bottle of vodka was on her window sill, as was the case in the rooms of all her housemates. The birthday card by her bed from her best friend said, “Looking forward to getting drunk together”. That is a complete change from the days when the Minister and I were students.
I regret that the Minister feels that this amendment cannot be made to the Bill, because I would have dearly loved to have piloted this measure in Wales. Given that I have not discussed the amendment with the Welsh Assembly Government and Ministers, I did not feel that it was appropriate to raise it earlier in the debate, but I hope that we will be able to work on this. I have a glimmer of hope that we may be able to come back to something later during the passage of the Bill. I therefore beg leave to withdraw the amendment at this stage.
Amendment 235 withdrawn.
Amendment 236 not moved.
Clauses 101 and 102 agreed.
Clause 103 : Interpretation of Part 1
Amendment 237 not moved.
Clause 103 agreed.
Clause 104 : Licensing authorities as responsible authorities
237ZA: Clause 104, page 66, line 18, at end insert—
“(aa) after paragraph (a) insert—“(aa) the Chief Constable of the British Transport Police Force, for any premises situated in the area in which that Force has jurisdiction,”,”
My Lords, I speak on behalf of the noble Lord, Lord Bradshaw, who is recovering from an operation. The noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, also cannot be here. I will not detain your Lordships. The three amendments in the group merely continue what was proposed in Amendment 231A—to include the British Transport Police in arrangements from which it has previously been excluded and particularly to recognise its responsibility in areas that previously have been covered by other police forces. The Minister has already commented on the matter and I merely ask that the British Transport Police be added to those clauses. I beg to move.
The amendments would, as the noble Lord, Lord Ramsbotham, said, put the British Transport Police on a par, in certain key respects, with the 43 territorial police forces in England and Wales for the purposes of the Licensing Act 2003.
On Amendment 237ZA, which would add the BTP as a responsible authority, the Licensing Act is administered by local licensing authorities, which adopt licensing strategies and take decisions that are appropriate for their respective local areas. The law requires that the responsible authorities listed in the Act are notified automatically of licensing applications, reviews and other licensing decisions that licensing authorities have to make, to enable them to make representations in relation to particular premises on the promotion of the statutory licensing objectives in the local area.
For that reason, the chief officer of police for the geographic area is a responsible authority under the Act and can make representations to the licensing authorities in respect of any licence application, variation or review. Licence applicants and holders are required to submit their applications to all responsible authorities. The Government are unwilling to add to the bureaucratic burden on businesses by adding responsible authorities unnecessarily.
The BTP is a non-geographic force with a specific, non-regional jurisdiction. It covers the transport network as a whole. It certainly has expert knowledge on alcohol-related late-night crime and disorder around transport hubs and on transport, but we believe that alcohol-related problems around transport hubs and on public transport are part of the overall picture of alcohol-related crime in an area and it is important that the response to them is properly co-ordinated.
We believe that the chief officer of police for the geographic area is the appropriate person to take an overview of the situation in that area and to channel any concerns about licensed premises, including those from the BTP, to the local authority. We are confident that the BTP has effective lines of communication with the geographic constabularies and will continue to use them to raise any issues that it has relating to licensing.
I point out that one of the important consequences of the removal of the test of vicinity from the Licensing Act 2003, which the Bill proposes and which we will debate shortly, is that it will be open for anyone, including the BTP, to make representations to the licensing authority in their own right, regardless of where they live or operate, about licence applications and variations, provided that those representations are about the likely effect of the grant or variation of the licence on the promotion of licensing objectives.
Amendment 240BA would make the BTP a relevant person for the purposes of allowing it to object to temporary events notices. Residents’ associations told us that, after crime, noise was their greatest concern in relation to temporary events. We believe that extending the right to object to the environmental health authority, and allowing it and the police to object on grounds of all four licensing objectives, should provide adequate protection for residents while minimising unnecessary bureaucracy. Again, I am confident that, if the BTP has concerns about late-night crime and disorder concerning temporary events, the mechanisms already exist to channel them through established liaison procedures with territorial constabularies.
On Amendment 241MA, the main purpose of the levy is that licensed premises that sell alcohol late at night can contribute towards the resulting costs to the police. Although I recognise that the BTP must deal with late-night crime and disorder, which is often fuelled by alcohol consumption, the fact is that the geographic constabularies bear the overwhelming burden of these costs.
However, the levy clauses will allow licensing authorities to retain up to 30 per cent of the net revenue to fund services late at night, such as taxi marshals. Licensing authorities could decide, at their discretion, to give some of their retained funds to the BTP. Furthermore, we have retained the power to amend the proportions and beneficiaries of the levy in regulations, should it be effective to hand some of the funds to bodies such as the BTP. The Government have the greatest respect for the British Transport Police, which carries out a difficult task tackling crime on our transport network. However, for the reasons that I have given, I ask the noble Lord not to press his amendment.
My Lords, I am grateful to the Minister for that detailed reply, which has given us a great deal to think about. Having been asked to take up the cause of the British Transport Police, I very much hope that before Report stage it may be possible for those of us who are interested in the BTP to have a discussion about these matters to decide whether they are worth bringing forward again on Report. In that anticipation, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 237ZA withdrawn.
Clause 104 agreed.
237A: After Clause 104, insert the following new Clause—
“General duties of licensing authorities
(1) The Licensing Act 2003 is amended as follows.
(2) In section 4(2), after paragraph (d) insert—
“(e) protecting and improving public health”.”
This amendment seeks to go back to the general duties of licensing authorities to ask why we do not add, to the specific responsibilities, the improvement of public health. Given what we have heard so far, that might be narrowed down further to public health in relation to alcohol abuse. As the House will have picked up from my earlier remarks, I take a wider view on this, so I think I will leave the wording as it is and address my remarks to that, although I will deal primarily with alcohol, as that has been the main topic of our discussion so far.
We have already heard from many noble Lords about the problems caused by alcohol. Alcohol has been part of our culture for centuries and many people use it sensibly, although its misuse has become a serious and worsening public health problem in the United Kingdom. Misuse of alcohol, whether as chronically heavy drinking, binge drinking or even moderate drinking in inappropriate circumstances, not only poses a threat to the health and well-being of the drinker but also to family, friends, communities and wider society, through such problems as crime, anti-social behaviour and loss of productivity. It is also directly linked to a range of health issues such as high blood pressure, mental ill health, accidental injury, violence, liver disease and sexually transmitted infections. Alcohol is potentially an addictive, psycho-active substance; it is rapidly absorbed into the blood-stream and its effects on brain function, such as slow reaction times and loss of inhibition, are felt very quickly.
Alcohol misuse can widen health inequalities and worsen problems of crime, anti-social behaviour and poverty, yet youth culture—through music, fashion and the media—often links alcohol with having a good time. The alcohol industry continues to find ways of promoting alcohol as a glamorous, exciting product to the youth market. Despite codes of practice prohibiting its association with social or sexual success, the industry frequently sponsors events that will appeal to young people, such as sports and live music.
A considerable body of evidence shows that the most effective alcohol policies are those that combine measures addressed at the whole population, such as increasing prices or decreasing availability, as well as targeting groups who are vulnerable or disadvantaged, where the risk of harm may be greatest. A reduction in alcohol consumption at population level is needed, together with focused programmes aimed at specific risk groups such as young binge drinkers and older baby boomers, as we have already heard.
National policies need to support local strategies which will develop and implement a multisectoral approach to both preventing alcohol misuse and dealing with its consequences. This amendment underpins what I have said, as by adding,
“protecting and improving public health”,
with particular reference to alcohol, we would allow local agencies, local authorities and local licensing bodies to bring into play, in a much more focused way, their concern about the impact of any decisions that they take in respect of public health, which would have an impact on costs to the authority. For that reason I beg to move the amendment.
However, I end by saying that we support Amendment 244, as that is a very good example of the way in which a focus on public health might help the licensing authority to make decisions. If a licensing authority has, on a regular basis, to consider the overall impact of the number of licensed premises that it has allowed to operate, and it does so in the context of the overall health damage being done, we might see it taking somewhat different decisions. Therefore, we would support that amendment.
My Lords, I shall speak to Amendment 244, which unashamedly originates in Wales. Its aim is to make sure that “Licensed Premises Cumulative Impact (saturation) Policies” for local authorities have teeth and apply to off-licence premises, because at the moment they do not. The problem is the rise in alcohol consumption, in particular in our city centres, to which supermarkets have greatly contributed, with cheap alcohol often being a loss leader with price promotions. Young people buy alcohol to preload before going out, so they get intoxicated even before the beginning of the evening. They then tank up again on more alcohol from these outlets, because it is far cheaper than buying it on licensed premises. The problem is what to do in our city centres. The cumulative impact saturation policies do not have statutory status; they are only guidelines, so they are not enforceable and they are easily overturned by a legal challenge from retailers. I spoke about this at Second Reading and will not go through the argument again. However, the size of the problem in city centres warrants being addressed briefly.
We know that 60 per cent of liver disease is caused by alcohol abuse. Thirty years ago, that was seen in chronic alcoholics. Now it is seen in young drinkers who kill themselves with acute pancreatitis and liver failure. Individual human tragedies are known to everyone in the NHS: the student deformed for life, the student who falls under a train, the child burnt because somebody has got intoxicated and set fire to their home, or the 14 year-old who gets drunk and pregnant at a party. We have seen them all, and there is an increasing catalogue of these disasters. The other problem is the litter and environmental damage caused by alcohol misuse. Let us not forget that Damilola Taylor was killed not with a knife but with a supermarket lager bottle that had been left in the street.
In the UK, average consumption is now a staggering 9.7 litres of neat ethanol for every man aged 45 to 64. Sadly, women are rapidly catching up, with a 30 per cent rise in the incidence of heavy drinking in the past decade. In Cardiff city centre recently, a study asked people to be voluntarily breathalysed. One in three of the men and one in six of the women had damaging blood alcohol levels. The high-risk drinking patterns are concentrated particularly in ex-industrial heartlands such as the north-east, Humber and Yorkshire, and my own home, south Wales. Alcohol misuse accounted for 1,000 deaths in Wales in 2009, and the harm costs £1 billion annually—equivalent to £770 per Welsh household. Our trends in the UK are going in the opposite direction to those of many other countries. We have a rising incidence of liver disease deaths, but in France and Italy it is falling. Consumption by teenagers in England has overtaken that of teenagers in Spain and Italy.
The amendment would introduce a provision that “Licensed Premises Cumulative Impact (saturation) Policies” should include supermarkets and other off-licence premises. It will make it clear that they are included, with the result that managers of supermarkets and other off-licence premises will not be able to argue, as they have to date, that they are not included. It will also remove the current discrimination against licensed premises such as pubs produced by the current lack of clarity. Giving the impact policy statutory status would also allow revision and monitoring of the decisions taken.
The final part of the amendment includes a provision to ban the sale of alcohol in petrol station outlets. I have had representations about this and I recognise that in these outlets, drink is often purchased to consume later, and there is no evidence of a direct link between alcohol bought on those premises and drink-driving—although it appears to give a slightly inconsistent public message in relation to driving and alcohol. However, selling alcohol sometimes makes these outlets viable. I accept that this amendment is not perfect, and it may well be that it warrants refining in relation to that last part.
However, the other parts are important because it will finally allow local authorities to take decisions, empower the voice of people at a local level and make sure that those decisions are not challenged, as happened with Sainsbury’s in Cardiff by very highly paid barristers coming down from London with their managers and effectively driving a coach and horses through the guidance because it could not be enforced as it did not have statutory standing. It would also demonstrate consistency in those areas that are particularly bad hot spots of alcohol consumption, violence and crime, which are known to the local authorities in that area and would avoid inappropriately penalising rural areas where the sale of alcohol has to be managed in a different way. I commend the amendment to the House.
My Lords, my noble friend will speak to the substance of the amendments, but noble Lords may have noticed a minor flurry on these Benches when I went out to check whether there had been a reissue of the groupings and to see if I could find out just what was happening. We were not aware of the degrouping—that became clear before—nor of the grouping of the amendment to which the noble Baroness has just spoken with this amendment. I simply make a plea that if there are any further changes to the groupings in the list we are working to, noble Lords will use the informal arrangements of the House to make sure that we all end up speaking to the same group. That was in no way directed at the noble Baroness, who may have thought that this had all been sorted.