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Children and the Police

Volume 757: debated on Monday 24 November 2014


Asked by

To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children’s inquiry into children and the police.

My Lords, I beg leave to ask the Question standing in my name on the Order Paper. In doing so, I declare an interest as chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children.

My Lords, as the report states, young people may come into contact with the police for a variety of reasons and it is crucial that, when they do, the police treat them in a way that is appropriate to their age and status as children. We agree. The police have a statutory duty to safeguard and promote the welfare of children, and take this duty very seriously.

I thank the Minister for that response. I also thank the Minister for Crime Prevention, Lynne Featherstone, for her swift response in writing to the report. Does the Minister agree that one of the key issues in supporting children and young people is collaboration between agencies at a local and national level—agencies such as children’s services, social services, education and health, as well as the police? What are the Government doing to encourage that collaboration and the sharing of good practice between such agencies?

Let me also say at this point that the Government welcome the report, which was a thorough piece of work and contained a number of good, strong recommendations. We look forward to discussing that further with the officers when officials meet them on Monday. On the specific point, we are looking at ways in which information sharing can improve. There is now a centre of excellence in information sharing, and multiagency working hubs aimed particularly at safeguarding children. It is very much for those two bodies to take on the recommendations so clearly highlighted in the noble Baroness’s report.

My Lords, I declare an interest as the secretary to the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Children. I am delighted that the Government have listened so carefully to the work that we brought forward, particularly in ensuring that 18 year-olds will no longer be detained in police cells. However, the Minister knows that youngsters as young as 15 have been detained. How many children remain in police cells overnight, what ages are they, when will this practice cease, and when will local authorities have the resources to place those children appropriately?

It is certainly the case that those under the age of 16 should not be in police accommodation overnight but put into the care of the local authority, with an appropriate adult to look after their interests. We also welcome the change made in the Crime and Courts Bill, which applies to 17 year-olds. On specific numbers, I will get those to the noble Baroness.

My Lords, will the Government revise the national crime recording standards —as recommended by the inquiry, in which I declare I took part—so that looked-after children are dealt with in exactly the same way as others when there are trivial events that would not involve the police if they took place in a school or anywhere other than a children’s home?

My noble friend is absolutely right, and I read that section of the report with great interest because it made a sound recommendation, which is that we should avoid looked-after children in care coming into contact with, and getting engaged in, the criminal justice system at too early an age. The police need to look at the range of options that are open to them in dealing with young offenders from such backgrounds—as they are available when dealing with other offenders in the wider community.

My Lords, does the Minister accept the conclusion of the report that it is important that there are better relationships between children and the police, and the importance within that of safer school partnerships? If that is the case, does he understand that these are at risk because of the reductions in police budgets all over the country?

We understand that police budgets are under pressure, and there is a reason why we have had to take that action. However, the number of police on the front line is increasing as a proportion. Safer school partnerships are an excellent idea but it is for governors and heads to make the decision to employ them. I should also add that there are encouraging statistics on the growth in the numbers of police cadets—up 24% in the first six months of this year. We anticipate that they will increase further. That level of engagement through police cadets in schools could be very powerful indeed.

My Lords, I declare my interest as chairman of the Youth Justice Board. Following up the point made by my noble friend Lady Walmsley about looked-after children, both the Youth Justice Board and the police warmly welcomed the recommendations in this report, but it seems that the blockage is at the Home Office, with an overcommitment to statistics. Could the Minister use his influence with the Home Office so that the talks that he will have with the authors of the report can unblock the system and allow the police, the Youth Justice Board and secure children’s homes to approach this matter in a sensible way?

I will, and I pay tribute to the work that my noble friend does as chairman of the Youth Justice Board. It is an important partner in making sure that we move forward on this. I was not aware that there is a particular issue relating to statistics; this report very much feeds into the wider work that the Home Secretary is doing in reforming the way our police work, particularly in regard to their sensitivity toward children, who are more often the victims of crime by other children than the perpetrators.

My Lords, noble Lords will understand how important it is that young people and children have respect for the police. As my noble friend Lord Harris of Haringey said, young people are less frequently coming into contact with the police as we see cuts, fewer police officers at schools and fewer PCSOs. They do not come into contact with the police so much because police officers are not known in their local communities. It is also equally important that police have respect for young people. On the back of the report of the all-party group, what advice will be given to the College of Policing to ensure that respect for young people is an important training aspect there?

The College of Policing has a very important role to play here, because it can change the codes—which it is doing—on issues such as stop and search, and it can change the culture within the police, particularly in relation to underreported crimes such as rape and domestic violence. I therefore think that this is very much going with the grain of what the College of Policing, which was set up by this Government, is doing to enhance and improve standards in service throughout the police.