Committee (3rd Day)
Relevant documents: 3rd and 4th Reports from the Delegated Powers Committee and 3rd Report from the Joint Committee on Human Rights
Clause 51: Arrest elsewhere than at a police station: release before charge
180: Clause 51, page 70, line 28, leave out “inspector” and insert “sergeant”
My Lords, on behalf of my noble friend Lady Henig I wish to move the amendment tabled in her name and that of the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond. Clause 51 concerns pre-charge bail and the powers for someone to be released who has been arrested other than at a police station. Amendments 180 and 182 are practical and proportionate and support policing based on greater practitioner autonomy and expertise, which we believe falls in line with the empowerment drive by the Home Office and the College of Policing. Both amendments would reduce the level of the decision-making process from the rank of inspector to sergeant.
Police custody sergeants are well-trained practitioners who have responsibility for the care and treatment of suspects on a 24-hour basis. They make key decisions in line with PACE and other codes of practice. They have the necessary expertise to be able to adjust for a suspect to be released without bail and to apply conditions only where absolutely necessary and proportionate to protect the suspect, victim, witnesses and the wider public.
Amendment 184 concerns the rank of senior officers who can confirm that an investigation either by the SFO or FCA is under way and the applicable bail period. The amendment reduces the rank required of those who can be authorised with these powers from superintendent to inspector. The rank of inspector is a management rank and officers at this level would already be involved in exercising authorising powers and balancing the needs of the suspect. Officers holding this rank are numerous in the police service and are on duty on a 24-hour basis. It should also be noted that there has been a reduction in the number of officers holding the rank of superintendent, with a fall of 28% since 2010.
Officers with the rank of superintendent can take responsibility for any pre-charge reviews beyond the first review and oversee the application process for magistrates’ courts. They can also review any decision made by an inspector that is challenged by a suspect or their legal representative.
This group of amendments seeks to set out powers and responsibilities that are commensurate with the rank held and the practicalities of what is needed in particular situations. I beg to move.
My Lords, as we discussed at Second Reading, the purpose of the Government’s reforms to pre-charge bail is to end up with fewer people on bail for shorter periods of time. Part of the way we will do that is to raise the initial decision to impose bail from the custody officer who currently makes that decision—a sergeant—and to require an inspector to make it. At present, the College of Policing’s guidance suggests that an inspector should make a decision to extend bail beyond the initial period. The Bill would instead require a superintendent to make that decision.
The clear implication of these amendments is that the authorisation for pre-charge bail that the Government seek to set is too high, and that instead the current levels are in fact adequate and appropriate. As my right honourable friend the Prime Minister said when she described these reforms as Home Secretary at Second Reading in the House of Commons,
“it is apparent that a significant number of individuals have spent an inordinate amount of time on bail only to end up not being charged or, if charged, found not guilty. Of course, the police and prosecution need time to assemble and test the evidence, particularly in complex cases, before coming to a charging decision, but we need to recognise the stress caused when people are under investigation for prolonged periods, and the disruption to their lives where they are subject to onerous bail conditions … To address the legitimate concerns that have been raised about the current arrangements, the Bill introduces a number of safeguards”.—[Official Report, Commons, 7/3/16; col. 45.]
As well as setting clear times for the review of pre-charge bail, which we will debate shortly, the increased levels of accountability set out in the Bill, which these amendments seek to reverse, are an important safeguard against the misuse of pre-charge bail. The measures in the Bill significantly enhance the human rights protections for those accused of an offence, including setting a presumption that release pre-charge should be without bail and that bail should be considered regularly by the police—and after three months, by the courts—to ensure that bail is necessary and proportionate and that the investigation is progressed with appropriate speed and urgency.
In proposing these amendments, the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, and the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, on her behalf suggest that requiring the involvement of inspectors and superintendents is disproportionate, and that there is insufficient capacity within police forces for these officers to carry out their existing duties and to make the bail authorisation decisions required by the Bill. We do not consider that the evidence supports this argument.
According to most recent police workforce statistics, on 31 March this year, 1,112 chief superintendents and superintendents and 7,116 chief inspectors and inspectors were available for duty in the 43 police forces in England and Wales. If we use the job role proportions set out in those statistics, which record that approximately one-third of all police officers are in investigation roles and would therefore be ineligible to make bail decisions, it would leave some 734 superintendents and 4,697 inspectors available to do so.
From the figures in the impact assessment published alongside the Bill, which set out a worst-case scenario by assuming no reduction in the need for bail in spite of the other reforms in the Bill, those officers would need to make 404,000 initial bail decisions and 118,000 bail extensions, or 86 per inspector and 161 per superintendent over the course of a year. Given the need for increased police supervision of the use of pre-charge bail that I have described, the Government do not consider that these numbers are unmanageable for these ranks of police officer to carry out.
The Government recognise that the introduction of statutory controls on the use of pre-charge bail will entail additional work for the police when compared with the current free-for-all. Introducing effective controls in a situation where none exists at present will always have a cost, which the Government consider is justified by the enhancement to the rights of those who, let us not forget, have not even been charged with an offence, let alone been convicted. As I have described, we consider that the authorisation levels set out in the Bill strike the correct balance between accountability and bureaucracy. I therefore ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment on behalf of his noble friend.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her response to this short debate. Neither my noble friend Lady Henig nor the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, were able to be here today, so I was happy to propose the amendments on their behalf. I will reflect on the points made, read the debate and talk to my noble friend. I am happy to withdraw the amendment at this stage, but my noble friend may want to return to it on Report.
Amendment 180 withdrawn.
Clause 51 agreed.
Clauses 52 and 53 agreed.
181: After Clause 53, insert the following new Clause—
“Lack of evidence to charge
In section 37 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 (duties of custody officer before charge), after subsection (6) insert—“(6A) If a person is—(a) released without being charged under subsection (2), or(b) informed, after being questioned under caution, that no further action will be taken against the person,the custody officer shall, as soon as is reasonably practicable, write to the person to inform him that he has been released, or that no further action has been taken against him, on the grounds that there is a lack of evidence to charge him.(6B) In the letter referred to in subsection (6A), and any other written record of the decision to release the person without charge under subsection (2) or to take no further action against the person, the custody officer must use the words “lack of evidence” to describe the grounds on which the decision to release the person, or to take no further action against the person, was taken.””
My Lords, Amendment 181 seeks to right, or at least to mitigate, what I see as a wrong. In recent months, we have on many days heard, read or seen reports of individuals being investigated for crimes, particularly sex crimes. There is huge publicity, especially when one of those persons is already a public figure, which must be agony for those concerned.
Sometimes the investigation leads to prosecution and conviction, and then any sympathy one might have had is likely to evaporate or at least diminish. But sometimes it leads to an announcement by the police that there will be no prosecution, and that may be after many months. The phrase used to explain the decision is “insufficient evidence”. That is a most tendentious phrase. It implies “no smoke without fire” and is rather similar to the old Scottish “not proven” verdict.
The decision to investigate allegations must always be made by the police, but sometimes investigations come to nothing. There can then be a long period, perhaps a very long period, of waiting, and then there is the announcement of “insufficient evidence”. The essence of our system of justice is that criminal cases are tried on the facts, with a jury, with a verdict either of guilty or not guilty. That is how it should be. It is not a matter of mere semantics to object to the phrase which I have quoted. That is why I seek to change the wording in circumstances where the decision is made that there is not the evidence to prosecute from “insufficient evidence” to the much more neutral phrase “lack of evidence”. I beg to move.
My Lords, I support what my noble friend Lord Marlesford has said. He has identified something that has gone seriously wrong in recent years. The phrase “insufficient evidence” suggests the existence of some evidence. In some instances that will, of course, be right, but in other cases it will not be right—for example, in recent cases which will, doubtless, be in your Lordships’ minds. My noble friend has put forward a phrase which ought to be acceptable to the Government, but if it is not—and I am no wordsmith—perhaps I might suggest some alternatives. It would be proper to say, for example, “wrong to commence criminal proceedings” or “criminal proceedings are not justified”. Other phrases may occur to your Lordships.
What we must not do is to allow the police to come forward with a reason which implies the existence of a fire unsupported by sufficient smoke. That is not a fair state of affairs. My noble friend on the Front Bench may say that this is not a matter for statute. If the Committee is of that view, then advice could be given by ACPO to its members, but I think my noble friend has identified a real point which I hope your Lordships will support, by argument and debate.
My Lords, I support what both noble Lords have said, the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, in particular. I am sure I am right in saying that there is a growing sense of disquiet throughout society, which has swung away from the rampant interest that one saw in recent years in pursuing sex offenders, in particular—the Jimmy Savile case comes to mind immediately—towards beginning to say, “Wait a minute, it has gone too far”. I believe that it has gone too far. We live in a world where reputations can be traduced almost within seconds, given the spread of social media—I think the phrase now used is “going viral”. That can happen and, worldwide, a reputation is in tatters in a way that was not at risk of happening before.
One has only to look at Members of this House, never mind anyone outside—and outside is in many ways more important than our own membership of your Lordships’ House. Lord Bramall comes to mind. The son of the noble and right reverend Lord, Lord Carey, has recently been in the newspapers for reasons I found totally disquieting. So have Sir Cliff Richard, Lord Brittan, Sir Edward Heath and Bishop Bell, who has been the subject of many of our debates recently. I will not take up your Lordships’ time except to say that I support what is being said. Whether we should do it by advice, as has recently been said, I do not know, but the Government should take note of this growing tide of disquiet at what is going on. I hesitate to say, and I am sad to say, that the police are front runners in causing this situation. Something should be done and this amendment is a step in that direction. I support it.
My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. I might go a little further than the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, and say that “lack of evidence” is probably exactly the phrase that should be used and it should be made compulsory. Saying that there is a lack of evidence could quite easily mean a complete lack of credible evidence, whereas “insufficient evidence” could imply that there was some credible evidence in cases where there was none. “Lack of evidence” is exactly the right phrase and I look forward to the Minister’s response as to how this can be made compulsory.
My Lords, I support this very splendid amendment that has been moved by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, and spoken to by your Lordships warmly and welcomingly. In many cases, the people we are speaking about here—and I say this in front of many people here who have given great service to the police—have been harassed by the police. On many occasions, they have been pilloried by the press. We were just talking about the press in an earlier debate. Often they do not spoil a good story with the facts. The relations of persons who have been questioned under caution with their immediate relationships have been spoiled and bruised. Their relationships with friends have been harmed. At the end of the day they deserve to be more precisely dealt with. We need precise wording here and more direction—they deserve nothing less. I like the wording of “lack of evidence” and I ask the Minister to either accept this or look at it again, and I say to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, that if he puts this to the House for a decision I shall be in the Lobby in support of him.
My Lords, there is a serious risk of agreement breaking out. I will make one point, if I may, as the only Scottish lawyer, I think, in the Committee. It is important to remember that the verdict of not proven occurs after trial and trial takes place only if there is a reasonable prospect of conviction and, of course, it is in the public interest. So the standard is slightly different but that does not in any way undermine my support for what the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, said. There is absolutely no doubt that inferences can be drawn from “insufficient evidence”. Indeed, the way in which the language is sometimes placed in a paragraph or a sentence goes a long way to suggesting that that may have been the conclusion of the prosecuting authorities but the police may feel rather differently. From that point of view, it seems to me that “lack of evidence” provides a pithy and succinct way of dealing with an issue that is all too common, particularly in relation to public figures.
My Lords, I have not spoken before on this Bill but I will speak very briefly in support of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford. There is no need to name names. All of us in your Lordships’ House know of people who have been mistreated over the past months in the way that their cases have been dealt with and summed up by the police. The reputations of some very distinguished people have been damaged as a result. If those people have been treated in that way, there must be many others who have been treated similarly.
I confess to some doubts about whether legislation is the right way to deal with this. It seems a very large sledgehammer for what should be a small nut but it has been a terribly resistant nut and perhaps we have to use legislation. One would have thought that something like Standing Orders would be sufficient. But if this amendment is put to your Lordships’ House, I would support it.
My Lords, I feel very privileged to add my humble voice to the very distinguished voices that have already spoken on this matter. Many, many years ago, in what was then the old Wales and Chester Circuit, a verdict was returned by a jury in south Wales: “just a little bit guilty”. That was in a trial so not dealing with exactly the same issue that is now before the Committee. We must be very careful not to have a wording that suggests that there may be just a little bit of evidence and no more. I am not exactly sure how that should be worded but I am sure that it is not beyond the wit of draftsmen to bring it about. Whether it should be by way of statute or some administrative provision, I leave to the good judgment of those concerned.
My Lords, I intervene briefly to say that I, too, support the principle behind my noble friend Lord Marlesford’s amendment. It seems to me that if the principle is that you should be innocent until proved guilty, you should be proved guilty on the evidence and not by innuendo.
My Lords, Amendment 181 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, would insert a new clause into the Bill concerning the procedures to be followed where a suspect is released without charge or informed after being questioned under caution that no further action will be taken against them. In considering the noble Lord’s amendment, I wanted to listen carefully to his reasoning for this proposed new clause, and I think that he has made a compelling case today. The noble Lords, Lord Dear and Lord Paddick, have extensive experience as senior police officers and the House should also take note of their support. I am not sure whether this should be addressed through an amendment to the Bill—I accept that point. There may be some other mechanism to address it, but the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, has made a compelling case and I thank him for that.
My Lords, Amendment 181, tabled by my noble friend Lord Marlesford would require a custody officer to do two things once a decision has been made that no further action is to be taken against a suspect because the test for mounting a prosecution, set out in the Code for Crown Prosecutors, has not been met. First, the custody officer would need to notify the person in writing that no further action is to be taken. Secondly, the written notice must use the phrase “lack of evidence” to describe the reasoning behind the decision.
The Government agree with my noble friend that written notification should be given in all cases. We consulted on this in late 2014 and Clauses 65 and 66 would require a written notification to be given to any person arrested on suspicion of a criminal offence, where the police or Crown Prosecution Service subsequently decide not to charge. This applies whether or not the person is on bail following the reforms set out in Part 4 of the Bill. My noble friend’s amendment would go one stage further and require the written notification of no further action in those cases where a person is interviewed under caution on suspicion of an offence but not arrested. We know from anecdotal evidence that, since the amendment of PACE Code G in 2012, more cases are being dealt with by the police without arresting the suspect, which may have created a gap in police practice that my noble friend’s amendment identifies. In order to give this issue appropriate consideration, I would like to take it away and consider it further before Report.
The second limb of my noble friend’s amendment would require that the written notice and any other record used the phrase “lack of evidence”, rather than the customary “insufficient evidence” used at present. It may assist the Committee if I remind noble Lords of the evidential test required by the Code for Crown Prosecutors. Paragraph 4.4 of the code states:
“Prosecutors must be satisfied that there is sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction against each suspect on each charge. They must consider what the defence case may be, and how it is likely to affect the prospects of conviction. A case which does not pass the evidential stage must not proceed, no matter how serious or sensitive it may be”.
The absence of “sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction” could easily be characterised as a “lack of evidence” or as the presence of “insufficient evidence”. We could debate for some time the precise difference between the two phrases, which must be very small.
Noble Lords have said that there has been some comment in the media, in the light of recent high-profile cases, that the dropping of cases due to “insufficient evidence” could leave an outside observer thinking that there must have been something there. This reflects the reality of policing: that there has to be sufficient evidence to justify an arrest—that is, reasonable grounds to suspect that an offence has been committed. However, the investigative process in such cases will often end up with insufficient evidence, or, to use my noble friend’s phrase, a “lack of evidence”, that could still mean there was some evidence, but not sufficient to charge.
The Code for Crown Prosecutors is issued by the Director of Public Prosecutions under Section 10 of the Prosecution of Offences Act 1985. The current version, dating from January 2013, is the seventh edition of the code, and every version since 1986 has stated essentially the same requirement for,
“sufficient evidence to provide a realistic prospect of conviction”.
I say to my noble friend and other noble Lords that “insufficient evidence” seems to reflect the wording of the code test rather better and that it is the opinion of the Crown Prosecution Service that the current phrasing has been used for more than 30 years and works well in practice.
While I recognise that the amendment would not change the test itself, to change the way that decisions made under the code are communicated, even to the small degree proposed by my noble friend, could create confusion, as there would be a tendency to ask which test should now be applied and whether it means the same thing. It could also invite doubt in the minds of prosecutors, judges, defence lawyers and others as to the reliability of decisions made against different tests.
I also point out to noble Lords that there are two tests in the Code for Crown Prosecutors that must be met before charges are brought. It is perfectly possible for there to be sufficient evidence to meet the first test, but for it none the less to be contrary to the public interest to charge, for example, where a case is to be disposed of out of court by way of a conditional caution.
While Clauses 65 and 66 set a requirement to notify a suspect that they will not be charged, that notice would need to be given in both scenarios; that is, where there was insufficient evidence and where the evidence was sufficient but charges were not in the public interest. However, under my noble friend’s amendment, a suspect would need to be told in all cases that they were not being charged due to a lack of evidence, even though there must be sufficient evidence to charge to get to the point of considering the public interest test.
I can say to my noble friend that the Government are sympathetic to his aim of giving greater certainty to those who are investigated but against whom charges are not brought. We are minded to achieve this by non-statutory means so that prosecutors retain the necessary flexibility in cases where a decision is taken on public interest grounds.
On the issue of written notification of a decision not to charge, the Government consider that Clauses 65 and 66 already require such notification in all cases where an arrest has taken place. However, I would like to give further consideration to the issue of those interviewed under caution without being arrested. I hope that my noble friend will recognise that the precise wording of that notification is an issue best dealt with by non-statutory means and that, having heard my statement, he will be content to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed with knowledge and experience far greater than mine. I was very gratified that there was so much support for what I had to say. I thank the Minister for what she said. She has gone a long way to accepting what I intend. I am happy to leave it to her to come back to us and tell us exactly what it is proposed to do.
The rather Socratic justification which she gave for the terminology is okay in esoteric circles, but we are concerned with what the people as a whole see, and we are back to the old cliché that justice must be seen to be done. When she says that the difference between my phrase and “insufficient evidence” is very small, I remind her that it was said that at one moment Christendom was divided by an iota.
Having said all that, I am most grateful to my noble friend for her sympathetic approach to what I have said, and I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 181 withdrawn.
Clauses 54 to 56 agreed.
Clause 57: Meaning of “pre-conditions for bail”
Amendment 182 not moved.
Clause 57 agreed.
Clauses 58 to 60 agreed.
Clause 61: Limit on period of bail under section 30A
183: Clause 61, page 75, line 9, leave out “28” and insert “56”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 183, which is in my name and that of my noble friend Lady Harris of Richmond, I will speak to the other amendments in the group, Amendments 186 and 187. My noble friend is unable to be in her place this afternoon.
Amendment 183 seeks to make the initial period beyond which police bail under Section 30A of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984 must then be authorised by a superintendent 56 days instead of 28, as proposed in the Bill. The impact assessment published by the Government on 26 May 2016 alongside the Bill indicates that the 28-day limit is a reasonable one and that the impact on police resources would not be arduous. However, academic research carried out by Professor Anthea Hucklesby of the School of Law at the University of Leeds suggests that an initial limit of 60 days would be necessary to avoid considerable adverse impact on the police service.
That research forms the basis of an article by Professor Michael Zander, the acknowledged expert on the Police and Criminal Evidence Act, in vol. 180 of Criminal Law and Justice Weekly entitled, “Not a Good Idea to Ignore the Evidence”. I have spoken to Professor Zander about this issue. In the article, he agrees with Professor Hucklesby’s conclusion that:
“A time-limit of 60 days would be proportionate for both suspects and the police. This would allow cases involving routine forensic analysis, which officers in my study consistently reported took an average of six weeks, to be completed”.
Professor Zander goes on to say that the Home Office has had this research for “over a year” and that the findings,
“have now been confirmed by the College of Policing’s bail report, Pre-charge Bail—an Exploratory Study, September 2016”.
My noble friend Lady Harris of Richmond tells me that the Police Superintendents’ Association of England and Wales believes that the 28-day limit could have a considerable detrimental effect on the impact of impending changes on inspectors, superintendents and magistrates’ courts.
I do not wish to detain the Committee with the detailed reasoning behind the conclusions of the academics, the College of Policing and the Police Superintendents’ Association. Suffice to say, we have no doubt excellent number-crunchers in the Home Office on the one hand saying the 28-day limit is doable, and the rest of the world on the other hand claiming that it is not. Of course we support limits on police bail, and we generally welcome the provisions in the Bill in this respect, for the reasons the Minister outlined in response to the first group of amendments. But can the Minister explain how the academics and the practitioners are lined up against the Government on the initial time limit? Amendments 186 and 187 are consequential on the main amendment. I beg to move.
My Lords, Amendment 183, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and also in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, would delete “28” and insert “56”, which would increase the period of pre-trial bail from 28 to 56 days. I think we all agree that bail at any point should be as short as possible, although the point that the noble Lord made needs to be considered carefully by your Lordships’ Committee. There seems little point in bringing people back to the police station, only for them to be rebailed because other work has not actually happened. People may be waiting for forensics or other things to be done, so the noble Lord has a good point. If Professor Zander and other academics suggest that this will not be effective, I hope that when the Minister responds she can answer that point. It seems pointless to bring people back just to be sent away again, given the cost of the bureaucracy for the police, the solicitors and the suspect. If she can respond to the points made, that would be very helpful.
My Lords, this group of amendments would greatly reduce the effect of the Government’s reforms to pre-charge bail by increasing the length of the initial period of bail from 28 to 56 days. As I have said, the purpose of these reforms is to end up with fewer people on bail for shorter periods of time, and thereby significantly enhance the human rights protections of those who have not even been charged with an offence, let alone convicted. As such, requiring each and every person granted bail to be given bail for eight whole weeks would significantly dilute the reforms—reforms that the Liberal Democrats supported strongly when they were proposed by the coalition Government.
The noble Lord said that the intention behind these amendments is to reduce the administrative burden on the police in operating the reformed pre-charge bail system. Although I do not deny that the new system will cause additional work for the police compared to the current position, this is inevitable given that we are reforming a system currently lacking appropriate safeguards. I would also say that the Government do not look at the extra work required as an administrative burden; we see it as requiring an appropriate level of intrusive supervision to ensure that pre-charge bail is used appropriately and that investigations are progressed diligently and swiftly. That goes to the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, about people having to return time and again to police stations.
I would also say that the figure of 28 days set out in the Bill was not arrived at by chance; we considered carefully the initial period of bail in drawing up our proposals, seeking to balance the administrative burden on the police with the need to put an end to the practice of people being bailed for months or even years at a time with no external scrutiny.
When we consulted publicly in December 2014 on the proposals, with the full agreement of the Liberal Democrats, who formed part of the coalition Government at the time, we received some 300 responses, two-thirds of which favoured the tightening of pre-charge bail and introduction of judicial oversight. Of the 135 respondents who expressed a preference, 58% favoured the model set out in the Bill, with an initial bail period of 28 days, extendable to three months by a senior officer. There was also strong support for an initial bail period of 28 days from groups as disparate as the Society of Editors, the Birmingham Law Society and the Magistrates’ Association. The Committee might also be interested to know that the Howard League for Penal Reform, a well-respected group of campaigners in this area, argued that pre-charge bail should be limited to a single period of 14 days without conditions.
I also draw the Committee’s attention to the bail principles published by the College of Policing in October 2013, which stated that:
“In the first instance, unless there are exceptional circumstances, the bail period should be no more than 28 days”.
With the greatest respect to the noble Lord, there is clearly backing for the human rights improvements that would be brought about by a 28-day initial bail period from across the spectrum of public and professional opinion.
I also point out that, as set out in the impact assessment accompanying the Bill, almost one-third of bail cases—29%—are currently resolved within 28 days. We cannot therefore see how it would be either sensible or appropriate in those cases for the police to have a choice of either keeping those individuals on bail for a further four weeks or having to issue paperwork to terminate suspects’ bail and call them in for charging.
I also draw the Committee’s attention to the other major change these reforms will make: that there will be a presumption in favour of release without bail, with bail being used only where it is both necessary and proportionate. This change in particular will allow the police to release many suspects without the administrative overhead that bail entails. It would also remove much of the stigma and inconvenience of bail from those released in this way. Because of this change, the police resources tied up administering straightforward cases will be freed up to concentrate on those cases where bail is truly necessary.
I have set out why the Government consider that the 28-day initial bail period is an appropriate first period, during which a significant proportion of cases will be resolved. The Government consider it crucial that the unfairness of keeping a person under investigation in “legal limbo” is addressed, as it cannot be right that they can spend months or even years on pre-charge bail with no judicial oversight, as happens at present.
As set out in the coalition Government’s response to the consultation, published in March 2015, the negative effects for individuals on bail and their families include emotional or mental trauma and financial implications. I also draw to your Lordships’ attention to the fact that, at the end of the coalition, in their 2015 general election manifesto, the Liberal Democrats included a proposal to place limits on the duration and conditions of pre-charge bail. Therefore, it strikes me as odd to hear the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, asking to extend the initial bail period from 28 to 56 days. I recognise his laudable aim to reduce the administrative burden on the police, but extending the initial period to 56 days will, as I have said, either leave a large number of suspects on bail for no reason or require the police to do further work to call them in. For that reason, I ask the noble Lord to withdraw his amendment.
Before the noble Baroness sits down, can she comment on some of the academic research around this, which both I and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, referred to? I think that we are all in agreement that no one wants anybody to go on bail for a day longer than absolutely necessary but it seems a bit odd that, if all the services that the police need to investigate their cases are taking more than 28 days—maybe up to six weeks—we have bail for 28 days. They could bring people back into the police station just to send them away again because the necessary information is not available.
I draw the noble Lord’s attention to the comments that I made about the presumption against pre-charge bail, which I think is compelling in the Government’s attempt to reform the system. There will be presumption in favour of release without bail—in other words, do not bail someone unless there is a good reason to put them on bail, which in many ways would free up the system. Bail should be used only where it is both necessary and proportionate. The fact that almost one-third of people are released within 28 days anyway is, I think, compelling evidence for the arguments that the Government are making.
My Lords, I am very grateful for the support of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, on this matter. As he just said, there is agreement on all sides that we need to protect the human rights of those people arrested and bailed by the police. But there needs to be a balance between the protection of human rights and the practical impact on the police, particularly in the light of the significant cuts in police numbers, the even greater cuts in the number of detectives, who would be mainly involved in investigating these matters—and trying to do so within a 28-day limit—and the reduction in the number of police superintendents, who would have to authorise a further extension. The noble Baroness said that 28 days was not arrived at by chance and that people should not be on bail for years. The amendment suggests 56 days, not years. It is just a proportionate increase to the maximum limit proposed in the Bill.
It is unfortunate that the noble Baroness appears to be trying to argue this on party lines, talking about what the Liberal Democrats did in coalition. Unlike other political parties, the Liberal Democrats like to base their decisions and legislation on the evidence. The evidence from academics that I put forward, which the noble Baroness has not addressed, points in the opposite direction to the Home Office impact assessment. The noble Baroness failed to answer when I asked why there was a difference between the Government’s view and the findings of academic research and representations from the Superintendents’ Association. She quoted from a 2013 College of Policing report. I quoted from a 2016 College of Policing report, which Professor Zander said backs up Professor Hucklesby’s conclusion that 60 days is a far more appropriate period and strikes the right balance between the human rights of those bailed and the practical issues facing the police. Clearly, we will return to this at other stages on the Bill but, at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 183 withdrawn.
Clause 61 agreed.
Clause 62: Limits on period of bail without charge under Part 4 of PACE
Amendments 184 to 187 not moved.
Clause 62 agreed.
Clause 63 agreed.
187ZA: After Clause 63, insert the following new Clause—
“Scrutiny of investigatory capabilities
(1) Police and crime plans produced under Chapter 3 of Part 1 of the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 must include an annual assessment of the capability of the police to investigate crimes within the 28-day pre-charge bail time limit.(2) The assessment must consider any—(a) changes to the number of suspects released without bail,(b) resource constraints, including in respect of the number of staff,(c) safeguarding requirements of victims, witnesses and suspects, and(d) issues around multiagency work.”
My Lords, Amendment 187A is very opportune and I hope that the Government will be pleased to see it. It stands in my name and that of my noble friend Lord Rosser and would insert a new clause in the Bill with regard to pre-charge bail. The new clause would place a requirement on police and crime plans to include an annual assessment of the capability of the police to investigate crimes within the 28-day period. Proposed new subsection (2) in the amendment states that the assessment must consider the points as listed, which are,
“changes to the number of suspects released without bail … resource constraints … safeguarding requirements … and … issues around multi agency work”.
This list is not exhaustive but all these sorts of things could come into play if the police were able to deal with people on bail within the 28-day period. An annual assessment is a valuable tool in helping to ensure that targets are met and in identifying problems.
The second amendment in this group would give a power to the Secretary of State to make by regulation a requirement for agencies,
“to cooperate promptly with police”.
As we said in a previous debate, in seeking to meet the 28-day target, the police need to be confident that other agencies are working to deliver information to them. The amendment would give the Secretary of State the power to require agencies by regulation to assist the police within the 28-day limit. I beg to move.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, has explained, these amendments seek to test the ability of police forces to complete investigations within the initial 28-day pre-charge bail time limit.
Amendment 187ZA would require police and crime commissioners to make an annual assessment of their force’s capability of investigating crimes within this initial pre-charge bail time limit. The Government consider that requiring such an annual assessment will only add an unnecessary bureaucratic burden on PCCs and forces. First, the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011 requires PCCs to produce new police and crime plans only in the year of an election, so the amendment does not build on an existing process; it requires PCCs to produce something entirely new.
The Government acknowledge that the reforms to pre-charge bail will create a new system and that forces will need to build capacity at first and incorporate changes within their business processes. However, the changes will encourage and enable police forces to resolve cases within a time limit, resulting in a more efficient system for the long term.
Although bail will be limited initially to a period of 28 days, it is important to remember that the Bill’s provisions will enable an extension to a total of three months, which can be authorised by a senior police officer in complex cases. Furthermore, the police will also be able to apply to the courts for an extension beyond three months, which will have to be approved by a magistrate. While the police will, of course, aim to resolve cases in fewer than 28 days, they will be able to extend the bail period where it is necessary to do so. The requirement for senior scrutiny of extensions will avoid the issue of the past, where bail has been extended for months, or even years, without scrutiny outside the investigation team.
Another reason why this amendment is unnecessary is that the efficiency of the performance of all police forces is monitored annually by HMIC’s annual PEEL inspection programme, which considers the police’s effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy. Such external scrutiny is, we think, more effective than any assessment such as that envisaged by this amendment. Overall, we consider that the proposed assessments would simply create an unnecessary level of bureaucracy that would not add to the effective scrutiny of police work.
I turn now to Amendment 187ZB. The issue of interagency co-operation in the investigation of crimes was considered in the government consultation on pre-charge bail, published in December 2014, and in this Government’s response to that consultation, published in March 2015. The Government recognise, as did many of the consultation responses, that many of the delays in investigations are due to the time taken to secure evidence—particularly witness statements—from other agencies. Two-thirds of the responses to the consultation were in favour of establishing memorandums of understanding between the police and public sector agencies, rather than a regulatory system as proposed by this amendment. Officials at the Home Office are currently working with the police and agencies such as NHS England and the Local Government Association to create the memorandums, as endorsed by the consultation. We recognise that these organisations need to co-operate with the police to conduct investigations in an effective fashion, but there are other ways to set deadlines than by way of regulations.
For example, banking confidentiality means that the police generally need to use production orders to access information held by banks and financial institutions, and the law requires material to be produced within seven days of a production order being made. As another example, police forces have contractual arrangements with their providers of forensic services, so they are able to specify in those contracts the timescales for the provision of evidence.
While I appreciate the intention of the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, to assist the police in delivering these reforms, we do not believe that these amendments are necessary. I therefore invite him to withdraw Amendment 187A.
Before the noble Baroness sits down, in her response to Amendment 187ZA she talked about external scrutiny of the police. Can she say a bit more about that? Is she saying that she expects that external scrutiny to look specifically at the issues here in a broad-brush review? If so, where will they get the data from? I assume that they will be collected by the police.
My Lords, there will be a number of sources of data within the police, and the annual monitoring by HMIC’s PEEL inspection programme, which considers all the police’s effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy, will form part of that external scrutiny.
Amendment 187ZA withdrawn.
Amendment 187ZB not moved.
Clauses 64 to 66 agreed.
Clause 67: Offence of breach of pre-charge bail conditions relating to travel
187A: Clause 67, page 88, line 45, at end insert—
“( ) Where an offence under this section is committed by a person released without charge and on bail under Part 4 of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984, the offence is to be treated as having been committed in England and Wales (whether or not the conduct constituting the offence took place there).( ) Where an offence under this section is committed by a person released without charge and on bail under Part 5 of the Police and Criminal Evidence (Northern Ireland) Order 1989 (S.I. 1989/1341 (N.I.12)), the offence is to be treated as having been committed in Northern Ireland (whether or not the conduct constituting the offence took place there).”
My Lords, these amendments principally relate to the cross-border enforcement provisions in Chapter 7 of Part 4. Those provisions strengthen the existing cross-border powers of arrest contained in Part 10 of the Criminal Justice and Public Order Act 1994. In particular, these provisions close a gap in the cross-border arrest powers to ensure that a person who commits an offence in one UK jurisdiction can be arrested without a warrant by an officer from the jurisdiction in which the person is found. The provisions in new Section 137A of the 1994 Act include a number of safeguards, one of which is that the arresting officer has reasonable grounds for suspecting that the suspect has committed a specified offence in another jurisdiction—that is, an offence specified in regulations.
In the interests of greater clarity and to ensure that the police are able to exercise these powers as soon as possible after Royal Assent, Amendments 201B, 201C, 201G and 201T insert a list of “specified offences” in the 1994 Act, instead of setting out the offences in regulations. As a consequence of this new approach, Amendments 201D to 201F modify the regulation-making power in new Section 137B of the 1994 Act so that it becomes a power to add an offence to or remove an offence from the list of offences for the time being specified in new Schedule 7A to the 1994 Act. This revised power is necessary to ensure that the list of relevant offences can be kept up to date; for example, to take account of new offences being created or reductions in the maximum penalty for a specified offence such that it is no longer in the interests of justice for it to remain on the list. As befitting a Henry VIII power, the regulations continue to be subject to the affirmative procedure.
The list of relevant offences specified in new Schedule 7A to the 1994 Act includes that in Clause 67: namely, the offence of breach of pre-charge bail conditions relating to travel. The related Amendment 187A to that clause clarifies that if a travel-related breach of pre-charge bail conditions is committed anywhere in the United Kingdom, it will be regarded as having been committed in either England and Wales or Northern Ireland, depending on where the bail was granted. This will ensure that the breach can be prosecuted in the relevant UK courts and will also make sure that the cross-border powers set out in Clauses 105 to 107 are available to enforce the offence.
Amendments 201H to 201S relate to the rights of persons arrested under new Section 137A of the 1994 Act. New Section 137D of the 1994 Act applies certain existing statutory rights to persons arrested under the new power of arrest—for example, in respect of the information to be given to the arrestee—but includes a power to disapply or modify the specified enactments. Again, in the interests of greater clarity, new Schedule 7B to the 1994 Act, which is inserted by Amendment 201U, sets out the necessary modifications in the 1994 Act. As a consequence of this change of approach, the regulation-making power is retained but modified so that it becomes a power to add, remove, alter and disapply statutory rights. Amendment 233A makes a consequential change to the extent clause.
I trust noble Lords will agree that this revised approach will provide greater clarity as to how the new cross-border arrest powers will operate. I beg to move.
Amendment 187A agreed.
Amendment 188 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
Clause 67, as amended, agreed.
Clauses 68 to 72 agreed.
Clause 73: PACE: detention: use of live links
188A: Clause 73, page 96, line 14, after “understanding” insert “or dealing with”
My Lords, I hope that this amendment can be dealt with very quickly. It takes us to the provisions for live links with people in detention and, in particular, the definition of a “vulnerable adult”. When I read the definition, I was unsure whether the phrase,
“may have difficulty understanding the purpose of an authorisation”,
extended to understanding its implications or outcome. It seemed to me that the word “understanding” was rather narrow.
I was asked yesterday by the Bill team whether I could explain what I was getting at. Once I had a look at the drafting, I realised that I had put the words in the wrong place, and I apologise to the Committee for that. However, I was assured that the wording in the Bill extends to understanding the implications or outcome of a decision, and I am moving the amendment simply in the hope that the Minister can confirm that from the Dispatch Box. I beg to move.
I thank the noble Baroness for her comments. Amendment 188A would amend Clause 73 to alter the definition of a “vulnerable adult” in new Section 45ZA of the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. That new section would enable a superintendent to authorise the extension of pre-charge detention using a live link, rather than being physically present in the police station. In the case of a vulnerable adult, consent to the use of a live link must be given in the presence of an appropriate adult, and the amendment seeks to alter the definition of a vulnerable adult for those purposes.
I understand that the noble Baroness is seeking an assurance that the definition provided for in the Bill would include a person who had difficulty understanding the implications or outcome of a decision by a superintendent to authorise the extension of pre-charge detention from 24 to 36 hours. I am happy to provide such an assurance and, on that basis, I hope that she will be happy to withdraw her amendment.
Amendment 188A withdrawn.
Clause 73 agreed.
Clauses 74 to 78 agreed.
Clause 79: Restrictions on places that may be used as places of safety
189: Clause 79, page 101, line 19, leave out from “patients),” to end of line 21 and insert “for subsection (6) substitute—
“(6) Subject to section 136A, in this section “place of safety” means residential accommodation provided by a local social services authority under Part III of the National Assistance Act 1948, a hospital as defined by this Act, an independent hospital or care home for mentally disordered persons or any other suitable place.””
My Lords, I shall speak also to Amendments 190 and 191, which are grouped with Amendment 189. We now come to the part of the Bill that deals with the Mental Health Act 1983. Amendment 189 would ensure that no one, regardless of their age, was taken to a police cell under an emergency section of the Mental Health Act. Amendment 190 defines a place of safety, and that does not include a police cell.
The Bill makes some very welcome changes to provisions under the Mental Health Act. It bans the use of police cells for children and young people in crisis; it seeks to reduce the use of police cells as places of safety for adults; and it reduces the length of time that a person can be detained from 72 to 24 hours. These are big, important and very welcome improvements. However, the Bill leaves the door open for police cells to continue to be used for adults in crisis. That should not be continued, and it does not need to happen. We have seen in places such as Hertfordshire and Merseyside, where no police cells have been used for people in crisis in the last year, that with careful planning and co-operation it is entirely possible for people to be supported in health-based places of safety instead of being taken to police cells. I commend the large reduction in the use of police cells that many other police forces have made over the last year across England and Wales.
The limited change to the use of police cells in the Bill is based on an assumption that 4% of people detained under Section 136 need to be taken to a police cell due to “exceptional circumstances”. However, these circumstances have not been defined. Clearly, we need further information on the exact situations in which the Government envisage a police cell being an appropriate place for someone in crisis. I do not believe that anyone in crisis should be taken to a cell. That is not a place of safety for someone in crisis. When someone has a mental illness, everything that a public authority does to and for them should help them recover. Putting them in a cell does not achieve this. Indeed, it often achieves the exact opposite. One patient told the charity Mind that, “Being put in a police cell where hardly anyone is trained in mental health issues is not good. To be locked up and isolated made me think I was worthless. All I wanted was to talk”.
Section 136 is for use in an emergency. Can you imagine someone having a heart attack and then waiting for 24 hours in A&E to see a doctor? There would be outrage, and rightly so. We will not get real parity between physical and mental health, to which the coalition Government were committed, until we stop treating people in mental health crisis in this way.
On the other hand, health-based places of safety can support someone who has been detained under Section 136, and of course, if necessary, police assistance can be called upon to support staff in dealing with challenging behaviour. Last year, in England and Wales, over 28,000 people in mental health crisis were picked up by police. While most were taken to a health-based place of safety, 2,100 were taken to a police cell. Although this is a big reduction on the previous year, there is still a long way to go. Those areas that have eliminated the practice have shown the way: where the police work collaboratively with local partners, even the most exceptional cases can be managed.
I would like to finish on this amendment with a point about funding. It is good to see the recognition from government that additional funding is needed to ensure that the number of people taken to police cells due to their mental health issues is reduced. The recent investment of £15 million is welcome, but it is going directly to NHS trusts and police forces and not to local authorities, which do provide residential services that can be regarded as places of safety. That needs correcting.
Areas that achieved zero numbers have shown that significantly more funding would not be required to ensure that no one in mental health crisis—right across the country—is taken to a cell. I understand that only an additional 33 beds would be required across the whole of England and Wales. Yes, there would be a cost, but there would also be a saving—in police costs. I am pleased that there is cross-party support for these amendments. The debate needs to focus on this opportunity for the Government to end completely the outdated use of police cells for people with mental health problems, rather than on the relatively modest cost required. This is crucial if we are to achieve parity of esteem between physical and mental health.
We should also end the discrimination that exists. Liberty has pointed out that Section 136 is the only part of the Mental Health Act 1983 in which one person acting without medical evidence or training has the authority to deprive another person of their liberty. It is also true that the power is used disproportionately for people from black and ethnic minority backgrounds. This discrimination has to stop, and this is our chance to put a stop to it for good.
Passing Amendment 191, also in this group, would prohibit the use of people’s homes as places of safety. It is unfortunate that this Bill includes the home as a place of safety under the Mental Health Act. While it might seem safe, there is no real way of knowing whether a person’s home would be a safe place for them, and there are many risks. Indeed, it is also important that relatives can feel that their home is a place of safety for them when their relative is having a crisis.
The explicit reference to the home as a place of safety under the Mental Health Act has important and concerning implications for people detained under Section 136. To enter a person’s home remains a major intrusion, especially for mental health patients who do not trust the police anyway. People who have lived with the experience told Mind that:
“I would feel much more vulnerable being detained in my own home … Having a stranger in my home in a time of crisis would destabilise me even further”.
Clearly, there are also safety implications. How do we know about the safety of a person’s own home unless someone has assessed it? Do the police have the ability to judge the safety of a person’s home before arrival? Importantly, a person’s home life or their feelings towards their home may be at the core of their crisis in the first place.
This change will put a lot of pressure on a person who is given the choice to decide if home is a safe option for them, so how will it work? Are we to have a policeman bedding down in the living room while the patient is upstairs self-harming? Would the police mount guard outside so that all the neighbours can see, thinking that the person inside is a criminal? What we really need is health-based places of safety, and a person’s home is no substitute for that. Without adequate services, people’s homes could become the new police cells—the new default for people in crisis. That is a very bad idea.
The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, who has unavoidably been called away so is not in her place, asked me to say that she is also very supportive of this group of amendments. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have added my name to amendments in this group. I will speak specifically to Amendment 190, which we have already heard a fair amount about. It seeks to prohibit anyone detained under Sections 135 and 136 of the Mental Health Act being taken to a police cell. Regardless of their age, no one should be made to feel like a criminal simply for being unwell.
I will focus on the emotional impact that being detained in a cell has on people in crisis and question some of the assumptions about the need for the use of police cells for mental health provision. Those who are picked up by the police under the Mental Health Act are detained because there is a real risk of harm to themselves or others. However, they have committed no crime. These are people in need of health support and are detained so that a mental health assessment can take place.
When in a mental health crisis, one is likely to feel frightened, overwhelmed and extremely distressed. One’s behaviour may seem aggressive and threatening to others. That is part of mental illness. Nevertheless, such people still need support and compassion. Health-based places of safety need to be equipped to manage someone’s challenging behaviour, and some areas are able to do this already. We heard about Merseyside from the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley,
The experience of being held in police cells is distressing, and often it is the most vulnerable who end up in a cell; yet being held in a prison cell and treated like a criminal can only make matters worse. The Government’s impact assessment on the Bill details the experiences of some of those who have been detained in police cells. Many speak of feeling cold and hungry, being left alone, strip-searched and having their personal possessions removed. Indeed, in one case the light fittings were removed from the cell to prevent self-harming, leaving the person, who was experiencing a mental health crisis, completely in the dark.
Clearly the use of police cells is never appropriate for people with mental health crises and we need to challenge the assumption that sometimes they are. I hope these amendments, so ably moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, will persuade the Minister that the use of police cells when dealing with people with a mental health crisis is no longer acceptable and that she will therefore accept the amendments.
My Lords, my name is on the amendments in this group. My noble friend mentioned the importance of ensuring parity between physical and mental health services, and we will continue to raise that until parity is achieved. She also mentioned stereotyped assumptions as to links between mental health and criminal offending and racial stigma in mental health matters.
It occurs to me that the arrangements for using police stations as a “place of safety”—like others, I put that term in quotation marks—must be very difficult for police officers. They are not health professionals who can deal with physical health problems or mental health problems. We should not expect them to respond to a situation for which, however well intentioned, they are not qualified.
My noble friend also mentioned the question of funding. Inevitably, the reliance on increasingly stretched local authorities is an issue. Given that a place of safety includes residential accommodation provided by local social services, we need to recognise the importance of local authorities’ funding for new places of safety. The Government’s investment in that is a positive step. As with so many issues, this is not something that can be put in one pigeonhole and left there.
My Lords, this group of amendments addresses the crucial relationship between mental health and the criminal justice system. I make it clear at the outset that I support the objective of banning the use of police cells as a place of safety for adults. My comments are in the context of my own independent report published in 2009, which reviewed people with mental health problems and learning disabilities in the criminal justice system.
In the report I made over 80 recommendations for change, at least two of which are relevant to this debate. First, I recommended the establishment of multidisciplinary liaison and diversion teams composed of people with a variety of skills, including psychiatric nurses, learning disability nurses, drug and alcohol workers and many others, all working alongside the police in police stations to identify and assess vulnerable people and to support the custody staff at the first point of contact with the criminal justice system. This programme is being rolled out nationally. Currently, 55% of the country is covered. Additional money from the Treasury was allocated in July of this year to enable 75% of the country to be covered by 2018-19, with a view to 100% coverage by 2020-21.
Alongside this, and now properly integrated with liaison and diversion teams, is street triage. That is where the police and NHS staff work together in their local communities. It works best where there is a dedicated vehicle and they sit together, often with their separate laptops—we hope to link technology at some point—so that they can immediately assess the needs of vulnerable persons and stop them hitting against the criminal justice system. These are often the people who may be sectioned under Section 136 of the Mental Health Act, and this is where the second recommendation in my report is relevant today. I said then that, “All partner organisations”—by which I meant principally the police and the NHS,
“involved in the use of Section 136 of the Mental Health Act 2007 should work together to develop an agreed protocol on its use. Discussions should immediately commence to identify suitable local mental health facilities as the place of safety, ensuring that the police station is no longer used for this purpose”.
The recommendation was accepted by the then Labour Government and each subsequent Government—we are on to the fourth now—have committed to this objective.
As we have heard, good progress has been made in many parts of the country with excellent new place-of-safety facilities, often established alongside mental health trusts. The best of these places of safety now extend their facilities as proper crisis centres, so not only people detained under Section 136 but vulnerable people in crisis on our streets are taken to the facility because it is the proper environment in which to make an assessment of their needs. I encourage all noble Lords interested in this to visit some of these excellent new facilities, such as those in south Birmingham where liaison and diversion personnel at the police station and NHS staff in the mental health trust work in an effective way to support the most vulnerable.
Of course the banning of the use of police cells for children in this Bill is another major step forward, but we can and must complete the banning of the use of police cells as soon as possible and bring new momentum to ensure that there is full coverage as regards proper places of safety across the country. I believe that we need a fresh and independent review of places of safety to ensure that every local area can provide such a facility, with an agreed protocol between the NHS, the police and other agencies. The review could look at the good practice that I find when I travel around the country and, crucially, it could identify the gaps which we have heard about in the debate that still exist. We must build up capacity in proper places of safety so that police cells are not required. The Government should initiate such an independent review immediately with an agreed timescale for the development of the final pieces of the jigsaw to ensure comprehensive coverage of places of safety.
I acknowledge that huge progress has been made, but I remember talking at a conference held in the West Midlands where in the previous year police cells had been used as places of safety 4,000 times. After proper consideration of the issue along with dialogue between all the relevant agencies, in the year that I was there the incidence had dropped down to six times. That is what can be done given the will and the commitment. If we put an emphasis on this programme, the final part of it can be achieved, but in the meantime I worry that without proper protocols the default position is to use, for example, A&E departments as places of safety. They are totally the wrong environment for people in crisis and not the right place to make a proper assessment of their needs. There is also no clear view about what the next steps should be for those vulnerable people when they leave the A&E department. So we must and can do better by using liaison and diversion and street triage, along with the progress that has been made on places of safety as the building blocks to ensure comprehensive coverage in the period ahead. I hope that the Government will consider my proposal and be positive in their response. If they want to consider it further, we can discuss this again on Report.
My Lords, as has been said, the Bill bans the use of police cells for those aged under 18 in a mental health crisis, and for those aged 18 and over it states that they may be held in a police station,
“only in circumstances specified in the regulations”,
made by the Secretary of State. As I understand it, in 2015-16, 43 children and some 2,100 adults in a mental health crisis and covered by Sections 135 and 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 ended up in police cells rather than at an appropriate health-based place of safety.
Amendment 190 in the group provides that no person of any age in this situation should be held at a police station as a place of safety, and that is an objective with which no doubt there is widespread agreement. The question that has to be asked, though, is what would happen if the provision in line with this amendment was introduced relatively soon and there were still insufficient non-police-cell appropriate places of safety available and police cells could no longer be used. What would happen to the vulnerable people concerned in those circumstances?
The Bill’s objective in relation to children not being kept in police cells is clearly considered to be achievable by the Government, no doubt because, as I understand it, we are talking about fewer than 50 children. However, the figure for adults appears to be some 50 times higher. Can the Government say how the figure of 2,100 adults in police cells in 2015-16, or whatever alternative figure they have, compares with the total number of adults in a mental health crisis who were placed in an appropriate health-based place of safety? I believe that the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, mentioned the figure of some 28,000. Can the Government also say how quickly they estimate that the terms of Amendment 190 could be met through the provision of the necessary additional places of safety, what the costs would be, and within what timescale they currently intend to meet the objective of this amendment, since I assume that this is a Government objective too?
Why are there wide variations, as has been said, in the current extent of the use of police cells for people in a mental health crisis, and why do some areas appear not to need to use police cells at all in this situation, but others do? Is it due to poor management, the inadequate provision of suitable health-based places of safety, or a lack of suitably qualified staff? Can the Government also set out in what circumstances they expect to specify that an adult can be kept in a police station as a place of safety under the regulations that can be made by the Secretary of State under Clause 79(6) of the Bill? Finally, along with my noble friend Lord Bradley, I look forward to hearing the Minister’s response to the proposal put forward by my noble friend in relation to a fresh and independent review.
My Lords, I rise to support the amendments tabled in the names of the noble Baronesses, Lady Walmsley and Lady Hamwee, and my noble friend Lady Howe. They mark important steps across the board to bring the treatment of mental ill-health in line with our 21st-century understanding of that arena. I have, perhaps regrettably, close personal experience of dealing with and attempting to cope with people suffering a mental health crisis. I bring to bear that experience as well as the advice offered by the Mental Health Alliance and specifically the charity Mind, both of which have been referred to, in my endorsement of these amendments.
The amendments regarding the use of police cells and homes as supposed places of safety—neither are appropriate, I agree—and concerning the period of detention in those places awaiting a mental health assessment are most important. I acknowledge the positive steps that this Bill in its original form recommended in both of these areas, but they do not go far enough. Perhaps I may reflect for a moment on who it is that these clauses are designed to protect. It is the vulnerable, the needy and those less able to help themselves. We have a special duty to those people in our society. These amendments are an important step of progress in improving their treatment at the hands of the police in times of crisis. That said, I am not criticising the police. I have seen at close quarters the awkward circumstances of the police having to enforce the rules. I admire the sensitivity and empathy I have seen displayed.
When a person is in a mental health crisis there is a very high risk of private anxiety, emotions of distress, confusion, aggression and perhaps threatening behaviour. What is required is probably support and compassion. Confinement in a cell is bound to add to this distress. Surroundings matter.
As we have heard, the Government have begun to dedicate funds to mental health services, improving the provision of suitable places of safety and achieving parity of esteem between mental and physical health. These are important steps and this work must continue. We must step up to this challenge on the behalf of those affected. This disadvantaged group, unlike most in our society, seldom makes its own case for better care. The reality is, of course, that they cannot—they are confused and they are not organised—but we can. They rely on us, and on the charities and other groups that work with them.
We must be sure to try our best to legislate so that the trend continues and relevant investment goes toward providing for those in need. The amendments tabled by the noble Baroness would do exactly that. This is legislation that will help bring the Mental Health Act 1983 into the 21st century. If we think for a minute, that Act was enacted more than 30 years ago. The quantum leaps of progress in medical understanding of mental health issues have been huge. Yet, the Act on the statute book is more than 30 years old. We must take every opportunity we can to improve the terms of the Act wherever we can.
I thank the noble Baronesses for their work in tabling the amendments and request that the Minister accepts them.
I thank noble Lords for this important debate. As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, explained, these amendments seek to restrict, in different ways, the premises that can be used as a place of safety for persons detained under Sections 135 or 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983.
Of course it is important that people detained at a time of crisis be taken to the most appropriate place of safety for their medical needs. That principle is behind these amendments and also represents the Government’s position. Where we differ is on how this should be achieved in terms of the full range of options that should be available to professionals. Amendments 189 and 190 to Clause 79 would completely prohibit the use of police stations as places of safety. The Bill provides that police stations cannot be used as places of safety in the case of children or young people aged under 18. The issue for the Committee is whether this prohibition would also apply to adults.
The noble Baroness and other noble Lords who have spoken are concerned that a police station should never be an appropriate place for a person of any age to be taken at a time of such distress. The Government accept that police stations have been used to detain people under Section 136 far too often. Although much progress has certainly been made to address this, including a 54% reduction between 2014-15 and 2015-16, there is no doubt that police cells are still used inappropriately in some areas.
This will be addressed through regulations governing the circumstances in which a police station can be used for an adult. We have heard from experts that there are occasions when the behaviour of adult detainees can be too violent to be safely managed in a health setting. I expect the regulations to also set out the expected standards of care to be provided to any adult taken to a police station. These decisions will be determined on a case-by-case basis, but I stress that the emphasis is on the exceptional nature of such situations, with health-based places of safety used for the vast majority of cases. The Government have engaged experts and other interested parties in the development of those regulations. I expect to be in a position to say more about our approach ahead of Report.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, mentioned the £15 million going only to the NHS, but many of the bids were written in partnerships involving the NHS, social care, local authorities, the police and others through local concordat partnerships.
The noble Lord, Lord Bradley, gave a very interesting speech and brought up a lot of the areas that are so important. He mentioned best practice going on around the country, but as he said, it is still patchy. I will share a brief example that shows how this can be done, rather like in places he mentioned in the West Midlands. In West Sussex, before 2015-16 Sussex Police had repeatedly used police stations as a place of safety to detain Section 136 detainees—more than any other force. However, it has now managed to reduce that by 80% by bringing in a lot of the interventions that the noble Lord spoke about, such as street triage schemes; three crisis care concordat partnerships involving East Sussex, West Sussex and Brighton & Hove; and new health-based places of safety, using local funding and the Department of Health £15 million fund. That shows how these things can be done, but it is important that all authorities get together to discuss the ways changes can be made.
The noble Lord also talked about a national review. I am not sure that that would be the best way forward, but local areas should be amassing local reviews of what they are doing. The Care Quality Commission is a good starting point for that. We feel it could be better for local authorities to gather together what is going on. That is possibly the way forward.
Amendment 191 separately seeks to prohibit the use of a detainee’s private home as a place of safety. I put it to the Committee that, on occasions, a private home is likely to be the most appropriate place to take or, indeed, keep a person detained under Sections 135 or 136, rather than taking the detainee to a health-based or other place of safety. This might be particularly applicable, for example, in the case of a young or elderly person, and where familiarity with surroundings and family support may make a significant difference to their emotional well-being at a time of crisis.
The Bill provides robust safeguards to ensure that a person’s home is used as a place of safety only where appropriate. Importantly, the consent of the detainee and any other occupants of that dwelling would be required in every case. It is critical that health and policing professionals decide to use the private home only because it is in the best interests of the detainee. I believe they are well-equipped to make the judgment, but I can reassure the Committee that this will be reinforced in guidance.
We can all agree that the best interests of detainees and the safety of the public must be paramount. I believe that the provisions in the Bill best achieve this outcome. Accordingly, I ask the noble Baroness to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. I have a few points to make in response but want first to apologise to the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, for not mentioning his excellent report. I congratulate him and the Government on the recommendations in the report that have been achieved on the ground. The street diversion teams are particularly good and would certainly come into play were a person found to be violent and in danger of hurting themselves or somebody else. The teams have had a fantastic effect and I look forward to their being rolled out universally.
It has been suggested that the amendment is a little premature and that we do not yet have the infrastructure in place to enable us to have a complete ban on the use of police cells. As with every other Bill, it would be perfectly possible for the Government to accept such a measure and then delay its implementation until such time as the review suggested by the noble Lord, Lord Bradley, had taken place and the extra beds had been put in place. That would not be an impediment to the Government accepting my amendment.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked what would happen if no health-based place of safety was available, the implication being that only use of a police cell was possible. Every local authority has hundreds of care homes and the lucky ones have nursing homes, too. Not all beds are occupied all the time; indeed, a recent report in the media cited instances where the contract with the family concerned stated that after the person in question had died, the family would have to carry on paying for two, three or four weeks while the home found another occupant for that room. That means that vacant rooms will be available. Some of them would be perfectly suitable for some patients, because they are acceptable and legal places of safety. If Hertfordshire and Merseyside can do it in those circumstances, then why not everywhere else?
I beg the Minister’s pardon. I should have said that there are care homes in every local authority where staff are specially trained to deal with people with mental health problems.
If Merseyside and Hertfordshire can do it, why not everywhere? Do they not have any patients who are in exceptional circumstances? I am sure they do.
On funding, the Minister suggested that the LGA was incorrect in briefing us that none of the money was going to local authorities. That is where my statement came from, and it should know.
On Amendment 191, about use of the home, it is important that somebody in a mental health crisis be able to see someone who is trained to assess and treat them as soon as possible, and as soon as would happen if they had a physical problem. They will not get that in their home. I do not believe that those choosing to take them home would be in a position to assess whether that home was really safe. Even members of the family would not know whether the home was safe, so getting their agreement is no guarantee that the home is a real place of safety. Many mental health patients have said that they would find it a serious intrusion on their privacy if the police brought them home and stood guard over them while they were there. I accept that it would be for only a short period, but to have a policeman outside the door would have a great effect on how they felt they were seen. As the noble Lord, Lord Thurlow, said, they already feel stigmatised by a link being made between mental health and criminality, which there really is not. We should therefore pursue these issues on Report. Of course, this is Committee stage, so for the moment I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 189 withdrawn.
Amendment 190 not moved.
Clause 79 agreed.
Amendment 191 not moved.
Clause 80: Periods of detention in places of safety etc
192: Clause 80, page 103, line 5, leave out “person arrives at” and insert “constable takes that person into custody (within the meaning of section 137 of the Mental Health Act 1983) in order to remove them to”
My Lords, the amendment would ensure that people are really only detained under the Mental Health Act for up to 24 hours. To achieve that, the clock needs to start when the decision is made to detain someone and not when they arrive at the place of safety. If the Government want people to be detained only for up to 24 hours, Amendment 192 is needed. This is the only way to ensure that we are not detaining people for longer than 24 hours during what is often a distressing and alienating experience for people in crisis. They may be detained on the street in one of the special vehicles that have been mentioned or in another public place. They may be kept in a police car until a suitable destination is found. Wherever it is, distress will ensue for the person concerned.
We need to look at the position in parallel with that of a person with a physical illness who calls an ambulance. When ambulance services are assessed, the clock starts ticking from the moment the ambulance is called and not from the moment the patient is picked up. This is a matter of parity between physical and mental health.
When discussing these parts of the Bill, it is crucial that we remember that people detained under the Mental Health Act have not committed any crime. They are unwell and require health support. That is why I beg to move.
My Lords, I support the amendment. From the point of view of the person detained the detention starts at the point described by my noble friend Lady Walmsley. It is not a question of that being some sort of limbo; that must be how it feels. If a person is on the way to a place of safety, they are being detained, held and controlled as much as they would be when they reached their destination.
My Lords, the amendment would provide for the permitted period of detention of a person detained under Section 135 of the Mental Health Act 1983 to commence at the point at which they were removed to, rather than the point at which they arrived at, a place of safety.
The Government wholeheartedly support the aim of minimising the period during which a person is detained under either Section 135 or Section 136 of the 1983 Act. That is why Clause 80 reduces the maximum detention period from 72 hours to 24 hours.
I also agree that every effort should be made to minimise the time taken to remove and transport a detained person to a place of safety. However, I put it to the noble Baroness that securing that outcome cannot best be achieved through legislation. Indeed, the amendment could well have unintended consequences which were detrimental to the best interest of detained persons.
I fear that the practical effect of the amendment would be to penalise those in need of care and the professionals assessing them in circumstances where the detained person needed to be removed from an isolated location, or if it was difficult to remove that person. For example, if someone needs to be removed from a place that is isolated or difficult to access, it may take some time for professionals to be able to get that person to a place of safety. We do not want the police or mental health practitioners to have one eye on the clock in such circumstances.
There is a balance to be struck between taking positive action to keep periods of detention as short as is reasonably possible and giving mental health professionals sufficient time for the necessary arrangements to be made for mental health assessments to be conducted during the 24-hour window provided for in the Bill. We believe that the combination of reducing, by two-thirds, the period of detention and starting the detention clock only when the detained person arrives at the place of safety—which is, incidentally, how the time limits work now—achieves that balance.
In practice, the vast majority of detained persons will be assessed well within 24 hours of their removal, but the legislation needs to allow not just for the generality of cases, where a person can be taken quickly to a place of safety, but also for that small minority of exceptional cases where this may not be possible. I hope that, on reflection, the noble Baroness is persuaded that the approach taken in the Bill is in the best interests of those suffering a mental health crisis and in need of immediate care. I accordingly invite her to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply. Obviously, I will consider what she has said very carefully in case there are any unintended consequences, but I confess that up to this point I am not quite convinced. Once a person has been taken into custody they are under the control of the police, their liberty has been taken from them, and I cannot imagine anywhere in this country that you could not get to within 24 hours. Because we are in Committee I will certainly withdraw my amendment and I will think carefully about whether we need to ask for further consideration of this on Report. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 192 withdrawn.
Clauses 80 and 81 agreed.
193: After Clause 81, insert the following new Clause—
“Detention under the Mental Health Act 1983: access to an appropriate adult
(1) A person detained in a place of safety under section 135 or 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 shall have the right to have access to an appropriate adult.(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), “appropriate adult” means—(a) a relative, guardian or other person responsible for the detained person’s care;(b) someone experienced in dealing with mentally disordered or mentally vulnerable people but who is not a police officer or employed by the police; or(c) some other responsible adult aged 18 or over who is not a police officer or employed by the police.”
Amendment 193 would ensure that people detained under Section 135 or Section 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 have access to an appropriate adult. Such access is key to providing people in crisis access to advice while under emergency detention. It is a uniquely distressing and confusing time, as we have heard, and one where independent advice from someone with knowledge and skill who can handle the situation calmly is crucial.
At the moment detained people only have the police, who were involved in detaining them, and the person doing their mental health assessment as their key contacts. Clearly, neither of these can be seen as impartial to their situation. The person doing their assessment, although qualified, is going to be deciding what happens to them next, and so cannot really be described as impartial. There is a huge gap here, since people under most other sections of the Mental Health Act have the right to access an independent mental health advocate. People who are under arrest also have the right to access an appropriate adult. The National Appropriate Adult Network says about people detained or questioned by police:
“While both children and mentally vulnerable adults are required to have an Appropriate Adult under the PACE Codes of Practice, there is only statutory provision for children. As a result many people aged over 17 who are mentally vulnerable do not get the support that they are entitled to. This includes people with mental ill health, learning disabilities and autistic spectrum disorders”.
I recognise the concern of local authorities that they are strapped for cash, but I feel that making this provision statutory will put pressure on the Government to provide the necessary resources. The JCHR shares my concerns about this gap, as we read in its third report of the 2016-17 Session. It wrote to Mike Penning MP, then Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice. He replied on 1 July 2016 to the effect that persons detained under Sections 135 and 136 were only there in order to allow for a mental health assessment and he was keen,
“that we do not inadvertently build unintended and unnecessary delay and bureaucracy into this process or as a consequence of having to await the arrival of a formal advocate or independent representative”.
He also pointed out that the person could request the presence of a legal adviser or a relative or friend. This did not satisfy the JCHR and it does not satisfy me.
The JCHR said:
“We believe that additional safeguards are required to ensure that a person detained in a place of safety under s 135 or 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 should have access to an ‘appropriate adult’, particularly in circumstances where they are detained in their own home”.
It drafted an amendment very similar to my Amendment 193, which I think it proposes to bring forward on Report, unless the noble Baroness can satisfy us all this evening. Given the state a person is likely to be in when they are detained, I believe it would be a breach of their human rights not to allow them the right to access an appropriate adult. I beg to move.
My Lords, it is absolutely right that people detained under Sections 135 or 136 should have the help and support they need to understand what is happening to them, and the current arrangements already allow for that. Detention under Sections 135 and 136 is for a short period of time and for the specific purpose of assessing the need for care and treatment, and making the necessary arrangements for its provision.
This amendment calls for each person detained to have access to an appropriate adult; an issue which was also raised by the Joint Committee on Human Rights in its report on the Bill. It is true that appropriate adults provide an incredibly valuable service, providing support and advocacy for children and vulnerable adults detained in police stations, usually when they are under arrest in connection with a criminal offence. Appropriate adults are not currently required to be provided by the police to support people detained under the Mental Health Act, nor are they trained to meet their particular needs. We must be cautious of the potentially stigmatising effects of conflating the support services provided to people suspected of an offence with those needed by people detained in connection with their mental ill health.
In the majority of cases under Sections 135 or 136, the person will be taken to health-based places of safety, where appropriate adults do not operate, rather than to police stations. In 2015-16 police stations were used in only 7% of Section 136 cases in England and Wales. The provisions in the Bill mean that police stations will be used even less than they are now; in fact, quite rarely, I expect— we hope, not at all. These rare cases require particular attention and I expect that the regulations on the use of police stations as places of safety for adults will give very clear direction about the level of support that will need to be in place.
I recognise that this amendment is about all people who are detained under Sections 135 or 136, regardless of which place of safety they are taken to. It is about supporting them, informing them and speaking for them if necessary. The Government are clear that the mental health professionals involved in the detention and assessment process are best placed to do this. Also, mandating the attendance of an appropriate adult, or some other person with a similar role, could very easily cause avoidable delays in getting on with the mental health assessment that is the proper purpose of a detention under Sections 135 or 136. Given that the Bill reduces the maximum period of detention from 72 hours to 24, it seems unhelpful to then introduce additional requirements that would, in all likelihood, impinge on that reduced period of time.
Guidance is now being developed on the changes the Bill makes to the 1983 Act. It will make clear the expectations on healthcare staff—those whom people detained under Sections 135 and 136 will encounter—to ensure that detainees have the support and advice they need while awaiting and undergoing an assessment. The Government are engaging with a wide range of experts to draw up this guidance. Current practices and the needs of people experiencing a mental health crisis will be carefully considered.
I hope I have been able to persuade the noble Baroness that mandating access to an appropriate adult is inappropriate in the context of a short Section 135 or Section 136 detention, and that, having had this opportunity to debate the issue, she will be content to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I am a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights and my name is on the amendment. I will make two points. First, the Government’s argument is that using the term “appropriate adult” causes some sort of stigma. I cannot speak for the committee or my noble friend whose amendment it is, but you can call that person what you like—it is the job that needs to be done, and that is what the amendment is driving at. Secondly, I wish to draw attention to the provision of subsection (1) of the proposed new clause, which is,
“the right to have access”.
Rights should be in legislation.
I agree with my noble friend on that point and on all the points she made. I thank the Minister for her comments, which I will of course consider between now and Report. I do not agree with her that the person formally doing the mental health assessment can be regarded as the appropriate adult, for the reason that I gave in my opening remarks; that is, that person is in control of what happens next to the person being assessed. It is important that the person has a right—they may not choose to use it—to consult somebody else about whether that is the right thing for them and how they feel about it.
Of course, the Minister is right that the number of people detained in police stations in these circumstances is going down very rapidly. If my Amendment 189 was accepted, it would become zero very quickly. In those few cases—many fewer now—where a person is in that situation, I still think that they should have a right to choose if they feel the need to have somebody else there to advise them. However, this is Committee so I will withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 193 withdrawn.
194: After Clause 81, insert the following new Clause—
“Disallowing use of Tasers by police officers on psychiatric wards
A police officer may not use a Taser or electroshock weapon during a deployment on a psychiatric ward.”
My Lords, Amendment 194 would ban the use of Tasers in psychiatric wards. It must be remembered that a Taser is a firearm and when they were first introduced they were restricted for use by trained firearms officers only. How could it possibly be justified to use a firearm on a person going through a mental health crisis and whose liberty has been removed, especially when you do so in a health-based setting where staff are supposed to be trained in the behaviour management of people suffering a mental health crisis? Could it be that the increased use of Tasers in these settings is an indicator of the shortage of properly trained staff in them?
A Guardian freedom of information request on the police response to calls for help from staff at psychiatric units spotlighted the pressures on an overburdened system. The staggering 617 emergency 999 calls by one London trust in the past 12 months indicate a service in crisis. What we are seeing is the health service relying on a forensic solution to meet clinical need, because we have lost more than 4,000 mental health nurses in recent years. This is a health issue as well as a Home Office issue.
It is also a human rights issue. The United Nations Committee Against Torture has stated that Taser X26 weapons provoke extreme pain, constitute a form of torture and in certain cases can also cause death, as shown by several reliable studies and certain cases that have happened after their use. While termed non-lethal, there have been at least 10 known deaths associated with the use of Tasers in the past 10 years, yet Tasers have been used against patients detained in secure psychiatric settings over that same period. But this scandal has come to public attention only recently, due probably to the imbalance of power between those who use them and those upon whom they are used. I would like to know why the CQC and/or the IPCC have not reported on this before.
When Tasers were first introduced for use by police on the streets, it was understood that they should be used only in extremis, when the people against whom they were used presented a danger to the public, the police or themselves. However, there has been significant mission creep and there is also a very worrying disproportionate use of these weapons against the black and ethnic minority community. This is a moment to stop and think about this very extreme intervention.
This amendment was tabled in another place when the Bill was discussed there, including by my right honourable friend Norman Lamb MP. The Government have taken a long time to respond. Indeed, it was only yesterday that I received copies of letters, dated 1 November, in response to the debate in another place on 13 June. The Home Office now says that it has written to police and crime commissioners, chief constables and the chairs of local mental health crisis care concordat partnerships to ask them to work together to ensure that there is scrutiny of any use of Tasers in mental health settings unless they already have such a mechanism. They have to ensure that the use of Tasers is appropriate.
Although this is welcome and responds to the concerns of some MPs who took part in that debate, it will not do. It is never appropriate to use a firearm on a sick person. The Minister, Brandon Lewis MP, rightly asks for more transparency in these matters and prays in aid the new data-collecting system for recording the police use of force. Welcome though this is, it is recording post hoc something that should never have happened in the first place. Human rights abuses should be stopped, not monitored. I suppose these data may help bring to light the frequency of this sort of use and the circumstances surrounding it. If they do so, I hope the Government will look carefully at these situations and realise that the use of a Taser was probably not the only way of dealing with the case. Better training, sufficient staff and more creative thinking about how the patient could be calmed without interfering with his human rights and dignity are what is needed.
In a civilised society, this situation requires not only data collection and decisions at local level but a national statement from the Government about how we should treat mentally sick people. This should not require the use of firearms. I beg to move.
My Lords, I hope the Committee does not accept this amendment. Of course, I have every sympathy with the generality of the points made by the noble Baroness, but I hope she will forgive me if I observe that many of the arguments that she has advanced are advanced in general against the use of Tasers, not with particular regard to the use on psychiatric wards. Your Lordships need to keep in mind that some people held on psychiatric wards can be prone to extreme violence. I am not prepared to say that there are no circumstances in which a Taser might not be appropriate in self-defence of the people with responsibility for the persons on the ward or in defence of third parties. That is an extreme position to take and I ask the Committee not to take it.
Furthermore, if the Committee was to accept this amendment it would create an offence on the part of the officer or nurse who used a Taser, who would be guilty of an assault, whereas the circumstances that arose in any ordinary context would justify the use. That strikes me as a very rum thing to do indeed. I hope that we will rely on the ordinary law, which is that a Taser should be used only in wholly exceptional circumstances in appropriate self-defence or in defence of a third party, and we should not try to prohibit its use in very specific circumstances of the kind identified by the noble Baroness.
My Lords, I echo the words that we have just heard. I have considerable sympathy with the emotions and reasoning behind the amendment of the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. I make no comment about staffing in psychiatric wards—I have no knowledge of that—but as I speak against this amendment, we should remember that the Taser was introduced as an intermediate stage. It is intermediate between the use of batons, pepper sprays, CS gas and so on the one hand and firearms on the other. A Taser is not a firearm. It is something akin to it—it looks rather like one—but it is not a firearm within the definition of the Act. It does a different thing altogether. There is a violent interaction; of that, there can be no doubt. It brings immediate incapacity and some discomfort when it is fired but, as is sometimes said, in fact it knocks down the individual completely. That has to be the object of the exercise.
Perhaps I can give the Committee a circumstance which has already been alluded to. On a psychiatric ward a patient, for whatever reason, has become exceedingly violent and probably caused serious injury. They may even have caused death. The police are called; what are they going to do? If this amendment is passed into law, the police cannot use a Taser. They will use either the original, which is the pepper spray and so on, or a firearm. We need to remember that the use of a firearm in those extreme circumstances is justified in law, because there is a threat to life. By taking the Taser out we will in effect open the door, in extremis, to somebody being shot with a real lethal barrelled weapon.
I am all for looking at practice directions and reviewing the use of Tasers. Mission creep has been mentioned and perhaps there is mission creep—I do not know that and have not looked at the figures. However, to have something as extreme and prescriptive as this amendment within statute will certainly expose patients in psychiatric wards to the risk of death rather than anything else. In speaking against this, I am all for looking closely at the use of Tasers and for counselling officers using or thinking of using them to exercise extreme caution, but I would not go so far as the amendment stands.
My Lords, my name is attached to Amendment 194 and to a further amendment in this group, Amendment 201SB. As far as Amendment 194 is concerned, as has been said, it provides that a police officer may not use a Taser or electroshock weapon during deployment on a psychiatric ward. The purpose of adding my name to this amendment is to raise concerns that have been expressed to us about what is, in effect, a police response to what one might have thought was a clinical emergency but which has the potential effect of appearing to criminalise highly vulnerable people. I accept, though, that there could be very exceptional circumstances where a police officer might have to use a Taser during deployment on a psychiatric ward.
In response to this debate, perhaps the Government could provide figures on the extent of the use of Tasers or other devices by the police on psychiatric wards over the last 12-month period for which figures are available, and on the varying extent to which the trusts concerned called in the police and why there are such variations. The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, clearly has similar information to that which I have been given. I have been told that there are trusts which call in the police literally hundreds of times a year. It would be helpful if the Government could say in response whether they accept that that is true and why they think it happens. If the police are called in on frequent occasions, is the heart of the problem that results in them being called in in that way either inadequate numbers of staff on duty to cope with situations that arise, or is it due in any way to inadequate or insufficient training of staff?
The second amendment which I have in this group calls for a review of Tasers, including in places of custody, and the extent to which there is or is not a disproportionate use of Tasers against black and minority ethnic groups. Once again, this concern has been raised with us—hence the amendment—and it was highlighted following an incident which led to the death of a former well-known footballer. I simply ask: what procedures exist to ensure that there is transparency and scrutiny over the use of Tasers? What information is kept of the details of those against whom Tasers are deployed, including age, gender and ethnicity? What requirement is there for the use of Tasers to be reported immediately and to whom?
Like the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, I have just seen the letter sent yesterday to Charles Walker MP from the Minister of State for Policing and the Fire Service on the use of Tasers in mental health settings. No doubt in her response the Minister will seek to place on record in Hansard the thrust of the terms of that letter and the circular that has been sent to police and crime commissioners, chief constables and the chairs of local mental health crisis care concordat partnerships in England. Nevertheless, I hope that the Government will seek to respond to my questions insofar as they can, bearing in mind that the circular states that at present there are no reliable data on the frequency or scale of any Taser use in mental health settings.
My Lords, I find myself in total agreement with the words expressed by the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, and the noble Lord, Lord Dear. When I first saw this amendment I could see what it was trying to achieve: a laudable objective, based on the fact that many mental health units are incapable of dealing effectively with some of the patients they have on their wards, and that the police are called to deal with incidents in an unacceptable number of instances. Quite frankly, I suspect that whatever is going on in some of those mental health settings, they are not finding all the appropriate ways of dealing with and de-escalating violence which one would expect their specialist training to deliver. The number of times that the police are called is of concern.
However, when I saw the amendment I thought it was a silly—fatuous was the word that first came to mind—response to what was proposed. The point is that if there is a very serious incident and a major crime of violence is being committed, the police have to be called. It is then a question of what the most appropriate response is. A few months ago, a mental health nurse was murdered by a patient in a Croydon mental health unit. Is the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, suggesting that it would have been inappropriate in the circumstances in which the police were called to that unit not to have found ways of restraining the patient concerned, given that it was necessary to deal with them? Then there was a mental health nursing assistant who was murdered by a patient in Gloucester in 2014, because the patient had returned from authorised leave with a 10-inch kitchen knife. These are serious incidents that require an appropriate and proportional response. What does the noble Baroness think should have been done in those incidents? The situation was that they had got out of hand in both instances and individuals died, presumably as a consequence of the mental health unit not being able to manage the incident. The effect of Amendment 194 would be that had there been a police officer equipped with a Taser in the immediate vicinity, he could not have discharged it. The noble Baroness may think that something other than a Taser should be used.
The argument about where Tasers sit in the spectrum of potential uses of force by the police is one which will no doubt continue. But although there have been instances where someone has died perhaps as a consequence of repeated Taser use, it is also the case that people have died because of the use of other forms of force. Hitting somebody across the side of the head with a baton is also potentially likely to cause death. Indeed, it may be better for the patient or individual concerned to be tasered.
The noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, talked grandly about the UN saying that these were weapons of torture. The UN definition of the term “torture” is:
“any act by which severe pain or suffering, whether physical or mental, is intentionally inflicted on a person for such purposes as obtaining from him or a third person information or a confession, punishing him for an act he or a third person has committed or is suspected of having committed, or intimidating or coercing him or a third person, or for any reason based on discrimination of any kind, when such pain or suffering is inflicted by or at the instigation of or with the consent or acquiescence of a public official”.
I fail to see how that UN definition of torture could be applied to the circumstances we are talking about of an emergency in a mental health ward where the police have been called. I understand that the use of the word “torture” related to the particular way in which Tasers—I think we are supposed to call them conductive electric devices or something equally opaque—were issued in a particular unit of the Portuguese police force. I have no idea under what circumstances that particular unit of the Portuguese police force was planning to use Tasers, but I assume that the use of the word by the UN was very specific, bearing in mind its definition of torture.
If we pass this amendment, the only alternative when the police have been called because of a major incident—an assault, somebody at the risk of losing their life or somebody already having lost their life and a danger to others—when a Taser cannot be used would be the use of a real firearm, which would be likely to kill the individual concerned, or a baton, which can be just as damaging, particularly in restricted and difficult circumstances. I do not think that makes any sense at all.
I was trained in how to deal with these sorts of situations before Tasers were invented. Batons and firearms are not the only alternatives. Using shields, either those specially produced in order to deal with these situations or even NATO-type shields, particularly in the confined space you find on a mental health ward, is an alternative to the batons and guns which the noble Lord seems to suggest are the only alternatives to a Taser.
I, of course, defer to the extensive knowledge of the noble Lord, who was born many decades before the Taser was invented. He is right that of course there are alternative methods, but pinning somebody against a wall and pushing them hard and repeatedly with a NATO shield is also a fairly violent response. We are not talking about nice situations; we are talking about a situation where something major in terms of an intervention is needed to save somebody’s life. Under those circumstances, I think a blanket proscription which says you must not use a Taser is a mistake.
There are also questions about why this amendment refers simply to mental health wards. There are violent incidents every night in accident and emergency departments. Are we saying that we would permit the use of a Taser in an incident in an accident and emergency department, but if exactly the same incident occurred in a mental health ward that would not be the case? The noble Baroness may actually be saying that Tasers should not be used at all. That is fine—it is a perfectly legitimate argument, and there is a debate to be had, but it seems a strange anomaly to make a distinction between one type of hospital ward and another.
The issue that has to be addressed is why so many incidents get out of hand in mental health wards. If that can be resolved—and I suspect it will mean staffing and may mean improved training and a lot of de-escalation—concern about the sheer number of times the police are called out to incidents of this sort would be diminished. The fact is that that is the problem, and that is the problem that must be addressed. A blanket ban on Tasers does not solve that problem; it just creates other problems, which is unsatisfactory.
The noble Baroness also referred to the overuse of Tasers elsewhere in the community, the probable discrimination and the fact that black people are more likely to be tasered than others. That is a real concern. I am aware that in London, at least, the mayor’s office requires that on every single occasion that a Taser is drawn, an individual is red-dotted when a Taser is pointed at them or a Taser is discharged, the circumstances are recorded and it is reported to the Mayor’s Office for Policing And Crime. I assume that the Minister has those figures to hand. It would be very interesting to know—it is quite a substantial number of cases. It is also interesting that often the mere act of red-dotting an individual—pointing the Taser at them—is enough to de-escalate the situation without discharge. It would be interesting to know whether those statistics tell us in how many instances Tasers were used in a mental health ward. I assume that the detail that is collected would enable that; I hope it does. It is certainly important that whenever a Taser or any other force is used, it should be properly recorded together with the circumstances and the ethnicity of the person against whom it was used. I understand that that is included in guidelines which are emerging from the College of Policing. I strongly welcome them because that will enable us to have a baseline to be able to see what is happening and to deal with issues where there is discrimination or overuse of force under whatever circumstances. By “overuse of force”, I do not mean just Tasers; I mean all forms of force.
My Lords, I do not think any noble Lord wishes to see Tasers used in hospital settings except under the most extreme circumstances. However, I am very persuaded by what I have heard from other noble Lords, including my noble friend Lord Dear. I would like to put the position slightly from the point of view of the patient. When I was a young man, I had quite a lot of experience of psychiatric wards—not, I hasten to add, as an inmate—and they can be terrifying places of extreme violence.
This amendment would mean that police officers could not use a Taser. I can foresee circumstances where somebody gets hold of a kitchen knife, for example, and is in a volatile state—the kind of volatile state that people who have not seen this kind of mania find hard to imagine. It is truly terrifying. We have to give some credit to people who are managing the situation. Given the information we have just heard from the noble Lord, Lord Harris, I would like to think that the police are acting responsibly, so we have to assume that somebody assesses the situation and decrees that it is so dangerous that the best way of not harming the mental patient any further is to use a Taser. I really cannot see how we could stop the police having that possibility at their disposal.
My concern is very much from the point of view of the patient, but there are occasions when a Taser just might be in the best interests of the patient.
My Lords, as a signatory to this amendment, I certainly do not think that it is as crazy as it seems. I certainly support the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley. She has very eloquently put forward the reasons why the amendment should be supported. I never felt that the amendment would be accepted, for the very reasons that noble Lords have given in speaking against it—and I understand why they said what they said. It is almost out of desperation that an amendment like this appears. Noble Lords have already mentioned the issue that has led to it: the desperation among people working with black and minority communities in such situations. The noble Lord, Lord Harris, mentioned the Care Quality Commission overseeing the way in which the police are involved in such settings and the way in which the Taser has become not just a weapon to stun—which might be necessary in such dangerous situations—but a weapon that has led to fatalities. Those organisations such as Black Mental Health UK that have been raising these issues for the last few years are concerned that no one seems to be listening.
Mental health is in crisis, and you cannot see this amendment in isolation from the other amendments that have been put forward, many of them by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, today. That package of improvements, alongside the improvements that are set out in the Bill, would hopefully get us to a stage that might minimise the need for Tasers to be used in the desperate situations that occur and require intervention. With the number of call-outs that are being made to the police, out of the desperation of staff who cannot cope, the police service is almost becoming an auxiliary to the mental health services in some areas. Part of what has to happen is that we address the deficiencies that exist, including in the quality and number of staff. An amendment such as this brings attention to the problem and brings our concerns to the fore about how we care for desperate people who require health professionals and as far as possible provide them with the care, protection and safety that they need—staff as well as patients. If we had got that right, we would not have put down an amendment such as this, which is one of sheer desperation.
Other amendments are important to improve the service to get us to the point where we would not have to say this. If we had before us all the information that has been asked for by Members tonight, it would enable us to see exactly what the scale of the problem is—rather than it being sensationalised in a way that may not actually be the case—and would guide us towards a sensible situation. As a last resort and in an emergency, police officers called to and deployed in such situations may have to use a Taser. It should not, because of creep, become something that causes as much concern as it does, but the reality of the use of Tasers in everyday policing and of the discrimination that is inflicted on black and minority-ethnic communities means that this is a real concern which we must address.
My Lords, although I have sympathy for everything that has been said in this debate, I support those noble Lords who oppose Amendment 194. We need to consider the position of a police officer who has to deal with an exceptionally violent situation. If this amendment were agreed, the police officer would have to get much closer to someone who is extremely violent. We have technology that we can use and strict controls on how it is used, and we should not deny the police the ability to use Tasers in these circumstances.
In her response, could the noble Baroness tell the Committee whether there is any information on the effectiveness of the Tasers used in those situations? Anecdotally and from my own experience, the mental state of some people means that Tasers have no impact. Perhaps she may be able to help the Committee on that point as well.
I start by thanking all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. Although there have been opposing views on the amendment, it has provided a very balanced set of points. This group of amendments includes two proposed new clauses about police use of Tasers. As the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, explained, her amendment seeks to bar the use by police officers of a Taser or other electroshock device in psychiatric wards.
Any use of force by police officers in psychiatric wards, or in any other setting, must be appropriate and proportionate—the noble Lords, Lord Harris and Lord Dear, the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, and my noble friend Lord Attlee made that point and gave some very good examples this evening. The use of force must be necessary and conducted as safely as possible. Therefore, it is right that if police officers need to attend and use force, they should be expected to account for their actions, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, said.
It remains the Government’s position that the deployment of police officers to mental health settings, and the tactics used, should remain an operational matter for the police force in question. Tasers are an important tactical option for police officers. Unfortunately, some of the most extreme behaviour can occur in mental health settings and can escalate to the point where it can be met only with force—as dictated by the high degree of urgency and grave threat to staff and other patients. I am talking about cases where other de-escalation tactics have probably been tried and have failed. Again, the noble Lords, Lord Harris and Lord Dear, and the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, made those points.
A blanket ban on the use of Tasers on psychiatric wards, as proposed by this amendment, would remove this valuable police tactic and therefore potentially reduce the safety of officers, hospital staff and indeed patients. In some extreme cases, it could leave officers with no choice but to use another, potentially more dangerous option as the only means to resolve a violent situation and keep others safe. The same noble Lords made these points. Police officers themselves have made it clear that they would not want their options constrained by a blanket ban on Tasers. Officers have a range of tactics and equipment available, and a Taser is but one of them. In deciding which tactic to use, an officer will assess which is likely to be most effective and proportionate.
The Government accept that more can and should be done to ensure that all uses of force, including of Tasers, are necessary and proportionate. For this reason, the former Home Secretary asked former chief constable David Shaw to lead an in-depth review of the publication of use-of-force data, including data on where force is being used, such as in a hospital setting, to ensure that the use of these sensitive powers is transparent. With the agreement of fellow chief officers, Chief Constable Shaw recommended that every time the police use a significant level of force on an individual, such as the use of Tasers, a range of core data must be recorded. This includes ethnicity, age and location, so that we will be able to identify every time force is used in a hospital or mental health setting. The data will enable thorough scrutiny of proportionality and effectiveness.
That brings in the point that I think the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, made about force seeming to be used more in some places than in others. All forces have worked to implement this new recording system, and I anticipate that the collected data will form part of the 2017-18 Home Office annual data return. I can tell noble Lords that in 2015 there were 10,329 uses of Tasers by police. Actual firings of the device—this is an important point—accounted for 17%. Non-discharges —where the Taser is drawn, aimed, arced or red-dotted—accounted for 81% of Taser use. Red-dotting accounted for 51%—the most common use.
All forces have worked to implement this new recording system and, as I said, it should be in force in 2017-18. The Government have also taken further steps to ensure greater scrutiny of the use of Tasers in mental health settings at local level, where operational decisions are made. Charles Walker MP raised some valuable points on this matter during consideration of the Bill in the House of Commons.
Both Home Office and Department of Health Ministers have in the past few days written to police and crime commissioners, chief constables and the chairs of local mental health crisis care concordat partnerships to ask them to work together to ensure that sufficient local joint scrutiny arrangements are in place. As local leaders with overall responsibility for policing and mental health crisis care, they have been tasked with ensuring that mechanisms are in place in their areas for the joint identification and scrutiny of any use of Tasers in a mental health setting.
I expect this additional scrutiny to lead to all relevant policing and health partners working closely to look at the full circumstances surrounding police officers being called to attend, the specific circumstances of any use of Tasers, and the lessons they can learn for the future.
As I have said, the Government and police believe that a blanket ban on the use of Tasers in psychiatric settings risks the safety of the police, hospital staff and patients. That said, I agree that more should be done to ensure that any use of Tasers in such circumstances is open to effective scrutiny. That is an important point.
The amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, goes rather wider in seeking a review of all police use of Tasers—not just in mental health settings. As I just explained, the Government are committed to ensuring that the police use their powers and tools proportionately and are keen that all use of force by the police—including Tasers—be recorded and published.
The benefits of the planned new data collection system will be to enable the police and others to review practice in certain locations, against certain groups, and so on. This will enable deeper examination of the reasons for the use of force and inform adjustments needed to guidance, policy and authorised professional practice, if any. We have asked the police and others to ensure that this happens and, on that basis, I hope the noble Baroness feels able to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for her reply and the noble Lords, Lord Ouseley and Lord Rosser, and my noble friend Lord Paddick for their support. I am sorry that I have been unable to take the noble Viscount, Lord Hailsham, or the noble Lords, Lord Dear and Lord Harris, along with me. I must say that I felt that in his enthusiasm in making his case, the noble Lord used somewhat unparliamentary language. In 16 years in your Lordships’ House, I have never been called silly before. The amendment was certainly not regarded as silly by the mental health patients who have approached us about the issue.
The noble Baroness mentioned that use should be appropriate, but we have had to move the amendment to highlight the issue today because it seems that “appropriate” has become a lot more frequent. We have heard some figures about the number of times that the police have been called in. At least the noble Lord, Lord Harris, was able at the end of his remarks to agree with me that part of the problem is undoubtedly the lack of sufficient properly trained staff in mental health wards, which needs to be addressed.
We will think carefully about what has been said on all sides of the argument between now and Report, but, for the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 194 withdrawn.
195: After Clause 81, insert the following new Clause—
“Child sexual exploitation: duty to refer
(1) Where the police have a reasonable belief that a child has been sexually exploited or subject to other forms of child abuse, the police must refer the child to a named mental health service. (2) The Secretary of State must by regulations define “named mental health service” for the purpose of this section.”
The amendment is intended to ensure that children who have been abused or sexually exploited are made known to mental health services in their area. It is beyond the scope of the Bill to mandate what happens next, but it is inconceivable that services to which the child is referred should not provide the necessary assessment and therapeutic services.
However, we know that many thousands of children who have been abused sexually and otherwise have not received any help, despite the fact that up to 90% of children who have been sexually abused develop mental health problems before they are 18. Recent NSPCC and Children’s Society research has highlighted that abused children are not routinely getting access to the mental health and therapeutic support they need. They found that traumatic experience of abuse on its own rarely triggers therapeutic support, with abused children reaching high clinical thresholds for services only when they have severe mental health issues and are at crisis point.
Evidence from the Children’s Society report, Access Denied, said that despite abuse being a major risk factor for mental health issues, less than half of mental health trusts identify children who have experienced sexual exploitation in referral and initial assessment forms, and only 11% of trusts fast-track access to CAMHS for this group. Only 14% of local transformation plans for children’s mental health contained an adequate needs assessment for children who have been abused or neglected, and one-third of plans do not mention services to meet the needs of such children at all. Identifying young people who experience sexual exploitation and their needs in the first place can be a particular challenge.
Since I entered your Lordships’ House 16 years ago, I have attended many presentations and seminars, but one sticks in my mind from my very first months here. It was with the NSPCC, highlighting the lack of therapeutic help for abused children. Here we are, 16 years later, talking about the same thing, despite all the efforts of my right honourable friend Norman Lamb MP to get more funding for CAMHS.
This morning, I attended the 30th birthday party of ChildLine, and I was discussing the amendment with Esther Rantzen. She, of course, supports it, but she made another relevant point, which was that although ChildLine often refers children to the police—with their permission—it is rarely the other way round. The point is that if the police are having difficulty getting a child to disclose to them about suspected sexual abuse, they should put them in touch with ChildLine, which will not only help them to disclose safely, in the way they should, but will support them through the proceedings that may follow.
The phone number of ChildLine should be on the wall of every police station: 0800 1111. Perhaps this would also remind police to refer children to their local mental health services for an assessment. They know they should, but they do not always do it. That was admitted this morning on Radio 4’s “Today” programme, when Sarah Champion MP, a great champion for abused children, and a senior police officer, discussed this very thing. Although it was accepted that the police’s attitude to abused children has improved enormously, it was admitted that there is still some way to go.
There is an opportunity through the Bill to pursue the recommendations set out in Future in Mind: that sexually abused or exploited children receive a comprehensive specialist initial assessment and a referral to appropriate services, which can provide evidence-based interventions according to their need. Where victims of child sexual exploitation come into contact with the police or a local authority, the Bill provides an ideal opportunity to state in law that the police must refer them for a psychological assessment, and then we must rely on providers to give them the support they need to recover.
These children are going to cost the NHS a great deal of money unless we act promptly. A report from Public Health Wales this week found that people who have been abused in childhood are three times as likely to contract a serious illness later in life. The Government must see the amendment as prevention of a great deal of expenditure later, and accept it tonight. I call on them to do so and beg to move.
My Lords, I rise very briefly to support my noble friend Lady Walmsley’s amendment, to which I have added my name. It seems absolute common sense that, if the police are investigating an allegation that a child has been sexually exploited, the needs of the child should be paramount and that referral to appropriate support for the child should be compulsory in those circumstances. I feel that I really need say no more than that.
My Lords, I too rise to support my noble friend Lady Walmsley. We were both on the Barnardo’s inquiry led by Sarah Champion. When we spoke to abused children, both boys and girls, they all said that they wanted to be treated with respect by the police. I second my noble friend on all the issues that she has brought up and I support her in every way. I hope that the Government will have common sense and show that childhood lasts a lifetime and those children’s needs will be looked after, making sure that they do not suffer long-term in the future.
My Lords, I am slightly surprised in fact that it is necessary for the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, to move this particular amendment, but the fact that she has moved it means, I assume, that it is necessary. It should be—in the same way as it is incumbent on other professionals—that when the police see an issue that requires the safeguarding and protection of a child, they should take the appropriate action, which, in this particular case, would mean the sort of referral envisaged by this amendment. So on this occasion I wholeheartedly support the noble Baroness.
My Lords, Amendment 195, moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, and also in the name of my noble friend Lord Rosser and others, would ensure that child victims of sexual abuse receive the mental health support that they need and would address the fundamental problem that, as things stand, victims too often have poor access to the support that they need. The Bill makes welcome provisions in the area of mental health—including by ending the detention under the Mental Health Act 1983 of young people in police cells—but it could go further, in particular, in recognising the mental health needs of children who have been victims of child sexual exploitation.
NSPCC research shows that children who have been abused are more likely to experience depression, anxiety and symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder as well as self-harming and suicide. The cases of 30 children supported by the Children’s Society were analysed in its report Old Enough to Know Better?—a third of the cases noted that the young people needed mental health services because of concerns about their well-being, including self-harming episodes, suicide attempts or even episodes of psychosis that required in-patient admissions. The remaining cases also referred to the young people feeling low, depressed, anxious, fearful, or having flashbacks of their abuse. I think that the Government should accept this amendment from the noble Baroness this evening.
Amendment 221 in this group is in the name of my noble friend Lord Rosser. It would place in the Bill a duty for police forces to disclose information about children who are victims of sexual exploitation or other forms of abuse to the relevant health service commissioners. This is an important requirement to ensure that victims of exploitation can have access to the health services that they need.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy, and the noble Baroness, Lady Benjamin, for their explanation of the amendments. We appreciate that their intention is to ensure that the proper provision is made for vulnerable or traumatised children. We absolutely agree that we must ensure that such children never fall through the gaps between services, but I put it to the noble Baroness, Lady Walmsley, that the overriding determinant of referral for health services must be clinical need. Not all children and young people who have been abused or exploited will develop a mental health problem, and intervening unnecessarily or inappropriately can in itself be harmful.
All that said, it is essential that healthcare practitioners who work with abused children and young people should have the capacity and capability to provide evidence-based treatment where needed. This will be addressed through the emerging workforce strategy, which is being put in place to deliver the key proposals in the Department of Health report on children’s mental health. The Department of Health is also introducing routine procedures so that sensitive inquiries are made to establish whether a child undergoing a mental health assessment has experienced neglect, violence or abuse. This will be an important step towards establishing a child’s or young person’s need for support. The important thing is that children and young people get the right care at the right time, based on their needs, not on a non-clinician’s view of their potential needs based on their experiences.
On amendment 221, it is worth adding that individuals, including children where appropriate, need to consent to receive treatment. Where a person indicates that they would like to avail themselves of any referral, consent can be sought for relevant personal details to be passed to the health provider, which is the proper course of action. It would be likely to be inappropriate, and in breach of data protection, automatically to pass on personal details and potentially sensitive information, even to a health provider. It may be helpful for noble Lords to know that NHS England published a Commissioning Framework for Adult and Paediatric Sexual Assault Referral Centres (SARC) Services in August 2015, which outlines the core services in SARCs and referral pathways to other services. They are now being rolled out throughout England.
On the basis of my remarks, I hope that the noble Baroness feels content to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, I thank the Minister, though I hardly know where to start. I know that I want to keep my remarks short, as those here for the dinner-hour debate are waiting.
The Minister suggested that not all young people who have been abused require therapeutic help. Bearing in mind the figures that I gave at the beginning of my speech, we will not really know which 10% will not develop mental health problems unless we get them properly assessed. I may have used the wrong word—“refer”—in my amendment, but the point I am trying to make is that the police must ensure that the appropriate mental health commissioners in the area are made aware that a child may need therapeutic help and that an assessment should be done by a qualified person to find out whether they do. That is absolutely essential.
The fact is, we know that it is not always happening and that is why, as the noble Lord, Lord Harris, accepted, I felt it necessary to raise this, and I am not the only one. As I say, ChildLine also very much feels that this would be helpful.
Given the effect on the rest of the lives of these children, as my noble friend Lady Benjamin mentioned, a little bit of over-referral would not necessarily be a bad thing, because it will soon come out in the wash. If they do not need any help, it will soon be found out and the help will stop if it is not needed. The National Health Service is not going to give a whole lot of help to people who do not need it—it does not have the money. But the fact is that most of them do need it and it is not happening. After 16 years, I cannot believe that we are still here.
I will of course consider what the Minister has said and make further inquiries between now and Report stage in case it is not necessary, although I think it is. For the moment, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 195 withdrawn.
Amendment 195A had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
House resumed. Committee to begin again not before 8.38 pm.