Committee (1st Day) (Continued)
12: Before Clause 3, insert the following new Clause—
“Meaning of special constables
In all legislation in force applying to England and Wales (including legislation enacted after the coming into force of this section)— (a) the term “members of police forces” shall be deemed to include special constables, and(b) the term “constable” shall be deemed to include a special constable.”Member’s explanatory statement
The aim of this amendment is to ensure that special constables are considered to be members of the police service, as they are in Scotland.
My Lords, Clause 3 enables special constables to be represented by the Police Federation, which is an important and welcome acknowledgment of the role played by specials in police forces—but it does not go far enough. I have been surprised at the lack of knowledge among those I have discussed the amendment with surrounding the role of special constables, who are sworn servants of the Crown with all the powers and responsibilities of a regular police officer. The only difference is that special constables are unpaid volunteers whose only recompense is to be paid expenses. I have also been surprised to learn how widely special constables are now used across a range of policing duties.
When I was a serving police officer, specials were generally treated quite badly by regular officers, who referred to them as “hobby bobbies”. It was almost seen as a punishment for a regular officer to be paired with a special constable on patrol—a liability rather than an asset. Such attitudes were unfair and, in most cases, unjustified. As the devastating cuts to policing continued at the end of the coalition Government, special constables came to be increasingly relied on to perform an extensive range of duties, including being trained in public order to be used in the front line on potentially violent demonstrations. Special constables carry warrant cards, handcuffs and CS spray, can exercise force and make arrests, unlike police community support officers, who are unable to do any of those things. Their uniforms have evolved over time so that today they are barely distinguishable from a regular police officer.
To all intents and purposes, and as far as the law and the public are concerned, special constables are in every way the same as regular police officers, except they are unpaid volunteers. That equivalence has been recognised in Scotland, where they are considered to be members of the police force, but it is not the case in England and Wales. While I welcome the recognition that this Bill proposes to give special constables in allowing them to be represented by the Police Federation, I am at a loss to understand why they are not also to be considered members of police forces to which they belong in England and Wales, as they are in Scotland.
Special constables have a vital and increasingly important role to play. In many places, the visible policing presence on our streets has all but disappeared; specials could help to fill that gap. The nature of policing is changing, with increasingly complex and technical crime being committed, such as online fraud. While police forces cannot compete with tech giants in terms of salaries for those technically qualified and experienced, there are opportunities for those with technical expertise to devote some of their spare time to serving their fellow citizens by becoming special constables dedicated to cybercrime, for example.
If I recall correctly, the Labour Party would seek to recruit significant numbers of special constables, were it to be in government—but that requires more than a statement of intent. Being a special constable has to be an attractive proposition to potential recruits, and recognising them as full members of police forces would send a clear message as to how important and valued they are. Can the Minister explain to the Committee why special constables cannot be members of police forces in England and Wales when they are in Scotland? I beg to move.
My Lords, this amendment, proposed by my noble friend Lord Paddick, is one that I wholeheartedly support. Many years ago, when I was a magistrate, it was one of my happiest duties to swear in the new special constables. It was fascinating to hear their reasons for wanting to serve their communities voluntarily and to learn about their day jobs. Whatever motivated them, whatever their background, they shared the same driving commitment to help to keep us safe. They put themselves in as much danger as a full-time officer, and they do it voluntarily.
For many years, as my noble friend Lord Paddick, has said, full-time officers derided them. Fortunately, they began to see their worth and special constables are now, almost, fully integrated into the workforce and finally treated properly. I am delighted that my noble friend has brought forward this amendment and I support it totally.
My Lords, I am very happy to discuss Amendment 12, moved by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. It is really interesting and certainly gives us cause to think about the issues he has raised about special constables being members of police forces in England and Wales, as they are in Scotland. It will be interesting to hear the Minister’s response as to why that is not appropriate, or whether the legal difference between England and Wales and Scotland with respect to specials is an important difference and there is some logical reason for it. It is certainly something for this Committee to think about. We are grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for bringing this amendment forward.
We also very much support the provisions in Clause 3, which allow special constables to join the Police Federation. This is a long overdue change, so the Government are to be congratulated on bringing that forward.
It is really important for us to put on record—given that our proceedings are read by many outside and watched by others—what will be the Committee’s unanimous view of the importance of specials and the work they do. All, or many, of us will have been out with our local police forces on the beat. I have at times been out with the specials. It is important to remember that, when a special turns up at an incident in a uniform, with the full powers of the police constable, the people to whom he or she is going do not ask them whether they are a special or whether, because they are special, they do not somehow put themselves in danger in the same way that a full-time police officer would. They are just grateful that a police officer—a uniform—has turned up to support them.
It is really important for us to state in this Committee debate that we support the specials and value the work that they do across communities up and down the country. It is also worth reiterating the evidence given to the Bill Committee in the Commons by John Apter, who said that special constables
“stand shoulder to shoulder with my colleagues. They have exactly the same powers and they carry exactly the same risks.”
In that short phrase, John Apter has completely summed up our view of the work that they do. Alongside that, Chief Superintendent Paul Griffiths, president of the Police Superintendents’ Association, said that special constables
“epitomise the relationship between the public and the police”.— [ Official Report, Commons, Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill Committee, 18/5/21; col. 26.]
It is important, in this short debate on the amendment, to put that on the record. I know it will be the unanimous view of the Committee, but I am also interested in the noble Baroness’s response—sorry, the Minister is the noble Lord; I will get it right. I have been in the Commons for a long time and it takes a little while to get used to—I am nearly there.
The amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, raises an important issue on which we need some clarification, and I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, I want to amplify one point made by both previous speakers. I am sure that the Minister would agree that what we want to do in the police force—all parts of the police force—is to encourage recruitment. The feeling that one has standing encourages that enormously. I would just like to make this point: we want to encourage recruitment, and therefore if police special constables feel that they are part of the police force, they are more likely to join and stay.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for explaining his amendment. Before I get on to dealing with this amendment, I want to say that I was very moved by the noble Lord’s earlier comments. In the interests of full disclosure, I should declare that I was an inspector in the Royal Hong Kong Police. That is where I started out; I can confirm that one never forgets the smell of a mortuary.
Amendment 12 effectively seeks to dispense with the need for Clause 3 by ensuring that, for all purposes, special constables are treated in law as members of a police force. Our professional and dedicated special constables increasingly carry out a range of specialised and front-line roles in their mission to keep us and our communities safe, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, noted. He also made some very relevant points about the technical skills that they can bring. They often face the same risks as regular officers while on duty; they deserve the same protection and support as regular officers where appropriate. That is why, through the Bill, we are enabling special constables to become members of the Police Federation, should they wish to do so.
Having been subject to long-standing separate regulation in England and Wales, the distinct nature of special constables is recognised in law with clearly defined benefits that result directly from this separate status. In contrast, legislation in Scotland has long included special constables as “members of police forces” and has been drafted to take this into account. It would not be appropriate for special constables to have access to the same conditions of service, or indeed face the same restrictions, that legislation confers on regular officers. Including special constables in the existing definition of “members of police forces” would have that effect. Legislation on the pay and pensions of “members of police forces”, for example, is not relevant to special constables, who are unpaid volunteers, choosing to give up their free time to help strengthen our police forces. As warranted officers, special constables in England and Wales hold the office of constable and are therefore already included in the term “constable”. This means that, where legislation confers powers on a constable, they will also be exercisable by a special constable.
The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, mentioned how we value special constables, as did the noble Baroness, Lady Harris. I will digress briefly to set out what the Home Office is doing to recognise and support the special constabulary. The Home Office has raised the profile and status of the annual Lord Ferrers Awards, which recognise the outstanding contribution of volunteers in policing. We have consulted on proposals to extend the eligibility of the Queen’s Police Medal to special constables, along with proposals to lower the service threshold for bars to the Special Constabulary Long Service Medal from 10 to five years. Those proposals could support the retention of highly committed volunteers who may, for example, be incentivised by an award that recognises more realistically the length of service volunteers are able to provide and their ongoing commitment to public service. I hope that this also answers something of the question from the noble Lord, Lord Berkeley, about recruitment.
The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, referred to John Apter, chair of the Police Federation. I note that he started out as a special constable, which I suppose, by implication, suggests that that is a route into becoming a regular police officer.
For those reasons, we consider that this amendment is not necessary and could cause confusion to the status of special constables, which the law recognises as distinct from regular officers. Further, this amendment could have unwelcome, unintended consequences, for example by applying pay provisions to volunteers. I hope that, in light of my explanation and assurance, the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, will be content to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lady Harris of Richmond for her support and the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, for his inquisitiveness and his recognition of the value of specials. I warmly welcome the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe of Epsom, to the Dispatch Box. I am not sure whether this was his first outing, but it was a very, very good one. As he will find out, we work collaboratively in this House and it is good to work with such a wonderful Home Office spokesman—if that is not too over-the-top.
However, I did not actually hear—or if I did, I did not understand—why special constables are included as members of police forces in Scotland, and how all the objections the Minister raised, in terms of why they could not be members in England and Wales, have been got around in Scotland. As this is the Minister’s first outing, I would not press him to give me an answer now if he would prefer to write. But something tells me he may have the answer in his hands, in which case I shall allow him to respond.
I will try. The noble Lord is asking why specials are treated as members of the police force in Scotland but not in England and Wales. Special constables in England and Wales have been subject to long-standing separate regulation for members of police forces, and their distinct nature is recognised in law, with clearly defined benefits that result from this separate status. By contrast, legislation in Scotland has long included special constables as members of police forces, and it has been drafted to take that into account. I hope that goes some way to answering the noble Lord’s question.
It was a good try, but it quite clearly does not answer the question at all. Specials in Scotland have always been considered to be members of police forces; they are not paid, but if that happened in England and Wales, they would have to be paid like regular officers. I would like, if possible, for the noble Lord to write to me with a fuller explanation, rather than just stating what the facts are; an explanation of why the facts are as they are would be extremely helpful. But at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 12 withdrawn.
Clause 3 agreed.
Clause 4: Meaning of dangerous driving: constables etc
13: Clause 4, page 5, line 24, after “police” insert “pursuit”
Member’s explanatory statement
This would specify that the new standards only apply to “police pursuit purposes” rather than all “police purposes”.
My Lords, I am pleased to have this opportunity to introduce this group of amendments, and of those, Amendments 13, 15, 16 and 18 are in my name. They are of course probing amendments at this stage.
The Government are seeking to change the standards by which police driving is to be judged. I should explain to noble Lords that I have some background on this issue, because for 18 years I was a JP, and over those years I dealt with a number of cases that involved police pursuit. Controversial cases where police pursuit leads to traffic accidents of course occur regularly.
I have my own personal experience of this. More than a decade ago, I was involved in one such incident. One evening, I was driving along a long, straight stretch of road in Cardiff—a two-lane road, with a mix of residential and commercial properties, that had intermittent central barriers. I suddenly became aware of cars coming towards me at considerable speed, well above the 30 miles per hour limit. It turned out to be a car driven by a very young man, with a passenger, pursued by two police cars. The problem was that they were on my side of the road, and I was on a part of the road with a central barrier. There was literally nowhere for me to go. There was a head-on crash, my car was a write-off, and there was a three-car pile-up because the car being pursued turned over and one of the police cars impacted it.
The seriousness of the crash was indicated by the fact that the road was closed for the night. We had three additional police cars on the scene, two ambulances, a fire engine and a police helicopter. I spent the night in A&E, but it could easily have been very much worse, because the passengers in the other cars suffered only minor injuries too.
Why were the police taking the risk of this pursuit? There were a number of pedestrians around—the crash happened in front of a pub. The official explanation was that the car was stolen, and I was told that the young men were suspected of at least one burglary—but that was a historical suspicion. However, until the pursuit, there was clearly no risk to life and no immediate danger of violence. It has always been clear to me that that pursuit was unlikely to have been justified.
My Amendments 13 and 16 are designed to probe how the Government envisage the new standards being applied. Since the Road Traffic Act 1988, police driving standards have been judged in the same way as those for any other driver despite the additional training they receive and the various exemptions that apply to them. Following a Police Federation campaign, there was a Home Office consultation which included a question on whether the new looser standards should apply only to pursuit or to police response driving generally. Clauses 4 to 6 give effect to the proposed changes, which would judge police driving against the standards of a competent and careful police officer with additional training. The new standards are to be applied to police purposes generally. However, this is a very wide definition. My amendment suggests that it should be limited to pursuit only.
I fully accept that there is an argument that it could also include I-grade—immediate grade—responses. I know that the grading of police responses varies from one force to another but, generally, I-grade calls are those where the immediate presence of a police officer will have a significant impact on the outcome of an incident. It is typically categorised as where there is likely to be a danger to life, a serious threat of violence, serious damage to property or serious injury. The response time is 15 minutes. The other grades of police response are generally called significant, S grade, or extended, E grade, and they do not involve a risk to life or injury. S grade gives a response time of 60 minutes and E grade 48 hours. Clearly, in neither of those cases is there a justification for extremely fast speeds and less than the normal, competent standards of driving that the rest of us ordinary mortals are expected to follow. I would therefore appreciate an explanation from the Minister as to why any kind of police purpose would be regarded as acceptable. We need a greater justification for these changes.
Amendments 15 and 18 also probe the impact of these changes by suggesting that the Secretary of State be given the power to extend the new standards to other emergency services. Noble Lords will understand that this is an inquiry. Ambulance drivers and drivers of fire engines also receive special training. They are highly skilled drivers, trained to break the normal rules of the road. They respond to calls where there is an immediate danger to life. It could be argued that that applies routinely in the case of ambulance drivers, whereas it probably applies fairly exceptionally in the case of the police. My question to the Minister is this: where do the other emergency services stand in relation to the changes to the rules that the Government are suggesting in this legislation? Are we to expect changes for other emergency services in further legislation, or is that not necessary for legal reason that I have not been able to uncover?
I realise, of course, that the two sets of amendments do not sit particularly well together. I am not arguing a case one way or the other. I am simply seeking to emphasise that these are probing amendments to see what is in the Government’s mind. What is their intention?
My Lords, I have Amendments 14 and 17 in this group. I hope—in fact I am confident—that my noble friend the Minister will give a full explanation of the purpose of these clauses in the Bill, in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. My concern is the inclusion of staff members in these new tests of dangerous and careless driving. I can understand the need to include civilian police driving instructors, but what I do not understand is the inclusion of other staff members. I hope that the Minister can explain why they need to be included.
My Lords, this is a difficult and contentious part of the Bill. There has been much debate for decades about the police approach to vehicle pursuit in particular, and the ability of emergency service drivers to disregard traffic signs and speed limits in an emergency. There have been tragedies where emergency vehicles on their way to serious and urgent incidents have ignored traffic lights or give way signs, or driven on the wrong side of the road, often in an attempt to save or protect lives, and tragically they have been involved in collisions with innocent members of the public, causing serious injury and sometimes loss of life, as my noble friend Lady Randerson has so graphically illustrated from her own personal experience.
This is perhaps the less contentious of the two areas. But even here, for police control room staff—I am sure the same happens with the fire brigade and the ambulance service—calls are graded as follows: emergencies, with arrival as soon as possible; immediate, with arrival within an hour; or routine. This is to ensure that police vehicles are not driven at speed unnecessarily.
I declare an interest as a former police officer who, although in possession of a full driving licence, attended a six-week, full-time police driving course just to become a standard police driver. I was not authorised to drive high-powered cars designed for use in responding to emergency calls and I was not allowed to become involved in vehicle pursuit of criminals, but simply to be a police driver answering routine calls. Of course, it is possible to become inadvertently involved in a chase, when a car that is asked to pull over refuses to stop, as happened to me on occasion, but as soon as a qualified driver was behind, I dropped out of the pursuit. Being an advanced trained driver involved many more weeks of intensive training; from memory, two six-week courses, with a very high failure rate. The courses were highly sought after and awarded to only the most experienced officers. Police drivers are trained to some of the highest driver standards in the world.
In addition, police control room staff have the authority to direct police vehicles to withdraw from pursuits where the driver of the police vehicle involved is not suitable to conduct the pursuit, where the seriousness of the offence alleged does not justify the risks associated with a high-speed chase, or where the driving conditions —the type of road, the time of the day or any other factor; my noble friend mentioned the presence of pedestrians, for example—present an unreasonable risk to the public and the officers who are involved in the pursuit.
The picture I am trying to paint is one of highly trained police officers whose driving skills are way in advance of the average driver and whose opportunity to break the traffic laws is severely restricted. Clause 4 is not about giving police drivers carte blanche to break the law with impunity but is designed to consider the difficult and often dangerous tasks that they are asked to undertake, and to provide them with a degree of protection commensurate with the training that they have received and the skills that they are able to deploy. To that extent, we support the changes proposed by the Government.
I agree with my noble friend Lady Randerson in her Amendment 13 that the dispensation should not be for all police purposes—certainly for police pursuit purposes but also perhaps for calls officially graded as emergencies. The kind of dispensation should perhaps be limited to “I” calls only, or the equivalent in other police forces, where, as my noble friend said, the immediate presence of a police officer will have a significant impact on the outcome of an incident. As my noble friend said, according to the Metropolitan Police, that is where there is likely to be danger to life, a serious threat of violence, serious damage to property or serious injury. I understand, as an example, that Sussex Police grades its calls similarly from 1 to 4, instead of using letters.
As my noble friend suggests with her Amendment 15, if police drivers are to be given the kind of dispensation provided by Clause 4 in relation to emergency response calls, in addition to police vehicle pursuits, the question must legitimately be asked as to why such dispensation should not be afforded to other emergency workers responding to emergency calls, such as the fire and rescue service, the ambulance service and the coastguard.
I also agree with the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, in his Amendment 14. Other than in a driving instruction scenario, which his amendment also covers, this dispensation is akin to the legal use of force almost uniquely exercised by constables, who are accountable to the law in a way that other police staff are not. For example, in cases where the CPS decides that the evidential or public interest tests are not reached that would justify a criminal prosecution but that the driving amounts to misconduct, there are ways in which constables can be held properly to account through police misconduct procedures that are not available to police staff and others employed by the police but who are not police officers. Similar arguments apply, and I similarly support the amendments proposed to Clause 5.
Highly trained police officer drivers chasing criminals in a vehicle pursuit should be judged against a higher threshold of dangerous or careless driving. If such police officers are also to be judged against a higher threshold if they are driving for other police purposes, this should be limited to responding to emergency calls, such as those defined by the Metropolitan Police as “I” calls—those which require attendance within 15 minutes. If that is to be the case, then other emergency services responding to similarly defined emergency calls should also be judged against the higher threshold.
As with so much in this Bill, it appears to us on these Benches that Clauses 4 and 5 do not appear to have been thoroughly thought through.
My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, to his place, and wish him well in his role. If I had realised that he was responding, I would have said that when I made my initial remarks. I apologise and look forward to our discussions.
One thing I did before discussing this group and the next group of amendments—which are incredibly important and deal with really difficult areas of law—was to Google some of the problems. Before I look at some of the examples, just from Googling, of where there have been problems around police pursuits of one sort or another, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for sharing her horrible, terrible and awful experience with the Committee. That is another example of the sorts of issues that can arise from a police pursuit, and thankfully she is here to tell us the tale. We all found it very moving.
As I say, just from Googling, there are various examples that show some of the difficulties: an M27 police pursuit and 100-mile-per-hour chase, with a driver weaving in and out of traffic; “Driver, 18, narrowly misses bus in police pursuit”; “Driver loses police in wrong-way pursuit”; “Car driven along a railway track to escape the police”. This is not to question any of those individual cases—I did not read them; I just looked at the headlines—but a quick Google shows the extent of the problems that arise. Clearly, as it stands, the Government are seeking to address a very real issue. It is not easy, because if you are the victim of a crime, or something is going on, you want the police to respond as quickly as possible. It is a difficult situation for the police, and these clauses seek to deal with that. I appreciate that these are probing amendments, as I think the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, said, but they raise important issues that will need clarifying in both this group and the next.
We welcome these clauses because, like most people, we have been saying for a long time that there is a need for proper and improved protection for police drivers, who regularly put themselves in danger in the line of duty to pursue suspects. That is what we all want them to do. These clauses put recognition of the training that officers have had and the purposes of the journeys that they take into law. We should pay tribute to the Police Federation for the work it has done in campaigning consistently for this. As I have said already, however, we can see that issues arise from it—indeed, they have already been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and the noble Earl opposite.
Amendments 13 and 16 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, narrow the clauses to police pursuit. We can see the purpose of the amendments when rereading the Bill, which says:
“Subsection (1B) applies where a designated person … is driving for police purposes”.
I suggest to the Minister that that is a bit vague. What on earth does it mean? Without being sarcastic, “police purposes” could mean that you get in a car to drive down the road because you have to go and see somebody about a crime. That is a police purpose. I am not suggesting that any police officer would therefore drive at 100 miles per hour to do that, but we can see the problem that the noble Baroness is trying to get at; “police purposes” is really wide-ranging. On the other hand—and no doubt the Minister will say this when he responds—saying “police pursuit purposes” narrows it down to the extent that we end up excluding the possibility of the police having an emergency response to things that we would all wish them to have an emergency response to. That is why, I suspect, the noble Baroness has made them probing amendments. Indeed, she said that if you thought somebody was in danger, or if a murder, serious rape or something like was that taking place, you would not want the police driving along slowly to get there. You would want them—in a proper way—getting there as soon as possible with an armed response or whatever response was appropriate.
On one hand, the Bill has, “police purposes”, and I am not sure that that is drafted as well as it might be, but then the definition we would want—“police pursuit purposes”—probably narrows it too much, which is why I am pleased it is a probing amendment. The Committee wants the Government to come back, I think, with something that encapsulates that competing and conflicting point about where we go with respect to that.
Amendment 17 from the noble Earl, Lord Attlee—again, this is the point of any Committee—removes any driver from the Bill who is not a constable or civilian driving instructor who is training a police driver. He is saying to the Government, and I think it is a really good point, that they have a long list of designated persons in the Bill—I will not read them all out. I remind the Committee that it does not apply just to the police force; it applies—and it is a good thing the Government added this to the Bill—to the British Transport Police, the Civil Nuclear Police Authority, the Chief Constable of the Ministry of Defence, the Scottish Police Authority and the National Crime Agency. These can be designated and it gives power to the chief constables and chief officers of those to designate a person, to give them the authority to drive in that way if they have received training. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, is therefore right to ask why. What is the Government’s justification for extending this to that range? There might be a very good reason for it, but it is a point we need to understand.
To conclude on this group of amendments, can the Minister shed light on my earlier point as well as who is covered by the current list of designated persons in the Bill and why they have been included?
My Lords, if I may come in briefly before my noble friend the Minister speaks, I think the term “for police purposes” appears in other forms of road traffic law. I am not certain, and maybe the Minister can help us on that.
On “police purposes”, I have given the Committee an example of where a police driver might choose to go very fast indeed but perfectly safely. Suppose a passenger carrying vehicle, a minibus, breaks down on the motorway somewhere. As soon as the driver tells the police control room they are a passenger carrying vehicle and they have passengers in the back of that vehicle, I imagine that the police will try to get there as fast as they possibly can, to get a police car behind that broken-down vehicle. That would be a “police purpose”. It is not a pursuit, it is not after criminals; however, a police driver in those circumstances, because he is properly trained in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, says, would be expected to identify a change in road surface. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, will remember being trained to identify a change in road surface, so actually, if he fails to identify a change in road surface, he could in fact be caught by the changes proposed by the Government.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and my noble friend Lord Attlee for explaining their amendments. I think it is clear that we all want the same outcome, which is protecting police officers who are pursuing dangerous criminals, but also protecting the public. The Government believe that Clauses 4 to 6 of the Bill achieve a sensible balance in meeting these objectives. We believe police officers must be able to do their jobs effectively and keep the public safe without fear of prosecution for simply doing their job in the manner that they are trained to do. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, pointed to some really quite poignant examples of exactly that.
Current laws do not recognise the training that police drivers undertake and the tactics they may have to employ to respond to emergencies and pursue criminals. The new test will allow courts to judge their standard of driving against a “competent and careful” police constable with the same level of training, providing assurance that their skills and training will be taken into account. The new comparison with a “competent and careful” police driver takes into account whether a police driver with the same training would have reasonably made the same decision under the same circumstances.
I was very moved by the personal experiences of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. Her Amendments 13 and 16 seek to specify that the new standard should apply only to “police pursuit purposes”, rather than all “police purposes”.
As the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, pointed out, that would in effect exclude the bulk of police driving from additional protection and provide different levels of protection for officers simply based on the operational purpose for which a vehicle was being driven at the time. It would be difficult for those involved in a post-incident procedure to identify the moment that driving for the purpose of surveillance became driving for the purpose of a pursuit—again, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, eloquently explained.
I think it is worth expanding on the point made by my noble friend Lord Attlee about policing purposes, but not, for example, law enforcement purposes. The term “policing purposes” succinctly covers the types of driving that police officers would be expected to undertake, and that term would take its natural meaning. The term “law enforcement purposes” is more appropriate for the National Crime Agency, given that it is a law enforcement agency but not a police force, and that its activities may extend beyond policing purposes to wider law enforcement purposes. In either case, it would be for the courts to determine whether the driving in question was being undertaken for policing purposes or law enforcement purposes, as the case may be.
A fairer and simpler comparator is for all skilled police drivers to be compared with a peer who has undertaken the same prescribed training, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, noted. All police drivers should be protected if they are carrying out their police duties in a way that someone with the same level of training as them would do. If a police driver has not received the additional training, their driving would be compared to an ordinary motorist’s, as at present, as this is a more appropriate comparison for their skills.
Amendments 15 and 18, tabled by noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, seek to give the Secretary of State a power to designate other members of the emergency services by regulations. I suggest that the training and scrutiny of police driving are very different from those of other emergency services. The role of police drivers is more varied than that of the other emergency services, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, pointed out. In addition to emergency response, police officers are required to carry out surveillance, armed vehicle interventions, escorts, traffic enforcement and vehicle pursuits—for example, where a suspect is fleeing the scene of a serious crime or otherwise seeking to avoid arrest. For that reason, we do not consider it appropriate to extend these provisions to other emergency services.
Amendments 14 and 17, in the name of my noble friend Lord Atlee, would, as he has indicated, limit police driver standards protection under Clauses 4 and 5 to police officers and civilian police driving instructors. The Government have extended the protection to members of police staff because some civilian specialists may need to drive under emergency conditions and are trained to the National Police Chiefs Council standard to carry out advanced driving tactics. It follows that they should also be able to benefit from the new standard. As with the rest of the provision, the new standard should apply only to those civilian staff who have completed the prescribed training. I think it is worth reiterating that if they have not, their driving will be compared to that of an ordinary motorist.
I hope that I have been able to persuade noble Lords that the approach taken in these clauses is the right one and that, on this basis, the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, will be content to withdraw her amendment.
My Lords, could the Minister tell us what powers ambulance drivers and fire engine drivers have in terms of being able to disregard speed limits and traffic regulations? He may choose to write to me—that will be fine—but I think it would be very helpful for the Committee to know what those drivers can and cannot do. I understand his point that the requirements of the police are more extensive.
My Lords, with my 30 years’ experience in the police service, I am having some difficulty in understanding some of the Minister’s explanations, for example about when surveillance becomes a pursuit. We are talking about a situation where an officer is potentially facing a prosecution for careless or dangerous driving. In the ordinary course of surveillance, the people who are being followed will not know that they are being followed. That is what surveillance is. It becomes a chase when the people being surveilled recognise that they have a police vehicle behind them and try to escape. It then becomes a pursuit. So, with the greatest respect, I think that the Government need to sharpen their reasoning for dismissing amendments which, if my noble friend Lady Randerson does not pursue them on Report, I am very likely to.
I thank the noble Lord for that intervention. I think I gave some other examples, though, of things that do not necessarily qualify as police pursuit but are still none the less covered by this: emergency response, armed vehicle interventions and so on. I thought those would cover most of the noble Lord’s points. I take his point, obviously, that if you are under surveillance, you do not necessarily know that anybody is there—that is the whole point. At some point, that could turn into a pursuit; I suppose it depends on the specific circumstances. But I do take his point.
My Lords, could I ask the Minister if I heard him correctly? I think that, in the early part of the remarks he read out, he used the phrase “pursuit or emergency.” That appeared to me to be quite a helpful definition of what we are talking about here, and excluded things that were neither “pursuit” nor “emergency”. Could that wording not be what the clauses should be based on, and was it not helpful of him to use it in the early part of what he said?
I first want to thank the Minister for his response and all other noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. In particular, the quick interchange at the end has been a helpful response to the situation. My noble friend Lord Beith has I think raised a realistic solution to the problems with this legislation that this debate has shown up for the Government.
The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and my noble friend Lord Paddick both referred to the controversies and tragedies that occur in these situations. There are endless stories of controversy. Any changes the Government make to the legislation will simply shine a harsher light on the problems that inevitably will occur. So the Government really need to tighten up their thinking on this, and I would ask the Minister to take on board my noble friend’s advice to consider some tighter wording. The Government’s own consultation in 2018 offered two options: the use of the phrase “police purposes” or the use of “pursuit”. That shows that the Government themselves must have been considering those options at the time—so there must have been a logical reason for offering them.
I would like the Minister to take the time between now and Report, when I am pretty sure the issue will come back, to look at potential amendments that the Government believe may be helpful. I thank all noble Lords who have taken part. The Government need to be on very sure ground here, because they have drawn a broad definition. “Police purposes,” as the noble Lord, Lord Attlee, said, is a very broad term, and the circumstances in which the new rules can be applied will be questioned. With that, I will withdraw the amendment.
May I respond to the noble Lord, Lord Beith? I do not know if this is appropriate. I am probably breaking all the rules. I apologise if I am. I think I said, “to respond to emergencies and to pursue criminals”. This applies to all policing purposes where the staff member has had training. I will expand on whether the new test means that the police officer would be prosecuted if they departed from their training and guidance under any circumstances. The police driver training includes decision-making in line with the national decision-making model. This allows for a degree of flexibility. Police drivers should also take account of guidance found in the College of Policing authorised professional practice. The new legislation compares the police driver’s actions with what a careful and competent police driver would reasonably do. In other words, a police driver will be prosecuted for dangerous driving only if they drive in a way that would not be considered reasonable by a careful and competent police driver.
Amendment 13 withdrawn.
Amendments 14 and 15 not moved.
Clause 4 agreed.
Clause 5: Meaning of careless driving: constables etc
Amendment 16 to 18 not moved.
Clause 5 agreed.
19: After Clause 5, insert the following new Clause—
“National standards of competent and careful constable
For the purposes of sections 4 and 5 the Secretary of State shall, after consultation with such persons as they consider appropriate, publish national standards expected of designated persons.”Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would require the Secretary of State to publish national standards of what would be expected of a competent and careful constable under sections 4 and 5, against which their driving should be judged.
My Lords, Amendment 19 is supported by my noble friend Lady Randerson and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb. Amendment 20 is supported by the noble Lord, Lord Bellingham. I asked for these two amendments to be degrouped from the group we have just debated because that group was about the principle of police officers being given dispensation from the usual tests applied in cases of dangerous and careless driving. These amendments are about a separate issue—the consistency of the likelihood of police officers being prosecuted on not.
The changes proposed by the Government in Clauses 4 and 5 are problematic in that they define the threshold for prosecution or conviction for dangerous or careless driving, set against,
“what would be expected of a competent and careful constable who has undertaken the prescribed training.”
The Police Federation, which provided a draft of this amendment, has reminded me that, while groups of forces tend to pool their resources in police driver training, none the less, there is no national standard. What would be expected of a competent and careful constable who has undertaken the prescribed training can vary from police force to police force. A tactic, such as physical contact by a police vehicle with a stolen motorbike, or a motorbike being driven by a suspect involved in an armed robbery, causing the driver of the motorcycle to crash, might be trained for and practised in some police forces but not in others. To be clear about what I mean, the police driver knocks the criminal off the motorbike by colliding with it—a tactic used by the Metropolitan Police Service.
This could result in a police driver, who was driving in exactly the same way as another police driver in a different police force, being prosecuted and potentially convicted; while the other officer in almost identical circumstances would not face any sanction, if that police driver had been trained in that technique and it was part of the policy of that officer’s police force. Amendment 19 proposes that a national standard be established to ensure consistency in the application of the law, and certainty for police drivers.
Amendment 20, proposed by the Police Federation and based on its wealth of experience in this area, offers an alternative approach by providing a reasonable excuse defence to an allegation of dangerous or careless driving. Instead of adhering to the standard of a careful and competent driver, a police driver could avoid prosecution or conviction, provided the departure from the standard was necessary, proportionate and reasonable in all the circumstances. This would take account of the relevant driver policy and training, the split-second decisions faced in real time by the driver and the honestly held belief of the driver at the time. This is similar to the dispensation allowed to armed officers who have to make split-second decisions to use their firearms.
I am not a lawyer and I cannot elaborate on whether such a reasonable cause defence is accepted in other similar scenarios. I beg to move Amendment 19.
My Lords, we are extraordinarily lucky to have the expertise of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. I have just one anxiety about a national standard: conditions in the Metropolitan Police area are different from those facing, say, Devon and Cornwall Police. Devon and Cornwall Police might not have to dismount someone riding a motorbike illegally very often, whereas I suspect it is something the Metropolitan Police has to do quite often. On the one hand, I can see the benefit of national police standards, but I have an anxiety that they might not meet the different needs of different types of police force.
I am grateful to the noble Earl for his intervention. I think national standards would say that the tactic of colliding with a stolen motorbike was an acceptable tactic that officers could be compared against whether or not it was actually used by particular forces, bearing in mind the circumstances faced by different forces. So, legally, officers in Devon and Cornwall could use that tactic according to the national standard, but it would be very rare for them to use it—if ever at all.
My noble friend has raised the issue of national standards. I want to approach this issue in a slightly different way. I have added my name to the amendment because I have concerns about clarity. The existing standards are set out in the 1988 Act, and we as drivers are all familiar with them. We passed our driving tests however long ago, but on an almost daily basis we practise following those standards—fairly rigorously, I hope.
According to this legislation, we are now moving to a set of standards based on a format for training of which we, with the exception of my noble friend, have no real concept. We do not understand exactly what is involved in this training and what is expected of police drivers. Indeed, I am sure this debate has been very instructive for us all in finding out a bit more about it.
Add that issue to the fact that standards are different from one part of the country to another and we have a difficult situation for the Government in applying this new approach. Good law has to be easily understandable. Publicising the details of these standards—making sure that the public, as well as police officers, understand them—is essential for acceptance by the general public. That will be essential if cases brought under this legislation are to succeed in court.
My Lords, I have a confession to make: I love the traffic police. I have spent many happy hours in the front of a police van with an automatic number plate recognition machine, spotting illegal drivers. The fascinating thing about criminals is that not only do they break the law on drugs, guns and so on, but they do not pay insurance on their cars either. If I were a criminal, I would make sure that my car was perfectly legal, but for some reason they do not. So the traffic police are incredibly successful at catching criminals; at one point—I do not know if this is still true—their arrest rate was far higher than that of the average police officer here in London.
In the 12 years that I sat on the police authority, I took advantage of that to go out with the traffic police. I remember one spectacular day when they had a car-crushing machine next to the A1. All the vehicles speeding down the A1 saw that machine and slowed to legal limits. We were not actually crushing cars that had been taken that day; they had brought some cars out with them from central London. So I am a big fan. The traffic OCU serves an incredible function of keeping our roads safe.
I support Amendment 19. Of course, everybody expects the police who respond to blue-light emergencies to drive fast, overtake, go through red lights and so on, and it is right that the police are given the necessary legal protections to do their job in these situations. Then there are more controversial and dangerous tactics, such as officers aggressively ramming moped drivers who refuse to stop. We cannot leave that for the courtroom to decide—it has to be a political decision. Whether a tactic meets the standard of a reasonable and careful constable is political, because you cannot leave police officers uncertain about whether their behaviour is legal. It would also leave the public unsure about what standard of driving you can expect from our public servants. Amendment 19 addresses that issue and is an extremely neat solution.
My Lords, the amendments would improve the Bill. The legislation in some respects is too loose, and needs to be tightened. I hope that, when we move from Committee to Report in a few weeks, the Minister will have had time to reflect on the previous group but also on some of the points being made here, because that will make what we all want much more likely to happen. I hope that he will be able to reflect on the points that noble Lords have made and come forward with the Government’s own amendments to take account of those points, some of which are exceedingly logical and good and would enhance the Bill and what the Government are seeking to achieve.
The amendments raise key issues in relation to the police driving provisions. The aim of the clause is not to allow the police to drive without safeguards or scrutiny but to ensure that they are not criminalised for what they have been trained to do. Amendment 19 raises a reasonable question about national standards for competent and carefully trained drivers. As we will come on to in Amendment 20, there are various levels of training, and the number of fully trained officers will differ between forces. However, that does not alter the fact that there is a need to set out in more detail and with more clarity what a nationally recognised standard will look like. Will it be covered in the training that officers receive, and is the Minister confident that the Bill makes it clear what a national standard means? The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, posed a reasonable question, which was answered well by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, about what that means between different police forces such as Devon and Cornwall and the Metropolitan Police, and how they do things. Those are the sort of points that the Minister needs to raise.
On Amendment 20, the idea of a reasonableness defence is an issue that officers are concerned about, which was raised consistently in the Commons. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, did not mention that quite as much as he did the national standards, but we need to ask how this whole area of reasonableness, which is used in the courts, stands with respect to this Bill. It is difficult to craft an answer, but the issue goes back to the level of training that an officer receives, which varies from force to force. It not only varies from force to force, however: the level of training varies within the police force.
Let me give an example for clarity. If I am a member of the public on the street, I know generally what a response car looks like, and you would expect a response car driver to have had the highest level of training, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said he had received in the past. It is about a proper response driver responding to emergencies or pursuing a vehicle. That is what you would expect if you were a member of the public. But not all police cars are response cars. What about a police van? I have seen police vans driving after people. What happens then?
Is this level of training—police pursuit—available only to response drivers? What about other drivers, or will they be compared to the normal standard? This takes the police into very difficult territory. I have not been a serving police officer like the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, but I can only imagine that if someone said, “Officer, a mile down the road there is a really serious incident”, and a police van driver did not put the blue lights on and go down there, and as a consequence a murder or a rape took place, people are not going to say, “That officer driving the police van was quite right; he did not respond in the way that he should because he has not had the proper level of training”. This takes us into difficult territory, and it is also about the reputation of the police.
What happens, however, if the police van driver does that, but then crashes or injures somebody else? I thought that was the point of Amendment 20 and the reasonableness defence: you would expect the police officer driving the van to do that, even though they are not trained to the level of the police response driver. From the Bill, however, it is not clear whether the police van driver—I am making that up as an example—would be able to do that and respond to an emergency situation with the same level of protection that the Bill tries to give to a response-level trained driver, whereas the public would expect them both to respond in the same way.
That is the point of the reasonableness test that Amendment 20 seeks to drive into the Bill. I hope that I have given a clear enough example of the sort of situation that might arise for a police officer, whether operating in Devon and Cornwall, the middle of London, Sheffield, Cardiff or wherever.
This is the point of the Committee: it drives that level of detail that seeks to clarify the way the legislation is drafted—as we saw with the previous grouping, where there is a real problem around the phrase “police purpose”—but also tries to ensure that the legislation delivers in both its wording and its intention.
On the drafting of the Bill, can the Minister just give us some assurance that officers with basic police driver training would be protected if they found themselves having to respond to an incident that ideally required a higher level of training? That is a fundamental question and if I were a police officer driving a vehicle that was not a response vehicle, I would want to know whether I was protected by law in the way that we seek to protect other drivers.
May I speak? Sorry, I do not know what the rules are. That is the point that I was making, and I am asking the Minister: what is the answer? The public’s perception of that would be, frankly, dreadful from the police point of view. There is an issue here for the Minister to resolve and to clarify for the police forces and the people driving.
I have two points: one is that we are in Committee, so we can speak as many times as we like, and the other is that the public may have to be disappointed, because the police officer may not be able to do everything that the public expect. The public could complain; there is a complaints procedure, so the police could explain why they could not respond in the way that the public would expect.
Thank you, my Lords—I have enjoyed this debate. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for setting out the rationale for his amendments and I thank all other noble Lords who made a contribution. I was particularly delighted to hear that the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, is such a supporter of the traffic police, although I found her relish for car crashes a little upsetting.
In the case of Amendment 19, the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, is right to highlight the importance of high and consistent standards of police driver training, both to safeguard public safety on the roads and to provide an objective benchmark for police driving during any post-incident proceedings. The new test allows for higher standards of driver training, as we discussed on the previous set of amendments, and competence will be taken into consideration when deciding whether to prosecute a police officer for an offence of dangerous or careless driving. Therefore, it is necessary to be able to objectively assess whether the officer or instructor has undertaken the appropriate enhanced driver training or has otherwise acquired specialist driver skills.
Clauses 4 and 5 therefore already require the Home Secretary to prescribe the appropriate training in regulations. I refer the noble Lord to new subsections (1A)(b) and (1B)(a) of Section 2A of the Road Traffic Act 1988, as inserted by Clause 4(3). There is a similar provision in Clause 5. The regulations will prescribe the minimum training standards that chief officers, police drivers and police driver instructors should comply with, which I hope goes some way towards answering the question of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker. Specifying the appropriate training and skills in regulations will enable them to be readily updated to reflect changes in the police driver training curriculum and to operational good practice, emerging threats and crime trends, or new technology utilised by either criminals or the police, new case law, and learning from incidents involving drivers.
As the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson pointed out, consistency is important, so the National Police Chiefs’ Council has been working closely with police forces to standardise police driver training across England and Wales. This will ensure that police drivers are trained to a similar standard, depending on their role, and the legal test for police drivers will have a fairer comparator. The regulations will require police drivers to take account of the national police driver learning programme and the authorised professional practice for police drivers, published on the College of Policing website, which allows tactics and skills to be readily updated. I think some of this debate has strayed into police tactics, as well as the rules and regulations.
The regulations are being drafted in consultation with stakeholders, including police driving leads and the College of Policing, and will be made by the Secretary of State in early 2022. The regulations will be subject to the negative procedure. However, I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, that it is important that the public are at least made aware of those, and they should certainly understand them.
In short, the combination of the regulations to be made under Clauses 4 and 5 and the College of Policing’s published authorised professional practice achieve the outcome that the noble Lord seeks; namely, publicly available national standards.
On Amendment 20, the Government’s view is that the proposed introduction by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, of a reasonableness statutory defence for police drivers is unnecessary. The existing proposed legislation is sufficient to provide police drivers with the protection they need. As the noble Lord said himself at Second Reading,
“Protecting police officers in vehicular pursuit of dangerous criminals is right, but so is protecting innocent members of the public caught up in the chase.”—[Official Report, 14/9/21; col. 1287.]
The state has a duty under Article 2 of the ECHR to protect the right to life. Such a wide defence would not balance the need to give the police the confidence to pursue dangerous criminals on the one hand and the need to avoid doing so in such a way as to create disproportionate risks to other road users. The tiny minority of police officers who drive in an inappropriate manner should be held to account.
I hope that I have been able to go some way to persuading the noble Lord that the issue of national standards has already been addressed through the Bill and elsewhere, and that a reasonableness defence would not be appropriate. I therefore ask him to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I am very grateful to all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. To my noble friend Lady Randerson, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, I say that I have just started cycling in London again and it is terrifying; we need more traffic police.
I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, particularly for the way he absolutely hit the nail on the head with his example of a police van driver who is not an advanced driver who is told by a member of the public that, 100 yards down the road, somebody is being murdered, but who has not received the level of training that they will be judged against. In the debate on the previous group, the Minister said that if they have not had the training, they will be judged like an ordinary driver; he also said that the legislation provides the protection that they need. But the example from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, shows how they will not get protection under the law as proposed and drafted by the Government in the Bill.
The Minister said that these changes have been made in consultation. Dare I suggest that they were not made in consultation with the Police Federation? They have not been made in consultation with the officers who will be directly affected by the legislation, because it was the Police Federation that asked me to propose these amendments to the Bill. Again, I am afraid I must suggest that the Minister has been rather let down by his brief in not being able to address the very real concerns that noble Lords around the House have expressed. We will clearly come back to this on Report, but at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 19 withdrawn.
Clause 6 agreed.
Amendment 20 not moved.
Clause 7: Duties to collaborate and plan to prevent and reduce serious violence
21: Clause 7, page 8, line 16, after “violence” insert “and safeguard children involved in serious violence”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would require specified authorities subject to the “serious violence duty” to safeguard children involved in serious violence.
We now move on to Part 2 of the Bill. The amendments in this group all relate to the issue of ensuring that safeguarding and tackling the criminal exploitation of children is a central part of the duty to reduce serious violence as set out in Part 2, with its duties on specified authorities to collaborate and plan to prevent and reduce serious violence.
There are a considerable number of amendments in this group. Amendments 21, 23, 36, 37, 42 and 43 would require specified authorities subject to the serious violence duty to safeguard children involved in serious violence.
Amendment 24 would require specified authorities to safeguard children involved in serious violence as part of the serious violence duty, including identifying and safeguarding children who are victims of modern slavery and trafficking.
Amendment 25 would require specified authorities subject to the duty to prepare and implement an early help strategy to prevent violence, support child victims of violence and prevent hidden harm. Early intervention is surely crucial to prevent violence before it occurs, and that needs to be in the Bill. Preventive safeguarding activity can be focused on offering support to a child and family through targeted or universal services at the first sign of issues in their lives becoming difficult to prevent them being coerced in activity associated with serious violence.
Amendment 27 would ensure that any children’s social care authority which was not already involved in the strategy would be consulted in the preparation of the strategy.
Amendment 49 would require specified authorities to collaborate and plan to prevent and reduce child criminal exploitation and safeguard affected children.
Amendment 50 introduces a statutory definition of child criminal exploitation. Children who are groomed and exploited by criminal gangs are the victims, not the criminals.
Amendment 52, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, is a probing amendment. It would require the Secretary of State to prepare and publish a strategy for providing specialist training on child criminal exploitation and serious youth violence.
While we support this part of the Bill, the statutory duty to reduce violence will not work in the way we need it to unless it includes the duty to safeguard children who have been pulled into that violence or are being impacted by it. These amendments would require authorities subject to the serious violence duty to safeguard children involved in serious violence, and would specifically add safeguarding children involved in violence and identifying and safeguarding children who are victims of modern slavery and trafficking as requirements of the serious violence duty. They would make preparing and implementing an early help strategy to prevent violence, support child victims of violence and prevent hidden harm a specific requirement of authorities as part of their serious violence duties and would ensure that any children’s social care authority that, as I said, was not already involved in the strategy to reduce serious violence, would be consulted in the preparation of this strategy.
The amendments on child criminal exploitation would require specified authorities to collaborate and plan to prevent and reduce child criminal exploitation and safeguard affected children, as well as introducing the statutory definition of child criminal exploitation to which I referred. The amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, to which I have already referred and which we support, would require the Secretary of State to prepare and publish a strategy for providing specialist training on child criminal exploitation and serious youth violence. I will say more about the amendments on child criminal exploitation shortly.
The Bill places a significant and welcome new duty on specified authorities to identify the kinds of serious violence that occur; to identify the causes of serious violence in the area; and to prepare and implement a strategy for exercising their functions to prevent and reduce serious violence in an area. While obviously prison and policing are crucial in terms of justice and bringing to book those who have committed offences, prevention of crime in the first place is the real long-term solution to reducing violent crime and creating a safer and better society. Case studies have shown that, if someone is in care, is vulnerable, has experienced domestic abuse in the home, has parents with addictions or has no parents at all, these are matters that make them more vulnerable to getting involved in violence later in life. If we can intervene at the earliest possible stages, we can have a significant impact not just on the lives of those young people but on society and on the costs to society of high levels of violence.
This part of the Bill is a step in the right direction towards doing that. However, while a public health approach to tackling serious violence that seeks to address the root causes is welcome, creating a statutory public health duty will not deliver if the desired result of reducing the number of children who are harmed by serious violence is not also achieved. An approach for tackling serious violence that does not also help to protect children from harm, does not include the full range of partners and interventions needed and does not consider some of the more structural factors that contribute to violence just will not deliver the desired outcome that surely we all want.
We need a strategy that equips the safeguarding system and the statutory and voluntary services to protect children from harm with the resources and guidance to do so. These amendments make the specified authorities involved in the serious violence duty safeguard children at risk of or experiencing harm and they refer in particular to children involved in serious violence in the area as a result of being a victim of modern slavery and trafficking offences under the Modern Slavery Act 2015.
I repeat that the statutory duty to reduce violence cannot be effective on its own without a statutory duty to safeguard children, as provided for in this group of amendments. Currently, the draft guidance on the serious violence reduction duty does not mention safeguarding. Can the Minister reassure the House that this will be revisited?
Amendments 49 and 50, and the amendment in the lead name of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, deal specifically with the issue of child criminal exploitation and are supported by organisations including Barnardo’s and the Children’s Society. Amendment 50 would introduce a statutory definition of child criminal exploitation, putting a recognised definition in law for the first time. It provides that exploitation is where:
“Another person manipulates, deceives, coerces or controls the person to undertake activity which constitutes a criminal offence.”
At the heart of this group is the fact that children and vulnerable young people who are being pulled into violence require a bespoke response that recognises their particular risk factors. I think it is fair to say there is a growing awareness of child criminal exploitation, but it is also irrefutable that, for so many children being exploited, we are failing to identify them and provide support in time to quite literally save their lives. Not only do we need to improve that support, and action at the point of crisis, we need to look at the long-term support required by a child who is traumatised by what they have experienced.
Child criminal exploitation could include being coerced into carrying weapons, drug trafficking as part of county lines, or committing acts of serious violence, perhaps against a rival gang. A preventive approach needs to target those who commit these crimes against children and find ways to support the children out of the situation they so often feel they just have no way of leaving.
Barnardo’s says it has found that agencies, including police forces, are not routinely collecting or recording information on this type of exploitation. It reports that a number of reviews have found that children at risk are being passed between agencies without meaningful engagement. A statutory definition would improve awareness and understanding and encourage joined-up working, not only across the justice system but across all partners included in the serious violence duty. It would give a common definition of what we are seeking to tackle.
Amendment 52, to which I have also added my name, was tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, who is unavoidably unable to be here today, and we are sorry not to have the benefit of her knowledgeable contribution to this debate. The amendment would support the definition of child criminal exploitation by ensuring that professionals are trained to identify and prevent this exploitation and effectively support children who are victims or at risk of being victims. Training is surely key to ensuring that our agencies have the skills and resources to tackle this problem, and we strongly support the amendment.
Together, these particular amendments would pave the way to a more focused, effective and joined up response to this abhorrent coercion and manipulation of children and vulnerable young people. Overall, the amendments in this group are intended to ensure that safeguarding children who have been pulled into violence or are being impacted by it, and tackling the exploitation of children, is a central part of the duty to reduce serious violence—a much-needed provision, because a statutory duty to reduce violence cannot be effective on its own without a statutory duty to safeguard children. I move.
My Lords, I have signed most of the amendments in this group because I think they are extremely valuable. I want to congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, on his very thorough exposition of why they are needed.
As I and others have mentioned many times, there is a serious failing of the police and the Home Office to safeguard children and young people from serious violence. This is most explicit in the police’s ongoing use of child spies, where they scoop up children who have got stuck in dangerous criminal situations and put them in even more danger by working them as an intelligence asset with very few safeguards. Obviously, Amendment 50 could then apply to police officers who put children in that sort of situation.
The serious violence duty is important, but it must include a duty to safeguard children and young people who are caught up in the chaos of organised crime. Early interventions, removing children from organised crime, and well-funded youth programmes are all key to ending this cycle of violence. Writing them off as destined for a life of crime and using them as disposable police assets is inhumane and dangerous. I hope that the Minister can change tack on this so that we can change many young lives for the better.
My Lords, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester was in his place earlier but has had to go elsewhere for the evening. He has asked me to speak on his behalf on the amendments in this group tabled in his name alongside those of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. I thank the Children’s Society and Barnardo’s for their support and helpful briefings.
The Church has a particular concern for vulnerable children. As far as the Church of England is concerned, there are 4,644 schools in which we educate around 1 million students. This educational commitment is combined with parish and youth worker activities that bring the Church into contact with thousands of families each year. Through the Clewer Initiative, many parishes and dioceses have worked closely on the issues of county lines and confronting the blight of modern slavery. Accordingly, we have seen at first hand and, sadly, all too frequently the terrible damage caused by serious youth violence and by the criminal exploitation of children. The latter is an especially insidious form of abuse, which one victim has described as “when someone you trusted makes you commit crime for their benefit”.
Amendment 50, as we have heard, seeks to create a definition of child criminal exploitation that would sit alongside other definitions of exploitation already in the Modern Slavery Act. The present lack of a single statutory definition means that local agencies are responding differently to this form of exploitation across the country. Research by the Children’s Society in 2019 found that only one-third of local authorities had a policy in place for responding to it. By its very nature, exploitation through county lines crosses local authority boundaries, so it is imperative that there is a national shared understanding of child criminal exploitation so that children do not fall through the gaps if they live in one area but are exploited in another. A consequence of the current lack of a shared definition and approach is that many children receive punitive criminal justice responses rather than being seen as victims of exploitation and abuse.
Youth justice data shows that in 2019-20, 1,402 children were first-time entrants to the youth justice system due to drug offences, with 2,063 being first-time entrants due to weapon offences. Both issues are often associated with criminal exploitation through the county lines drug model. Despite positive work from several police forces and the CPS, many criminal cases are still being pursued against a child even when they have been identified as a victim of criminal exploitation.
Relatedly, too many children are coming to the attention of services only when they are arrested by police for drugs-related crimes, as early warning signs are not understood or are simply missed. We too often find that not all professionals involved in children’s lives fully understand this form of exploitation and how vulnerabilities manifest in children. There are countless serious case reviews that point to safeguarding interventions not being made earlier enough in the grooming process.
A statutory definition agreed and understood by all local safeguarding partners would enable professionals to spot the signs earlier and divert vulnerable children away from harm, in much the same way as the recently adopted statutory definition of domestic abuse is now helping to improve responses on that issue. I am sure that every Member of this House shares the desire to protect vulnerable children. Adopting this definition would send a strong message to those children that their abuse is seen, heard and understood.
This also leads me briefly to address Amendments 21, 23 to 27, 42 and 43, which would amend the serious violence duty. Concern with the serious violence duty, as presented here, is about a lack of clear commitment to the safeguarding of children. No differentiation is drawn between how this duty impacts on children as opposed to adults.
Children and vulnerable young people experiencing serious violence require a different response. Being involved in violence is often an indicator that children are experiencing other problems in their lives, such as being criminally exploited. It is important to understand these underlying causes of why children may be involved in violence, and for these underlying causes in a child’s life or in the lives of children within certain areas to be addressed. We need to intervene to protect and divert children, not treating them as adult criminals. This requires a co-ordinated approach to preventative safeguarding which focuses on offering support to a child and family through targeted or universal services at the first signs of issues in their lives to prevent them being coerced into activity associated with serious violence.
Safeguarding and protecting children and vulnerable young people from harm should be the first priority of statutory agencies, and in any subsequent duty for these agencies to co-operate with one another. The duty as currently drafted does not mention “safeguarding” once, nor does it signal the need for the specific involvement of children’s social care teams in creating a strategy to prevent violence in a local area. A failure to write into the duty the need to safeguard children risks young people falling through the cracks in statutory support and receiving a punitive response from statutory services. It makes the duty all about crime reduction at the expense of safeguarding. It would also hinder the ability of the duty to be truly preventative if it did not specify the involvement of children’s services.
I hope that we shall receive some assurances from the Minister on the commitment to safeguarding, ideally on the face of the Bill, but certainly a commitment that the issue of how the duty relates to safeguarding will be more closely considered in guidance.
My Lords, I support Amendments 50 and 52, which seek to create a statutory definition for child criminal exploitation and provide training on child criminal exploitation and serious youth violence.
The intention of these amendments is to ensure that those who first encounter victims—most often, police officers on a child’s arrest—know what they are looking for and are prepared to respond to signs of child criminal exploitation and secure the intervention and support for children who are being exploited.
This amendment could well be needed to ensure that we no longer allow our most vulnerable children to slip through the cracks and end up in a cycle of exploitation, violence and criminality. I was particularly struck by a story published by the Children’s Society in which a child was repeatedly exploited to transport drugs and weapons, and his mother threatened by older youths when he failed to provide money to those coercing him into criminal activity. He was known to his youth offending team, but the extent of the ways in which he had been exploited did not become manifest until his tragic murder in January 2019. His story is just one of thousands.
The Children’s Commissioner has estimated that at least 27,000 children in the UK are currently at serious risk of gang exploitation. The national referral mechanism has begun to recognise the weight of this criminal exploitation as a form of modern slavery, and 2,749 of the 4,964 child victims that it encountered in 2020 had been subject to child criminal exploitation. However, only a minority of exploited victims ever reach the national referral mechanism. These amendments are designed to probe whether we need a clear definition and understanding of criminal exploitation, and training which equips local authorities to intervene and protect children from it.
It is important that we recognise that when a child is being exploited, first and foremost, as we have heard this evening, they are a victim. According to an FOI request by Barnardo’s, only one of 47 local policing departments responded with existing awareness and a strategy for combating child criminal exploitation, leaving 29 which had no approach and 17 which were unresponsive.
Without awareness of child criminal exploitation and a policy in place for its detection and eradication, children are arrested as criminals and enter the criminal justice system with no assistance against the coercion that they face. This often results in their continued exploitation on release and a perpetuated cycle of coerced reoffending.
These amendments are about equipping those who have the greatest visibility of these matters to intervene and provide support when it is needed most. Will the Minister outline her plans for ensuring that the 29 local policing departments which had no approach to child criminal exploitation and the 17 unresponsive departments are properly trained and equipped to identify and address this issue?
As we know, this Government are committed to an ambitious levelling-up agenda. For the UK to truly level up, to build a society where everyone is able to flourish and reach their full potential, no matter the circumstances into which they were born, we need to be far more proactive in breaking the cycle of exploitation and intervening to give our children a chance to thrive. Can the Minister confirm that the challenges that these vulnerable children face will also be addressed in the forthcoming levelling-up strategy?
My Lords, I agree very much with the concerns that have been expressed this evening, and I would because I have an interest which I should declare as a trustee of Safer London whose work is directed to deterring young people from becoming involved in crime. Giving young people the tools they need to resist being pulled into crime is a very wide agenda. As is obvious from the name, the work is confined to London, but it is needed all over.
As well as that, I remember the debates during the passage of the Modern Slavery Bill on what is meant by “exploitation”. I take the point about people—it is not just children—who may be perceived as criminals but who are actually victims, so I understand the calls for much better understanding of child criminal exploitation. I hope that what I am about to say is understood to be support for, not opposition to, the thrust of what is being proposed.
Amendment 52, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, on training is absolutely to the point. If all agencies and authorities were trained to recognise what they are seeing but not recognising, in a way that would answer all the other points that have been made. If the prevention and reduction of crime, which is what these clauses are about, means anything, surely it must include safeguarding. That is prevention. Safeguarding is not defined, which does not surprise me because it is comprised of an awful lot of component parts and is different in different circumstances. I would be interested to know whether the Minister call tell us what is already on the statute book in this area. Are we talking about bringing together provisions that should be brought together that are scattered, as can be the case, or are we talking about something new in statutory terms?
I do not think that we can leave the issue without referring to resources. If there were the resources to extend the excellent work being done by various organisations far more widely, both in the voluntary sector and to statutory authorities, I do not think we would be talking about all this. But I am quite convinced that it comes back to training to recognise what should really be in front of people’s eyes. I know it is easy for us, standing up in the Chamber, to say that, and I would not like to do the job that some police officers, teachers, health workers and so on do. But the training should support the achievement of everything that noble Lords are seeking this evening.
My Lords, there are a number of general points I need to make about the new legal duties to support a multiagency approach to preventing and tackling serious violence. I will try to make them in the appropriate group of amendments, but I hope the Committee will accept that there is a great deal of overlap.
The overwhelming response of the non-governmental organisations I have met with which have concerns about this part of the Bill is that, as drafted, it is actually about forcing agencies to support a police-led enforcement approach to serious violence—not a public health approach, or even a multiagency approach, to preventing and tackling serious violence. The Government’s own consultation on this issue gave three options: a new legal duty on specific organisations to effectively share information with the police; a new legal duty to revise community safety partnerships, the existing and well-established mechanism where local authorities and police forces work together to prevent and tackle crime, and where the local police chief and local authority chief executive are equal partners in doing whatever each partner and others can do to reduce crime and disorder; and a voluntary non-legislative approach. There was more support for a legislative approach than a voluntary one, but more respondents favoured enhancing community safety partnerships—40%—compared with a new legal duty to provide information to the police—37%—and, tellingly, the police supported equally options one and two.
Even the police, the sector most likely to benefit from a police-led enforcement approach, were ambivalent as to whether it should be a truly multiagency approach by enhancing community safety partnerships or a police-led enforcement approach. So why did the Government opt for the latter and not the former? A police-led enforcement approach was the Government’s preferred option from the beginning. These amendments, which we support, are the first manifestation of challenging that police-led enforcement approach, in that the legal duty does not sufficiently recognise that many young people, particularly those involved in county lines, are victims of criminal exploitation rather than free-acting criminals. Henry Blake is a former youth worker who draws on his personal experiences of working with at-risk young people in his powerful film, “County Lines”—a drama about one young man who is drawn into county lines drug dealing. I would highly recommend this film to any noble Lord who is unaware of the realities of county lines.
Many young people lacking family support and living in poverty find themselves groomed by adults who appear to show them the love and concern they desperately seek, and who treat them to meals in burger restaurants and buy them new trainers—something their often lone parent cannot afford. They promise them money, not just so they can afford the latest designer clothing that they need if they are not to be bullied by gangs, who see those who do not wear designer labels—even Nike and Adidas—as targets. It is not just so they can go to McDonald’s whenever they want, but so that they can help their mum put food on the table and make sure their younger sister has decent clothes to wear. I hope noble Lords can see how easily vulnerable young people are drawn into criminality, not just for pecuniary advantage but for the sense of belonging and the sense that someone is at last paying them some attention. For many, it is as much an emotional need as a financial one.
Of course, the reality is very different. The adults exploiting these young people take the vast majority of the profits of the drug dealing in which they are involving these young people whom they have groomed, and the youngsters take all the risks, often ending in violence from rival drug dealers. These young people are victims of criminal exploitation, and each one of us is to blame—not them. It is our fault that their single mothers have to do three minimum wage jobs to pay the rent and put food on the table and so, through no fault of their own, can rarely be there for their kids as most wish they could be. It is our fault that too many people do not have a decent place to live, because they cannot afford private rents for an appropriately sized home in a good state of repair, and that there is a shocking shortage of social housing and much of what exists is in an appalling state of repair. It is our fault that, as the cost of living spirals upwards, we take away £20 a week in universal credit from those most in need. The Government’s response is to force other agencies to divulge information that makes it easier for them to prosecute these victims of criminal exploitation.
That is why the Bill needs to radically change from a police-led enforcement approach to preventing and tackling serious violence to a truly public health and multiagency approach, starting with—although this is only the beginning of the changes needed—putting the safeguarding of children involved in serious violence in the Bill. That must include, as the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, suggests in his Amendment 50, and as both Barnardo’s and the Children’s Society have suggested, including a statutory definition of child criminal exploitation in the meaning of exploitation in Section 3 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 and, as the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, suggests in her Amendment 52, training for police officers in particular, to ensure that they are aware of child criminal exploitation and actively seeking evidence of such exploitation.
My Lords, I am most grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for setting out the case for these amendments. I wholeheartedly agree that nothing is more important than safeguarding children at risk of harm. That is why we introduced reforms to safeguarding in 2017, which led to the establishment of multiagency safeguarding arrangements in 2019. The statutory safeguarding partners responsible for safeguarding—that is, local authorities, clinical commissioning groups and chief officers of police—are also named as specified authorities under the serious violence duty, so I would argue that it is truly a multiagency approach. This demonstrates the importance of safeguarding in protecting children and young people from involvement in serious violence. We expect that existing work to safeguard vulnerable children will link very closely with local efforts to prevent and reduce serious violence. Therefore, we do not believe that it is necessary to include a separate safeguarding requirement in this part of the Bill, and it would not be possible to do so without duplicating existing safeguarding legislation.
On Amendment 25, which would require specified authorities to prepare and implement an early help strategy, the noble Lord is absolutely right to highlight the importance of prevention and early intervention and this, of course, is the key aim of the serious violence duty. We recognise that early intervention and prevention are essential to reducing serious violence. The duty requires partners to work collaboratively to develop a strategy to reduce serious violence in their local area. We expect partners to work with upstream organisations, such as education providers and children’s social care, when developing this strategy to ensure that it covers actions that relate to early help and considers risks that occur before a young person becomes involved in serious violence. This ensures that any strategy will include early help for this cohort. We believe that it would be less effective to separate this out into an additional strategy.
It is also relevant that the provision of early help is an important feature of existing statutory guidance, called Keeping Children Safe in Education and Working Together to Safeguard Children. This requires schools, colleges, and organisations and agencies working with children and their families in discharging their functions to have appropriate safeguarding support in place. As such, this should already be built into existing safeguarding practice.
Amendment 27 would require all specified authorities to consult any children’s social care authority for the area, if not already a specified authority under this part of the Bill, as part of the preparation of local strategies. I totally agree that children’s social care authorities have a crucial contribution to make to local efforts, particularly for those young people at risk of being involved in serious violence, child criminal exploitation or other harms. However, it is also clear to me that local authorities are already a specified authority under the duty and have a responsibility for children’s social care services under separate legislation. The duty has been designed this way to ensure that children’s social care services play a significant role in the discharge of the duty, as they have valuable experience in safeguarding issues and tackling a variety of harms, including serious violence. The statutory guidance for the serious violence duty will make it clear that children’s social care services, as well as other services that local authorities are responsible for, should be involved in the development of the local strategy.
I would also like to assure the Committee that the Government are committed to tackling the heinous crime of modern slavery, including by the identification and safeguarding of child victims of modern slavery. Section 52 of the Modern Slavery Act 2015 places a statutory duty on specified public authorities in England and Wales to notify the Home Secretary when they have reasonable grounds to believe that a person may be the victim of slavery or human trafficking. If the potential victim is a child, there is no requirement to obtain their consent to this notification, and the duty is discharged by referring a potential victim to the national referral mechanism, known as the NRM. It is the process by which the UK identifies and supports potential victims of modern slavery by connecting them with appropriate support. First responder organisations, which include law enforcement agencies, local authorities and specified non-governmental organisations, are able to make a referral to the NRM, as set out in the modern slavery statutory guidance.
Safeguarding and promoting the welfare of all children in their area, including child victims of modern slavery, is the responsibility of local authorities. Children’s services should already be working in close co-operation with the police and other statutory and non-statutory agencies to offer child victims of modern slavery the support that they require. In addition to the statutory support provided by local authorities, Section 48 of the Modern Slavery Act made provision for independent child trafficking guardians in England and Wales, whose role it is to provide specialist independent support for trafficked children and to advocate on behalf of the child to ensure their best interests are reflected in decisions made by public authorities. This service now covers in total two-thirds of all local authorities across England and Wales, so I do not think that to include a further requirement in this Bill is necessary, given that it is already mandatory.
Amendment 49 would require specified authorities to prepare and implement a strategy to prevent and reduce child criminal exploitation and safeguard affected children within the serious violence duty. I want to be absolutely clear here that targeting, grooming and the exploitation of children, who are often the most vulnerable in our society, for criminal purposes is wholly unacceptable and this Government fully condemn it. Noble Lords will know that criminals can adapt their approach in response to legislation and government policy, which is why the serious violence duty has been designed to be flexible, enabling areas to tailor the duty to their specific requirements and crime types that are deemed a local priority, as well as being able to respond to emerging and unforeseen threats.
There will also be accompanying statutory guidance, which we have published in draft form, that will make it clear to specified authorities that they will be able to determine what types of serious violence to include in their local strategy based on evidence from their strategic needs assessment. The legislation as currently drafted will allow specified authorities to include child criminal exploitation in their local serious violence strategies, and I am therefore not convinced of the need for a separate strategy at this stage.
Amendment 52 would require the Secretary of State to publish a strategy for providing specialist training on child criminal exploitation and serious youth violence for all specified authorities under the serious violence duty. Training is of course absolutely essential in equipping professionals to strengthen their knowledge and skills so they can provide the best support for young people, but I do not think we need to include it in the Bill.
Existing statutory guidance, specifically Working Together to Safeguard Children, already makes it clear that local safeguarding partners are responsible for considering what training is needed locally and for planning how they will monitor and evaluate the effectiveness of training that is commissioned. There is a requirement to include how interagency training will be commissioned, delivered and monitored for impact in their published local safeguarding arrangements. Annual reports of the safeguarding arrangements must also include evidence of the impact of the work of the safeguarding partners and relevant agencies, including any training undertaken. I think that this existing approach is correct, given that the three safeguarding partners will be best placed to determine the training needs of their practitioners in response to the risks to children in their area according to local needs and circumstance.
Finally, Amendment 50 seeks to establish a statutory definition of “child criminal exploitation”. We have explored the introduction of such a statutory definition with a range of operational partners and have concluded that Section 3 of the Modern Slavery Act, which provides for definitions of exploitation within the Act, is sufficient to respond to a range of child criminal exploitation scenarios. It was also a finding of the independent review into the Modern Slavery Act conducted by the noble Lord, Lord Field, the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, and Maria Miller MP, who considered the definition of child criminal exploitation under the 2015 Act and recommended that it should not be amended as it is flexible to new and emerging forms of modern slavery.
It is also important to note that child criminal exploitation is already defined in statutory guidance. This includes both the Keeping Children Safe in Education and Working Together to Safeguard Children statutory guidance. It is also included in a number of non-statutory practice documents, including the Home Office child exploitation disruption toolkit for front-line practitioners and the county lines guidance for prosecutors and youth offending teams.
I also assure noble Lords that the Home Office is working collaboratively across government and with operational partners to raise the profile of, and improve local safeguarding arrangements for, child criminal exploitation. That is why, along with the Department for Education, we worked with Liverpool John Moores University to test the effectiveness of the multiagency safeguarding partnerships in dealing with young people at risk or involved in serious violence and county lines. We have recently received the findings from those reviews and are considering the best way to share the learning and practice with local areas.
In addition, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said, the vast majority of child criminal exploitation cases currently occur in the context of county lines. The Home Office is therefore providing up to £1 million in this financial year to provide specialist support for under-25s and their families who are affected by county lines exploitation in the three largest exporting force areas: that is, London, the West Midlands and Merseyside. We also fund Missing People’s SafeCall service, which is a national confidential helpline for young people, families and carers who are concerned about county lines exploitation. So, while I am not persuaded of the need for a statutory definition, I hope I have provided some assurance that tackling child criminal exploitation is a priority for this Government.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, pointed out that the guidance does not deal with safeguards. As he indicated, we have now published the statutory guidance in draft. That is precisely so that we can gather views on how the draft can be improved. We welcome feedback and will consult on an updated draft ahead of implementation. We are working closely with the DfE and the voluntary sector to develop the content on safeguarding in our statutory guidance.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said that the duty is being led by policing and is focused on law enforcement. Tackling serious violence is not a matter for policing alone—it cannot be. To be successful in driving down violent crime we need, as I said at the outset, a multiagency approach. We do not think that the duty is a police-led enforcement approach; that is quite a mischaracterisation, I think, of what the provisions are about.
In summary, I wholeheartedly support the sentiments of all noble Lords. I hope that I have persuaded noble Lords that we do not need these amendments, and that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, will withdraw Amendment 21.
I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in this debate, and the Minister for the Government’s response. I will, of course, be withdrawing the amendment at this stage and I certainly do not want, at this late hour, to detain the Committee for very long.
I think we are back to the usual issue. As I understand it, the Government do not seem to disagree with the points made in this debate or the concerns expressed. It is just that they do not think that adding things to the Bill, in the way provided for in this group of amendments, will contribute to making the situation better. That, I suppose, is where we have, at the moment, a fairly fundamental disagreement. I will read the Minister’s response on behalf on the Government very carefully in Hansard and reflect on what they have had to say. My feeling at present, which may turn out to be unfair, is that the existing arrangements for safeguarding children and preventing their exploitation by criminal gangs are, frankly, not working as effectively as we want. As I say, I may be being very unfair in saying this, so I will read very carefully what the Minister had to say in Hansard, but the impression I am left with is that the Government believe that the present arrangements are working effectively and no significant change is needed.
Once again, if that is a fair reflection of what the Minister has been saying, there is obviously a fundamental disagreement between us—between everybody who has spoken on this issue, apart from the Minister, and the Government. After all, organisations dealing with the exploitation and safeguarding of children clearly do not hold the view that the present practices and procedures are effective.
I do not want to spend my time reiterating the points I made—that is not the purpose of summing up or responding at the end of the debate—but I do think there are significant differences of view between those of us on this side of the Committee and the Government over the effectiveness of the present arrangements. The Government appear to think that no change is needed, but I simply come back to the point that a statutory duty to reduce violence cannot be effective on its own—and that is what is provided for in the Bill—without a statutory duty to safeguard children also being placed in the Bill. We will need to reflect further on what we do on Report but, in the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 21 withdrawn.
House adjourned at 10.30 pm.