Committee (1st Day)
Before I call Amendment 1, I should alert the Committee that the noble Baronesses, Lady Harris of Richmond and Lady Brinton, will be taking part remotely.
Clause 1: Police covenant report
1: Clause 1, page 2, line 2, after “workforce,” insert “including mental health and the impact of trauma,”
Member’s explanatory statement
This would explicitly require that mental health and the impact of trauma on the police workforce must be reported on as part of the report on the covenant.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to start the discussion of this very important Bill in Committee, and I look forward to discussing it with the Minister and, no doubt, many other colleagues across this House. I am particularly moved to speak on the policing part of the Bill and to open this discussion, since, as some of your Lordships will know, my father was a Metropolitan Police officer for 30 years. He retired fairly recently—over 30 years ago—and is still alive at the age of 95, so it is a great privilege and an honour to speak. One or two people may have met him; I am not sure. It probably goes back a bit further than that.
The serious point is that the amendment gives us the opportunity to start this debate by praising our police. Yes, there have been some serious questions raised about our police. Very well-documented issues have arisen which need proper investigation and inquiry, and they will, in due course, be looked at and raise serious questions. I am not saying that these issues are not important, but we should also recognise the serious job of work that the police do. The noble Lord, Lord Clarke, is in his place. Nottinghamshire has a very fine police force, as is the case across the country. Many of us have had cause to call on police officers and their staff to help us in our daily lives. That was evidenced in our own Parliament not long ago when PC Keith Palmer was killed on our premises as the result of a terrorist attack. Every single day, as we come on to the Estate, we see the police protecting us. It is important to set that on the record so that, when we discuss these issues, police across the country—both past and present—their staff and families know that we start from this perspective.
We strongly support the police covenant, which we believe is long overdue. These amendments are about making the covenant as strong and effective as it can be so that it works for police officers and their families. I know that the Minister will take the amendments in that spirit as we seek to clarify some parts of the clauses.
I suggest that the Minister looks at the lessons learned from the Armed Forces covenant, to build on that experience and mirror its strengths in the way in which it has developed. It is important that the covenant is designed to cover both former and serving police personnel; we welcome that. I want also to pay tribute to the Police Federation and all those who have long campaigned for the introduction of a covenant, the Police Federation having done so through its Protect the Protectors campaign.
The size of the Bill has been remarked on. It will raise a huge number of issues during the next few weeks. However, today’s debate and the amendments we have put forward are related to the covenant. I will speak also to the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Rosser.
Amendment 1 would put into the Bill that a report about the police covenant must specifically include
“mental health and the impact of trauma.”
I have also added my name to the important amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, which probes what access members and former members of the police workforce have to mental health programmes and support. It will be interesting to hear the Minister’s reply because the importance of mental health support for our officers cannot be overstated. As we know, they are regularly exposed to traumatic and dangerous situations in their job—something they willingly accept as part of their duty. As the covenant says, it is therefore incumbent on us to recognise the trauma that may be imposed on officers and their families, both when they are serving and when they have moved on or retired.
I sometimes think—as I am sure many other noble Lords do—what it must be like to go to some of the scenes of horrific murders or of child abuse. All these occur in the normal, everyday life of a police officer, who then has to go home. I know that the Government will want to ensure that this support is given to them. These amendments ask how we ensure that somebody who has to deal with such situations is given the support they deserve. The amendment would specifically recognise the impact of trauma in the Bill.
This was raised by a number of Members in the other place, particularly my colleague Sarah Champion MP, and I pay tribute to her work on that. She raised the necessity of training our officers in recognising and identifying trauma and how to deal with it. She said:
“The fact that across police forces there is not a standard level of support to be accessed once an officer feels he has the need for it is really letting our forces down.”—[Official Report, Commons, Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill Committee, 25/5/21; col. 178.]
That is a concern that we all have. No doubt there are examples of good practice, but how does one ensure such good practice across all forces and areas? The lack of consistency in mental health support is something that we need to address.
Since the debate in the Commons, to be fair to the Government, they have announced a programme of mandatory annual mental health checks—but they are for the Armed Forces. The Minister for Defence has called it an annual mental health MOT, with the intention of ensuring that our Armed Forces understand what help is available to them and are equipped to manage the unique pressures of service life. I wonder whether the Government might learn from that. Might that be something that could be applied to the context of the police in our country? We could learn from the Armed Forces covenant on what has worked with respect to this and from the successes and failures.
This is about the safety not only of the police but of our communities. Regular and high-quality mental health support makes sure that our police are fit to be in post, are able to process the situations that they deal with regularly as part of the job and are capable of supporting and responding to traumatised victims.
Amendment 3 would specifically add to the Bill that a report on the police covenant must look at what mental health support is required by officers’ families. This is to probe the simple issue of what support is available for an officer’s spouse, partner or family. The key thing here, which I am sure the Government will recognise, is that if your partner is regularly put in harm’s way in the course of their job, or they are traumatised by their experience during their service, there should be a service that you can call to seek support and to have a specialist speak to you about its impact on you and your family. That is an important point for us to consider.
Amendment 5 goes to the absolute heart of how the covenant must work. It would set up an oversight board with an independent chair and membership from policing organisations, including the Police Federation, the Police Superintendents’ Association, UNISON, the College of Policing and others. The oversight board would review the Secretary of State’s annual report on the covenant before it is laid before Parliament. The basis for this was put succinctly in the other place by my honourable friend for Croydon Central, who said:
“In essence, the amendment would ensure that the covenant does not have Ministers marking their own homework.”—[ Official Report, Commons, Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill Committee, 25/5/21; col. 193.]
The covenant must belong to our police forces, and the Government must listen to our police. It should not be for the Home Secretary to decide how well the Government are fulfilling their duties under the covenant.
We recognise that, currently, there is an oversight board, which met for the first time over the summer, but that was chaired by the Home Secretary. This would rebalance that by putting an independent chair in her place. This is an important point about putting the police themselves in the driving seat, instead of Ministers.
I turn now to Amendment 6, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, which has our full support. It would amend our own Amendment 5 to include the National Association of Retired Police Officers in the proposed oversight board. Our Amendment 2 would require the Secretary of State’s annual report on the covenant specifically to consider the support needed by the police workforce on retirement, including access to training courses. I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, for her work on this issue and look forward to her contribution later in our discussions.
A crucial part of the covenant and a key strength of it is that it applies, as I say, to both serving and former officers and their families. The service an officer has paid to their community and the impact it may have had on, for example, their health, does not finish the day that they retire from the force. The covenant is about that long-lasting partnership and recognition of the unique situation of the police workforce.
One issue we want to raise is support at the point of retirement. The issues that can arise for a police officer leaving the policing environment after years of service and entering another workplace can have similarities to those experienced by forces personnel on resettlement. Our amendment specifically mentions access to training courses to provide avenues for those who feel it is the right time to end their police service but are looking for somewhere else where they can use their skills.
Another key issue would then be access to support and financial planning, particularly for those who may need to give up their job earlier than they perhaps would otherwise have planned to. The question for the Minister is: what are we offering our officers by way of support when they are ready to leave the force and make that step?
Finally, I turn to Amendment 7, which would put a duty on health bodies to have due regard to the police covenant. The bodies covered by the amendment include clinical commissioning groups, NHS trusts and NHS foundation trusts. The key to this amendment is that it reflects what the Government provided for in the Armed Forces Bill, which put a legal duty on healthcare bodies. The point of the covenant is that it goes wider than the Home Office, which should already be occupied with the welfare of our police forces. This is about widening that discussion and support and embedding it in our communities, across departments and policy areas. The Government believed that measure would strengthen the Armed Forces covenant and we believe it would be a good step for this covenant.
In this group of important amendments, we seek further clarification from the Government on how the covenant will work and how we will make it a success. We all want the covenant to be what the police services of our country deserve and we can bring that about through the legislation that we pass in this Chamber.
My Lords, it is a very great pleasure to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, to this policing debate and to hear of his antecedents. I added my name to this amendment and, with your Lordships’ indulgence, will speak to Amendments 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7, to which I have also put my name. These all deal with the many associated issues in this group, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, just outlined.
I have been extremely concerned at the growing number of police officers and former police officers who have turned up at the police treatment centres run by the charity of which I am president with clear mental health issues alongside whatever physical injuries they might have. In the year 2019-20, we provided 3,600 hours of one-on-one counselling. Some 1,200 patients received well-being support through the psychological well-being programme, well-being weekends and recharge days. This is a 19% increase on those attending in 2018. To facilitate this growing area of work, we have provided a new clinical wing at PTC Harrogate, in association with Police Care UK, another police charity.
In its latest research, Police Care UK found that 90% of police officers will be exposed to multiple traumatic incidents during their career—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker—and that one in five serving personnel are currently living with symptoms of PTSD.
While they do an amazing job at the St Andrews centre, the new clinical wing will be of enormous extra benefit, having two new wings with two floors and adding 20 bedrooms to the estate. It will give four additional counselling rooms, one nursing surgery room, six therapy rooms, three workshop spaces and a community room. Noble Lords can see how necessary these will be; we can only hope that the extra facilities will be enough to meet the increasing demand for well-being provision for the officers who need it.
The impact of trauma is deeply debilitating and for many years officers felt that they could not speak out about it. But we have now seen clearly how damaging that can be. We absolutely must take the mental health of our police officers seriously and give them the support they need by including this requirement in the covenant.
In supporting Amendment 2 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, I declare an interest as an honorary member of the National Association of Retired Police Officers—NARPO. Why should former police officers not receive help and support and access to training when they require it? Many go on to do valuable work in other careers and the community and often need help with access courses.
My Amendment 6, which is an amendment to Amendment 5, as we have heard, seeks to insert the National Association of Retired Police Officers to the oversight board. I believe it is essential, as many of those former officers still need support. I have spoken on a number of occasions about the impact of being a police officer on an individual’s mental well-being, both during their time in the force and when they have left. The Bill will make it mandatory for the Home Secretary to publish a report on the police covenant each year outlining the work that has been done to protect officers and ensure that they are properly supported following the sacrifices they have made to be part of the force.
It is important that this report is considered by an independent oversight board, which can hold the Government to account on the work that they are doing around the police covenant, and they are not simply left to mark their own homework, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, has said.
Among those organisations that oversee the report, there must be an organisation which represents the police officers of the past, who, as I said, often continue to live with the effects of their job long after they have departed. Police officers bear witness to some of the most traumatic events and sacrifice so much, placing themselves in danger in order to protect society. It is therefore absolutely vital that their contribution is also acknowledged and any support that they need is given throughout their life. Placing the National Association of Retired Police Officers among the organisations giving oversight to the covenant ensures that officers past and present are supported in the continued challenges that a life in policing can bring.
Finally, I turn to Amendment 7. Every year, it costs £5 million to operate the two police treatment centres; 89% of that income is generated by donations from serving and retired police officers. The remainder comes from various sources: fundraising events, legacy donations, hospitality and lottery money. Noble Lords will note that not only do the PTCs save the NHS huge amounts of money by treating our police officers who present with trauma injuries; they treat psychological trauma as well. The PTCs are a charity—they do not get any money from the Government or the NHS. There should be some acknowledgement that the work that they do not only saves the NHS money but enables police officers to return to work much more quickly than they would otherwise have done if they had had to wait for NHS appointments—for physiotherapy, in particular. Have your Lordships tried to get an appointment with an NHS physiotherapist recently? Officers may also need mental health services appointments urgently. My amendment addresses those concerns and urges the Government to tell health providers that they must address the needs of police officers and ensure that they get the same recognition for treatment as that for members of the armed services.
My Lords, I was unable to speak at Second Reading on this topic of the police covenant. As the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, has already noted, this is an extraordinarily large and complex Bill, and Second Reading speakers were limited to a mere three minutes, meaning that, inevitably, some matters could not be raised. I apologise for raising what is from my perspective a new issue. Before I begin, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Harris for her many years of campaigning for the well-being and support of police officers.
I support all the amendments in this group, Amendments 1 to 7, which seek to ensure that police officers and former police officers have access to health services and particularly to mental health support, and to set this down in the Bill as an equivalent of the Armed Forces covenant. I will come on to the covenant later in my contribution.
We must recognise that our police officers and other emergency service personnel are on the front line day in, day out, often facing many things daily that ordinary members of the public would hope never to see once in their lives. That for decades police officers have “manned up” and internalised problems, because that was the culture, perhaps makes mental health pressures even more inevitable. The Police Federation reports that resilience in the service is at an all-time low and that officers are being put under inordinate amounts of pressure, which is taking its toll on their health and well-being. Even worse, the unprecedented cuts to the police service have meant that officers are under more strain now than ever before. While many are asked to do more and more with fewer resources, and have risen admirably to the challenge, it is inevitable that the increased pressures they are facing will have an impact on them, mentally and physically.
The Police Federation campaign “Protect the Protectors” noted that between 2015 and 2017, over 20 police officers took their own lives each year. That is almost two a month. Something must change. Research has shown that emergency workers are twice more likely than the public to identify problems at work as the main cause of their mental health problems, but they are also significantly less likely to seek help—the “man up” culture. Therefore, it is good that in 2017, the Police Federation developed a nine-point plan for police organisations to work with it, supporting serving staff and ensuring that the well-being and mental health of staff is properly delivered as soon as it is needed.
There are 48 organisations that have worked in partnership with the Police Federation and with the mental health charity Mind. The guide that they have produced has all the information that employers need to set up and deliver mental health support in all blue-light organisations. This week, another excellent campaign, the Blue Light group, has reported that 87% of emergency responders have experienced stress and poor mental health. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, was looking for good news, and it is that 83% of those who accessed this support through their organisation found it helpful. Mind tells me that the Home Office funding for this essential work—which has been running since 2015—is due to run out in March 2022. Can the Minister confirm that the Home Office will continue the support and funding for this vital work, not just support for blue-light workers but a blue-light service for blue-light workers?
Some officers are very badly affected and need more than can be offered by counselling and other internal support. The Police Federation tells the story of Richard, a DCI with a provisional diagnosis of PTSD when he sought help, which explains much of the pressure and distress that so many officers face.
Richard said: “What you see takes its toll, but it is not just the incidents themselves, it’s everything that goes with it. The stress, the workload and the IT problems all add up, and on top of that, you add the other things. First, it is a culture, particularly if you want to progress through the ranks, where it feels like you can’t be seen to fail or say no and that you must be available 24/7 and constantly get results. You look around, and no one else seems to be struggling. No one talks about it. We don’t all sit around like some sort of support group. In fact, a lot of the time you are in competition with each other.
Second, we have lost a lot of the mechanism and time to decompress. For all its faults, one thing that the canteen culture allowed for was the ability to unwind and process what you had just seen, just to sit with your mates and talk it through, and a lot of the time and space has been lost.
Third, we have almost stopped reacting like human beings. I’m not saying we should all go around hugging each other all the time, but sometimes it could really help, but people are too scared to make physical contact.”
Richard and many other officers will carry their condition with them and will often need access to NHS mental health services, and that too is a problem. We know that in August the NHS reported an official waiting list for mental health services of 1.6 million people, with estimates that more than 8 million people cannot even get on to those waiting lists at the moment. Those with severe and chronic mental health problems are finding access to services, even if they are in the system, is hard, especially if they are facing a crisis.
Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents England’s 54 specialist mental health trusts, said:
“These estimates are dismaying. It is deeply concerning that around 8 million people are struggling with their mental health but are unable to access care because they are not yet deemed to be unwell enough.
This shows the extent to which, sadly, NHS mental health services, despite significant improvements, are still unable to give people the immediate care and support they need. Behind every one of those 8 million is an individual who would benefit from treatment. This is the treatment gap we urgently need to close.”
The Guardian reported:
“NHS Providers says that the amount spent on mental health care in England needs to rise from £14.3bn to at least £17.15bn from next year to help cope with spiralling demand. ‘As a minimum, the mental health sector needs [an additional] £850 million a year to treat at current levels and deal with the backlog, plus a minimum of £2bn to deal with the most urgent capital demands [for upgrading units and building new facilities],” said Cordery.”
This means that police and emergency responders with PTSD or severe depression acquired through their service to the country will continue to face long delays before they get the level of mental health services that they need from the NHS. Will the Minister say what support, financial or directional, the Home Office will provide to ensure that the police and other emergency responders get the appropriate mental health support services that they need as soon as they need them? If they do not get it, as with our armed services, it means that they will often be off sick and unable to fulfil their duties, which will put further pressure on the service.
I turn now to the proposals for a covenant, which I welcome. I support all the amendments that relate to this. I particularly welcome Amendment 6 in the name of my noble friend Lady Harris. Mental health trauma does not disappear on the day of retirement or of leaving the service. I shall comment briefly on the practicalities of the Armed Forces covenant because in principle it looks good, and it is welcome that in this Bill the Secretary of State has to report to Parliament, but there are some severe problems with the covenant.
While there is a commitment to individuals on what they can access, shockingly there is no duty on any of the public services to provide that and, even worse, services from central government are excluded from the covenant. The result is that, for example, a doctor can refuse to add a veteran to their list, or in this case perhaps a police officer who has retired. With the current shortage of GPs, many lists are full and it would be difficult, but there is no duty on CCGs to help find such a person access to local services. If they have to wait to get on a GP waiting list and they have moved into a different area, it will mean that any other services they have been accessing through hospital or mental health services will be paused until they are into the new system.
However, the most serious omission for me—that is true of this Bill as well—is the exclusion of government department services from any responsibility under the Armed Forces covenant, let alone a duty. I have amendments on this and some of the other issues I have raised on the covenant in the Armed Forces Bill, which is currently going through your Lordships’ House. The Home Secretary and Ministers need to understand that in creating a covenant, they create demand. However, without a duty for any of the bodies to provide that, it is nothing more than warm words. These amendments try to remedy that, but they will need to go further. Can the Minister assure me that the Government, government departments and other public duty areas such as councils will be required to deliver the duties under the covenant?
My Lords, I draw your Lordships’ attention to my interests in the world of policing as set out in the register, particularly in policing ethics, both with the Greater Manchester Police and the National Police Chiefs’ Council.
At Second Reading I referred briefly to the culture of policing. I did not specifically mention a policing covenant given that time was so short, but I have been intrigued by the debate we have had this afternoon. I note the way in which Members have referred to the Armed Forces covenant. That is helpful in some ways, although I am just a little concerned. As I said at Second Reading, the heart of the policing model is that our police are civilians in uniform; they are not the Armed Forces. We need to be careful not to put police too easily into the same category as the Armed Forces. The Armed Forces are agents of the state while police are agents of society in a slightly different way. That is an important civilian distinction I would want always to hold before us.
Nevertheless, I support the amendments in this group, and I believe that we can do better for policing. A covenant is the right way forward—we are working on a similar thing for clergy in the Church of England at the moment—and these amendments will strengthen the initial proposals to help us that way. Over these last 18 months, when I have been chairing Operation Talla, the Covid operation ethics committee, on behalf of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, we have had in our minds and hearts not just how to police effectively but the tensions and pressures put on policing during the pandemic and how to advise police forces to implement the various regulations that were coming from government, sometimes in rapid succession, in ways that were proportionate and would not place undue extra pressure on the mental health of police. We monitored sickness rates throughout that process, and it has been a great example of how we worked together to ensure that policing did not lose its civilian base in the course of the pandemic. Therefore, I support these amendments, but I treat with a little caution how closely we draw parallels with the military covenant.
My Lords, I no longer have to declare an interest but some Members here may know that I was until May this year police and crime commissioner in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland. As such, I will make a very brief contribution to this first debate in Committee.
I personally support—I hope from my experience—the early amendments that have been proposed. As has been said already, it is quite clear that anyone who works with the police nowadays, knows them or sees them closely at work, will know that for a long time, I suspect, as in the rest of society, mental health, mental illness and all that follows from it was not given anywhere near the importance it should have been. I am glad to say that it is my experience, certainly in the police force I was close to, and I am sure in others too, that chief officer teams are now giving the issue of mental health due regard. That is why any covenant that left this out would be lacking; I do not want to comment on the covenant— good points have been made on it.
I urge the Minister and the Government to consider seriously these obviously non-partisan suggestions, which are meant to be helpful. That is all I want to say, but my experience tells me that this is becoming a larger and larger issue as year follows year for police forces up and down the country.
My Lords, I start also by paying tribute to my noble friend Lady Harris of Richmond for her tireless work in supporting police officers in the many different roles that she has in addition to her work in this House. It was particularly important to hear about the work of police treatment centres, although they clearly do not have the capacity to deal with all officers who are affected. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, in his opening remarks, talked about only being able to imagine what police officers go through. I hope to enlighten the Committee about some of those experiences.
I have Amendment 4 in this group, but I support all these amendments, though perhaps with a qualification on one of them. My experience in the police service was not, in many respects, very different from that of others who have served or those who continue to serve, except perhaps that I was the most junior officer on my relief or response team, as it would now be known. For 18 months, as the junior officer delegated, I was the one who dealt with all the sudden deaths. My first appearance in court was at the Coroner’s Court, when the husband of an elderly couple had taken an overdose of prescription medication. Having worked night duty until 4 am, I was allowed to “slide off”, as I had to be at the mortuary at 9 am to identify the body. I had not seen a dead body before that night—I was 19 years of age—and I was unprepared for the sight and smell of at least half a dozen other bodies that had been opened up for examination by the pathologist when I arrived at the mortuary. It is an important role for a police officer to identify the body that he or she found as being the same one that the pathologist is about to perform the post-mortem on. I will not go into graphic details, but the Committee needs to get a flavour of the trauma that police officers are exposed to.
Noble Lords might think that the first case is the one that sticks in one’s mind, but whether it is the open-top car that overturned at speed, with no protection for the passengers in the back from the road surface, or the pensioner not seen for weeks in the summer, with swarms of flies on her badly decomposed body that was sticking to the bed when the undertakers tried to remove her, or the charred bodies in a number of fires that I attended, the impact on one’s mental health is considerable and cumulative. I can still picture and smell those scenes; I remember the taste that they left in my mouth.
It is not just the horror of such scenes; it is the emotional impact as well. There was a young man in his early 20s who had hung himself from a coat hook on the back of a door. There was a young mother, whose normal session with her psychiatrist had been cancelled because of Christmas; finding a name and address in her handbag next to her body at the base of a tower block, I went to the address, knocked on the door and was invited by her husband into a room where her young children were playing under the Christmas tree with the toys that the mother had bought them. If that was not bad enough, when I suggested that we ought to go into a different room so that I could tell the husband the tragic news that his wife had committed suicide, he asked me, “How did she do it?”. Experiences like that, as noble Lords can hear, I still vividly remember.
It is not just the deaths. I remember a young man who had a broken glass slammed into his face. We had to take him to hospital in the police van, as there were no ambulances available—some things do not change. I remember the terrified look on his face as he shook uncontrollably from the shock. Another man jumped from the fourth floor and landed on spiked railings. We held him up for what seemed to be an eternity, while the fire brigade cut around the railings; they could not use oxyacetylene torches because the heat would have transmitted to his body. Then we had to hold him in the ambulance between two trolleys, with the railings still through his body.
Then there are the dangers. On 11 April 1981, as a police sergeant I was given 10 constables and six plastic riot shields and told to clear Mayall Road in Brixton of rioters, as the fire brigade were being attacked and therefore could not extinguish the burning cars and buildings that the petrol bombers had set alight. Coming under barrages of bricks and lumps of paving slab, trying to edge forward, hoping that the burning cars would not explode or the burning buildings collapse on us, and trying to keep my officers safe and do the job that we were given, was another unforgettable experience.
It is not just my direct personal experiences. Many years later, I was a chief inspector of Brixton. The officer worst affected when two members of his team were shot, receiving life-changing injuries, was the officer posted to the front desk, who felt he was stuck inside and unable to help his colleagues. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, mentioned partners of police officers, many of whom are affected by feeling helpless in a similar way when their partners face trauma.
It is not just about the tragedy and danger that police officers have to confront every day; there is sometimes the trauma that the organisation inflicts on its own. We will consider later the impact that misconduct proceedings—what in my time were called complaints and discipline proceedings—can have on officers; even when there is little or no evidence, officers are subjected to months or even years of uncertainty. I will leave that to another group of amendments.
Not a week goes past when I do not dream that I am still a serving police officer trying to deal with some impossibly stressful situation. It was easier when I was serving, as most problems were solvable, albeit sometimes at personal cost, but the impacts, similar to the horrors and dangers that our brave military face, can be considerable and long-lasting. So it is good, albeit a long time coming, that the Bill places the publication of the police covenant report on a statutory basis. But it needs to be more than simply a response from the Secretary of State if she considers, in respect of any matter covered by the report, that members or former members of the police workforce are at a disadvantage compared with others.
Under the Armed Forces covenant there is an array of specialist and enhanced mental health provisions for serving personnel, reservists—similar to special constables—service families and veterans. I do not want to enter into a competition over the similarities and differences between members of the Armed Forces and of police forces in terms of which experiences are more harrowing, emotionally impactive or dangerous. I completely accept the point made by the right reverend Prelate about the difference between civilians in uniform and the Armed Forces. However, I remind the Committee that the experiences of police officers happen here in the UK, often on the streets where they live, making it more difficult for them to put psychological distance between their experiences and their everyday lives.
I am saying that the impact of the kinds of experiences that I had as a police officer—and far worse experienced by colleagues, both serving and retired, whether dealing with child pornography and child abuse, retrieving the bodies of those killed in the 7 July bombings in 2005, or having a colleague killed in front of them—go far beyond what most people have to face in their lifetime. They, and we, as my noble friend Lady Brinton has said, need and deserve enhanced specialist mental health support similar to that provided by the Armed Forces. As the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, alluded to, the care and welfare of police officers, serving and retired, may not be at the forefront of people’s minds in the light of recent events. But in the light of the sacrifices that our police officers make each and every day to keep us safe, the least we can do is provide the mental health support that they, and we, need.
I am reminded of a debate many years ago, when football hooliganism was at its peak and an argument was put forward by a football supporter that “If the police treat us like animals, we will behave like animals”. I hope noble Lords will forgive me if they have heard this before, but there is a clear distinction between explaining the possible causes of something and justifying something—and I am not, of course, justifying any form of misconduct by police officers. But without the care that police officers need to cope with the trauma they face, we cannot expect their behaviour to be exemplary in every situation, no matter what the provocation.
The intention of my amendment is to ensure that police officers, serving and retired, and their families receive the enhanced and specialist care and support they need. If I have understood correctly, that is the intention of Amendment 7 from the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, placing a duty on local health bodies. But I believe it is the duty of the Home Secretary to ensure that adequate provision is made, although I accept, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, said, that Amendment 7 reflects the obligations on local health bodies under the Armed Forces covenant. Whatever local health bodies’ assessment of the need may be, in the same way that the Ministry of Defence has played a pivotal role in ensuring similar support is provided for the Armed Forces, the Home Office should do the same for police officers.
It is clear from what I have said that we on these Benches support Amendment 1, which my noble friend Lady Harris of Richmond has signed, and Amendment 3, which she has also signed. We also support the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, on an oversight board. It is essential that the police covenant report reflects the needs of rank and file police officers in particular, so it is essential that it is scrutinised by the Police Federation, the only legally recognised body to represent the interests of police officers.
My noble friend Lady Harris of Richmond makes the additional point that the National Association of Retired Police Officers should also be represented, and I declare an interest as a member of NARPO. As I have explained, I still suffer from the effects of trauma I faced in the police service, and it is important that the needs of retired officers are also addressed in police covenant reports.
I am unclear as to what resettlement schemes currently operate in the police service, but certainly such programmes did exist to help officers transition from the police when I was serving—in particular those like me who gave all their working lives to policing. I do not count what I do here as work. So I am unsure to what extent Amendment 2 is necessary. Perhaps the Minister can enlighten the Committee on what current provision is available in terms of resettlement schemes.
I hope noble Lords will forgive me for speaking at length on this issue, not least because it has been motivated to some extent by personal interest—or, should I say, to ensure that others do not have to cope largely without support in the way I and my colleagues and former colleagues have had to until now. I am pleased to be able to start this Bill on a positive note, although we believe that this part of the Bill can be improved, as colleagues around the House and I have suggested.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in an incredibly thoughtful debate this afternoon. I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, to his first Committee and the tone in which he opened this debate. I also pay tribute to his father. I jolly well hope that he is sitting at home watching this afternoon. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, for setting out their amendments to the first clause of the Bill, which relates to the police covenant.
I echo other noble Lords’ comments on PC Harper and Sergeant Matt Ratana, who gave their lives protecting the general public. To echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, there is no doubt that our brave police encounter some of the most challenging circumstances on a daily basis, often operating in some of the most difficult and traumatic situations imaginable. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for outlining, albeit in very graphic detail, some of the experiences he has had to endure during his policing career. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for bringing to this House a unique experience as Parliament’s only PCC, and I wish him well in his retirement.
What we have talked about this afternoon is what makes the police covenant so important, with its central tenet the health and well-being of members and former members of the police workforce, their physical protection, and support for their families. It is a priority for the Government, and I am very pleased that we have brought this forward.
We recognise the very positive intention behind Amendments 1, 3 and 4, and I could not disagree what most noble Lords have said. However, what I would say is that they are not necessary, on the basis that consideration of mental health, including having regard to programmes offering advice on assessment and treatment, the impact of trauma and support and the training for health and resilience, are already well within scope of Clause 1, under the banner of health and well-being.
The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked me to outline what the provision includes, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Harris and Lady Brinton, talked about PTSD, which affects an awful lot of police officers, both when serving and after their career. I shall outline some of those things. First, we will ensure that occupational health standards are embedded in all forces, holding chiefs to account for providing the right quality and investment in their workforce. The National Police Wellbeing Service has been working hard to embed occupational health standards in forces, including for mental health. I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, who said that people should receive the right support that they need at the right time. That is absolutely central to providing effective mental health services.
The other thing that will be contained is consideration of a new chief medical officer for policing in England and Wales, and a review of what a good support model for families looks like, drawing on established good practice and research from other sectors and international partners. Once agreed, forces will be required to implement locally, bespoke to their local infrastructure, development of training for GPs around the role of the police, similar to military veterans GP training, and the development of pre-deployment mental health support provided to the police workforce, particularly in light of the Covid-19 pandemic and the effect that this will have had on the police workforce, some of whom I have already spoken to.
There was quite a lot of talk about the interface between the Armed Forces and the police covenant, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester clearly made the distinction between the two forces, which are very different in terms of the demands on them. The work under the police covenant will recognise the specific issues that affect those working or who have worked in policing—to answer the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, it will include those who have retired—as a result of their role, and will seek to provide support to them and their families in addressing these issues. The police covenant and the legislation underpinning it have been drafted to ensure that they reflect the specific, unique needs of our police as they currently stand.
The heading is deliberately broad to allow the Secretary of State to consider the issues as they arise. We consciously framed the provisions in this way to enable a flexible approach to ensure that the issues that matter most to members and former members of the police can be taken into account and addressed in the annual report as they arise. This flexibility will allow the police covenant to evolve to respond to the most pertinent needs of current and former members of the police workforce in a timely manner. What we do not want to do is create a hierarchy of issues by explicitly listing specific issues in the Bill, where they will fall within those broader priorities.
While we appreciate that this is not the intention, these amendments could give rise to doubt about the importance of scope of other critical issues identified by the current and former police workforce, simply because they are not listed in the Bill. We want the police to feel the benefit of a covenant based on emerging issues and trends identified through collaboration with them and focused on removing the disadvantages they face as a result of their role in policing. To this end, the clause explicitly enables other pertinent priorities beyond the three broad categories specified in Clause 1(2)(a) to (c) to be addressed if considered appropriate. We think this strikes the right balance in directing the substance of the report without being too prescriptive.
Within the broad priorities identified in the legislation, work has already begun on the ground. Our initial focus with regard to the covenant includes improving mental health support for officers and staff, particularly ahead of deployment, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, mentioned; focusing on ensuring that occupational health standards are embedded in all forces; and considering options for appointing a new chief medical officer for policing, as I have said. These activities will be critical to ensuring that those officers suffering from the impact of trauma or mental ill-health have access to the support they need. This will include support and training on health and resilience as appropriate to the issues identified.
We will also continue to fund the National Police Wellbeing Service. The service is helping forces to identify where there is most risk to mental health and developing work around building resilience, as well as putting in place support for those who need it in response to traumatic events. This includes signposting to mental health support and resources. This shows that the issues raised by noble Lords are already being taken very seriously and prioritised.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, asked about the resettlement programme. We understand that there is a need to look at support for former members of the police workforce and assure the noble Lord that this it is within the scope of the government. We will be looking at what the specific need is with our stakeholders, including NARPO, to determine what that support model should look like.
I think I have slightly pre-empted my answer to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, but Amendment 2 would require the Secretary of State to consider the support needed by officers and staff on their retirement from the police workforce. The scope provided by the current wording of Clause 1 would include those people at or nearing the end of their police careers, and career transition support is being considered as part of the ongoing work. Through the governance process we have developed, we will keep under review the support our police receive to ensure that they have the right access at the right time.
Amendment 5 seeks to place the Police Covenant Oversight Board on a statutory footing, make provision for its membership and provide for an independent chair. Amendment 6 seeks to add the National Association of Retired Police Officers to the list in Amendment 5 of organisations to be represented on the board. We have established the Police Covenant Oversight Board on a non-statutory basis to drive the strategic direction of the police covenant, set priorities and monitor progress to feed into the Home Secretary’s annual report to Parliament. The board comprises key stakeholders from across the policing sector and first met in July. The second meeting, chaired by the Minister for Crime and Policing, took place earlier this month.
We expect the challenges that the police face will continue to change and develop. We intend the police covenant to evolve accordingly. We recognise that there will be many stakeholders critical to the resolution of the changing, emerging issues that the police workforce face. We have therefore sought to retain flexibility by creating a non-statutory board, through which we can involve relevant stakeholders, including NARPO, as appropriate, depending on the nature of the priorities identified. These arrangements are intended to reflect the flexibility underpinning the legislative provisions.
In preparing the police covenant report, which the board will feed into, the Secretary of State must seek the views of anyone she considers appropriate in preparing the report, which will naturally include the appropriate partners in policing. This broad approach provides the Secretary of State with the flexibility to seek the views of policing stakeholders outside membership of the board should she believe that is appropriate.
We think the current approach to the governance framework, including the arrangements for chairing the board, is entirely appropriate. The Home Secretary will be held accountable for the priorities of the covenant, through the annual report that she will be required to lay in Parliament. With that in mind, a government Minister must play an active role in this work, through chairing the board. We recognise that having an independent presence on the board is important though. To that end, we are progressing plans to appoint at least one independent board member. We aim to pursue an approach that retains joint accountability with policing stakeholders for the delivery of priorities identified under the covenant, while incorporating an element of independence in response to stakeholder feedback. We will review these governance arrangements periodically and, in doing so, will consider the independence of input and challenge to the board.
Finally, Amendment 7 seeks to create a duty on specified
“health service bodies to have due regard to police covenant principles”
in the exercise of relevant health functions. I recognise that this stems from provisions in the Armed Forces Bill, which amends the existing provisions in respect of the Armed Forces covenant. Again, I recognise the positive intention behind this amendment, but the two covenants are at totally different stages of evolution. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester says, they are in different contexts. The Armed Forces covenant has been in existence for some years, and its structure continues to evolve with increasing prominence. The police covenant has just begun and, while it too will evolve and grow, it must be given space in which to develop and embed as its own entity, operating in a different space.
At this stage, therefore, it is premature to include a duty on specific public bodies to have due regard to the police covenant, without first establishing the key issues involved, identifying robust evidence and the options to respond to those issues, and considering the need in consultation with relevant public bodies.
I hope, in light of my rather lengthy explanation and assurance, that the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, will be happy to withdraw his amendment.
I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in a very thoughtful and helpful discussion on this first group of amendments, as we begin our discussion on the Bill. I also thank the Minister for her reply. The way in which she tried to respond directly to the points the amendments were making was very helpful for the Committee on a number of issues, so I thank her and I think the Committee would thank her as well.
Having said that, and having been a Minister myself, I am always slightly suspicious when the term used for amendments is that they “are not necessary”. That was always a term I was told to use when I was not quite sure where I was. I say gently that when they “are not necessary” what I want to do—and I am sure other noble Lords would—is reflect on the Minister’s remarks to see if they indeed meet the points the amendments are making.
I have a couple of points to make. For example, the Minister said on a number of occasions, “We will keep this under review”, “We will look at how it works out” and “We will try to understand how the covenant operates in practice”. What many of us would say is that we can learn. The Minister mentioned the Armed Forces covenant, and I take the right reverend Prelate’s point about this, but we can learn from what the Armed Forces covenant has done. It seems a bit strange to say that this is not the same as the Armed Forces covenant. Everyone recognises that, but why wait to find the same thing happening with the police covenant, when we have seen from the Armed Forces covenant that for either central government or other public bodies to have due regard is important?
I note the point the Minister made about NARPO and the importance of the involvement of retired police officers. So, there are a number of points that we will need to reflect on as we go forward from Committee to Report, but with those brief remarks I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 1.
Amendment 1 withdrawn.
Amendments 2 to 5 not moved.
I cannot call Amendment 6, as it is an amendment to Amendment 5.
Clause 1 agreed.
Amendment 7 not moved.
8: After Clause 1, insert the following new Clause—
“Scrutiny of investigation: timeliness
(1) The Police (Complaints and Misconduct) Regulations 2020 are amended as follows. (2) After regulation 13 insert—“13A Scrutiny of investigation: timeliness (1) A legally qualified person within the meaning of regulation 28(4)(a) and (6) of the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2020 shall be appointed to scrutinise the information provided pursuant to regulation 13. (2) On each occasion where information is provided in writing under regulation 13 paragraph (1) or (2) the legally qualified person appointed under paragraph (1) shall determine whether there is good and sufficient reason for—(a) the time already taken; and(b) realistically anticipated to be needed for completion of the investigation.(3) In determining whether there is good and sufficient reason under paragraph (2) the legally qualified person may have regard to any relevant matter, and shall have particular regard to—(a) whether the investigation has been efficient and effective;(b) whether there has been unnecessary or unreasonable delay having regard to complexity and seriousness of the case;(c) the impact upon the officer and others;(d) any anticipated further delay;(e) the public interest and affect upon confidence in the police disciplinary system; and(f) representations made on behalf of any person entitled to receive a copy of the information provided under regulation 13.(4) Unless the legally qualified person determines that there is good and sufficient reason under paragraph (2)(a) and (b) then—(a) all investigation into possible misconduct or gross misconduct shall be terminated forthwith; and(b) no disciplinary proceedings may be initiated in respect of the matters under investigation.(5) Nothing in this provision shall have any effect in relation to any criminal investigation.”(3) After regulation 19 insert—“19A Scrutiny of investigation: timeliness (1) A legally qualified person within the meaning of regulation 28(4)(a) and (6) shall be appointed to scrutinise the information provided pursuant to regulation 19.(2) On each occasion where information is provided in writing under regulation 19(1) the legally qualified person appointed under paragraph (1) shall determine whether there is good and sufficient reason for—(a) the time already taken; and(b) realistically anticipated to be needed for completion of the investigation.(3) In determining whether there is good and sufficient reason under paragraph (2) the legally qualified person may have regard to any relevant matter, and shall have particular regard to—(a) whether the investigation has been efficient and effective;(b) whether there has been unnecessary or unreasonable delay having regard to complexity and seriousness of the case;(c) the impact upon the officer and others;(d) any anticipated further delay;(e) the public interest and affect upon confidence in the police disciplinary system; and (f) representations made on behalf of any person entitled to receive a copy of the information provided under regulation 19.(4) Unless the legally qualified person determines that there is good and sufficient reason under paragraph (2)(a) and (b) then—(a) all investigation into possible misconduct or gross misconduct shall be terminated forthwith; and (b) no disciplinary proceedings may be initiated in respect of the matters under investigation.(5) Nothing in this provision shall have any effect in relation to any criminal investigation.””Member’s explanatory statement
This amends the Police (Complaints and Misconduct) Regulations 2020 to provide for a mechanism for scrutiny and consequences where there are delays in disciplinary proceedings being brought against police officers.
My Lords, there has been much criticism of the police complaints and misconduct process from the perspective of members of the public being unable to achieve justice, but much less has been said about the impact on the officers under investigation, to which I alluded in the last group. When we come to consider Clause 43 and Schedule 4 to the Bill, I will remind the House of the changes the Government brought about in the Policing and Crime Act 2017 to limit the length of time members of the public could be kept under investigation by the police and on police bail. The Government accepted the unfairness of suspects being kept in suspense for months, even years, with the threat of prosecution still hanging over them. This is something many police officers face, with even graver potential consequences than someone who is accused of a criminal offence—potentially losing their livelihoods through being sacked or required to resign from the police service.
When I was a police inspector in charge of a relief, or shift, of officers, a woman who had been arrested and taken to one of my police stations made an allegation of indecent assault by a police officer during a routine search to ensure that she did not have anything that could cause injury while she was being held in a cell. I heard a commotion in the custody suite and went to see what was happening, only to find her spreadeagled on the floor with one officer on each limb. The situation was explained to me: she had resisted being searched, fighting with the female officer designated to search her, and had to be restrained. I asked the prisoner if she was okay and if she was going to behave herself now, and then ordered two female officers to take her into a cell to be searched, much to the concern of male officers, who I ordered to remain just outside the cell door.
Another prisoner, who was present in the custody suite and subsequently interviewed in prison by officers from the complaints unit, corroborated to some extent the female prisoner’s account—a scuffle and then being held down on the floor—although her allegation was actually of indecent assault by a female officer during the search, out of sight of the witness. When the complaints unit took all the female officers who had been on duty that night away for questioning simultaneously and suspended one from duty, I asked that I be interviewed as I was also a witness who had seen nothing untoward.
As a result, I was interviewed as a suspect under caution in a criminal investigation. Although I had already qualified for a promotion, it was delayed for 18 months, and the local area police commander recommended that I face a full disciplinary hearing for lack of supervision, with a recommendation that I be sacked—perhaps related to having recently separated from my wife and having sought permission to cohabit with a man, or perhaps not.
The day that the local area commander retired from the police service, the headquarters complaints and discipline department responsible for scheduling discipline hearings dropped all proceedings against me, and I was promoted. But in the intervening period, my health suffered, my marriage ended and my career was on hold, even though I had done nothing wrong and, arguably, in coming forward as a witness, everything right.
This is but a relatively minor, albeit personal, example of the impact that prolonged police misconduct investigations can have, which, unlike criminal investigations, have no effective time limits placed upon them.
In another, more recent example, two police officers from Nottinghamshire faced a similar scenario. Both were involved in the detention of a female who had been arrested and charged with very serious offences at the Bridewell police station in the city. She was behaving in a violent and suicidal manner. Both police officers were accused of assault as they individually dealt with her in custody and tried to prevent her from self-harming. Those officers had to endure seven years and three investigations by the Independent Police Complaints Commission and its successor, the Independent Office for Police Conduct, of what was, in essence, a straightforward assault allegation which was fully captured on CCTV. When it eventually came to a hearing in April 2018, the Police Federation successfully argued abuse of process, due to breaches of regulations, lack of disclosure, errors and delays by the investigating body. It was subsequently discovered that it had dismissed evidence that would have cleared both officers.
In November 2013, officers in South Bedfordshire responded to a call about a male who was attempting to kick down the door of an address before running in and out of shops and into the road. The male was detained for mental health assessment and restrained for his own safety. He was placed in a police vehicle and transported to a police station. Regrettably, he died while in police custody. One of the officers gave a full account of his actions. His clothes were seized and, by the end of the week, he was informed that he was a suspect in a criminal investigation for gross negligence manslaughter, unlawful act manslaughter, misconduct in a public office and offences under the health and safety Act. The following week he was suspended from duty.
Four years later, the officer was informed that the CPS had decided that no charges should be brought again him, but he remained suspended. The suspension was eventually rescinded in April 2019, when he returned to work, although in a restricted capacity. During that time, he had received very few updates from the IPCC and was not given any explanation as to why it was taking so long.
In February 2020, six years and three months after the incident, the officer attended an IOPC-directed gross misconduct hearing. During those proceedings, it was discovered that an investigation review had been conducted by the IPCC in 2014—six years earlier. The IPCC had admitted that it had had insufficient resources and experience to conclude the investigation expeditiously. Inconsistencies were also discovered between the CCTV evidence and the witness evidence. As a result, Bedfordshire Police withdrew from prosecuting the misconduct hearing. The IOPC eventually withdrew the direction to hold a misconduct hearing. The officer was cleared of any wrongdoing and returned to work on full duties in March 2020.
The impact on the officer’s health and relationships has been devastating. One of the other officers involved was deemed too ill to give evidence at the inquest because of the post-traumatic stress disorder caused by the incident and the way in which the aftermath had been dealt with.
Police misconduct hearings are already chaired by an independent, legally qualified person, taken in turn from a pool of qualified chairs. This amendment would see these independent, legally qualified chairs who are experienced in the operation of the police misconduct system, reviewing misconduct investigations to ensure that there is good and sufficient reason for the length of time taken to bring misconduct proceedings, balanced against the seriousness of the allegations.
There is a requirement in existing regulations for those conducting police misconduct proceedings to write to the local policing body if the proceedings have not been concluded within 12 months, and again every six months after that. These are reported to directly elected mayors and police and crime commissioners, none of whom are likely to have the level of expertise and experience that the independent, legally qualified people who chair misconduct hearings have. Indeed, in the light of the events last week, one has to question whether some police and crime commissioners might be best placed to judge police misconduct at all.
The amendment would require such reports to go to one of the independent, legally qualified chairs instead. Currently there is no power for the directly elected mayor or the police and crime commissioner to make any directions as a result of receiving the report of the delay in the investigation. The amendment would allow the independent, legally qualified chair to terminate misconduct proceedings if there were no good or sufficient reasons for the delay.
I know from bitter personal experience how devastating prolonged periods under misconduct investigation can be, and the impact it can have on your career, your health and your loved ones—even more so when you know that you have done nothing wrong. This amendment simply gives independent oversight of misconduct proceedings by legally qualified, experienced misconduct hearing chairs to hold the police and the IOPC to account to ensure that these matters are concluded without unreasonable delay. I beg to move.
My Lords, it has been fascinating and very moving to listen to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, but I am coming at this from a completely different direction. Although I am partly thinking about the police officers involved, I am also thinking about people who bring complaints against police officers. I have seen the police complaints system at first hand. At some point in the past, a Met Police sergeant came to me and told me that he had seen a few officers deleting files that the Met held on me. These were files that I had asked to see and had been told did not exist—so I saw the police complaints system at first hand. I took a complaint to the Independent Office for Police Conduct, a vastly underresourced organisation trying to do its best on very difficult work. This was not an emotional issue for me—it was a professional, work issue—but that Met Police sergeant suffered PTSD and was essentially hounded out of the Met Police because he had come to me as somebody who wanted the truth exposed, and so was in a whistleblowing situation. I could not do anything for him, but I persisted with my complaint.
There is a saying that justice delayed is justice denied, and it is true on both sides—perhaps more when people are emotionally involved in the complaint they are making, which as I say did not really apply to me. In a way it is doubly true for complaints against the police, because there is a power imbalance. The police are seen to retain their positions, authority, power and legitimacy while complaints are ongoing, and this can be extremely upsetting.
This issue has come to light because of the allegations against the murderer of Sarah Everard. It is staggering, and truly terrifying, that the police had within their ranks somebody they knew, jokingly perhaps, as “The Rapist”. A noble Lord from this House, a previous Metropolitan Police Commissioner, who is not in his place today, said in an interview on the radio that it was not true that he was called “The Rapist”—but he is the only person I have heard saying that was not true. Perhaps another ex-Metropolitan Police Commissioner here might know better.
So it is time to cut the delays that everybody on both sides experiences in police complaints and disciplinary hearings and, most importantly, to give the independent watchdog the resources it needs to do the job. I have complained in the past about the number of police officers it employs, because it seems to me that you do not necessarily set a police officer to catch a police officer—but in fact it is so underresourced that I feel it would benefit from almost anybody if it increased its staff. So this is something that the Government have to deal with.
My Lords, I support this amendment. The basic problem around IOPC investigations is one of timeliness and quality. I am afraid it has gone on an awful long time. To be fair, from time to time it concerns police investigations under other bodies, but it has persisted, despite the fact that the organisation has changed over the years from the IPCC to now the IOPC. This particularly affected groups of officers such as firearms officers, some of whom have been under investigation for in excess of 10 years. That cannot be for anyone’s good.
We talked earlier about the trauma suffered by individual officers, and that is one of the major causes of such trauma. I therefore think that some time kind of time limit would be helpful. Even in a criminal case such as murder, the point from commitment to arriving at Crown Court is expected to be of the order of 100 days. If such a complex case can be taken so quickly, it seems to me that these cases are surely susceptible to travelling far more quickly and then being decided in the hearing far more quickly, too.
There are some peculiarities around the police misconduct process which have to be understood and, I think, given some sympathy—but these things can be changed. For example, when a complaint is made, particularly where a criminal allegation is alleged, there is a transmission of the case, first from the force to the IOPC, then it may go to the CPS, and then it may go back to the IOPC and then it may go to the force. This merry-go-round goes on for months. It is not at all unusual for these cases to go for at least one year and usually more, and for there still to be no outcome.
There is a further level of complication when, for example, special evidence needs to be given in a court case. It is difficult to talk about this in public, but essentially, when intelligence is gathered by the police that cannot be shared in court and cannot be shared in a coroner’s court, a public inquiry has to be held in front of a qualified judge. All this does is lengthen the whole process. It particularly affects firearms officers when they have to justify why they shot someone and they are unable to explain the intelligence they received. It means that the whole process goes round this rigmarole again.
There are various remedies to try to resolve this. One is a simple time limit. The difficulty with a time limit is that it can be hard-line and does not fit every case. Sometimes you need some discretion. I would argue that the decision-making between the IOPC, the CPS and the force should be done in parallel and not in sequence. The consequence of it being done in sequence is that it keeps going on and on and they keep referring it back to each other. Surely, they could consider the same case in parallel and therefore reduce the time. It would be a good idea to have a legally qualified chair seriously examining the timeline and whether or not it is justified. If it is not justified, the chair should be able to intervene. If it is justified, of course the case should continue.
My final point may be to one side of the amendment, but it is important because it goes to the point about timeliness and quality. One of the challenges faced by the IOPC is that it does not always send its most experienced investigators to deal with the most complex cases. The equivalent for the police service would be that you never send your shoplifting squad to deal with a murder—that would not be very sensible. Officers build their experience in the shoplifting squad and may go on to do more complex things.
The reason may be, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, said, that the IOPC has insufficient resources. I think it also has insufficient specialism and does not build up its expertise. When a serious case comes in—someone loses their life or it is a serious allegation—they should dispatch the A team, not the people who happen to be available. I do not think that does anyone any good when they have to deal with serious matters which the families want straight answers to and the officers want to believe that the investigators have some maturity of judgment. It is not a matter of age but a matter of experience. For those reasons, the IOPC should consider this. It is not exactly pertinent to the amendment, but it is relevant to the discussion about quality that we can fairly have about IOPC investigations at the moment.
My Lords, I strongly support these amendments. I too have little confidence in the IOPC and the resources that are available to it. It was very interesting to hear what the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, said about it. We must shed some light on the timelines for these investigations, both for the police officers and for the alleged victim.
I have been within and have commanded a disciplined organisation, and I was always acutely aware of the need to complete investigations as fast as possible when something had gone wrong. If this amendment does not find favour and the noble Lord needs to return on Report, I can make a very much longer speech then.
My Lords, I am very grateful for the opportunity to speak to Amendment 8, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and of which the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, is a co-signatory. It is an important amendment. I was particularly moved by the comments made by the noble Baroness, reminding us that of course it is from a police officer’s point of view but that this is also about a complainant’s point of view. It is from both sides that this debate has taken place.
Sometimes you look at an amendment and wonder whether it is as important as some others. Listening to the moving opening remarks of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and those of the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and others, I have been struck that this is a crucial amendment and a crucial discussion which is of huge significance to the police, communities and our country, particularly in light of issues that have arisen over the last few months. However, investigations that are delayed and drag on without resolution are completely unacceptable for the complainant and the officer in question.
I was completely unaware and absolutely astonished to hear from the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, from his experience as a former Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, that officers under investigation have been waiting for 10 years. Whatever the rights and wrongs of what happened and whether they were guilty or innocent, that cannot be right. This has got to be looked at by the Minister who now has responsibility for this, wherever you come from in the debate. I am sorry if other noble Lords knew this, and that I was the only person here who was unaware of it. I knew that there were delays, but frankly, that is astonishing. We have just had a significant and important debate on protecting the mental health of our officers. One can only imagine the mental health implications for people under investigation but also, as the noble Baroness, Lady Jones, reminded us, for people who have made the complaints. It does not serve justice for anybody.
There is some suggestion about delays in driving cases, but if she knows, can the Minister tell the Committee whether there is a particular delay in one area or a general problem across investigations? The noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, mentioned firearms, and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, mentioned some other examples, but is there a particular problem which emerges when a complaint is made in a particular area? There have been many references to certain offences not being taken seriously even when complaints were made, but it would be interesting for the Minister to come back to us on that.
I think that, at its heart, this amendment is saying that if we do not get this right, public confidence is undermined and eroded, and it is of no benefit to any of us not to be confident in the system. We must believe that the investigations which take place are fair, operate in a timely manner and are done with that integrity which people can understand and believe. We all accept that. Nobody here would disagree that this is the process which must happen and should be in place. However, as we have heard, that is not happening. Therefore, the amendment rightly asks us whether the answer is to set a time limit, to lay out a process that is better and more effective. The key question for the Minister is: what plans are there to review and update the disciplinary process, to restore public confidence and to reassure all of us that, at the end of the day, not only those who are complained against can feel confident but those who are making the complaint? That is the resolution that we all want from this important amendment.
My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, set out, this amendment seeks to further improve the timeliness of disciplinary and misconduct proceedings against police officers. It seeks to do this by amending existing regulations governing complaint and misconduct investigations by the IOPC, as well as those conducted by force professional standards departments. In substance, they seek to introduce a new system of separate independent adjudicators with powers to close down investigations which have taken longer than 12 months, where they decide that there is no “good and sufficient” reason for delay.
Again, with this amendment, I agree with the thrust of what the noble Lord and others said, namely that disciplinary and misconduct investigations should be conducted and completed in a timely fashion, for the reasons set out by the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, and the noble Lords, Lord Paddick and Lord Hogan-Howe. Like the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, when I heard “10 years” I was utterly shocked. However, this amendment comes at a time when investigation timescales are already reducing and when the Government have worked hard to reduce bureaucracy in the system and not add to it.
Under the IOPC’s predecessor, the Independent Police Complaints Commission, investigations would on average take 11 months. Since 2018, under the IOPC, that has fallen by almost 30% to just eight months. The IOPC has closed more than 90% of its cases in under 12 months and is making strong progress on the number of cases that it closes in under nine months and even in under six months. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, said, it is in nobody’s interest for investigations to drag on for long periods unnecessarily. We recognise the impact that this can have on everyone concerned.
It might be helpful in terms of explaining the trajectory that the Government introduced a package of reforms in February last year to the police complaints and disciplinary systems. It included new provisions to improve timeliness, with an expectation that investigations will normally be completed within 12 months. If not, the investigating body must provide a written explanation of any delays and steps to bring the investigation to a conclusion. The Government expect the IOPC to go further, and it now has targets in its business plans to complete many of those investigations in under nine and six months, as I said.
There are a number of reasons why cases might take too long, including the complexity of a case, the time- scale being impacted by parallel criminal investigations, and delays in obtaining expert evidence or post-mortem reports. It might be further complicated by delays in obtaining accounts from key police witnesses and subjects. That said, it is not acceptable for investigations to go on for too long, but the trajectory of timescales is certainly downwards.
The noble Lord’s amendment would introduce an additional layer of cost and bureaucracy. It would also risk creating perverse incentives for investigators to rush to meet deadlines at the expense of the quality of an investigation, particularly in those complex cases or if historic matters are at stake.
If an investigation into police wrongdoing was terminated without being concluded and that officer might have had a case to answer for gross misconduct—I can think of very recent cases which are relevant here—this would significantly undermine public confidence and potentially the course of justice. I am sure that is not the intention of noble Lords.
The amendment also risks undermining the independence of the police disciplinary system, blurring the lines between when legally qualified persons are appointed to this role and when the same person is appointed as a legally qualified chair of a misconduct hearing. These individuals would be selected from the same pool. That fundamentally changes the role of a legally qualified chair and jeopardises the independence of their position and the disciplinary system.
In conclusion, the Government have already taken steps to reduce investigation timescales and we will be monitoring the timeliness of investigations, drawing on new data collection requirements that we introduced as part of recent reforms. I hope that, for the reasons I have outlined, the noble Lord will be happy to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this important debate, particularly the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, for her support for speedy justice. Obviously, this impacts the complainant as well as the officers.
I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, for his contribution. It seems very strange standing here and talking about a former commissioner in that way, but I am in police mode at the moment, I think. He made a very important point about firearms officers who volunteer to take on this enormous responsibility and are then treated so badly by the system.
The Police Federation—I am grateful for its support of these amendments—accepts that there will be delays if a criminal investigation is involved. However, there are still significant delays even after the criminal matters have been dealt with, as I outlined in the examples I gave.
I thank the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, for his promise to come back all guns blazing, as it were, if I bring the amendment back on Report.
It is interesting that there is a parallel with the Armed Forces again. I spoke to a former soldier who was resigning from the police service and asked him why. He said that he was leaving because, in the Armed Forces, when something goes wrong, the most senior officer involved takes responsibility and faces a court martial, while in the police service, the responsibility is pushed down to the lowest-possible level, to alleviate the responsibility of senior officers. That is an aspect of the culture of the police service; I agree with that officer’s conclusions.
The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, talked about public confidence. If there is no confidence in the Independent Office for Police Conduct and the police complaints system, this will be partly due to the undue delays. Complainants are beginning to think “What are they trying to cover up? Why is it taking so long?”. It is essential that these things are dealt with in a timely manner.
I thank the Minister for her support in principle, but the examples I gave were not complex cases; they were simple, but they still took years. They did not involve expert witnesses, yet there were still delays. These are recent cases from last year.
I am sorry but I do not accept the Minister’s assertion that this amendment would result in a rush to complete investigations. These completely independent people would assess whether there were justified reasons for investigations going on as long as they had. Clearly, if these investigations were not being dealt with in a timely manner, they would have something to worry about. This is about picking up those cases in which there is unnecessary and unreasonable delay. Of course, the same chair would not adjudicate over whether an investigation was going on too long and then chair the discipline investigation.
We are on to something here and I am very grateful to the Police Federation for bringing it to my attention. We may well need to discuss this further on Report, but at this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 8 withdrawn.
Clause 2: Increase in penalty for assault on emergency worker
9: Clause 2, page 3, line 46, at end insert—
“(3) After section 2 of the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 insert—2A Potting (1) A person commits an offence of potting if the person—(a) maliciously causes an emergency worker to unwillingly or unwittingly come into direct contact with any substance containing urine, excrement or ejaculate,(b) is in custody and causes or permits their own urine or excrement to be intercepted without lawful reason or excuse, or (c) is in custody and causes or permits their own ejaculate to be intercepted without lawful reason or excuse.(2) For the purposes of subsection (1)(a), a substance that looks and smells as if it contains urine or excrement is to be taken to contain such substances.(3) For the purposes of subsection (1)(b), only in exceptional circumstances may the court accept a defence of “lawful reason or excuse” in the absence of evidence of a prior direction by a clinically qualified person.(4) In each and every case where the alleged offence takes place in a custodial environment and the Crown Prosecution Service decide not to prosecute on the grounds of not being in the public interest, the Lord Chancellor must be notified within 28 days of any such decision being made.(5) The Secretary of State must ensure that sufficient suitable kits for collecting evidence samples are available within the Prison Service.(6) A person guilty of an offence to which this section applies is liable—(a) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months;(b) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 2 years.””
My Lords, I beg to move Amendment 9 standing in my name and that of the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede.
From time to time, it falls on this House and its committees to debate extremely distasteful matters. This will be one of those occasions. However, there are some euphemisms that we can utilise. We can use the term “relevant substance” to mean any substance mentioned in the proposed new Section 2A(1) of the 2018 Act. If we need to be more specific, we can refer to subsections (1)(b) and (1)(c) in the proposed new section. The type of assault in question is generally termed “potting”.
Let us suppose a dedicated and efficient junior official of Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs is walking down the high street and he or she is assaulted by an aggrieved taxpayer. Suppose the assault is achieved by inverting a bucket containing the relevant substance on his or her head, or alternatively by using what I would call the “custard pie technique”. The Committee will appreciate that the distress caused to the junior official would be off the scale. The victim would be comforted, if that was possible, by the knowledge that the police would regard it as a very serious assault. There is no doubt that the police would go to great lengths to secure the evidence and that the CPS would invariably prosecute if the police produced the necessary evidence. If such an assault occurred, the Committee would expect to see extensive national media coverage, possibly with public statements made by the Home Secretary or the relevant chief constable.
I have to tell the Committee that this type of assault is not unusual in the prison service today, but a thorough investigation and prosecution does not invariably follow. In the event of such an assault, the Committee will completely understand the overriding desire of the prison officer or other victim to immediately get under a shower and wash off every drop of the relevant substance. Unfortunately, this may interfere with the evidence trail.
There are other difficulties associated with bringing the perpetrators of such an assault to justice. First, the police have numerous and conflicting priorities; I am afraid that they are often unable or unwilling to attach much priority to an assault of this type when the victim is a prison officer or governor, and the assault occurs within the secure estate. A further difficulty is that the CPS is apparently not very energetic in prosecuting these cases. Part of the problem may be the evidence trail that I have already referred to.
I should also point out to the Committee that there is a complex criminal infrastructure in most prisons. It can be that the prisoner carrying out the assault has no grievance himself but makes the assault on behalf of others. Often, this is because the prisoner who is “invited” to do the deed has no more time that can be added to his time in custody without being charged with a new offence. He could also be put under considerable pressure by other criminals to commit the offence. The Minister will doubtless correctly tell us that there are existing relevant offences, but without a specific offence, prosecution is less likely.
Furthermore, the existing offences do not catch preparatory acts; that is to say, intercepting the relevant substance. Of course, the person who commits this offence of interception could easily and certainly be identified. My amendment proposes a new offence of potting. It makes it clear that, if the substance looks or smells like the relevant substance, it is that substance. It makes it an offence within the custodial environment for anyone to intercept their own relevant substance, under new subsection (1)(b), with a tightly defined medical exemption. The lawful reason or excuse exemption is less constrained for relevant substances falling under new subsection (1)(c) for obvious and understandable reasons. Proposed new subsection 4 requires the CPS to notify the Lord Chancellor if it is decided not to prosecute on public interest grounds. I would like to make it clear to the Committee that the intention is to make the probability of prosecution and conviction very high, in order to completely deter such assaults.
We ask prison officers, governors and others to look after some of the most mad, bad and sad members of our society. Some, as we know, are just minor offenders, while others are particularly evil, devious and dangerous. We have a retention problem within the prison service; allowing this type of assault to go unpunished must surely have a negative effect on morale and retention. We owe it to those charged with such onerous duties to protect them so far as is possible from assaults of this nature—and indeed from any other. We can discharge our duty by ensuring that there is a high probability of prosecution and conviction for these offences. I beg to move.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 11, in the name of my right reverend friend the Bishop of Gloucester, with her permission, as she is sadly unable to be here today. I declare her interest as Anglican bishop of prisons in England and Wales.
This amendment seeks to improve Section 3 of the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 by expanding the definition of “emergency worker” to include all staff working in prisons. All those who work in prisons play a valuable role. However, currently, only officers and some healthcare staff are covered by this legislation and, as such, the risk for others working in prisons is increased, because prisoners are well aware of the more severe consequences of assaulting an officer compared with others working in prisons. Someone described this as effectively painting a target on their backs. This is an unintended consequence of the current legislation, which is unfair to many prison workers, undermines their safety and can be easily dealt with through this amendment.
The work of chaplains, educators and others who work in prisons is essential. They play a crucial role in the well-being and support of prisoners, in the work that underpins successful rehabilitation of offenders, and in maintaining a well-run and ordered prison. Prison chaplains, teachers, instructors and healthcare workers are vital vocations within the justice system. They need support and security to perform their roles well.
This amendment is supported by the Joint Unions in Prisons Alliance, and it has shared disturbing anecdotes from prison workers, as yet unsupported in law as emergency workers. One worker reported:
“Cutbacks in prison officers mean we are at greater risk than ever. I have been working in this environment for 10 years and have never known it so bad.”
“The prison is unsafe despite receiving an urgent notification last year—little has changed. We are running at significantly reduced numbers but there is no order or discipline in the jail. Staff assaults are an almost daily occurrence. One of my nursing staff was severely assaulted in the clinic room and I have a high level of staff receiving counselling due to fears around safety.”
A third said:
“I am a lone instructional officer in a textiles cutting and manufacturing workshop within an immigration removal centre. As a civilian, I don’t receive Control & Restraint training, carry a baton or wear a body-worn camera.”
Prison chaplains share in the front-line care of prisoners, providing pastoral and spiritual comfort. It is shocking that they might be seen as an easy target for physical assault. This is an account from a prison chaplain:
“I was leading some funeral prayers for an 18 year old. He was poorly and had had a hospital place to go to until a more needy child in the community got it. His Aunt Died and he requested funeral prayers. He was edgy as we moved to Chapel and I spent some time settling him before I led him through some prayers. As I was reading Ps23, I saw movement to the side. I remember asking myself ‘What happens if I am assaulted here?’. Momentarily later I was hit side on causing bruising to my face and bruising. I had some concern as I am currently on blood thinners. Staff back up was immediate, I had photographs taken and was taken out to hospital for a check-up. I then went home for the afternoon and returned into work the following day, I wanted to ‘get back on my bike and start pedalling!’. As a Priest Chaplain we speak about ministry through adversary, I can now stand alongside my uniform colleagues who are at risk every day from assault and understand better how to support them, because I have been there.”
“As a Christian Chaplain I was assisting a visiting Imam to ensure that Friday Prayers was able to take place. Just as prayers were about to start I was asked by staff to go downstairs and speak to a prisoner who had not brought his ID card and was not therefore being allowed in. My intention was to ask his name and if his name had not already been ticked off on the list, to allow him in. When I arrived at the door the prisoner was extremely angry. He said he did not want to speak to me but would only speak to the Imam. I explained that it was a visiting Imam who would not be able to help him and that he was busy as prayers were about to start. He said that if he was not allowed in he would go back to the wing and ‘start smashing up staff’. I looked around to ascertain the whereabouts of staff and as I turned my head to the right I felt a blow to the left hand side of my head, knocking off my glasses and causing a cut to the side of my nose. He was immediately restrained by staff and taken to the segregation unit. I was attended to by healthcare staff. I remained on duty as the visiting Imam was a friend and I wanted to ensure that all went smoothly and that he was able to get off the premises after prayers.”
This chaplain received excellent care from colleagues working in the prison but should be supported through the law, as an emergency worker.
I would add that, in the last 12 months, I have spoken to two prison chaplains in my own area; one was assaulted and the other explained the fear they now face because of the amount of lone working they find themselves doing and how often there is no one nearby if something were to occur. It cannot be right that some front-line prison workers are protected while others are not.
In conclusion, prisons that are dangerous for staff are dangerous for prisoners too and disrupt the essential task of rehabilitation. Will the Minister give assurance that the Government are committed to making prisons safer working environments for all staff?
My Lords, I have Amendment 10 in this group. According to the Times newspaper, in an article dated 10 March this year, Chris Philp MP, the then Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Home Office and Ministry of Justice responsible, according to the article, for sentencing, said that
“detailed research had found that the likelihood of being caught and punished was much more important in discouraging people from committing crime than length of jail sentences.”
Answering a Parliamentary Question about the deterrent effect of longer sentences, he said, again according to the Times:
“The evidence is mixed, although harsher sentencing tends to be associated with limited or no general deterrent effect. Increases in the certainty of apprehension and punishment have consistently been found to have a deterrent effect.”
I subsequently discovered that this was the Answer to a Written Question on 19 February from the Conservative Member for Rother Valley about pet theft—of which more on another day. The Bill certainly is the gift that keeps on giving.
Noble Lords around the Committee will be aware that we on these Benches have consistently said that longer prison sentences do not deter criminals and now, according to the Government, harsher sentences have limited or no deterrent effect. So why do we have Clause 2 in the Bill? Noble Lords may be surprised that, as a former police officer, I am not supportive of this measure. Something needs to be done about assaults on emergency workers, but an increase in the maximum sentence is not what is needed. What is needed is a change in attitude among the general public, in society and in the courts towards assaults on emergency workers in general and on police officers in particular. It appears to me to have become accepted by many that being assaulted is part of the job of a police officer or an emergency worker. But no one should be expected to tolerate abuse or assault because of the work they do, whether they are a Member of Parliament or an emergency worker.
The type of assault covered by this clause is common assault. Anything that causes a significant injury, even if it is not permanent, such as a bruise, can and should result in a charge under Section 47 of the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, for which the maximum term of imprisonment is already five years. We are talking about relatively minor physical harm. Can the Minister tell the Committee how many cases of assault on an emergency worker to date have attracted the current maximum penalty of 12 months in prison—or a sentence of imprisonment at all?
The reason for my amendment, in effect for the Sentencing Council to review its guidance for the existing offence where the existing maximum penalty is 12 months’ imprisonment, is to ensure that the courts and the Crown Prosecution Service reflect the seriousness of this offence in their decision-making, rather than what we see week after week reported on social media, where assaults on emergency workers in general and police officers in particular are treated by the CPS and the courts as part and parcel of the job. That sends a message to criminals and the general public that you can assault emergency workers with impunity, because in court you will be just be given a slap on the wrist—if it even gets that far. What is the point of increasing the maximum penalty for an offence to two years when the Government themselves acknowledge that harsher sentences have little or no deterrent effect and the courts, which can currently send someone to prison for up to 12 months, rarely if ever do so?
The Government may say that in some cases severe penalties can have a deterrent effect—but an increase from one year to two years for an offence often committed in the heat of the moment during the course of a confrontation between a police officer and a member of the public is unlikely to be one of them. Far better that the Government mount a publicity campaign stating that it is completely unacceptable to attack emergency workers who put their lives on the line every day to protect and serve the public, than that they make a minor adjustment to the maximum penalty that is likely to go unnoticed by those it is targeted at, either as a deterrent or in court following conviction, unless there is a significant change in the attitude of judges, prompted by a change in the sentencing guidelines.
On Amendment 11, proposed by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, clearly, prison officers are as vital a uniformed force as police, fire and rescue services, the ambulance service and the coastguard, and they are afforded similar protection. I quite understand how others working in prisons feel that they are more vulnerable and, as the right reverend Prelate said, they feel they have a target on their back because they are excluded. He gave the appalling example of an assault on a prison chaplain that resulted in bruising to the chaplain. But, again, I say that that offence could have been prosecuted under Section 47, where there is an even greater penalty available than for an assault on an emergency worker. So we are not supportive of the increase.
On Amendment 9, in the name of the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, of course, if such substances are actually thrown at a prison officer or other emergency worker, it would amount to assault and therefore it would be covered by existing legislation around assaults on emergency workers, with a similar penalty to the one the noble Earl is proposing in his amendment. So we feel that there needs to be a change in attitude towards the apparent acceptability of assaults on emergency workers, rather than simply a cosmetic increase in the maximum penalty.
My Lords, I think the noble Lord and I are in agreement that the problem is that we are not prosecuting these offences, rather than the outcome in the courts. Because, for the prisoners, it may be that even another three-month penalty for my new offence would be enough to deter them—or, using the existing penalties, as the noble Lord said, it is the probability of being prosecuted that matters.
My Lords, of course we want to change attitudes and that is what we must try to do, however long it takes us, but I have to say, from my experience over five years as a police and crime commissioner—I am sorry to keep on about this—this wrong seems to have increased on a fairly enormous scale. That is only anecdotal, but the truth is that many more of those who are about to be arrested seem to think that it is okay to have a go at the police in order not to get arrested. That seems to me to be very unfortunate, and it is going to take a long time before it changes. It puts the police, and obviously other emergency workers, in a nearly impossible position sometimes—and when I talk about the police, I am really referring to other emergency workers as well.
Like the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, I do not want to see higher sentences for the sake of higher sentences, and I do think that their effect is often very limited, but I have to say—it seems odd, coming from these Benches, I suppose—that I have a certain sympathy with the Government here, because it seems to me that the position has to be dealt with immediately in some way, and one of the purposes of raising the maximum sentence available is to try, in the best possible way, to convince the courts that this is a more serious offence than sometimes they think it is. It is not always minor, I am afraid—sometimes it is undercharged—but it is a really serious problem that every emergency worker, and in particular every police officer, faces every time he or she makes an arrest, and I do not blame the Government for wanting to do something about it.
I am not saying it will be very successful; I think it is a much wider societal problem. But I do think it is something the Government are entitled to at least think about in this way. I do not say that with any happiness at all, but to claim that it is not a real problem is just untrue: it is a real, everyday problem.
My Lords, I entirely accept that this is a real problem, but real problems require real solutions that have some chance of being effective. I cannot imagine anyone who commits an assault on a police officer or emergency worker actually knowing what the maximum sentence is for that offence—still less that the Government are currently increasing it. That information might just get through to the newspapers for a week or two, but there is no measurable deterrent effect from something that people do not know much about anyway. Most people must realise that if they get caught assaulting an emergency worker they will get into some kind of trouble, but whatever impels these dreadful assaults is clearly not likely to be affected by what is happening here.
What happens when you increase the maximum sentence? If you achieve generally longer sentences, you have made a commitment of resources. The question has reasonably to be asked: is this the best way of spending money to try to stop emergency workers being attacked? We must therefore look at any other measures that you can reasonably take that would have that effect, if, as I contend, there is no evidence that increasing the maximum sentence will lead to any reduction in attacks on emergency workers or police officers.
This is just one of many examples, and there are others that we will perhaps debate more fully later in the Bill, where the Government rush to have something to say—lengthening the maximum sentence certainly looks like having something to say—but it does not have the effect in the real world that we all desire.
My Lords, I am a bit too squeamish to discuss Amendment 9 but I wanted to reflect on Amendments 10 and 11 and to follow on from some of the comments just made about the deterrence factor and expanding how long people are threatened with jail for.
I thought the Bar Council raised some very useful challenges for us to consider in relation to the section of the Bill dealing with assaults on emergency workers. The Bar Council asks us to consider if increasing the maximum penalty for such assaults is necessary or commensurate or whether it will work. It notes the limited evidence. I thought when I was listening to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, who I was very compellingly convinced by, that it can feel a bit like virtue signalling rather than tackling the problem.
I was particularly interested in a slightly different point from the one that has been made and was struck by what the Bar Council said in relation to, I think, these amendments: there is a danger of creating a disparity between the penalties for attacks on emergency workers and those on other workers, and indeed a disparity between attacks on emergency workers and those on members of the public. There is an offence of common assault that should be considered a serious offence whoever is on the receiving end of it. Whoever is attacked, I would want the law to deal with it.
We heard from the right reverend Prelate how, if you start saying that an attack on this particular group of workers has to have a particular length of sentence, that might make other groups of workers—in this instance, in prisons—feel as though they are being neglected or somehow are not as important. We therefore have to be nervous about differentiating between categories of workers because that might end up being divisive, implying that front-line workers in some jobs are more important than others.
As a former teacher who has worked in the education sector—I worked with some challenging young people and was on the receiving end of some common assault, let us put it that way—I have been following closely the case of Professor Kathleen Stock, a feminist philosophy academic at Sussex University, whom the police have advised should not return to her place of work on campus because of the danger of violence from some self-styled anti-TERF activists. There have been all sorts of threats and harassment. They even have a special phone number for her to ring. There are other teachers who face this.
I raise that because when it comes to this kind of threat, that kind of potential violence and those kinds of assaults, it does not matter if you are a front-line worker. I do not know why the “emergency” bit should give you an extra penalty. I am not advocating for a special penalty for attacks on education workers. I just do not want people on the front line to feel that some are more important than others.
What will keep emergency workers safe? That is what we all want; we do not want anyone to be attacked. The description of what is happening in prisons gives us a bit of a clue. In that instance, it is the lack of staffing and resources causing the problem, not that attackers do not think they will be sufficiently penalised.
More broadly in society, and this has been hinted at, there is a crisis of authority. We have to ask a much deeper question about why people might want to punch a policeman and why people in the emergency services are treated with disrespect. To be honest, just adding on prison sentences or making that kind of point will not achieve what the Government want, even though I am sympathetic to their aims.
My Lords, I will open by discussing first some of noble Lords’ contributions on their amendments.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, spoke to his Amendment 10. The amendment is about preparing sentencing guidelines for assaulting an emergency worker, or along those lines. My experience as a sitting magistrate is that those guidelines are not available at the moment so we use the old guidelines for assaulting a police officer as the guidance. However, I reassure him that whenever I sentence people I invariably make it explicit that part of the sentence, or maybe part of the uplift, is due to the role played by the person who was assaulted. So although it may not have been expressly set out in legislation about emergency workers, if it concerns a teacher or something like that, I will say that it is a very serious matter and I have taken that into account in the sentence. Nevertheless, I understand the points that the noble Lord made.
The amendment by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham, who spoke on behalf of the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, seeks to expand the definition of “emergency worker” to include all prison staff, and he gave some very moving examples of chaplains, educators, instructors and healthcare workers. I think he has seen some of the same briefing that I have, which says essentially that many of those people are saying that they have never seen it so bad in terms of assaults on those people working in prisons.
As is often the case in Committee on Bills in this House, the debate went wider. I listened carefully to what the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, said about being cautious about having a hierarchy of people who work in public service in one way or another. Nevertheless, I also took into account what my noble friend Lord Bach said: there is a role for sending a message about the Government responding in some way, although that does not necessarily mean increasing sentences themselves; there are other ways of responding that may be more effective.
I turn to Amendment 9, which I have put my name to, and I thank the noble Earl for tabling it. As well as sitting as a magistrate in London, I am also co-chair of the Justice Unions Parliamentary Group here in Parliament and I have had a lot of lobbying on this matter, as I know other noble Lords have too.
The noble Earl explained the practice of “potting” in prisons. It can be done by prisoners who are mentally ill or, as he explained, by other prisoners as part of a tactic to punish officers who are targeted by particular groups of prisoners. He explained the circumstances where it may have a relatively minimal effect on the offender if they are towards the end of their sentence.
There is a widespread perception among prison officers that they have been neglected by the Government and that the CPS and the existing discipline structures within the prisons, and indeed visiting judges, do not take the practice of potting sufficiently seriously. In fact, on various TV programmes about working in prisons, we can all see, as I have, prison officers being potted. In fact, I have a magisterial colleague whose niece is a serving prison officer and, only a few months ago, she was potted herself. Of course, this is a completely disgusting and disturbing thing to happen. I hope that it will not reduce her commitment to the job of being a prison officer, but I have to say that I do not know; it might be one of the reasons that some officers choose to resign from the service.
There are many issues facing the Prison Service, which we have debated many times: high turnover of staff, pay and conditions, inexperienced managers, a change in the retirement age—the list goes on. I suspect that the noble Earl is right to anticipate that, in his answer, the Minister will say that the practice of potting could be charged in any number of ways and may well argue that it is covered by existing legislation. But the point that the noble Earl was making is that it simply is not taken seriously enough. The addition of a separate, specifically defined piece of legislation outlining this practice, making it more difficult for the authorities to minimise, would show that the Government value prison officers. This is an opportunity, I would say, for the Government to demonstrate that they value prison officers.
I do not know what the noble Earl plans to do at further stages of this Bill. This is such an egregiously disgusting practice and it is a tactic used in prisons; this is a specific way of responding to that tactic, which is within the Government’s hands in this Bill.
My Lords, I begin by placing on the record my apologies for not being in my place at Second Reading for personal family reasons. I also place on record my thanks to many noble Lords for their kind and supportive words and messages; I am very grateful.
Turning to the substance of the matter before the Committee today, Clause 2 of the Bill proposes an increase in the maximum penalty for the offence of common assault and battery when that offence is committed against an emergency worker. The definition —this is important—of “emergency worker” is set out in Section 3 of the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018. The pandemic has reminded us, if we needed reminding, that the vital front-line role that our emergency workers play, and indeed always have played, is of immense importance to our society. But we have recently seen an increasing number of assaults being committed against emergency workers in the course of their duties. This will simply not be tolerated.
Last summer, we delivered on our manifesto commitment to consult on this issue. We found that the large majority of respondents supported our proposal to double the maximum penalty to two years. This will ensure that the law provides our police and other emergency workers with sufficient protection to carry out their duties and will enable the courts to pass sentences that reflect the severity with which we view these offences. This measure builds on previous legislation introduced by the Government back in 2018. We have enhanced already the protection of emergency workers where more serious assaults such as ABH and GBH are committed—I think the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, made this point. These more serious offences obviously carry higher maximum penalties than common assault. Where such offences are committed against an emergency worker acting in the course of their duties, this is regarded as an aggravating feature of the offence, warranting a higher sentence.
Let me deal first with the amendment from the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester. I am grateful to her for tabling the amendment, and to the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham for acting as her spokesman this afternoon—I was going to say, “as the Aaron to her Moses”, if I may put it in those terms. The purpose of her amendment is to broaden the definition of “emergency worker” to encompass all staff in custodial institutions. The Committee will be aware that all prison officers, prisoner custody officers and those who exercise functions associated with these professions are already included in the existing definition of “emergency worker” from the 2018 legislation.
The problem is that broadening the definition of “emergency worker” can have unintended consequences. The broader definition would capture anyone employed or engaged to carry out functions in a custodial institution, which can extend to prisoners who undertake jobs within the institution. The amendment would then place this group of convicted prisoners on the same statutory footing as prison officers, constables and NHS staff. That would be unacceptable.
By means of increasing the maximum penalty for the assault of an emergency worker, we want to protect those who protect others. That is why it is right that emergency workers are on a different statutory footing. Clause 2, therefore, does not seek to amend the underlying definition of “emergency worker” that was accepted by Parliament when passing the 2018 legislation. I acknowledge the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Fox of Buckley, given the work of the Bar Council in this area, but it is right, I suggest, that we acknowledge the special position of emergency workers, as Parliament did back in 2018.
Of course, that is not to say that any form of violence in custodial institutions is acceptable; it plainly is not. We want to make sure that our prisons are safe for all staff, as well as all prisoners. Picking up on the point from the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede—
I have a pertinent question. I am troubled by the rather lame excuse that the noble Lord offers from the Dispatch Box about the “unintended consequences”. Surely it would be very simple to put in place an exemption that barred prisoners from benefiting from that clause. I cannot understand why the noble Lord is so resistant to this particular move; there must be a workable way round it. I have been a Home Office Minister and have had lame excuses written for me—this sounds like one of those.
I am afraid that the noble Lord appears to have missed the point of principle that I made before making what he characterises as a lame excuse, but which I thought was in fact rather a good point. The point of principle is that we have a definition of “emergency worker”, which Parliament accepted back in 2018. It is a good working definition, and we shall stick with it; that is a point of principle. The point on this amendment was that it goes too far because it has those unintended consequences. The noble Lord should not lose sight of my first point by concentrating only on the second, which he regards as lame and which I regard, from a legal perspective, as quite a nice point—I do urge upon him the point of principle as well.
I was coming to the point that we value prison officers. The noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby of Shulbrede, laid down the gauntlet and asked that we do so from the Dispatch Box. Of course we do. Our position on this amendment has nothing to do with not valuing prison officers or the work that anybody does in prison.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham asked what we were doing to protect prison staff. Those who carry out corresponding functions to prison officers and prison custody officers are already included in the definition of an emergency worker. Offences against those people will be treated as an aggravating factor in sentencing guidelines. That is what I wanted to say in response to that amendment.
I turn now to the amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, which seeks to place in statute a requirement on the Sentencing Council for England and Wales to prepare and publish a sentencing guideline for this offence. The position here—and I heard what the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, said—is that the independent Sentencing Council has recently issued updated, definitive guidelines for a number of assault offences, including the offence of common assault. The guidelines came into effect on 1 July this year. I think I heard the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, say that he had not seen that. The position is this, and I have had it checked: what came out is that it is in the general common assault guidelines. There is not a specific guideline for assaults on emergency workers, but those general guidelines deal with assaults on emergency workers. Perhaps I can have the relevant pages or document provided to the noble Lord if he has not yet seen them.
That document therefore contains, for the first time, specific guidance for courts to use when sentencing an offender for assaulting an emergency worker. It makes it clear to the court that an uplift to the sentence should be provided. Given that, I suggest that there is no practical purpose to this amendment. Of course, the Sentencing Council operates independently of government —I should make that clear—which is important for the independence of the courts. We can, I am sure, be confident that the council will give due consideration to the need to update the relevant guideline if Clause 2 is, in due course, accepted.
Turning to the points made about the increase in the sentence, particularly by the noble Lords, Lord Beith and Lord Paddick, the short point here is that deterrence is only one aspect of sentencing. One also has to consider punishment, public protection and the seriousness of the behaviour. We do not sentence only on the basis of deterrence, and this clause is certainly not—to pick up a phrase the noble Lord, Lord Beith, used—the Government rushing to have something to say. I agree with the noble Lord, Lord Bach, that we do not want to see higher sentences just for the sake of it. I welcome, if I may say respectfully, his realistic approach to this issue. We need to show that this is a really serious offence and will not be tolerated.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, asked me a specific question that I will try to respond to. If I have not responded to all of it, I will come back to him. The information I have for how many have received a custodial sentence for assaulting an emergency worker is 1,533 in 2019 and 2,392 in 2020. There has also been an increase in the average length of sentences and we would expect that to increase further if the maximum sentence increases further. One must remember, however, that maximum sentences are for the most serious occurrence of the offence. Therefore, the fact that the maximum sentence is rarely or not used is not an indication that the maximum sentence is wrong. It might just be that there has not yet been an incidence that justifies the maximum sentence.
Finally, I turn to the amendment in the name of my noble friend Lord Attlee to amend the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018 to create a specific offence of potting, which would carry a maximum penalty of six months’ imprisonment on summary conviction, or two years following conviction on indictment. As we have heard, potting—for those familiar with the term only in the context of gardening—is, in this context, a rather more gruesome affair. It is usually taken to mean the throwing of bodily fluids—we have used the euphemism “relevant substances”, but we know what we are talking about—at a person, usually police or prison officers, by prisoners or offenders while in prison or custody. That is disgusting behaviour; it simply will not and should not be tolerated.
We take the safety of prison officers very seriously. We have committed an extra £100 million to security and we have given them body-worn cameras, police-style restraints and various incapacitant sprays to allow them to do their jobs more effectively. However, the problem with this amendment is twofold. Let me first take the part of it which provides that, where the CPS decides that prosecution is not in the public interest, it has to notify the Lord Chancellor within 28 days. That proposal—I heard what the noble Earl said—is plainly designed to ensure a high probability of both prosecutions and convictions. However, there is, with respect, a point of principle here: prosecutions are independent of government. The CPS has to make its decisions independent of political pressure. A provision that the CPS has to inform the Lord Chancellor of a decision not to prosecute is concerning because it risks blurring that important divide between government and the decision to prosecute.
Turning to the obligation to ensure that sufficient suitable kit for collecting evidence is available in the Prison Service, I do not understand that at the moment there is a problem there, but I am happy to discuss the point further. We do not need, however, a separate criminal offence. All of this can be prosecuted and captured under existing offences, such as assault and battery and other offences under the Offences Against the Person Act 1861, Section 24 of which covers maliciously administering poison or noxious substances. In the 2019 case of R v Veysey, the Court of Appeal held that urine—if I may say that from the Dispatch Box—can, in these circumstances, be a noxious substance. It is important, however, that the trial court is able to look at the individual circumstances, any aggravating or mitigating factors, and then decide the appropriate sentence.
We have clear guidance in operation to ensure a consistent framework to deal with crime committed in prisons. I do not know whether my noble friend has seen the Crime in Prison Referral Agreement, published in May 2019. That makes it mandatory for any assault—except where there is little or no injury—including any instance of potting, to be referred to the police. The police will then look at the evidence and seek to charge the offender. When the matter does not go to court, it can be dealt with by an adjudication in prison, which can also add extra time in custody. In light of that, and for the reasons I hope I have explained clearly, the Government are not persuaded that this amendment is necessary. For those reasons, I urge noble Lords who tabled these respective amendments not to press them.
I am sorry—I thought very carefully about whether I should intervene. I was genuinely so taken aback by the Minister’s reference to prisoners being included that I nearly leapt up immediately. The question was then asked, but I have tried to replay it in my head. I absolutely understand that the Minister meant no offence but, out of context, I fear how it might be understood by those workers, such as chaplains, tutors and so on. By, in a sense, lumping them together with prisoners who have been employed, it could easily be misheard outside this House. I know that was not the Minister’s intention, but I ask him to put on the record that it was not what he meant.
I am extremely grateful for the opportunity to do that. As I am sure everybody recognises, that was not the point I was making. I appreciate that it was regarded as lame by some people, but the point that I sought to make was that the distinction and purpose of the amendment was to expand the definition from prison officers to other people working in prison. My point was that from the way in which it is drafted—and I appreciate that it could be redrafted—it could and would be read so broadly as to include prisoners who were doing jobs in prison. It was certainly not what I was saying to place prisoners doing jobs in prison with chaplains and others who are working in prison. I am grateful to the right reverend Prelate for giving me the opportunity to make that clear, if it was not already.
I seek one matter of clarification, although I should not need to. Is there no way, apart from raising the maximum sentence by legislation, by which government could bring to the attention of the prosecuting authorities, sentencing courts and so forth the aggravating features that cover all these amendments? There are the emergency workers in the first place, and the nauseating offence of potting, which I confess not to have heard of before, and assaults on prison officers. There are those who find themselves, in the ordinary course of their employment, exposed in these highly vulnerable circumstances to miscreance of an obvious character. Is there no governmental input to the Sentencing Council? Can the Government not influence those sorts of bodies to isolate the fact that these are manifestly aggravating circumstances, which should go to raise not only the likely sanction being imposed but the likelihood of prosecution?
As the noble and learned Lord knows far better than I do, one has to distinguish between aggravating and mitigating factors and the likelihood of prosecution. With regard to the Sentencing Council, I am confident that it already has that point on board. The question before the Committee is that of maximum sentence rather than aggravating or mitigating factors. I have also said—and, I hope, explained—that there is clear guidance in place to make sure that, when these offences are committed, they are dealt with either through the courts or through prison adjudication.
I just want to take the Minister back to the comments made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Durham on the definition of prisoners as workers. I cannot think of any other legislation where a prisoner enjoys the same rights as a worker. There are many rights that workers enjoy in this country, but none of them that I am aware of apply to prisoners. There must be a way around this, perhaps by a government amendment or some sort of redrafting, that would allow the suggestion made to be incorporated.
I think I made it clear earlier that I was making two points in response to this amendment. The point that we are focused on at the moment is whether we could have more—and I say this respectfully—felicitous drafting than the drafting of the amendment that we currently have. I have accepted in principle that one could, and I made that clear in my previous answer and my answer to the right reverend Prelate. However, I do not want us to lose sight of my first response, on the point of principle: we have a definition in the 2018 Act of “emergency worker”, and that was regarded in 2018 as suitable and fit for purpose. It treated that definition as a separate status and a distinct group, and the Government’s position is that definition was good in 2018 and remains so now.
My Lords, I am grateful to all noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. On Amendment 11 from the right reverend Prelate, I am aware of the problem that he describes, but I did not make my new offence cover other Prison Service staff. I deliberately excluded probation officers just for reasons of simplicity, but if I managed to make my potting amendment find favour with the House, I would have to decide who was to be protected by it.
I am slightly disappointed by my noble friend’s response, because I thought that I was offering him the best thing since sliced bread, but he turned me down. The problem for the Minister running the Prison Service is that he cannot direct the police force to investigate these issues and, as he carefully explained to the Committee, he cannot direct the Crown Prosecution Service to pay greater attention to these offences either. My noble friend has no tools to protect prison officers—so I suspect that the Prison Officers’ Association will be a little bit disappointed with his approach.
I think we identified the underlying issue, which is the probability of being prosecuted for these sorts of these offences, and we need to have another look at that. I shall, of course, withdraw my amendment, subject to the usual caveats and discussions with the Opposition Front Bench.
Amendment 9 withdrawn.
Amendments 10 and 11 not moved.
Clause 2 agreed.