Criminal Justice and Immigration Bill

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Clause 109

Individual support orders
Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.
Mr. Heath: I rise to draw attention to the reservations expressed by the Standing Committee for Youth Justice about the clause. It is concerned that individual support orders have not proved a great success. The clause would allow ISOs to be made more than once, not only simultaneously with an ASBO, and to be attached to ASBOs that are obtained on conviction or in the county court, whereas at present they are available only in civil proceedings in the magistrates courts.
The committee says that only a limited number of ISOs have been used and suggests that the low take-up rate reflects a lack of knowledge about ISOs among sentencers and youth offending team duty officers. It also suggests that, in cases when a young person had contact with the youth offending team through an existing court order, there was a general assumption that an ISO was unnecessary because it would add nothing to services that were already in place.
The committee put it to me that the Government’s proposals might increase the number of ISOs to an extent, but that they would not deal either of those issues and would reinforce the current perception that support for vulnerable young people subject to ISOs should be provided through the youth justice system, and youth offending teams in particular. It argues that it is a matter for other support services and that the requirements within ISOs could make matters worse—not better—because there could be breach proceedings if the requirements of the ISO were not carried out by the young person. The committee believes that the support services should be available, irrespective of the behaviour of the young person, as a necessary part of rehabilitation. I welcome any comments that the Minister might have about my remarks.
Mr. Coaker: In some respects, I agree with the hon. Gentleman. He is right to say that individual support orders are not used to the extent that we would hope. Part of the intention behind the clause is to increase the number of ISOs that are issued. There is a lack of knowledge. That is a fair point. It is something that we have addressed through the Home Office, but it will now also be dealt with through other Departments, including the Ministry of Justice. The whole point of individual support orders is to deal with some of the criticisms that have been made and ensure that young people subject to antisocial behaviour orders are given the support that they need to help them address their antisocial behaviour. The individual support orders try to achieve some of the things that he and other members of the Committee have argued, throughout today, are necessary if we are to divert young people away from antisocial behaviour and criminal activity. The clause extends the use of individual support orders and makes them available for antisocial behaviour orders, on conviction.
The argument for individual support orders is one of resources and of agencies working together, but we need to ensure that more of them are used, because they are often very successful and it is a source of regret that they are not used in more cases.
Question put and agreed to.
Clause 109 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Clause s 110 and 111 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Schedule 19

Police misconduct and performance procedures
Mr. Coaker: I beg to move amendment No. 227, in schedule 19, page 203, line 31, leave out ‘counsel or a solicitor’ and insert ‘a relevant lawyer’.
The Chairman: With this it will be convenient to discuss Government amendments Nos. 228 to 235, 240, 247 and 254 to 256.
Mr. Coaker: I have 25 pages of notes on the provisions. [Hon. Members: “Oh no!”] I am only joking. It is not a good joke at this time of night.
These are technical amendments, which, for example, update the terminology used to take account of provisions used in the Legal Services Act 2007. The term “counsel or solicitor” will be replaced with the term “relevant lawyer”, which will have the meaning ascribed to it in the 2007 Act. There are a number of other such technical amendments and, with the Committee’s indulgence I will move them formally.
Amendment agreed to.
Amendments made: No. 228, in schedule 19, page 203, line 36, leave out ‘counsel or a solicitor’ and insert ‘a relevant lawyer’.
No. 229, in schedule 19, page 203, line 39, leave out ‘counsel or a solicitor’ and insert ‘a relevant lawyer’.
No. 230, in schedule 19, page 204, line 2, leave out ‘counsel or a solicitor’ and insert ‘a relevant lawyer’.
No. 231, in schedule 19, page 204, line 31, at end insert—
‘“relevant lawyer” means a person who, for the purposes of the Legal Services Act 2007, is an authorised person in relation to an activity which constitutes the exercise of a right of audience (within the meaning of that Act);’.
No. 232, in schedule 19, page 204, line 44, leave out ‘regulations’ and insert ‘rules’.
No. 233, in schedule 19, page 205, line 12, leave out ‘counsel or a solicitor’ and insert
‘a relevant lawyer within the meaning of section 84’.
No. 234, in schedule 19, page 205, line 20, leave out ‘Regulations or’.
No. 235, in schedule 19, page 205, line 22, leave out from beginning to ‘under’ in line 23 and insert—
‘(4) For subsection (5) substitute—
“(5) A statutory instrument containing rules’.—[Mr. Coaker.]
Question proposed, That this schedule, as amended, be the Nineteenth schedule to the Bill.
Mr. Burrowes: I do not wish to take up too much time. Nevertheless, it is important to register some points about this part of the Bill, albeit that it is one on which we can reach agreement, and there is consensus on the need for reform of procedures concerning police misconduct and performance in the investigation of complaints of police misconduct.
We need to avoid the situation which has been referred to in past debates and reviews as the extreme end, in which a police officer who has completed two years’ probation and become a full constable is referred to as almost unsackable. There are also other cases of low-level misconduct that need to be dealt with expeditiously, properly and with early resolution at the lowest level. We must respond to concerns that hearings should be less formal and not over-adversarial, and ensure that a quasi-judicial adversarial manner, not dissimilar from a military court tribunal, is not adopted in all cases. We welcome the moves, following the recommendation of the Taylor review, to ensure that the mechanism for disciplining officers is proportionate, timely, transparent, fair and cost-effective.
There is a need to ensure that investigations proceed expeditiously and that time limits are in place. Concerns have been raised about the prolonged amount of time for which police officers are subject to investigation, particularly those who are suspended—they are referred to as “gated”—and subject to conditions. For example, one condition is that they cannot take on any front-line duties. The concern relayed to me is that the position has been accepted and has then continued for several months—indeed, for a year in some cases. The officers have not had a formal resolution while they have been gated, and they have been in an invidious position while not knowing the outcome of their misconduct hearing. They are suspended with conditions.
It is important to deal with the issue in a timely manner and across the board—for police officers at the lower as well as the higher end of the scale. It would be helpful to receive an assurance from the Minister about the introduction of time limits. They would be helpful in such situations and would ensure that we would proceed, as we all would wish, to a quick resolution with a proper, accountable and transparent approach throughout the hearings.
Mr. Coaker: Schedule 19 makes several amendments to the Police Act 1996 to enable changes to be made to the procedures for dealing with police conduct, efficiency and performance. The schedule also makes equivalent changes to the Ministry of Defence Police Act 1987 for the purposes of the Ministry of Defence police, and to the Railways and Transport Safety Act 2003 for the purposes of the British Transport police. The changes arise out of the recommendations of the Taylor review into disciplinary arrangements, which was published in January 2005. The recommendations are aimed at improving and modernising police disciplinary and performance procedures, and they have received the full support of the Police Advisory Board for England and Wales. Current procedures for dealing with police officer discipline and poor performance issues are set out in the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2004 and the Police (Efficiency) (Amendment) Regulations 1999. New proposed conduct and performance regulations, which are being prepared and are available for viewing, set out the proposed procedures for dealing with discipline and performance issues. The proposed regulations will implement the recommendations of the Taylor review, and they have been prepared with and approved by the Police Advisory Board for England and Wales.
The amendments to the Police Act 1996 in the schedule will permit the Secretary of State to make regulations setting out new procedures. Time limits—this has just arrived in my brain—are covered in draft regulations made under the Bill. They have been consulted on and we will share them with the Committee in due course.
Question put and agreed to.
Schedule 19, as amended, agreed to.
Clause 112 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
Schedule 20 agreed to.
Clause 113 ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 114

Inspection of police authorities
Mr. Heath: I beg to move amendment No. 340, in clause 114, page 78, line 6, at end add—
‘(2AA) In carrying out an inspection of a police authority under subsection (2A), the inspectors of constabulary may request one or more other police authorities (or their representatives) to assess any aspect of performance and to make a report.”’.
I ought to declare my “previous” at the beginning: I was formerly chair of a police authority and a member of the Audit Commission, so I have seen the process from both ends.
8.45 pm
There is a general view among police authorities that they have no problem with the sort of joint inspection procedure that the Government have mind. Indeed, they see advantages in Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary joining forces with the Audit Commission to look at how a police authority discharges its duties.
The reasons for that are fairly clear: a police authority does not fall into the normal category of local authorities that are the subject of Audit Commission work. It is a form of local authority, but it is a very specialist one that deals with areas that are beyond the normal range of matters considered by the Audit Commission because of its policing element. We have an inspectorate—Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary—that is specifically charged with looking at policing issues, but nevertheless has little understanding of the issues relating to local authorities. So, putting the two together would produce an inspection regime that would cover all aspects of a police authority’s role.
This has been a long-term objective of the Government. They intended to create the joint procedure in the context of the Police and Justice Act 2006, but the proposal was dropped when there was a substantial change in that Bill on criminal justice inspections and, save for section 29 of that Bill, the matter was put on the back burner, albeit, I believe, with the intention of bringing it back at the first opportunity. This Bill is that opportunity.
I am going to argue against not the principle of the proposal, but the detail in the Bill, because the drafting is somewhat obscure. It relies on people putting together several different enactments in order to see exactly what is proposed. Indeed, if one were to read the Bill without looking at other enactments, one would assume that Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary was taking over the role of the Audit Commission and excluding it from the inspection role.
I do not believe that that is what the Government intend. My understanding is that they are relying on section 10 of the Local Government Act 1999 to give the Audit Commission the power to inspect police authorities, and on section 29 of the Police and Justice Act 2006 to enable Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary to act jointly with a public authority—in this instance, the Audit Commission. That forms the structure around which the joint inspections will take place. It would have been better to have expressed that explicitly in the Bill, rather than people having to hunt around three different enactments to find out what the situation is.
My amendment deals with something that is, to the Association of Police Authorities, a specific omission: peer review. I hope that the Minister will accept that I constructed the amendment myself to provide an opportunity to discuss the matter. The amendment might not be perfect, so I will accept any drafting amendments that he wishes to make, if he accepts the principle.
The peer review element is important. The Association of Police Authorities thought that it had secured the agreement of the Home Office that peer review would form part of the inspection process. It was extremely pleased about that because it had pressed for it for a long time. It felt that if there was to be a robust investigation process putting together HMIC and the Audit Commission, while at the same time giving other police authorities that face the same problems a role in assessing the performance of a police authority, that would give the best guarantee of a successful outcome.
The association is very disappointed that the Bill does not reflect what it thought had been agreed with the Home Office. It might still be the Government’s intention that a peer review should take place, but the statutory basis on which it would be constructed is not clear. It would be better if that were made explicit in the clause, which is why I have tabled the amendment.
I hope that the Minister will accept the amendment or, if he accepts the principle of it, come back with a proposal with an alternative wording. If he feels that that is not necessary because the objective can be secured by other means, it would still be helpful if he were to make it clear to the Committee that it is the Government’s view that peer review should form an essential part of the inspection process. If he were to do that, I would not press my amendment to a Division.
Mr. Coaker: I apologise to the Committee, but this important amendment would have an impact on police authorities across the country and I need to read my response into the record. When I have done so, I hope that the hon. Gentleman will feel reassured. Given that my comments will be read by many people, I hope that the Committee will bear with me, notwithstanding the lateness of the hour.
Police authorities play a critical role in securing continuous improvement in the police service, and we need to ensure that they are performing their functions effectively. A systematic process for the assessment of police authority performance would enable judgments and comparisons to be made about performance, help to drive further performance improvement, and make it possible to target support to poorly performing authorities. It is our intention, therefore, to make it possible for inspections to be carried out jointly by Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary and the Audit Commission across the full range of police authority functions.
While the inspectorate of constabulary and the Audit Commission between them will bring to bear wide professional expertise and knowledge of policing and the inspection of police authorities, we agree that police authorities provide valuable experience that should be available as part of any inspection process. We see peer review by authorities forming an integral part of the programme of inspections carried out by the inspectorate of constabulary and the Audit Commission. However, it is right that legislation specifies at this stage only the bodies that will have responsibility for inspecting authorities and the extent of the inspection process.
Giving an element of the inspection process legislative force, as is suggested by the amendment, would confer unnecessary prominence, reduce flexibility and limit the ability to take account of different circumstances in different police authorities. I would argue that that sort of detail is best set out in the joint inspection framework and methodology that will be developed to inform the work. A protocol will be drawn up by all those involved and will provide a clear basis on which to manage a programme of inspection activities. It will set out the respective roles and responsibilities of all the bodies involved and ensure that all appropriate skills and knowledge are available.
The protocol will be developed with the Association of Police Authorities to ensure that its knowledge and understanding of the work of authorities is reflected. The role of peer review will be spelled out. The inspectorate of constabulary and the Audit Commission are ready to explore how best to bring that into the inspection process.
I might further add that the Home Affairs Committee report on police funding welcomed the development of an inspection framework by the inspectorate of constabulary and the Audit Commission, and supported its speedy implementation. I hope that with my reference to the importance of peer review, the hon. Gentleman will feel sufficiently reassured.
Mr. Heath: That was an extremely helpful recital of the Government’s position. It is also possible to take perverse pleasure in the fact that Ministers and shadow Ministers can sometimes aggravate Whips who do not provide sufficient time for proper consideration by increasing the length of our consideration of such matters. That is quite apart from the intrinsic importance of the announcement that the Minister just made, but, in both respects, the Minister’s response has been helpful, so I thank him for it. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment, by leave, withdrawn.
Clause 114 ordered to stand part of the Bill.
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Prepared 28 November 2007