Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Bill
The Committee consisted of the following Members:
Steven Mark and Georgina Holmes-Skelton, Committee Clerk s
† attended the Committee
Gavin Thomas, Vice-President, Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales
Tim Jackson, National Deputy Secretary, Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales
Steve Williams, Chair, Police Federation of England and Wales
The Chair: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. Before we commence, I have a few preliminary announcements. Ladies and gentlemen may remove their jackets, if they so wish. Please ensure that all electronic devices are turned off: ringing not only annoys Committee members, but interferes with the broadcast system, which is of much greater importance.
As a general rule, I and my co-Chair, Jim Dobbin—I am delighted that he is with us this morning—will not call starred amendments that have not been tabled with adequate notice. The required notice period in Public Bill Committees is three working days, so amendments should be tabled by the rise of the House on Monday for consideration on Thursday, and by the rise of the House on Thursday for consideration on the following Tuesday.
Not everybody is familiar with the process of taking oral evidence in Public Bill Committees, so it may help if I explain how we will proceed. First, the Committee will be asked to consider the programme motion that was agreed by the Programming Sub-Committee the other day and by the usual channels. It can be debated for up to half an hour. Once we have disposed of that, with the motion being put and agreed, we will proceed to the motion on reporting written evidence, which I trust will be a formality. Once such motions have been agreed, we will move into a private sitting in case the Committee wishes to discuss how to approach the evidence session. Following that, we will take oral evidence.
I am told by the usual channels that the oral evidence session may finish slightly early. I anticipate that we will finish by 10 am, but the Chair has discretion to extend the session by 15 minutes if it is apparent that there are further questions that Members wish to ask and witnesses wish to answer. Without further ado, I call the Minister to move the programme motion.
(1) the Committee shall (in addition to its first meeting at 8.55 am on Tuesday 18 June) meet—
(a) at 2.00 pm on Tuesday 18 June;
(b) at 11.30 am and 2.00 pm on Thursday 20 June;
(c) at 8.55 am and 2.00 pm on Tuesday 25 June;
(d) at 11.30 am and 2.00 pm on Thursday 27 June;
(e) at 8.55 am and 2.00 pm on Tuesday 2 July;
(f) at 11.30 am and 2.00 pm on Thursday 4 July;
(g) at 8.55 am and 2.00 pm on Tuesday 9 July;
(h) at 11.30 am and 2.00 pm on Thursday 11 July.
(i) at 8.55 am and 2.00 pm on Tuesday 16 July.
(2) the Committee shall hear oral evidence in accordance with the following Table:
(3) proceedings on consideration of the Bill in Committee shall be taken in the following order: Clauses 1 to 10; Schedule 1; Clause 11; Schedule 2; Clauses 12 to 86; Schedule 3; Clauses 87 to 96; Schedule 4; Clauses 97 to 113; Schedule 5; Clauses 114 to 124; Schedule 6; Clauses 125 to 136; new Clauses; new Schedules; Clause 137; Schedule 7; Clauses 138 to 142; remaining proceedings on the Bill;
(4) the proceedings shall (so far as not previously concluded) be brought to a conclusion at 5.00 pm on Tuesday 16 July.
I am delighted to serve under your chairmanship, Sir Roger, and that of your co-Chair, Mr Dobbin. I share your pleasure in seeing Mr Dobbin at our deliberations this morning. My right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice and I look forward to a detailed discussion of the provisions of the Bill with my hon. Friends on the Government Benches and hon.
The programme motion provides us with more than adequate time to enable proper scrutiny of this important Bill. Judging from the speeches on Second Reading, we can anticipate lively discussions, particularly about antisocial behaviour and dangerous dogs, but other aspects of the Bill also warrant close scrutiny, including the provisions on firearms, forced marriage and policing. There is plenty for Committee members to get their teeth into, and we look forward to those deliberations.
Before we embark on clause by clause consideration of the Bill, the programme motion provides for two days of oral evidence from 19 individuals and organisations. I am afraid that I am hopelessly behind the times, Sir Roger, but this is the first time that I have been on a Committee where this procedure has been used, so I am looking forward to the experience. As well as having the opportunity to ask questions, the oral evidence sittings conclude with me having the opportunity on Thursday afternoon to answer some questions, along with my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice. All the witnesses will, I am sure, represent a range of views and will help inform the Committee’s consideration of the Bill. Without further ado, I invite the Committee to agree the motion.
Mr David Hanson (Delyn) (Lab): I too welcome you, Sir Roger, and your co-Chair, Mr Dobbin, to the Committee. We look forward to serving under you for the next few weeks. There is obviously a lot to discuss.
The official Opposition are content with the programme motion as discussed and also with the witnesses, as amended, before the Committee, and we are anxious to get on and hear from them today. With Opposition Members, I look forward to questioning witnesses over the next two days, and then returning in due course to a number of amendments we intend to propose on issues to do with antisocial behaviour, dangerous dogs, firearms, the Police Negotiating Board, the College of Policing, theft and shoplifting and a range of other matters that are before the Committee. There is much to discuss, and we do not wish to delay the Committee any further.
Examination of Witnesses
The Chair: Good morning, ladies and gentlemen. We are now going to hear oral evidence from the Police Superintendents Association of England and Wales and the Police Federation. Before I ask Mr Hanson to ask the first question, I remind all hon. Members that questions should be limited to matters within the scope of the Bill and not to general policing matters, as might be the temptation. I believe that several hon. Members wish to declare interests and place them on the record before we start, so I invite bids.
Stephen Phillips (Sleaford and North Hykeham) (Con): At some point, we will be hearing evidence from the Dogs Trust, so I inform the Committee that I have previously been instructed by the Dogs Trust, albeit some time ago.
Q 1 Mr Hanson: Good morning, gentlemen. I am interested in the clauses that relate to the review bodies for police remuneration, and I would like to get a general view from the Police Superintendents Association and the Police Federation on those issues. When the changes were announced, the Police Federation said that it was “extremely angry and disappointed” with the Home Secretary’s recommendation to abolish the Police Negotiating Board, and the Police Superintendents Association has argued that the board should be retained and reformed. Will you outline your view of the current models, and of the revised model proposed in the Bill?
Steve Williams: We are disappointed that the PNB is to go. We felt that it was the right and proper process to allow police officers, through the federation, to air their views and concerns about their pay, terms and conditions. Police officers are not employees, so any changes in employment law or new rights for employees do not automatically apply to them. We are concerned, under the new pay review body, about the things that will fall between the cracks, an example of which is paternity leave. At present, the staff side can table a claim at the PNB. In future, however, the matter would have to be remitted to the Home Secretary under a pay review body; we would have to wait for up to a year for the pay review body to report; we would have to wait for the Home Secretary’s decision on accepting the recommendations, or otherwise; and then we would have to wait for the Home Office to begin to draft regulations, which would require consultation. Any delay in the process would have an impact not only on police officers but on employees whose partners are police officers. Therefore, we have some real concerns about the pay review body that is coming into place.
Tim Jackson: We share many of the concerns of our colleagues in the federation. We have taken the view right from the outset that we consider the PNB process to be fit for purpose in terms of its principle, but we fully accept and acknowledge that it could be streamlined significantly in order to make it more slick and effective. We agree that it has dealt well with the unique position that police officers occupy in society, particularly in relation to our lack of employment rights, and that it has served the service and the public well in terms of delivering fair pay for police officers over the years since it was introduced in 1980.
In relation to the proposals for the police remuneration review body, we are concerned, as my colleague has mentioned, about the fact that quite a lot—probably the majority—of the work that the PNB has done over the past five years would not fit within the terms of reference for the new PRRB. We are concerned about where those matters would sit in the future, particularly as the College of Policing is very much at an embryonic stage, and consultation is yet to start on how some of the matters that currently sit in the PNB would fit within the college or be dealt with effectively by the Police Advisory Board.
We note that under its terms of reference, the PRRB must take into account Government fiscal policy and other matters in relation to the economy. We are, therefore, concerned about why the PRRB’s recommendations would not be binding on the Home Secretary, and we ask for consideration of that. If there is disagreement and the PRRB comes up with a recommendation that is not implemented, we have no means of objecting to it or taking it to any form of arbitration.
Q 2 Mr Hanson: Do you have any views on the membership of the new body? Under the proposals in the Bill, the chair will be appointed by the Prime Minister, and members will be appointed by the Home Secretary. As I understand the Bill, the current police representation from the staff side will not be present. Do you have any views on the membership?
Gavin Thomas: I would like to make two points on that, if I may. First, the recommendation being put forward needs the confidence of the men and women who are serving in the police service. If it does not have that confidence, as my colleague in the federation said, police officers do not have the right to remove their labour. Recommendations are coming through now on introducing redundancy in the police service. The first key point is that the proposal must have the confidence of those whose pay and conditions are going to be negotiated.
Secondly, comments have been made about the existing negotiation board being clumsy, and our suggested way forward was to review it and make it more streamlined. The second key point I want to make is that the negotiating board provided a voice for men and women in the police service. Under the PRRB, the perception at the moment is that that voice will not be there.
Q 3 Mr Hanson: Do you have any suggested amendments for members of the Committee to consider, given that you accept, as I think I do, that the current process needs streamlining but that the proposed process has a number of concerns from your side and potentially from ours as well?
Steve Williams: I agree with my colleague that it would be our intention to retain a much reduced PNB structure—a more streamlined structure that would be fit for purpose. We are still against the pay review body.
Q 4 Mr Hanson: Perhaps other Members will want to comment on this in due course. Do you have any view about the change that effectively stops a UK structure, allows Scotland to set its own terms and conditions, and brings Northern Ireland with England and Wales under the new proposed body? Does that raise any concerns about uniformity across the United Kingdom?
Steve Williams: I have no doubt that it will cause some difficulties. In our current work on the G8 summit, we have officers from Scotland, Northern Ireland, and England and Wales. Under the current arrangements, with what has happened in Scotland, there are different pay scales for officers who are doing exactly the same job, so it is not going to be without its difficulties. You are right.
Tim Jackson: At the moment, under the current structure, any constituent part of staff side can table matters for consideration in one of the four quarterly meetings with the PNB. Although the draft refers to the remit letter and to taking into consideration other representations that are made, we would welcome that being firmed up, so that any issues that various members of staff side would wish the PRRB to consider would, indeed, make it into the process. At the moment, there is no guarantee that that would take place, whereas we can, under the current arrangements, make sure that whatever we wish to be discussed, and which is appropriate to be discussed within the PNB, can be discussed.
Q 5 Mr Hanson: Despite the fact that the Home Secretary is setting up a new police negotiating body, clause 114 allows her to make changes to conditions of service for police officers without the advice of that new body. Do you have any views on that? If the new body is in place, what is the point of having a clause that allows the Home Secretary to override it without its having an opportunity to comment?
Tim Jackson: The wording is actually quite specific, in terms of a national emergency or correcting things that may have been errors. The PRRB operates on an annual basis, and, in some ways, I understand the desirability of a mechanism that allows things that are clearly wrong to be put right outside an annual process. I can see how it could work and be useful, but there are some dangers with that as well.
Q 6 Mr Hanson: I have a final question before I leave this issue. We spent many a happy hour on the Crime and Courts Act 2013 only a few weeks ago, and there was, and still is, an issue about the involvement of Northern Ireland in national Home Office-sponsored bodies such as the National Crime Agency. Yet, here, we are establishing Northern Ireland as part of the police negotiating process. Are you aware of any tensions over the fact that, before appointing the chair of a police negotiating body, the Prime Minister will, effectively, consult only Northern Ireland, when we had so many difficulties with the buy-in of the Northern Ireland Assembly to the National Crime Agency? I am genuinely interested to hear whether you have picked up any concern among members in Northern Ireland.
Q 7 Mr Hanson: My final final question relates to the powers of the College of Policing under the Bill to set out terms, conditions and training for police officers. Again, I am interested in whether you feel that police service representatives, such as yourselves, are engaged fully in governance issues relating to the College of Policing and the decision-making process it may bring forward under potential clauses.
Gavin Thomas: In short, my answer is yes. This is still going through an embryonic stage. I am involved, as the Police Superintendents Association representative, in the design of the college. That is approaching finality at the end of this month, with a view to reporting to the board in July in terms of a broad design for the college itself. In terms of the specific question around conditions etc., there are the three conditions in the Bill for the Home Secretary: if the college puts forward regulation that is unlawful, if there is an emergency and the catch-all, which is anything else the Home Secretary deems not to be right. Those are quite right, and we are quite comfortable with that proposal by the Government.
Steve Williams: Those views are mirrored by the Police Federation of England and Wales. We have been heavily involved from the word go with the process, and we continue to be heavily involved with it. So, yes, we are happy with that.
The Chair: Thank you very much. Before we move on, are there any other questions relating to the police board or related matters? No? In that case, we now move to antisocial behaviour. I note there are a number of questions.
Q 8 Richard Fuller (Bedford) (Con): Welcome, gentlemen. Parliament can pass all sorts of laws, but we rely on members of your association or federation to enforce some of those laws, and to enable our constituents to feel less at risk from antisocial behaviour. If I may, Sir Roger, I shall ask one general question and a specific supplementary. First, one of the objectives of the Bill is to streamline some of the powers that are already in place. What sort of impact do you think that will have on your members’ abilities to provide enforcement?
Gavin Thomas: I welcome, first of all, the proposal to simplify the plethora of orders we have at the moment from 19 to six. That builds on the initiative of the previous Government to bring antisocial behaviour to the fore with respect to legislation. The Bill is the next step in introducing reform to do with those orders.
To go back to your point about enabling police officers—I talk as a chief superintendent who has in the past been an area commander, dealing with some of those issues on the ground, so to speak—the key point I want to make is that in my view the problem can never be solved on the same level as it was actually created.
If you really want to solve antisocial behaviour, it takes a sustained, long-term, hard-line approach to actually getting into some of those, as the Government say, troubled families. It takes investment to turn some of those people around. There are elements of some of the proposals within the legislation that suggest that, in terms not only of enforcement but trying to steer some people back to being citizens. I think the overall ideal—I suggest we would all agree—is that antisocial behaviour should be made unusual in society, and it should be made unacceptable. That is something which is far more ethereal, which I suggest legislation cannot quite grip. It needs leadership, and an example within local communities of what is acceptable and what is not. I think this is a good step towards that.
Steve Williams: Yes, I concur with the views of my colleague. I welcome the streamlining effect that will be brought about, but you touched on the point of who will police it, with reduced numbers of police officers. We face the second leg of the comprehensive spending review and the cuts that may bring to the police service. Our to-do list in the police service—it is almost like that—is for ever growing. The difficulties are about who will fulfil the Bill when it comes in.
Gavin Thomas: If I may amplify that point, there are a number of factors within antisocial behaviour that, I would suggest, place the risk slightly higher, and they are when an individual is a repeat victim—when they have repeatedly experienced antisocial behaviour; when they live alone in the community; when they are ill or have a disability; and when they live in an area of social deprivation.
On the two middle points, the police service is dealing increasingly with what we would term social care issues. If I narrow that down to mental health, for instance, demand within the police service at the moment on mental health issues is about 15%, and it is increasing. The point I am trying to make is that this is not something the police service can do alone. There needs to be a cross-partnership approach.
Citizens, when they are asked about antisocial behaviour, quite naturally look at the police service as the organisation that will predominantly be the first responder. We are the first emergency service; but, as I said in my first point, there has to be a longer, sustained approach, rather than dealing with the end spectrum of the actual behaviour itself.
Q 9 Richard Fuller: Two parts of the Bill deal with the closure of premises associated with nuisance or disorder and with public spaces protection orders. I am particularly thinking about no-alcohol zones. From my experience in Bedford, you can put up a lot of signs saying “No Alcohol Zone,” but they are not as well enforced as many residents would wish them to be. Yesterday, Newham council lost a court case to close a betting shop that the council felt would be a centre for antisocial behaviour. Will the Bill do anything to assist those who wish to see the enforcement of no-alcohol zones? Will it assist local authorities such as Newham council that wish to see certain premises not licensed because of the implications for antisocial behaviour?
Gavin Thomas: I think it will. The conclusion of the report of Her Majesty’s inspectorate of constabulary, “Anti-social Behaviour: Stop the rot” makes the very good point that to enforce something you need feet on the ground. In other words, you need police officers and you need that presence within communities. As my colleague from the federation said, the service, rightly, is currently going through change and restructuring to contribute towards reducing the deficit within the economy, but we are now coming to the point where there are pinch points within certain constabularies as to whether we have longer-term sustainable law enforcement or revert to a more reactive style of policing, which I think would be a very severe mistake.
Q 10 Gloria De Piero (Ashfield) (Lab): Breach of an antisocial behaviour order was a crime pursued by the Crown Prosecution Service. Breach of the new injunction would be contempt of court, so it would be pursued by you or one of the other agencies. One chief inspector told me that his legal services team thought that the cost could be in the region of between £800 and £1,500 per case. Do you agree with that estimate?
Gavin Thomas: I cannot comment on that exact figure in terms of cost, but on the overall point you are making, yes, there is a cost because we have to have people to pull together the case, take it to court and enforce it, so there is a cost. On what the actual cost is, I cannot assist you.
Q 11 Gloria De Piero: Might you see an occasion when, because of resource constraints, you take the decision that you cannot afford to pursue the breach of an injunction to prevent nuisance and disorder—an IPNA? Might there be an occasion when that decision had to be taken because of resource and time constraints?
Gavin Thomas: I talk as an area commander. If we were having this conversation three or four years ago, I would suggest that antisocial behaviour was perhaps not as high on the agenda within policing as it should have been, partly because, let us be frank, policing was assessed on crime reduction—cutting crime and catching criminals. There is now acceptance among my colleagues that antisocial behaviour has as prominent a place in terms of priority at local level. If you look at some of the policing plans that commissioners have introduced across the country, antisocial behaviour is referred to in some form or another somewhere in most of those plans. My view is that if the measure came across my desk, it would still have the same priority.
Q 12 Gloria De Piero: When the ASBO was first introduced, it took quite a while to get off the ground. I think there were about 100 ASBOs in the first year of operation. How long does it take to get to grips with a new power? Given that about 1,500 ASBOs, perhaps slightly more, are issued annually, might we expect to see a reduction in the use of a new power until it gets off the ground?
Gavin Thomas: This is conjecture on my part, but your point is a good one. I think you may well find a dip, so to speak, in terms of officers having to get a grip on the new legislation and what is actually required. If
Gavin Thomas: There is evidence to support the idea that when someone contacts the police, if there is a process within the police for identifying that they are a repeat caller or a repeat victim, or if the area has experienced repeat antisocial behaviour, the initial response on the phone has a key impact on that individual’s confidence in the service that they will get from the police.
That requires two things, in my view. First, the individual on the police end of the phone must be properly briefed and aware of what to say and how to recognise that. Secondly, investment must be made in technology that can bring up the number and the caller’s address and help the person taking the call to assess which factors need to be raised in terms of risk: whether the caller is in an area of repeated antisocial behaviour or their address has been subject to antisocial behaviour. I suggest that the latter point about technology is not uniform across the service at the moment, as was picked up in one of the previous HMIC reports.
Q 15 Paul Maynard (Blackpool North and Cleveleys) (Con): Mr Thomas, you have referred to the fact that antisocial behaviour has increasing salience in both public and political debate. Over the past 15 years, we have seen a gradual increase in the number of regulations seeking to tackle antisocial behaviour. Has the accretive, accumulative process of legislation aided the implementation of the regulations or impeded them?
Gavin Thomas: There are a couple of things to say about that. I will answer in terms of the partnership approach to the issue. I think that in the past, standards have been variable. There are very good examples across the country of partnership-led approaches to systemic issues within communities suffering from antisocial behaviour, but it is not uniform across the country. I think that in some parts there has been more focus on working together than on working for the public, the individual victim or the community. I think that there has been more discussion about strategy than about delivering on the ground within communities.
To answer your question, sometimes the delivery of intervention, in terms of using legislation, has taken too long. That is a key signal for communities, in terms of seeing behaviour taking place on a street or within a
Q 16 Paul Maynard: There is a persistent perception among my constituents in central Blackpool that low-level antisocial behaviour continues to go ignored. It is the bane of their lives in many ways. As you may have just hinted, do you feel that the existing suite of tools at your disposal has been adequate for tackling that persistent, low-level type of antisocial behaviour rather than sudden eruptions of more visible antisocial behaviour?
Gavin Thomas: You are almost in a cycle of legislating for the next series of behaviours within society. What I mean by that is: are we going to legislate for more behaviour that we probably cannot even recognise at the moment and is taking place on the internet? It is a recognised fact that cyber-bullying of pupils at school is taking place on the internet. That is a growing phenomenon, and it was not even on the radar when the first legislation was introduced in this country. Already, we are seeing new behaviours that will predominate in communities.
My point is that some of these things—nuisance, loud noise or litter, which blight people’s lives and are there all the time—have a cumulative effect on how people feel about the place they are living in. Legislation has a part, but I emphasise that it needs true partnership. We have to recognise that it cannot be just process-led or structure-led; we need to understand the area to which we are delivering services, and if there are graffiti and litter or repeated calls about loud noise, we need to see that something is actually done about it.
Tim Jackson: We mentioned earlier that dealing with antisocial behaviour is an issue that is wider than the police can deal with alone. It is very much a multi-agency approach. One of the challenges is encouraging other agencies to contribute as effectively as they can to aspects of the work that they may not see as their main priorities. When you have strong crime and disorder reduction partnerships, that problem tends to be less apparent. Where partnerships are not quite as effective, there are limits to how you can encourage other agencies to play their part effectively.
Steve Williams: I do not think that the legislation has hindered our ability to deal with antisocial behaviour. I think sheer officer numbers is one of the issues in dealing as effectively as we would like with the problem, as are the budget restraints that we are facing within the service and the demands that are being placed on the police service. It is about those difficulties, rather than the legislation; it is having a sufficient number of police officers to deal effectively and properly with the problem.
Q 17 Paul Maynard: During the pre-legislative scrutiny of the Bill by the Home Affairs Committee, the hon. Member for Houghton and Sunderland South gave a good example of the impact of cumulative low-level antisocial behaviour. Can you comment on whether the lower threshold that will be introduced for antisocial behaviour will assist in tackling that? Can you reflect on some of the risks attached to it, in terms of the increasing criminalisation of what has hitherto been legal activity? How will the threshold work in practice, and what are the dangers associated with it, in your view?
Gavin Thomas: That goes back to my earlier point. I understand perfectly the rationale for reducing the threshold, to capture the point in your first question about behaviour that was perhaps not being picked up previously. The accumulative effect of that and perhaps some other elements of legislation on a service that is being cut, in reality, will have an impact. Membership of my association has fallen by 20%. We need to be realistic here in terms of what we are aspiring to achieve with the legislation and introduce in communities, and the reality of delivering it.
Q 18 Paul Maynard: We are all familiar with the case of Fiona Pilkington, who sadly took her own life and that of her daughter because the low-level antisocial behaviour to which they were subjected reached a peak. To what extent do you think the multi-agency working and the community trigger that you have been talking of will lead to greater flexibility to anticipate newly emerging forms of antisocial behaviour? To what extent do you think they will enlarge the toolkit available to the police to tackle effectively a problem that they recognise they have failed to tackle in the past?
Gavin Thomas: There are two points on that proposal in the legislation. First, I do not have a problem with the proposal at all; in fact, I think it is a good signal because people will feel empowered, when they feel that nothing is being done, to come forward and put that community trigger together. My second point would be—again, going back to my experience as an area commander—that it would be disappointing, and I choose that word carefully, if I or my teams had not recognised or picked up on the fact that there was a systemic issue within one of the communities I was policing. It would be a failure if the community felt it had to install that trigger for me or my teams to deal with the problem. However, I do not have a problem in terms of that being part of the legislation. It is a good signal in terms of empowering people within communities: when they feel that nothing is being done, they can come forward and instil some action to remedy their experience.
Q 19 Simon Danczuk (Rochdale) (Lab): Antisocial behaviour causes real misery in people’s lives, and a lot of my casework deals with antisocial behaviour. There has been talk so far from all three of you about feet on the ground. We are trying to come up with a solution in terms of addressing antisocial behaviour. Mr Williams, if you had to prioritise and choose between feet on the ground—the importance of officers on the ground—or an overhaul of ASBOs, which would you choose as a solution?
Q 21 Simon Danczuk: Mr Thomas, on the community trigger, my understanding is that in the pilot that has been conducted, there were more than 44,000 reports of antisocial behaviour, yet the community trigger was activated only 13 times. Do you think the trigger is proving successful?
Gavin Thomas: That goes back to my second point earlier. I see this as very different from how it has been put—an extremis. I would turn it around and say that actually it is a success: the fact that the antisocial behaviour issues—[ Interruption. ] Sorry, I had a small jug malfunction then.
Gavin Thomas: Well, no, the fact that those behaviours have been picked up before the community felt it had to install the trigger. I am sure that people might have a different view, but that is my interpretation.
The Chair: If I can interrupt just for one moment: although Mr Danczuk has chosen to put his questions individually to members of the panel, it is open to anybody else to respond as well, if you wish to do so.
Q 22 Simon Danczuk: Thank you, Sir Roger. Does the panel have any concern that the Bill does not guarantee a response from the police or a local authority in terms of the community trigger, but simply guarantees a review? Do you think residents will be happy with that?
Q 23 Bridget Phillipson (Houghton and Sunderland South) (Lab): Do you think there is a risk that the community trigger could have the reverse effect—that if you have the threshold, you will wait to see whether you have overreached that threshold, rather than taking action immediately when an incident is reported?
Q 24 Bridget Phillipson: I expect that cases will be dealt with as and when they are reported, but could it lead to a feeling of waiting a bit longer to see how serious it becomes, rather than working with agencies more quickly and more effectively?
Gavin Thomas: It could, but I would again go back to the point I made earlier: antisocial behaviour is a priority, in terms of its prominence in delivering local policing. Professionally, just waiting in my glorified office for the community to come and say, “It has now reached a
Q 25 Bridget Phillipson: What local police officers tell me is that one incident is one too many, and they want to deal with the first incident when it arises. Do you think the powers set out here will make it easier to deal with such incidents immediately?
Gavin Thomas: That goes back to the point made by my colleague from the federation. You need police officers available to intervene and to start to work on that problem. At the moment some constabularies are at the tipping point, depending on what the future holds, as to whether they can continue to invest in that level of policing, or whether they have to go back to a more basic level.
Steve Williams: It is about priorities and cutting your cloth to suit. You are absolutely right: there are those pinch points now across the country. People are having to prioritise what is policed and what is not.
Gavin Thomas: Can I give an example? We are an emergency service at core, so if somebody phones up for help in an emergency, there is a realistic expectation that we will get a service quickly to them. Harm is being done to them or their property now. If I have finite resources, that will be prioritised against anything else. I have to deliver that emergency service to those people who are in critical need. It would be a significant mistake if the police service moved towards that, which is where we were decades ago, rather than starting to deal, with partners, with those systemic issues that we have been discussing today around antisocial behaviour.
Q 26 Bridget Phillipson: On the issue of partnership working, all the major public services are facing pressure on budgets. Given the pressures that all those agencies are facing, whether it is the council, health authorities or the police, do you think that partnership working is likely to improve? Or do you think that the financial restraint and problems that public services are facing might lead to a reduction in the good partnership working that has developed in the area of antisocial behaviour?
Gavin Thomas: I ran through my assessment of how I felt some partnerships were acting, in terms of taking time and having more of an introspective, rather than an outer, perspective around the victim and people. There is an opportunity here for police and crime commissioners to engage with their local authorities, have those conversations and those relationships with key people in communities, start pushing some buttons and getting people to start talking and acting. There is still the ability to do this. It is not necessarily purely down to resources and funding. Having said that, the other point I was going to make around partnerships is that with these initiatives that are put forward to deal with antisocial behaviour, you need an idea of what your cost is, in terms of the money you are putting into it and the effect it has.
Q 27 Sarah Champion (Rotherham) (Lab): This is a broad question. Could each of you say which parts of the Bill you welcome, because it will make you do your jobs more effectively, and which bits you are looking at with horror?
Tim Jackson: The entire Bill? I do not know whether members of the Committee were going to touch on this aspect, but one of the areas that I am particularly interested in is the additional powers for the Independent Police Complaints Commission. The Bill contains some proposals that we broadly welcome. My association is very supportive of the IPCC being effectively resourced to be able to do its job properly. We certainly are supportive of the proposal that private contractors can come within the scope of IPCC investigations. However, in terms of independent investigations, we would want to consider whether the same powers should be given to police officers, in relation to those who are supervised or managed, to investigate private contractors. It seems rather odd that only the IPCC can investigate private contractors, but we broadly welcome that proposal.
We also welcome the proposal to provide a statutory framework requiring a response to Independent Police Complaints Commission recommendations, but suggest that it should have the power to apply its recommendations to all public bodies, because we as the police service do not work in isolation.
We also welcome the proposal for the power to direct unsatisfactory performance procedures. That was an oversight in previous regulations, which this proposal now seeks to correct. We do have some concerns. Initially, the proposal to allow the IPCC to obtain third-party data was something that we were not sighted on, in the evidence as to why that was required. Having had a subsequent meeting with the IPCC, it is now apparent to us that there are circumstances in which it is entirely appropriate for the IPCC, in non-criminal investigations, to access the data that will be helpful to its investigations, and it is entirely pragmatic and sensible to do so. However, we do think that it is intrusive, and that therefore there should be proper measures in place around justification, necessity and proportionality. Again, the same availability of those powers should also apply to the police service when dealing with those investigations.
I am saving the one proposal that I am most concerned about till last, which is the extension of powers under the Police and Criminal Evidence Act 1984. Despite our best efforts, we have yet to come up with any justification for the extension of those powers. PACE is primarily about protecting the rights of people who are detained in custody. The IPCC uses police custody suites on those occasions—thankfully it is only on a few occasions—when it is necessary to arrest police officers. Most interviews take place outside custody centres. It seems rather odd to us that there is a requirement to extend the codes of practice to give certain authorisations to the IPCC.
One of the key things around PACE in relation to the exercise of those powers when they are carried out by police officers is that the person making the decision is independent in the investigation, which is critical. Quite often, the level of authority is at superintendent level. What we are concerned about is how the IPCC would have that degree of independence in making its own decisions, and also the levels at which that authorisation is made. It is not apparent to me how the grades of senior investigator and deputy senior investigator relate to the ranks within the police service. They do not sound quite the same to me, and if such powers are to be put in place, they should be at a level that is consistent with those levels of authority in the police, but to go
The Chair: Ms Champion slightly pre-empted a route that I had intended to go down, which was to try to find the time to invite all three of you to make a final statement and put anything on the record that has not been covered. What often happens at the start of sittings such as this is that the Committee takes a time to get to know each other and get warmed up. Mr Rutley and Mr Barclay have both indicated that they would like to put brief questions to you. I propose to take those two and then allow Mr Thomas and Mr Williams to place any brief comments on the record, if we have time. If that takes us past 10 o’clock, so be it.
Q 28 David Rutley (Macclesfield) (Con): We talked earlier about the community triggers, and antisocial behaviour is certainly a big issue across Cheshire, where Mr Mosley and I represent constituencies. I am keen to look at restorative justice and, in particular, the community remedy side of the equation. I wonder what each of you feels are the advantages to introducing community remedy, and how do you believe your members would seek to enforce and use it?
Gavin Thomas: From my experience, a level of training is required, on behalf of the officers, to bring community resolution in. Having said that, and going back to my earlier point, the benefits are that it cuts down the time between the behaviour being identified and a resolution that is visible, not only to the victim of that antisocial behaviour, but to the community as a whole.
My third point is that there is an element here around unnecessarily criminalising some members of our community, who may well have just made a mistake. I can give you an example from my command some years ago. Two young boys got into a golf club, got hold of a buggy and had a joyride round the golf club. They caused a bit of damage and got caught. There had been no previous notice to the police or anybody else. It was dealt with very quickly, with the two boys and their parents writing letters of apology to the golf club and spending two very long weekends repairing the damage and painting the golf club. They were not criminalised; they were not put into the system. It demonstrated to them and their friends in the local community that that behaviour was not acceptable, and the golf club had restitution.
Gavin Thomas: I do not know the answer to that question exactly. All I can say to you is that, from my experience, there have been reductions in staff working in professional standards departments. In a previous role, I was head of professional standards for my constabulary. Professional standards, per se, dealt with the day to day issues, but more serious issues—say, corruption—were investigated by detective officers. Professional standards do not, per se, investigate everything from lower-scale complaints right up to large-scale corruption.
Q 30 Stephen Barclay: We are going on to a session with the IPCC, where the intention is to transfer staff from professional standards. I was struck by the Home Affairs Committee report, which suggested that in a four-year period there were 8,500 allegations of corruption, but only 13 were found guilty, yet 200 officers a year—800 in that period—resigned in the midst of their disciplinary panels. In addition, more than 30,000 complaints came in, yet just 130 were picked up by the IPCC. The key issue is going to be the transfer of staff from professional standards, but you cannot tell us how many have been transferred?
Gavin Thomas: No, I cannot tell you how many, but the point I am making is that the skill sets within most professional standards departments are not the skill sets that would be investigating those higher levels of corruption.
Gavin Thomas: No, the referral would be made through the professional standards department, and an assessment would be made in terms of the case itself. Generally speaking, professional standards departments are made up of two parts. That department deals with—I will not say run of the mill—the complaint cases that come into constabularies. Then there is a very small internal investigations unit, which is mainly intelligence-led, and deals with higher-level corruption cases. From my experience, when there is a case to investigate there would be engagement with my IPCC around that, and an investigation would be marshalled using specialist officers from outside professional standards departments.
Stephen Barclay: With respect, Mr Thomas, that is not what the figures suggest. I thought in your evidence a moment ago you said that professional standards departments do not have the skill sets to investigate corruption.
Gavin Thomas: With respect, I did not say that either. What I said to you is that the higher levels of corruption within policing, in my experience, are investigated by officers outside professional standards departments. The experience is that these sometimes take some time to investigate. They require high levels of skill sets that some professional standards departments do not have.
Professional standards departments are set up for complaints, which come in daily. When you are talking about a long-term, systemic corruption investigation, or a high-level corruption investigation, you have to bring in resources to help to do that. In terms of the figures you have, that may not reflect the true figure for officers that are actually allocated from other departments or other units within the constabulary to investigate it.
Gavin Thomas: With respect, it is all dependent on the requirements of the IPCC. The proposal being put forward by Government is for a professional standards department. You asked me the question in terms of corruption and I am giving you my answer in terms of my experience. In my experience, when I have had to investigate a high level of corruption, I referred to units outside professional standards departments who were brought in for a period of time to investigate that particular matter.
Q 32 The Chair: Order. We have now reached the end of the time allocated for questions. I am prepared to use my powers to extend that time, but I have already indicated that I intended to give Mr Williams and Mr Thomas the opportunity to make a very brief final statement, because it is important that we make sure that they have covered the ground that they wish to cover as well as the ground that hon. Members on the Committee wish to cover.
Steve Williams: I do not know whether Mr Jackson has had sight of my brief in relation to the IPCC issues, but, for the federation, I fully agree with the comments he made in respect of that. If there is anything that has not been covered today, the Police Federation of England and Wales is more than happy to provide any written report that you may require when going forward with the Bill. Please, just let us know.
Gavin Thomas: The part of the Bill that I really welcome is on the College of Policing, which is a real opportunity for the police service in England and Wales. There is potential to create iconic status not only within the country, but also worldwide. My plea is could we please start working quickly towards royal charter status?
Tim Jackson: Sir Roger, I wonder if you would indulge me for two sentences. One of the things I forgot to say when talking about the IPCC—one of the areas that is a current omission—is the fact that there is no method of making a complaint against the IPCC. If the powers are to be extended to be intrusive and coercive—additional PACE and things like that—there really needs to be a method whereby people who are dissatisfied can make a complaint that does not involve going to a judicial review.
The Chair: Thank you, Mr Jackson; you got your retaliation in last. That brings us to the end of the time we have available. On behalf of the Committee, I thank both the Police Superintendents Association and the Police Federation for your time. We know that you are busy people and we are indebted to you. That was very helpful indeed.