Previous Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page

While it is understandable, in the political debate that has ensued upon this discovery, that people’s focus is on public safety, would the Minister also agree that it is important to have the perspective that some of the information that has not been properly processed might be about mitigating circumstances? Might it be about rehabilitative activities that have been taking place in relation to particular offenders, or about offences that in this country might be regarded as spent? Therefore, serious as this issue is, it is not only to be dealt with as some kind of new and unforeseeable crisis facing the public and putting the public in danger. Without any wish to be complacent, does she agree that this general problem of the processing of data is one in which good and bad information gets lost from time to time?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords. the right reverend Prelate makes a number of important points. To re-emphasise what he says, in the recent past we have got a great deal better at collating information. Before 2002 and the creation of the Criminal Records Bureau, there was not one entity that collated all this information. This Government have made major advances in order to clarify, control and share data. I hope that many in the House would applaud this, because it has reinforced and enhanced the safety given to individuals in this country, as opposed to diminishing it.

Further, in relation to the steps we have taken on the background, I make it clear that many of the offences to which the backlog refers are not serious.

10 Jan 2007 : Column 260

For example, there is a body of road traffic offences included therein. In accepting entirely that for the 540 there are serious issues which we need to pursue, I agree with the right reverend Prelate that a degree of balance and proportion would perhaps be merited.

Baroness Ludford: My Lords, can the Minister tell us a little more about the EU developments? As she says, the system that came into force in May 2006 was better. That was because it ceased to be voluntary—it was an EU decision, which is binding in law. It seems a little curious that, as my noble friend Lord Carlile said, ACPO rather than the CRB was made the designated agency. Does she accept, however, that the system could be even better, because there has been a European Commission proposal on the table for the past year? That would open the prospect of a computerised database, so that information on convictions in the EU at least could be exchanged with much greater reliability and effectiveness, as well as much greater data protection safeguards. What energy have the UK Government put into getting that agreed among EU Governments, given that British Home Secretaries have only attended one-third of JHA councils recently? Since this measure is blocked in Brussels, however, because it is subject to the veto, do the Government look wistfully at the Schengen countries and the seven core countries in the so-called Treaty of Prum, which have much more intensive co-operation and therefore much less chance of convictions slipping through the net? Will the Government make their decisions on Schengen and Prum?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, during our presidency and at other times—the noble Baroness will know this well—we have worked very hard to persuade our colleagues in Europe to take a more progressive role in the exchange of data—particularly in relation to criminal and other particularly sensitive and difficult issues. We are having some success in that regard. I also remind her that although the Secretary of State is not always able to make these meetings, we have the benefit of Ministers of State and Parliamentary Under-Secretaries, who have been very assiduous in their attendance at Justice and Home Affairs meetings. I think that our Europe colleagues feel our bite very clearly indeed when we attend. I assure her that the United Kingdom will continue to try to get these issues very much on the table. As to Schengen, I think I have answered that question for the noble Baroness on a number of occasions; I just say that I repeat what I have said on so many previous occasions.

Lord Crickhowell: My Lords, the Home Secretary indicated that most of these notifications arise for the period since the mid-1990s. Is that right? Bearing in mind that most organisations in government destroy paper and files after a number of years, can the Minister tell me whether any of the records have been destroyed in that way, or do we have a complete record going back to when the notifications began?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I am not able to help the noble Lord with that matter until, of course, we have a clearer view of the number of cases.

10 Jan 2007 : Column 261

He will remember from his Administration that there used to be no record system. We introduced a record system that enables us to identify information, but when we took over government, that process was not in place. We are therefore often unable to verify exactly what the system was before 1997. Obviously, we will do our very best to ascertain precisely the genesis of this issue, and how many cases came from before.

Viscount Bledisloe: My Lords, while I admire—I think that the whole House admires—the spirited loyalty with which the noble Baroness defended her department, I find it somewhat difficult to accept her theme. First, is it the normal requirement that a foreign policeman or foreign court, charging somebody for a serious offence, takes down the number of that person’s passport, or of some other identification document? Secondly, if so, is the problem that they do not give us that information in answer to our request, or that they do not have it at all. If so, what are we doing to cause them to take it? Thirdly, if, as I suspect, part of the problem is that they do not really bother to answer our questions, would it not be a good idea if some member of the department travelled to these countries and visited the offices where these records are kept, and asked to see them, rather than merely sending a fruitless series of unanswered telecommunications?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, we would then probably have our officials constantly on aeroplanes and very rarely at home. There is, however, a real need to get some conformity as to the nature of information that we are entitled to receive from each other. The truth is that many countries have totally different systems on how they collate information, what information they transfer, and the form in which they transfer it.

We hope that our work with our EU partners to introduce a central authority and set out clear protocols will greatly enhance our ability to get accurate information. As far as I am aware, not all countries take down passport details or other verifications. Many would say that if we had a proper ID card, many of these issues would be far simpler than they are now.

Baroness Shephard of Northwold: My Lords, the noble Baroness’s commitment and diligence are certainly not in doubt in this House, but can she not agree that, viewed from the outside by the ordinary person, the Home Office seems a disaster-prone area? That is even more significant to everyone because of the very sensitive and important things the department deals with. Can the noble Baroness guarantee that at the end of this investigation someone will be held accountable—a person not a system?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I know of the noble Baroness’s fairness and that she would want only those who are responsible to be held as such. To

10 Jan 2007 : Column 262

be open and fair, we must first scrutinise properly what happened, how it happened and whether any individual could or should be held responsible for it. We must bear in mind particularly how the system operated in the past, when it was ad hoc, when all legal assistance was on a voluntary basis and there was no basis on which we could compel people to send us information in a prescribed form. As I understand it—I must emphasise that this is as I understand it—we have a broad spectrum of information, some of it not translated, some handwritten and some typed. It is very difficult at this stage to see whether this is a part of history or something for which one or more individuals were properly to blame. That is one of the things that the review and the Permanent Secretary at the Home Office will have to look at.

Lord Lloyd of Berwick: My Lords, further to the question of the noble Lord, Lord Crickhowell, can the noble Baroness give the House some idea of when notification was made of the 540 most serious offences and what happened to those notifications under the old system?

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I cannot assist the noble and learned Lord with when those offences were notified. When the backlog of 27,500 was transferred, ACPO did a sort of triage, looking through the documents and identifying those which tended to indicate a serious offence. As I indicated, there are less serious offences, such as road traffic offences and others of a relatively minor nature. ACPO identified that 540 cases fell into the category of those that it considered serious. It then went through them to see whether it had enough information to positively identify the individual. It recognised that many of the cases on which there was specific information had already been notified through Interpol and were already on the system. It was able to check those off and then to look at those that had not been put on the system by Interpol but which should have been on it. As we understand it, since ACPO took over in May last year, all the cases that can accurately be identified have been put on the system. It is now looking at those other cases, going back to other countries and inquiring whether it can get accurate data to correctly identify information before putting it on the PNC.

Noble Lords will know that there would be nothing worse than to have people put on the PNC with inaccurate, fallacious information. That would not inure to the advantage of the system or to the protection of people, and it could be quite dangerous. We are trying hard to prevent such a situation. I can assure the House that as soon as further information is available, as my right honourable friend the Home Secretary has indicated, we will of course seek to make it clear.

Lord Marlesford: My Lords, does the Minister appreciate that the more she praises the Home Office and says what an excellent department it is, the more we will be inclined, perhaps in both Houses of

10 Jan 2007 : Column 263

Parliament, when the Home Office suggests that proposals for legislation are bad, that this view comes not from its accumulated wisdom but from its in-built arrogance? The noble Baroness will know that I have tabled quite a lot of Questions for Written Answer over the past few years on the Home Office’s performance. Some of them are extremely relevant to this question, so perhaps she will very kindly look at them. For example, it appears that the records of prisoners, unless they have been sentenced for life or specially selected, are kept for only six years. The number given to a prisoner on being sent to prison applies only on that occasion; the next time that individual is imprisoned they get a new number. The Passport Office is never told about the committal of someone to prison, and as far as I know—perhaps the noble Baroness will tell us—British diplomatic missions overseas do not routinely report to the Foreign Office and thence to the Home Office the passport numbers of British citizens who have been arrested.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I hope that the House will not misinterpret anything I have said in relation to the Home Office as arrogance. I was responding to an unjust assertion that the Home Office is incompetent and a miserable department.

Lord Crickhowell: It is not fit for purpose, my Lords.

Baroness Scotland of Asthal: My Lords, I hear the muttering of “not fit for purpose”; I do not agree. I accept absolutely that there are areas where there have been serious flaws and inadequacies that need to be addressed with vigour. But the fact that one has a flaw does not mean that one is not worthy of respect and acknowledgement of the other aspects of one’s character—even in the case of a department—that are worthy of applause. I hesitate to say it, but those of us without sin perhaps find it easier to throw stones.

Mental Health Bill [HL]

6.17 pm

House again in Committee.

Baroness Wilkins moved Amendment No. 7:

10 Jan 2007 : Column 264

(a) a nominated supporter or an independent advocate, or (b) a communication support worker (or both), in order to express and define their needs and accordingly it shall be the duty of the responsible authorities to make arrangements for such assistance. (a) provide him with services which provide support and treatment, or (b) secure the provision of such services for him. (a) minimise the effect of the mental disorder on such persons; (b) promote the dignity, well-being and social development of such persons; (c) accord them respect for their individual qualities, abilities and diverse cultural and religious backgrounds; and (d) increase the extent to which such persons are able to enjoy the same choice, freedom, dignity, control and substantive opportunities to participate fully in work, family life, education, public, community and cultural life as persons who do not have or have not had a mental disorder. (a) talking therapies; (b) assistance with personal care routines and daily living; (c) practical and emotional support in a crisis; (d) residential accommodation with appropriate levels of support; (e) social, cultural and recreational activities; (f) support, including advocacy, which enables participation in mainstream services and activities; (g) training and assistance in obtaining and in undertaking employment; (h) assistance in welfare rights and managing finances; (i) such facilities for, or assistance in, travelling as the relevant authorities may consider necessary to enable those persons to attend or participate in any services provided or arranged under this section. (a) the council of a county; (b) the council of a district for which there is no county council; (c) the council of a London borough; (d) the Common Council of the City of London;

10 Jan 2007 : Column 265

(e) the Council of the Isles of Scilly. (a) in relation to England, a Strategic Health Authority, a Special Health Authority, an NHS trust, an NHS foundation trust, a Primary Care Trust (including a Care Trust established under section 16A of the National Health Service Act 1977); (b) in relation to Wales, a local Health Board or an NHS trust. (a) in relation to England, the Secretary of State; (b) in relation to Wales, the Welsh Ministers.””

The noble Baroness said: The amendment addresses the need for reciprocity, which was argued for so cogently in our previous debates on principles. It is supported by the Disability Rights Commission and the Mental Health Alliance. It will implement the recommendations of the Joint Committee on the draft Mental Health Bill that public services should assess and seek to meet the needs of people with mental health problems. Its aim is to ensure that people get help before they reach crisis point, and to eliminate the inequality that people with mental health problems in England and Wales face by comparison to mental health service users in Scotland, as has been so powerfully exposed today.

The Scottish reform of mental health law recognised that rights to assessment and support were a vital component of a modern mental health service. Surely today our mental health service should be designed to support mental well-being and be geared towards prevention rather than focusing on arrangements for the use of compulsory powers, which should be a matter of last resort. Currently, people with mental health problems have no right to assessment or support for their mental health needs. This amendment would give them the right to a comprehensive assessment. Carrying out such an assessment would be a joint responsibility of the NHS and social services, mirroring existing good practice under the care programme approach. Advocacy and communication support should be provided as appropriate and clients are to be supported to define their own needs as far as possible.

People with a mental disorder would then have the right to receive services to meet those assessed needs. A joint duty is again placed on the NHS and social services to determine whether the person’s needs called for the provision of services by them or other agencies, such as the voluntary sector. It would then be their duty to make the necessary arrangements. In this way, the core standards and guidance set out in

10 Jan 2007 : Column 266

the National Service Framework for Mental Health would be supported for the first time by clear statutory entitlements.

Services are to be provided not merely with a view to improving the person’s mental health but also to promote their social development, dignity and well-being and to increase the extent to which they are able to enjoy the same dignity, choice and control as people without mental health problems. Support provided would also be geared towards increasing real opportunities for people to participate fully in work, family life, education and community and cultural life. In arranging support, the authorities must give full respect to the person’s choices, aspirations and their cultural and/or religious beliefs. This would force gaps in the services to be addressed and ensure that people receive the help that they want when they ask for it. Moreover, it would prevent needless expenditure and high personal, social and economic costs further down the line.

The case for such provisions is compelling. It is a case not just founded on the principles of social justice, equality and human rights but also rooted in practical knowledge of what kinds of approaches work best, deliver better outcomes and deliver greater economic efficiency over the long term.

First, there is the argument for justice, equality and human rights. If you have a law under which a person can be deprived of their liberty, separated from family and friends, detained against their will and otherwise subject to compulsion on grounds of their mental disorder, that must be counterbalanced by rights for such a person to receive support and treatment that would prevent the need for such action arising. That principle—the principle of reciprocity—was strongly articulated and endorsed by both the expert committee and the Joint Committee. It speaks to the very basic values of fairness and decency which we as a country claim to uphold.

Further, current law and provision has been demonstrated to produce gross racial inequalities, as we heard so eloquently argued by the noble Lord, Lord Adebowale. People from black African and Caribbean communities are more likely to be diagnosed with psychotic conditions and treated using medication of a higher dosage and are 44 per cent more likely to be detained under the Mental Health Act compared to other patients. My amendment would help address that by decisively breaking the circle of fear that prevents people from black and minority ethnic communities seeking the help and support they need, when they most need it.

Next Section Back to Table of Contents Lords Hansard Home Page