Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill Debate

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Department: Home Office
Motion C
Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar
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Moved by

That this House do not insist on its Amendment 71, to which the Commons have disagreed for their Reason 71A.

71A: Because police officers are already subject to a duty to cooperate during investigations, inquiries and formal proceedings and it would be premature to add to such provision pending further consideration by the Government.
Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Ministry of Justice (Lord Wolfson of Tredegar) (Con)
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My Lords, I will also speak to Motionexpand-col4 K on secure schools, which is in this group.

The House will recall that Amendment 71 would introduce a duty of candour for the police workforce. The other place has now considered this amendment and rejected the proposed duty, without, I might add, putting the amendment to a vote.

The Government take police integrity and accountability extremely seriously. As has been outlined to the House previously, in February 2020 we introduced a statutory duty of co-operation for serving police officers as part of wider integrity reforms. This duty forms part of the standards of professional behaviour set out in Schedule 2 to the Police (Conduct) Regulations 2020, and therefore has the force of law.

For the benefit of the House, I will reiterate the extent and focus of this duty. It says:

“Police officers have a responsibility to give appropriate cooperation during investigations, inquiries and formal proceedings, participating openly and professionally in line with the expectations of a police officer when identified as a witness”.

A failure to co-operate is a breach of the statutory standards of professional behaviour by which all officers must abide, and could therefore result in disciplinary sanction. I therefore suggest again to the House that this duty to co-operate puts a greater onus on officers than the duty of candour provided for in Amendment 71, because a breach of this duty could ultimately lead to dismissal. We are reluctant to dilute the existing measures in place to compel individual officers to co-operate.

This duty to co-operate was introduced in 2020, after the issues highlighted in the Bishop James Jones report concerning the bereaved Hillsborough families’ experiences, and the issues relating to the work of the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel. We are keen that this duty becomes rooted within the police workforce before considering any further changes to legislation. The recently commenced inquiry, chaired by the right honourable Dame Elish Angiolini QC, will provide a proper test for this duty. Noble Lords will also be aware that a response to the Daniel Morgan Independent Panel and the Bishop James Jones report concerning the bereaved Hillsborough families’ experiences will provide a government view on a wider duty of candour for all public bodies. Before the Government respond to these reports, it is of course imperative that the Hillsborough families are given the opportunity to share their views.

We will continue to assess the impact of the existing duty on police co-operation with inquiries and investigations. As we consider the case for a broader duty of candour for public servants and bodies, we will determine whether the existing duty is sufficient to ensure public confidence. As for timing, I can assure the House that we will set out our conclusions later this year.

Given these considerations and the decision of the elected House, I respectfully ask the House not to insist on Amendment 71.

Turning to Amendment 107, the House will recall that the amendment sought to confirm that local authorities can establish and maintain secure 16 to 19 academies, either alone or in consortia. The elected House disagreed with this amendment by a substantial majority of 190. In inviting this House not to insist on the amendment, I remind noble Lords that there is no legal bar preventing a local authority setting up an entity capable of entering into academy arrangements directly with the Secretary of State, or indeed doing so itself. This is not prevented by the Academies Act. I therefore ask the House not to insist, on the grounds that this renders the amendment unnecessary and it could have disruptive consequences for the academies legal framework.

I appreciate that existing government policy is not completely aligned with the spirit of this amendment. But I want to be positive, and recognise the expertise of the local government sector and the critical role that it already plays. Local authorities have a long-established role in children’s social care and the provision of secure accommodation for children. I should therefore highlight that, in practice, there are already important ways in which local authorities can be—and already are—involved in academy trusts, which we would certainly be open to utilising also in secure schools. Trusts can, and do, procure services from local authorities; some local authorities have established spin-out companies specifically to provide services to trusts and maintained schools alike. In principle, there would be nothing to prevent a spin-off company entering into an agreement with the Secretary of State for Education to establish an academy trust.

Our vision for secure schools is to take a new and innovative approach to the delivery of youth custody and to engage visionary, child-focused providers—many of which are charities—in the running of establishments. It would therefore certainly be possible, for example, for a charity and a local authority to come together to put forward a bid to establish a trust in which both parties could have some involvement across both the governance structure and the delivery of services.

--- Later in debate ---
Lord Rosser Portrait Lord Rosser (Lab)
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There are, as has been said, two issues here, the duty of candour and secure academies. I note what the Minister said on the duty of candour and must say that our views are rather more in line with those just expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. One might think it rather odd, particularly at the present time when trust in the police appears to be at such a low level, that the Government and the Commons decided to disagree with such an amendment, but it is their prerogative to do so.

As the Minister said, this issue is not going to be dropped. There are people within Parliament, including ourselves, and people outside Parliament, to whom reference has been made, who intend to pursue the issue of a duty of candour. I think I am right in saying that the Minister referred to the fact that the Government would further consider the position—indeed, that is given as a reason for disagreeing—and that they would come up with conclusions later this year. While indicating that we intend to pursue the issue, we will, with some reluctance, leave this in that context. It is certainly not going to be pushed to one side now. It will be pursued and we will wait to see what conclusions the Government come up with later this year. The issue of trust in the police is a serious matter and I know the Government agree. We need to make sure that the mechanism is in place to improve the levels of trust that currently seem to exist.

On secure academies, the Government and the Commons have disagreed the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord German, which would put explicitly in the Bill that local authorities can establish and maintain secure academies. The aim of the amendment was to put beyond doubt that applications from local authorities to run secure academies would be welcomed and would be considered on their merit, on a level playing field with other providers.

The Government’s response has been that there is no legal barrier to local authorities setting up an entity that could enter into an academy arrangement with the Secretary of State, so there is not a legal barrier to them establishing a secure academy. The Government said that the Ministry of Justice

“will assess in detail the potential role of local authorities in running this new form of provision, before we invite applications to run any future secure schools.”—[Official Report, Commons, 28/2/22; col. 803.]

The Minister also made that point.

Our response in the Commons was that this does not go far enough. We argued that local authorities have the expertise needed to run services and provide care for vulnerable children with a high level of need in a secure environment and that the Government should widen the pool of expertise that providers bring and ensure that local authorities are explicitly brought into the fold when planning for secure academies.

We recognise that the Government have committed to look at the involvement of local authorities in providing secure academies before any new applications are invited, so we will now deal with and pursue this issue outside of the Bill. However, we strongly support the noble Lord, Lord German, in saying that what is needed, and what we will keep calling on Ministers to deliver, is, frankly, not vague statements that a local authority could provide a secure academy but a proactive change to bring the expertise that local authorities have into that pool of providers.

Lord Wolfson of Tredegar Portrait Lord Wolfson of Tredegar (Con)
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My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lords who took part in this debate. I will take matters fairly briefly, given the amount of other business before the House.

On the duty of candour, I emphasise the essential point that the disciplinary system provides clear sanctions that can lead to dismissal. We should not introduce criminal sanctions for the police alone. Ultimately, the inspectorate can determine whether forces are following the guidance. We will monitor that extremely carefully.

I do not want to take up the House’s time too much on the report, which has been published in the last half an hour. My right honourable friend the Home Secretary has already issued a statement, which noble Lords will be able to find online, but my understanding is that the Metropolitan Police has 56 days to respond formally to the report. The Home Secretary will of course return to Parliament to provide a full government response once the final report and responses have been received.

I am grateful to all noble Lords for their engagement on the issue of secure schools. I have tried to set out the legal position clearly. I hope that the undertaking that I have set out will be sufficient. Again, with apologies to the House for not dealing in too much detail with the new report, because I am sure there will be other opportunities to debate it, I beg to move.

Motion C agreed.