Police Reform and Social Responsibility Bill — Second Reading
Baroness Stern (Crossbench)
My Lords, I shall concentrate my remarks on Clause 1 and aim to be brief. I begin by welcoming something, at least: I welcome the Government's commitment to a different approach to policing, and the move away from governance through targets that often count things that can be counted but which have no way of measuring what is being counted. That contributes to what the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, called, in her most powerful maiden speech, a safer and happier country.
I came across the limitations of the target approach when I carried out the review of how rape complainants are dealt with by public authorities. In the course of that work I found widespread concern about the targets for the police and the Crown Prosecution Service, which were in conflict. The police were judged on how many suspects they charged and the Crown Prosecution Service on the other hand was measured by getting a person convicted at court. While the police were really keen to charge suspects, the CPS was really interested in charging only those who were most likely to be convicted. The conflict led to a lot of frustration, incomprehension among the complainants and other unintended consequences. I am glad that the Government in their response to the rape review said that they were removing the focus on separate police and CPS measurement. I welcome very much, therefore, the Government's approach towards a different philosophy of measuring what is seen as good performance by police forces.
I find it very hard to welcome what the Government have chosen as their replacement for governance by target-that one directly elected person should hold the police accountable. I have to say that I was almost convinced by the most persuasive maiden speech by the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra-almost. When I was carrying out my work on rape complainants last year I had the privilege of spending quite a bit of time with the police. I was profoundly heartened by what I discovered about how they were responding to this most difficult issue. Obviously there have been widely publicised mistakes that should not have happened but in all parts of the country there are police officers who have been specially trained, for example, to cope in the middle of the night with a very distressed person, and to gently take that person through the very personal and invasive questions they have to ask and the very intimate and embarrassing tests that have to be done. They put a considerable time into investigating very difficult cases, such as abused people who are often not believed, not listened to and seen as unlikely to be good enough witnesses to put before a court.
I heard recently about one such case at a conference in the north-east, where the excellent Northumbria Police had used the most advanced forensic techniques to secure the conviction of a care worker who had raped a middle-aged woman with learning difficulties. That was very expensive and time-consuming, but it was done and the outcome was positive.
Some police forces are working to persuade street prostitutes to report rape and violent assaults so that the perpetrators of such attacks can be brought to court. In some forces, the most painstaking, time-consuming and painful investigations go on to uncover and prosecute those who are exploiting vulnerable young people leaving care. The NSPCC wrote to me with its concerns about how offences against children and young people and protecting them may not be given priority under the new arrangements.
Democracy is a big word and a big idea. It is more than knowing people's names-with enormous respect to the noble Lord, Lord Howard. It is more than looking at a list of names and putting a cross in a box. The noble Baroness, Lady Berridge, in her excellent maiden speech, reminded us about majorities and minorities. Democracy is also about minority rights, about protecting the most vulnerable, about people being able to complain and about people being seen to matter, however inarticulate they are.
Our current arrangements are not perfect, but we have policing here that tries, more than in any country I know, to prioritise the vulnerable, the powerless and the exploitable. It would be a great pity to lose that, and I fear that these proposals risk that outcome.