Amendment 1

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill - Committee (1st Day) – in the House of Lords at 4:03 pm on 20 October 2021.

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Lord Coaker:

Moved by Lord Coaker

1: Clause 1, page 2, line 2, after “workforce,” insert “including mental health and the impact of trauma,”Member’s explanatory statementThis would explicitly require that mental health and the impact of trauma on the police workforce must be reported on as part of the report on the covenant.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords)

My Lords, it is a great privilege to start the discussion of this very important Bill in Committee, and I look forward to discussing it with the Minister and, no doubt, many other colleagues across this House. I am particularly moved to speak on the policing part of the Bill and to open this discussion, since, as some of your Lordships will know, my father was a Metropolitan Police officer for 30 years. He retired fairly recently—over 30 years ago—and is still alive at the age of 95, so it is a great privilege and an honour to speak. One or two people may have met him; I am not sure. It probably goes back a bit further than that.

The serious point is that the amendment gives us the opportunity to start this debate by praising our police. Yes, there have been some serious questions raised about our police. Very well-documented issues have arisen which need proper investigation and inquiry, and they will, in due course, be looked at and raise serious questions. I am not saying that these issues are not important, but we should also recognise the serious job of work that the police do. The noble Lord, Lord Clarke, is in his place. Nottinghamshire has a very fine police force, as is the case across the country. Many of us have had cause to call on police officers and their staff to help us in our daily lives. That was evidenced in our own Parliament not long ago when PC Keith Palmer was killed on our premises as the result of a terrorist attack. Every single day, as we come on to the Estate, we see the police protecting us. It is important to set that on the record so that, when we discuss these issues, police across the country—both past and present—their staff and families know that we start from this perspective.

We strongly support the police covenant, which we believe is long overdue. These amendments are about making the covenant as strong and effective as it can be so that it works for police officers and their families. I know that the Minister will take the amendments in that spirit as we seek to clarify some parts of the clauses.

I suggest that the Minister looks at the lessons learned from the Armed Forces covenant, to build on that experience and mirror its strengths in the way in which it has developed. It is important that the covenant is designed to cover both former and serving police personnel; we welcome that. I want also to pay tribute to the Police Federation and all those who have long campaigned for the introduction of a covenant, the Police Federation having done so through its Protect the Protectors campaign.

The size of the Bill has been remarked on. It will raise a huge number of issues during the next few weeks. However, today’s debate and the amendments we have put forward are related to the covenant. I will speak also to the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Rosser.

Amendment 1 would put into the Bill that a report about the police covenant must specifically include

“mental health and the impact of trauma.”

I have also added my name to the important amendment in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, which probes what access members and former members of the police workforce have to mental health programmes and support. It will be interesting to hear the Minister’s reply because the importance of mental health support for our officers cannot be overstated. As we know, they are regularly exposed to traumatic and dangerous situations in their job—something they willingly accept as part of their duty. As the covenant says, it is therefore incumbent on us to recognise the trauma that may be imposed on officers and their families, both when they are serving and when they have moved on or retired.

I sometimes think—as I am sure many other noble Lords do—what it must be like to go to some of the scenes of horrific murders or of child abuse. All these occur in the normal, everyday life of a police officer, who then has to go home. I know that the Government will want to ensure that this support is given to them. These amendments ask how we ensure that somebody who has to deal with such situations is given the support they deserve. The amendment would specifically recognise the impact of trauma in the Bill.

This was raised by a number of Members in the other place, particularly my colleague Sarah Champion MP, and I pay tribute to her work on that. She raised the necessity of training our officers in recognising and identifying trauma and how to deal with it. She said:

“The fact that across police forces there is not a standard level of support to be accessed once an officer feels he has the need for it is really letting our forces down.”—[Official Report, Commons, Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill Committee, 25/5/21; col. 178.]

That is a concern that we all have. No doubt there are examples of good practice, but how does one ensure such good practice across all forces and areas? The lack of consistency in mental health support is something that we need to address.

Since the debate in the Commons, to be fair to the Government, they have announced a programme of mandatory annual mental health checks—but they are for the Armed Forces. The Minister for Defence has called it an annual mental health MOT, with the intention of ensuring that our Armed Forces understand what help is available to them and are equipped to manage the unique pressures of service life. I wonder whether the Government might learn from that. Might that be something that could be applied to the context of the police in our country? We could learn from the Armed Forces covenant on what has worked with respect to this and from the successes and failures.

This is about the safety not only of the police but of our communities. Regular and high-quality mental health support makes sure that our police are fit to be in post, are able to process the situations that they deal with regularly as part of the job and are capable of supporting and responding to traumatised victims.

Amendment 3 would specifically add to the Bill that a report on the police covenant must look at what mental health support is required by officers’ families. This is to probe the simple issue of what support is available for an officer’s spouse, partner or family. The key thing here, which I am sure the Government will recognise, is that if your partner is regularly put in harm’s way in the course of their job, or they are traumatised by their experience during their service, there should be a service that you can call to seek support and to have a specialist speak to you about its impact on you and your family. That is an important point for us to consider.

Amendment 5 goes to the absolute heart of how the covenant must work. It would set up an oversight board with an independent chair and membership from policing organisations, including the Police Federation, the Police Superintendents’ Association, UNISON, the College of Policing and others. The oversight board would review the Secretary of State’s annual report on the covenant before it is laid before Parliament. The basis for this was put succinctly in the other place by my honourable friend for Croydon Central, who said:

“In essence, the amendment would ensure that the covenant does not have Ministers marking their own homework.”—[ Official Report, Commons, Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill Committee, 25/5/21; col. 193.]

The covenant must belong to our police forces, and the Government must listen to our police. It should not be for the Home Secretary to decide how well the Government are fulfilling their duties under the covenant.

We recognise that, currently, there is an oversight board, which met for the first time over the summer, but that was chaired by the Home Secretary. This would rebalance that by putting an independent chair in her place. This is an important point about putting the police themselves in the driving seat, instead of Ministers.

I turn now to Amendment 6, tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Harris of Richmond, which has our full support. It would amend our own Amendment 5 to include the National Association of Retired Police Officers in the proposed oversight board. Our Amendment 2 would require the Secretary of State’s annual report on the covenant specifically to consider the support needed by the police workforce on retirement, including access to training courses. I pay tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, for her work on this issue and look forward to her contribution later in our discussions.

A crucial part of the covenant and a key strength of it is that it applies, as I say, to both serving and former officers and their families. The service an officer has paid to their community and the impact it may have had on, for example, their health, does not finish the day that they retire from the force. The covenant is about that long-lasting partnership and recognition of the unique situation of the police workforce.

One issue we want to raise is support at the point of retirement. The issues that can arise for a police officer leaving the policing environment after years of service and entering another workplace can have similarities to those experienced by forces personnel on resettlement. Our amendment specifically mentions access to training courses to provide avenues for those who feel it is the right time to end their police service but are looking for somewhere else where they can use their skills.

Another key issue would then be access to support and financial planning, particularly for those who may need to give up their job earlier than they perhaps would otherwise have planned to. The question for the Minister is: what are we offering our officers by way of support when they are ready to leave the force and make that step?

Finally, I turn to Amendment 7, which would put a duty on health bodies to have due regard to the police covenant. The bodies covered by the amendment include clinical commissioning groups, NHS trusts and NHS foundation trusts. The key to this amendment is that it reflects what the Government provided for in the Armed Forces Bill, which put a legal duty on healthcare bodies. The point of the covenant is that it goes wider than the Home Office, which should already be occupied with the welfare of our police forces. This is about widening that discussion and support and embedding it in our communities, across departments and policy areas. The Government believed that measure would strengthen the Armed Forces covenant and we believe it would be a good step for this covenant.

In this group of important amendments, we seek further clarification from the Government on how the covenant will work and how we will make it a success. We all want the covenant to be what the police services of our country deserve and we can bring that about through the legislation that we pass in this Chamber.

Photo of Baroness Harris of Richmond Baroness Harris of Richmond Liberal Democrat 4:15, 20 October 2021

My Lords, it is a very great pleasure to welcome the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, to this policing debate and to hear of his antecedents. I added my name to this amendment and, with your Lordships’ indulgence, will speak to Amendments 2, 3, 4, 5, 6 and 7, to which I have also put my name. These all deal with the many associated issues in this group, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, just outlined.

I have been extremely concerned at the growing number of police officers and former police officers who have turned up at the police treatment centres run by the charity of which I am president with clear mental health issues alongside whatever physical injuries they might have. In the year 2019-20, we provided 3,600 hours of one-on-one counselling. Some 1,200 patients received well-being support through the psychological well-being programme, well-being weekends and recharge days. This is a 19% increase on those attending in 2018. To facilitate this growing area of work, we have provided a new clinical wing at PTC Harrogate, in association with Police Care UK, another police charity.

In its latest research, Police Care UK found that 90% of police officers will be exposed to multiple traumatic incidents during their career—a point made by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker—and that one in five serving personnel are currently living with symptoms of PTSD.

While they do an amazing job at the St Andrews centre, the new clinical wing will be of enormous extra benefit, having two new wings with two floors and adding 20 bedrooms to the estate. It will give four additional counselling rooms, one nursing surgery room, six therapy rooms, three workshop spaces and a community room. Noble Lords can see how necessary these will be; we can only hope that the extra facilities will be enough to meet the increasing demand for well-being provision for the officers who need it.

The impact of trauma is deeply debilitating and for many years officers felt that they could not speak out about it. But we have now seen clearly how damaging that can be. We absolutely must take the mental health of our police officers seriously and give them the support they need by including this requirement in the covenant.

In supporting Amendment 2 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, I declare an interest as an honorary member of the National Association of Retired Police Officers—NARPO. Why should former police officers not receive help and support and access to training when they require it? Many go on to do valuable work in other careers and the community and often need help with access courses.

My Amendment 6, which is an amendment to Amendment 5, as we have heard, seeks to insert the National Association of Retired Police Officers to the oversight board. I believe it is essential, as many of those former officers still need support. I have spoken on a number of occasions about the impact of being a police officer on an individual’s mental well-being, both during their time in the force and when they have left. The Bill will make it mandatory for the Home Secretary to publish a report on the police covenant each year outlining the work that has been done to protect officers and ensure that they are properly supported following the sacrifices they have made to be part of the force.

It is important that this report is considered by an independent oversight board, which can hold the Government to account on the work that they are doing around the police covenant, and they are not simply left to mark their own homework, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, has said.

Among those organisations that oversee the report, there must be an organisation which represents the police officers of the past, who, as I said, often continue to live with the effects of their job long after they have departed. Police officers bear witness to some of the most traumatic events and sacrifice so much, placing themselves in danger in order to protect society. It is therefore absolutely vital that their contribution is also acknowledged and any support that they need is given throughout their life. Placing the National Association of Retired Police Officers among the organisations giving oversight to the covenant ensures that officers past and present are supported in the continued challenges that a life in policing can bring.

Finally, I turn to Amendment 7. Every year, it costs £5 million to operate the two police treatment centres; 89% of that income is generated by donations from serving and retired police officers. The remainder comes from various sources: fundraising events, legacy donations, hospitality and lottery money. Noble Lords will note that not only do the PTCs save the NHS huge amounts of money by treating our police officers who present with trauma injuries; they treat psychological trauma as well. The PTCs are a charity—they do not get any money from the Government or the NHS. There should be some acknowledgement that the work that they do not only saves the NHS money but enables police officers to return to work much more quickly than they would otherwise have done if they had had to wait for NHS appointments—for physiotherapy, in particular. Have your Lordships tried to get an appointment with an NHS physiotherapist recently? Officers may also need mental health services appointments urgently. My amendment addresses those concerns and urges the Government to tell health providers that they must address the needs of police officers and ensure that they get the same recognition for treatment as that for members of the armed services.

Photo of Baroness Brinton Baroness Brinton Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Health)

My Lords, I was unable to speak at Second Reading on this topic of the police covenant. As the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, has already noted, this is an extraordinarily large and complex Bill, and Second Reading speakers were limited to a mere three minutes, meaning that, inevitably, some matters could not be raised. I apologise for raising what is from my perspective a new issue. Before I begin, I pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Harris for her many years of campaigning for the well-being and support of police officers.

I support all the amendments in this group, Amendments 1 to 7, which seek to ensure that police officers and former police officers have access to health services and particularly to mental health support, and to set this down in the Bill as an equivalent of the Armed Forces covenant. I will come on to the covenant later in my contribution.

We must recognise that our police officers and other emergency service personnel are on the front line day in, day out, often facing many things daily that ordinary members of the public would hope never to see once in their lives. That for decades police officers have “manned up” and internalised problems, because that was the culture, perhaps makes mental health pressures even more inevitable. The Police Federation reports that resilience in the service is at an all-time low and that officers are being put under inordinate amounts of pressure, which is taking its toll on their health and well-being. Even worse, the unprecedented cuts to the police service have meant that officers are under more strain now than ever before. While many are asked to do more and more with fewer resources, and have risen admirably to the challenge, it is inevitable that the increased pressures they are facing will have an impact on them, mentally and physically.

The Police Federation campaign “Protect the Protectors” noted that between 2015 and 2017, over 20 police officers took their own lives each year. That is almost two a month. Something must change. Research has shown that emergency workers are twice more likely than the public to identify problems at work as the main cause of their mental health problems, but they are also significantly less likely to seek help—the “man up” culture. Therefore, it is good that in 2017, the Police Federation developed a nine-point plan for police organisations to work with it, supporting serving staff and ensuring that the well-being and mental health of staff is properly delivered as soon as it is needed.

There are 48 organisations that have worked in partnership with the Police Federation and with the mental health charity Mind. The guide that they have produced has all the information that employers need to set up and deliver mental health support in all blue-light organisations. This week, another excellent campaign, the Blue Light group, has reported that 87% of emergency responders have experienced stress and poor mental health. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, was looking for good news, and it is that 83% of those who accessed this support through their organisation found it helpful. Mind tells me that the Home Office funding for this essential work—which has been running since 2015—is due to run out in March 2022. Can the Minister confirm that the Home Office will continue the support and funding for this vital work, not just support for blue-light workers but a blue-light service for blue-light workers?

Some officers are very badly affected and need more than can be offered by counselling and other internal support. The Police Federation tells the story of Richard, a DCI with a provisional diagnosis of PTSD when he sought help, which explains much of the pressure and distress that so many officers face.

Richard said: “What you see takes its toll, but it is not just the incidents themselves, it’s everything that goes with it. The stress, the workload and the IT problems all add up, and on top of that, you add the other things. First, it is a culture, particularly if you want to progress through the ranks, where it feels like you can’t be seen to fail or say no and that you must be available 24/7 and constantly get results. You look around, and no one else seems to be struggling. No one talks about it. We don’t all sit around like some sort of support group. In fact, a lot of the time you are in competition with each other.

Second, we have lost a lot of the mechanism and time to decompress. For all its faults, one thing that the canteen culture allowed for was the ability to unwind and process what you had just seen, just to sit with your mates and talk it through, and a lot of the time and space has been lost.

Third, we have almost stopped reacting like human beings. I’m not saying we should all go around hugging each other all the time, but sometimes it could really help, but people are too scared to make physical contact.”

Richard and many other officers will carry their condition with them and will often need access to NHS mental health services, and that too is a problem. We know that in August the NHS reported an official waiting list for mental health services of 1.6 million people, with estimates that more than 8 million people cannot even get on to those waiting lists at the moment. Those with severe and chronic mental health problems are finding access to services, even if they are in the system, is hard, especially if they are facing a crisis.

Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, which represents England’s 54 specialist mental health trusts, said:

“These estimates are dismaying. It is deeply concerning that around 8 million people are struggling with their mental health but are unable to access care because they are not yet deemed to be unwell enough.

This shows the extent to which, sadly, NHS mental health services, despite significant improvements, are still unable to give people the immediate care and support they need. Behind every one of those 8 million is an individual who would benefit from treatment. This is the treatment gap we urgently need to close.”

The Guardian reported:

“NHS Providers says that the amount spent on mental health care in England needs to rise from £14.3bn to at least £17.15bn from next year to help cope with spiralling demand. ‘As a minimum, the mental health sector needs [an additional] £850 million a year to treat at current levels and deal with the backlog, plus a minimum of £2bn to deal with the most urgent capital demands [for upgrading units and building new facilities],” said Cordery.”

This means that police and emergency responders with PTSD or severe depression acquired through their service to the country will continue to face long delays before they get the level of mental health services that they need from the NHS. Will the Minister say what support, financial or directional, the Home Office will provide to ensure that the police and other emergency responders get the appropriate mental health support services that they need as soon as they need them? If they do not get it, as with our armed services, it means that they will often be off sick and unable to fulfil their duties, which will put further pressure on the service.

I turn now to the proposals for a covenant, which I welcome. I support all the amendments that relate to this. I particularly welcome Amendment 6 in the name of my noble friend Lady Harris. Mental health trauma does not disappear on the day of retirement or of leaving the service. I shall comment briefly on the practicalities of the Armed Forces covenant because in principle it looks good, and it is welcome that in this Bill the Secretary of State has to report to Parliament, but there are some severe problems with the covenant.

While there is a commitment to individuals on what they can access, shockingly there is no duty on any of the public services to provide that and, even worse, services from central government are excluded from the covenant. The result is that, for example, a doctor can refuse to add a veteran to their list, or in this case perhaps a police officer who has retired. With the current shortage of GPs, many lists are full and it would be difficult, but there is no duty on CCGs to help find such a person access to local services. If they have to wait to get on a GP waiting list and they have moved into a different area, it will mean that any other services they have been accessing through hospital or mental health services will be paused until they are into the new system.

However, the most serious omission for me—that is true of this Bill as well—is the exclusion of government department services from any responsibility under the Armed Forces covenant, let alone a duty. I have amendments on this and some of the other issues I have raised on the covenant in the Armed Forces Bill, which is currently going through your Lordships’ House. The Home Secretary and Ministers need to understand that in creating a covenant, they create demand. However, without a duty for any of the bodies to provide that, it is nothing more than warm words. These amendments try to remedy that, but they will need to go further. Can the Minister assure me that the Government, government departments and other public duty areas such as councils will be required to deliver the duties under the covenant?

Photo of The Bishop of Manchester The Bishop of Manchester Bishop 4:30, 20 October 2021

My Lords, I draw your Lordships’ attention to my interests in the world of policing as set out in the register, particularly in policing ethics, both with the Greater Manchester Police and the National Police Chiefs’ Council.

At Second Reading I referred briefly to the culture of policing. I did not specifically mention a policing covenant given that time was so short, but I have been intrigued by the debate we have had this afternoon. I note the way in which Members have referred to the Armed Forces covenant. That is helpful in some ways, although I am just a little concerned. As I said at Second Reading, the heart of the policing model is that our police are civilians in uniform; they are not the Armed Forces. We need to be careful not to put police too easily into the same category as the Armed Forces. The Armed Forces are agents of the state while police are agents of society in a slightly different way. That is an important civilian distinction I would want always to hold before us.

Nevertheless, I support the amendments in this group, and I believe that we can do better for policing. A covenant is the right way forward—we are working on a similar thing for clergy in the Church of England at the moment—and these amendments will strengthen the initial proposals to help us that way. Over these last 18 months, when I have been chairing Operation Talla, the Covid operation ethics committee, on behalf of the National Police Chiefs’ Council, we have had in our minds and hearts not just how to police effectively but the tensions and pressures put on policing during the pandemic and how to advise police forces to implement the various regulations that were coming from government, sometimes in rapid succession, in ways that were proportionate and would not place undue extra pressure on the mental health of police. We monitored sickness rates throughout that process, and it has been a great example of how we worked together to ensure that policing did not lose its civilian base in the course of the pandemic. Therefore, I support these amendments, but I treat with a little caution how closely we draw parallels with the military covenant.

Photo of Lord Bach Lord Bach Labour

My Lords, I no longer have to declare an interest but some Members here may know that I was until May this year police and crime commissioner in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland. As such, I will make a very brief contribution to this first debate in Committee.

I personally support—I hope from my experience—the early amendments that have been proposed. As has been said already, it is quite clear that anyone who works with the police nowadays, knows them or sees them closely at work, will know that for a long time, I suspect, as in the rest of society, mental health, mental illness and all that follows from it was not given anywhere near the importance it should have been. I am glad to say that it is my experience, certainly in the police force I was close to, and I am sure in others too, that chief officer teams are now giving the issue of mental health due regard. That is why any covenant that left this out would be lacking; I do not want to comment on the covenant— good points have been made on it.

I urge the Minister and the Government to consider seriously these obviously non-partisan suggestions, which are meant to be helpful. That is all I want to say, but my experience tells me that this is becoming a larger and larger issue as year follows year for police forces up and down the country.

Photo of Lord Paddick Lord Paddick Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

My Lords, I start also by paying tribute to my noble friend Lady Harris of Richmond for her tireless work in supporting police officers in the many different roles that she has in addition to her work in this House. It was particularly important to hear about the work of police treatment centres, although they clearly do not have the capacity to deal with all officers who are affected. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, in his opening remarks, talked about only being able to imagine what police officers go through. I hope to enlighten the Committee about some of those experiences.

I have Amendment 4 in this group, but I support all these amendments, though perhaps with a qualification on one of them. My experience in the police service was not, in many respects, very different from that of others who have served or those who continue to serve, except perhaps that I was the most junior officer on my relief or response team, as it would now be known. For 18 months, as the junior officer delegated, I was the one who dealt with all the sudden deaths. My first appearance in court was at the Coroner’s Court, when the husband of an elderly couple had taken an overdose of prescription medication. Having worked night duty until 4 am, I was allowed to “slide off”, as I had to be at the mortuary at 9 am to identify the body. I had not seen a dead body before that night—I was 19 years of age—and I was unprepared for the sight and smell of at least half a dozen other bodies that had been opened up for examination by the pathologist when I arrived at the mortuary. It is an important role for a police officer to identify the body that he or she found as being the same one that the pathologist is about to perform the post-mortem on. I will not go into graphic details, but the Committee needs to get a flavour of the trauma that police officers are exposed to.

Noble Lords might think that the first case is the one that sticks in one’s mind, but whether it is the open-top car that overturned at speed, with no protection for the passengers in the back from the road surface, or the pensioner not seen for weeks in the summer, with swarms of flies on her badly decomposed body that was sticking to the bed when the undertakers tried to remove her, or the charred bodies in a number of fires that I attended, the impact on one’s mental health is considerable and cumulative. I can still picture and smell those scenes; I remember the taste that they left in my mouth.

It is not just the horror of such scenes; it is the emotional impact as well. There was a young man in his early 20s who had hung himself from a coat hook on the back of a door. There was a young mother, whose normal session with her psychiatrist had been cancelled because of Christmas; finding a name and address in her handbag next to her body at the base of a tower block, I went to the address, knocked on the door and was invited by her husband into a room where her young children were playing under the Christmas tree with the toys that the mother had bought them. If that was not bad enough, when I suggested that we ought to go into a different room so that I could tell the husband the tragic news that his wife had committed suicide, he asked me, “How did she do it?”. Experiences like that, as noble Lords can hear, I still vividly remember.

It is not just the deaths. I remember a young man who had a broken glass slammed into his face. We had to take him to hospital in the police van, as there were no ambulances available—some things do not change. I remember the terrified look on his face as he shook uncontrollably from the shock. Another man jumped from the fourth floor and landed on spiked railings. We held him up for what seemed to be an eternity, while the fire brigade cut around the railings; they could not use oxyacetylene torches because the heat would have transmitted to his body. Then we had to hold him in the ambulance between two trolleys, with the railings still through his body.

Then there are the dangers. On 11 April 1981, as a police sergeant I was given 10 constables and six plastic riot shields and told to clear Mayall Road in Brixton of rioters, as the fire brigade were being attacked and therefore could not extinguish the burning cars and buildings that the petrol bombers had set alight. Coming under barrages of bricks and lumps of paving slab, trying to edge forward, hoping that the burning cars would not explode or the burning buildings collapse on us, and trying to keep my officers safe and do the job that we were given, was another unforgettable experience.

It is not just my direct personal experiences. Many years later, I was a chief inspector of Brixton. The officer worst affected when two members of his team were shot, receiving life-changing injuries, was the officer posted to the front desk, who felt he was stuck inside and unable to help his colleagues. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, mentioned partners of police officers, many of whom are affected by feeling helpless in a similar way when their partners face trauma.

It is not just about the tragedy and danger that police officers have to confront every day; there is sometimes the trauma that the organisation inflicts on its own. We will consider later the impact that misconduct proceedings—what in my time were called complaints and discipline proceedings—can have on officers; even when there is little or no evidence, officers are subjected to months or even years of uncertainty. I will leave that to another group of amendments.

Not a week goes past when I do not dream that I am still a serving police officer trying to deal with some impossibly stressful situation. It was easier when I was serving, as most problems were solvable, albeit sometimes at personal cost, but the impacts, similar to the horrors and dangers that our brave military face, can be considerable and long-lasting. So it is good, albeit a long time coming, that the Bill places the publication of the police covenant report on a statutory basis. But it needs to be more than simply a response from the Secretary of State if she considers, in respect of any matter covered by the report, that members or former members of the police workforce are at a disadvantage compared with others.

Under the Armed Forces covenant there is an array of specialist and enhanced mental health provisions for serving personnel, reservists—similar to special constables—service families and veterans. I do not want to enter into a competition over the similarities and differences between members of the Armed Forces and of police forces in terms of which experiences are more harrowing, emotionally impactive or dangerous. I completely accept the point made by the right reverend Prelate about the difference between civilians in uniform and the Armed Forces. However, I remind the Committee that the experiences of police officers happen here in the UK, often on the streets where they live, making it more difficult for them to put psychological distance between their experiences and their everyday lives.

I am saying that the impact of the kinds of experiences that I had as a police officer—and far worse experienced by colleagues, both serving and retired, whether dealing with child pornography and child abuse, retrieving the bodies of those killed in the 7 July bombings in 2005, or having a colleague killed in front of them—go far beyond what most people have to face in their lifetime. They, and we, as my noble friend Lady Brinton has said, need and deserve enhanced specialist mental health support similar to that provided by the Armed Forces. As the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, alluded to, the care and welfare of police officers, serving and retired, may not be at the forefront of people’s minds in the light of recent events. But in the light of the sacrifices that our police officers make each and every day to keep us safe, the least we can do is provide the mental health support that they, and we, need.

I am reminded of a debate many years ago, when football hooliganism was at its peak and an argument was put forward by a football supporter that “If the police treat us like animals, we will behave like animals”. I hope noble Lords will forgive me if they have heard this before, but there is a clear distinction between explaining the possible causes of something and justifying something—and I am not, of course, justifying any form of misconduct by police officers. But without the care that police officers need to cope with the trauma they face, we cannot expect their behaviour to be exemplary in every situation, no matter what the provocation.

The intention of my amendment is to ensure that police officers, serving and retired, and their families receive the enhanced and specialist care and support they need. If I have understood correctly, that is the intention of Amendment 7 from the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, placing a duty on local health bodies. But I believe it is the duty of the Home Secretary to ensure that adequate provision is made, although I accept, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, said, that Amendment 7 reflects the obligations on local health bodies under the Armed Forces covenant. Whatever local health bodies’ assessment of the need may be, in the same way that the Ministry of Defence has played a pivotal role in ensuring similar support is provided for the Armed Forces, the Home Office should do the same for police officers.

It is clear from what I have said that we on these Benches support Amendment 1, which my noble friend Lady Harris of Richmond has signed, and Amendment 3, which she has also signed. We also support the amendment from the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, on an oversight board. It is essential that the police covenant report reflects the needs of rank and file police officers in particular, so it is essential that it is scrutinised by the Police Federation, the only legally recognised body to represent the interests of police officers.

My noble friend Lady Harris of Richmond makes the additional point that the National Association of Retired Police Officers should also be represented, and I declare an interest as a member of NARPO. As I have explained, I still suffer from the effects of trauma I faced in the police service, and it is important that the needs of retired officers are also addressed in police covenant reports.

I am unclear as to what resettlement schemes currently operate in the police service, but certainly such programmes did exist to help officers transition from the police when I was serving—in particular those like me who gave all their working lives to policing. I do not count what I do here as work. So I am unsure to what extent Amendment 2 is necessary. Perhaps the Minister can enlighten the Committee on what current provision is available in terms of resettlement schemes.

I hope noble Lords will forgive me for speaking at length on this issue, not least because it has been motivated to some extent by personal interest—or, should I say, to ensure that others do not have to cope largely without support in the way I and my colleagues and former colleagues have had to until now. I am pleased to be able to start this Bill on a positive note, although we believe that this part of the Bill can be improved, as colleagues around the House and I have suggested.

Photo of Baroness Williams of Trafford Baroness Williams of Trafford The Minister of State, Home Department 4:45, 20 October 2021

My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have spoken in an incredibly thoughtful debate this afternoon. I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, to his first Committee and the tone in which he opened this debate. I also pay tribute to his father. I jolly well hope that he is sitting at home watching this afternoon. I am also grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and the noble Baroness, Lady Harris, for setting out their amendments to the first clause of the Bill, which relates to the police covenant.

I echo other noble Lords’ comments on PC Harper and Sergeant Matt Ratana, who gave their lives protecting the general public. To echo the words of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, there is no doubt that our brave police encounter some of the most challenging circumstances on a daily basis, often operating in some of the most difficult and traumatic situations imaginable. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for outlining, albeit in very graphic detail, some of the experiences he has had to endure during his policing career. I also thank the noble Lord, Lord Bach, for bringing to this House a unique experience as Parliament’s only PCC, and I wish him well in his retirement.

What we have talked about this afternoon is what makes the police covenant so important, with its central tenet the health and well-being of members and former members of the police workforce, their physical protection, and support for their families. It is a priority for the Government, and I am very pleased that we have brought this forward.

We recognise the very positive intention behind Amendments 1, 3 and 4, and I could not disagree what most noble Lords have said. However, what I would say is that they are not necessary, on the basis that consideration of mental health, including having regard to programmes offering advice on assessment and treatment, the impact of trauma and support and the training for health and resilience, are already well within scope of Clause 1, under the banner of health and well-being.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked me to outline what the provision includes, and the noble Baronesses, Lady Harris and Lady Brinton, talked about PTSD, which affects an awful lot of police officers, both when serving and after their career. I shall outline some of those things. First, we will ensure that occupational health standards are embedded in all forces, holding chiefs to account for providing the right quality and investment in their workforce. The National Police Wellbeing Service has been working hard to embed occupational health standards in forces, including for mental health. I think it was the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, who said that people should receive the right support that they need at the right time. That is absolutely central to providing effective mental health services.

The other thing that will be contained is consideration of a new chief medical officer for policing in England and Wales, and a review of what a good support model for families looks like, drawing on established good practice and research from other sectors and international partners. Once agreed, forces will be required to implement locally, bespoke to their local infrastructure, development of training for GPs around the role of the police, similar to military veterans GP training, and the development of pre-deployment mental health support provided to the police workforce, particularly in light of the Covid-19 pandemic and the effect that this will have had on the police workforce, some of whom I have already spoken to.

There was quite a lot of talk about the interface between the Armed Forces and the police covenant, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester clearly made the distinction between the two forces, which are very different in terms of the demands on them. The work under the police covenant will recognise the specific issues that affect those working or who have worked in policing—to answer the question posed by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, it will include those who have retired—as a result of their role, and will seek to provide support to them and their families in addressing these issues. The police covenant and the legislation underpinning it have been drafted to ensure that they reflect the specific, unique needs of our police as they currently stand.

The heading is deliberately broad to allow the Secretary of State to consider the issues as they arise. We consciously framed the provisions in this way to enable a flexible approach to ensure that the issues that matter most to members and former members of the police can be taken into account and addressed in the annual report as they arise. This flexibility will allow the police covenant to evolve to respond to the most pertinent needs of current and former members of the police workforce in a timely manner. What we do not want to do is create a hierarchy of issues by explicitly listing specific issues in the Bill, where they will fall within those broader priorities.

While we appreciate that this is not the intention, these amendments could give rise to doubt about the importance of scope of other critical issues identified by the current and former police workforce, simply because they are not listed in the Bill. We want the police to feel the benefit of a covenant based on emerging issues and trends identified through collaboration with them and focused on removing the disadvantages they face as a result of their role in policing. To this end, the clause explicitly enables other pertinent priorities beyond the three broad categories specified in Clause 1(2)(a) to (c) to be addressed if considered appropriate. We think this strikes the right balance in directing the substance of the report without being too prescriptive.

Within the broad priorities identified in the legislation, work has already begun on the ground. Our initial focus with regard to the covenant includes improving mental health support for officers and staff, particularly ahead of deployment, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, mentioned; focusing on ensuring that occupational health standards are embedded in all forces; and considering options for appointing a new chief medical officer for policing, as I have said. These activities will be critical to ensuring that those officers suffering from the impact of trauma or mental ill-health have access to the support they need. This will include support and training on health and resilience as appropriate to the issues identified.

We will also continue to fund the National Police Wellbeing Service. The service is helping forces to identify where there is most risk to mental health and developing work around building resilience, as well as putting in place support for those who need it in response to traumatic events. This includes signposting to mental health support and resources. This shows that the issues raised by noble Lords are already being taken very seriously and prioritised.

The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, asked about the resettlement programme. We understand that there is a need to look at support for former members of the police workforce and assure the noble Lord that this it is within the scope of the government. We will be looking at what the specific need is with our stakeholders, including NARPO, to determine what that support model should look like.

I think I have slightly pre-empted my answer to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, but Amendment 2 would require the Secretary of State to consider the support needed by officers and staff on their retirement from the police workforce. The scope provided by the current wording of Clause 1 would include those people at or nearing the end of their police careers, and career transition support is being considered as part of the ongoing work. Through the governance process we have developed, we will keep under review the support our police receive to ensure that they have the right access at the right time.

Amendment 5 seeks to place the Police Covenant Oversight Board on a statutory footing, make provision for its membership and provide for an independent chair. Amendment 6 seeks to add the National Association of Retired Police Officers to the list in Amendment 5 of organisations to be represented on the board. We have established the Police Covenant Oversight Board on a non-statutory basis to drive the strategic direction of the police covenant, set priorities and monitor progress to feed into the Home Secretary’s annual report to Parliament. The board comprises key stakeholders from across the policing sector and first met in July. The second meeting, chaired by the Minister for Crime and Policing, took place earlier this month.

We expect the challenges that the police face will continue to change and develop. We intend the police covenant to evolve accordingly. We recognise that there will be many stakeholders critical to the resolution of the changing, emerging issues that the police workforce face. We have therefore sought to retain flexibility by creating a non-statutory board, through which we can involve relevant stakeholders, including NARPO, as appropriate, depending on the nature of the priorities identified. These arrangements are intended to reflect the flexibility underpinning the legislative provisions.

In preparing the police covenant report, which the board will feed into, the Secretary of State must seek the views of anyone she considers appropriate in preparing the report, which will naturally include the appropriate partners in policing. This broad approach provides the Secretary of State with the flexibility to seek the views of policing stakeholders outside membership of the board should she believe that is appropriate.

We think the current approach to the governance framework, including the arrangements for chairing the board, is entirely appropriate. The Home Secretary will be held accountable for the priorities of the covenant, through the annual report that she will be required to lay in Parliament. With that in mind, a government Minister must play an active role in this work, through chairing the board. We recognise that having an independent presence on the board is important though. To that end, we are progressing plans to appoint at least one independent board member. We aim to pursue an approach that retains joint accountability with policing stakeholders for the delivery of priorities identified under the covenant, while incorporating an element of independence in response to stakeholder feedback. We will review these governance arrangements periodically and, in doing so, will consider the independence of input and challenge to the board.

Finally, Amendment 7 seeks to create a duty on specified

“health service bodies to have due regard to police covenant principles” in the exercise of relevant health functions. I recognise that this stems from provisions in the Armed Forces Bill, which amends the existing provisions in respect of the Armed Forces covenant. Again, I recognise the positive intention behind this amendment, but the two covenants are at totally different stages of evolution. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Manchester says, they are in different contexts. The Armed Forces covenant has been in existence for some years, and its structure continues to evolve with increasing prominence. The police covenant has just begun and, while it too will evolve and grow, it must be given space in which to develop and embed as its own entity, operating in a different space.

At this stage, therefore, it is premature to include a duty on specific public bodies to have due regard to the police covenant, without first establishing the key issues involved, identifying robust evidence and the options to respond to those issues, and considering the need in consultation with relevant public bodies.

I hope, in light of my rather lengthy explanation and assurance, that the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, will be happy to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords) 5:00, 20 October 2021

I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in a very thoughtful and helpful discussion on this first group of amendments, as we begin our discussion on the Bill. I also thank the Minister for her reply. The way in which she tried to respond directly to the points the amendments were making was very helpful for the Committee on a number of issues, so I thank her and I think the Committee would thank her as well.

Having said that, and having been a Minister myself, I am always slightly suspicious when the term used for amendments is that they “are not necessary”. That was always a term I was told to use when I was not quite sure where I was. I say gently that when they “are not necessary” what I want to do—and I am sure other noble Lords would—is reflect on the Minister’s remarks to see if they indeed meet the points the amendments are making.

I have a couple of points to make. For example, the Minister said on a number of occasions, “We will keep this under review”, “We will look at how it works out” and “We will try to understand how the covenant operates in practice”. What many of us would say is that we can learn. The Minister mentioned the Armed Forces covenant, and I take the right reverend Prelate’s point about this, but we can learn from what the Armed Forces covenant has done. It seems a bit strange to say that this is not the same as the Armed Forces covenant. Everyone recognises that, but why wait to find the same thing happening with the police covenant, when we have seen from the Armed Forces covenant that for either central government or other public bodies to have due regard is important?

I note the point the Minister made about NARPO and the importance of the involvement of retired police officers. So, there are a number of points that we will need to reflect on as we go forward from Committee to Report, but with those brief remarks I beg leave to withdraw Amendment 1.

Amendment 1 withdrawn.

Amendments 2 to 5 not moved.

Photo of Lord Duncan of Springbank Lord Duncan of Springbank Deputy Chairman of Committees

I cannot call Amendment 6, as it is an amendment to Amendment 5.

Clause 1 agreed.

Amendment 7 not moved.