Amendment 13

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill - Committee (1st Day) (Continued) – in the House of Lords at 8:30 pm on 20 October 2021.

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Baroness Randerson:

Moved by Baroness Randerson

13: Clause 4, page 5, line 24, after “police” insert “pursuit”Member’s explanatory statementThis would specify that the new standards only apply to “police pursuit purposes” rather than all “police purposes”.

Photo of Baroness Randerson Baroness Randerson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport)

My Lords, I am pleased to have this opportunity to introduce this group of amendments, and of those, Amendments 13, 15, 16 and 18 are in my name. They are of course probing amendments at this stage.

The Government are seeking to change the standards by which police driving is to be judged. I should explain to noble Lords that I have some background on this issue, because for 18 years I was a JP, and over those years I dealt with a number of cases that involved police pursuit. Controversial cases where police pursuit leads to traffic accidents of course occur regularly.

I have my own personal experience of this. More than a decade ago, I was involved in one such incident. One evening, I was driving along a long, straight stretch of road in Cardiff—a two-lane road, with a mix of residential and commercial properties, that had intermittent central barriers. I suddenly became aware of cars coming towards me at considerable speed, well above the 30 miles per hour limit. It turned out to be a car driven by a very young man, with a passenger, pursued by two police cars. The problem was that they were on my side of the road, and I was on a part of the road with a central barrier. There was literally nowhere for me to go. There was a head-on crash, my car was a write-off, and there was a three-car pile-up because the car being pursued turned over and one of the police cars impacted it.

The seriousness of the crash was indicated by the fact that the road was closed for the night. We had three additional police cars on the scene, two ambulances, a fire engine and a police helicopter. I spent the night in A&E, but it could easily have been very much worse, because the passengers in the other cars suffered only minor injuries too.

Why were the police taking the risk of this pursuit? There were a number of pedestrians around—the crash happened in front of a pub. The official explanation was that the car was stolen, and I was told that the young men were suspected of at least one burglary—but that was a historical suspicion. However, until the pursuit, there was clearly no risk to life and no immediate danger of violence. It has always been clear to me that that pursuit was unlikely to have been justified.

My Amendments 13 and 16 are designed to probe how the Government envisage the new standards being applied. Since the Road Traffic Act 1988, police driving standards have been judged in the same way as those for any other driver despite the additional training they receive and the various exemptions that apply to them. Following a Police Federation campaign, there was a Home Office consultation which included a question on whether the new looser standards should apply only to pursuit or to police response driving generally. Clauses 4 to 6 give effect to the proposed changes, which would judge police driving against the standards of a competent and careful police officer with additional training. The new standards are to be applied to police purposes generally. However, this is a very wide definition. My amendment suggests that it should be limited to pursuit only.

I fully accept that there is an argument that it could also include I-grade—immediate grade—responses. I know that the grading of police responses varies from one force to another but, generally, I-grade calls are those where the immediate presence of a police officer will have a significant impact on the outcome of an incident. It is typically categorised as where there is likely to be a danger to life, a serious threat of violence, serious damage to property or serious injury. The response time is 15 minutes. The other grades of police response are generally called significant, S grade, or extended, E grade, and they do not involve a risk to life or injury. S grade gives a response time of 60 minutes and E grade 48 hours. Clearly, in neither of those cases is there a justification for extremely fast speeds and less than the normal, competent standards of driving that the rest of us ordinary mortals are expected to follow. I would therefore appreciate an explanation from the Minister as to why any kind of police purpose would be regarded as acceptable. We need a greater justification for these changes.

Amendments 15 and 18 also probe the impact of these changes by suggesting that the Secretary of State be given the power to extend the new standards to other emergency services. Noble Lords will understand that this is an inquiry. Ambulance drivers and drivers of fire engines also receive special training. They are highly skilled drivers, trained to break the normal rules of the road. They respond to calls where there is an immediate danger to life. It could be argued that that applies routinely in the case of ambulance drivers, whereas it probably applies fairly exceptionally in the case of the police. My question to the Minister is this: where do the other emergency services stand in relation to the changes to the rules that the Government are suggesting in this legislation? Are we to expect changes for other emergency services in further legislation, or is that not necessary for legal reason that I have not been able to uncover?

I realise, of course, that the two sets of amendments do not sit particularly well together. I am not arguing a case one way or the other. I am simply seeking to emphasise that these are probing amendments to see what is in the Government’s mind. What is their intention?

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Conservative

My Lords, I have Amendments 14 and 17 in this group. I hope—in fact I am confident—that my noble friend the Minister will give a full explanation of the purpose of these clauses in the Bill, in response to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. My concern is the inclusion of staff members in these new tests of dangerous and careless driving. I can understand the need to include civilian police driving instructors, but what I do not understand is the inclusion of other staff members. I hope that the Minister can explain why they need to be included.

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

My Lords, this is a difficult and contentious part of the Bill. There has been much debate for decades about the police approach to vehicle pursuit in particular, and the ability of emergency service drivers to disregard traffic signs and speed limits in an emergency. There have been tragedies where emergency vehicles on their way to serious and urgent incidents have ignored traffic lights or give way signs, or driven on the wrong side of the road, often in an attempt to save or protect lives, and tragically they have been involved in collisions with innocent members of the public, causing serious injury and sometimes loss of life, as my noble friend Lady Randerson has so graphically illustrated from her own personal experience.

This is perhaps the less contentious of the two areas. But even here, for police control room staff—I am sure the same happens with the fire brigade and the ambulance service—calls are graded as follows: emergencies, with arrival as soon as possible; immediate, with arrival within an hour; or routine. This is to ensure that police vehicles are not driven at speed unnecessarily.

I declare an interest as a former police officer who, although in possession of a full driving licence, attended a six-week, full-time police driving course just to become a standard police driver. I was not authorised to drive high-powered cars designed for use in responding to emergency calls and I was not allowed to become involved in vehicle pursuit of criminals, but simply to be a police driver answering routine calls. Of course, it is possible to become inadvertently involved in a chase, when a car that is asked to pull over refuses to stop, as happened to me on occasion, but as soon as a qualified driver was behind, I dropped out of the pursuit. Being an advanced trained driver involved many more weeks of intensive training; from memory, two six-week courses, with a very high failure rate. The courses were highly sought after and awarded to only the most experienced officers. Police drivers are trained to some of the highest driver standards in the world.

In addition, police control room staff have the authority to direct police vehicles to withdraw from pursuits where the driver of the police vehicle involved is not suitable to conduct the pursuit, where the seriousness of the offence alleged does not justify the risks associated with a high-speed chase, or where the driving conditions —the type of road, the time of the day or any other factor; my noble friend mentioned the presence of pedestrians, for example—present an unreasonable risk to the public and the officers who are involved in the pursuit.

The picture I am trying to paint is one of highly trained police officers whose driving skills are way in advance of the average driver and whose opportunity to break the traffic laws is severely restricted. Clause 4 is not about giving police drivers carte blanche to break the law with impunity but is designed to consider the difficult and often dangerous tasks that they are asked to undertake, and to provide them with a degree of protection commensurate with the training that they have received and the skills that they are able to deploy. To that extent, we support the changes proposed by the Government.

I agree with my noble friend Lady Randerson in her Amendment 13 that the dispensation should not be for all police purposes—certainly for police pursuit purposes but also perhaps for calls officially graded as emergencies. The kind of dispensation should perhaps be limited to “I” calls only, or the equivalent in other police forces, where, as my noble friend said, the immediate presence of a police officer will have a significant impact on the outcome of an incident. As my noble friend said, according to the Metropolitan Police, that is where there is likely to be danger to life, a serious threat of violence, serious damage to property or serious injury. I understand, as an example, that Sussex Police grades its calls similarly from 1 to 4, instead of using letters.

As my noble friend suggests with her Amendment 15, if police drivers are to be given the kind of dispensation provided by Clause 4 in relation to emergency response calls, in addition to police vehicle pursuits, the question must legitimately be asked as to why such dispensation should not be afforded to other emergency workers responding to emergency calls, such as the fire and rescue service, the ambulance service and the coastguard.

I also agree with the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, in his Amendment 14. Other than in a driving instruction scenario, which his amendment also covers, this dispensation is akin to the legal use of force almost uniquely exercised by constables, who are accountable to the law in a way that other police staff are not. For example, in cases where the CPS decides that the evidential or public interest tests are not reached that would justify a criminal prosecution but that the driving amounts to misconduct, there are ways in which constables can be held properly to account through police misconduct procedures that are not available to police staff and others employed by the police but who are not police officers. Similar arguments apply, and I similarly support the amendments proposed to Clause 5.

Highly trained police officer drivers chasing criminals in a vehicle pursuit should be judged against a higher threshold of dangerous or careless driving. If such police officers are also to be judged against a higher threshold if they are driving for other police purposes, this should be limited to responding to emergency calls, such as those defined by the Metropolitan Police as “I” calls—those which require attendance within 15 minutes. If that is to be the case, then other emergency services responding to similarly defined emergency calls should also be judged against the higher threshold.

As with so much in this Bill, it appears to us on these Benches that Clauses 4 and 5 do not appear to have been thoroughly thought through.

Photo of Lord Coaker Lord Coaker Shadow Spokesperson (Defence), Shadow Spokesperson (Home Affairs), Opposition Whip (Lords) 8:45, 20 October 2021

My Lords, I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Sharpe, to his place, and wish him well in his role. If I had realised that he was responding, I would have said that when I made my initial remarks. I apologise and look forward to our discussions.

One thing I did before discussing this group and the next group of amendments—which are incredibly important and deal with really difficult areas of law—was to Google some of the problems. Before I look at some of the examples, just from Googling, of where there have been problems around police pursuits of one sort or another, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, for sharing her horrible, terrible and awful experience with the Committee. That is another example of the sorts of issues that can arise from a police pursuit, and thankfully she is here to tell us the tale. We all found it very moving.

As I say, just from Googling, there are various examples that show some of the difficulties: an M27 police pursuit and 100-mile-per-hour chase, with a driver weaving in and out of traffic; “Driver, 18, narrowly misses bus in police pursuit”; “Driver loses police in wrong-way pursuit”; “Car driven along a railway track to escape the police”. This is not to question any of those individual cases—I did not read them; I just looked at the headlines—but a quick Google shows the extent of the problems that arise. Clearly, as it stands, the Government are seeking to address a very real issue. It is not easy, because if you are the victim of a crime, or something is going on, you want the police to respond as quickly as possible. It is a difficult situation for the police, and these clauses seek to deal with that. I appreciate that these are probing amendments, as I think the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, said, but they raise important issues that will need clarifying in both this group and the next.

We welcome these clauses because, like most people, we have been saying for a long time that there is a need for proper and improved protection for police drivers, who regularly put themselves in danger in the line of duty to pursue suspects. That is what we all want them to do. These clauses put recognition of the training that officers have had and the purposes of the journeys that they take into law. We should pay tribute to the Police Federation for the work it has done in campaigning consistently for this. As I have said already, however, we can see that issues arise from it—indeed, they have already been raised by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and the noble Earl opposite.

Amendments 13 and 16 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, narrow the clauses to police pursuit. We can see the purpose of the amendments when rereading the Bill, which says:

“Subsection (1B) applies where a designated person … is driving for police purposes”.

I suggest to the Minister that that is a bit vague. What on earth does it mean? Without being sarcastic, “police purposes” could mean that you get in a car to drive down the road because you have to go and see somebody about a crime. That is a police purpose. I am not suggesting that any police officer would therefore drive at 100 miles per hour to do that, but we can see the problem that the noble Baroness is trying to get at; “police purposes” is really wide-ranging. On the other hand—and no doubt the Minister will say this when he responds—saying “police pursuit purposes” narrows it down to the extent that we end up excluding the possibility of the police having an emergency response to things that we would all wish them to have an emergency response to. That is why, I suspect, the noble Baroness has made them probing amendments. Indeed, she said that if you thought somebody was in danger, or if a murder, serious rape or something like was that taking place, you would not want the police driving along slowly to get there. You would want them—in a proper way—getting there as soon as possible with an armed response or whatever response was appropriate.

On one hand, the Bill has, “police purposes”, and I am not sure that that is drafted as well as it might be, but then the definition we would want—“police pursuit purposes”—probably narrows it too much, which is why I am pleased it is a probing amendment. The Committee wants the Government to come back, I think, with something that encapsulates that competing and conflicting point about where we go with respect to that.

Amendment 17 from the noble Earl, Lord Attlee—again, this is the point of any Committee—removes any driver from the Bill who is not a constable or civilian driving instructor who is training a police driver. He is saying to the Government, and I think it is a really good point, that they have a long list of designated persons in the Bill—I will not read them all out. I remind the Committee that it does not apply just to the police force; it applies—and it is a good thing the Government added this to the Bill—to the British Transport Police, the Civil Nuclear Police Authority, the Chief Constable of the Ministry of Defence, the Scottish Police Authority and the National Crime Agency. These can be designated and it gives power to the chief constables and chief officers of those to designate a person, to give them the authority to drive in that way if they have received training. The noble Earl, Lord Attlee, is therefore right to ask why. What is the Government’s justification for extending this to that range? There might be a very good reason for it, but it is a point we need to understand.

To conclude on this group of amendments, can the Minister shed light on my earlier point as well as who is covered by the current list of designated persons in the Bill and why they have been included?

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Conservative

My Lords, if I may come in briefly before my noble friend the Minister speaks, I think the term “for police purposes” appears in other forms of road traffic law. I am not certain, and maybe the Minister can help us on that.

On “police purposes”, I have given the Committee an example of where a police driver might choose to go very fast indeed but perfectly safely. Suppose a passenger carrying vehicle, a minibus, breaks down on the motorway somewhere. As soon as the driver tells the police control room they are a passenger carrying vehicle and they have passengers in the back of that vehicle, I imagine that the police will try to get there as fast as they possibly can, to get a police car behind that broken-down vehicle. That would be a “police purpose”. It is not a pursuit, it is not after criminals; however, a police driver in those circumstances, because he is properly trained in the way that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, says, would be expected to identify a change in road surface. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, will remember being trained to identify a change in road surface, so actually, if he fails to identify a change in road surface, he could in fact be caught by the changes proposed by the Government.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, and my noble friend Lord Attlee for explaining their amendments. I think it is clear that we all want the same outcome, which is protecting police officers who are pursuing dangerous criminals, but also protecting the public. The Government believe that Clauses 4 to 6 of the Bill achieve a sensible balance in meeting these objectives. We believe police officers must be able to do their jobs effectively and keep the public safe without fear of prosecution for simply doing their job in the manner that they are trained to do. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, pointed to some really quite poignant examples of exactly that.

Current laws do not recognise the training that police drivers undertake and the tactics they may have to employ to respond to emergencies and pursue criminals. The new test will allow courts to judge their standard of driving against a “competent and careful” police constable with the same level of training, providing assurance that their skills and training will be taken into account. The new comparison with a “competent and careful” police driver takes into account whether a police driver with the same training would have reasonably made the same decision under the same circumstances.

I was very moved by the personal experiences of the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson. Her Amendments 13 and 16 seek to specify that the new standard should apply only to “police pursuit purposes”, rather than all “police purposes”.

As the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, pointed out, that would in effect exclude the bulk of police driving from additional protection and provide different levels of protection for officers simply based on the operational purpose for which a vehicle was being driven at the time. It would be difficult for those involved in a post-incident procedure to identify the moment that driving for the purpose of surveillance became driving for the purpose of a pursuit—again, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, eloquently explained.

I think it is worth expanding on the point made by my noble friend Lord Attlee about policing purposes, but not, for example, law enforcement purposes. The term “policing purposes” succinctly covers the types of driving that police officers would be expected to undertake, and that term would take its natural meaning. The term “law enforcement purposes” is more appropriate for the National Crime Agency, given that it is a law enforcement agency but not a police force, and that its activities may extend beyond policing purposes to wider law enforcement purposes. In either case, it would be for the courts to determine whether the driving in question was being undertaken for policing purposes or law enforcement purposes, as the case may be.

A fairer and simpler comparator is for all skilled police drivers to be compared with a peer who has undertaken the same prescribed training, as the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, noted. All police drivers should be protected if they are carrying out their police duties in a way that someone with the same level of training as them would do. If a police driver has not received the additional training, their driving would be compared to an ordinary motorist’s, as at present, as this is a more appropriate comparison for their skills.

Amendments 15 and 18, tabled by noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, seek to give the Secretary of State a power to designate other members of the emergency services by regulations. I suggest that the training and scrutiny of police driving are very different from those of other emergency services. The role of police drivers is more varied than that of the other emergency services, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, pointed out. In addition to emergency response, police officers are required to carry out surveillance, armed vehicle interventions, escorts, traffic enforcement and vehicle pursuits—for example, where a suspect is fleeing the scene of a serious crime or otherwise seeking to avoid arrest. For that reason, we do not consider it appropriate to extend these provisions to other emergency services.

Amendments 14 and 17, in the name of my noble friend Lord Atlee, would, as he has indicated, limit police driver standards protection under Clauses 4 and 5 to police officers and civilian police driving instructors. The Government have extended the protection to members of police staff because some civilian specialists may need to drive under emergency conditions and are trained to the National Police Chiefs Council standard to carry out advanced driving tactics. It follows that they should also be able to benefit from the new standard. As with the rest of the provision, the new standard should apply only to those civilian staff who have completed the prescribed training. I think it is worth reiterating that if they have not, their driving will be compared to that of an ordinary motorist.

I hope that I have been able to persuade noble Lords that the approach taken in these clauses is the right one and that, on this basis, the noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, will be content to withdraw her amendment.

Photo of Earl Attlee Earl Attlee Conservative 9:00, 20 October 2021

My Lords, could the Minister tell us what powers ambulance drivers and fire engine drivers have in terms of being able to disregard speed limits and traffic regulations? He may choose to write to me—that will be fine—but I think it would be very helpful for the Committee to know what those drivers can and cannot do. I understand his point that the requirements of the police are more extensive.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I undertake to write to my noble friend.

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

My Lords, with my 30 years’ experience in the police service, I am having some difficulty in understanding some of the Minister’s explanations, for example about when surveillance becomes a pursuit. We are talking about a situation where an officer is potentially facing a prosecution for careless or dangerous driving. In the ordinary course of surveillance, the people who are being followed will not know that they are being followed. That is what surveillance is. It becomes a chase when the people being surveilled recognise that they have a police vehicle behind them and try to escape. It then becomes a pursuit. So, with the greatest respect, I think that the Government need to sharpen their reasoning for dismissing amendments which, if my noble friend Lady Randerson does not pursue them on Report, I am very likely to.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

I thank the noble Lord for that intervention. I think I gave some other examples, though, of things that do not necessarily qualify as police pursuit but are still none the less covered by this: emergency response, armed vehicle interventions and so on. I thought those would cover most of the noble Lord’s points. I take his point, obviously, that if you are under surveillance, you do not necessarily know that anybody is there—that is the whole point. At some point, that could turn into a pursuit; I suppose it depends on the specific circumstances. But I do take his point.

Photo of Lord Beith Lord Beith Liberal Democrat

My Lords, could I ask the Minister if I heard him correctly? I think that, in the early part of the remarks he read out, he used the phrase “pursuit or emergency.” That appeared to me to be quite a helpful definition of what we are talking about here, and excluded things that were neither “pursuit” nor “emergency”. Could that wording not be what the clauses should be based on, and was it not helpful of him to use it in the early part of what he said?

Photo of Lord Beith Lord Beith Liberal Democrat

He might be going to answer that.

Photo of Baroness Randerson Baroness Randerson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport)

I will wait for a moment or two. I do not know whether the Minister wants to answer now.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

Can I come back to the noble Lord on that in a second, please? Sorry.

Photo of Baroness Randerson Baroness Randerson Liberal Democrat Lords Spokesperson (Transport)

I first want to thank the Minister for his response and all other noble Lords who have taken part in this debate. In particular, the quick interchange at the end has been a helpful response to the situation. My noble friend Lord Beith has I think raised a realistic solution to the problems with this legislation that this debate has shown up for the Government.

The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and my noble friend Lord Paddick both referred to the controversies and tragedies that occur in these situations. There are endless stories of controversy. Any changes the Government make to the legislation will simply shine a harsher light on the problems that inevitably will occur. So the Government really need to tighten up their thinking on this, and I would ask the Minister to take on board my noble friend’s advice to consider some tighter wording. The Government’s own consultation in 2018 offered two options: the use of the phrase “police purposes” or the use of “pursuit”. That shows that the Government themselves must have been considering those options at the time—so there must have been a logical reason for offering them.

I would like the Minister to take the time between now and Report, when I am pretty sure the issue will come back, to look at potential amendments that the Government believe may be helpful. I thank all noble Lords who have taken part. The Government need to be on very sure ground here, because they have drawn a broad definition. “Police purposes,” as the noble Lord, Lord Attlee, said, is a very broad term, and the circumstances in which the new rules can be applied will be questioned. With that, I will withdraw the amendment.

Photo of Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord Sharpe of Epsom Lord in Waiting (HM Household) (Whip)

May I respond to the noble Lord, Lord Beith? I do not know if this is appropriate. I am probably breaking all the rules. I apologise if I am. I think I said, “to respond to emergencies and to pursue criminals”. This applies to all policing purposes where the staff member has had training. I will expand on whether the new test means that the police officer would be prosecuted if they departed from their training and guidance under any circumstances. The police driver training includes decision-making in line with the national decision-making model. This allows for a degree of flexibility. Police drivers should also take account of guidance found in the College of Policing authorised professional practice. The new legislation compares the police driver’s actions with what a careful and competent police driver would reasonably do. In other words, a police driver will be prosecuted for dangerous driving only if they drive in a way that would not be considered reasonable by a careful and competent police driver.

Amendment 13 withdrawn.

Amendments 14 and 15 not moved.

Clause 4 agreed.

Clause 5: Meaning of careless driving: constables etc

Amendment 16 to 18 not moved.

Clause 5 agreed.