Amendment 104G

Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill - Report (5th Day) – in the House of Lords at 8:39 pm on 12 January 2022.

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Lord Blencathra:

Moved by Lord Blencathra

104G: Clause 44, page 38, line 43, at end insert—“(4) Part 6 of Schedule 4 does not have effect unless the College of Policing is re-established under an Act of Parliament.”

Photo of Lord Blencathra Lord Blencathra Chair, Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, Chair, Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee

My Lords, this amendment is in my name and those of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and my noble friend Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts. I say to my noble friend Lord Sharpe that I am sorry that Ministers in this House once again have to take the brunt of my ire over Home Office matters for which they are not responsible and entirely blameless. I also say to the Government that I am not a natural rebel. I made the mistake of sitting in on the last debate and was utterly convinced by the arguments of the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, but nevertheless as a former Chief Whip felt that I had better support the Government, only because I had not told them in advance that I would rebel.

The College of Policing employs more than 700 people, and last year spent more than £47 million. The Bill, like others before it over the last seven years, gives the college the right to prepare guidelines to be implemented by the police, which will affect the public. In this case, it is pre-trial bail. Your Lordships may have assumed that a body called the College of Policing to which the Home Office has been granting regulatory authority is a statutory body set up by Parliament, and that perhaps you had missed the Bill setting it up when it went through this House. That is what I thought until recently, when I discovered that it has no statutory authority whatever but is a private limited company, limited by guarantee. Not many people know that, as the great Sir Michael Caine denies he ever said. It was announced by the then Home Secretary, Theresa May, on 24 October 2012, and this is what she said—sorry, this is not what she said; it was merely a Written Statement, with no questions asked:

“My Department has now legally incorporated a company limited by guarantee under the name ‘College of Policing Limited’. The college will become operational in December 2012. The college will be established on a statutory basis as soon as parliamentary time allows.”—[Official Report, Commons, 24/10/12; col. 62WS.]

Nine years and 20 Home Office Bills later, there has apparently been no time to put this powerful arm’s-length body on a statutory footing. Do your Lordships believe that this is simply an oversight? I am afraid that I am a cynical person, and I do not. I suggest that it is a deliberate attempt by the Home Office to avoid parliamentary scrutiny for this organisation.

I serve on two arm’s-length bodies and they, like dozens of others, were created by statute. It is not rocket science for the Home Office to simply copy the usual format of 10 to 15 clauses setting out the general powers of the organisation and a schedule with the technical stuff about salaries, appointments and all that sort of thing. Our statute book is full of such creations of statutory arm’s-length bodies. Indeed, the Home Office has done all the homework already; this private company, of course, has a memorandum and articles of association, which Companies House requires. It is not rocket science for the Home Office simply to lift all that from the memorandum and articles of association and add it to a Home Office Bill such as this Christmas tree one, or introduce a new one. I can conclude only that the Home Office has deliberately not done it, and it cannot say that it has had no time to do that after nine years of this limited company operating.

Let me make it clear that I do not challenge the honesty, integrity or desire of the police officers and civilians running this organisation to try to do good and reduce crime. Indeed, in my time as a Police Minister I never met a policeman who did not believe that if he or she had that little bit of extra power—to be able to take the fingerprints and DNA of everyone and keep them on file in case they are needed—they would make a huge difference in cracking down on crime. They are right, of course, but if one were to grant those powers it should be done by Parliament. I do not challenge its honesty and integrity, but I challenge its right to exist as a powerful arm’s-length body without a single minute of parliamentary time, either in the other place or in this House, devoted to considering its establishment, powers, rights and duties.

If I may say so, it gets worse. In a recent Parliamentary Answer, the Home Office confirmed that the college has put in a bid for a royal charter. Can your Lordships imagine that—a private limited company, already exempt from parliamentary creation, getting a royal charter? Who do they think they are? Of course, if it got it and if MPs or Peers—someone like me—then began to question its activity, it would say that it had a royal charter and was above repute, and how dare I question them and to mind my own business. My instinct tells me that this is simply not right.

I put down this amendment because I do not want this body to be given the right to create more regulations bypassing Parliament until both Houses of Parliament have passed a Bill creating it and granting it the powers to make laws, if we decide to do that. Some of the regulations this body makes have to be laid before Parliament by the Home Secretary without questions asked unless the Home Secretary has grievous reasons for refusing to do so. They are just laid before Parliament, stuck in the Library and not debated in this House.

I was inspired to look into this because of the guidance being issued by the police on Covid. This House passed regulations on wearing masks and the two-metre rule and then, a few days later, the college seemed to issue contrary instructions to the police on how they should be enforced. I was therefore concerned that the college was issuing guidance which may have been illegal. The Cabinet Office calls the college part of the What Works Network. It may work quite well for the college, but I do not think it works well enough for the public, who are affected by illegal guidance.

When I tabled this amendment, I had absolutely no idea that the Court of Appeal would, just a few days before Christmas, rightly condemn the college for issuing guidance on recording 120,000 innocent people as having criminal records for committing non-crime hate incidents. The court said that the college acted unlawfully, and that was exactly my fear. Even if there were an SI on this matter that had been through both Houses of Parliament, it might have been struck down on judicial review, but I suggest that there would be a much smaller possibility of that if it had been debated in both Houses of Parliament rather than being merely a rule invented by a private limited company.

As your Lordships know, the Home Office has rushed in an amendment to partly tackle that illegal behaviour by the College of Policing. It will be dealt with on Monday, so now is not the time or place to talk about it. I will say more on it on Monday. However, it seems to make the point abundantly clear that when guidance is invented not in an Act, not even by secondary legislation, but by a third party outside parliamentary control, the rights of the subject can be imperilled, no matter the decency or the integrity of the people making those regulations. The College of Policing no doubt does some good work, but it should be an arm’s-length government body approved by Parliament, not a private limited company. All I want to hear from the Minister tonight is when this organisation will be put on a statutory footing in an Act approved by Parliament. I beg to move.

Photo of Lord Judge Lord Judge Convenor of the Crossbench Peers 8:45, 12 January 2022

My Lords, I put my name to this amendment because it raises some important and delicate issues. I follow the noble Lord in asking: can we please have a date? Can we at least be told that somebody is considering the position of the College of Policing? As he said, it is a company under the control of the Secretary of State with no statutory basis.

There is no problem with the College of Policing issuing guidance to police officers about how police officers should go about their responsibilities, as that is what it is there for. However, the college, a non-statutory body, is being required or invited by the schedule to this Bill—we are not going to look at that now, because it is too late and we all want to go home and there is a lot more business to come—to issue guidance which will impact on bail decisions. Bail is a question of liberty; it will impact on that. We are told not to worry because there is no liability one way or the other for not following the guidance, but we are also told that a court considering an issue such as this may take into account whether the guidance issued by the College of Policing on this issue has been followed. My point is very simple and very small compared to the major issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra. It is: should instructions or guidance issued by the College of Policing have any impact whatever on a decision made by a court that a citizen should or should not be granted bail?

Photo of Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Lord Hodgson of Astley Abbotts Chair, Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, Chair, Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee

My Lords, I support my noble friend Lord Blencathra. He and I have been chasing down issues with secondary and, tonight, tertiary legislation for some months and have produced reports to that effect that I think have found favour in your Lordships’ House, bearing mind the number of noble Lords who wished to speak in the debate tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Cavendish, last Thursday.

Government by Diktat, the title of a report by the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee, which I chair, is alive and well and living with the situation that my noble friend wishes to remedy. The issues of regulation and guidance, of who provides the guidance and of how enforceable it is are questions with which the SLSC has been struggling. However, if we have been struggling with that, when it comes to this latest idea the guidance will not even touch the sides of the regulatory process of your Lordships’ House. We as a House will be presented with a series of faits accomplish, and unless somebody is able to persuade the usual channels to find time to debate something, we will just be told, “There it is and off we go”.

That is not a satisfactory situation. It is part of a much wider issue of how we deal with secondary and, in this case, tertiary legislation, but my noble friend Lord Blencathra has done a valuable service by bringing this case to the surface. We will make progress in this area only if every time we see this sort of thing emerging we raise it, talk about it and try to deal with it. That is why I support the amendment and put my name to it.

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

My Lords, as the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, said, in December 2011 the then Home Secretary announced the establishment of the College of Policing and the Government said that as soon as parliamentary time allowed, the College of Policing would be established as a statutory body, independent of government.

Now it is 10 years later. In addition to supporting what other noble Lords have said, I say that the College of Policing being a limited company undermines its credibility, which is not strong among operational police officers in any event. There is an anti-intellectual culture in the police service and the very name gets operational cops’ backs up. To then see documentation that the college produces marked as copyright of the College of Policing Ltd, an organisation headed by someone called a chief executive rather than a chief constable, further undermines its status and credibility in the eyes of operational police officers.

For these reasons, we support bringing forward legislation this calendar year that would go further than re-establishing the professional body for policing under an Act of Parliament. The college should be renamed and the head of the organisation should have the title “Chief Constable”.

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

My Lords, I have listened carefully to this short debate and the points made by the noble Lords, Lord Blencathra and Lord Paddick, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge. It will be interesting to hear what the Minister has to say about placing the College of Policing on a statutory basis. I also listened to the point made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and it would be interesting if there were a long debate about pre-charge bail.

However, it is important to say something about the schedule that is mentioned in the amendment. We strongly support the provisions in the Bill on pre-charge bail. The House is aware that the changes that have been brought forward are known as Kay’s law, after Kay Richardson, who was murdered by an abusive ex-partner after he was released when he was under investigation, rather than placed on pre-charge bail. Our concern, picking up the point rightly made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, is that the guidance under Part 6 of Schedule 4 should be clear and effective and should accurately reflect the necessary changes made to the use of pre-charge bail under the Bill.

We understand that this was brought forward as Kay’s law, and all of us will have abhorred the horror of what happened. Notwithstanding that, it will be interesting to hear the Minister’s response to all of that.

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

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Blencathra for explaining the amendment, which in substance relates to the power conferred on the College of Policing to issue guidance about pre-charge bail. I recognise that my noble friend has made a wider point about the appropriateness of the College of Policing in its current guise issuing any operational guidance to the police.

The set of reforms in Schedule 4 to the Bill, known collectively—as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, mentioned —as Kay’s law, aims to establish a pre-charge bail system which is fairer and more efficient, with the removal of the presumption against bail and changes to pre-charge bail timescales. My noble friend’s amendment would require the College of Policing to be placed on a statutory footing before it can issue guidance on pre-charge bail. In practical terms, this would mean that the guidance, and therefore the whole pre-charge bail reform package, would need to be delayed while an appropriate legislative vehicle was found for this fundamental change to the college’s status.

Guidance to underpin these changes is essential to secure the effective implementation of the reforms, and I think I should stress again that the guidance is about pre-charge bail, not court-ordered post-charge bail. Policing partners have made it clear throughout the drafting of the provisions that clear statutory guidance aimed at operational experts is required to build a system which is consistently applied across all forces.

I understand that my noble friend’s amendment probes the issue of the College of Policing’s status, but it is important to note that a number of the college’s functions have statutory underpinning. Among other things, Sections 123 to 130 of the Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Act 2014 enable the college to issue codes of practice for chief officers and guidance about the experience, qualification and training of police staff. The provisions in Schedule 4 to the Bill enabling the college to issue guidance about pre-charge bail would thus be an extension of these existing powers.

As the college is the professional body for policing, the Government consider it entirely appropriate that it should be able to issue guidance which police officers are required to have regard to when exercising functions to which the guidance relates. The Government do not believe that the fact that the college is not a body established by statute alters that fact. It is relevant, however, that the guidance to be issued under Part 6 of Schedule 4 is subject to the approval of the Home Secretary, who is, as my noble friend Lord Blencathra said, accountable to Parliament, and must be laid before Parliament. It is therefore open to either House to scrutinise the guidance at any time.

The college does hold the long-term aim of achieving royal charter status, as my noble friend noted, but the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, asked whether its status was being considered in any other ways. It is. The college chair, my noble friend Lord Herbert of South Downs, is currently undertaking a fundamental review of the college, which may include recommendations about its status. Obviously, the Government will consider the recommendations flowing from the review when it is published, but I am afraid I do not know when that will be, to pre-empt any questions.

As I indicated, regardless of the college’s legal status, we believe it is entirely proper that it should be able to issue guidance of this kind to which police officers must have regard. I should reiterate that the practical effect of this amendment would be unacceptably to delay the implementation of these necessary reforms, which, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, noted, have wide support and would better help protect the victims of crime. It is crucial that Kay’s law is delivered in a timely way, supported by robust guidance issued by the professional body for policing, and the current provisions do exactly that.

I am afraid that I cannot answer my noble friend Lord Blencathra’s specific question about when space may be found to alter that. I would be surprised if that answer surprised him, but I hope that, having had this opportunity to debate the role and status of the College of Policing, he will be content to withdraw his amendment.

Photo of Lord Blencathra Lord Blencathra Chair, Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, Chair, Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee

My Lords, I think that my noble friend has inadvertently answered the question of when it will be done. It is quite clear, reading between the lines, that the Home Office does not intend to do it ever. So do the Home Office, he and the Home Secretary still stand by the promise of the then Home Secretary in 2012 that this would be put on a statutory footing?

If I may say so, the Home Office, in drafting my noble friend’s speech, has been a bit disingenuous. It knows fine I am not opposed to the schedule. The schedule was the mechanism by which we could debate the principle of the college not being on a statutory footing. I discussed this with the Public Bill Office. I looked at various ALBs, including the two of which I am a member, and asked the staff whether I could lift 12 clauses from one of them, change the name to the College of Policing and lift the schedule. They said, “That would be 12 clauses to debate. It would be easier, Lord Blencathra, just to find a mechanism to say that the college must be put on a statutory footing before this schedule is approved.”

I am not opposed to the schedule—no one is. It was a mechanism in order that we could debate the principle. I must say that I am rather concerned by my noble friend’s reply—but also how delighted I am that, on this occasion, the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and I are on the same side, despite some strenuous disagreements in the past few weeks. I must say to my noble friend that, if I had realised, and had had the nous and wit beforehand to discuss with the Lib Dems and possibly the Labour Party what this amendment was about, we could have had agreement tonight and I could have forced it to the vote and won it. Of course, I am not going to do that tonight, but I can tell the Home Office that this issue will not go away. I detect the mood among other parties here, and I hope among my noble friends as well, that we must honour the Home Secretary’s promise to have this body put on a statutory footing.

It may be jolly good that my noble friend Lord Herbert is doing an internal review to decide what should be done. Jolly good luck to him—but it is not up to the College of Policing to determine its own future and then tell the Home Office that it is quite happy to continue in the present guise. It is up to Parliament to decide the future of this organisation. An important point on which the Home Office has relied is that the 2014 Act gave the college the power to invent more regulations. It has the power to do it but it does not have the authority; just shovelling on more and more regulations, such as the one on pre-charge bail tonight, and giving the college more of that to do, does not legitimise its status. It simply adds more wrongs to the fact that a private limited company is in charge.

I am very grateful to my noble friend for his reply, because he has inspired me to let off steam. I think the Government have lost the argument, but they did not really make the argument tonight to justify this body still being a private limited company. We will return to this in due course—and, possibly, next time we will have votes on it. In that spirit, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.

Amendment 104G withdrawn.

Amendment 105 not moved.

Clause 46: Positions of trust