With this it will be convenient to discuss the following:
Amendment 36, in clause 123, page 95, line 29, at end insert—
‘(3A) The Secretary of State shall from time to time publish guidance as to the quality standard of service expected under this section.’.
The clause allows the police and crime commissioner or local policing body to provide or commission services. As currently drafted, subsection (1) says:
“A local policing body may”—
“may” is the crucial word—
“provide or arrange for the provision of services that…will secure…crime and disorder reduction in the body’s area”.
In particular, it will help victims or witnesses of, or other persons affected by, offences and anti-social behaviour.”
Subsection (3) states:
“A local policing body…may make grants in connection with the arrangements.”
At the moment, the Government are giving considerable thought on how best to provide victim and witness services to the great British public. Currently, after much cogitation, deliberation and thought, the Government decided to split the current national contract on witnesses and victims in a way that provides for a national witness service to be established in England and Wales, and for police and crime commissioners to have responsibility to commission services for victims at local level. Currently, around £66 million is being distributed for victim support nationally. Some time later this year, possibly in October, a further announcement will be made by the Ministry of Justice to ensure that the financial split is taken by the Ministry to establish a witness service nationally and, at some point in the future, to devolve victim services to police and crime commissioners.
My worry with the Bill as currently drafted is the use of the word “may”. Under the clause, a local policing body “may provide” help to victims or witnesses. Currently, under the national contract in England and Wales, it “will provide”. That service is provided now. If I go to Mold Crown court in my constituency, I will see Victim Support operating at local level, providing victims and witnesses with help and support in difficult circumstances.
On Saturday, I met some people at a local fête, who said, “What’s happening to the victim support service at Mold Crown court?” I said that I did not know, because under this Bill, it will come under the responsibility of the police and crime commissioner for north Wales. He will decide whether he wants to provide a victim service. My worry, and the point I make with the amendment, is that at the moment there is a local victim support service. It is mostly provided by Victim Support on a national contract, and the Government want to break that up and allow local commissioning.
The purpose of my amendment is not to challenge local commissioning or even to say that a certain amount of money should go into it, but to focus on the fact that at the moment a police and crime commissioner may or may not choose to provide a service for victims and witnesses. When Adam Pemberton of Victim Support gave evidence to the Committee, I asked him for his view about the £66 million going to victim support issues, distributed nationally. I said:
“If there is a split, with a portion of the money for the witness services, which is done nationally, and a portion of money is devolved to 43 police and crime commissioners, what guarantees have you got that they will do what is currently being done?”––[Official Report, Anti-Social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Public Bill Committee, 20 June 2013; c. 85, Q170.]
Adam Pemberton replied: “There are no guarantees.”
Is this not, in general, about the principle of police and crime commissioners and the fact that they are democratically accountable for the services they provide? In Kent, our PCC has indeed signed Victim Support’s charter, thereby signing up to the five promises it gives victims. I noticed that the independent PCC for north Wales has not signed the charter. Surely, when it comes to the next election for PCCs, it will be up to the electorate to be aware of such issues and to understand which PCCs prioritise victim support.
Let me meet the hon. Lady halfway. There is responsibility under current legislation for police and crime commissioners to account locally for their actions. At the moment there is a national contract and a victim support service in every local police authority area. The Government are breaking up that national contract, keeping the national part of it for witnesses. Under clause 123 a local policing body “may provide” the service locally. Equally, it may not. I accept that might be a decision for the local electorate to take with the police and crime commissioner at a future election.
I would rather give statutory responsibility to police and crime commissioners to provide some level of service. My amendment would not say how much they had to provide or with whom they had to provide it. It would say that as part of their police and crime commissioner responsibility they have to provide some form of victim service. There is a crucial difference between some of the choices that a police and crime and commissioner could make by commissioning the service from body X or body Y, or deciding to put in £5 million, £3 million, £1 million or whatever it might be at a local level. That is a legitimate decision.
At the moment, without “may” turning into “shall”, as provided by my amendment, there is no guarantee that a victim service will be provided locally. I say that because in oral evidence Adam Pemberton said:
“During the election campaign, we asked PCCs to sign a series of pledges, and 33 out of the 41 who were elected last November signed up to those promises.” ––[Official Report, Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Public Bill Committee, 20 June 2013; c. 86, Q7.]
That means, however, that eight did not. At the moment there are eight areas in England and Wales where a victim service is provided nationally by the Ministry of Justice, but if the Bill is enacted there may not be in future, because the police and crime commissioner may choose to spend the resources devolved to them on whatever they want: pot plants in their office, police community support officers, police constables or whatever. There is a real gap that changing “may” to “shall” would fill. It would give the sense that it is the responsibility of police and crime commissioners to provide a victim support service locally.
Under clause 123 if amended, PCCs could choose how to supply the service. They could choose how much money they want to put into it and be held accountable for that. That is why I go halfway to meeting the hon. Lady. However, without the amendment, they do not have to do it at all. We are not adding to the Bill; we are potentially taking something away. I think there is a real issue and I would welcome the Minister’s reflecting on it as my starting bid to replace “may” with “shall”.
The other amendments would allow the Minister to give guidance on the quality standard that anybody who is commissioned to provide a victim service should meet. At the moment there is a national contract with Victim Support, a national charity with national standards and it is accountable through the wonders of Parliament to the Minister who awards the contract and can re-award it to somebody else at a later date. The Minister can set whatever standards he or she wants. The Minister awards the contract through officials to Victim Support.
Under the new arrangements proposed in clause 123
“the local policing body may provide” a service, but there is no guarantee of the quality or structure of that service at local level. In theory, anybody could set themselves up as a victim support service in north Wales; anybody could bid for the commissioned contract. There is no quality standard and no price standard, and nothing set down by the Minister on the basic standards of that victim support service. Even if a police and crime commissioner decides to provide the service, there is no standard for what is expected. All I ask for through the other amendments is that the Minister issues guidance to police and crime commissioners on the standards for any victim support service the Government shall—not, I hope, may—commission.
There are two key issues. First, should we supply a victim support service locally? Should we tell police and crime commissioners in statute, “One of your duties is to supply a victim support service locally. Do it with who you like and spend what you want, but you have a duty to supply it”? Secondly, should we allow the Minister, through his officials, to issue guidance to police and crime commissioners about the quality standard we expect in that service? Those are both reasonable propositions, which the Minister should be able to accept, and I hope he does so.
The amendments bring us to the subject of the provision of services for victims and witnesses. We all agree that it is important to provide proper support to help victims and witnesses recover, in so far as it is possible to recover from the sometimes devastating effect of a crime. That is why we are legislating to provide police and crime commissioners with the power to commission a wide range of support services using the widest possible means. PCCs are ideally placed to understand the support needs of victims and witnesses in their area—more so than a single Minister sitting in Whitehall—and, therefore, to commission services to meet those needs.
Let me try to reassure the right hon. Member for Delyn. It is our intention to provide police and crime commissioners with specific and protected funding for victims’ services by way of a grant issued under section 56 of the Domestic Violence, Crime and Victims Act 2004. The grant will be made for the purpose of funding victims’ services provided or arranged by PCCs and could not be spent on anything other than victims’ services.
Victims and witnesses are a key priority for police and crime commissioners, as shown by the police and crime plans they all published earlier this year. They are already engaging with victims, witnesses and service providers to assess current provision and to develop their understanding of the needs of victims in their community. Indeed, a key benefit of local commissioning is that police and crime commissioners will be able to commission services to meet the specific needs of victims in their community. I have no doubt that PCCs will want to provide victims’ services, and this power allows them to do so in a way that tailors service provision to local needs. Converting it into a duty to commission victims’ services would give rise to a need to specify how the duty should be discharged, which would diminish that crucial element of local determination.
Subsection (3) provides police and crime commissioners with the power to issue grants for the purposes of providing or arranging services. A specific statutory power is required to issue grants, whereas contracts can be entered into without such a power. The intention in the clause is to ensure that police and crime commissioners can commission services using the widest possible means—by grant, by contract or by providing the services themselves—to suit the service and local circumstances. They may choose to provide victims’ services directly or they may wish to enter into a collaboration arrangement with a neighbouring force area, agreeing that the neighbouring PCC contracts for the provision of victims’ services, which will be available across both force areas. It is therefore important that PCCs have sufficient powers to arrange for victims’ services to be provided in the most appropriate way. We do not, therefore, want to restrict local flexibility by imposing a duty to make grants.
On amendment 36, I started by highlighting the importance of providing victims and witnesses of crime with the support they need. Although quality standards can be important in specific circumstances, the Government have gone further by stating that services should be assessed on the basis of the difference they make to victims. All support services, whether commissioned by PCCs or central Government, must aim to help victims to cope with, and to recover from, the effects of crime, and success in achieving those outcomes is the measure against which services will be judged. The focus on outcomes clearly tells police and crime commissioners what is required of them as they commission services, but it allows them discretion in how to achieve those outcomes for victims. When they consider bids to provide services, commissioners will clearly want to see evidence of an organisation’s ability to meet those outcomes for victims, and they will want to set clear specifications for monitoring and quality assurance in any grant or contract. In May, we provided commissioners with a commissioning framework to support them in delivering the Government’s aims for victims and witnesses. A quality standard across the breadth of victims’ services is, therefore, neither desirable nor necessary to ensure the commissioning of truly effective services.
I hope that the right hon. Gentleman is reassured that we are committed to providing victims and witnesses with the best quality support, which is commissioned by police and crime commissioners who understand the needs of their communities and delivered by organisations that have the proven ability to meet those needs. With that reassurance, I hope that he will be content to withdraw the amendment.
I am afraid that I am not. I would rather listen to Mr Adam Pemberton, the assistant chief executive of Victim Support, who said, in answer to question 176:
“I therefore think it is important that there is a quality threshold”.
In answer to the following question, he said:
“If the Committee wanted to endorse that and say that a clear quality standard has to be met, that would be welcome.”––[Official Report, Anti-social Behaviour, Crime and Policing Public Bill Committee, 20 June 2013; c. 87, Q177.]
I know that Mr Pemberton has an interest in the provision of services because he works for Victim Support, but we want to have a quality service and a quality threshold. The Government are devolving to police and crime commissioners that they may provide a service to victims, but the Government have not issued any guidance about what that service should consist of and they have not set a quality threshold.
That is not a satisfactory way forward, especially since 33 of the 41 elected commissioners have pledged to provide victim support but eight have not done so. Taking up the point made by the hon. Member for Chatham and Aylesford, if those eight commissioners say that they do not want to provide a victim service locally, will the Government be satisfied with that, given that such a service currently exists? In my area of north Wales, as has been said in an intervention, the police and crime commissioner has been elected—albeit on 6% of a 13% poll—so is it reasonable, if he is devolved a proportion of the £66 million that is intended for victim services nationally, for him to spend that money on something else and be held accountable for that decision in three years’ time?
A statutory duty on local policing bodies to provide victim services and a duty on Ministers to publish guidance would be helpful. Such duties would not be controversial, especially given that the amendments do not prescribe that commissioners must do something in-house or do something with commissioners elsewhere; they would be able to provide such services with whom they want and for how much they want, but they would have to provide a basic service of some sort and the Minister would have to issue guidance. I am not convinced, so I would like to test the view of the Committee on amendments 34 and 36.