Examination of Witnesses

Policing and Crime Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:41 pm on 15th March 2016.

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Dr Julie Chalmers and Sally Burke gave evidence.

Q We will now hear oral evidence from the Royal College of Psychiatrists and the “Get Maisie Home” campaign. We have until 4.30 pm for this session. I ask the two witnesses to introduce themselves for the record.

Dr Chalmers:

My name is Dr Julie Chalmers. I am a specialist adviser in mental health law to the Royal College of Psychiatrists. I am also a community psychiatrist, and I chair the multi-agency section 136 group at the college.

Sally Burke:

I am Sally Burke. I am mum to Maisie, a 14-year-old girl who is struggling with mental health issues. She is also on the autistic spectrum.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

Q To start with, what are your general views on the provisions in the Bill about amending the Mental Health Act 1983?

Dr Chalmers:

First, we welcome the focus on mental health crisis, following on from the excellent work that has been done by the concordat. The college is very much behind the principles that are driving the changes to legislation. Having said that, there are some very sensible changes. For example, there is the issue regarding clarification of a public place. My colleagues in the British Transport police and the healthcare workers who work alongside them have struggled with that issue. That is a very important change, because we know that the railway line is an important issue with suicide.

However, we have to step back and see section 136 in a much wider context of crisis care. I would be concerned that the legislation cart is coming before the horse. There have been significant changes in the past two years. Certainly, the number of people who are going to a health-based place of safety has increased. As you may know, the figures are variable, but it looks like about 80% of people, if not more, now go to these places. So there have been considerable improvements within the health services in their response to crisis.

We cannot do our job if we do not have the resources. Changes to the law could put pressure on the crisis services at a number of points, and I can expand on this if the Committee wishes. For example, there is the suggestion of changing the length of time to 24 hours. In principle that is an excellent idea. We want to reduce the time that people are subject to detention, particularly when that has been prompted by someone who is not a mental health professional. I think that 24 hours is a realistic timeframe in which to do that if the resources are in place. Generally, the areas that keep figures will tend to be the good areas. However, it is possible to meet people’s needs within a relatively short period of time, and do the assessment within several hours of presentation. That is perhaps not within the three hours that the college would set as the gold standard, but it is certainly within that longer period. It does become a problem if someone is intoxicated, or if they come in overnight when resources are less available and that gets passed on to the daytime services. There may be a knock-on effect.

The main problem that I see with the laudable aim of reducing the time for which people are subject to detention is when we come to the very small group of people who are subject to section 136 who need to be detained in hospital. As you have probably heard, approximately 20% of people need to come into hospital, and some of them will need to be detained under the Mental Health Act. If we cannot identify a bed for a person to go to, we might very quickly run up against this 24-hour time period. Then we—the AMHP, the approved mental health professional—are left in the most appalling situation. It is the job of the AMHP to make the recommendation for admission to hospital based on two medical recommendations. We have to say which hospital and which bed that person is going to. If we cannot identify that, then after 24 hours we will be in a position of acting unlawfully, because we have no way of detaining the person. I note that the Bill as it is currently written suggests that someone could be detained on clinical grounds. There is a lack of clarity around on what grounds we could extend.

I want to flag up to you the very important point that we may be in a situation where we cannot find a bed. That is not just me shroud-waving. The Committee will be aware that the Lord Crisp commission has highlighted the appalling situation where we are struggling to find beds. On occasions, we have to send people away, usually to independent hospitals. I will say a word about the difficulties there. Something like 500 people in a month have to travel more than 50 km to find a bed.

It sounds easy, “Let’s just find a bed in an independent hospital. Why wouldn’t they want to take somebody?” My team is in this position several times a month, where we will phone around several hospitals looking for a bed. Perhaps this sounds ungenerous, but sometimes it feels that if you have a choice you can cherry-pick the kind of patients you want to take. Often we think we are offered a bed, then we send the details and it is turned down. I am really concerned. Although I welcome it in principle, I just want to flag up the important resource issues that we might come up against with the 24-hour period.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

Q Like you, I welcome the broad provision that has been put in place but I have this concern. What will happen is that people will not be taken to a police cell—which is what we are trying to avoid—but will likely be kept at home because that is now deemed as a place of safety.

Without statistics being published, we will see the number of people being referred to police stations going down, but we will not know what has happened to them. Do you think there should be in the Bill an onus on a local force to keep statistics of what happens to people under sections 135 and 136? Otherwise, we could get a situation whereby the problem just gets masked rather than solved.

Dr Chalmers:

Your point is very well made. As early as 2011, the inter-agency group made a plea for good statistics. If you do not know what is happening we cannot track it.

If I could just take you back. I think we need to distinguish section 135 from section 136. Section 136 will never occur in a person’s home. What I think the Bill seeks to address is the lack of clarity about whether you could undertake the assessment in the patient’s home when you had entered with a warrant. It is the police who will administer, if you like, the warrant. They will act on the warrant accompanied by the AMHP and a doctor.

Up to now it has been unclear whether you could stay in that person’s home to undertake the assessment, or whether the Mental Health Act as written required you to remove a person to a place of safety. I have done many assessments in a person’s home, and I think that is probably better than removing them, particularly if it is not clear that you will actually detain somebody in hospital. It is important to clarify that.

Your point about data is particularly pertinent to section 135, where those are not collected nationally. Of course, there are two 135 warrants. There is the one to enter a person’s home to remove to a place of safety, and one to return them to hospital. We do need those data.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

Q Can I clarify the position? The Bill would require a police officer to consult a mental health professional or nurse before removing someone from a place of safety, where it is “practicable to do so”. What is your view on that wording?

Dr Chalmers:

My personal view is that that has slipped in. As far as I am aware, that was not consulted on. I do not necessarily know what the college position would be, other than to say it is always a good thing to talk. I would say that as a psychiatrist.

I just wonder whether that needs to be in legislation rather than in regulations or in the code of practice, because it is straying into an area of telling people what to do using the law, which I am not sure is particularly helpful. What we do know, based on evidence from the street triage projects, is that where people work together and there are conversations between police and healthcare professionals in some areas, it has led to significant reductions. If you include this provision, we are behind. The services are very patchy and variable. In some places it would work very well because police would have immediate access to somebody with authority to give advice. In other places, they would be foundering. Without bringing the resources alongside the law, there is the risk of setting people up to fail. Allowing things to develop in localities can find the best way of working, because there might be different pathways.

I have sidetracked your question, because I wonder whether we need to scrutinise whether that is a wise thing to have in statute rather than in regulation or within the code of practice.

Photo of Kevan Jones Kevan Jones Labour, North Durham

Q May I ask one last question on advocacy? Clearly, some individuals have family members or others to explain the law or situation to them. In many of these cases, individuals have no one. What is your view about making it a requirement for people to have access to advocates?

Dr Chalmers:

It would be a pragmatic response. There are pragmatic responses and principled responses. It is essential that people have good information explaining in easy, accessible language what is happening to them and their rights at that point. Nursing staff in section 136 suites are well placed to do that. Again, I would imagine that that is patchy, but it is something that should be built into the specifications and reviewed.

The pragmatic answer is that for people on longer-term sections, for whom there is a statutory right to advocacy, the responses are patchy, so we have not got it right for the people who already have a statutory right to advocacy. I think stretching it to 3 o’clock in the morning is going to be very difficult.

Photo of Jake Berry Jake Berry Conservative, Rossendale and Darwen

Q If I may address Sally: thank you for coming here today and for providing very detailed information about the journey you have been on with Maisie in advance of our meeting, for which we are all extremely grateful. As someone who has experienced the problems faced by yourself and Maisie at first hand, can you tell us a little about those experiences and what further you think we can do in the Bill to try to help parents who find themselves in the same situation?

Sally Burke:

I have to state that of all the agencies we have worked with in crises, the police have gone the furthest in improving how they are with Maisie and understanding her. I welcome the Bill for not putting children in a cell as a place of safety. Maisie has not been in that position—just the thought of it—I did not realise at the time the damaging effect it would have had on her.

As Maisie’s parent my main concern was to keep her safe, but I was in too much of a state seeing my child doing the things that she was doing to make a long-term decision. With hindsight, I was able to reflect on what the police need to do in that crisis. I am now more hardened to it, so if Maisie wraps something around her neck, I can say, “Take that off”. Before, I would be going to pieces asking, “Oh, what do I need to do? I need to find a pair of scissors, but everything is locked away in a safe, so find the keys”. It is an awful predicament to be in, but you do get hardened to it, as you know, and a lot of police officers are hardened to those scenarios.

You need to have officers who can talk about mental health to parents. The approach of a lot of the front-line officers who turn up depends on their view on mental health. An older generation chap would think, “It’s attention-seeking, this. What do we do with this girl?” But younger people who we have had out seem to be more sympathetic and have more of an empathy on mental health and can deal with Maisie on a much friendlier, teenage level, which brings her down. If you have somebody who has quite a negative view on mental health thinking that she is having a behaviour fit and wants some attention, trying to bring her down in that scenario is not as effective.

It is also important to help a parent make a decision about the best way forward and the best place to go for safety that will have the best impact on that child in the long run. That is really important. My confidence has grown massively over the past two years since we first went into crisis. The first time I went into crisis with Maisie, if somebody had told me they were taking her to the moon right now to keep her safe, I would have said yes, because it was so horrible. You just cannot comprehend how you feel, as a parent. So I think it is about educating the officers who go out to these calls.

I have helped our local police force. I have been to conferences there and have heard the mental health cop talk to the officers and say, “60% to 70% of our time is spent on mental health conditions, yet we get hardly any training; 6% to 7% of our time is on criminal offences, or crimes, and how much training do you get for those activities?” When you see it in the balance, I think that would really help families and youngsters in mental health crisis.

Also, if you could sew into that, with your magic wand, some training on autism and learning difficulties, because that comes across as a bit of a grey area. Some officers just do not know what autism is and how to treat a child with autism. When Maisie is in crisis, she does not like to be touched, but an officer will come up to her and say, “Come on, Maisie, it’s okay” and she will freak out because she does not want to be touched. So there needs to be some education around how best to approach a child in that crisis scenario.

Photo of Jake Berry Jake Berry Conservative, Rossendale and Darwen

Thank you, we really appreciate that. We have the College of Policing coming next so I and other colleagues, I am sure, will raise that issue with them. That has been extremely helpful.

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Q Sally, thank you very much. Your point about the amount of time police spend dealing with this is exactly why we want to do what we are doing in the Bill. It had been too easy, I think, for all agencies to let the police deal with this problem. It had become a police problem, but it never should have been. Police should always have been the last resort; it should always have been other agencies stepping in. You say you have not had the personal experience of a 136, but I wonder, as you have come into contact with police, whether you have had any experience of the mental health triage that I know many forces have rolled out as part of the crisis care concordat?

Sally Burke:

She has been 136, but not taken to a cell. She has been taken to the adult 136 suite in a mental health unit, or to our local A&E department. With the triage, do you mean the concordat?

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Well, the triage; so having mental health professionals with the police at the same time. Is that something you have experienced in your area?

Sally Burke:

No; I wrote it down as Julie was talking. It is a postcode lottery, with the concordat and there being mental health staff available. As part of our campaign, just this January, we got a children’s mental health team as a wrap-around service, because we did not have anything. If Maisie went into crisis at a weekend or out of hours, there was no child and adolescent mental health services team available for her at all. It was, where do we put this child? As for concordat and triage, no.

In our experience of Maisie’s bespoke package, agencies say that they will work together, but it is actually worse for us as a family, because they will talk to one another, but they don’t listen. [Laughter.] No, they don’t. They each have their own system, and boxes that they need to tick, and they do not cross over for the child. It is not what is best for the child; different agencies have boxes that get ticked in their protocol and it does not fit across the board, so lots of things get left because nobody wants to be accountable for this child.

At the end of the day, Maisie gets sent to units all over the country and every professional who works with her says it is more damaging for that to happen, but nobody wants to take the responsibility. So at the end of the day, we have got a child who is going through lots of trauma and not getting the help because, on paper, it looks great that all these agencies are working together, but, certainly where we are, it is not working.

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Q Accountability comes through so many times on so many different cases. Can I suggest that my officials speak to you and we try to get together and look at what is happening in your specific area? Perhaps we can see if we can push things through.

Sally Burke:

That would be lovely.

Photo of Mike Penning Mike Penning The Minister of State, Home Department, The Minister of State, Ministry of Justice

You could go and see where triage is taking place, outside your area so that you can experience that as well.

Sally Burke:

I feel that the NHS has made so many cuts—especially in our area, with mental health—that the police have had to take the brunt of where to put these children. If you continue to show that that is their responsibility, they are never going to put the money back into children’s mental health and tick the areas.

Photo of Karen Bradley Karen Bradley The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

I would really like to show you the triage, so let us talk about that outside here.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Q You talked about how local authorities and agencies need to talk together. The beginning part of the Bill is about having a duty of collaboration between the ambulance, police and fire services. If we had a magic wand, where would you want a duty of collaboration to lie?

Sally Burke:

In regards to mental health?

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Q In regards to Maisie. How would it make it better for Maisie?

Sally Burke:

Maisie has got post-traumatic stress disorder, so she can go into crisis at any point—even from a song being played on the radio, if that takes her back to memories that are not very nice. It is about having somewhere that is safe and suitable. If she had a broken leg, you would not put her in a cell because the general hospital did not have a bed. It is about having a professional who is caring—the police do care, I do not mean that—and properly trained to deal with that, because it is a medical condition.

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Home Office)

Q Dr Chalmers, if there was a duty of co-operation and you had a magic wand, where would you make it happen?

Dr Chalmers:

If I had to choose one area—

Photo of Lyn Brown Lyn Brown Shadow Minister (Home Office)

You can give us as many areas as you like: we have got a listening Government.

Dr Chalmers:

A duty of co-operation—and real co-operation—would be between NHS England, clinical commissioning groups and local services, to have a dialogue around crisis care.

Dr Chalmers:

Yes, local authority, health and social care—and it should be accountable. There are two things that the college would like to bring to your attention for consideration. One is that there should be reporting through CCGs to the Secretary of State about the state of crisis services in the area and how they are developing, or not, against the concordat aims. There is also an anomaly within the code of practice to the Mental Health Act, which requires people like me—section 12 doctors, AMHPs—to be bound by the good practice in the code, but requires commissioners to just take account of it. They should have a statutory obligation to work within the code of practice, because the principles underpinning the code of least restrictive option would work. We should focus that on our area—what we are doing in our area to provide services that could avert crisis and alternatives to the dreadful situations that everyone finds themselves in, where they have to do the least worse thing.

Photo of Mims Davies Mims Davies Conservative, Eastleigh

Q I want to ask Dr Chalmers about that place of safety and the work with CCGs and local authorities. I have experienced that in my patch: there is a kind of falling through the cracks, where the police do not want to use their cells as a place of safety. Do you feel that perhaps there should be some community hub, house or building? How would you term a place of safety? Is there some kind of crisis centre that we are missing, which CCGs could provide?

Dr Chalmers:

I think we are always going to require the current, classic, hospital-based place of safety. In my ideal world that would be co-located with physical health services. In the use of section 136, among the problems that we see people presenting with, the problem of intoxication—not just with alcohol but now with so-called legal highs and synthetic cannabis—can cause people to crash very suddenly. Somebody who looks as though they are in crisis can become very physically unwell. There is an argument for having centres of excellence in urban areas, on the model of centres for stroke and cardiac emergencies, where the expertise is situated and you can move between one and the other.

For some people we also need some level of security. In its guidance the college specifies what a good section 136 suite looks like. I had the unfortunate news from a Health and Safety Executive investigator where someone was taken to a hospital-based place of safety where you could just open the door and walk out, and a tragedy ensued. For some people, there has to be a degree of security.

My colleagues in the child and adolescent faculty would highlight that a safe place for someone in crisis to be assessed is also necessary, particularly for children. The rough and ready survey that was done suggested that of the children who were picked up on a section 136, 30% do not have mental health needs and instead need social care and social responses. In an ideal setting, there would be a safe place for children to go that is age appropriate, too. Rooms have to be safe, so they look stark and sterile, but you can imagine a safe place for children where their families could come. Often with a section 136 suite there are no places for families to come and visit.

There is some evidence about alternative places before people are placed on a section 136, such as crisis houses. The crisis concordat is very good at flagging up areas of good practice. There was an initiative in Leeds that has been very successful. There was one using the Richmond Fellowship in Sussex, and that has been reported on. As I understand it—this may not be correct—the numbers were so small that they have expanded the resource to be a safe place to be in crisis. There is also the use of peer support. In London, users of service have provided safe places—they call them cafés—where people can go and be in a safe place with people to talk to.

I started by saying that you should not see 136 in isolation. I think you will get into trouble trying to fix one small part of the system; you will have knock-on effects and unintended consequences. You have to see it in the round of crisis responses.

It is now 27 minutes past four. We have got three minutes left and two Members who want to ask questions. I do not think it is possible to get answers to two questions in the time available.

Photo of Maria Caulfield Maria Caulfield Conservative, Lewes

I am the MP for Lewes in Sussex, and we used to have one of the highest rates of patients with mental health problems being in police cells, but that is turning around. I want to highlight that it can work. Katy Bourne, the police and crime commissioner, has now allocated for mental health nurses to go out with the police. Is that something that you would like to see rolled out nationwide? It has certainly transformed care for patients in mental health crisis in SussexQ .

Dr Chalmers:

Certainly in my experience working in Oxfordshire—the city of Oxford was one of the nine pilot projects—we saw remarkable changes. There was a substantial reduction of, I think, 85% in the use of police cells as places of safety. Alongside that, there was a willingness among the commissioners and, in particular, the providers to increase the number of hospital-based places of safety. I would not be too prescriptive with the models, because there are a range of models. There is the nurse who goes out or there is someone in the control room. I think in the West Midlands they have all-singing, all-dancing ambulance, police and mental health all going together. If you give guiding principles, areas can perhaps decide what is best for them. I would hope that that would be driven by what is best for patients, rather than what is best for the budget.

Thank you very much. On behalf of the Committee, I thank both of you for bringing your great wealth of professional and personal experience to our attention. It is very helpful. If there are no further questions, which there are not, can we move on to the next witnesses? Thank you.

Examination of Witnesses

Dame Anne Owers, Professor Dame Shirley Pearce and Alex Marshall gave evidence.

We will now hear evidence from the Independent Police Complaints Commission and the College of Policing. This is our final panel today and we have until 5 pm. I should explain to our witnesses that we are bound by a timetable motion, so if I cut you off in mid-sentence at 5 o’clock, I am not being rude; I am simply fulfilling my obligations as the Chair.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Q Good afternoon. I have questions on two issues. One relates to the IPCC more generally and the second relates to bail, given the very important evidence that we have heard during these hearings.

On the IPCC’s role more generally, we heard evidence this morning from the Police Federation, which used the words you will have heard in the past about a “crisis of confidence” in the IPCC. In the previous Parliament, significant additional resource was put in, including by way of top-slicing. Now with a set of proposals being made at the next stages to develop and enhance the role of the IPCC—an additional resource for the IPCC—convince us that it will work.

I have one final point to throw in. In the evidence from the superintendents, they made powerful points in relation to how the inspectorate regime works and also about what they described as the difficulties of a blame culture within the police service and the importance of proportionality. Coming back to how it operates in other areas, you will know all about the parallel with pilots and the duty to report. If they report, they are not automatically disciplined as a consequence. However, if there are several incidents, action is taken on the systemic problem. Jeremy Hunt, the Secretary of State for Health, only last week talked about a culture of encouraging people to own up and take ownership of what they get wrong. I distinguish between that which clearly should be the subject of disciplinary action and what the police organisations said to us today. Dame Anne, convince us you can put it right.

Dame Anne Owers:

I will do my best. As you say, we were given additional resources. Those resources, of course, had to be converted into buildings and, more importantly, people, and those people had to be inducted and trained and got going. Next year we envisage we will be in steady state, having virtually trebled our staff and also hugely increased the number of investigations that we do. When I first came to the IPCC, we were taking on just over 100 investigations a year. We envisage this year it will be about 450 and next year our target will be somewhere between 500 and 700. So it is a massive expansion in a short time, and of course it takes time in order for that to settle.

I am very aware of the comments not just from the police side, but from complainants and bereaved families about the length of time of investigations and the quality of investigations. I think you have heard from the National Police Chiefs Council about some of the things that you cannot avoid in investigations being long, but we need to make sure that we get through them as quickly as we can. The Bill gives us some of the powers that we need to be able to get off the mark quickly: for example, the power of an initiative so we do not have to wait for something to be recorded and referred, and the ability to more quickly close off an investigation by giving us the power to find a case to answer ourselves.

You referred to the health service, and health service staff have a duty of candour in relation to investigations. We have been looking for some time for something similar to apply to police witnesses in investigations so that we can be sure we get to the truth as quickly as possible. The combination of greater resource, which is now settling in, and greater powers will be helpful, and it is our determination that we will use them well. Also, as the Home Secretary announced in Parliament on Second Reading, we have pointed to the fact—we put this up to the Home Secretary ourselves—that our current structures need to change so that we can be an effective organisation at the size we now are, which is why we put up proposals for a single accountability and decision-making structure so that we can be as effective as possible. I hope that answers your first question, and we realise that you will be looking to see that we do all those things.

On the second part of your question, I am on record as saying that I think that the police complaints system focuses too much on blame and that it is too much seen as a gateway to the disciplinary system, rather than as a way of resolving problems. You would not have that in a commercial organisation. A commercial organisation would seek to put right what had gone wrong, but it would also be in a position where it sees complaints as really useful management information, rather than as things that terrify people because they think they are going to be dismissed. This Bill goes some way towards dealing with that in the sense that it now defines a complaint, broadly, as an expression of dissatisfaction. It is giving powers to resolve that swiftly, if possible and if the complainant agrees. It is also giving ourselves, or the police and crime commissioners, who will sometimes have to review those investigations or decisions, the power to direct or recommend remedies. At the moment, the appeals system has complaints being upheld, but complainants largely do not want them to be upheld; they want an answer. The Bill goes some way towards trying to create a more effective complaints system, but I would pass over to the Committee the extent to which you and others still think that it disentangles itself sufficiently from the necessity of finding blame, rather than finding the truth.

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Q You make a very powerful point on that issue. I am familiar with continuous improvement cultures in blue chip companies from my former being. One element of that is that it is absolutely key that there is candour and that people constantly learn from the mistakes that are made to ensure that they do the job better in future. Do you want to say something more about the duty of candour?

I think we are getting into the realms of very lengthy questions and potentially lengthy answers, and a number of people want to get in. Perhaps just a quick word on this.

Dame Anne Owers:

I can write further to the Committee on this, if that would be helpful.

Photo of James Berry James Berry Conservative, Kingston and Surbiton

Q My question is to Chief Constable Marshall. I should declare that I have worked as a barrister, and I lecture at the College of Policing—it is good to have experience. The College of Policing led on the barred list. That responsibility was given to you. Could you tell the Committee how it has worked in the time that you have had ownership of that portfolio and how the changes in the Bill will help to take it to the next stage?

Alex Marshall:

The overall purpose of the College of Policing is: to build up the knowledge base in policing so that people can make evidence-based decisions; to set the educational standards for people joining policing and the education for people when they are in policing; and to set standards for forces and individuals. In that context, we have been operating the list for about 18 to 20 months, and it has achieved one place to go for all forces to ensure that someone who has been dismissed for gross misconduct in policing, or who left but would have been dismissed for gross misconduct, cannot get back into policing. The Bill puts that on a firm footing to make sure that we have the authority to do that and that, if we choose to do so, we can publish details from the list. We will still require forces to submit the data to us and to collect it in a consistent way.

Photo of James Berry James Berry Conservative, Kingston and Surbiton

Q Thank you. This is my second and final question. You run the senior command course, on which I have had the pleasure of lecturing. That is the course senior officers go on in order to qualify to be a chief officer, effectively. Could that course be opened to senior fire officers to prepare them for appointment to chief constable posts in a single-employer model?

Alex Marshall:

I came from there today—that is where I have been this morning—and it is already open to people from outside policing. For example, other Home Office departments and other parts of the military, and it will certainly be open to fire officers. The issue at the moment would be that to become a chief police officer, you must pass the four-day selection process, complete the course successfully, and be a constable. We will look at these proposals on how we bring people to that level and standard. It might just help very quickly to say that the current course has different elements such as professional policing skills, which is all about professional policing skills, and modules on leadership, ethics, business skills and working in partnership. Many of those areas, of course, will be common to senior leadership in many other organisations.

Photo of Jake Berry Jake Berry Conservative, Rossendale and Darwen

Q Coming back to the point about your role, I think you were in the room when we had quite a lot of evidence from Sally Burke. She gave us some powerful evidence about the ability of police officers, when they arrive at someone’s house, to deal with young people in mental health crisis. Specifically what support could the College of Policing give officers to ensure that they get appropriate training to deal with situations like that? Is there more that the Bill could do to support that work?

Alex Marshall:

I very much support the way in which the Bill gives greater protection, particularly to young people suffering from mental health crises and keeps them out of police cells, where they should not be. I think it reinforces the right areas. This is a very important issue for our members, particularly for the people on the frontline of policing. We have relooked at what we know about mental health, what the knowledge base is, what standards we set in this area and what education should be laid out.

We recently finished a consultation on brand new guidance for everyone who works in policing on dealing with mental health, reflecting the concordat and the work with voluntary organisations, and we will publish that in the next few weeks. There is still a lot we can do to improve the education of those officers and to set clear standards but, equally, the onus must sit with other organisations, particularly health services, to have the professionals on hand, particularly out of hours, to deal with someone who is in a crisis.

Photo of Jake Berry Jake Berry Conservative, Rossendale and Darwen

Q I have one final point on this. You said that you were about to publish it. How long after publication will it be until it becomes accepted as practice?

Alex Marshall:

It went out to a three-month consultation period that finished about six weeks ago. From memory, we are now adopting the consultation responses, including from charity and voluntary sectors. That will be published by us and then we will put it into the curriculum for everybody joining policing and for their training throughout policing. We will publish it to forces but, of course, we then rely on forces to adopt and use it.

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Conservative, Calder Valley

Q Dame Anne, could I just come back to you? It was really good to hear that the Government were listening to your ideas and allowed you to get on and do the IPCC work. Could I just touch on what you said? I think that you said that the Bill goes “some way” towards being an effective complaints system. Do I detect that we could have done more?

Dame Anne Owers:

The decision was made, and I understand why, to proceed by way of amending current legislation, rather than starting with a blank sheet. There are still a lot of tie-ups between complaints and discipline in a way that you might not do if you started from scratch. To be honest, I am grateful for what there is, so I am not about to say that the exercise should not be done. I understand exactly the pressures of legislative time and so on. There is still quite a considerable tie-up between the two, but I hope that, between us, the police and crime commissioners and ourselves will be able to develop a more effective way of handling complaints in the first instance. You should not start an investigation by saying, “Who dunnit?” You should start an investigation by saying, “What happened?”

Photo of Jack Dromey Jack Dromey Shadow Minister (Home Affairs)

Q May I ask a completely separate question? Alex, I think this goes to you. We heard evidence earlier today—this morning from two of the three police organisations and this afternoon from the National Police Chiefs Council—in respect of the provisions on bail. Sara Thornton, in particular, raised concerns about the sheer scale of the numbers involved because of the trigger that is proposed in the Bill. In her words, because of the bureaucracy that would be attached, large numbers of superintendents would have to supervise the making of the necessary arrangements. Separate concerns were expressed about what we have come to call the Dhar clause, arising out of what happened in relation to the Dhar case.

I have read your evidence, and the final paragraph says that

“in relation to the Bill’s changes to the length and authorisation of pre-charge bail, the College is currently evaluating the outcomes of a pilot study that may provide a clearer indication of costs or benefits to these…changes. Until the evaluation is complete the College will be unable to provide a final view on this issue and we will endeavour to update Parliament”.

I have not seen an impact study prepared by the Government. There may be one in the Department, but I have not seen it. It seems from what has been said here that it is common ground that we need to change the bail arrangements and how they work. Against the background of the reservations that have been expressed, one would hope that you have evidence-based legislation, as opposed to legislation to be followed by an evidence base.

You are asked to confirm an opinion, or not, but carry on.

Alex Marshall:

We share the opinion that bail needs to be very closely managed and that long periods of bail are bad for everyone in delivering good justice. What we have been doing is separate from the legislation: we are looking at how bail operates in local forces and what tighter management controls might make a difference. We have not had the data analysed yet. We have been finishing it in the last couple of weeks, but early indications are that around 30% of all the people who are arrested are put out on bail and in the forces we looked at—about half of those in England and Wales—70% of those who were bailed were bailed for more than 28 days. The rough number of people arrested each year in England and Wales is just under 1 million: about 950,000, down from 1.5 million a few years ago. That gives you an idea of the scale.

We then looked at the reasons why bail went beyond 28 days. They include getting professional statements from doctors and others, getting phones and computers analysed, taking detailed statements from vulnerable victims of crime, getting banking information and details, and getting forensics analysed and back to the investigation. We agree that the time limits should be closely monitored, but can see the resource implications of requiring a superintendent and others to be involved in what looks like a very high volume. The onus will rest on many people across the system to respond much more quickly to requests from the police conducting their investigation.

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Conservative, Braintree

Q Dame Anne, there are proposals in the Bill for super-complaints. Could I have your views on the impact that will have on public confidence in policing and the integrity of the process of policing, rather than the individuals?

Dame Anne Owers:

Yes, we have noted those. The proposal is that they would come to the inspectorate of constabulary in the first instance, not to us. It will be interesting to see how that pans out. We asked for, and have been given, a power of own-initiative to be able to go into an individual investigation when we need to. We would need to see how the super-complaints work because, at the moment, between ourselves and the inspectorate of constabulary we have quite a lot of powers to go in and look at themes and issues that are arising. We are always slightly worried that a gateway will open that then leads to many things that we cannot do anything about but will be expected to. We are waiting to see what happens.

Photo of James Cleverly James Cleverly Conservative, Braintree

Q Okay, fair enough. Following that up, you mentioned the interrelationship between yourself and HMIC. Are there crossovers? Could there be convergence? Could you and should you work together closely, or indeed is there a requirement for two separate organisations?

Dame Anne Owers:

My view is that there is a need for two separate organisations because investigating, which is inevitably reactive and responds to an incident, is different from inspecting, which is essentially preventive and regular. There is a close connection between them and with the work that the college does. Insofar as our work reveals problems and issues and we make recommendations, there is then an opportunity for HMIC to look at whether those recommendations are more than pieces of paper when it goes round and does its police effectiveness, efficiency and legitimacy programme inspections. There is also an opportunity for the college to reflect on whether that should feed into authorised professional practice and standards. Between us, we ought to be able to create a virtuous circle.

Professor Dame Shirley Pearce:

I think we are now working much more closely together. We have a concordat about how our executive and those at non-executive level work together. We have a system whereby the standards are set in one place—the forces—and assessed in another. It also requires us to look at and to monitor quite carefully the powers in the Bill, as we develop much further away from a system where we have a barred list of people who have been struck off, and towards having lists of people who are qualified to do the job and have licences to practise—therefore, we hold a list of people who have skills—to see how those powers are implemented. Do we actually have the right powers?

We welcome some of things in the Bill to give the college powers for individuals, but when it comes to forces delivering things consistently, we are still dependent on a rather heavy-duty code of practice which still only requires forces to have regard to it. As we implement this tripartite system more effectively, we are going to have to watch that we have all the right powers in the right place.

Photo of Amanda Milling Amanda Milling Conservative, Cannock Chase

Q My question is for Dame Anne on the complaints framework. Can you see the logic of a single complaints framework for both police and fire under the single employer model?

Dame Anne Owers:

I think there is a problem about that. It is a problem about our specific remit and about some of the incidents that may happen in a fire situation. Our remit is over bodies exercising policing powers. It is very clear. That can extend to Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs, it can extend to some of the immigration functions of the Home Office and it is going to extend to gangmasters, but it about the exercise of policing powers. I think there is real difficulty in just transporting the Police Reform Act onto bodies that do not do that.

Also, under the PRA, every death or serious injury must be referred to us so that we can decide whether it needs to be investigated. I think there would be real difficulty if that provision were to be applied to anyone, for example, who died in a house fire. I do not think the two run together: we have considerable concerns about whether that complaints system is suitable for the fire service.

Photo of Carolyn Harris Carolyn Harris Labour, Swansea East

Q The Bill allows for individual PCCs to decide if they will receive and record crimes. Do you think this is workable, or should there be a nationwide, uniform process which fits all sizes?

Dame Anne Owers:

You mean recording complaints?

Dame Anne Owers:

I have a lot of sympathy with that question. We are worried about the inconsistencies that may arise where, in some forces, the PCC will elect to be the person who receives complaints and in another force it may be the force itself. If you imagine, for example, a major public order incident which may involve quite a lot of forces, and we could have people directed to quite different bodies for complaints; or, indeed, forces which share a professional standards department, as some of them do. We would have preferred to see a system where either it is the PCC, or it is the force, under the oversight of the PCC.

However, I do think, as I am sure PCCs will say, that PCCs have developed some really innovative ways of dealing with complaints, some of which have worked very well. It would be useful to extrapolate broad principles and standards from them. I think it will be necessary to do that in regulations and in the statutory guidance we produce, otherwise I think issues of fairness and consistency may arise in those choices. That is one concern that we flagged up about the Bill.

Photo of Craig Whittaker Craig Whittaker Conservative, Calder Valley

Q I want to go back to what you said about putting a time limit on bail. Surely, the current system, where we have no restrictions on bail, must be counterproductive? You said people would have to react more quickly, but surely a time limit focuses minds, makes people react more quickly, becomes much more productive and frees up more time in the long run? Surely, that seems like a common-sense approach?

Alex Marshall:

I can see the purpose of a time limit. All I will say is that, so far, from the data we have looked at, the numbers are very high in terms of people who need to be bailed or who are bailed—whether they need to be, of course, becomes an interesting question—for more than 28 days to receive back forensic analysis, phone analysis, computer analysis, doctor statements and victim and witness statements from vulnerable people. Yes, of course, if people are working to a deadline, we might see a better response from all those other parties I have just listed. I just say: be careful about the resourcing consequences of imposing 28 days if that is not achievable by all those other parties. But yes, I get the common sense of your point.

Photo of Mims Davies Mims Davies Conservative, Eastleigh

Q I want to pick up a question that I have asked during the day of different witnesses and put it to Alex. It is regarding the requirements around the rank structure, the changes there, how the current structure fulfils the requirements and how you envisage things going forward in terms of your role.

Alex Marshall:

Last year, the College of Policing conducted a leadership review, saying, “We know that the nature of police work is changing quite substantially. What, over the next 10 to 15 years, do we need in terms of police leadership?” We have made 10 recommendations, which I think taken together would make quite a positive difference. One of them looks at hierarchy in policing. To put it in very simple terms, in a serious emergency the command structure in the police and other emergency services and other agencies is a very useful way of being clear about who is in charge, what the lines of accountability are and where difficult, critical decisions are made.

Having excessive hierarchy in any organisation, including the police—this is what we learnt during the leadership review—stifles innovation. Also, we want the professional at the front end to be a well educated, well trained, skilled individual who is accountable for the decisions that they make, like the community midwife coming to your house. We want that person to be taking responsibility for their decisions. We do not want hierarchy that stifles that decision making or innovation in the organisation. We think that at the moment the number of ranks in policing is probably too many, and that work is happening at the moment.

If there are no further questions from hon. Members, I thank the witnesses for their evidence. It has been really helpful and insightful.

Dame Anne Owers:

I just want to signal that we have some comments to make on the provisions about investigations of chief constables and others and about whistleblowers, which we can write to the Committee about if that would be helpful.

That is fine.

Ordered, That further consideration be now adjourned. —(Charlie Elphicke.)

Adjourned till Tuesday 22 March at twenty-five minutes past Nine o’clock.