Clause 4 - The decision-maker on a claim

Riot Compensation Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 2:30 pm on 13th January 2016.

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Question proposed, That the clause stand part of the Bill.

Photo of Mike Wood Mike Wood Conservative, Dudley South

Neither police and crime commissioners nor local police forces are experts in processing claims, which is why it is important to allow those bodies to delegate the functions, particularly to loss adjusters. Provisions in clause 4(3) allow the Secretary of State to specify the persons to whom those functions may be delegated, which will hopefully achieve the objectives that the right hon. Member for Tottenham was trying to achieve through amendment 3.

Photo of David Burrowes David Burrowes Conservative, Enfield, Southgate

This Bill is particularly important to my constituents in Enfield, who suffered great loss. It is an area that would not have dreamed of being caught up in a riot, but was. I want to draw on situations where, instead of there being huge riots that transcend many regions, there may be an issue as to whether a riot takes place at all and whether what happens comes within the definition of riot.

In Enfield, as elsewhere, even though it was obvious that there had sadly been a riot, there was a concern and nervousness among the authorities about mentioning the word “riot”, because they would then click into a conversation. The Bill has rightly dealt with the antiquated language of the 1886 Act and the definition in the Public Order Act 1986, but there is still the same issue that liabilities follow from definitions; I know that, as a lawyer. We may not have such an obvious situation of riot on the streets of London, Birmingham or elsewhere. As a lawyer I know that when 12 or more people gather together in a public order incident, there is an issue as to  whether it comes under the strict definition of a riot or whether it is an affray or another Public Order Act incident.

When a claim is considered, the responsible person or authority is the policing authority, the appropriate decision-making body. We need to look at the process and ensure that there is not an undue conflict and that we do not wait on cases to go to court to see whether anyone mentions the word riot or wait for a determination and court judgment that says that those responsible have been convicted of riot. We do not want our constituents and businesses to have to hang on for that process, which could take a long time and be subject to further appeals and criminal court proceedings before a decision is made.

I ask the Minister whether that has been considered and whether it may be appropriate not necessarily to delegate the matter away from a policing authority, but to get an independent view from a separate prosecutorial authority. That could separate the prosecutorial function of those responsible for a public order incident from the function of determining the claim to ensure that a conflict cannot get in the way of a timely response and compensation.

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

Obviously, that was looked at extensively. We have to be slightly careful. Unlike my learned Friend I am not legally trained, but the authority is the police—it is the police who decide and no one else. That is the definition. From the police’s point of view, if a criminal offence has taken place, a riot is defined as such by the police, who have the training and expertise to do that.

I fully understand the sensitivities of local authorities and others, but it is not their decision and it must not be. It must be the police’s decision. The wording in the Bill makes it simple as to how we define that. I understand the concerns, but they were looked at extensively.

Photo of David Lammy David Lammy Labour, Tottenham

That is a fundamental point. The Minister will understand that that goes to the heart of our policing model: that is, policing by consent. Unlike other police forces in the world, our police do not routinely carry guns; we, as citizens, police alongside the police. Therefore, given the policing by consent model, he will understand that in some scenarios the police authority may be reluctant to declare a riot. What are the safeguards in those circumstances?

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

The right hon. Gentleman makes an important point, but that is the same as any other decision that the police make. We have an independent police who make independent decisions based on their best knowledge at the time. To say that no policeman is ever influenced by events going on is wrong. Of course they are. They can listen to arguments, but it is their decision. We looked carefully at that to ensure that the police have and can keep powers to make the decision as to what is a riot and what is not. There is a whole debate to be had about that, but the definition in the Bill is important in allowing the police to continue to have the powers that they have had. That is why I support the clause.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 4 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.

Clause 5 ordered to stand part of the Bill.