TPIMs: polygraph measure

Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 11:00 am on 7th July 2020.

Alert me about debates like this

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

Photo of Laurence Robertson Laurence Robertson Conservative, Tewkesbury

With this, it will be convenient to discuss new clause 12—Additional provision in relation to polygraphs when applicable to individuals under 25—

(1) Where, in accordance with section 28 of the Offender Management Act 2007, as it applies to terrorist offenders, or Schedule 1 to the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act 2011, a polygraph session is required of an individual aged between 18 and 25, that polygraph session must be attended by a counsellor.

(2) For the purposes of this section, a counsellor is a person who can assess the appropriateness of the application of the polygraph session and support the person to which the polygraph condition has been applied.

(3) Where the counsellor has concerns about the appropriateness of a polygraph session, these shall be reported to the Secretary of State.

(4) The Secretary of State shall lay in Parliament a report that includes—

(a) a summary of the concerns raised by counsellors on an annual basis; and

(b) a description of the actions proposed or taken to address the concerns raised.”

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

It will be a pleasure to speak under your chairmanship, Mr Robertson.

New clause 12 would require that a counsellor be present during the time that any individual aged between 18 and 25 is having a polygraph test. As subsection (2) of new clause 12 says:

“a counsellor is a person who can assess the appropriateness of the application of the polygraph session and”—

This is the most important part of all—

“support the person to which the polygraph condition has been applied.”

It is only right that we ensure that someone is present for the participant in a clearly stressful situation. The young person undergoing the polygraph test may not have the knowledge, the confidence or even the ability to speak out if they are not comfortable. Having a counsellor present would provide an extra layer of support and establish more confidence in the process. The counsellor would be required to report

“concerns about the appropriateness of a polygraph session…to the Secretary of State.”

That would mean that the Government would remain on top of any key or alarming issues that arise with polygraph tests, the equipment or even the testers, to ensure that their use is fair and proper in relation to young people.

The new clause would require the Secretary of State to lay in Parliament an annual report containing a summary of the concerns raised by counsellors and setting out the actions proposed or taken to address them. As colleagues will be aware, from time to time we have discussed the use of polygraph tests and how the Government plan to use them in the future. It is a contentious issue and one that we must keep under regular scrutiny. The reason that we specify that there should be a counsellor present when the person undergoing the polygraph is under 25 is in response to the evidence that has already been presented to this Committee that there is a difference in maturity between those under 25 and those over 25. That is why we believe that this extra level of safeguarding—this is a safeguarding issue—is important. I would prefer that we were too cautious and that we focused on ensuring that people undergoing a polygraph test have the appropriate measures in place to provide a sense of trust in the process than that we were not cautious enough and did not put any protective measures in place.

This is a reasonable new clause, with the safeguarding of young people at its heart. I hope that the Minister will be able to recognise what a positive change it would make. Perhaps this time he will also recognise that younger people are different, and that he and we have a duty to protect them.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 11:15 am, 7th July 2020

It is worth reminding the Committee that the purpose of using polygraphs in this context, rather like the monitoring of licence conditions that we discussed earlier in our proceedings, is simply to seek to prompt new disclosures that might otherwise not happen, or to elicit an indication that might suggest that further investigation by the relevant authority should be undertaken. The purpose of using polygraphs is nothing more nor less than to achieve those very limited objectives.

The provisions of the new clause might be somewhat beyond the scope of the Bill, because it would apply not just to the people we are talking about here, but to sex offenders where polygraphs are used. When the Domestic Abuse Bill receives Royal Assent—it had its Third Reading last night—it would apply to domestic abuse offenders as well, so the scope is significantly beyond just terrorism.

The central point of the new clause is to ensure is that people under the age of 25 have some kind of counsellor present during a polygraph test. The main assurance I can give the Committee and the shadow Minister is the fact that, as we heard from Professor Grubin in his compelling evidence, the people who administer the polygraph tests are highly trained. The regulations that we already use in relation to sex offenders, and that are likely to form the basis of the regulations here, require high levels of training and quality assurance for those who administer the tests. They are expert people who are selected and trained very carefully, and they use their powers and authority in a carefully managed and circumspect manner. I hope the fact that the person who administers the test is well trained and carefully regulated gives the Committee and the shadow Minister confidence that the proposed additional measure of having a counsellor present is an extra level of protection that is essentially nugatory, bearing in mind the expertise of the person doing the test in the first place.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

The Minister, apart from the fact that he does not think the safeguarding is necessary, has just made a grand speech in support of my amendment. He has recognised very clearly that, although there may be experts, there are issues that need to be addressed. He actually talked about how the scope of the amendment would go far beyond the issues covered in the Bill. That is a good thing. Why should young sex offenders or young offenders covered by the Domestic Abuse Bill not also have the protection of having a counsellor present at their session? I will not push the new clause to a vote, but I believe that the Minister needs to start to focus very specifically on young people. We will return to the issue of young people on Report, because the Minister seems to dismiss the fact that a small number of young people are different. He does not recognise the difference. We will withdraw the new clause for now, but we will most certainly return to this issue.

Question put and agreed to.

Clause 41 accordingly ordered to stand part of the Bill.