Review of legislation: Effectiveness of inter-agency cooperation

Counter-Terrorism and Sentencing Bill – in a Public Bill Committee at 3:45 pm on 7th July 2020.

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‘(1) The Secretary of State must commission a review and publish a report on the effectiveness of agencies working to manage an individual who is serving a sentence affected by this Act.

(2) A review under subsection (1) must consider—

(a) the effectiveness of the transition when an individual who is serving a sentence affected by this Act is transferred from the responsibility of one agency to another;

(b) the procedural safeguards that are put in place to ensure an effective transition; and

(c) the processing and transfer of information and intelligence from one agency to another.

(3) For the purposes of this section “agencies” includes but is not limited to—

(a) police;

(b) the prison system;

(c) intelligence services;

(d) probation services;

(e) mental health services;

(f) local authorities; and

(g) housing providers.

(4) The Secretary of State must lay a copy of the report before Parliament.

(5) A Minister of the Crown must, not later than 3 months after the report has been laid before Parliament, make a motion in the House of Commons in relation to the report.’—

Brought up, and read the First time.

Photo of Steve McCabe Steve McCabe Labour, Birmingham, Selly Oak

Well, this is what happens when you follow someone else’s damned notes. It does not say his name here, but who I am to argue? I call Alex Cunningham.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

I beg to move, That the clause be read a Second time.

If the hon. Lady would like to deliver my speech, I would be quite happy to sit down and shut up. I think she suggested earlier that I was talking a bit too much.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

Oh, never? Well that is fine. Maybe it is because we share the same accent and she feels at home when she hears me speak, although I think there is a certain anglification in my accent these days.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

I am very relieved to hear that, and I am sure that, as a fellow Scot, you will also appreciate it, Mr McCabe.

The new clause would require the Secretary of State to commission a review and publish a report on the effectiveness of the agencies working to manage offenders who have committed offences under the provisions in the Bill. I know how fond the Minister is of my reviews, and this one would consider the effectiveness of the transition when an offender is transferred from the responsibility of one agency to that of another; the procedural safeguards that are in place to ensure an effective transition; and the processing and transfer of information and intelligence from one agency to another.

Tackling and responding to crime is not and cannot be the responsibility of a sole agency. The police do not arrest, convict, sentence, look after, monitor and assess people, and nor should they. Different agencies with different responsibilities working together are a key part of our checks and balances. By not giving anyone so much responsibility that they cannot fulfil their obligations, we ensure that they can perform their role in the system to a high standard. To ensure that there is a seamless transition from one agency to another, and that organisations are fully aware of their responsibilities, there needs to be effective communication.

The purpose of the new clause is to find out how agencies communicate with each other and how effective those methods are. We would like to know if there are communication issues between the agencies; we have already seen the horrific consequence of communication breakdown, when crucial information is not properly shared. We also need to find out what problems the Secretary of State can act on to rectify. We cannot afford to get this wrong. If there are failures in communication, it can fail the whole process—the justice system itself fails.

I would appreciate it if the Minister were to go on the record now about inter-agency communication and co-operation for the purposes of this Bill. Will he work with the Secretary of State to commission a report into the effectiveness of the procedures for agencies working with offenders? It is not a simple case of going from the police to the courts to prison; there is a whole range of other factors to consider. For example, when a person leaves prison, they will need somewhere to live in order to get back on their feet, and we all know that the cohort covered by the Bill will have substantially greater barriers to overcome than many others. That will require work with other agencies, such as local authorities and housing providers, and doubtless those running specialist accommodation.

However, more important is the understanding of where the offender is with their lives—such as whether they are still a risk to society, despite being on licence—so all agencies will need to know a certain level of detail about the offender. We cannot afford for that detail to be incorrect or missing. There needs to be seamless communication, and we need to know how effective current procedures are for this. I look forward to the Minister’s response.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department 4:30 pm, 7th July 2020

I sense a certain appetite for brevity, so I will endeavour to achieve that in my response. I entirely agree with the points about the importance of inter-agency working. Many different agencies will encounter offenders or potential offenders at different times, and it is of course critical that they work together.

For that very reason, following the terrible attacks at the end of last year, the Government commissioned Jonathan Hall QC, the Independent Reviewer of Terrorism Legislation, to carry out a review of the effectiveness of multi-agency public protection arrangements—exactly the kind of cross-agency working to which the shadow Minister refers. I believe that report is now with my colleagues, who are carefully considering its findings. We will publish the report, which is on exactly the topic that the shadow Minister wants us to review, at the earliest opportunity, so this may be an area where the shadow Minister not only gets a report but gets it perhaps earlier that he would otherwise have expected, which is a nice note to end on.

The shadow Minister is quite right that cross-agency working is important. We intend to make sure that it happens in the effective way that it should, and Jonathan Hall’s report will be an important part of that.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

Success at last. I can leave the Committee Room a happy man. I will not press the new clause to a vote, but it is important. Communications are central. Across all public services, we see a lack of communication leading to all manner of horrors in our society—children dying, terrorists recommitting offences; all manner of things happen because the communication is not right. It is clear that the Minister understands the importance of this. I look forward to Jonathan Hall’s report; I am sure that it will be good bedtime reading. I beg to ask leave to withdraw the clause.

Clause, by leave, withdrawn.

Question proposed, That the Chair do report the Bill, as amended, to the House.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

On a point of order, Mr McCabe. Before you conclude the final sentence of this Committee proceeding, I shall quickly take this opportunity to thank all Committee members for their service over the last few weeks in considering this incredibly important Bill, which touches on the safety and security of our constituents. Nothing more powerfully illustrated that than the very moving speech given earlier by my hon. Friend the Member for Hertford and Stortford on the experience of her friend Louise, which I think all of us will vividly remember. It reminds us how important the work we are doing here is.

I believe that, with this Bill, we are taking a significant step forward, largely in a spirit of cross-party co-operation from all corners of the House, as it should be for something as important as national security and the safety of our constituents. Of course, we have our differences elsewhere, but on this topic we seem to be mostly on the same page, which is extremely welcome.

I thank everyone who has supported this process. I thank the Whips on both sides for getting us through the Bill a little earlier than expected, which is welcome. I thank Mr McCabe and Mr Robertson for chairing the Committee proceedings with such aplomb, and for correcting the shadow Ministers and me when we occasionally erred from the path we were supposed to be following.

I thank the witnesses who took the time to give us evidence earlier in the proceedings. It was genuinely useful, and the fact that we spent a lot of time in our earlier debates dissecting that evidence shows just how illuminating it was. I do not think any of us will forget Professor Grubin, but I certainly will not be volunteering to hook myself up to any of his machines in a hurry.

Photo of Chris Philp Chris Philp The Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department

Do not tempt me.

Finally, I thank the phenomenal public servants who have supported the preparation of the Bill and the wider work that goes on, in particular members of my private office—I can see Andrew sitting over there—and all the people working in the policy, legal and financial teams at the Ministry of Justice. They are incredible civil servants who have been working so hard to put this Bill together, including working over the weekend to respond to the various amendments that arrived on Friday. A huge thank you to everyone in the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office for the work they have done on this Bill.

It is appropriate to conclude by thanking those people on the frontline in the constant struggle to keep us and our fellow citizens safe—the police, the Prison Service, the probation service and the security service. Our thanks is due to them most of all. On a daily basis, they put themselves in harm’s way, to keep us safe. I put on record my gratitude to those outstanding public servants.

Photo of Alex Cunningham Alex Cunningham Shadow Minister (Justice)

Further to that point of order, Mr McCabe. I would like to reflect what the Minister has said and, first and foremost, thank you and Mr Robertson for conducting our proceedings professionally and getting us through the business quickly.

I also specifically thank the Clerks to the Committee. They understand the things that I am trying to say and they can put them into the jargon that is required to appear on the amendment paper. I am very appreciative of that. I have come to the realisation that they understand more about what I am trying to get across than I do myself.

I thank Committee colleagues for some robust debate and a few corrections along the way. I thank the staff who had to work over the weekend. I pass on my thanks to them and I am sorry if I was the cause of all that additional work. At least we had reasonable responses from the Minister, and I welcome that. With that, I will simply sit down.

Photo of Joanna Cherry Joanna Cherry Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice and Home Affairs), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Justice), Shadow SNP Spokesperson (Home Affairs)

Further to that point of order, Mr McCabe. I will not detain people for long, other than to add my words of thanks to those that have been given already. I would particularly like to thank the Clerks to the Committee for their assistance in framing amendments. I thank the Whips for the assistance that they have given me and a third party in relation to this.

I acknowledge the powerful and moving speech we heard earlier. When I woke up this morning, the first thing I remembered was that that event was 15 years ago, but the way in which we were reminded of that as a Committee was particularly powerful and very personal. I thank the hon. Member for Hertford and Stortford for that.

Question put and agreed to.

Bill, as amended, accordingly to be reported.

Committee rose.

Written evidence reported to the House

CTSB 11 Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission