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Baroness Howarth of Breckland: I respectfully ask the Minister how much training the ordinary police officer has in child development? Social workers, after many years of training, sometimes find it quite difficult to assess the level of a child's understanding and certainly their capacity to defend themselves in relation to this kind of accusation or occurrence. What concerns me most is that police officers on the street will be making assessments sometimes of quite emotionally young children. I accept that there may be a difference with 17 and 18 year-olds, but I am very concerned about young children. Police officers are there to do a different job.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I respect what the noble Baroness says. She is much more experienced in these matters than I am and obviously understands and appreciates the value of police training. She is absolutely right to say that the role of police officers is very different. But that relationship must exist. The police deal with young people on the streets. It is right that training is put in place, but we will have to ensure that it is appropriate for the powers proposed in the legislation. I am firmly of the view that the training will have to be informed by links with the wider professional group that comes into contact with young people. It is many years since I was a social worker, and I was not a terribly successful one, but the one thing that I drew from the experience was that I was part of an important network with considerable responsibility. That responsibility was not taken lightly by any of the professionals involved.
We understand the importance of child-proofing and ensuring that proper relations are drawn across Whitehall in understanding how the legislation will operate. All Members of the Committee who contributed to the debate made that important point. We will try to take it on board.
Lord Elton: The Minister can answer this question after sitting down because we are in Committee. I remain anxious about what I am hearing. The noble Baroness, Lady Howarth, has made a very important point. A policeman will not know a child's exact calendar age, mental age and emotional age. Given that there is bound to be error, it is important that the system for all children should protect those who need protection, even if it means doing so where perhaps it is not thought necessary. Therefore, it seems important that the protection already provided in statutes should not be lost to these people because of the very attractive idea otherwise of letting them go before they get to the police station.
The Earl of Listowel: I thank the Minister for offering extensive consultation, as I understand it, with the children's charities as the Bill proceeds; it is very welcome. I wish to draw attention to care-leavers. There has been much concern about care-leavers' involvement with the criminal justice system in the past. Often they can appear older than they are, as they have had to look after themselves from a young age. I am sure that we will discuss care-leavers in some detail in the future, but I wish to mark up my concern.
Lord Bassam of Brighton: I appreciate all the concerns raised. This has been a very valuable discussion. The police deal with juveniles on the street every day of their working lives, so they have an immense body of experience to draw on. There has been agreement today that sometimes they make mistakes, but the considerations that they have at present are important.
There will be a cautious approach, certainly at the outset, in how the measure is applied. The police will be very mindful that, if it is clear that someone is vulnerable, it would be much better for them to apprehend the individualof whatever ageto ensure that they are taken properly to a police station and the usual processes are followed through. My guess is that there will be very cautious use of the measure, particularly with younger people and those who we might consider vulnerable. Nevertheless, the legislation gives effect to a very powerful and, in some ways, liberalising measure.
Baroness Walmsley: I am very grateful to all Members of the Committee who have supported the amendment. The Minister will note that support came from all sides of the Committee. He may be interested to know that many on his own Benches, although they have not spoken today, are very supportive of this and similar amendments.
I, too, am as interested as the noble Lords, Lord Elton and Lord Campbell-Savours, in the remit of the Minister for Children, Margaret Hodge. All members of the All-Party Children Group would be very pleased if her remit were based on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child and our obligations under it. We would regard that as a step very much in the right direction.
A one-size-fits-all approach is totally inappropriate for children. Anyone who has ever seen their three-year-old daughter shuffling around the house in one's high-heel shoes, or their four-year-old son tramping around in one's husband's football boots, will realise that. This is adult legislation being made to fit childrenit just does not fit.
The Minister said that the police would operate the clauses with great care. Great care will not really do in that respect. He said that a police officer would bring in street bail only if he could be satisfied that the child
Although I am very grateful to the Minister for his commitment to consulting the children's charities about the guidance to be written, it seems almost unbelievable that appropriate guidance can possibly be written. However, I am sure that the children's charities will be delighted to consult to see if such guidelines could be produced to protect children in respect of street bail. To be frank, that is highly unlikely. However, given the strength of feeling that has been demonstrated in the Chamber today, it is likely that we will return to this issue on Report. In the meantime, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
The noble Baroness said: In moving this amendment, I wish to speak also to Amendments Nos. 19 and 20. For the convenience of the Committee, I shall speak also to the Question that Clause 4 stand part of the Bill. I have given prior notice to both Front Benches in order to save a little of the Committee's time.
I turn to the question of the use of telephones for review of police detention. It is a serious matter that was fully debated in another place in Committee. At issue is the restriction of one's liberty and the police's deciding to do that over the telephone. Clause 4 allows reviews of detention under PACE to be conducted by telephone rather than requiring the reviewing officer to be present at the police station.
Amendment No. 18 would require the authority of a superintendent to be given before a telephone review could take place. Will the Minister tell the Committee whether it is intended that there should be any such check on the use of telephone reviews or whether they will become the norm?
Amendment No. 19 would require that the review be carried out by an officer of at least the rank of inspector. That is the case under the existing wording of Section 40A, but it appears to have been omitted here. Is that therefore an intentional change to the existing provision?
With regard to Clause 4 in its totality, the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State, Mr Benn, admitted in another place that the provisions relating to telephone review and detention, which the Bill replaces, were inserted into PACE by the Criminal Justice and Police Act 2001, but were never brought into force. The 2001 Act allowed telephone reviews where it was "not reasonably practicable" for the reviewing officer to be present at the police station. Clause 4 omits the "not reasonably practicable" test and allows telephone reviews in all circumstances.
It is astonishing that the Government seek to go much further than was envisaged in the 2001 Act in relation to telephone reviews, without even testing out the provisions that were put into that Act in the first place. Perhaps the Minister would comment on the following words:
Baroness Harris of Richmond: The clause amends Section 40A of PACE, but the section is not in force, as was cited at the second sitting of the Commons Standing Committee on 17th December at column 73. We on these Benches are generally in favour of telephone reviews, but we would like to hear a number of issues addressed. The new section, Section 40A, does not specify that an inspector should carry out the discussion on the review of the detention. Will the Minister confirm that it is indeed the intention that an inspector should deal with that? If that is so, will that assurance be given in the Bill? We have considered this point before, during the proceedings of the police Bills with which I have been involved. I have witnessed a steady downgrading of the ranks who are now carrying out increasingly more responsible roles. We will soon be asked to let constables undertake this sensitive task, no doubt, and probably without recourse to parliamentary scrutiny.
The clause is about extending someone's detention and is a serious and sensitive matter. It touches on questions of civil liberty and the right of the police to detain someone. It should never, ever, be treated lightly or indiscriminately. There should be reviews of
How do we judge whether it is necessary to have the greater flexibility that the changes will introduce? It could become routine practice for matters to be dealt with over the telephone by an unknown police officer who has little grasp of the issues or the background involved in the case. Also, the proposal could facilitate people being detained for too long and without good reason. The person taking the decision should be able to form an independent judgment, and it is vastly preferable that that person should be the inspector at the police station rather than on the telephone. When an inspector is not available, the facility provided for under Section 40A as it is currently drafted is satisfactory. For all those reasons, we oppose the question that Clause 4 stand part of the Bill.
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