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Home Affairs Committee - Minutes of EvidenceHC 100
Taken before the Home Affairs Committee
on Tuesday 22 May 2012
Keith Vaz (Chair)
Mr James Clappison
Dr Julian Huppert
Mr David Winnick
Examination of Witnesses
Witnesses: Mike Schwarz, Partner, Bindmans LLP, Julian Pike, Partner, Farrer & Co LLP, and Dan Morrison, Partner, Grosvenor LLP, gave evidence.
Q402 Chair: Mr Schwarz, Mr Morrison and Mr Pike, thank you for very much for coming. My apologies for keeping you waiting. The Committee is also looking at border security, and we were taking evidence from the new head of the UKBA. Can I start by referring everyone to the Register of Members’ Interests and declare specifically that one of the firms, Bindmans, has acted for me in the past. Are there any other interests that need to be declared?
Alun Michael: Bindmans once represented me, a couple of decades ago and quite successfully.
Mark Reckless: I qualified as a barrister in 2007, as a solicitor in 2009, and I worked on matters, including dealings with private investigators, while at Herbert Smith.
Michael Ellis: I am a barrister, called to the Bar in 1993, and I declare my interest as such, although I am now non-practising. I do not believe that either I, or any of my family, have instructed any of the three firms represented here, but they may have done so in the distant past.
Mr Clappison: I was called to the Bar, and that is in the Register of Members’ Interests.
Mr Winnick: The rest of us, fortunately, are not lawyers.
Chair: We are concluding our inquiry into private investigators. We have seen a number of groups. There is no reason in particular why we have called you all to give evidence, except that some have written in with specific written evidence to this Committee and others have been mentioned or named in passing or others are experts. So there is no particular reason why you are here as opposed to anyone else. But I would like to start with a question to each of you, concerning the involvement of law firms and their use of private investigators, possibly on occasions for illegal activities, and I want to know whether you know anything about this. Mr Pike?
Julian Pike: Absolutely not. No. We do instruct private investigators from time to time.
Chair: You will need to speak up, I am afraid.
Julian Pike: We do instruct private investigators from time to time, but certainly not for any illegal activity.
Q403 Chair: Why do you instruct private investigators? What would they do for a firm of solicitors?
Julian Pike: Typical examples would be tracing witnesses, serving people with court documents. Sometimes it is necessary and appropriate to carry out some surveillance. Occasionally there are background checks that can be done on people, frankly, that are better done by organisations other than your own, in terms of time management, costs and expertise, and sometimes it is a corporate risk management exercise where you are looking at should a client enter into an agreement with another company, for example.
Dan Morrison: No law firm or no lawyer would instruct an investigator to do anything unlawful or illegal. That said, it happens beyond anyone’s control. Just to echo what Mr Pike said, investigators are used for a range of assignments, from corporate due diligence-if a company is buying another company it wants to check out that company’s customers, management and so on-right through to fraud cases, where you are tracing assets, finding people and so on. As I am sure we will come on to during this session, it is a very significant business and most lawyers, particularly in litigation matters, would regularly instruct investigators.
Q404 Chair: Mr Schwarz, you wrote to this Committee with evidence of examples. In particular, you describe it as "the unregulated, unsupervised and invisible participation of private investigators within the heart of the criminal justice process". This is a very serious charge that you have made from the firm that you represent. How deeply does this run?
Mike Schwarz: I only have experience of the one case, which is to do with the Ibori litigation, but what I have seen in that case is serious illegality on behalf of private investigators, RISC Management Ltd, instructed by an eminent firm of solicitors, Speechly Bircham, which involves apparent corruption right at the heart of New Scotland Yard.
Q405 Chair: What has happened as a result of that? You talk about corruption. Your evidence is quite strong.
Mike Schwarz: One of the problems is that it is not getting detected because it is unregulated. As I see it, the core is the operation of the police and their connection with the security firm involved; the police being the Proceeds of Corruption Unit within New Scotland Yard. The problem there is the key culprits appear to be the key players, who are the senior investigating police officer, DI Gary Walters, and two of the key investigators, who are DC John McDonald and DC Peter Clark. Together they top and tailed things so that the investigation appears to be directed in a way that their own apparent misconduct can’t be detected, because they are in control of the evidence coming in and the evidence going out. By "going out" I mean being disclosed perhaps to fellow officers, perhaps to the Crown Prosecution Service, to the judge and to those making inquiries about their conduct.
Q406 Chair: So you are telling us that there is a connection between solicitors, private investigators and the police in respect of criminal matters, matters before the justice system?
Mike Schwarz: That appears to be the case because I have seen material, which I think has been submitted to the Committee, involving invoices from RISC Management Ltd to Speechly Bircham reporting on contact and-above all, perhaps-payments made by RISC Management to sources that they have, presumably police officers or those close to the investigation.
Q407 Chair: Mr Pike, does this happen other than in the criminal justice system? Have you heard of this before?
Julian Pike: I have no knowledge of such a case as that. I can’t dispute what Mr Schwarz says, but I have no corresponding knowledge.
Q408 Chair: Mr Morrison?
Dan Morrison: No. I think, as Mr Schwarz has explained, if that were to happen, it would be very serious indeed, which would involve the criminal courts looking at that matter. But certainly from my experience of private practice-and I am involved in civil cases, mainly private cases for corporates and individuals-I have never seen that level of improper contact with police officers.
Q409 Chair: Mr Morrison, do people employ former police officers as private investigators because they know the system? Evidence was quite openly given to us that 60% of private investigators are former police officers, for example.
Dan Morrison: Yes.
Q410 Chair: Do you specifically go to former police officers who know the system?
Dan Morrison: I wouldn’t say that one targets a former officer or a former customs official, or a former whatever, to tap into that person’s expertise for an ongoing investigation or inquiry. It is fair to say that, if one looks at the world of private investigators-and again, just to disabuse any notion the other way, the industry is not one of many Max Gumshoes wandering around snooping through bins-these are sophisticated, professional people in the main. Obviously there is the odd exception. That community is staffed by ex-journalists, ex-law enforcement, ex-lawyers and so on. But certainly ex-law enforcement plays a reasonably significant part of that world.
Q411 Mr Clappison: Could I ask Mr Schwarz-and it sounds serious, the matters that you brought before the Committee this morning-just to have an understanding of where the private investigators fit into this, what is the link between the private investigators and the departments to which you referred? What is it they are doing?
Mike Schwarz: They are instructed by the solicitors to act really as surrogate solicitors in the course of criminal investigation and the like, for example restraint proceedings, and so they liaise as if they are lawyers, though not regulated like lawyers, with the police. I have seen evidence-and I think the Committee has it-in emails sent by one of the investigators, Cliff Knuckey, to his instructing solicitor, Ian Timlin from Speechly Bircham, talking about his contact liaison with the police; the police being DI Walters or DC McDonald. They talk about that, and I think the Committee has that. The Committee may also have the invoices submitted by RISC to Speechly Bircham, in which they talk about-
Q412 Mr Clappison: What I want to get at is what do you say the private investigators are reporting back that they have done?
Mike Schwarz: There are a number of layers to this. There are five things. One is that they seem to be extracting information about the police investigation from the police, which, if they had an arms-length relationship with the police, no solicitor would expect to gain; for example, about the strategy of the police investigation-in the case I talked about, it is about the fraud in Nigeria or its impact on the financial services in the UK-right down to the minutiae, which is the interview and the strategy of the police in relation to suspects. So that is one thing. They extract information about the police investigation from the police.
Equally, what appears to have happened-and this is very unnerving for lawyers-is they appear to supply privileged information from the defence side to the police. For example, there is evidence that they may provide to the interviewing police officers information about someone’s instructions. To give you an example, the person that I am representing has been prosecuted and had a co-accused, James Ibori. What appears to be happening is that the security firm, RISC, provided information to the police that they extracted from working closely with my client, and also provided information of what my client said to the police back to the Ibori team instructed by Speechly Bircham. So they are providing information about the defence case to the police.
Q413 Chair: Thank you. That is very helpful. Just to conclude that, presumably these are no longer serving officers in the Met?
Mike Schwarz: That is very worrying. One of them, DI Walters, who was heading the investigation-and this harks back to a comment made earlier-appears now to be working with RISC because you see him giving conference speeches for RISC. So having retired from the police-
Q414 Chair: A police officer involved in this case is now working for the private investigator?
Mike Schwarz: That appears to be the case, yes. The Committee has the brochure for the conference. Similarly, just to answer your direct question, it appears that DC McDonald and another colleague, DC Clark, are still not only involved in this unit but also active on the same case. They are still on duty in the same investigation.
Chair: Thank you very much. Yes?
Q415 Mr Clappison: Could I just come back to a question you asked Mr Pike on best practice as far as this is concerned? What would you regard as best practice in selecting private investigators to do the type of work to which you refer?
Julian Pike: I have limited experience, since I have tended to use the same firm for about 10 years or so because I know I can trust that firm to behave properly. In the sense of having the best practice, I do not have one as such but I have built up a relationship with a particular firm that I know I can rely upon to do things legally and properly. They also know that if they were to do something that wasn’t correct they wouldn’t be instructed again. I think that is the bullet answer to it.
Q416 Bridget Phillipson: A question for Mr Morrison: in your experience, how often do private investigators become involved in work that would normally be reserved for lawyers?
Dan Morrison: I wouldn’t necessarily say that it is either/or, if that is how you are asking the question. Certainly, in certain types of cases-and I will give you a few examples in a moment-investigators will regularly work alongside lawyers in evidence-gathering. To take a classic example, commercial fraud cases: the Committee may or may not be aware that essentially in London the Metropolitan Police, the City of London Fraud Squad, and to an extent the Serious Fraud Office, will not investigate a commercial fraud unless very significant sums of money are involved.
There is a whole plethora of corporations and individuals who lose billions of pounds by reference to illegal activities, theft cases for example, where the police are just not an option. The police are not interested or do not have the resources, or what have you. In my experience, in those circumstances, an investigator will be used almost all the time in fraud cases to trace assets or find people or find witnesses, quite legitimately and quite properly. In other cases, for example personal injury cases, investigators are also used. You have all seen examples of benefit cheats being filmed playing with the kids or playing sport when they have been taking disability allowance for some period of time. So in certain types of cases, depending on the nature of the cases, investigators are used very significantly as a percentage of those types of actions.
Q417 Bridget Phillipson: Practising lawyers are subject to regulation, but in the cases you are talking about, of course, private investigators are not subject to the same kind of regulation of their activities.
Dan Morrison: They are. There is no regulation, in the sense that lawyers are subject to the Solicitors Regulation Authority or banks to the Bank of England or FSA. However, with investigators there is no formal regulatory authority. The SIA-who you will hear from shortly-have a role. But I wouldn’t call that a regulator. It is more of a set of minimum standards, so to speak. In terms of the obligations of investigators, they are subject to the data protection legislation, the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act and other pieces of legislation and common law that do bind them. So they are not immune from the law when it comes to their acts.
Q418 Michael Ellis: Gentlemen, as far as the payment of private detectives is concerned, do any of you, yourselves, or do you know any colleagues who instruct private investigators by result, so they might get paid more if they can find a result that is to the liking of your client? Do any of you know anything along those lines?
Julian Pike: No, is the short answer.
Chair: Performance-related pay.
Mike Schwarz: I think the performance indicator I am aware of is different, in the sense that the private investigators pay the police for information and assistance that they gather. The records, which I think the Committee have, shows about half a dozen payments totalling about £20,000 over a period of eight or nine months. I think that is where the system is skewed in terms of payment. It appears to be inappropriate, if not corrupt.
Dan Morrison: I wouldn’t agree with that. I can understand and would completely agree that payments to the police are completely improper and should never be made. In terms of in the civil space, in the commercial space, I have seen examples of investigators being paid by results. It is not dissimilar to lawyers. Lawyers are allowed to act on conditional fee agreements, perfectly proper, having been disclosed to the client and notice given to the other side.
Q419 Michael Ellis: Can you give me an example?
Dan Morrison: To anonymise it to protect client privilege, an example would be, as I mentioned before, you are acting for a bank. It has been defrauded to the tune of £10 million and you are looking for evidence of where the assets have gone and an investigator, through lawful means, identifies the location of an asset.
Q420 Michael Ellis: What about an example of a private client who might ask for a private investigator to be instructed to find out whether someone he knows is acting in an immoral fashion, and finding evidence of immorality would elicit a better remuneration package than not finding such evidence? How about that sort of example?
Dan Morrison: In that example, as a lawyer you are treading on thin ice because one has to take the view: what is the evidence being used for? As I mentioned, if you are involved in litigation-
Michael Ellis: It might be matrimonial proceedings.
Dan Morrison: Quite, but to juxtapose the two points: if you are involved in litigation, it is a court-facing dispute. You find out material through an investigator that is used or is relative to the court case, I think it is fair enough. In your example, sir, there is a suggestion that that evidence of immorality-as you put it-could be used to blackmail, could be used to leverage up. In those circumstances, as a lawyer your antennae would be twitching, and I think you would have to decline that kind of role.
Q421 Michael Ellis: We have all heard-and this Committee particularly-of the use of private detectives to target celebrities, but we are trying to get a more complete picture of their involvement in the legal system-so, people in public life. I presume that your firms have occasionally acted for people in public life and celebrities. Have you any observations about the use of private investigators or detectives in those sort of circumstances, and how do you think the involvement of private detectives in the legal system affects people who are not celebrities?
Julian Pike: From my point of view, I don’t see any particular facet that attaches to whether someone is a celebrity or not. It is about whether or not there is a legitimate exercise to be carried out as to whether or not you instruct a private investigator. To my knowledge, I have never been involved in anything that involves investigating someone because they are a celebrity. That is just bizarre. I think that is just starting from a false premise.
Q422 Michael Ellis: For example, newspapers who might wish to investigate celebrities because of their own interests, you have not had any experience of that?
Julian Pike: No.
Dan Morrison: Acting for well-known people, you do see a trend. Normally well-known people are the targets of intrusion, generally speaking. Where newspapers try to find out information, it is not often through investigators. Normally it is through hiring paparazzi; normally it is through paying performance; normally it is through other methods. In my experience of acting for high-profile people in sport, entertainment, public life, I don’t believe investigators are routinely used for that purpose. Newspapers can find other material out through different routes.
Q423 Michael Ellis: Interesting. Mr Schwarz, do you have anything to add to that?
Mike Schwarz: Not on the celebrity front, no.
Michael Ellis: Did you want to add any other point that is remotely connected?
Mike Schwarz: Only that obviously the most powerful people who are affected by criminal investigations have the most clout and, in cases like this, are most likely to have the influence and access to make the payments and to get private security firms involved. There have been wider allegations-which I don’t know about, other than what I have read in the press-about RISC Management being involved, not only in the Ibori case but in four or five other high profile cases, where payments were made for access to information from the police about the nature of an investigation. There is a reported case from 2006 where The Times published material about Keith Hunter, one of the RISC Management Ltd directors, allegedly making payments to an extradition squad officer for information about that investigation. So power and money appear to go together with inappropriate conduct by private investigators.
Q424 Chair: Thank you. Mr Pike, in your evidence to the Leveson inquiry-is that coming up later? It is not-you instructed a private investigator to look into the private life of Mark Lewis. Is that right?
Julian Pike: No. You need to be clear about the two different exercises that were carried out by our side.
Q425 Chair: Yes. How were you involved in this?
Julian Pike: I gave advice to News Group that some surveillance should be carried out, in relation to both Mr Lewis and Ms Harris. That actual surveillance was carried out by somebody who the News of the World chose to instruct. I had no direct dealings with them at all.
Q426 Chair: You advised News International that Mark Lewis and-
Julian Pike: Ms Harris, who has been before you.
Chair: Ms Harris, one of our witnesses?
Julian Pike: That is right.
Chair: Should be the subject of surveillance?
Julian Pike: That is right.
Q427 Chair: For that you used private investigators?
Julian Pike: No, I didn’t use private investigators. I instructed one particular agency to do one particular job, which was to look at some public open documents. News of the World used an agent, who I had no knowledge of whatsoever, to carry out the surveillance, which I think is where it went wrong.
Q428 Chair: Is that normal, that a firm of your reputation would say to clients that two solicitors-they are both lawyers, aren’t they?-
Julian Pike: That is right.
Chair: -should be the subject of surveillance. Is that normal?
Julian Pike: I totally agree it is very unusual, and I have certainly not had cause to do it before and I hope I don’t have cause to do it again. In these particular circumstances there was justification for doing it, and I would frankly do it again tomorrow if I had the same circumstances.
Q429 Mr Winnick: Pursuing that, Mr Pike, why should the two be the subject of investigations by your firm? One can understand the News of the World, without justifying it; far from it. But, as the Chair said, a firm that I think is used by the Royal Family, certainly has a high status, a high profile, and legitimately so, why should two lawyers be the subject of such surveillance?
Julian Pike: I can’t go into the complete detail of this. In fact, I would love to do it.
Chair: No, please, not today.
Julian Pike: But not today. We would be here for quite some time, I have to say.
Chair: We just want the principle behind it.
Julian Pike: The principle is that over a number of months we had some very serious concerns about breaches of confidentiality. As a result of those concerns, we thought it appropriate to do what we did. I have no regret about doing that. I totally accept it is highly unusual but, in these particular circumstances, it was entirely appropriate.
Chair: Can I just say to colleagues, we have other witnesses who are waiting, including the Minister. So can we make the questions very brief?
Q430 Mr Clappison: You mentioned a moment ago about looking at documents that are publicly available, but you also said that you instructed them for surveillance. Yes?
Julian Pike: That is right, yes.
Q431 Mr Clappison: That meant physically watching the solicitor on the other side?
Julian Pike: No. I advised the client they should carry out some surveillance. In this instance, yes, it would have involved watching somebody and carrying out surveillance. I agree.
Q432 Mr Clappison: Who was it you were watching?
Julian Pike: In this instance it was Mr Lewis and Ms Harris, but I stress-
Chair: We know who they are. We are aware of the Leveson inquiry. Mr Clappison, do you want to go on to your questions?
Mr Clappison: No, that is fine.
Q433 Dr Huppert: To move on from some of these specific instances that we have been touching on, and to work out where we take things in the future. Can I just understand, would you like to see a statutory regulatory regime for private investigators and, if so, what would it be?
Mike Schwarz: Perhaps I could start. I think there needs to be some mechanism for them to self-censor and control their actions and for their misconduct to be detected. What has happened in the Ibori case is it has gone undetected. To give you an example, the nearest thing to the regulation is the Independent Police Complaints Commission investigating allegations against the police involved, not directly the security firm involved. There, there seem to have been huge failings. They have been notified of these concerns since August of last year and apparently have not interviewed Speechly Bircham or approached RISC Management. As I said earlier to the Chair, two of the key officers are still on duty on the same case, and one has retired and joined RISC Management. So the teeth are non-existent and there needs to be much more.
Dan Morrison: Yes, I think that the industry needs to be regulated. I think the investigators want it to be regulated to remove this kind of shroud of cloak and dagger that sits behind it. One thing that the Committee needs to bear in mind is the structure, the nature of how it operates in the UK. In the UK, unlike the United States, you have four or five large investigation firms, Kroll, Control Risks and two or three more. Below that you may have half a dozen firms like RISC, with 20, 30 or 40 members of staff. Beneath that you have many hundreds, maybe thousands, of one-man bands. The way the industry works in practice is that there is a lot of subcontracting that goes on. Large firms get the big jobs. They don’t have the resource. They don’t have surveillance teams on hand all the time. They then subcontract that out to specialist surveillance teams. What that tends to mean is basically, as a lawyer, there is no way of controlling who is doing the work. The benefit of a regulatory regime would be essentially to control and flush out the undesirables from the industry. Certainly, the feeder end of the market is populated by people who will basically leave no stone unturned, irrespective of the legality, probity or ethical propriety of what they are doing. So it seems to me if regulation can do one thing and one thing only, it would be to remove the many hundreds of one-man bands who profess to do this job properly but don’t do it properly at all.
Julian Pike: I would echo very much what Mr Morrison said. Obviously I haven’t seen any examples that Mr Schwarz has suggested.
Q434 Chair: You do not deal in criminal law, Mr Pike?
Julian Pike: I don’t, no. While I don’t doubt what Mr Schwarz says, I think one has to be slightly careful of taking a very rare case, by the sounds of it, and making that the standard, the rule, of what happens.
Q435 Chair: But you think there ought to be regulation?
Julian Pike: I think it has two benefits. I think it has a deterrence benefit. It would certainly discourage people to breach the law, in the same way, hopefully, that the law currently does generally. But I think it has a preventative point. So you have a basic level of competencies and hopefully, as Mr Morrison was saying, you start to weed out the bottom end where people misbehave. I think from my-
Q436 Chair: It should not be a bar for a former police officer to become a private investigator, but ought it to be a bar for someone with a criminal conviction to become a private investigator? A quick "yes" or "no" would be fine.
Julian Pike: At a certain level, yes. Obviously a drink-driving offence is not going to bar you.
Mike Schwarz: I slightly take issue with the presumption, which is that there should be no bar to the police joining investigators-
Q437 Chair: Yes. Do you think there ought to be?
Mike Schwarz: I think so. In RISC what you have is two former senior police officers within New Scotland Yard-Mr Knuckey being head of the money laundering unit, and Mr Hunter being a part of the international crime unit-going into, for want of a better word, private practice, RISC, and then instructing others, for example Martin Woods, to go right into the heart of a legal team; themselves, Mr Knuckey and Mr Hunter, doing work on behalf of a number of parties to litigation, apparently quite oblivious to conflict-of-interest rules.
Q438 Chair: You would be against police officers serving even a period of purdah between finishing their police officer’s job and becoming a private investigator? You would be against that completely?
Mike Schwarz: I think it is absolutely inappropriate for police to be having such close liaison-as appears to have happened in this case-with former colleagues, friends, wining and dining them and paying them.
Q439 Chair: Finally on the law, clearly it is an offence for someone to pay a police officer. Is it a disciplinary offence for solicitors to pay somebody to pay a police officer? Mr Pike.
Julian Pike: Yes.
Chair: It is?
Julian Pike: It must be.
Dan Morrison: Must be.
Q440 Chair: Mr Schwarz?
Mike Schwarz: Yes.
Chair: It is. Thank you very much for your evidence. We will be writing to you after this hearing to see whether there is any other information you can assist us with, and we are most grateful to you for coming in. Thank you very much.
Examination of Witness
Witness: Bill Butler, Chief Executive, Security Industry Authority, gave evidence.
Q441 Chair: Mr Butler, thank you very much. I have to apologise for keeping you waiting. I am afraid we have had very exciting sessions that have kept us going for a period of time. We promise to ask succinct and to-the-point questions. I know that you will be succinct in your answers because after you we have the Minister responsible, who will be coming to give evidence to us.
I want to start with the issue of the regulation of private investigators. Of course, Parliament legislated in 2001 for regulation but it has not happened. Why?
Bill Butler: Matters of the policy as to when things start is obviously a matter for the Home Secretary rather than for us. If it helps, the timescale is set out in the evidence submission. Briefly, the SIA concentrated initially on licensing the large high-risk sectors, such as door supervisors and security guarding, from 2004. It considered licensing the private investigations sector in 2007-08, and an impact assessment was published at that time. Priority was given to rolling out licensing at the time in Scotland and then in-
Q442 Chair: Yes, but it hasn’t happened. Should it happen?
Bill Butler: Yes, we believe that it should happen. We agree that the legislation is drafted, nothing has changed. The harms that were set out in 2008 still apply.
Q443 Dr Huppert: A number of the witnesses we have had have drawn a distinction between private investigators and information brokers. Do you think there is a clear line between the two?
Bill Butler: As a professional activity, private investigation can include information broking but not everybody who is an information broker would be a private investigator. I suppose, in essence, private investigation in its broadest definition is a form of information brokering, but so would credit-checking agencies who would not necessarily be private investigators. It is obviously relevant-particularly in the light of the concerns that have been expressed around Leveson-how that information is brokered.
My view is that the No. 1 harm, which we identified in the 2008 consultation, was the risk that people obtained information improperly for these purposes. That applies to any sector and is an offence, regardless of whether it being done by a private investigator or by somebody who is a credit referencing agency or somebody who is collecting CCTV data.
Q444 Dr Huppert: If we are to have regulation, would you want to see it fairly broad and cover some of the information brokers, or would you want to see it more narrowly focused?
Bill Butler: Our responsibility is to license the private security industry and I don’t want to stray beyond the private security industry. It is quite important to stress that the way the Act is drafted is it is about activities that people conduct, not about their job description. Providing we get the definition right-and there may well be, in the light of the Leveson inquiry and the recommendations that Lord Leveson might make, room to review those definitions-I think that the right way to go is to define activities that we want to capture. My view is I would still like to define private investigations, so they are recognisably private investigations and we don’t end up capturing other activity by mistake.
Q445 Dr Huppert: How would you phrase the line? I realise this is a tough question and answer.
Bill Butler: Fortunately I don’t have to, of course. It would be the Home Office that would have to do that. The definition, as it is currently phrased, is a pretty good starting point. My view is that it may need a slight refining but I don’t think that it would need fundamental redirection. Of course, our regime is about licensing individuals to conduct licensable activities. It is not about penalising people or prosecuting people who are committing offences anyway.
Q446 Chair: We have been very interested in the evidence we have receiving during this inquiry about the number of former police officers who have become private investigators. Do you see any problem with this?
Bill Butler: Not in essence. I can see problems if that relationship is abused in any way. In my current organisation-and certainly in my previous organisation, the Gambling Commission-I have people working for me, who were previously police officers, working as investigators for the regulator. I have people who formerly worked for HMRC as investigators working for me. I don’t think, by definition, using investigatory skills appropriately is wrong. If the issue is sometimes people misbehave in that role, then they are misbehaving in that role. They are using relationships inappropriately. It wouldn’t matter where they were or what they were doing.
Q447 Chair: At the moment how do you deal with misbehaviour? You must have had people writing to you about private investigators behaving inappropriately. How do you deal with that?
Bill Butler: Not yet, because I don’t regulate them.
Chair: No, I know that, but people still write to you. What do you do with the letters that the public write?
Bill Butler: I am not sure that I have been buried in correspondence on private investigators because people-
Chair: They know not to write.
Bill Butler: They know not to write to us, and if they write to us we write back and say, "We don’t regulate private investigators".
Q448 Chair: Yes. Are you the right body to regulate them? I am not suggesting you should empire-build here. I am not offering you the spot, but is this the right-
Bill Butler: It is very kind of you, but I am conscious of the fact that my Minister is listening. It is an area that fits within our regime. The approach that the regime takes, there are essentially two pillars. Are you a fit and proper person? What is your previous criminal history? How are your behaviours? The second part is, are you competent to carry out this role? In other words, have you been trained in skills that are relevant to this particular role? That mechanic works, I believe, for private investigations.
My understanding is that that is the standard model for best practice for regulation of private investigations in, I think, 50 American states. It is the way it is done in Australia and in most of Europe, where private investigations are regulated. So it fits and it fits into the security issue. As currently set out in the definition, the Act excludes work that is done on private investigations exclusively for journalistic purposes. Certainly that is an area that I would want to suggest should be looked at in the light of what Leveson says. Although-and I said this to Leveson-I am not volunteering to regulate journalists. I don’t think that would be appropriate, but I think private-
Chair: Yes. I am not sure we are going to volunteer either.
Q449 Bridget Phillipson: On previous criminal history, if we were to regulate the industry in terms of private investigators, do you think that previous convictions should be a bar to being a private investigator?
Bill Butler: The way the regime works is that a previous criminal conviction is not an absolute bar. Before we make a decision we consider, on a case-by-case basis, how serious the offence was and how recent the offence was. For example, the Committee has heard evidence on section 55 offences. If we were looking at private investigators we would look at whether they had a conviction in that area. That would be taken into account in deciding whether or not they were an appropriate individual to be licensed. The mechanic of that is fairly complicated. We have a tool on our website, and if you were particularly interested on how the criminality works I would be happy to write to you on that. Essentially, if you have a recent offence that it is non-custodial, it is normally two years before we would consider you for a licence.
Q450 Bridget Phillipson: You could have a conviction that occurred long before, but if that conviction was relevant to the work you wished to undertake, then the length of time might not be relevant?
Bill Butler: By the time you get to five, six, seven or eight years it becomes less relevant, and obviously some offences are more relevant to particular licensed activities that I conduct than others.
Q451 Bridget Phillipson: It is a balance between the conviction and the length of time?
Bill Butler: It is a balance. The objective of this is not to prevent people from working because they have a previous criminal conviction. It is to make sure that you reduce the risk of people being in the industry, with a criminal past, who could pose a danger to the public.
Q452 Chair: Mr Butler, one question on your other portfolio, not on private investigators. I am not sure whether you have appeared before this Committee before.
Bill Butler: I appeared at the last session of the Committee of the last Parliament.
Chair: Exactly. It was so long ago I couldn’t remember.
Bill Butler: I haven’t forgotten, Chair.
Chair: Good. We were a little concerned about the delay it took for people to get licensed by you for doing their work.
Bill Butler: Yes.
Q453 Chair: Has that all now been cleared?
Bill Butler: It is an area on which I am happy to talk for as long as you like.
Chair: About a minute would be fine.
Bill Butler: Yes. The Committee’s concerns originally on licensing were around 2007, which I suspect-I wasn’t in post at the time-was another reason why rolling out private investigations wasn’t an option. We had serious problems. About three years ago we were delivering 50% of licences in less than six weeks. Our annual report, which is still subject to audit, will show that last year we delivered just over 90% of licences in less than five weeks. We have made significant improvements to our licensing times. Straightforward applications are taking less than 15 days. We have been able to reduce the cost of a licence by 10% from 1 January.
Bill Butler: I can’t remember the last time anybody in the industry worried about the length of time.
Q454 Chair: No, I have not had any casework letters on this. Finally, what you are telling this Committee is very clear and very succinct, which is, "The powers are there. The legislation is there. Get on with it".
Bill Butler: I hesitate to say, "Get on with it", because there are a number of things going on. One is the future framework for regulation is up for consideration, as part of the Government’s broader policy of looking at the role of non-departmental public bodies, and we need to do this properly.
Q455 Chair: Of course. But it has been 10 years, hasn’t it?
Bill Butler: What I am saying to the Committee is I believe it should be regulated. I believe we are equipped to regulate it. It needs to be done in a proper and measured way, and I think the recommendations of this Committee and Leveson are going to be important in terms of making sure that we now get it right.
Chair: Excellent. Mr Butler, thank you very much for coming in. We may write to you about other matters or follow up this evidence.
Bill Butler: Always happy to hear from you.
Chair: Thank you very much.
Examination of Witness
Witness: Lynne Featherstone, Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for Equalities and Criminal Information, gave evidence.
Q456 Chair: Minister, good afternoon and thank you very much for coming to give evidence. You have a very wide portfolio, so some of my colleagues will be asking you one or two questions about other issues.
Lynne Featherstone: Really?
Chair: Indeed. As we do to most Ministers who come before us, or all of them. Since you were last here I gather they named a tub of ice cream after you. Is that right?
Lynne Featherstone: Yes. You may now call me Lynne Honeycomb, thanks to Ben & Jerry’s.
Q457 Chair: Indeed. Because of your strong commitment to same-sex marriage. Perhaps we can start with that. Are we going to have legislation about gay marriage?
Lynne Featherstone: The Government is committed to legislate before 2015 to enable same-sex civil marriage.
Q458 Chair: You are confident that that will happen?
Lynne Featherstone: I am confident.
Q459 Chair: What about the issue of forced marriage? Because, as you know, the Prime Minister, again, backed the Select Committee’s recommendation on the last occasion for legislation criminalising forced marriages. Is that coming?
Lynne Featherstone: As you will be aware, there was a consultation. The consultation has concluded with a response, and I am sure there will be an announcement shortly.
Q460 Chair: You are the Minister. So you will be doing the announcing, will you?
Lynne Featherstone: Who knows?
Q461 Chair: Let us now go to private investigators. You are the Minister responsible. Why are private investigators still unregulated after 11 years since the passing of the Act?
Lynne Featherstone: Right. I can’t comment on why they were not regulated under the last Government. I am sure the wider population would be surprised to find that private investigators are not licensed. Since we came into Government, the first order was around the stage we had reached in terms of becoming a very developed and mature Security Industry Authority, so I would say absolutely ready to licence. However, the Coalition, when it came in, had a broader remit in terms of regulation itself and we had to wait until the regulation picture became clearer. Of course now we are just waiting for Leveson and indeed your inquiry to conclude, because there is some crossover, and we will go ahead as soon as those inquiries do conclude. Leveson concludes in-October, is it?
Chair: October, yes.
Lynne Featherstone: October, and obviously I am hoping you will be coterminous with that because we can-
Chair: We will be before that.
Lynne Featherstone: Okay. Well, we can get on with it as soon as Leveson completes.
Q462 Chair: During the course of the inquiry, Channel 4 published extracts of a report that was conducted by the Serious and Organised Crime Agency, an intelligence report, which the Committee has a copy of. We have obtained a copy from SOCA. No doubt you have seen this report, which is headed Private Investigators: The Rogue Element of the Private Investigation Industry and Others Unlawfully Trading in Personal Data.
Lynne Featherstone: I don’t know what previous Home Secretaries knew and what they-
Chair: No, I am asking about you. I am not asking about Jacqui Smith.
Lynne Featherstone: I myself have not seen the report. The Home Secretary and Ministers were made aware of the report in 2012, in April.
Q463 Chair: We will send you a copy of this report. We find it very odd that-this being a matter in the public domain, a television programme was done on this and on the basis of the television programme I asked SOCA for a copy of the report-you, the Minister and the Home Secretary, have not read it.
Lynne Featherstone: I said I don’t know if the Home Secretary has read it or not. I said she was made aware of it.
Q464 Chair: But you haven’t?
Lynne Featherstone: I have not read it, but as it is a classified report I couldn’t comment.
Q465 Chair: No, it is not classified because we have obtained a copy. They have redacted a couple of lines. I find this very odd that your officials have not brought it to your attention, because it is a very, very serious report. You are right that it was produced under the last Government and doesn’t appear to have been acted upon. But it was publicised only a few weeks ago, and it says this, "The ability of the investigators to commit such criminality is supported by the absence of regulation". It goes on to talk about very serious criminality being undertaken by private investigators. Here is paragraph 11: "Many private investigators have been previously employed in law enforcement or in the armed forces or are employees of such individuals". It goes on to talk about deletion of databases. This is a pretty serious document, and I am very surprised you haven’t seen it.
Lynne Featherstone: I am surprised myself, so I will be reading it forthwith.
Q466 Chair: Shall we write to SOCA to ask them to send you a copy?
Lynne Featherstone: That would be helpful, unless there is a copy lying around somewhere that I am not aware of. But, yes, I have not-
Chair: We don’t normally leave these documents that come from SOCA lying around, but we can certainly-
Lynne Featherstone: I was being marginally facetious, but I would wish to read a copy.
Chair: Excellent. I think this is helpful to understand why we are so concerned about these issues.
Q467 Dr Huppert: Minister, you will know that it was 2006 that the What Price Privacy Now? report to the Information Commissioner came out, which identified a large number of problems about the marketing of private information, particularly with a whole range of media organisations. Sadly, that was ignored at the time and the follow up was also ignored at the time. Now is obviously the time to start looking at that aspect of information brokerage, as opposed to pure private investigations. Would you agree that we should be strengthening the penalties that are available for serious breaches of privacy in that sort of arena and give the Information Commissioner greater powers, as he has asked for?
Lynne Featherstone: There are two things here. Firstly, the Ministry of Justice has informed me that they are reviewing and looking at the penalties, particularly section 55 of the Data Protection Act. In terms of the Information Commissioner asking for more powers, there are differences between the Intercept Commissioner and the Information Commissioner. The Information Commissioner wants more powers, but quite often it is the Intercept Commissioner who is the appropriate Commissioner to look at these matters, and it sits more appropriately with that Commissioner.
What happens is where there is a case or an issue before the Intercept Commissioner, if he or she wishes or thinks there is a need for the Information Commissioner, or there is traction for the Information Commissioner, and that would be more properly dealt with by the Information Commissioner then he will act as now and refer matters to them. However, we are looking at whether the Intercept Commissioner could provide guidance, because I think there is a lack of clarity for people as to which commissioner to go to, and that might assist them.
Q468 Dr Huppert: I think this Committee suggested a year ago that it might make sense to put all the commissioners together, to have an overall Privacy Commissioner with the separate units.
Lynne Featherstone: I know.
Dr Huppert: Do you think that would make this easier?
Lynne Featherstone: I can’t comment in terms of Government, but my view is not necessarily. What I have always thought would be the ideal is if you had an over-arching commissioner, or not that you have an over-arching commissioner but you have the commissions co-located. I thought that might be very helpful, in terms of sharing and working together as the commissioner body. But, quite frankly, I wasn’t sure whether having an über-commissioner would simply confuse matters.
Q469 Dr Huppert: They are currently located very separately, are they?
Lynne Featherstone: Various places.
Q470 Bridget Phillipson: Minister, you talked about when the Government might look to bring in regulation in the industry, and that you were awaiting the outcome of this Committee’s inquiry and also Leveson. You said that Leveson concludes in October. So when do you anticipate that the Government will be bringing forward proposals?
Lynne Featherstone: I think the Government can act relatively quickly as soon as Leveson concludes, because the Private Security Industry Act 2001 is there and waiting to go, and there is not much change, so it will simply be a case of enacting secondary legislation, subject to negative resolution, and the legislative part can go quite quickly. The lengthy bit will be moving forward from when the legislation is passed, obviously depending on the will of Parliament, as ever. Once you have the legislation then the clock is going to start ticking on things, like the training, the industry capacity, the time it will take to apply, how to apply. They are going to have to demonstrate compliance, so before actual licensing there will be a time period.
Q471 Chair: Sorry, Ms Phillipson would like to know how long would that be. Obviously some work must have been done.
Lynne Featherstone: I would have to take advice, but I would think that second part could be up to two years.
Q472 Bridget Phillipson: Do we need to wait for Leveson if it is just a question of enacting secondary legislation? Is Leveson going to tell us anything that we don’t already know, given that it concerns a small section of the use of private investigators by the media?
Lynne Featherstone: At this point, having waited 10 or 11 years, I think it would be inappropriate not to wait to hear what Leveson had to say in case there was crossover. There may be issues, there may not be issues, but I think it would be inappropriate for us not to wait for Leveson and indeed your own inquiry.
Q473 Chair: The Leveson inquiry was not set up to deal with private investigators. As you know, this Committee agreed the terms of reference with the Prime Minister before it was published, and what Ms Phillipson and the Committee want to know is-it has been in legislation for 10 years; as you said, the previous Government passed on it-what is Lord Justice Leveson-
Lynne Featherstone: This Government did not-
Chair: The previous Government, I said.
Lynne Featherstone: Yes, but this Government is not going to pass on it.
Chair: No. But we are talking about four years from the election of this Government. If it is two years since the Government was formed, and you are waiting for Lord Justice Leveson to public his report in October and it is going to take you two years to get things ready, we are looking at 2014 and the general election is 2015.
Lynne Featherstone: I wasn’t looking on it in electoral terms. I was looking at it in terms of getting it right, and making sure-
Q474 Chair: The Government will change at the next election in one way or the other. That is why electoral terms are important, Minister, don’t you think?
Lynne Featherstone: I am saying, providing all goes to plan, it will be in before 2015.
Q475 Chair: It is two years until you get a recommendation from Lord Justice Leveson?
Lynne Featherstone: No, two years from the date that we get whatever.
Lynne Featherstone: In terms of getting the industry ready, up and licensed, yes. The legislation will move quite quickly.
Chair: That sounds like an awful long time.
Q476 Mr Clappison: Are you satisfied with the Government’s arrangements for guarding against the illegal disclosure of personal information by Government Departments?
Lynne Featherstone: Sorry, could you repeat that?
Mr Clappison: Are you satisfied with the arrangements for safeguarding personal information held with Government Departments, preventing its illegal disclosure?
Lynne Featherstone: Yes.
Q477 Mr Clappison: You are happy at the moment. Do you have any plans to review it or improve it?
Lynne Featherstone: Not as far as I am aware at the moment, but we keep a constant eye in terms of those things and there obviously have been breaches in the past. But at the moment I am not aware of impending doom.
Mr Clappison: I have other matters.
Chair: Yes, if you could raise it at the end that would be good.
Q478 Mr Winnick: As far as police officers are concerned, obviously I assume there can be no question of police officers acting as private investigators while they are in the service. But when they leave the service, do you think there should be any period of time before they are employed as private investigators?
Lynne Featherstone: That is an interesting question. To date that hasn’t been the case, and in a way it is not surprising that serving police officers go into the business later. I think they are very well qualified to be in that industry. Whether or not there should be a gap, I don’t think that is the key issue. The most important thing is that there is no inappropriate behaviour. Whether they go immediately into a private investigation or whether it is X years hence, the real harm and the real damage is if they use their relationship inappropriately, in terms of the sort of things you can see on television when they say, "Well, we’re mates. You can let me have this bit of information". That is clearly completely unacceptable, whether it is immediate or in the future.
Q479 Mr Winnick: At this point in time, unless there is compelling evidence otherwise, if there is legislation-and, rather like the Chair, I put the emphasis on "if" during the course of this part of it, but be that as it may-you are not persuaded there is any necessity for any cooling off period once a police officer, of whichever rank, is employed as a private investigator once he leaves the service?
Lynne Featherstone: No. I am not convinced that it is the cooling-off period that is the issue. In a sense, that is the whole point behind everything we are doing about licensing and regulating, so that you have a fit and proper person and you have competency and you have a code of conduct. The reality has to be to stop people who would use their relationships inappropriately. That is the key to everything we are doing, in terms of a licensing regime, to get fit and proper people and get rid of those people who are not fit and proper.
Q480 Mr Winnick: When it is in conflict with other views, but time will tell.
Lynne Featherstone: They would lose their licence. If they did it, it would be breaking the rules and they would lose their licence. That is the whole point. If that is your whole career, and if you are an ex-police officer that must be a very good career option for you, and to lose your licence would surely be the most serious thing that could happen to you.
Q481 Chair: Indeed. That is very, very helpful. We have received evidence during our inquiry that there are serving police officers who also have permission to be private investigators. We are trying to find out in which force, but we have not discovered yet, but that was the evidence that was given to us.
Lynne Featherstone: The Government certainly would not think it appropriate for a serving officer to work as a private investigator.
Chair: Indeed. Neither would this Committee, I think.
Q482 Bridget Phillipson: Just returning to Mr Clappison’s point about the Government holding data. The Channel 4 programme the Chair referred to earlier, we took evidence from the producer of that programme that they uncovered-through Freedom of Information requests-various breaches by the Department for Work and Pensions, where staff had inappropriately accessed or passed on data to third parties, but that those breaches had not been reported to the Information Commissioner. Are you aware of that?
Lynne Featherstone: No, I am sorry, I am not aware of that.
Q483 Bridget Phillipson: Would you be able to look into it and perhaps report back to-
Lynne Featherstone: I am happy to look into it and write to the Committee.
Chair: If you could write to us that would be very helpful.
Q484 Dr Huppert: At a seminar that this Committee conducted, one of the witnesses talked about the French licensing system-I don’t know if you are particularly familiar with it-where they have universities who actually offer courses in investigative work, which are then checked so that people can be sure that investigators were legitimate, competent as well as hopefully having the ethical requirements. Have you or any of your officials had a chance to look at what happens in other countries to see if there is best practice out there?
Lynne Featherstone: Certainly, my officials do look across the world and take notice of what is happening, and if there is any further work to be done it will be done by the SIA, rather than my officials. As far as I can glean, from all of the information that has come in, we are totally in step. In fact, we are going to have a better model because it will be a national model, based on the legislation and the licensing framework, and it will not be-like in Australia-broken down by state, which could get a bit messy.
Chair: We are now going to turn to a number of other matters that Members of the Committee wish to raise with you.
Q485 Mr Clappison: Since we have this opportunity to ask you about it, I am interested in the Government’s dealing with the cases that are coming before the European Court of Human Rights concerning the freedom of individuals to wear a cross. I believe you are the Minister who is handling it, and there have been a number of reports about this that have had various suggestions made. Can you clear it up for us? Is it the Government’s view that individuals should be free to wear a cross at their place of work, except where there is a genuine health reason for not doing so, without fear of being dismissed by their employer?
Lynne Featherstone: Well, of course. I have to say that, apart from the two cases that have gone to the European Court of Human Rights, I am not aware of anyone in this country who has been asked not to wear a visible cross in their place of work. Under the Equality Act, you have to have a legitimate reason if you ask an employee not to wear a cross. In these two cases my understanding was that it was a company policy for front-of-house, but they worked as hard as they could with the applicant to offer her alternatives while they then did a survey of their staff and changed their policy, and she is still working for them. So that has gone. In the other case it was, as you rightly say, health and safety. This is now before the court, so I can’t really comment.
Q486 Mr Clappison: Could we have a simple answer to the question. Do you think people should be free to wear a cross or not?
Lynne Featherstone: Of course we do, but people are free to wear a cross.
Q487 Mr Clappison: You think employers are wrong to sack people who wear crosses?
Lynne Featherstone: I think they have to prove in court that they have a legitimate reason for asking someone not to wear a cross. You are right, many people write to me. These are the only two cases in this country, where I understand-
Mr Clappison: As yet.
Lynne Featherstone: As yet, but these are two cases that have come to everybody’s attention through a lot of publicity. Employers in this country are very reasonable and I think the Government is quite clear, everyone should feel free to wear a cross unless the law finds against them in that particular circumstance.
Q488 Mr Clappison: It does not sound like a very ringing endorsement of the right to wear a cross. You say it is up to employers to show-
Lynne Featherstone: No. I have made it quite clear this Government believes that everyone should be free to wear a cross and, as far as I understand it, everyone in this country is free to do so. But there have been two cases where there has been shown a legitimate reason why that wasn’t the case.
Q489 Mr Clappison: No. You are accepting that the employer in that case had a reason, particularly the British Airways case. You are saying if the employer chooses not to allow people to wear a cross, then they can ask them not to do so and dismiss them if they so choose to do.
Lynne Featherstone: No, they have to go-
Q490 Mr Clappison: Is that wrong or right in your view?
Lynne Featherstone: The law states quite clearly that they have to be able to prove a legitimate aim. You can’t just have ridiculous reasons for banning people from wearing a cross. That is why I am so cross with the sort of rubbish covering of this in the media, which has put the wind up a whole lot of people for absolutely nothing. When the vast-
Q491 Mr Clappison: I am struggling to see how you can have a legitimate-
Lynne Featherstone: I don’t see why, Mr Clappison.
Mr Clappison: So you are saying that-
Lynne Featherstone: I am saying health and safety is a perfectly legitimate aim. If a nurse wears a cross, it harbours infection. If she or he leans forward, it goes into a patient. It is a perfectly legitimate aim, and I don’t understand what your problem is with that.
Mr Clappison: The British Airways case, I am struggling to see how that is a health-I have another question that arises out of this. What would be a legitimate reason for British Airways saying-
Lynne Featherstone: I don’t think it is appropriate for me to comment on something that is before the European Court.
Q492 Mr Clappison: That is very clear, that you are not prepared to say that it is wrong.
Lynne Featherstone: I have said quite enough in this room. I have said that this Government absolutely stands behind people being free to wear whatever they want in terms of work.
Q493 Mr Clappison: Yes. Do you take a different view of symbols of other faiths?
Lynne Featherstone: No.
Q494 Mr Clappison: So it is an across-the-board policy, with the same view whatever the-
Lynne Featherstone: Yes.
Mr Clappison: Good.
Q495 Chair: I have a few points to raise, and if you don’t know the answer, it is absolutely fine. Write to us about it. The issue of female genital mutilation has come to the fore in recent weeks. Obviously it has been with us as an issue for some time. Is the Government proposing to do anything about this?
Lynne Featherstone: Yes.
Q496 Chair: What?
Lynne Featherstone: As the Minister in charge of this, I am incredibly frustrated.
Chair: What are you proposing then?
Lynne Featherstone: The previous Government and ourselves have done everything we can. It is a criminal offence. You talked about forced marriage that isn’t, but we haven’t had a prosecution on FGM, which is often raised in questions. We have frontline guidelines. We are working with workers. We are working with the Crown Prosecution Service.
Q497 Chair: So where is it going wrong?
Lynne Featherstone: My own view is that we need to make quite a step change. I have been in Africa recently, in fact, talking in Ethiopia and Uganda about FGM with activists, who have had much more success than we have had here, where the diaspora is even more attached to cultural practices than perhaps the mother country. In these countries across the world the laws are now coming in, in the country of origin, and I think that will be helpful and I am looking at various plans. We are also looking at the health passport, which was suggested by Jane Ellison at the APPG, and talking to colleagues in the Netherlands about how that is going.
Chair: I had my first such case last Friday at my surgery, where a woman came to claim asylum in the United Kingdom because of her young daughter. She didn’t want to take her back to Nigeria because she felt that she would be-
Lynne Featherstone: She would be in danger.
Q498 Chair: Indeed. So it is good to know things are happening on that. You are also the Minister responsible for preventing witchcraft abuses. You have quite a wide portfolio, I understand. The Committee has received letters from people wanting to know when the Government is going to ban child branding, those who are allegedly possessed of evil. You have seen these cases, have you?
Lynne Featherstone: I have seen some of them. I would like to-
Q499 Chair: Is there anything the Government can do?
Lynne Featherstone: I would like to write to you on that, if I may, Mr Chairman, because it is complicated. But my view on branding would be it is illegal anyway. It is abuse.
Q500 Chair: Sure. If you could do that, it would be very helpful. Finally, you are about to appoint a new head of the EHRC. Trevor Phillips is going to leave. Would you tell us the timetable on this, because we are little concerned that the timetable is quite short. When is Trevor Phillips leaving his post?
Lynne Featherstone: He is leaving in September.
Q501 Chair: On what date?
Lynne Featherstone: I would have to write to you with the exact date. The appointment is for October.
Q502 Chair: When are you advertising for this post?
Lynne Featherstone: My understanding was the advertisement went in last Sunday. If it wasn’t last Sunday, it will be next Sunday.
Q503 Chair: So you are advertising very shortly or you have just advertised?
Lynne Featherstone: Yes.
Q504 Chair: When do you hope to have a shortlist of candidates?
Lynne Featherstone: As soon as possible. As soon as the application time closes, which I believe is four weeks. But I can write to you with the detail of that?
Q505 Chair: Would you? Because what would be very helpful at the end of your shortlisting process, since this is a pre-appointment hearing, is if you give them to me.
Lynne Featherstone: Yes.
Q506 Chair: Both our Committee and Human Rights will be having a joint hearing, we have decided. The Human Rights Committee is very concerned at the shortness of the timetable because a number of their Members are Members of the Upper House, the other place, and will not be here in September as we will be, I understand. Therefore, they apparently can’t come back for this hearing. Just to pre-warn you, I will be writing to you. What would be very helpful is if we are told the list of shortlisted candidates, if you could do that.
Lynne Featherstone: I will write to you with more detail on the process.
Chair: That would be very helpful.
Q507 Mr Winnick: There is a good deal of concern. Indeed, there is a campaign that I have been written to-and perhaps other Committee members; the Chair, for all I know-regarding the reduction in finance for EHRC. There is a reduction, is there?
Lynne Featherstone: Yes, their budget has been quite radically changed. It is almost halved, or just over halved actually, but that has been announced a long time ago. That came in as part of the original spending review and budget for the EHRC. What I would say about that is, firstly, it leaves an organisation that is better funded than almost any other equalities body in Europe. More to the point, this isn’t so much about the money. This is about creating what I believe the EHRC should always have been, which was a valued and respected national institution for upholding equality and human rights. It is such an important institution to people in this country, in both symbolic and actual substantive terms. But I do fear that it wasn’t conceived very thoroughly, perhaps-I do want to phrase this elegantly-and that the three pre-existing commissions, the Women’s Commission, the Disability Commission and the Commission for Racial Equality, were almost thrown together, if I may say so, without sorting out the personalities, the budgets or the personnel. This is an opportunity-and I feel very strongly about this-for the EHRC to actually focus on what it is doing and what it should be doing, and become that valued and respected national institution that I am sure everyone wants to see.
Q508 Mr Winnick: The fear is-and it seems to be very much felt within the ranks of those who are very concerned about equality covered by the organisation-that it will become less able to deal with cases of discrimination, be it on disability or race and the rest of it, as a result of what is happening.
Lynne Featherstone: Religion, indeed. I think it will be better able. It has been going off in a lot of directions that distracted it from its core purpose, and as an independent body, obviously, it is for the EHRC to determine how it is going to move forward, but we have created that framework, that vision and a budget, and it will now hopefully move forward. It has a new chief executive who is working very hard to make it work.
Q509 Chair: Who is that?
Lynne Featherstone: His name is Mark Hammond. Change management of this scale is very, very challenging, but it is very important that we get it right because, as I say, this is an institution that we all need.
Q510 Mr Winnick: But it needs to be adequately funded.
Lynne Featherstone: As I say, regardless of the fact it is a halving of its budget, it is still going to be better funded than most other equality and human rights institutions. It may not do all the things that everyone from every part of the equality world wants it to do, but I think that may have been part of the problem in terms of becoming a high-functioning leading organisation.
Q511 Chair: Can I say how much I agree with what you have said about the fact that the three organisations were just thrown together by the previous Government. We did warn the previous Government on the Floor of the House-
Lynne Featherstone: I am sure you did.
Chair: -especially with regard to the race dimension, that this was simply not going to work, and I welcome the fact that you are looking at this again. But could I just ask you-since race has been raised-do you agree with Baroness Warsi, about her comments that members of the Pakistani community are prone to the grooming of young girls?
Lynne Featherstone: I don’t know if those were her exact words. What I do think is that, in particular cases, where there is a cultural group of some sort and there seems to be a pattern, it is worthy of looking at. I don’t think we should tiptoe around cultural niceties on these matters. But what I would say is that the issue of child sexual exploitation is much larger and more horrific than any of us have known to date, and while it may be Asian men, in that particular circumstance or in that particular part, 95% of paedophiles are white, and I think we are going to find sadly that where people look in their own localities they are going to find hideous things going on. I know that the Secretary of State for Education has asked the Children’s Commissioner to hasten her work and publish early, and I think that work will be seminal in what it discloses to all of us.
Chair: You will be pleased to know that the Committee decided in private session that we will be having our own inquiry into this as well. As you say, it needs to be thoroughly looked at over a period of time and we, too, await the outcome of the Children’s Commissioner’s report. Minister, as usual, thank you very much for coming in. We are most grateful. We look forward to receiving your letters. Thank you.