Mike Penning responds to Policing and Crime Bill debate

7th March 2016

Mike Penning winds up the Second Reading debate of the Policing and Crime Bill.

The Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice (Mike Penning): I say genuinely that this has been a really good and sensible debate, and it has been conducted in the correct tone, apart from some of the bits in the speech of the shadow Policing Minister, the hon. Member for Birmingham, Erdington (Jack Dromey). Let us take the bits we agree on and work from there.

I was slightly surprised to hear the shadow Home Secretary say that we should do more. Anybody would think that this Government had been in power for 20 years—they probably will be—but his party had 13 years to modernise the police force and the other emergency services.

I thought there was a slightly critical tone about the fact that I used to be a firefighter. I am very proud of that and it is an obvious thing for me to mention, just as colleagues across the House mention specialist roles that they have held. When I was in the fire service, I wanted to protect the public better and to have the same skills, equipment and emergency services as other countries. This Bill will help address that. It will not be done on the cheap. We need to ask whether we need two chief executive officers, two finance directors and two health and safety officers. Do we need so much bureaucracy at the top of our emergency services taking money away from the frontline? We see examples around the country of collaboration taking place, but there are also examples of collaboration not taking place. That is why the Bill is very important.

The Chair of the Home Affairs Committee apologised to me for the fact that he would not be back for the wind-ups, but he said some very important things about the need for public confidence in the Independent Police Complaints Commission. Common sense is needed. It is clear that more complaints could be dealt with at constabulary level. That will often mean just saying, “Sorry, we got it wrong. We didn’t intend to get it wrong —that’s the last thing in the world we wanted to do.” It is important to say very early on that only serious offences should get to the IPCC. The Home Secretary and I were just telling each other that we will need to table a lot of amendments in Committee to remove the word “commission”. Further amendments will also be tabled.

The Bill is not perfect. I could accuse Labour Front Benchers of moaning, but I will not—I am trying to work collaboratively. The fire service needs to work closer with the police, the ambulance service, the coastguard and other emergency services. We need to make sure that we get more for the taxpayers’ buck. [Interruption.] That is enough chuntering from Labour Front Benchers. Let us see what we can get.

Rather than address what is coming from Labour Front Benchers at the moment, I will address some of the points that were made during the sensible part of the debate. Mental illness is no different from any other illness, and it must be treated as such. For too many years, the police force has been used as the first, rather than last, point of call. Even though police officers are well trained and do good work on our behalf, they are not mental health professionals. They are also not experts on many other conditions, including learning difficulties. Sometimes we have to use them to provide a place of safety, but that should not be the case. Unless we actually put a stop to that and say, “Enough is enough,” we will not get the provision we need from other agencies. That is a really important part of the changes. The firearms changes have been needed for some considerable time, and we can work together on those.

I say to the Scottish National party that we will work closely with the Scottish Parliament. There was no consensus at all among political parties on the Silk commission, which is why we are in the position we are in. There was no consensus on the Silk commission between the Labour party in Wales and the Labour party in this House, so how could we have got consensus on the matter? As we go into Committee, let us work on what we can work on to try to make the Bill better. Let us not decry our emergency services and say that they cannot work together, because they can.

Andy Burnham: Will the Minister give way?

Mike Penning: No; I am going to conclude. On that point, in a debate that has been particularly important, let us make sure that we deliver what the public sent us to do, rather than sitting here and moaning at each other.

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Earlier interventions in the same debate

The Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice (Mike Penning): I thank my hon. Friend for giving way, and particularly commend the speech by my hon. Friend the Member for Broxbourne (Mr Walker). Through the Bill we are trying to say—including to the other agencies to which the shadow Home Secretary referred—that a police cell or a police vehicle is not the place for someone in a mental health crisis. As the Ministers responsible for policing, we have to say that we are the port of last resort, not the port of first resort, which, I am afraid, is a situation that the section 135 and 136 legislation has got us into in some parts of the country. We need to get away from that.

James Morris: I thank the Minister for that intervention. He makes a powerful point. I have been a strong advocate of the street triage schemes that have been rolled out across the country. I was taken out by the street triage team in Birmingham and sped on a blue light to the centre of Birmingham, where a man was threatening to throw himself off the new Birmingham library. As the Minister knows, street triage is an effective combination of a police officer and a trained psychiatric nurse, both of whom present themselves at the point of crisis. That is the way we need to go, where we do more to get the police working with health professionals.

Mike Penning: I apologise for further delaying the House. Where it has not been possible for whatever reason to get the street triage team to the scene, we can have mental health professionals in custody suites. That point of entry gets around the data protection issues and people, who often know the mental health professionals, can be treated in a completely different, more civilised way, as we would expect our constituents to be treated.

James Morris: The Minister makes an excellent point. We need greater integration between policing and health. It should not be part of policing for police officers to make crucial decisions about an individual’s psychiatric state.

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Mike Penning: When I took over the policing responsibility 18 months ago, I asked for the previous reports by the Home Affairs Committee—they had been gathering dust because there were quite a few. What has really and truly happened is that we have cherry-picked what was feasible and what we could deliver, and we have placed it in the Bill—with the help of the Home Secretary’s PPS.

Keith Vaz: I thank the Minister, and I say to him that he should carry on cherry-picking if that results in changes that find favour with both sides of the House.

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Mike Penning: I wonder whether the Home Affairs Committee Chairman would agree that that does not need to be in statute. Surely it is simply common sense for the investigating officers to do such a thing, because this is not just about Paul Gambaccini—there were lots of others. The reason we have not put that in the Bill is that neither I nor the Home Secretary see the need for it to be on the statute book—it is just the common-decency way to treat people.

Keith Vaz: What the Minister has said today is extremely powerful and important, and it will give great comfort to people such as Paul Gambaccini. That is a common-sense approach to the cases of people have been on bail continuously but where no evidence is then found. People should conduct these investigations in a timely fashion. What the Minister has said will be something we can use as an example of good practice.

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Mike Penning: Because the college was absolutely brand new, we first had to get it established, bedded down and gaining the confidence that the Chair of the Select Committee has referred to. There are more powers for the college in the Bill, and it will evolve, but it was brand new and it had to have confidence of people across the country, particularly that of the police.

Keith Vaz: I hope that we will look at some of these issues when we come to review the work of the college in the next Session.

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Mike Penning: I thought it might be useful to say at this point that the Under-Secretary of State and I, having listened to the hon. Gentleman’s speech and the other contributions, will look carefully to see whether we can address in Committee or on Report the concerns that he has sensibly raised around that issue. One way or another, we will try as best we possibly can to address the matter in the Bill.

John Woodcock: I thank the Minister for intervening now, rather than waiting until his summation. What he has said is really welcome.

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Mike Penning: One of my very sad but important duties is to remove a pension from an officer because they have committed certain types of offence. Sadly, I have to do that weekly. There is already such a sanction, and others, including criminal sanctions, can also be taken. The ability to remove a pension is already in statute.

John Woodcock: But what if they have retired?

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Mike Penning: One of the privileges of being the Minister for Policing, Crime and Criminal Justice is being part of the Ministry of Justice as well as the Home Office. What my hon. Friend is talking about, essentially, are out-of-court disposals, and I think that we are moving in that direction rather than in the direction of police bail when it comes to such matters as sobriety bracelets.

Kit Malthouse: I welcome the Minister’s support. He has been a great proponent of the use of such bracelets, and I think that one of his first acts in office was to extend their use. I do not really mind how the bracelets get on to a person’s ankle. We know from the Croydon pilot that they are 92% effective. I do not mind whether this is done by means of out-of-court disposal or police bail, as long as it is done swiftly. We know that the best kind of criminal justice is swift and certain, and the bracelets are exactly that.

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