Richard Rosser on the changes we’re seeking to the Policing and Crime Bill
Today is the first of three days on Lords Report of the Policing and Crime Bill. Ironically perhaps, given the time of year, but this has recently become something of a ‘Christmas tree bill’ with amendments being put down covering issues not specifically addressed in the proposed legislation.
One of those amendments, to be debated today and which Labour peers will support, seeks to hold the government to the commitment made by the previous Prime Minister that there would be a second stage of the Leveson Inquiry looking into relationships between the police and the media. Ministers recently decided to hold a consultation on whether to proceed with the commitment – something many suspect is a prelude to it being dropped altogether.
As those who have following it closely will be aware, the Bill provides for Police and Crime Commissioners (PCCs) to be able to seek to extend their sphere of influence and control by also becoming the local Fire and Rescue Authority. We do not accept the need for this enabling power. PCCs should have their hands full with their existing responsibilities. There is no public demand for such a takeover. The structure of the fire and rescue service is not always co-terminus with the PCC structure. And the Bill already lays down a statutory requirement for collaboration between emergency services.
The government have now put down an amendment placing the consultation arrangements, if the PCC does want to seek to take over fire and rescue, on a firmer statutory footing. We however, want more precision than the government are proposing in those arrangements and procedures which ensure that the voices of local people are heard.
Elsewhere in the debates today, we will also be seeking to restrict the activities that can be undertaken by police volunteers, in particular in relation to the use of CS and PAVA sprays or other specified weapons.
Further focus will fall on the practicality of ministers proposed time limits on pre-charge bail; and the use of police cells as a place of safety to detain people with mental health issues. Plus a requirement to ensure that children who have been sexually abused or exploited receive a comprehensive assessment and referral to services that they need including specialist mental health services.
On the remaining two days of Report – on Wednesday 7th December and Monday 12th – we will be pursuing an amendment seeking parity of funding for the families of victims at inquests where the police have legal representation. Along with supporting amendments to give licensing authorities more powers to control over fixed odds betting terminals, and one to put in place a Victims Code in line with our Commons colleague Keir Starmer’s Private Members Bill. And we also expect to see debates covering drink driving, revenge porn, and the use of prohibited substances in sport.
Finally, there is the issue of pre-charge anonymity for those suspected of, but not charged with, committing sexual offences. Our concern however, is the impact any change in the current procedures might have on reducing the numbers of other people coming forward to report having been sexually assaulted once a suspect becomes known. Something that could potentially reduce the prospects of a successful prosecution.
So, all in all a rather complicated Report stage but one that will no doubt see the House making its presence felt – both in pushing for concessions and pressing votes – in the weeks running up to Christmas.
Lord Richard Rosser is Shadow Home Office Minister in the House of Lords
Published 30th November 2016