Charles Walker moves new clauses to Policing and Crime Bill relating to mental health

Charles Walker moves four new clauses to the Policing and Crime Bill calling for better police training in diversity and equality in relation to mental health, access to legal advice before someone is detained under the Mental Health Act 1983, Police and Crime Commissioners to be notified on the deployment of police officers on mental health wards and better recording of the use of Tasers in mental health situations.

Mr Charles Walker

I wish to speak to new clauses 26, 29, 42 and 43, all of which stand in my name. I will try to be brief. First, I thank the Under-Secretary of State for the Home Department, my hon. Friend the Member for Staffordshire Moorlands (Karen Bradley), for all the time she has taken over the past few weeks to discuss my concerns with me. I also wish to thank the Minister for Policing, Fire, Criminal Justice and Victims, my right hon. Friend the Member for Hemel Hempstead (Mike Penning), who has made himself available to me, and the Home Secretary. As hon. Members will know, there is significant concern about the interaction between policing and mental health services, and I wish to turn my attention to that issue.

New clause 26 would place an obligation on chief constables to ensure that their police officers were properly trained in diversity and equality in relation to mental health issues, and specifically issues that relate to ethnic minorities. I have worked closely with Black Mental Health UK over the past five years, and it has raised concerns directly with the Home Office and Members for a number of years. I want to read out a paragraph from its briefing. It states:

“The joint Home Office and Department of Health review of sections 135 and 136 of the Mental Health Act 1983 acknowledged that ‘in particular Black African Caribbean men—are disproportionately over-represented in S136 detentions compared to the general population’ and that ‘Black African Caribbean men in particular reported that the use of force was more likely to be used against them by the police.’”

These are legitimate and real concerns, they have been subject to academic research and they need to be addressed.

Nearly three years ago, the Home Secretary co-hosted a fantastic conference at the QEII Centre with Black Mental Health UK, and my right hon. Friend the Minister for Policing, Fire, Criminal Justice and Victims spoke at it. Great strides are being made, but we need to ensure that further progress happens in the months and years ahead. New clause 26 would therefore require chief police officers to make an annual report to the Home Secretary on what progress has been made in relation to diversity and equality training. I will not push it to a vote tonight, as I have had assurances from Ministers that the matter will be looked at seriously.

James Cleverly (Braintree) (Con)

This issue goes to the heart of the concept of policing by consent. I do not think that anybody who has had any involvement in policing will be unaware of the friction that exists ​between policing and many members of the UK’s black communities. Does my hon. Friend agree that an explicit step in the direction he suggests will go a long way towards building bridges between UK policing and a very significant minority group in the UK?

Mr Walker

I agree with my hon. Friend, which is why I am delighted that my concerns have received such close attention from Ministers and will continue to receive attention. I look forward to further updates. The Government are working very closely with Black Mental Health UK and its director Matilda MacAttram, and I hope that those conversations will continue.

I said that I would try to speak for only five minutes, but I might have to stray a little bit over that, Madam Deputy Speaker.

New clause 29 relates to access to legal advice before someone is detained under the Mental Health Act 1983. I know that the Opposition have tabled new clause 24, on advocacy, but mine is a probing new clause. The removal of someone’s liberty should never happen lightly. Again, there is great concern among the African-Caribbean community and Black Mental Health UK that a young black male is more likely than other people to have their liberty removed. New clause 29 is a genuine request to address a genuine concern, but I am not sure whether it is deliverable.

At the point of sectioning, the situation is almost always highly stressed. The needs of the individual who is ill should be central to that sectioning. There is very real concern about this situation. I am interested in the Opposition’s new clause 24 in relation to advocacy. Advocacy is often talked about but has not been delivered in the way that it should be. Again, my right hon. and hon. Friends on the Front Bench are aware of that issue.

I turn to new clauses 42 and 43, which relate to the deployment of police officers on wards and the use of Tasers. I am well aware that the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb) will be speaking to new clause 40 on Tasers. I cannot be absolutist in my approach. I know that Black Mental Health UK never wants to see police officers used on mental health wards, and I share that view, but there will always be occasions where that possibility remains. When police officers are deployed to mental health wards, there should be an almost immediate notification to the police and crime commissioner and the Independent Police Complaints Commission that that deployment has taken place. I know that Home Office Ministers are working closely with the Department of Health on collating better statistics about the use of force and restraint, but we cannot wait 365 days before receiving that information. When police are deployed on mental health wards, that information needs to be made available immediately. Again I have received assurances from Ministers that work will be done on that matter. I know that time is short, but when the Minister sums up, I hope that he will again reassure me and Matilda MacAttram that that work will be done.

Finally, I turn to the use of Tasers on mental health wards. The right hon. Member for North Norfolk will argue, with great justification and passion, that Tasers should never be used on mental health wards. My heart ​is with him, but my head says that there may be some highly charged situations where a Taser needs to be used. Right now, we know that Tasers are being used, but we are not collating or collecting the information, and there is no way for the House to know what is going on, or for concerned individuals to find out what is going on. When a Taser is used—I hope that they will never be used—a report needs to be made within a week to the police and crime commissioner and the IPCC. I am not suggesting for a minute that any police officer will use take the action of using a Taser lightly, but we must remember that we are talking about Tasers and force being used in safe hospital environments. Again, I have received assurances from Ministers in relation to the issue, and I hope that the Minister will refer to those assurances in responding to the debate.

Finally, I draw the Minister’s attention to a trial in Los Angeles, where Tasers are linked to body cameras by Bluetooth, so that the camera starts recording immediately when a Taser is drawn. It does not need to be manually started by the police officer. Perhaps the Home Office would like to look at that.

I apologise for having spoken for a little longer than I said I would, Madam Deputy Speaker.

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Earlier interventions in the same debate

Mr Charles Walker (Broxbourne) (Con)

The right hon. Gentleman is entirely right to highlight the inequality of arms between families and the state, and he will know that INQUEST has campaigned tirelessly on that issue. He should also consider the time that it takes for an inquest to happen, and how those delays are recorded. An inquest may not happen for five or six years, in which time all sorts of untruths can flourish, but it will be recorded in the statistics as having taken only a year.

Andy Burnham

That is right, and as has been hinted at, that delay is often used to grind people down even further. It really does not work, and Parliament must decide whether we are prepared to let people carry on going through such an entirely unsatisfactory process. I do not think we should.

In people’s experiences today we can see parallels with those of the Hillsborough families. To give a current example, a young boy, Zane Gbangbola, died in 2014 in the floods in his home in Surrey. The family contest that hydrogen cyanide was brought into the house from a former landfill site that had not been properly sealed. It is a high-profile case, yet the family have been turned down three times for legal aid. This ordinary family were just going about their business, and all of a sudden their son is dead and Mr Gbangbola is permanently in a wheelchair. The inquest starts today, and the only reason that the family have quality legal representation is because they were given an anonymous £25,000 donation on Friday. That cannot possibly be right.

Mr Walker
The right hon. Gentleman will also know that when being assessed for financial support, it is not just the immediate family who have their finances looked at, but also the extended family, which is extraordinarily unfair.

Andy Burnham

That is extraordinarily unfair, although this Government have made things even more unfair with their cuts to legal aid. People are not getting through and they are not getting funding when they apply in the way that they would have done in the past. They are unrepresented at these inquests, which cannot be right.

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and subsequently

Mr Charles Walker

The hon. Gentleman is making a fantastic speech. Is it not remarkable just how far this House has come in the past four years? In this debate, we are putting the interests of mental health patients at the centre of what we are discussing, and he should take great credit for that personally.

Mr Jones

I should not be the only one taking credit for that. The hon. Gentleman should do so as well, as should many other people in the House. To give credit to the Government, they have taken this issue seriously and both the Ministers who served on the Committee are committed to ensuring that we get the best outcomes for people in mental health crisis in the criminal justice system.

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Mr Charles Walker

I am sure I heard my right hon. Friend correctly, but to confirm, is he saying that Ministers will work with interested parties—for example, with me or the right hon. Member for North Norfolk (Norman Lamb)—to ensure that the recording and reporting of such incidents is much better, and that we will report progress back to the House periodically, perhaps through letters to the Library?

7.00 pm

Mike Penning

I was trying to get to exactly that point. That is a role for police and crime commissioners. If we devolve the powers in question, it will give more powers to PCCs, and rightly so. If we believe in and are aiming for localism, PCCs should know what is going on in their part of the world, and that information should be made available to the public and not left opaque. That will take work—I am delegating more work to my colleagues on the Treasury Bench, and to others across the Government, because this is not just a Home Office matter. Someone said earlier that this measure should not be in the Bill, but it is there because it needs to be.

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