House of Lords
Monday, 6 February 2012.
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Chichester.
Cities: Economic Development
The Government want powerful, innovative cities that shape their economic destinies—engines of growth that will boost entire regions. We have already created 38 local enterprise partnerships, invested £2.4 billion in the regional growth fund and created enterprise zones in 24 cities and their wider local enterprise partnership areas. We are working with cities and their surrounding areas to agree bespoke city deals, supporting innovative local strategies to deliver growth.
My Lords, while I agree that cities can do much to drive our economy, there are other areas that do not fit well into city regions and that need economic development. I am thinking, for example, of parts of the former northern coal-field areas which, geographically, are not close to cities and which are not well linked with effective public transport, even though they include areas of high youth unemployment hotspots as identified in today’s ACEVO report. Given that, and given that regional development agencies which were able to address the needs of such areas have been abolished, will the Government give a firm commitment that areas on the fringe, or, indeed, outside city regions, will not be overlooked in their policies?
My Lords, as the noble Baroness knows, we are currently developing city regions which will be within the local enterprise partnerships and will cover most of that. We are aware, of course, of the problems that the noble Baroness identified. I am sure that there will be further discussion on that in due course.
My Lords, while I strongly support what the Minister said about the Government’s approach to city regions, perhaps I may draw her attention to the fact that public expenditure per head is higher in Northern Ireland, London, Scotland and Wales than in any English region. Might not one possibility be for the Government to look again at rebalancing public spending and consider what the Lyons report said about decentralising Civil Service jobs from Whitehall to the English regions?
I welcome the noble Baroness’s creation particularly of the Birmingham-Solihull local enterprise partnership under the chairmanship of Andy Street, of John Lewis Partnership, with whom I am having a fruitful discussion about social inclusion. Will the Minister comment on the importance of social well-being for the achievement of the LEPs’ goals and indicate to which areas of social policy we should give priority in achieving a high quality of life for all?
My Lords, the first thing that we must do is to get growth in the cities and get our economy moving. Without that we will not be able to do what the right reverend Prelate is suggesting. Social well-being is part of the life that we hope to lead in the cities and their regions and I know that that will be taken into account. As I say, however, first we must ensure that we get the economy moving. That is what the cities programme is about.
My Lords, it is all very well for the Minister to say that we must get growth in the cities, but she will be all too well aware that the distribution of resources from central government is to the disfavour of our northern cities, in particular, in favour of southern shire counties. Is she not greatly concerned that northern cities are not only losing out on the devolution settlement, which helps Wales and Scotland, but in fact are being disfavoured compared with the rest of England?
My Lords, there are many northern cities that are involved in the cities programme—the cities deal. I know that consultation discussions are taking place with them on what is required for the future. The distribution of the grant, of course, is done against our formula.
Health: Children and Young People
My Lords, last month my right honourable friend Andrew Lansley launched the development of a health outcomes strategy for children and young people. An independent children and young people’s health outcomes forum will inform the development of this strategy and will consider the findings of this report alongside the wider views of children, young people, their families and the professionals who support them. It will report back to government by the summer.
I thank the Minister for his Answer. However, as this report makes clear, under government proposals up to six different commissioning bodies will have responsibility for commissioning child health or child public health services. Will the Minister tell the House how the Government will prevent the fragmentation of those services to ensure that children do not fall through the gaps, and whether the Government will therefore now consider placing a specific duty on all those commissioning bodies to improve outcomes and reduce inequalities in children’s and young people’s health?
My Lords, the outcomes framework that I have just referred to should assist in the latter regard. I think the noble Baroness would agree that the system we have at the moment is not sufficiently joined-up, and in that sense does not adequately serve the needs of children. The approach we have taken to the proposed NHS reforms is to promote the importance of the integration of care and service provision for everyone, including children. We believe that strong partnerships at a local level, supported by professionals and local leaders, are the way forward, not top-down direction. The health and well-being board provides the forum for repositioning the joint strategic needs assessment into a truly joined-up strategy for local people.
I welcome what my noble friend the Minister has said about getting the views of children, but does he think that giving the commissioning of the excellent Healthy Child programme to local authorities is going to bring about the universal dissemination and delivery of that programme?
The role of local authorities will be pivotal in this because it is at local-authority level that public health, social care, and indeed the discussions that will go on in the health and well-being board context will bring together policy in a way that informs NHS commissioning. I think that the approach we have taken has been widely welcomed, and we are absolutely determined that all sectors of society, including children, are included in these processes.
My Lords, my northern diocese of Blackburn scores heavily on the deprivation indices for children’s health outcomes. Does the Minister share my concern that if phase 3 children’s centres become self-financing—as I understand they are to—and a children’s centre is deemed not viable, surely the health impact on the community and of course on the health services will be immense?
The right reverend Prelate is right to draw attention to this issue. I simply say to him that the process that I have described at health and well-being board level is specifically designed to enable local people to determine the priorities that they see as most important for their area. It is right that these decisions are taken locally. I do not argue in the slightest with his analysis of the importance of these centres; I think they do a tremendous amount of good. I am sorry to hear that there may be some threat to the one that he mentioned, but I hope he will also tell me that discussions are going on at a local level to try to find a way forward that will suit the needs of local children.
My Lords, given the emphasis on local-level decision-making, will the Minister explain how the Government intend to monitor fairness of access for children with less common conditions who at a local level may not appear to have a great need because there is a lack of awareness of the complex nature of their needs but whose outcomes can be greatly improved with highly specialised care?
The noble Baroness raises an important point. She is right that it is all too easy for children or indeed any patient with a less common condition not to have their voices heard. That is why we are absolutely clear that local healthwatch should be configured in a way that reaches out to hard-to-reach groups. We are looking in particular at patients with specialised conditions to ensure that there is a mechanism for them to have their voices heard at the local level.
My Lords, first I will say how much I welcome the new outcomes framework for children. Will the Minister say which proposed structures in the Health and Social Care Bill will benefit children, and who will have overall responsibility for child health?
My Lords, the Secretary of State will retain ultimate accountability for children's health services. Under the Bill, as the noble Baroness knows, the functions will be conferred directly by Parliament on specific organisations. That will strengthen accountability. In answer to the first part of her question, the reform of the health system offers a real opportunity to address some of the well documented challenges that the current system presents. We are moving, through the Bill and through our reforms, to a system that will focus on promoting good health, which we see as important as delivering good care. Informed and expert knowledge will underpin the commissioning of integrated services, where we will measure success on improvements in the outcomes that are achieved. Treatment will be evidence-based and children will be involved in decisions about their care. All these things are embodied in the Bill.
My Lords, recent research at Bristol indicated that as many as one in 100 children who are absent from school long-term suffers from CFS/ME. There is a dearth of centres for the treatment and diagnosis of children with CFS/ME. Does the Minister envisage this improving under the new proposals?
My Lords, it is yet to be decided finally which services will be commissioned at a national level. I cannot give the noble Countess a definitive answer on where services for CFS/ME will be commissioned. However, we are sure that the arrangements will provide much better, more locally responsive ways of commissioning services generally. Whether clinical commissioning groups join together in commissioning services, whether lead commissioners do that or whether commissioning takes place at a higher level, we are clear that in all services this needs to improve.
Will the Minister tell me what the position is with accident and emergency services? We have all read in the papers that we should not get sick at weekends and how desperately people are treated in some hospitals. Are children’s services as adversely affected as those of adults, or are no figures kept on the difference? What does the Minister propose to do to increase cover, because misdiagnosis is a major worry in some cases?
My Lords, accident and emergency services will be commissioned at a local level. I am afraid that I do not have in front of me detailed information on the split between adult and children's services in an emergency context. If I can get the information, I will be happy to write to my noble friend.
My Lords, given that responsibility for commissioning for 0 to five year-olds will be at a national level, and commissioning for six to 19 year-olds will be the responsibility of local arrangements, as the noble Earl described, what are the risks for the continuing responsibility for safeguarding the health of the most vulnerable children in our society?
My Lords, the two main outcomes frameworks relevant to this are the NHS and the public health outcomes frameworks, which we are trying to align as far as possible. They set a clear direction for the health and healthcare of children and young people, but there is more to do. As our data improve, we need to ensure that the outcomes measured are the ones that matter most to children and young people. That is why we are developing a health outcomes strategy for children. This will be the first example of an outcomes strategy as part of the health reforms model.
My Lords, as my noble friend knows, it will be the legal responsibility of clinical commissioning groups to commission care on behalf of all patients living in their geographic area, whether or not they are registered with a GP. That means that arrangements have to be made to ensure that those patients are treated when needed.
Universities: Non-EU Students
My Lords, the latest figures published by UCAS show an increase of 13 per cent in the number of university applications from students resident outside the European Union. Our original impact assessment forecasts no impact on universities.
I thank the Minister for his reply. Does he not recognise that the measures designed to combat bogus institutions are also having a severe effect on reputable institutions in the higher education sector? Would he not agree that, if the Government wish to reduce the headline figure of net immigration, it is inappropriate to include non-EU students in these figures? Under normal circumstances, without the impediments created by the Government, their numbers would be expected to follow a steeply upward trend, which would be highly profitable for the UK.
My Lords, I thought that was exactly what I just said in announcing a 13 per cent increase in those applying for universities. That strikes me as a very good thing indeed. It is quite right that we should stamp down on what the noble Viscount refers to as “bogus institutions”—I use his words, but I have previously used them myself. It is not fair on individuals coming to this country to come to an institution that is not providing them with proper education, and is being used merely as a vehicle to get around the immigration rules. What we have done is quite right. We are getting a grip on net migration figures but we are also seeing a growth in the number of genuine students coming to genuine universities.
My Lords, is it not true that there has been some decline in the market share of overseas students, particularly from India, who are a very important section? If students were not treated as migrants for the purposes of immigration policy, as happens in Australia and the United States, would this not be of great benefit to industry and to our universities; make it possible for the Government to meet their immigration targets comfortably; and make a difference of billions of pounds to the Treasury? Is this not a no-brainer?
My Lords, it is right that we should stamp down on those institutions which are trying to get round immigration by means of the bogus college route. My noble friend is also right to draw attention to the fact that there are some areas, such as the Indian sub-continent, where we are losing market share. There are, however, areas where there have been significant rises, particularly from Australasia where there has been an increase of some 20 per cent and from Hong Kong of some 37 per cent. We wish to continue to see those students coming in, but I also think they should be treated as part of the migration statistics. It is important that we get to grips with those, but we want to see them because they are a valuable export for this country.
My Lords, the Government have recognised the considerable economic and wider benefits that international students bring to this country and that is enormously welcome. However, in a speech on 2 February, the Immigration Minister, Damian Green, suggested that,
“the debate on student immigration needs to move on”.
He also said:
“There needs to be a focus on quality rather than quantity. The principle of selectivity should apply to student migration just as it does to work migration”.
Can the Minister explain what is meant by “selectivity” in relation to student migration and reassure the House that, on the basis of what he has said previously, it does not herald a further tightening of visa arrangements for international students in bona fide institutions?
My Lords, I welcome the intervention from the noble Baroness, particularly as she used to chair Universities UK. I will remind her that Universities UK said recently that our reforms will allow British universities to remain at the forefront of international student recruitment. We want that to continue, and that is what my honourable friend was making clear in his remarks. I want to underline again why we have seen an increase in the number of undergraduates coming in, but at the same time, we think it is right to tighten up on those coming in for other reasons and trying to get around the immigration rules.
My Lords, will the Government support student mobility in the opposite direction and extend the fee waiver to students who want to spend a year studying or working abroad in a non-EU country in the way that is available now under the Erasmus scheme only to students spending their year abroad within the EU?
My Lords, the noble Baroness will appreciate that that is a completely different question from the Question on the Order Paper. We are discussing the actions of the Home Office and the UK Border Agency and the effect they are having on students coming in. If the noble Baroness wishes to put down a Question on that subject, I am sure that one of my noble friends will be more than happy to answer it.
My Lords, when talking to the Cambridge Vice-Chancellor’s office a few months ago, it raised with me a problem about senior research students aged 28 or 30 who it wanted to attract from India, but who were mostly married. The problem was about their spouses coming in and I encountered the same issue in India. Has this issue been resolved?
My Lords, the restriction on bringing family members applies to undergraduates. The sort of senior research students who my noble friend refers to would be allowed to bring partners or members of their family with them, so I think I can say to my noble friend that that issue has been resolved.
My Lords, is the Minister aware that contrary to what he has said some bona fide institutions—universities—have lost as many as 20 per cent of their overseas students, particularly from India? Is he aware that the restrictions on employment when graduating will put us in a very unfortunate position compared with our main competitors, the United States and Australia, which have much more generous arrangements for students who wish to work in the UK, for a temporary period, when they graduate?
My Lords, as I said, the overall figures show an increase, particularly in undergraduates. It might be that some particular institutions are losing out, and particularly on those from the Indian subcontinent, but we have seen proportionate increases elsewhere. I do not know whether the noble Baroness is old enough to remember the changes we announced back in the early 1980s when, again, there were cries that they would cause fatal damage to all the universities for ever. However, as the noble Baroness might be able to remember, on that occasion we saw an increase in the numbers of those attending universities, just as we will see one now.
My Lords, the Government take very seriously their obligations as a party to the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. The convention encourages parties to take a comprehensive approach to tobacco control to improve public health. The United Kingdom is a recognised leader for tobacco control internationally. The Government’s tobacco control plan sets out a government-wide approach to tobacco control, as well as what will be done to support local authorities to reduce rates of tobacco use.
My Lords, the Minister will be aware that the reason that the United Kingdom Government and 173 other Governments have become parties to the WHO’s Framework Convention on Tobacco control is because the tobacco industry has had a uniquely malign influence on health policy in all countries where tobacco is sold. Does he agree that its record in the United Kingdom since the 1950s has consisted of first denying the link between tobacco smoking and ill health, then suppressing the results of its own research on the addictive properties of nicotine, then denying the harmful effects of second-hand smoke and now funding front organisations to oppose tobacco control legislation such as the point-of-sale restrictions, which I am delighted that the Government have embraced? Are not all these powerful reasons for sticking to the framework convention and ensuring that the tobacco industry has no influence whatever over the formulation of health policy relating to tobacco?
My Lords, yes, the vested interests of the tobacco companies are well recognised. The Department of Health is careful to ensure that the Government’s obligations under the framework convention are met, including the treaty obligation to protect public health policies from the vested interests that he referred to. For example, I hasten to reassure him that the tobacco industry was not involved in the development of the Government’s tobacco control plan, which was published last year.
My Lords, it was as a direct result of the evidence of the underhand tactics of the tobacco industry that the UK very wisely adopted Article 5(3) of the Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. In 2008-09, the noble Earl’s noble friend Lady Northover successfully asked the then Secretary of State Alan Johnson to write to all his ministerial colleagues drawing attention to and outlining the importance of Article 5(3) and asking for their assurance that they were abiding by the article in their dealings with the tobacco industry. I invite the Minister to agree to ask his right honourable friend the Secretary of State to do the same with this Government.
My Lords, I can reassure the noble Baroness that my right honourable friend the Secretary of State, and indeed all Ministers in the department, have had no direct dealings—or indeed indirect dealings—with the tobacco industry since coming to office. However, I am sure that the noble Baroness’s message will be very warmly received by my colleagues.
Is my noble friend aware that almost 50 per cent of loose tobacco sold in the UK comes from illicit and illegal traders on the streets, which makes it more affordable for children and young people? What progress is being made in cracking down on the illicit tobacco trade? As my noble friend will know, it is an industry controlled and funded by an international network of organised crime gangs.
My Lords, Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs and the UK Border Agency published a renewed strategy in April last year to tackle the illicit trade in tobacco products. Our tobacco control plan complemented that strategy by stressing the importance of cracking down on illicit tobacco sales, which will in turn reduce tobacco consumption and organised crime, and support legitimate retailers. In fact, the latest figures show that fewer and fewer people are using illicit tobacco. The market for illicit cigarettes was down to 10 per cent in 2010 from 21 per cent in 2000.
My Lords, some years ago I was given a statutory instrument, the Sheep Scab Order, which was dated about 1914 and had an excellent recipe for sheep dip made from tobacco. I wonder whether the current tobacco problem could be relieved by diverting tobacco from smoking to sheep dip.
My Lords, the Minister says that the control of illegal importation of tobacco is showing progress. Is it not the reality that the vast majority of illegally imported tobacco and cigarettes is being consumed by young people, and that while the official statistics may show one thing, all the evidence, when I inquired of the tobacco industry on this particular aspect, is that this is still the major problem in terms of young people taking up smoking?
My noble friend is absolutely right that that is where the problem principally lies: 320,000 young people experiment with smoking or take it up every year. That is a very serious rate of incidence and it must be tackled at every possible level. The tobacco control plan sets out a concerted programme of action to try to do just that.
My Lords, on 11 July this year the noble Earl said to the House,
“we will make sure that we publish details of policy-related meetings between the tobacco industry and government departments and we are currently exploring the most effective and appropriate mechanism for doing that”.—[Official Report, 11/7/11; col. 560.]
Could the noble Earl please say what that mechanism is, and whether it is now being implemented?
My Lords, since 2010 the Government have published details of hospitality and gifts received by Ministers and special advisers, ministerial meetings with external organisations, and all overseas trips by Ministers across government. These details are published on each department’s website. The information is published quarterly to promote transparency and to provide the public with up-to-date information.
Protection of Freedoms Bill
Report (2nd Day)
Clause 40 : Adding safeguards to powers of entry
Amendment 35 had been retabled as Amendment 37ZA.
Amendment 36 had been retabled as Amendment 37ZB.
Amendment 36A had been retabled as Amendment 37ZC.
Amendment 37 had been withdrawn from the Marshalled List.
37ZA: Clause 40, page 33, line 33, at end insert—
“(3) A further safeguard shall be that, unless explicitly provided for in the statute providing for the power of entry, all powers of entry shall be exercised by agreement with the premises occupier or by warrant.”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 37ZA, and speaking to Amendments 37ZB and 37ZC, on powers of entry, I must say at once that, crucially, the three amendments all go together.
I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for circulating to us all on Thursday the Home Office view on my amendments. Normally one learns of objections only in the winding-up speech of the Minister, but this useful form of pre-debate negotiation has enabled me to meet at least two of the Home Office points with changes to my amendments. However, I did notice one rather surprising statement in the Home Office brief, and in fact if it were not in both the summary and the main argument I would have been tempted to see it as a misprint. The brief states:
“The Government supports action to remove necessary or unjustified powers of entry”.
That is not what I seek. It is perhaps rather sad to note that the Home Office retains its historic belief in its own omniscience, which I well remember from my days in Whitehall, but it seems to be losing its reputation for accuracy.
The first amendment makes the main point that powers of entry should be used only by agreement with the occupier of premises or with a magistrate’s warrant. The second amendment allows for exceptions where it is obviously necessary to continue with routine inspections and checks without notice being given. The third spells out specific areas where I am not seeking to change existing practice in the use of powers of entry: trading standards, the police and security services, protection of children and vulnerable adults.
The Trading Standards Institute explained to me why it needs its existing powers for its job of protecting consumers; for example, by checking goods in shops or the accuracy of a petrol pump at the petrol station, and so on. I am glad that the institute has been able to assure me and the Official Opposition that it is now content with the amendment, which would enable it to continue with its important and valuable work.
Although the essence of my argument is that powers of entry should be subject to the same constraints as the police who normally and traditionally have to have a warrant, the Home Office has helpfully pointed out to me that the Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act 2011 has given constables certain new powers to enter without a warrant. That is why I have added Amendment 37ZC to cover the police and security services.
It is also, of course, necessary to continue to allow unannounced entry to those charged with responsibility for the protection of children or vulnerable adults. Thus inspecting old people’s homes, checking on children at risk or similar crucial monitoring functions must be allowed to continue without either warrant or agreement. However, I feel I must emphasise the principle underlying my amendments and why I am doing this at all.
In our country, the right to privacy and to enjoy property or conduct legitimate businesses without state intrusion has been a long-standing freedom. Indeed, it has echoes going back 800 years to Magna Carta, which sought to protect individuals from the Crown and from officials of the Crown. The fact that the police cannot, in general, enter people’s homes or businesses without a magistrate’s warrant is a cherished freedom well-known to the public and has given rise to the ancient phrase, “An Englishman’s home is his castle”, which was coined by the great English jurist Sir Edward Coke, who was responsible for the Petition of Right in 1628.
The law should protect the individual and must never be defied. In 1977, that great icon Lord Denning quoted Thomas Fuller’s 1732 dictum, “Be you ever so high, the law is above you”. The lesson in that, of course, is the huge responsibility that legislators have to ensure that the laws they make enhance and enshrine liberty rather than erode freedom. This, of course, is what this Protection of Freedoms Bill should be seeking to do.
I was disappointed, but perhaps not surprised, that the Minister should have so completely rejected my first two amendments on powers of entry when they were debated, with support from all sides, in Grand Committee, but I am well aware that the Home Office expects to have the monopoly of any improvements to its legislation. However, it is a pity that Ministers in this coalition Government should not have seen their prime duty when this Bill was drafted as being to extend real freedom rather than seeking to protect the territorial rights of the bureaucracy.
For years legislation has surged liked a tidal wave. No Government seem to have the power or even the will to stem it. More and more laws have been passed which give officials of every rank and type the right to enter premises without so much as a by your leave to inspect, check, observe, search or test whatever perfectly honest citizens are doing in their own property. This is something that the public are increasingly aware of and apprehensive about.
The real hero behind my small attempt to reinforce our ancient liberties is my noble friend Lord Selsdon. Over a period of more than a decade he has been accumulating details of the legislation which justifies my amendment. In spite of starting with some obstruction rather than co-operation from Whitehall, he has succeeded in producing a dossier in which there are more than 1,200 separate pieces of legislation giving powers of entry, in most cases without the safeguards we have the right to expect and indeed demand. They cover every sort of issue, right down to demanding entry to a private house to see whether a TV is switched on or, where a person has left a child with the people next door while they go to the cinema, to check whether those people have got a child minder’s licence. I hope that my noble friend will tell us something more about the legislative background to this debate.
Most of these provisions are in secondary legislation—statutory instruments—and it is only recently that Parliament has had the power to examine the merits rather than just the vires of statutory instruments. It does so through the House of Lords Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee, which was established in 2003. This supplements the Statutory Instruments Joint Committee of both Houses. The Merits Committee is doing an excellent job and, interestingly, it has had cause to draw the attention of the House to proposals for fresh powers several times during the past few months.
On 15 December 2011 in Grand Committee the Minister told me that the Home Office felt that my amendments were,
“going a bit too far”,
and suggested that,
“we want to look at all the powers we have and are asking all departments to do so”.—[Official Report, 15/12/11; col. GC 379.]
With more than 1,200 pieces of legislation, noble Lords will realise how little progress would be made. Indeed, I anticipate that the bureaucrats would find a reason why powers should be retained in their existing form in nearly every case. There has been widespread support for my amendments from Liberty, which I much welcome.
I would remind my noble friends on this side of the House that the Conservative manifesto specifically undertook to,
“cut back the intrusive powers of entry into homes. Public bodies (other than the police and emergency services) will require a magistrate’s warrant, and approval for such a warrant will be restricted to tackling serious criminal offences or protecting public safety”.
My amendments seek to support and implement that commitment. I would have expected my noble Lib Dem friends, with their proud commitment to civil liberties, to be chasing the Government on this issue.
Following the principles of the 18th century Whig statesman Edmund Burke, I fervently believe in the role of the state to hold the ring: to protect the population from ill treatment or exploitation. Those who may need such protection include the old and the infirm, children, employees, consumers, savers, investors and many other groups. I would never deny to the state the powers that it needs to provide this protection, but many of the powers of entry as they exist today can intrude, intimidate and even oppress. That is why they need to be constrained.
As this will probably be the last occasion for a decade or so that we have a Bill which is tailor-made for this reform, I shall, if necessary, ask your Lordships to support me in the Lobby on what I hope we can all agree would be a significant step forward for the right of privacy, individual freedom and democracy. As always, the wording of my amendments may not be precisely what the Home Office needs, but provided I can get a commitment from the Minister to do so, I will be happy for the Government to tidy them up at Third Reading. I beg to move.
My Lords, first, I declare an interest as having been honorary president of the Trading Standards Institute, the trading standards officers’ professional body, for a period of five years, since which I have also been one of several vice-presidents.
Secondly, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, on two things. The first is his persistence, both through the work on this Bill and earlier, in questioning the rights and powers of entry by numerous public officials. He has correctly congratulated his noble friend Lord Selsdon on the massive amount of work that he put in over the years in working out how many powers of entry exist. The second thing I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, on is his evident willingness, both in Committee, which I regret I was not able to attend, and at this stage, to compromise, especially by reference to trading standards officers, whose powers of entry are obviously in the public interest. The powers of entry of trading standards officers are, to my mind, a necessary complement to powers to prosecute traders of all kinds, big and small, for misleading claims and descriptions, including pricing and the selling of unsafe and counterfeit goods. Trading standards officers could hardly do a decent job for the consumer unless they were able to make unannounced visits. However, local authority trading standards officers are undoubtedly proud of the fact that good relations with traders in their locality enables them to make, by agreement, many visits and changes in the descriptions and so on of goods being sold. The power of entry—unannounced, from time to time—is a necessary complement to those occasions. I hope that trading standards officers’ need to enter premises without previous agreement would be on a minority of occasions.
In Committee, the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, was willing to say that trading standards officers should not need the agreement of the occupier of the premises or a warrant if they could demonstrate that that would frustrate their powers. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott of Foscote, also spoke in Committee, and I hope that we will hear from him in the debate this afternoon. He was rather less amenable to compromise than was the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, and seemed to suggest that it was so easy to get a magistrate’s warrant that there should never be any real problem—warrants would be forthcoming as and when they were needed. The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, realised that trading standards officers would still be weakened in their work unless, today, on Report, a further concession or compromise was made—hence his new amendment. He realised that they are in a special position, as I have sought to indicate myself. He sets that out in Amendment 37ZC.
There is a slightly odd reference to a “Constable”, with a capital letter. The noble Lord probably meant any police officer, not just someone with the honorific title “Constable of Dover Castle” or those who have capital letters to describe their particular job. If he meant a trading standards officer and any member of the police force or Security Service acting under legislation that permits a person to exercise power of entry, then that would have no restriction. My worry here is why trading standards officers have been picked out. As I explained in my declaration, I have a special interest in their consumer protection powers and so on. Most of us know that local authorities also have, for example, environmental health officers concerned with health and safety in their area. They have powers of entry and they are not specially mentioned.
I understand and value the real willingness of the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, to compromise, but reference to the Home Office to tidy things up before Third Reading does seem to have some merit. From what I know of trading standards officers—and I know them quite well—I have no doubt that they have been assiduous in discussing matters with the noble Lord. However, that does not necessarily suggest that they ought to be picked and others, thereby, just as obviously left out. I welcome what the noble Lord is doing but would not wish to support him in any vote that we might have today on the unamended, or not fully amended, version of what he has concerned himself with.
One has to examine the word need. Trading standards officers are given powers by various statutes for the public benefit—usually consumer protection—and the benefit of other legitimate traders who are not engaging in what appears to be illegal conduct. The trading standards officer wants to examine that. He needs to do it to fulfil his duty.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott of Foscote, has suggested that because magistrates are available literally night and day in order to get warrants when needed, there is no problem. However, the trading standards officer still has to prove something. No magistrate worth his salt is going to accept what a public official says without question in all circumstances. Therefore the amendment that the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, seeks to introduce is good for trading standards. It might also be good for other equally legitimate work done by other public officials.
My Lords, this is an important series of amendments. In particular, the first proposed amendment seems essential to a country that believes itself to be governed by the rule of law. Your Lordships have heard 1,200 mentioned as the figure of the separate powers of entry on to private property granted by primary or secondary legislation. That figure is confirmed by the Explanatory Memorandum produced to accompany the Bill. Therefore, it is not a figure which is contentious or simply argumentative.
The 1,200 separate powers of entry were conferred by 580-odd pieces of primary or secondary legislation. The powers of entry are not simply powers of entry. They almost invariably include powers of search so those who enter can rummage through the premises in question. The powers apply not only to business premises where they may very well be needed, but also to homes—to domestic premises. The law of this country has developed so that it is well recognised that the police may sometimes need, without notice to the owner of the premises, to enter private premises to enforce the law and for the purposes of search and removal of material from the premises in question.
However, the powers of entry in the Bill are not the powers of the police; they are powers of officials and regulators in numerous areas of public life, conferred by various instruments of public law. The notion that officials can be given power to enter the premises of private people, search those premises and remove what they believe to be relevant to their regulatory function without any authority from a judicial body seems quite contrary to how the rule of law ought to operate. For that reason, I particularly welcome the first amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford.
I believe that the public will understand the need of the police to exercise powers of entry without warrant. Less well understood and certainly less acceptable to the public at large is the need for general regulatory officials to have those powers. My noble and learned friend Lord Browne-Wilkinson said judicially in a case that was heard in 1991:
“Search and seizure under statutory powers constitute fundamental infringements of the individual’s immunity from interference by the state with his property and privacy”.
In my respectful opinion, those are incontestable statements of opinion. It follows that proper safeguards to be associated with the exercise of these powers of entry, search and seizure are essential if the rule of law is to be available to retain the respect that a healthy society requires.
Clause 40 has the heading, “Adding safeguards to powers of entry”. For my part, I very much welcome that clause in that it addresses, I believe for the first time in comprehensive legislation, the need for there to be safeguards attached to powers of entry. Subsection (1) states:
“The appropriate national authority may”—
and I draw your Lordships’ attention to the use of the word “may”—
“provide for safeguards in relation to any power of entry or associated power”.
Therefore, the provision of safeguards is discretionary only; it says not “must” but “may”. The proposed discretionary safeguards are listed in subsection (2). Paragraph (d) lists as one of the discretionary safeguards,
“a requirement for a judicial or other authorisation”.
What the “or other authorisation” is supposed to comprehend, goodness knows, but that the requirement for a judicial authorisation is recognised is clearly correct. But why should that be simply a discretionary safeguard? Why should it not be an essential, invariable safeguard, except in the rare circumstance where the time to go and get the judicial authorisation is simply not present, given the urgency of the situation?
Your Lordships have heard remarks about the obtaining of warrants. A warrant to enter premises to search and remove material found there of an incriminating character can be obtained ex parte—that is, without notice to the owner of the premises from a magistrate or, in some cases, a judge. There is no alerting the believed miscreant to the imminent entry and search. That seems a situation that ought to cater for any reasonable contingency other than the very rare contingency whereby the need for immediate steps is apparent. It is difficult to envisage a situation whereby the police would not in any event have the right to make an immediate search—with the pursuit of criminals, for example, or when life and limb was in imminent danger. In those situations, no one could object to a right for the police or any other well meaning people, regulators or otherwise, to enter premises for the purpose of saving the situation that would appear to have arisen.
Subject to that exception, I can see no case for not requiring a judicial authorisation always to be obtained. The notion that notice to the owner or occupier of the premises would alert the individual to what was afoot and lead to the removal of incriminating material is unreal. The warrant can be obtained from the magistrate without notice. In civil law, procedures have been evolved—and I think that their evolution is of relatively modern origin—under which a so-called search and seizure order, which used to be called Anton Piller orders, can be obtained from a judge enabling an applicant who believes that he has some civil cause of action against the owner of a premises to have a search of those premises for incriminating material to support his or her case—or its, if it is a company. The entry without notice is well understood in civil law, but only with judicial authorisation. Why on earth should that not also be the case in the criminal law? I cannot see the argument to the contrary, except in the very rare case to which I have already referred, namely where the imminent emergency and risk is so great that an immediate entry is required. Where that is the case, I cannot concede that the police would not have the right to enter anyway.
The indignation that people might feel, to have faceless regulators demanding entry and rummaging through their cupboards and papers without any judicial authorisation, would be huge, and justifiably so. That is not the way in which the law ought to operate. For those reasons, it seems to me that the first amendment proposed by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, is thoroughly deserving of support and I would submit that the House ought to support it.
As to the second amendment, I am not so clear about that, because, as I say, I can see very little scope for the need for any other requirement than judicial authorisation, except in a case where the emergency is so acute that there would not be time to get to a magistrate to get the search order and then search the premises accordingly. I therefore feel a little dubious about the second amendment.
As to the sense behind the first amendment, I am wholeheartedly in favour of it. I support it and submit that the House should do likewise. The “may” in Clause 40(2)(d) ought in my opinion to be a “must”. It is quite inadequate for the requirement to obtain judicial authorisation to be simply discretionary. For all those reasons, I wholeheartedly support these amendments.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a vice-president of the Trading Standards Institute and of the Local Government Association. I wish to raise some concerns regarding Amendment 37ZC, which is in the name of my noble friend Lord Marlesford.
I share the anxieties of my noble friend and many others of your Lordships about the perception that is held by many people that too many officials have access to the homes of private individuals. I welcome the fact that he has amended his original amendment to try to deal with one of my key concerns, which was that trading standards officers could no longer enter premises unless they had a warrant. Unfortunately, this area of the law is remarkably complex. I am not a lawyer, but the proposed amendment would not be feasible, as trading standards officers are not defined in the law and therefore could not legally be made exempt. Technically, in the law, they do not exist.
Even if they did, the problem itself also relates to environmental health officers, who equally need access to premises for the same reasons. As the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, has said, councils use powers of entry to protect the public across a range of statutory activities. Powers of entry are essential in order for councils to carry out their responsibilities and to seek evidence to prosecute offenders, thereby protecting individuals and local businesses from harm. Without a routine power of entry on to business premises, council officers would not be able to carry out their basic day-to-day functions, protecting the public and their local communities. Officers would also not be able to act in a swift manner where necessary.
Councils cannot enter premises used solely as a private residence without a court order or the owner’s permission, and only routinely have the power to enter business premises to collect evidence. Most existing legislation already contains safeguards to ensure that the existing powers of entry are not used inappropriately: for example, where premises are used solely as a private dwelling place, council officers can enter those domestic premises only with the consent of the occupier or when a warrant to enter has been obtained from a justice of the peace to do so. Council officers do not currently have, and have never had, a routine power of entry into premises used solely as a private dwelling place. Equally, should the premises owner refuse entry, the council must leave and seek a warrant before returning. In instances where the business premises are also a personal residence, councils will often obtain a warrant to ensure privacy is protected.
It might be helpful if your Lordships had some examples of just how these investigations take place. I should like to refer to events in North Yorkshire County Council, where the trading standards team receives around 260 reports of doorstep crimes a year: namely, traders cold-calling at the homes of consumers—most often elderly and vulnerable people—offering to carry out property repairs such as roofing or gardening work, or to sell products such as fish or mobility aids. Given the number of incidents and the fact that many of the offenders target a specific area and then rapidly move on, the service introduced a rapid response service to incidents. Two officers are therefore on call every day to immediately attend incidents where offenders are still at the home of elderly victims, still in the vicinity or are due to return to collect payment. Often, multiple offences are committed, such as: failing to issue the householder with a notice of their cancellation rights; and making false, misleading statements regarding what work is required or what a reasonable price for the work is.
When a call is received by the rapid response unit to attend such an incident, officers will often want to carry out a search of the vehicle being used by the offenders. In such circumstances, a vehicle is defined as “premises”. A search will be conducted to identify and seize evidence relating to the business or to other potential victims, et cetera. Officers are solely reliant on their powers to enter the suspect’s vehicle as “premises” to do this. The need to attend such incidents immediately is very clear; if suspects were aware that a report had been made to the police or trading standards, they would just disappear.
There is no time in these situations or in a situation where a vehicle has been stopped to consider an application for a warrant. It is also extremely unlikely where suspects often deny any connection to the alleged offence that any permission would be given to carry out a search with consent. Removing the powers of entry for enforcement staff in such situations would thus be seriously detrimental to their ability to tackle such offences, which often involve elderly and vulnerable victims being targeted for their life savings, often on a repeat basis.
Multiple complaints were received by the trading standards team over a number of months from consumers regarding a business that operates a council tax refund service. The complainants alleged that they had not been provided with copies of any paperwork by the firm; they were not told what percentage of any rebate recovered would be taken by the company, or that VAT would also be charged by the company. Repeated efforts were made by the council’s business advice team to get the company to comply with its legal obligations. However, complaints continued to be received. Action under the Enterprise Act was then commenced, but that did not prevent numerous further complaints being issued.
A decision was taken to institute an investigation into the company, and the files were passed to the fraud and financial investigation team. Warrants for the registered offices of the business were obtained to facilitate the seizure of paperwork and because it was anticipated that the company would obstruct any investigations. During the warrant executions, it became apparent that the firm was also making use of a further unit in the same building. Officers therefore used their statutory powers of entry to access the unit, which was not covered by the original warrant, and seized relevant documentation. It also became apparent that company staff were keeping documents in their vehicles and at their home addresses, including copy contracts. As a result of the definition of “premises” including any vehicle, again officers were able to use their statutory powers to enter the related vehicles and homes to seize relevant documentation. This would not have been possible without the power of entry. Had they required further warrants to access these additional premises, it would have given the company and their employees an opportunity to remove or destroy relevant evidence in the period of time required to obtain warrants.
The evidence seized during the use of powers and the warrant application has substantiated the claims made by consumers regarding the companies’ failure to comply with their statutory duties and proved that multiple offences have been committed. This would not have been possible without the use of these powers. I welcome the wish of my noble friend Lord Marlesford to address the needs of these services by this amendment but, regrettably, it would not solve the problem. I hope that he and the Minister will be able to reach an accommodation and understanding of his concerns and find a solution.
My Lords, I am a member of the Joint Committee on Human Rights. We reported on this Bill last October. I do not know to what extent Members of the House have had a chance to read that report. I do not think that it has been referred to in previous debates on this subject, but we dealt with this issue in chapter five of the report. The noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott of Foscote, have reminded us of my next point. It is ancient common law that there should be effective protection of our right against arbitrary search and seizure. For me it goes back at least to Entick v Carrington in the days of George III and the famous statement of principle by Lord Camden, which was adopted last week by the American Supreme Court in interpreting the Fourth Amendment to its constitution. Everyone knows that the sanctity of the home and the right to be protected against arbitrary search and seizure is enshrined in our common law. It is also enshrined in our constitutional law through the Human Rights Act and Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights. Article 8 guarantees the fundamental right to be protected in respect of one’s private life, one’s home and one’s correspondence. That has been repeatedly interpreted by the European Court of Human Rights as giving effective safeguards against abuse of the powers of search and seizure. Section 3 of the Human Rights Act requires all statutes, including this one, to be read and given effect, if possible, so as to comply with that convention right. Therefore, we are not legislating in a vacuum.
The Human Rights Act ensures that anything in this Bill which becomes law is subject to the right of protection in Article 8 of the convention. In addition, Section 6 of the Human Rights Act requires every public authority—this would apply to a police officer, a trading standards officer or anyone else exercising public powers—to use those powers in a way that is compatible with the convention right in Article 8. Therefore, the fears that have been raised in this debate should be understood in the context of the safeguards that have been put in place across parties by the enactment of the Human Rights Act.
The Joint Committee on Human Rights drew attention to that in its report. Paragraph 116 states:
“We welcome the recognition in the Bill that powers of entry should be strictly limited to those circumstances in which such a power is justified, necessary and accompanied by appropriate safeguards. The decision to review all existing powers of entry is a welcome one … We consider that a review of existing powers of entry offers a clear opportunity to identify where powers of entry continue to be justified, proportionate and necessary”.
We also consider that it would provide greater legal certainty. We said that,
“at a minimum, each power of entry should be strictly defined, including clear limits on the circumstances when the power may be exercised and the identity of the person or body exercising the power”.
That, of course, would be a way of giving more concrete support to what is already in the Human Rights Act and the convention. I should be grateful if the Minister were able, even though I have not given him notice, to deal with this in his reply. We regretted,
“that the review of existing powers was not completed”,
before this Bill was introduced, and in paragraph 118, we said:
“We are concerned that since the review has not yet been completed, the legislation proposed is overly broad and creates a risk that delegated legislation may be used in future”,
in ways that are basically against the public interest.
It would be helpful to know, if possible, the Government’s response to that review. Nothing that I have said leads me to support the amendments tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, even though I understand his reasons, which I fully respect, for tabling them. I do not think that they are very well drafted or necessary. I think that the safeguards referred to are sufficient but I would be grateful to know more about the review that we asked for as long ago as last October. If the House were asked to divide on this, I would have to vote against the amendment.
My Lords, I would have wanted to vote for the noble Lord’s first amendment, but I can see that there are difficulties and that maybe more time for thought is required. It is perfectly true, as the noble Lord, Lord Lester, said, that a report has been produced that emphasises the sovereignty, as it were, of the human rights convention, which intrudes—I mean that in a good sense—into earlier legislation and the rights and the protection that are not visible there.
My concern is that the ordinary man or woman in the street does not understand the scope of the Human Rights Act and would be outraged to hear that there are 1,200 instances when officials can enter your house—your home—and certainly your business and would wonder how that could have arisen over the years. In the absence of a ministerial explanation, I would be inclined to infer that it would become a habit that if you wanted a power that might be useful one of these days for some of your officials, you stick in a power of entry. Parliament is bereft of any power either because that power is in a statutory instrument and we do not amend statutory instruments, or it is in a bit of primary legislation that goes through with that clause unattacked.
Something clearly has to happen as a result of the amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, the research by the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, which has produced the figure of 1,200, and 500 separate pieces of legislation, as I understand it, from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott of Foscote. My present state of mind is that I am very anxious to hear what the Minister has to say and what amelioration of the situation can be produced. It is not satisfactory at the moment and some quite sweeping amendments will be required, no doubt making due reference to the points raised by the noble Lord, Lord Lester.
My Lords, I, too, have sympathy with my noble friend Lord Marlesford’s amendment in principle. At the same time, I also observe that the review to which the noble Lord, Lord Lester, referred a few moments ago is not required by statute until after this Bill is passed. It is in Clause 42 of the Bill, and Secretaries of State then have two years in which to review the 1,200 powers or however many it turns out to be. It would be helpful to your Lordships' House if my noble friend the Minister could tell us whether the review is already in progress and how many of the 1,200 powers have so far been reviewed in addition to the 15 that are due to be knocked out by Schedule 2. Clearly, the review has reached 15 of the 1,200 in a negative sense, but how many of the others have so far been reviewed?
My Lords, I am sorry not to be able to support what the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, has described as his package. Reference has been made to individual amendments, but he rightly put them forward as a composite. I know the effort that he has applied over a long period, along with the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, and indeed the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott of Foscote. I have been privileged to observe him in the Merits of Statutory Instruments Committee, conducting with great assiduousness what I can only describe as a campaign against rights of entry that continue to crop up in statutory instruments on which we are asked to comment.
I wrote down “presumption” in the non-legal sense; I agree that every power of entry should require a warrant, and my noble friend has reminded us of both the common law and the Human Rights Act. I welcome what is in the Bill, and I am glad that the noble Lord, Lord Cope, referred to it, because I think we have rather tended to overlook what is proposed for our consideration.
I welcome Clauses 39 and 40. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott, may not be a veteran, as some of us are, of the continuing debate over “must” and “may”. I also welcome Clause 42. To pick up the terminology used by the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, I am certainly one who would normally chase the Government—I tend to be on the rather cynical wing. However, I take the two years for the completion of the review at face value, particularly as we can assume that the reports required of Ministers—a duty under Clause 42—will include not only a conclusion but an explanation for each decision, and Parliament will be able to debate these. I note of course that the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, is not seeking to delete these clauses.
I add one short point. I have another difficulty with the drafting of the second amendment. It would require an authority to,
“demonstrate that the aim of the use of the power would be frustrated if a warrant or agreement were sought”.
I am not entirely sure that I know what is meant by “demonstrate”, but I suspect that we could be heading down a road to judicial review, which would mean that the High Court rather than magistrates became involved in many of these instances.
The noble Lord, Lord Borrie, has mentioned environmental health officers; I think we have the Environment Agency. I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, that like her I found the examples from the Local Government Association very powerful and helpful. However, I must agree with other noble Lords that this work cannot be allowed to rest.
My Lords, I want to add only a small footnote. I begin by expressing our gratitude to the noble Lord, Lord Marlesford, for the diligence that he has shown, not only on this occasion and in this context but because he is constantly on the lookout for failures or delays by government departments or other public bodies. He has made rather a specialisation of taking the opportunity to raise these in this forum. Currently, as always, it is an interesting and not entirely straightforward problem that comes before us.
My noble friend Lord Henley circulated a note last week on a possible exception to the requirement to demonstrate that entry would be frustrated if a warrant or agreement were sought. He argued that the Home Office considered that such an exception would be unworkable. I would be very grateful for more explanation of what “unworkable” means in this context.
My Lords, first I apologise to the House for arriving late; my train was very late. I was particularly anxious to come to what I regard as an extremely important debate on fundamental freedoms. I join those who congratulated my noble friend Lord Marlesford on what he has done. It is apparent that the Minister, too, is sympathetic. However, his solution of a review carried out by the departments that have these powers is rather like asking a druggie to prescribe his own dose. Knowing the Civil Service, I predict that it will simply perpetuate the status quo. Frankly, that is not good enough. I suggest to the Minister that when he sums up, he should promise to strengthen the review mechanism so that other eyes, outside the quangos and departments concerned, can look at the necessity of the rights of entry and bring fresh thinking to the matter.
My Lords, I hope that I may be able to help the House. This has been a 10-year journey for me. Three Private Member’s Bills have gone through the House. I have thoroughly enjoyed myself. Having worked in one of the biggest bureaucracies in the world—Midland Bank—I enjoy the relationship with bureaucrats.
Those who work in trading standards are great people. I have written to them many times. A few days ago they sent me an e-mail at 4.13 pm. When I rang back at 4.30 pm they had gone home. However, we are good friends now and I am inviting them all to tea. If a trading standards officer goes into a restaurant or food shop, they go in either as themselves to buy something or, if they are going in to inspect, they have to be completely schizophrenic.
I wanted to see if I could help. As a Minister, the noble Lord, Lord Henley, knows well, and will probably let us know in his response, exactly how many powers of entry his department has at this time. There was a problem when Ministers did not know what their powers of entry were and numerous Parliamentary Questions failed to get an answer. Finally, with the great help of the party opposite, we got the final part of the Bill through. It was difficult because no one really knew what it was about. I then thought we should have a period of consultation. I had not raised the matter before. I wrote to the LGA, every local authority in the land, every bishop and vicar and everybody at a local level, saying that we had a new private website and that if they wanted to know what the powers were they could contact the website. We did that with considerable difficulty. I also got in touch with Citizens Advice.
I kept coming back to try to give advice to people. The noble Lord, Lord Henley, does not accept advice willingly because he sees the end game very quickly. He has a very quick mind and found me rather a nuisance. Therefore, I introduced a few amendments in Grand Committee but have decided not to introduce any now.
The main objective of the three Bills was to promote the introduction of legislation after the election that would prevent officials from entering people's homes, land or places of work without permission or a warrant, and would introduce a suitable code of practice. We drafted such a code; the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott, will remember it. The Minister does not seem to want a code of practice at the moment. He just says, “We’ll put one in”. If we do not have a code of practice now, we will have a problem with powers of entry.
The second thing I asked for was a list. The Home Office stated that it could not put this into the Bill because by the time it was put in, a piece of secondary legislation might have changed it. I said, “Can we not have a list?”. We could not really have a list, so I thought of another solution. In preparing the Bills I had great help from a professor at Lincoln University. With Oxford University Press, he regularly publishes the laws of search, seizure and entry. A new edition is coming out. They have agreed to co-operate with the Home Office, which has already been in touch with them. Naturally, I am not necessary in the loop. However, we will have an official publication that will be updated from time to time, and a website. I would like to be able to put that in the Library. It is, however, extraordinarily difficult, as a Back-Bencher is not allowed to put anything in the Library. The only person who can do so is the Minister. If I do get these things together, could the Minister arrange for me to have permission to put it in the Library? Could he also agree that there will be a code of conduct and that he will produce it before this Bill is finished?
This has been a most interesting time. I have bored to death not everyone—because there were not a lot of people around—but I have certainly bored Hansard. Again and again one has to re-type every Bill. Being on the Information Committee, I have the benefit of PICT. In the latest list I managed to transpose three Bills, but the Home Office has not picked up which ones they were.
I am very grateful to all those who have helped on this. I support my noble friend Lord Marlesford because I support him on almost everything he does. I am extraordinarily grateful to the party opposite for raising some serious problems. They looked at me with a certain cynicism to begin with, but I think we are good friends.
The point about passing at least two of these amendments is that at least we can come back and tidy them up at Third Reading, because certain people have criticised their wording. If you do not pass them now there is no pressure to put anything in at Third Reading. This happens quite frequently and stalls the whole thing.
The whole point is that householders need to know what their rights are. They cannot possibly begin to know if there are thousands of different powers of entry, so there need to be some very simple rules that apply universally, which is what we have to come up with eventually. I support the first two amendments in particular.
The first amendment is about giving permission for entry, which I fear slightly because there is always a danger of people being bamboozled on the doorstep or being threatened by “If you don’t let us in we know you are guilty” and letting them in out of fear. Amendment 37ZB is therefore particularly important. It states what we understand the position to be in common law and in other things, but why not restate it? These are the things that must be taken into account when powers of entry are being examined and there is no harm in restating something when people have clearly forgotten. People expect a warrant unless there is a very good reason why not. To my mind that is quite reasonable and I cannot see why it is a problem.
I was most intrigued by the third amendment because it reserves certain powers and I could not understand why the noble Baroness started off by saying that trading standards officers did not exist, then said what a good job they did and then said that she disapproved of this amendment as it reserved powers to these non-existent people. I could not understand why the amendment was not a good idea because it would keep the powers of these people—whoever they might be—as they were. Although the amendments have defects, we should pass them and the Government can tidy them up at Third Reading.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Selsdon, who raises a very important issue in relation to the use of these powers. I note what he has said and his excellent work leading to the very welcome safeguards that are already in the Bill but would certainly not be there without his work. However, I must tell him that I think he is being a little tough on the excellent people from the Trading Standards Institute. I am sure that, while one person was at tea at 4.30 pm, the majority of them were out doing their business at that time.
It is important to recognise the rights of premises owners and occupiers when it comes to the use of these powers and to ensure that they are exercised, in the absence of the consent of the owner or a warrant, only when truly necessary. The noble Lord has introduced very important safeguards into his amendments. Last week, I was extremely anxious about the amendments that had been tabled because, like many other noble Lords, I had been contacted by the Trading Standards Institute, for whose work I have long-standing admiration, and was very worried about its concerns. The amendments which have been retabled by the noble Lord have assuaged many of my fears and the Trading Standards Institute clearly now feels comfortable with them.
The amendments leave a number of outstanding issues, the first being, as I believe the noble Lord himself said, as did the noble Baroness, that “trading standards officers” is not a recognised term. Therefore, the amendments would have to come back to the House at Third Reading because there would have to be some sort of tidying-up exercise.
I am also concerned about whether the amendments would hamper the legitimate use of these powers by local authority officers who are not currently provided with an exemption by the amendment, such as environmental health officers. I listened very carefully to the case made by the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton. Having said that, I believe that the noble Lord includes important safeguards in his amendment which specifically allow for the use of those powers when it can be demonstrated that the purpose of their use would be frustrated by having to seek permission from the premises owner or to apply for a warrant, which is a jolly important safeguard.
I am therefore in a bit of a difficult position here. I heard the discussion about the review. I think that the noble Lord, Lord Vinson, was right to say that the review mechanism must be strengthened. I wonder why the review is taking so long, and I would like to hear from the Minister. I will be interested to hear the Government’s response to these amendments and, specifically, whether the Minister believes that the amendments provide sufficient safeguards to enable, for example, environmental health officers to undertake their work. I have to say that I am inclined to support these amendments, especially as it is clear that they will have to come back to the House at Third Reading in order to be technically correct. That would give Members of the House another opportunity, if necessary, to bring forward another amendment in order to safeguard the powers of, for example, environmental health officers.
Is the noble Baroness not satisfied that the Human Rights Act, which her Government introduced, ensures that all these powers have to be prescribed by law in a legally certain way and that they must be exercised in a proportionate way in order to protect our rights of personal privacy, home and correspondence? Why is that not good enough as a general standard which applies to future legislation as well as to past legislation?
My Lords, the Human Rights Act is an extremely important Act which provides the safeguards that the noble Lord suggests. However, I think that when some of these powers are being exercised, they are not always exercised according to the standards that should be imposed by the Human Rights Act. I also know that the very fact that there are these countless powers gives a lot of people concern that their very rights are being infringed. We have to look at all these things in the round.
My Lords, we return to an issue that my noble friend discussed in some detail in Committee. He has brought forward his two amendments, Amendments 37ZA and 37ZB, marginally amended in that he has, I think, changed from “owner” to “occupier”, which is probably an improvement in the amendment, and has added Amendment 37ZC, which disapplies the restrictions imposed by Amendments 37ZA and 37ZB in particular circumstances; I will get to that in due course.
I made it quite clear to my noble friend in Committee that I have some sympathy with what he is trying to achieve in dealing with the 1,200 or so powers of entry that we have. We agree—my noble friend and I, and others—that there is a need to add further safeguards to the exercise of those powers of entry. That is why, as part of our coalition agreement—I emphasise that this is part of that; this is a coalition desire—we brought in Clauses 39 to 53 to provide some safeguards relating to the exercise of powers of entry. Where I differ from my noble friend is over his general approach; in particular, we continue to question the wisdom of adopting what would be a blanket, one-size-fits-all approach, which is what he is seeking to do.
I believe that the provisions already in the Bill offer a better way forward. Clause 42 places a duty—I stress that this is a duty—on the responsible Ministers to review each and every power of entry within two years of Royal Assent. I appreciate that there were some complaints from my noble friends Lord Cope and Lord Vinson about just how long that was going to take, but I have to make the point that there are some 1,200 of these powers of entry—of which getting on for half were introduced by the party opposite, the party in which the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, was such a luminary, and therefore I find her remarks on this subject somewhat interesting.
It is important that we review those powers of entry carefully and go through them and we have given ourselves the job to do that within two years of Royal Assent. Clause 40 enables new safeguards to be added to particular powers of entry by order. Again, I make no apology for that, but I remind the House that many of these powers—the majority of them—will already have in them a need to obtain a warrant or some other consent. The idea that all these powers are giving unnamed officials broad powers of entry without having to seek a warrant is just not the case. The majority of them already require that. My noble friend and others have expressed a degree of scepticism that that review will be undertaken. However, I can assure him that it is down there in the Bill; it will be a requirement on us to make sure that review is done within the two years, and that is why it has been written into legislation.
My noble friend Lord Lester also worried about the fact that we were bringing in various Henry VIII powers to make amendments, and felt that that was not in line with what the Joint Committee on Human Rights had asked for. I should make it clear to my noble friend that we responded to the Joint Committee’s report in November last year, and in that reply we pointed out that the Delegated Powers Committee had made no recommendation in respect of those delegated powers that we are assuming. Clause 40 allows us to add safeguards, as proposed by my noble friend Lord Marlesford, in appropriate cases, and we will certainly do that.
I will focus my detailed remarks on Amendment 37ZB, as it was in respect of this amendment that my noble friend’s arguments were, on the face of it, the most seductive. This amendment offers persons exercising a power of entry three options: first, they can obtain the consent of the occupier; secondly, they can obtain a warrant, usually from a magistrates’ court; thirdly, the power may be exercised without a warrant or the agreement of the occupier in any case where it can be shown that the aim of the use of the power would be frustrated if a warrant or agreement were sought.
I hope that there is general agreement that we cannot, in every case, demand that entry is effected only with the consent of the occupier or on the authority of a warrant. To illustrate that point, the House will recall the outbreak of foot and mouth disease where, had requirements such as these applied, I fear the consequences for livestock may have been much greater. Obviously, consent could have been withdrawn, and that carries its own risks.
To take another more recent example, the new Terrorism Prevention and Investigation Measures Act contains a number of powers that grant constables the right to enter and search premises without warrant. For instance, there is a power to enter and search premises if a constable has a reasonable suspicion that the individual who is subject to a TPIM has absconded. In such circumstances, the police clearly must act quickly to check whether the individual has absconded, and if he has, to try to find evidence to help locate him. The law is designed to protect our national interest and provide security to the public but could very well be frustrated by these amendments.
We must also consider the very serious questions of delay, where the exercise of overcaution or prolonged deliberation by the authorities might place at risk the health of animals, individuals or the wider public. Similarly, the need to obtain a warrant or, for instance, locate the occupier of the premises in question in order to get their permission to enter could lead to the loss of valuable time in some cases.
That is not to say, as I made clear at the beginning, that we do not support the use of warrants and seeking consent where that is appropriate. However, as we are all aware, there are a large number of powers of entry that exist today, and operational imperatives differ widely. We do not want to impede an authority’s ability to respond to matters effectively and to take decisive action, and so we consider that such operational decisions are best taken by the relevant authorities.
My noble friend has argued that his Amendment 37ZA caters for such circumstances by providing a let-out in stating that,
“where the authority using the power can demonstrate that the aim of the use of the power would be frustrated if a warrant or agreement were sought”.
However, I do not accept that this provides the answer. It is not entirely clear to whom any urgent or unannounced need to enter premises should be demonstrated and proven. The approach taken in this amendment could lead to endless, time-consuming and expensive litigation, with aggrieved persons challenging the lawfulness of the exercise of a power of entry in a particular case, as my noble friend Lady Hamwee made clear. Such a challenge could be mounted on the grounds that the public authority in question had not demonstrated that the given exercise of the power of entry would have been frustrated if the agreement of the occupier had been sought or a warrant obtained. I hope that was not what my noble friend was intending when he drafted his amendments, but I fear that it could be the likely outcome.
I appreciate that there have been concerns, expressed by the noble Lord, Lord Borrie, and my noble friend Lady Eaton, relating to the Trading Standards Institute and the Local Government Association, which raised some concerns about Amendment 37ZA and 37ZB along the lines that I have set out. I appreciate also that my noble friend Lord Marlesford was trying to deal with those concerns by tabling Amendment 37ZC. In a sense his amendment makes my case for me, because at its heart is an acknowledgment that one size does not fit all, and that there must be exceptions to the blanket restrictions that my noble friend is seeking to impose by means of his Amendments 37ZA and 37ZB.
However, in providing exceptions purely for trading standards officers—undefined, as my noble friend Lady Eaton said—constables and members of the Security Service, or in pursuance of the protection of a child or a vulnerable adult, Amendment 37ZC simply highlights the fact that there will be other circumstances where the exception should apply. What about the powers of entry under the Gas Safety (Rights of Entry) Regulations 1996? I carefully took an example from a previous Conservative Government rather than from the previous Labour Government. These regulations offer powers of entry to premises for the purposes of preventing gas escapes, surely something that is very important—it would be necessary to move very quickly and there might not be time to obtain a warrant.
What about the powers to enter and search for evidence on premises occupied or controlled by a person who is under arrest for an indictable offence? Such powers are not just exercisable by constables but also by customs officers, immigration officers and members of the Serious Organised Crime Agency. To give another example, what about the powers of firefighters under the Fire and Rescue Services Act 2004 to enter premises without consent for the purposes of protecting life and property? I put it to my noble friend and to the House that the exception should apply equally in those cases.
I could provide more examples—I am sure there will be others—but until we have conducted the review I have promised, and which the statute makes clear will happen, it will be impossible to say with confidence that these amendments would not seriously inhibit the ability of law enforcement officers and others to protect the public.
As I have indicated, we wish to achieve an aim similar to the one my noble friend suggests. The new Home Office gateway has already removed in some cases—I can give this assurance to my noble friend Lord Cope—the right to enter private homes unless accompanied by a warrant. These include regulations relating to forestry law enforcement, wine manufacture and inspecting animals for disease. We have said that notice must be provided where it is reasonable to do so and appointments must be made with home owners and businesses before powers are exercised.
As I have mentioned, we will be reviewing all 1,200 or so powers of entry, and Clause 40 allows us to add necessary new safeguards on a case-by-case basis. The new code of practice, about which my noble friend Lord Selsdon was cynical, will be introduced under Clause 47 and will govern the exercise of powers of entry and set out further safeguards to protect the rights and civil liberties of individuals and businesses.
I put it to my noble friend that this is a preferable approach which provides greater legal certainty. I therefore ask him to withdraw his amendment. However, if he should seek the opinion of the House, I would encourage your Lordships to reject the amendment.
My Lords, I thank everyone who has taken part in this interesting and useful debate. I was drawn to the clarity with which the legal mind of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Scott, approached the issue; there is much attraction in it. However, the concessions I have made, which have been referred to, were intended to meet some of the points raised.
The noble Lord, Lord Borrie, was able to produce many arguments about why, in some way or other, the proposal had not gone far enough—even in the case of trading standards officers, who have expressed complete satisfaction with what I have done.
I listened with great interest to my noble friend Lady Eaton, who gave a full account of a case in Yorkshire. I am sure it was an important, useful and maybe typical case, but I found myself thinking that had the people involved needed to get a warrant they would have been able to execute the case every bit as effectively as they did without one because the timescale she described would have made it perfectly possible.
The noble Lord, Lord Neill of Bladen, made a good point. The tendency at the moment, which has grown up over the years, is that if you want an extra power of entry you just stick it in. That has been the culture which, in a sense, we are trying to counter.
The noble Lord, Lord Lester, produced, as he so often does, the human rights legislation as being the solution to it all. I would remind him—well, not remind him because he knows it as well as I do, as do most of your Lordships—that human rights legislation, although desirable in theory, is about the slowest and most expensive route for correcting wrongs as can be imagined. The European Court of Human Rights is absolutely bunged full and is years and years behind. I would strongly recommend that we find a better route for anything which depended on using it. I see that the noble Lord is about to make a further defence of the Human Rights Act. I give way to him.
Of course, if people do not like what our courts say, they go to the European Court of Human Rights. Most astonishingly trivial cases have been put to it. My right honourable friend the Prime Minister had some phrase for the multitude of cases going to the European Court of Human Rights. With the greatest respect and affection for my noble friend Lord Lester, I suggest that we do not use the European Court of Human Rights as a solution to these particular problems.
The Minister produced the same arguments as last time. He expressed a degree of sympathy but he did not answer in any detail the concerns of my noble friends over the progress of this review. All this debate has done, in a sense, is illustrate the way in which people will always find some ingenious argument or other to support a position. I remember my noble friend Lord Hurd, when he was a junior diplomat in Beijing—I think it was his first posting—writing a letter, which I was shown, to a certain noble Lord about a visit to Beijing of a senior politician who he described as being inclined to take up an impossible position and then cast around for clever ways of supporting it. The noble Lord, Lord Hurd, saw this as the sure mark of a second-class mind. I thought that was pretty damning but there is a danger of trying to find arguments against this. I do not feel that any substantial argument has been put forward.
The noble Earl, Lord Erroll, got it right when he said that if we do not pass this now, nothing will happen. We have had years of nothing happening. I was grateful for the support of the Leader of the Opposition when she said that we must at least get the Government to come back at Third Reading with something. Otherwise, this whole issue will clearly go to sleep again. Over the past few years we have had a surfeit of ill prepared legislation. It is our duty to improve it, whatever the Whips may say. Otherwise, it is hard to justify the survival of your Lordships’ House. I would like to test the opinion of the House.
Amendments 37ZB and 37ZC
37ZB: Clause 40, page 33, line 33, at end insert—
“(4) A further safeguard shall be that, notwithstanding the statute providing for the power of entry, a power of entry may only be used without warrant, or without agreement with the occupier of the premises to be entered, in cases where the authority using the power can demonstrate that the aim of the use of the power would be frustrated if a warrant or agreement were sought.”
37ZC: Clause 40, page 33, line 33, at end insert—
“(5) The safeguards set out in subsections (3) and (4) above shall not apply in any case where the authority exercising the power of entry is—
(a) a Trading Standards Officer acting under any legislation which permits the Officer to exercise such a power; (b) a Constable or a member of the Security Service acting under any legislation which permits such a person to exercise such a power; or(c) doing so in pursuance of the protection of a child or a vulnerable adult.”
Amendments 37ZB and 37ZC agreed.
My Lords, with the leave of the House, I would like to repeat a Statement on Syria.
“Mr Speaker, the whole House will be appalled by the bloodshed and repression which continues at this very moment. Over the last 11 months, more than 6,000 people have been killed. The Syrian regime has deployed snipers, tanks, artillery and mortars against civilian protestors and population centres, particularly in the cities of Homs, Idlib, Hama and Deraa. Thousands of Syrians have endured imprisonment, torture and sexual violence, including instances of the alleged rape of children, and the humanitarian position is deteriorating. This is an utterly unacceptable situation, which demands a united international response.
Last Tuesday, I attended the UN Security Council debate in New York, along with Secretary Clinton, the French Foreign Minister Alain Juppe and other Ministers. We all spoke in strong support of a draft UN Security Council resolution proposed by the Kingdom of Morocco on behalf of the Arab League. The resolution called for the implementation of the Arab League plan to stop all the violence in Syria from all sides, and to begin a political transition.
There was nothing in this draft resolution that could not be supported by any country seeking a peaceful end to the tragedy unfolding in Syria. It demanded an end to all violence; it called for a Syrian-led political process to allow the Syrians to determine their future; and it set out a path to a national unity Government and internationally supervised elections. It did not call for military intervention, and could not have been used to authorise any such action under any circumstances. It did not impose sanctions. It proposed putting the weight and authority of the United Nations Security Council behind a plan to achieve a lasting and sustainable peace in Syria.
As I said at the Security Council, this was the Arab League’s plan; it was not a plan imposed by Western nations. It was co-sponsored by a large number of nations from the region, including Turkey, Tunisia, Jordan, Kuwait, Libya, Bahrain, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt, and Oman. Their leadership, and their strong understanding of their region, deserved our support. I pay particular tribute to the Secretary-General of the Arab League and to the Prime Minister of Qatar, who travelled to New York to brief the council and played a vital role in the extensive negotiations that followed.
On Saturday, the resolution was put to the vote. Thirteen of the 15 members of the United Nations Security Council voted in favour. Two did not; Russia and China both exercised their veto. They did so despite extensive efforts made to amend the draft resolution to address Russia’s specific concerns, and in the face of repeated appeals from Arab nations. Instead, they chose to side with the Syrian regime and implicitly to leave the door open to further abuses by them. They did so while President Assad’s tanks were encircling Homs and shells were pounding the homes of Syrian civilians, killing up to 200 people, and on the 30th anniversary of the massacre in Hama.
We regard this veto as a grave error of judgment by the Governments of China and Russia. There is no need to mince words about this. Russia and China have twice vetoed reasonable and necessary action by the United Nations Security Council. Such vetoes are a betrayal of the Syrian people. In deploying them, they have let down the Arab League; they have increased the likelihood of what they wish to avoid in Syria—civil war—and they have placed themselves on the wrong side of Arab and international opinion.
By contrast, I thank the other members of the Security Council for the principled stand they took, in particular the non-permanent members of the council—Morocco, Azerbaijan, Colombia, Germany, Guatemala, India, Pakistan, Portugal, South Africa and Togo—all of which voted in favour of the resolution. Pakistan’s representative to the UN Security Council spoke for all of us when he said:
“This resolution should not die; by being active and engaged, we should give hope to those who are expecting it from us”.
The Syrian regime may have drawn comfort from events at the United Nations Security Council, but we will do everything that we can to make sure that that comfort is short-lived. This is a doomed regime as well as a murdering regime. There is no way it can get its credibility back internationally or with its own people. The UN Security Council’s failure to agree a resolution does not signal the end of our efforts to end the violence in Syria, and I want to set out how we will now proceed.
First, we will continue our strong support for the Arab League. Earlier this afternoon I spoke to the Secretary-General of the Arab League, Nabil el-Araby, as well as the Foreign Minister of Jordan. I welcomed and encouraged the proposal to appoint a special envoy of the Arab League, and I commended the Arab League’s leadership and action so far. Arab Foreign Ministers will meet this weekend to consider their options. The Secretary-General was very clear about the urgency of the situation, the continued determination of the Arab world to act and the need to step up their efforts. I told the Secretary-General that the Arab League will have our complete support.
Secondly, we will seek to widen the international coalition of nations seeking a peaceful and lasting resolution for Syria. We welcome the concept of a new Arab-led group of Friends of Syria, which I discussed with the Prime Minister of Qatar last Tuesday. The aim of such a group will be to demonstrate the strength of international support for the people of Syria and their legitimate demands, to co-ordinate intensified diplomatic and economic pressure on the regime and to engage with Syrian opposition groups committed to a democratic future for the country. Britain will be a highly active member in setting up such a group with the broadest possible international support.
Thirdly, we will intensify our contact with members of the Syrian opposition. The House will recall that in November I announced the appointment of an ambassador-level envoy, Frances Guy, to lead our discussions with them. We will continue to urge the Syrian opposition to come together and to agree a common statement of commitment to democracy, to human rights and to the protection of all Syria’s minorities.
Fourthly, we will maintain our strong focus at the United Nations, undeterred by Saturday’s vote. We will continue to raise Syria at the UN Security Council and we will consider with other nations a resolution of the UN General Assembly. Despite our disagreement with Russia and China we will continue to discuss with them any possibility of an agreed but meaningful way forward.
Fifthly, we will increase pressure through the European Union, following the discussions I had in New York with Ministers from France, Portugal and Germany. We have already agreed 11 rounds of EU sanctions and will hope to agree further measures by the Foreign Affairs Council on 27 February.
Sixthly, we will work with others to ensure that those responsible for crimes in Syria are held to account. At the UN Human Rights Council meeting in March in Geneva we will work to ensure the strongest possible mandate to scrutinise human rights violations in Syria, so that those responsible know that there will be a day of reckoning and that they will be held to account.
Seventhly, we will use our remaining channels to the Syrian regime to make clear our abhorrence at violence that is utterly unacceptable to the civilised world. The Syrian ambassador to London was today summoned to the Foreign and Commonwealth Office to receive this message. Despite our deteriorating relations with the Syrian Government we remain committed to ensuring the safety of their embassy and staff in London. We expect that the Syrian authorities will provide the same protection to our embassy in Damascus.
In parallel, I have today recalled to London our ambassador from Damascus for consultations. He and his team work in extremely difficult conditions to ensure that we have an accurate picture of what is happening in Syria. I hope the House will join me in paying fulsome tribute to them and their families. Their safety and security is always prominent in our considerations.
The human suffering in Syria is already unimaginable and is in grave danger of escalating further. The position taken by Russia and China has regrettably made this more likely. However this Government, this House, our country and our allies will not forget the people of Syria. We will redouble our efforts to put pressure on this appalling regime and to stop this indefensible violence”.
That completes the Statement.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement that was made by the Foreign Secretary. There is clear agreement right across this House, as I know there was in the other place, and I hope that the House will feel that the questions which I would like to ask contain no criticism whatever of the Government, because they do not. We are unequivocal in our condemnation of the continuing, mounting acts of violence against the people of Syria by a Government who have long since lost their legitimacy and, like the Minister and the Foreign Secretary, I congratulate our ambassador and staff on working in an environment of that kind.
President Assad is, plainly, not the ruler who is wanted by the people of his country and that is because of a history of brutal and murderous dictatorship. Between him and his father there are 40 years of dictatorship backed, for the larger part, by another dictatorship—in particular, the Soviet Union. All of us will have seen on our televisions horrific scenes, in many ways alike to those when Gaddafi made his push on Benghazi. Does the Minister have any firm knowledge of the numbers of deaths and injuries inflicted on the Syrian people? Estimates that I have seen run from between 6,000 and 15,000 deaths, and if there was just one week like yesterday that would add 1,400 deaths. How confident are the Government of the information that they have?
I welcome the efforts made by the Foreign Secretary at the United Nations Security Council and the coming together of 13 democratic nations in their expression of outrage. It is wholly disgraceful, in the view of the Opposition, that Russia and China vetoed the resolution. It is shameful that even when extensive efforts had been made to reflect and resolve their anxieties, they could not back a resolution which instigated no further sanctions, and certainly no use of force. In Russia’s case, it had circulated a draft resolution last December which described the regime’s concerted violence as no different from the protests on the street of the Syrian people—protests which have remained overwhelmingly peaceful. That draft resolution was of course inadequate to the needs of the situation and could not command support among leading western states in the Security Council.
Russia and China have now shown their hand. They have prioritised their own interests over any fundamental duty to the world community. They have ignored the vital participation of the Arab League, critical to any potential for success in the region. It was, as the Foreign Secretary said in the Statement, an Arab League initiative and the Government are right to pursue all of their work with the league. The Arab League, deploying a relatively small number of observers—far smaller than was really needed because of Syrian objections to the proper delegation—took its decisions when it had made an assessment on the ground. It was painfully aware that it could not provide physical or political protection to the citizens, or even soften the brutality of the regime.
We are under no illusion. The consequence of this veto is to sanction greater violence and more blood-spilling. Yesterday’s events were the first instalment of the liberty granted to President Assad to murder more of his own people. I note that the Foreign Secretary used the word “betrayal” of the Syrian people. That is the right word. I take the Russian and Chinese decision as being still more regrettable because we have all laboured hard, right through the UN millennium process led by Kofi Annan, to build into the United Nations mandate the responsibility to protect people whose Governments were the aggressors. Where does the Minister now think that UN obligation lies?
The international community must plainly plan a co-ordinated and coherent response. It may be unlikely but efforts to bring Russia and China onside, as the Statement says, must continue. They cannot sidestep their obligations and duties. Do the Government have a view on how to engage with these two recalcitrant powers? Does the Minister agree with me that whatever the obvious shortcomings of the United Nations machinery, the United Nations remains the major theatre for diplomatic effort and international co-ordination? Does he also agree that the EU continues to have a vital role? Will the Government consider seeking a joint EU/Arab League summit to get a greater degree of co-ordination? If the Minister does agree, how will Her Majesty’s Government now approach the work at the UN, recognising that there has obviously been a significant set-back?
We support the extension of sanctions by the EU regarding travel bans and asset freezes so long as they can bring into scope a wider group of individuals and organisations. The EU is to be congratulated, as are the Government of the United Kingdom. We are keen to know what potential anybody feels there is to draw the Russians into the application of these sanctions. Are there elements of the Danish presidency programme in the EU which the Minister believes might assist?
I appreciate the difficulties of embarking on such a course but it may well be that the evidence of crimes against humanity or, to use the wider generic expression, crimes of concern to humanity has so obviously placed President Assad outside and beyond international law that other steps may become possible. Has the Minister a view on how Her Majesty’s Government might obtain international support, if possible, for international warrants against those named in the EU sanctions list? In the event that they travelled outside Syria in those circumstances, it might be possible in due course to seek their arrest and their trial at The Hague for international crimes. What scope is there for one of the clearer courses of actions that may be available to us—detailed investigation of all of the assets held here or, as I understand it in one or two cases, on the Côte d’Azur?
As regards the assessment the Government make of the issues inside Syria, I understand that the Syrian air force has not flown missions since the start of the conflict. Were it to do so and use military airplanes against the Syrian people, would the Government consider seeking the support of the Arab League for a no-fly zone? It is sometimes said that the Syrian opposition are not in the same state of readiness as was the case with the opposition in Libya. It is not entirely clear to me—perhaps it is not clear to everybody in your Lordships’ House—that the new Government of Libya are entirely united in all their purposes. I make no criticism of that; they are a new Government operating in difficult circumstances. However, it certainly seems to me that the Libyan opposition were united in one respect—they did not want Gaddafi to continue to rule Libya; they wanted that regime out. The Syrian opposition plainly want Assad out, but that might not be enough to convince the world that an alternative government are in waiting.
What is the United Kingdom Government’s assessment of the cohesion or otherwise of the Syrian opposition? Has Frances Guy formed even a preliminary view at this stage? The opposition, through the Syrian National Council, have also called for safe zones to be created. I have read of the potential for that, with several regions being named. I claim no knowledge of the practicality of this proposal. I make no pretence of knowledge in that regard. However, have the Government considered possible non-interventionist methods of securing the safety of Syrians on the ground where they are being pursued to their deaths?
President Assad has no future. He has lost the legitimacy to rule and he cannot reassert it through the barrel of a gun indefinitely. He is backed internationally at present by nations which should know better. Although I suspect that on balance it remains better to have a Syrian ambassador in London, under what circumstances would Her Majesty’s Government consider the issue of that ambassador’s future? As regards that ambassador, from these Benches I congratulate the Metropolitan Police on their efforts at the Syrian embassy—never an easy undertaking but conducted with typical professionalism, as we would all expect.
As this crisis matures—and it certainly will—I hope that the Minister will feel that it is appropriate to report back to this House on appropriate occasions. I do not ask for a running commentary, of course, but a chance to review matters if they deteriorate. Once again, I thank the Minister for repeating the Statement.
I thank the noble Lord for his very robust support and expert analysis of the overview of the situation, which is very welcome. To take his last point first, I would be very prepared to keep the House as fully informed as possible, as I know my colleagues would in both Houses, on the unfolding tragedy and situation. I will, if I may, take his questions in order. On the number of those who have been killed, we have the figure of 6,000, which seems to be a fairly widely accepted estimate, but of course I cannot possibly guarantee that that is the precise number in the blood, smoke and horror of what is going on. There may be many more; there may be cover-ups or hideous atrocities going on at this moment that are not recorded. We just have to accept that as the figure for the moment, but it could be larger.
The noble Lord’s next question was about how we engage with Russia and China and bring home to those great powers and to the policy-makers in Moscow and Beijing that they have misjudged the situation. It is now a global order, brought together by the miracle of modern communication—a transformed world in which the upkeep of certain basic standards must be supported by all responsible nations. If they want to be in that category they must take a responsible position. We know that Russia has its interests, such as its huge naval base at Tartus, and its long-standing commitment to Syria. We know that China has its interests, which are rather different but broadly in sympathy with the Syria of the past. I believe that the time has come for them to rethink their position and we will remain in constant contact, indeed almost every day, with Russian and Chinese officials and Ministers to bring home to them the inadequacy—more than inadequacy: the unacceptable nature—of the position into which they have driven themselves in opposing the Security Council resolution.
Meanwhile, given that opposition, we have to operate outside the United Nations. We have to look for every possible means of mobilising pressure outside the UN framework for the time being in the hope of getting the process back there some day. The noble Lord raised the question of a joint summit with the Arab League and the European Union. Our thinking is that any such summit should be wider than that. I repeat that this is a global issue and that all responsible nations are ready to step up to the plate, as it were, and voice their views in favour of increased pressure on the Syrian regime and the need for the present killer authorities to go. My right honourable friend would certainly look for wider participation than just the Arab League and the European Union.
The next meeting on 27 February, mentioned in the Statement, is an opportunity to turn the screws further. Of course, an enormous range of sanctions has already been introduced. There are targeted sanctions and every kind of detailed sanction on the Syrian regime. There is a ban on imports of Syrian oil, of course, and on any investment in the Syrian oil industry; a ban on European Union investment construction of new power stations in Syria; and a whole range of other financial and detailed embargos on the export of Syrian banknotes, coinage, and so on. It is possible that there could be more, and we will constantly search for more, and tighter, sanctions, but we must bear in mind the enormous range already in place. A no-fly zone is possibly a read-across from Libya, which may not be entirely relevant at this point because the Syrian air force is not flying. These horrors are being conducted without aircraft overhead adding to the strafing and the killing. There are no operations in the sky to be checked at this stage.
On the Syrian opposition, my right honourable friend met leaders of the Syrian oppositions—in the plural—in November. We are in touch with them, and we are constantly urging them to become more united and to formulate a coherent position, but we are not yet there. The opposition in Syria is many sided and does not yet have the coherence and organisational power to give it the semblance of an alternative, replacement Government. However, we shall continue to work on that.
On safe zones, this would be difficult given that it is not the policy to work for any kind of detailed military intervention. Of course, our Turkish colleagues and allies have considered that idea in view of their position right up against the Syrian border. However, that is not in our catalogue at the moment.
My right honourable friend described how the Syrian ambassador had been brought into the Foreign Office to see officials very recently—this morning, I think. His status is something we keep under review. On the whole, at the moment he is a line of contact and a line to pass through to the Syrian regime should it be prepared to listen for a moment to just how strongly the world feels and to just how determined we are to increase the pressure.
Finally, the noble Lord rightly praised the Metropolitan Police for their action in protecting the Syrian embassy. I make it absolutely clear that it is our policy always to protect foreign embassies in accordance with the highest diplomatic standards, and of course—as my right honourable friend said in his Statement—we expect that the Syrian authorities will do the same. I think that that covers all his points. I thank him again for his and Her Majesty’s Opposition’s strong and reassuring support in reaching a point at which we are all united.
My Lords, this is a serious, sensitive and solemn Statement from my noble friend, and I welcome it very strongly. As we have seen the standing of the Arab League rising in recent times, it is particularly disappointing that the standing of the UN Security Council has fallen because of the actions of Russia and China. Can my noble friend reassure me that while we cannot depend on the United Nations for the present, we will use our good offices within the General Assembly to help Russia and China understand the gravity of their mistake?
My noble friend mentioned co-operation with other European countries and with the Arab League, and I welcome that. However, we of course have our ally in Turkey right on the front line—as he has said. While I do not advocate any military adventures from us at this stage, can I be reassured that we will co-operate, in whatever way we can, with our allies in Turkey, directly as well as perhaps through the auspices of NATO? Can I also be reassured that members of President al-Assad’s family will not be permitted to use their close relationship with this country either to protect themselves or their assets at this time, or indeed for anything they might plan for the future? This is something for which our own Government can perhaps take some responsibility, and on which they can act.
My noble friend made three points. First, on how we can help to make the UN more effective, we are of course living with the legacy of the Second World War and a UN structure that is frozen in time. Many people, including many of your Lordships, have worked hard over the years to try to break the deadlock on UN reform to get a more effective regime that is not vulnerable to the kind of vetoes that we have seen over this affair. However, it is very difficult, and every time we have tried, people have disagreed with each other and no progress has been made. None the less, we will certainly keep trying.
Secondly, co-operation with Turkey will be close. We are working very closely with the Turkish Government on this and indeed on many other issues as well. We will certainly continue to do so.
Thirdly, President Bashar al-Assad’s family will get no special protection. There will be no special relationship, despite the fact that some of them have direct origins in this country. The matter will be kept under very careful review. However, there will be no special favours for the families of any members of the regime who are guilty of the kind of atrocities that are now occurring.
My Lords, first, I declare an interest as a former British ambassador to Syria and a member of the British/Syrian council. When the Minister responded to my intervention last Thursday, in which I talked about the precedents of Libya and Egypt, he rightly said that the cases of Syria, Libya and Egypt were very different. I will draw attention briefly to the precedent of Iraq. Before there is any question of intervening in Syrian internal affairs—I accept with gratitude the statement that there is no present intention to do so, and the fact that the resolution in the Security Council did not argue for military intervention—the matter needs very careful thought.
The precedent of Iraq is nasty. We did not take adequate account of what the outcome was likely to be. One outcome that is very relevant to Syria was the decimation of the Christian population of northern Iraq, where some of the oldest Christian communities existed. Half a million Christians are now refugees in Syria. Will the Minister assure the House that we have enough intelligence to know not just the figures for those who have died but the situation of the opposition? There are reports that the opposition in Syria is severely dysfunctional and that there is strong disagreement between its various parts. Do we have enough intelligence to work out what the consequence of the action against Syria will be? I ask the Minister to consider in particular the situation of the minorities there, including the Christian population, who are extremely nervous about the prospects of a change of regime, and the very small remaining Jewish minority.
The noble Lord is absolutely right to cast his expert eye over the internal complexities of Syria and the uncertainties of the outcome of the immense turmoil that is gripping its society. He is right to say that although there is no question of military intervention, the outside world is putting pressure on Syria for the very good reason that an imploded Syria, or a Syria turning one way or another politically, or into a rogue state, would have major implications for the entire region and would affect us all. There is a responsibility to put on pressure, but no one at this stage is proposing military intervention, although some members of the Arab League have certainly talked about assisting opposition groups.
It is a very delicate scene. I wish I could stand here and predict exactly how things will unfold. The noble Lord is absolutely correct that among the many minorities is a very large Christian minority. The numbers vary. I have heard a figure of 250,000; the noble Lord mentioned 500,000. We are encouraging Syrian opposition groups to reach out, engage with minority communities and maintain a clear commitment to a peaceful and non-sectarian approach. They should reassure all Syrians that they are working towards a Syrian state that is democratic, inclusive and respectful of ethnic and religious minorities. That is the point that we have realised and are urging, but I repeat that anyone who says that they can predict exactly how this will turn out will not be believed because the uncertainties are very great. Syrian society could fragment into many pieces and its unity could be destroyed for many years to come.
Does the Minister agree that Russia and China have put themselves on the wrong side of history by vetoing a very diluted UN Security Council resolution and that it must be very difficult for them now to retreat? I welcome the Minister’s six points on the way forward but these are, essentially, further diplomatic pressures at the United Nations and at the European Union and further potential sanctions. There is, however, great urgency in the situation. Delay surely means further carnage, particularly among the civilian population. What is the evidence of any intervention by Iran with military matériel or personnel to assist the Syrian regime? Where does its supply come from, or does it have sufficient stocks? The reality is that the rebels are massively outgunned. Will Turkey or the Arab League have on the agenda at their meeting this weekend the possibility of assisting in this disparity of weaponry? The Minister has said that a no-fly zone is not in the catalogue at the moment. May I express the hope that, if it is not in the catalogue at the moment, there is contingency planning in case the Syrians use their air power against the rebels?
I am grateful to the noble Lord. Information about Iranian supplies of weaponry to the Syrian regime is difficult to pin down precisely. There are certainly fairly substantial reports of such a supply of weapons. He asks whether, on the side of the allies, Turkey, Qatar or even Saudi Arabia, although he did not mention that country, could supply weapons to the opposition groups. They have said publicly that they are considering such moves. This is, however, a matter that the Arab League will have to deliberate on very carefully and reach their decisions on as soon as possible. As the noble Lord says, there is not much time. That is the position and I fully take the point that, as every day goes by, with delay more people are dying. This is an horrific pattern and although it is very hard to see how it can be stopped we have to find the best possible ways of doing so.
My Lords, I thank my noble friend for repeating the robust and measured Statement of the Foreign Secretary in the House of Commons. As these appalling events are unfolded by the Syrian Government on the civilian population of that country, is it not remarkable the extent to which people are prepared to go, even at the risk of their own life, to make sure that their cry, their voice, their opinion, is heeded and heard throughout the world? Can my noble friend give any further information to the House about the attitude of Russia and China? Was it indicated, in their representatives’ comments in the United Nations—both in session and in the corridors—what, if anything, their end game might be? What are their objectives, or are they just making mayhem wherever the opportunity occurs?
My Lords, my noble friend makes two points. First, he drew attention to something that we are inclined sometimes to forget, with the tumult of pictures on the television and so on—the staggering courage of people who are prepared to go into the streets, knowing that bullets will be flying, knowing that murder and mayhem will take place. That staggering courage is something that we should all salute and brings hope that the Syrian people—as opposed to the regime that is oppressing them—have got a strength and endurance which will see them through in the end. It is indeed a remarkable thing.
As to the Russian agenda, Mr Lavrov, the Russian Foreign Minister, is going to Damascus, I think either late today or tomorrow, and he is going to see Bashar al-Assad. He is going with his secret service chief, I see. There appears to be a view in Moscow that they have their agenda and their own path that they want to pursue for bringing some amelioration to this horrific situation. I think that they are mistaken. I think that that is a complete misjudgment, but that is what they are doing and my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary will be speaking to Mr Lavrov as soon as he returns from Damascus.
My Lords, I join others in paying tribute to our ambassador and his staff and their families in Damascus who are doing an extraordinarily good job in very difficult circumstances. In that context, will the Minister confirm that our ambassador has been withdrawn only for consultations and will soon be back in Damascus? It has always struck me as a curious diplomatic convention to withdraw ambassadors from post when situations get bad, which is precisely the moment when they can be the most use.
I fully share the noble Lord’s remarks about Simon Collis, our excellent ambassador. He is recalled here for consultation. We are not closing the embassy at this stage. Obviously it is a matter under complete review, as is the question of the security of embassy staff and everyone concerned. I can confirm what my right honourable friend said in his Statement—that the ambassador has been recalled for consultation. We are not closing the embassy at this stage.
My Lords, will the Minister also accept congratulations on the work of the UK mission in New York? To have got 13 people to vote for this resolution is no simple matter, particularly since some of the countries that voted for it are very careful not to get involved in “undue interference” in other countries’ business—so that gives the lie, frankly, to the Russians and the Chinese, who regard this as being that. Could the Minister perhaps say whether the Government are contemplating providing any humanitarian assistance to the rebels and to those who are wounded in this fighting, and also whether any thought is being given to the application of the convention on torture to people who are involved in the regime?
On the first point, the noble Lord speaks with experience, because he has done that job himself and knows exactly how difficult it is. His praise for the success of the UN team is very valid and very worth while receiving, and I hope that the team will note it. DfID is engaged and is working with the International Committee of the Red Cross on various aspects, and it is very active in seeing in what other ways it can help. I do not think that I can say more at the moment on that matter. I have to ask the noble Lord for the third question again. I wrote it down but I cannot read my writing.
This is obviously one of the many matters under consideration. Of course, it is related to the broader matter of whether there will be a UN resolution in relation to the reference to the International Criminal Court. It requires a UN resolution because Syria is not a signatory to the ICC. As I have raised that matter, I should just make it clear that the commission of inquiry quite clearly stated its concern that crimes against humanity have been committed in Syria, which may be a matter for the International Criminal Court. The UK would not rule out referral to the ICC, as suggested by Mrs Pillay. The commission of inquiry report does not specifically recommend referral to the ICC, nor does the Human Rights Council have the power to refer cases. It would be for the UN Security Council to refer the situation in Syria to the ICC prosecutor. I would add that I am absolutely sure that issues about torture and other gross human rights abuses would certainly arise in that context.
My Lords, perhaps I can ask my noble friend the Minister for some further clarification. In his response to the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Triesman, on safe zones, I think he said that these had not yet been agreed or discussed. After the statement Turkey made over the weekend that its borders would now be open for people fleeing persecution, for refugees wanting to go across into Turkey for sanctuary, have there been any further discussions and deliberations on the creation of the buffer zone that was being discussed a few months ago?
I do not think there have. This is a matter that appeared in the public press some weeks ago but I am not aware of it coming up in the agenda of our discussions with the Turkish Government. I may be wrong about that, but I certainly have no reports in my briefing on that particular issue.
That is absolutely true. My noble friend is completely correct that both Governments have problems—shall we put it like that—with certain areas that are seeking either secession or a degree of autonomy that they do not want to accept, and they have this fear of fragmentation of their own national boundaries. That is a very strong motivation. On top of that, as I said earlier, Russia has huge interests in Syria, including its colossal naval base at Tartus.
My Lords, the terrible events in Syria may have consequences well beyond the borders of that country. Can the Minister say what discussions the UK has had, both internally and with its international partners, on the potential implications for the Lebanon, and how these might be mitigated?
Yes, we keep in very close touch with partners, and indeed the Lebanese authorities and the Lebanese Prime Minister, Mr Najib Mikati, over the situation. It is a delicate and very difficult one for the Lebanese Government, who have problems internally with Hezbollah and with their relationship with Syria, which is complex and has been in the past extremely difficult. These matters are under very close review at all times.
Protection of Freedoms Bill
Report (2nd Day) (Continued)
37A: After Clause 41, insert the following new Clause—
“Rewriting powers of entry to address metal theft
(1) Section 26 of the Theft Act 1968 (search for stolen goods) is amended as follows—
(2) In subsection (1), after “goods” insert “or that admission to a place specified in the information is reasonably required in order to ascertain whether provisions under section 22A(1) are complied with,”.
(3) After subsection (1) insert—
“(1A) A warrant granted under subsection (1) for the purposes of ascertaining compliance under section 22A, shall authorise that person to enter that place at any time within one month from the date of the warrant.”
(4) After section 22 insert—
“22A Handling of stolen metal
(1) Subject to the provisions of section 26, any constable shall have a right at all reasonable times—
(a) to enter and inspect any place for the time being a place which is occupied by a scrap metal dealer wholly or partly for the purposes of such business, or any place which he reasonably believes is occupied for such a purpose, irrespective of whether or not it is entered on the register;(b) to require production for inspection, of any scrap metal kept at that place and any record which the dealer has in his or her possession.(2) A magistrate may grant, on application by a senior police officer, a closure order or, where such an order has already been granted, an application to extend a closure order in relation to a place, subject to the following conditions—
(a) the senior officer reasonably believes that the trader is encouraging, supporting or facilitating the trade in stolen metal whether knowingly or not, and (b) in his or her view such closure is necessary for the prevention of theft or handling of stolen goods or for the further investigation of those offences.(3) For the purposes of this section a person shall be deemed as carrying on business as a scrap metal dealer if—
(a) a place in that area is occupied by him or her as a scrap metal store, or(b) no place is occupied by him or her as a scrap metal store, whether in that area or elsewhere, but he or she has his or her usual place of residence in that area, or(c) a place in that area is occupied by him or her wholly or partly for the purposes of that business.””
My Lords, the purpose of this amendment is to provide for strengthened and new powers of entry for the police to enter and inspect known or suspected scrap metal dealer premises, and any metal and records kept on the premises, as well as powers to close down dealerships should those premises be suspected of being used for knowingly handling stolen material. At present the police are able to enter only registered premises but this amendment will give the right to enter premises irrespective of whether they are entered on the register, as well as the power to close dealerships.
Considerable concern has been expressed in the light of the increasing incidence of metal theft related to the rise in its value, with the price of copper having doubled to more than £5,000 a tonne since 2009, and the value of scrap metal at an all-time high. This has become a highly organised crime. Metal is stolen to sell on to dealers who will probably smelt it down before selling it on. The impact of such thefts on many people, buildings and organisations is considerable, not least on the railway network and railway passengers and on churches and indeed war memorials, with at least one war memorial a week being stripped in London.
The cost of metal theft is now estimated to be running at £1 billion a year and causing some 16,000 hours of train delays. In total, Network Rail says the cost of such thefts has amounted to some £43 million across the United Kingdom. It is also apparently resulting in the deaths of two thieves a month as they attempt to strip cabling from electricity substations or railways. That last point may not arouse much concern or sympathy, but it is still the loss of two human lives a month which could be avoided and is perhaps a consequence of the current spate of metal thefts that is not often raised.
It is important that action is taken as quickly as possible. At least one major recycling firm has moved to cashless payment, and on Thursday we shall be debating my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester’s amendment to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders of Bill, which provides for cashless transactions to be compulsory in the scrap metal trade. This would be an important action in the drive against metal thefts and I commend my noble friend for his robust campaign on this issue.
We know that police forces are stepping up their activities against this lucrative crime but they need to be given further powers to combat it with maximum effectiveness. One such power is provided for in this amendment, namely stronger and new powers of entry for the police to premises suspected of being used for handling stolen metal and the power to obtain a closure order against a dealership where there is a belief that such criminal activity is taking place. This amendment, providing new powers to the police to enter and close down unregulated scrap metal dealerships, is in line with the recommendations of the Association of Chief Police Officers’ metal theft working group.
Combined with the amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders of Bill to ban cashless transactions, this amendment presents a robust package of measures to tackle this growing epidemic. I hope the Government will indicate their support for this amendment and ensure that the police are properly equipped to deal with the increasing incidence of metal thefts. I beg to move.
My Lords, I have added my name to Amendment 37A, tabled by my noble friends Lady Royall and Lord Rosser, because the new powers that it confers on authorities to enter and inspect scrap metal dealerships represent, as my noble friend Lord Rosser says, an important element in the comprehensive overhaul of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964, which I have been calling for in your Lordships’ House since I asked my Oral Question on the subject on 3 October last year. It also fits perfectly with the move to cashless transactions, which the Home Secretary said in a Written Statement on 26 January that the Government now support. This is the subject of my own amendment to the Legal Aid, Sentencing and Punishment of Offenders Bill, which the Committee will be considering on Thursday, possibly alongside the Government’s own amendments, the details of which we are awaiting.
This morning I met Deputy Chief Constable Paul Crowther of the British Transport Police to discuss this amendment. As the House will be aware, the BTP has been in the lead on the metal theft issue and I again commend it for what it is doing to tackle it. It has asked me to tell your Lordships—and I quote directly from a message it has given me—that:
“The power of closure is something that we would really want for a number of reasons, not least so that we can support legitimate businesses who will comply with the cashless system when it is introduced”.
Over the last four months I have been overwhelmed by the representations that have been made to me about the necessity for government action to tackle what is now a metal theft epidemic. The Transport Select Committee in another place says that the theft of signalling cable was responsible for the delay or cancellation of over 35,000 national rail services last year. There are eight actual or attempted thefts on the railway every day. My friends in the heritage rail sector—and I declare an interest as the president of the Heritage Railway Association—report weekly thefts of metal objects from their yards, depots and sheds, the value of which runs into thousands of pounds. Almost no aspect of our national life has escaped unscathed: manhole covers; war memorial plaques; even huge pieces of art like the Barbara Hepworth sculpture in Dulwich Park or the statue of Dr Alfred Salter in Cherry Gardens, Bermondsey; lead from church roofs and sacred objects from within churches; electricity and telecom cables—the list is endless.
Many of your Lordships will have seen the open letter published in the Times on 11 January that was signed by an impressive array of business leaders, including the chairmen or chief executives of BT, Network Rail, the Energy Networks Association and the Ecclesiastical Insurance company. They called for a complete update of the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964. Among the long list of changes they want to see were police powers to close unscrupulous scrap metal dealers, and police authority to search all premises owned and operated by scrap metal dealers—the measure proposed in this amendment. In my view, the police should be given powers to inspect any articles and records kept on site and to close down dealerships should there be reasonable suspicion that they are handling and dealing in stolen metal.
It is abundantly clear that the law needs to be completely rewritten. In the other place tomorrow there will be a debate initiated by officers of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Combating Metal Theft—I declare a very modest interest as one of its vice-chairs. In addition to the move towards cashless transactions they will call for a robust licensing scheme for scrap metal dealers to replace the present registration scheme, as well as all the measures that have been put forward by industry, the church and the police.
I shall be very interested to hear what the Minister has to say when he responds. I know that we will achieve a cashless regime either on Thursday or at Report stage of the LASPO Bill, but I hope that he will be able to give a commitment that there will at least be comprehensive legislation in the next Session which will rewrite the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964.
My Lords, I rise very briefly to endorse what noble Lords have said about the seriousness of metal theft, and I know that my noble friend the Minister is fully aware of the importance of this issue in addressing the existing legislation, which is clearly out of date.
Last year, when I had the privilege to serve in the Home Office, I became acutely aware not only of the breadth of this crime but also, as we have heard, of its effects. Stolen cables not only disrupt but cause chaos on railway lines, and also in telecommunications. I know that the Church of England has also carried out a very important report that looks at what has happened to its churches and cathedrals that have been affected by this.
The point I want to make—I know that my noble friend is aware of it—is that although we see these matters reported in the press, and some people have first-hand experience of the outcome of this crime, it is organised crime. These are not individual actions taken at random. Serious organised crime, on a large scale, is behind the metal theft that is taking place in this country. When, for example, cables are removed, or lead is removed from roofs, all too often the people concerned are not scurrying about; they are wearing the proper safety jackets, looking like workers who should be carrying out these functions. They steal vehicles that have commercial insignia on the side to make it look as though a legitimate vehicle is being loaded with the metal. A lot of thought, a lot of money and a lot of organisation goes into this. I hope that when my noble friend replies—he and I have discussed this very serious matter—he will be able to reassure the House that the Government are looking holistically at all the elements mentioned this evening. This whole question is about the seriousness of breaking through organisations that clearly find it financially viable to continue this very destructive activity.
My Lords, from these Benches, I want very briefly to give my whole-hearted support to this amendment. In the year from 2010-11 thefts from churches went up by one-third, resulting in a loss to the church of £4.5 million in that one year alone. I want to speak particularly because of the importance of rewriting the right of entry. Without that being done, the means of enforcing the otherwise noble aspirations about cash-free and limitless tariff cannot be enforced. That is why the right of entry is extremely important.
My Lords, following on from what the noble Baroness, Lady Browning, said about this being organised crime, it is urgent that the legislation is in place for the police to be able to go out there and act effectively. As I understand it, they do not have effective means at this stage. Whatever may be done holistically at some future date, now is when we need to have something for the police to deal with this business.
My Lords, I am most grateful to all noble Lords who have spoken. I will start by referring to the remarks from my noble friend Lady Browning. It is no secret that, only two days before she left the Home Office, I went to visit her, along with other Ministers, to discuss the whole question of metal theft, because she had identified this as a problem and wanted to get action throughout the whole of government. I suggested then, as a Minister in Defra, that I might be able to help by offering some assistance through the work of the Environment Agency. Two days later I found myself in the Home Office and was very nearly in the position of writing a letter from myself to myself. In the end, the letter came from my successor the noble Lord, Lord Taylor.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for setting out what exactly is the problem. I think that we all understand what it is. I am grateful to him for starting off by emphasising that this is driven by second-hand metal prices. If he cares to look at the way that metal prices have gone over the last few years—sometimes up, sometimes down—he will find that the crime rate for metal theft has more or less exactly followed that line, and that it is on a distinctly upward curve. For that reason I was interested in his new figure for the possible cost of this whole problem to the country, which he put at about £1 billion. I have seen other figures which count the cost to the country and to business, one of about £220 million, another of around £700 million, and I would be interested to know where his figures have come from.
The important point to remember is that very often the actual value of what is stolen is relatively small; the issue is the knock-on effect of that particular crime. For example, when the lead is taken off a church roof, the lead has a value, and a value that is going up, but the real damage then comes from water leaking in and damaging the church. If you remove the wiring that deals with signalling from the railway line, you will have hundreds of hours of delays and major disruption caused to a large number of people—and as someone who spends an awful lot of time on the west coast main line I understand that as well.
We have examples of hospitals which have had to cancel operations as a result of power cuts caused by metal theft. I could give examples relating to the police and others, who have had their communications disrupted as a result of metal theft. Then on top of that we have the further elements of heritage crime. Not only war memorials are being taken; the example that the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, gave of the Barbara Hepworth statue being stolen and melted down is an example of something that went in the opposite direction. Here was something that was of very great value, should one have been able to put it on the market at Christie’s or Sotheby’s, but which when it went into the scrap metal yard suddenly became worth relatively very little indeed, and in fact would very quickly be ground up into bronze granules to be smelted.
The important point to remember about that particular theft is that it indicates just where the problem is. It is obvious that the first person to handle the statue—the first scrap yard owner who took it in—must have known that it was, as they say, hot. You do not often get Barbara Hepworth or Barbara Hepworth-like statues legitimately coming into scrap metal yards. Someone knew that it was stolen property and that they would be able to convert it into cash, while removing most of its value. On a number of occasions I have made the point that we believe that the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 is—how should I put it?—beyond its sell-by date. We wish to see a reform to that Act as soon as is possible, and we will make sure that we do it.
I am grateful to the noble Lord for tabling this amendment and allowing us to have a debate on the damage that this practice is doing to our infrastructure. I am also grateful to him for highlighting the fact that there have been a number of deaths as a result of this. Although the noble Lord says that it was the perpetrator being killed, we should have some sympathy. For example, a 16 year-old was recently killed taking copper cabling from a power substation. He only did so because it was easy for him to take that copper wire and convert it into cash; and, in the process, someone who did not understand these things killed himself. Moreover, not only are some of the perpetrators being killed; it is likely that, fairly soon, innocent individuals could be killed as they try to sort out the mess caused by these problems.
The House will be aware—the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, referred to it—of my right honourable friend the Home Secretary’s Statement on 26 January, when she announced that we will be bringing forward amendments to the LASPO Bill to strengthen the law in this area. I can assure the noble Lord, Lord Faulkner, that we hope to do this on Report rather than tomorrow or on Thursday, which are the other days when we will debate these matters. This is specifically to deal with the problem of cash. As I say, the real problem is the ease with which people can convert stolen metal into cash, with no questions being asked and no traceability whatever.
In that Statement my right honourable friend indicated that the amendments would create a new criminal offence to prohibit cash payments to purchase scrap metal and to significantly increase the fines for all offences under the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964, which regulates the scrap recycling industry. In effect, once the amendments to the LASPO Bill have been agreed and the Bill has been passed, rather than having a maximum fine of £1,000 for offences under the Scrap Metal Dealers Act, the fine will be unlimited. We will go from an average fine of the order of £350 to a more realistic figure which might encourage some scrap metal dealers to act in a responsible manner.
I understand that there has been some consultation on the proposal for a cashless arrangement. What has been the extent of that consultation? Have the many thousands of small scrap yard operations been consulted? I am not opposing what the Government are doing. I just want to know what the basis is and to what extent it can be justified as a result of any consultation—in other words, that this is not another panic response.
My Lords, this is not a panic response. It has been discussed in this House and in another place on a number of occasions and we are all keen to move forward.
I have had discussions with the British Metals Recycling Association, a body which represents scrap metal dealers of all sizes, great and small. It—dare I say it?—not surprisingly, is not keen on the idea of going cashless. That might indicate something about the effect of this measure. We shall obviously have to have further consultations with the BMRA and others in the industry before we bring these measures into effect after they have been introduced into the LASPO Bill.
I was formerly a recycling Minister in Defra. We have a very successful industry and I want to see high levels of recycling of metal continue. However, I want to make sure that the metal that is being recycled is legitimate and has not been stolen in one way or another. We do not want to kill off a successful industry but to properly regulate the criminal elements within it. We will certainly have further consultations with the BMRA and others before we bring the measures into effect after the Bill has received Royal Assent.
My Lords, I could refer the noble Lord to discussions that I have had with other people in the industry, who have pointed out that the high levels of cash in the industry are driving criminality. If we can remove a lot of that cash then we can possibly remove a great deal of the criminality. I am not saying that it will be a magic wand that will solve all the problems—just as revising the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964 will not solve all problems, as his noble friend Lord Faulkner knows well. However, they are steps on the road to better regulating this industry, which is needed.
We are looking for a coherent package of measures to tackle metal theft. Obviously there will have to be further measures and regulation in due course, possibly along the lines of the amendment of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser. I do not want to rush into that at this stage. There is an opportunity to go cashless and to increase what are, at the moment, the derisory fines available under the 1964 Act, and we obviously need to do more to that Act in the future.
I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, on his ingenuity in finding a way of bringing forward amendments to this Bill on this subject. His noble friend Lord Faulkner tried to do so but failed. We also gave it some thought, but the drafting of the Bill is such that it is rather difficult.
My Lords, we have cashless in the LASPO Bill and I hope that it will deal with this problem.
We have to consider the other important points that need to be dealt with. One of those—and, again, this is why I am interested in how the Opposition voted on the previous amendment—is whether the powers of entry are adequate and what powers of entry need to be given to the police. We can look at these matters, first, in the LASPO Bill and consider further regulation in due course.
I welcome the support of the Front Bench opposite for further action in this area. Obviously, there is more that we can do. I do not think that this is the right way of going forward at this stage because, as I said, we want to bring forward amendments in the LASPO Bill on Report. I can give an assurance that as soon as possible thereafter, by whatever legislative means is appropriate, we will bring forward the further amendments that need to be made, particularly to the Scrap Metal Dealers Act 1964. With those assurances, I hope the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw his amendment.
The Minister asked me where my figure on the cost of metal theft, at £1 billion a year, came from. I would not say that the figure necessarily came from the most authoritative of sources, but it appeared in a fairly prominent newspaper article last December.
I am trying to remember which one it was. As the Minister has asked me which one it was, I intend to tell him. I may be wrong, but my recollection is that it was the London Evening Standard.
It is clear that the current level of metal thefts has caused a considerable increase in the cost of security arrangements. It is already costing businesses, organisations and local authorities money and we need action. This amendment, along with the amendment from my noble friend Lord Faulkner of Worcester which is to be considered on Thursday, provides for action now—action which we badly need against this serious, organised and growing crime. As my amendment goes further than the Government appear to be contemplating in respect of police powers of entry and closure of dealerships—powers that are needed now—I wish to test the opinion of the House.
Clause 44 : Procedural and supplementary provisions
Amendments 38 and 39
38: Clause 44, page 35, line 24, after “41” insert “which neither amends nor repeals any provision of primary legislation”
39: Clause 44, page 35, line 25, leave out from “Wales” to end of line 27 and insert—
“(8) In subsection (7) “primary legislation” means—
(a) a public general Act, and(b) a Measure or Act of the National Assembly for Wales.”
Amendments 38 and 39 agreed.
Clause 49 : Alteration or replacement of code
40: Clause 49, page 38, line 31, after second “the” insert “alteration or”
Amendment 40 agreed.
Schedule 3 : Corresponding code of practice for Welsh devolved powers of entry
41: Schedule 3, page 127, line 22, after second “the” insert “alteration or”
Amendment 41 agreed.
Clause 54 : Offence of immobilising etc. vehicles
42: Clause 54, page 40, line 24, at end insert—
“if there is no charge for unauthorised parking or if the following conditions are met—
(a) one or more notices which were clearly displayed when the vehicle was parked and—(i) specify the sum of the charge for unauthorised parking; and(ii) are adequate to bring the charge and parking requirements to the notice of drivers who park vehicles on the relevant land;(b) the consent of the driver of the vehicle to the restriction was indicated by the positive acceptance of appropriate documentation before parking on the relevant land; and(c) the owner or occupier of the land or those authorised to act on their behalf are unable to take steps to enforce the payment of parking charges against the driver because they do not know, and the driver has refused to provide, both their name and a current address for service for the driver.”
My Lords, in moving Amendment 42 I shall speak also to Amendments 43, 44, 45, 47 and 48. I confess that Amendment 43 is the handiwork of the noble Earl, Lord Lytton, although it appears in my name as I beat him to the Public Bill Office. He anticipated that we would reach these amendments last week and he cannot be here today, but he has asked me to signify his support and, indeed, has furnished me with what would have been his speaking notes, which I have incorporated into what I am going to say.
The Bill aimed to tackle rogue clampers but instead it outlaws all clamping on private land and opens the door to rogue ticketers. Our amendments seek to mitigate this risk, concentrating on the people who misuse ticketing or clamping rather than the tickets or barriers themselves. There are four issues that I wish to raise: first, car parks, where people pay to park; secondly, residents’ own parking areas and similar private parking spaces not let for hire or use by anyone but their rightful owners, visitors or similar invited drivers; thirdly, public spaces, which again are spaces that do not make a charge, but are open to the public for particular purposes; and fourthly, bays for disabled drivers.
First, however, I should make it clear that I deplore unauthorised or unreasonable clamping, be this of extortionate charging or unfair usage, and that also goes for unauthorised or unreasonable ticketing, but that is what we are already seeing in a number of places. As many have warned about this Bill, without the amendments I am proposing, rogue clampers will simply become rogue ticketers, as we have already seen in Scotland. So while those who run car parks will now be allowed to ticket rather than clamp, it is essential that, first, the driver is still protected from rogues by ensuring that there are adequate signs and warnings of the likely charge for any overstay or use of the parking area, and on the rights of appeal.
Secondly, there should be in place an ombudsman scheme—independent dispute resolution—for anyone who is issued with a ticket they wish to dispute. Amendments 44 and 45 provide for this to be set up and paid for by the industry. It would exist for all motorists challenging a ticket for parking on private land. It is not sufficient for a voluntary scheme to be set up. If a particular car parking firm breaks its code of conduct or fails to implement a ruling, it can simply leave the scheme and carry on without a redress facility. It would then be “good firms in”, “rogues out” of the complaints scheme, leaving the driver unprotected from the cowboys. The scheme must have legislative backing so that drivers would not be liable to pay a charge to a ticket issuer who was not signed up to the scheme. The development of a code of conduct to cover reasonable charges and adequate signage and warnings would raise standards in the industry and enable drivers to know their rights as well as the expectations on them.
These amendments build on the tried and tested model devised for estate agents, one that is independent of but paid for by the industry, and without the requirement for the Government themselves to set up any such scheme. Indeed, I envisage that existing ADR schemes would bid to run it, so that it could be up and running without inordinate delay. This model is fully supported by Citizens Advice, which has long campaigned against rogue clampers. Indeed, it is to the careful drafting by Citizens Advice that these amendments owe their clarity.
I turn now to the second and third categories: residents’ own parking areas and similar private parking spaces not let for hire or use by anyone else except their rightful owners, visitors and similar invited drivers. Essentially, this relates to blocks of flats and sheltered housing schemes. This is private land for which no charges are made and no money is levied, but simply where wheel clamping has been used very successfully to deter rogue parkers. This deterrent will now become illegal even on one’s own private land. Similarly, there are private spaces open to the public which do not charge visitors for particular purposes for parking in them. I have in mind GP surgeries, day centres, churches, cinemas and offices, especially those close to a tube or train station, or convenient for the shops. Or like the one I saw yesterday near Hampstead Heath, a bowling green and allotment area with parking for club members and gardeners only. But, needless to say, it is very tempting for people walking their dogs on the heath and feeling no shame in parking on someone else’s land. Clear signs with warnings of clamping can successfully deter such drivers, but I would bet that car park owners do not know that they will shortly be criminals should they use a clamp.
The House may well feel that the proposed new criminal offence is fundamentally unjust as it offers protection to rogue parkers that is not available to the victims of rogue parking, and it will draw the police into awkward situations. The Government’s suggestion that the landowner could arrange to move the unwanted vehicle is completely inappropriate. Even if an elderly person in sheltered accommodation could do so, or get someone physically to move the car, they cannot simply dump it on the main road where there is obviously no easy parking or it might cause an obstruction or be on double yellow lines. Further, the elderly person might well be charged with the offence of taking and driving away as they would undoubtedly be taking the car without the driver’s consent.
The noble Earl, Lord Lytton, has devised an ingenious scheme which is set out in Amendment 43. It would allow local groups such as churches, day centres, the residents of a block of flats, sports clubs and village halls to be designated by their local authority so as to meet the Bill’s exemption from the clamping ban. Without this, we are going to see an enormous number of very angry residents, GPs and health visitors, as well as wedding guests or those attending funerals who will be inconvenienced by rogue parkers who decide that their need to pop into a shop overrides the right of landowners to use their own property for their desired purposes.
I come finally to the fourth group: bays for disabled drivers. Alas, I have failed to find an amendment that will help, despite the urging of the Blue Badge charity which represents disabled drivers and which, in answer to the noble Earl, Lord Attlee, has said that it would far prefer the car of one of its members to be clamped when a blue badge is not showing than for all its other drivers to be inconvenienced with the ending of clamping, because clamping has played a key role in protecting the bays from encroachment by able-bodied drivers. As even the noble Earl acknowledged, clamping is the great deterrent. Without it, rogue parkers will take places never meant for them. I hope the Minister can provide some assurance on how the Government propose to make good the protection of disabled bays on private land, given that the outlawing of clamping will no doubt remove the best disincentive to any driver to encroach on these protected spaces.
We do not want rogue clampers but nor do we want rogue parkers leaving their cars on private property where they have no right to be and interfering with other people’s freedom and use of their own land. These amendments seek to restrict rogue ticketers, protect consumers, set up an ombudsman scheme and safeguard the rights of small, private landowners who never wanted to run a car park but just want to be able to park by their own home. I beg to move.
My Lords, my noble friend Lady Hayter of Kentish Town has set out the arguments in favour of these amendments. I certainly do not intend to repeat them all. The first amendment aims to close a loophole created by the government amendments tabled in Committee in another place. It ensures that rogue operators will not be able to extort money from drivers by way of barriers rather than clamping.
My noble friend also referred to the amendment that allows for limited licensing of parking enforcement schemes by the Secretary of State to recognise residents and community groups who suffer a serious problem with unlawful and obstructive parking. She explained the reasons why this amendment is necessary and we certainly support it. It retains the clamping ban but allows local resident and community groups to apply for the provision of a parking enforcement scheme to address specific problems with unlawful parking in their area.
Then there are amendments that deal with the introduction of an independent dispute resolution scheme, funded by the industry and available to all motorists—it is important that it is available to all motorists. Cases where mistakes are made or consumers feel that they have been unfairly treated, such as being pursued for excessive charges, can be decided fairly, quickly and cheaply. Rogue ticketing is already a serious problem. It is only likely to get worse once rogue clampers are put out of business. Citizens advice bureaux are dealing with increased numbers of parking inquiries, queries and complaints. Last year, compared with the previous year, they saw an increase in people visiting their website seeking information and advice about parking issues.
The amendment establishes an independent ombudsman system that avoids costs and clogging up of the courts by challenges to parking fines brought by consumers. The issue is that it is not the members of the BPA who are most likely to operate outside the bounds of good practice. In order to protect consumers from unfair and disproportionate charges, all parking operators must be required to meet minimum standards for clear signage and proportionate charges. There must be an independent complaints process for consumers.
That is one of the purposes of these amendments. They give those parking their cars a better deal. They also give a better deal to those in certain locations who have parking on their own particular private property and will apparently be unable to seek effective redress.
I hope that the Government will give sympathetic consideration to these amendments and indicate that, even if they are not prepared to accept them, they will take the matter away and come back to it on Third Reading with amendments of their own covering the same issue.
My Lords, I do not share all the noble Baroness’s concerns but still remain concerned about some aspects of the situation. I thank the Minister for the time he gave us in discussing these problems in a meeting. The Government are showing that they are aware of the issues. Some of their proposals—that places suffering from this kind of inappropriate parking can employ a parking company—would be suitable in large situations where the parking was widespread, regular and frequent. However, often these problems take place in, for example, the car parks of churches or community centres, or in residential car parks associated with blocks of flats. The problem is not on a large enough scale for an organisation which exists for a totally separate purpose from parking. It does not suit that kind of organisation to engage a parking company to sort out its problems. The Government have to look at a different resolution to the problem. There are still some questions to be answered.
In my speech in Committee, I asked the Minister what the situation was in Scotland, where there is no clamping. I am strongly in favour of the purpose behind this Bill in that respect: clamping should not be allowed to continue. Scotland has not had clamping for many years. Are there problems there associated with rogue ticketing? There do not appear to be massive problems with that but there appears to be an increase in the number of complaints about ticketing brought to consumer organisations in recent years. The Government need to address the issue of how they will deal with any problems which may emerge as a result of this change in legislation which will undoubtedly go ahead.
What are the Government proposing to do in relation to the forthcoming EU directive on ADR—the alternative dispute resolution procedure? I gather that that will be required in the near future for all traders providing goods and services. That would include parking companies. We need reassurance about the independent appeals process. There is still this gap in the situation where we can expect supermarkets and so on to find a satisfactory alternative to clamping. It is not reasonable to expect a small community-based organisation to employ a parking company and issue tickets. That is not their purpose. It adds bureaucracy and concerns for them.
My Lords, I support my noble friend Lady Hayter on this matter. I should declare an interest as someone who suffers fairly regularly from the kind of selfish behaviour that she so compellingly outlined. She set out the arguments so well that I do not intend to rehearse them again. I only ask the Minister to reflect on the sentiment of the House that, in dealing with the very real problems of clamping by private operators that it is widely accepted need to be dealt with, the Government do not create another set of problems. The risks that my noble friend outlined are real. I hope that the Minister in his reply can give the House some reassurance that the Government are going to tackle them.
My Lords, I am thoroughly in favour of Amendment 42, or at least the intention behind it. It is quite clear that the Bill as it stands will allow a continuation of current abuses in different forms. All you need is a couple of posts with a chain coiled next to one of them and you have a barrier that you can put whenever you want. Anyone caught within it might have to pay a large fine to be released. We will have the same people indulging in very much the same practices as at the moment but they will use a barrier rather than a clamp. Clearly this section is designed to exempt local authority car parks and others with a raised barrier and a ticket on entry. I entirely agree with that. However, it must be reworded, and Amendment 42 seems a pretty good way of doing it. It would be desirable to improve the arrangements in the Bill for appealing against unjustified tickets. I have no objection to the way in which the noble Baroness has set about doing it although I suspect she has taken on a hopeless cause when it comes to allowing more people to clamp. The Daily Mail will use that one, I suspect.
My Lords, we have already debated these issues at some length in Committee and I am grateful to noble Lords for taking time to meet with me and my officials since then to discuss these matters further. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, has so expertly and temptingly set out, Amendment 42 seeks to allow the use of fixed barriers in certain circumstances and to specify certain conditions that must be met.
We consider the amendment to be unnecessary as Clause 54(3) already requires that there is express or implied consent by the driver of the vehicle to restricting its movement by parking where there is a fixed barrier. In practice this means that the existence of the barrier must have been apparent to the driver, either visibly or through clear signage, when they parked. Secondly, in order to establish a contract as a basis for payment, the terms for parking would have to be clearly displayed. Therefore, if the landholder demanded a fee for release of the vehicle without such a basis, he would be committing an offence under Clause 54(1). In answer to my noble friend Lord Lucas, I am convinced that we have drafted these provisions correctly.
Amendment 43 seeks to create a new power for the Secretary of State to grant lawful authority to clamp and tow vehicles to those who request it, with the expectation that applications would not be refused if made by local authorities, residents’ associations and community groups. Again, we consider the amendment to be unnecessary because there are existing powers for local authorities to take a controlling interest in the management of parking on private land with the agreement with the landholder.
Section 33(4)(b) of the Road Traffic Regulation Act 1984 states:
“A local authority may, on such terms as they think fit … arrange with any person for him to provide such a parking place on any land of which he is the owner or in which he has an interest”.
“provide such a parking place”
refers to a Section 32 parking place, which is the general power for local authorities to provide off-street parking places. As a result, the local authority could make provisions as to the conditions for the use of the parking places and manage and enforce those conditions under the Traffic Management Act 2004. This would enable local authorities to use their lawful authority to clamp or tow those vehicles that have contravened the terms and conditions for parking on that land.
The amendment would also introduce regulation of wheel clampers overseen by the Secretary of State who will also presumably be responsible for enforcement, rather than the Security Industry Authority or another body. The requirements set out in Amendment 43 could lead to a patchwork system of regulation in that each application made would have to set out how they meet the requirements, including in respect of an appeals process. However, the amendment does not provide for national standards which any local scheme must adhere to, so the amendment could lead to a system where wheel clamping schemes are different throughout the country. I am sure that is not the noble Baroness’s intention.
We have seen that following seven years of licensing by the Security Industry Authority, rogue wheel clampers continue to carry out their unscrupulous practices and we do not consider that further regulation of the industry will deter them, no matter how much the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, deplores their activity. An outright ban on wheel clamping without lawful authority is the only way to deal with rogue wheel clampers. Wheel clamping and the towing away of vehicles by private individuals or businesses without lawful authority in order to force payment of a charge are unacceptable and should be prohibited. As well as causing motorists significant distress and anxiety, the clampers in effect hold the vehicle to ransom—or at least threaten to do so as a deterrent. No one can justify or defend the exorbitant release fees and intimidatory tactics employed.
Throughout our debates, many noble Lords have strongly made the point that clamping is a particularly effective deterrent to inconsiderate and unauthorised parking on private land. It may be, but is it also disproportionate. Supposing I was attempting to deter motorists from speeding: if I proposed that the police have the power to clamp an errant motorist’s car for a couple of hours without recourse to an independent tribunal, I expect your Lordships would have something to say.
There can be situations where, in the circumstances, the motorist who is clamped has acted reasonably. What about a midwife who is seeing a patient in a large block of flats and reasonably believes that permission to park has been granted? How can it be right to clamp his or her vehicle in such circumstances? One only has to ask what the knock-on effect could be. What about police operations? I spoke to a pal of mine who undertakes covert police duties, dealing with very serious matters. He said in an e-mail:
“I can speak from first-hand experience on this. On several occasions this happened to me whilst on duty on covert operations. On every occasion I had to park my police vehicle quickly and deploy on foot from the vehicle. The vehicle was always left in open parking spaces on private land and subsequently clamped. Whilst I cannot quote the figures, I know this happens on many occasions in similar circumstances”.
The fact is that a clamping company operative, no matter how well meaning, cannot possibly know whether what he is doing is reasonable. Therefore private clamping on private land is fundamentally flawed.
Turning to Amendments 44, 45—-
The noble Lord makes a very good point. The policeman would have to take that risk. However, he would be aware that he was taking the operational risk that his vehicle might be clamped.
I turn to the other amendments. As the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, has explained, these amendments seek to provide an alternative dispute resolution mechanism. The Government would be required to prescribe and enforce the system, which would need to be funded by the industry. It is a bit odd that in this group of amendments the noble Baroness proposes retaining clamping without any effective means of appeal while in other amendments she is insisting on a system of appeal.
As indicated in previous debates, the Government are committed to providing an independent appeals service, which will cover all tickets issued on private land by members of an accredited trade association. In practice, this body will cover all ticketing by members of the British Parking Association’s approved operator scheme, who are the major private parking providers in the sector with accredited access to the DVLA keeper data, and will therefore be able to pursue vehicle keepers for unpaid parking charges after the measures in Schedule 4 come into force. However, we have made absolutely clear that we will not commence the keeper liability provisions in Schedule 4 until this independent appeals body is in place.
The amendments tabled in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, propose much broader regulation covering all parking on private land which, we believe, would impose a not inconsiderable burden on smaller landowners, including those who wish to manage perhaps only a handful of parking spaces, or even one.
I fear that I am not in full agreement with the noble Baroness, Lady Hayter, regarding Scotland, where wheel-clamping has been banned since 1992. We have seen no convincing evidence that levels of rogue ticketing are a particular problem. However, we are not being complacent; we have given these amendments very careful consideration and, in this respect, I am particularly grateful to noble Lords who have taken the time to meet me to discuss the Government’s proposals. I have also had very helpful and informative meetings with the British Parking Association, Citizens Advice and Consumer Focus.
Some noble Lords raised the issue of Citizens Advice Scotland dealing with more than 1,500 parking inquiries, which represents a big increase on previous years. The figures need to be reviewed in the context of the number of parking tickets issued each year; I do not have the figures for Scotland to hand but, in England and Wales, local authorities issued over 4.2 million penalty charge notices for on-road contraventions alone in 2009-10.
Following discussions, we have agreed that part of our commitment to monitoring the impact of the provisions will be to continue to liaise closely with consumer protection groups to ensure that if rogue ticketing activity does occur such groups can feed back to us. If it becomes a significant problem, we will consider further measures, including wider regulation, if it proves necessary in the light of experience. I hope that that meets the needs of the noble Lord, Lord Wills.
As I have said, we have already established a new system for parking management companies—
I am very grateful to the Minister, who is genuinely trying to offer reassurance on these issues. I think that the whole House is grateful to him for that. But is he saying that he will continue to monitor the effects, so that if the Government see an increase in the sort of selfish behaviour by motorists on private land that my noble friend has outlined, they will be prepared to introduce new regulations to tackle it?
No, my Lords. Where I am making the absolute commitment is to monitor the effect of rogue ticketing very carefully and, if necessary, introduce further regulation. I will not fall into the temptation offered by the noble Lord.
As I said, we are already establishing a new system for parking management companies that have accredited access to DVLA data. We intend that the independent appeals service will be able to report back to the industry on appeals, so that precedents can be established and drivers do not have to continually appeal on the same grounds. In this way, the appeals body will help to drive up standards in the industry and provide greater clarity to both the motorist and parking operators. The accredited companies operating under this new regime will be able to offer their services to smaller-scale landowners and parking providers, and we believe that in many circumstances that will be an attractive option for landowners with perhaps only a handful of parking places, knowing that parking on their land will be managed by a professional and responsible company with all due safeguards in place. I think that there would be serious reputational issues if an individual or an organisation took the option of not using an ATA operator, but we have left that option open to them.
The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, asked about the European legislation in gestation at the moment. The Government believe that their proposals offer the right balance between the rights of motorists and those of landowners, for the reasons I have explained. We have agreed to return to the issue if rogue ticketing proves to be a problem, but the question of possible future European legislation is a little academic at this stage, although we will obviously need to pay due regard to any commitment to which the UK Government sign up.
My noble friend Lady Randerson also raised the problem of small and dispersed parking facilities. It is entirely possible for the landowner or user to take a photo of the offending vehicle and the warning signs and pass them on to an ATA parking operator, assuming that they have the necessary enabling contact. That ATA company would be able to do the administration.
I hope that in the light of these clear assurances the noble Baroness will feel free to withdraw her amendment.
When the noble Lord, Lord Lucas, said that I was on to a hopeless cause, I thought of not pushing it to a Vote—but when the Minister starts to use a midwife as the example of why the amendment should not be accepted I felt that he was clutching at straws. Far more midwives will be inconvenienced if they cannot park near to a patient.
I have three points. First, the Minister has not answered the question about the small places that are not making a charge. The noble Baroness, Lady Randerson, spoke of those—small, private areas with no charges being made, where the problem is the deterrent, not trying to put a fee on afterwards. The second matter is where there has been a unanimous agreement in having some sort of independent appeals process. It is simply no good to say that it is only for BPA members; if a member is expelled, that member can carry on running a parking area and will be completely outside any code of conduct. Finally, Disabled Motoring UK is concerned that this Bill will not stop rogue clampers from becoming rogue ticketers. They see it as a real risk to disabled drivers, who are in the main vulnerable people. I do not think that the Minister has answered that point at all. He says that he will wait for problems to occur to see whether to do anything; I do not advise the Government to do that because they will get all the flack. But so be it. I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 42 withdrawn.
Amendments 43 to 45 not moved.
Schedule 4 : Recovery of unpaid parking charges
46: Schedule 4, page 138, line 45, at end insert—
“( ) In sub-paragraph (5)(d) the reference to arrangements for the resolution of disputes or complaints includes—
(a) any procedures offered by the creditor for dealing informally with representations by the hirer about the notice or any matter contained in it; and(b) any arrangements under which disputes or complaints (however described) may be referred by the hirer to independent adjudication or arbitration.”
Amendment 46 agreed.
Amendments 47 and 48 not moved.
Clause 58 : Emergency power for temporary extension and review of extensions
49: Clause 58, page 42, line 3, leave out “and” and insert “or
(iii) at any time when Parliament is sitting or is in recess the Secretary of State, with the concurrence of the Attorney General, considers that it would be inexpedient to introduce primary legislation to authorise a temporary extension of detention either because of time constraints or because of the risk of prejudicing the possibility of a fair trial of a person suspected of or charged with a terrorist offence or because of unacceptable risk to public safety or to security, and”
My Lords, I beg to move the amendment standing in my name and in the names of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon, the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, and the noble Baroness, Lady Liddell of Coatdyke.
Clause 57 establishes clearly the principle that a terrorist suspect should not be detained without being charged for longer than 14 days. Over the years, there has been much debate about how long that period should be. I have no wish to reopen that debate; the only question is whether there are any circumstances in which a terrorist suspect should be able to be detained for longer than 14 days. It has not been necessary to extend the period of detention without charge beyond 14 days at any time in the last five years. Nevertheless, it is the view of the Home Secretary, as well as of the police and of the Director of Public Prosecutions, that it might one day become compellingly necessary to do so.
The Government took the view that, in order to buttress the principle of the 14-day limit and to make sure that the period of detention without charge could be extended only in the most exceptional circumstances and only for the most compelling reasons, there should be no standing power to extend the period by order, and that it should be extendable only by the introduction of emergency primary legislation if and when the need arises.
Draft Bills were prepared, and a Joint Committee of Members of both Houses of Parliament was set up last year to give the draft Bills pre-legislative scrutiny. That committee, which I had the privilege of chairing, concluded that the Government were right to wish to create a contingency power to extend the maximum period beyond 14 days up to not more than 28 days in truly exceptional circumstances. The committee understood and respected the reasons for proposing that this power should be provided by emergency primary legislation, to be enacted when need arises, so as to ensure that temporary extensions of the period of detention would happen only in very exceptional circumstances and be subject to parliamentary scrutiny and approval.
The committee concluded, however, that parliamentary scrutiny of such emergency legislation would in practice be very seriously circumscribed. The legislation might have to be introduced and debated in a period of high tension and against a background of intense media interest and speculation. It might be very difficult to explain to Parliament, and to Members with a direct constituency interest, the reasons for introducing the legislation without disclosing information which would endanger security or public safety or information which could prejudice the right of a suspect or suspects to a fair trial. This could make the process of justifying the legislation almost impossible for the Secretary of State, and totally unsatisfactory and frustrating for Members of both Houses of Parliament.
The committee also thought that there would be an unacceptable degree of risk that it would be almost impossible to introduce and pass the legislation within a sufficiently short time, particularly when Parliament was in recess and would have to be specially recalled. We pointed out that it would be absolutely impossible during the period between the Dissolution of one Parliament and the opening of a new Parliament, because there would be no Parliament. The Joint Committee therefore concluded that emergency primary legislation, as exemplified in the Government’s draft Bills, did not offer a satisfactory solution, and recommended a new order-making arrangement, under which the Secretary of State would be authorised to make an executive order of limited duration, if need arose, to extend the period of detention of suspects without charge to not more than 28 days, if exceptional circumstances applied, subject to strict safeguards and subject also to the agreement of the Attorney-General.
In Clause 58 of the Protection of Freedoms Bill, the Government have accepted the committee’s recommendation in part, and have made provision for temporary extensions of detention by order in the period between the Dissolution of one Parliament and the first Queen’s Speech in the next. But they are still proposing to rely exclusively on the introduction of emergency legislation at any other time when there is a Parliament in being, whether it is in session or not.
I understand and respect the Secretary of State’s wish to make it as difficult as possible to extend the period of detention beyond 14 days. But she has accepted that there will be times when it is impossible to introduce primary legislation because there is no Parliament in being, so the principle is breached. The question is whether there should be any other circumstances in which an order-making power should be available to the Secretary of State.
This amendment would define and limit other circumstances in which the Secretary of State could proceed by order, even when Parliament was in being, if there were compelling reasons why it would be impracticable or injudicious to proceed by emergency primary legislation. She would still be able to proceed by emergency primary legislation if she thought that it was consistent with security, public safety and the interests of justice to do so. But she would have an escape hatch, by means of which she could, with the agreement of the Attorney-General, and subject to strict safeguards, proceed by order if she judged that pressures of time, or the interests of security, public safety or justice, required her to do so. The safeguards would be the same as those applying to an executive order made at a time when Parliament was dissolved.
The principle that there should be an alternative to emergency primary legislation is already established by Clause 58. The amendment I am proposing is an extension of that principle, not a breach of it. It does not seek to establish a new principle. It is of course possible that there will never be any need to extend the period of detention of terrorist suspects beyond 14 days. I hope that it may be so. But the Secretary of State, the police and the Director of Public Prosecutions all think that it is advisable to provide for the possibility that one day there will be a need to do so. If there is, it may be that it will be possible to proceed by emergency primary legislation. If that is so, fine. But I believe, as did the Joint Committee, that there will be circumstances where that is not possible, but where the period of detention ought to be extended.
To take just one example, suppose that the need to extend the period of detention arose during the Parliamentary Summer Recess. Parliament can be, and of course has been, recalled during a Summer Recess during a time of grave national emergency. But in the Summer Recess, Members of both Houses are scattered to the four corners of the world, and the Palace of Westminster is usually undergoing major works of reconstruction and refurbishment. Is it realistic to suppose that Parliament could be recalled in the Summer Recess just to authorise the extended detention of a terrorist suspect?
Four years of service in the Home Office left me with the conviction that, if anything can go wrong, it usually will—at any rate, in that department of banana skins. The annals of the Home Office are littered with overlooked banana skins and Secretaries of State with red faces. In this matter there are just too many foreseeable risks, and too many reasons why it might be too difficult to introduce primary legislation, to justify a decision not to take a sensible precaution.
This amendment is permissive, not mandatory. If it is passed this evening, the Secretary of State need never take advantage of it if she prefers not to do so. But if this amendment is not accepted she will run the risk of finding herself in a situation where she would like, and she ought, to extend the period of detention of a terrorist suspect or suspects, but feels herself to be prevented from introducing emergency primary legislation to do so, by reasons of pressures of time, or by considerations of security, public safety or justice.
In that situation, if a suspect or suspects could not be further detained but had to be released, and then went on to commit some outrage as a result of which innocent people were killed and injured, and which might not have happened had the suspect or suspects been kept in detention, how would the Secretary of State feel? How would she explain to Parliament, to the country and to the relatives of the victims why she had not felt able to take the action which might have prevented the outrage? The Secretary of State may be made of sterner stuff, but if I were the Secretary of State, I do not think that I could live with that thought.
My Lords, I support the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, and I have appended my name to the amendment that he has so powerfully moved. I will speak only briefly, because I am very conscious of the fact that I was not able to attend the Committee stage of this Bill. With impeccable timing, the noble Lord’s amendment, which also at that stage had my name appended, coincided with the birth of my first grandchild, which of course rather overtook my consciousness.
I was a member of the Joint Committee, and, as the noble Lord has so ably and powerfully laid out, this issue of flexibility for the Home Secretary was one that was covered in some detail and gave rise to a great deal of unanimity. As the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, pointed out, the whole area of terrorism and counterterrorism is littered with the unexpected. This amendment is merely a common-sense move to ensure that the Home Secretary has at her disposal all of the tools to enable her to act in a situation which may be one of crisis.
There are checks and balances contained in other aspects of this legislation. The noble Lord, in his amendment, also refers to other checks and balances. There comes a point when it is essential to put some trust in those who hold the great offices of state in this country and it may be ironic that I, as an opposition Member, point out that I have faith in the Home Secretary not to act in a cavalier manner when she is dealing with matters of such importance as the detention of terrorist suspects.
The noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, referred to the problems that are created around the time of the Dissolution. Many of us who have served in the other place were always very conscious that over the door of the Chamber of the House of Commons is the name of Airey Neave—the last person to be assassinated in the Palace of Westminster. He was assassinated when the Dissolution of the House was going through. He was removing materials from his office in advance of going back to his constituency. So the matter of Dissolution was discussed in some detail in the Joint Committee. Those of us who have been in the other place and have been recalled also know how long that can take. Indeed, Mr Jack Straw made the point that on one occasion it took three weeks to get a recall of Parliament under way. That is not acceptable when you are dealing with matters of terrorism.
There are also issues of parliamentary privilege when these issues are debated. All of us, in this Chamber and elsewhere, have sought to quiz Ministers at the Dispatch Box. If a Minister cannot answer a question then probing questions will inevitably follow. The last thing that anyone would wish would be to see a situation in which a Minister was led into putting words into the mouth of a defence lawyer who could say that a fair trial was denied their client. I urge the House to take this amendment very seriously. It is in the name of common sense. With luck, it need never ever be used but it is part of the armoury of the Home Secretary and the Government to have these provisions in their bottom drawer in the event of such an incident taking place that requires such powers. I support the amendment.
My Lords, I, too, was pleased to add my name to this important amendment moved by the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong of Ilminster, who has set out his concerns powerfully today and in Committee. I have little to add to what my noble friend has said. I would merely commend the work of the Joint Committee, which did an excellent job, and say that while the Government have rightly recognised the practical impossibility of having to push through emergency legislation in a state of national emergency while Parliament is dissolved, they still have a duty in many ways to take seriously the committee's concerns over the ability of Parliament to legislate in certain emergency situations in order to provide powers necessary to extend the detention period to 28 days.
Perhaps most importantly, I echo the committee's concerns over the serious risk of jeopardising a fair trial if Parliament is to be provided with enough information properly to scrutinise whether the extension was necessary. As my noble friend has said, the scrutiny of legislation within such a short deadline is of course extremely difficult. Indeed, it could be dangerous if Parliament came to the wrong conclusions. The amendment is a measured response to the concerns which were expressed by the Joint Committee and, as has been said, it provides the Secretary of State with an option to bring in emergency legislation by order in certain circumstances where it is deemed truly necessary and expedient.
It is not mandatory but it is enabling. The Government, if they so wish, could still rely on emergency primary legislation. However, if there were concerns about the balance between having sufficient information to inform debate and the risk of jeopardising a fair trial, they could introduce an executive order. As my noble friend has said, this amendment makes entire common sense; as she also said, we must be able to trust in the judgment of the Secretary of State during times of national emergency. I believe that she should, in these rare circumstances, have the power available to her.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, has done a sterling job in this area and I feel a little embarrassed to ask questions, but I will because that is what we are here for. First, I share his and the noble Baroness’s concerns about the danger to a fair trial in the circumstances that the amendment covers. It has always seemed to me that primary legislation in these circumstances is almost likely to be ad hominem. I do not know whether that is the right way to express it, but it could be read as being very personal to an individual.
I should like to ask the noble Lord about two phrases in his amendment. The first is “time constraints”. I am not entirely sure what that means. It could be read as simply meaning management of parliamentary business. I dare say that it is intended to indicate insufficient time for adequate scrutiny, although I am not sure that that is implicit. The second phrase is,
“unacceptable risk to public safety or to security”.
I read that as being objective rather than subjective on the part of the Secretary of State and the Attorney-General. I am not sure whether I am correct in this but neither am I sure how one gauges an unacceptable risk as distinct from an acceptable risk. Those matters have to be subjective. One may often have seen in such a provision “the Secretary of State considers that” rather than the more objective approach in this phrase.
My Lords, as regards the three questions put by my noble friend Lady Hamwee I hope that I can deal with her first one, about the danger to a fair trial, later on. The other two, on the drafting of his amendment, obviously must be a matter for the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong when he comes to respond.
I echo the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, in commending the work of the Joint Committee. We are very grateful for that and for all it does. I also echo the words of both the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, and the noble Baroness, Lady Liddell, when they said, “Let us hope there will never be a need to extend from 14 to 28 days”—I think I have those words correctly from the noble Lord. We would all echo that; we very much hope that it will never be necessary. That is one reason why we want to make it as difficult as possible to do this, but I am grateful to the noble Lord for giving us another chance to consider this matter. Similarly, I am grateful to him for coming to see me only last week to discuss his concerns about the limited nature of our order-making power in Clause 58. Given the noble Lord’s expertise and experience, I understand that this is a matter to which we need to devote a degree of attention and we certainly listened to what he had to say.
The Government made it clear following last year’s Review of Counter-Terrorism and Security Powers that we felt it was right that the maximum period for pre-charge detention should be reduced from 28 days to 14 days. I think that the vast majority of this House agreed that that is a welcome change; I cannot speak for the party opposite. However, we all accept that there will be or could be circumstances—I would prefer to say could rather than will—in which a longer period of detention may be required and, as the noble Lord, Lord Armstrong, rightly asserts, we must be prepared. It is simply the way in which we find ourselves preparing for those circumstances that finds me disagreeing with him.
We have made it clear that emergency fast-track legislation is the most appropriate and proportionate way to respond to the very exceptional circumstances in which longer than 14 days may be required. Detention for 28 days is such a significant diversion from the normal standards of our criminal justice system that the Government are adamant that such a framework should be in place only temporarily, and with prior parliamentary approval. The noble Lord’s amendment seeks to allow an urgent order to be made by the Secretary of State at any point if she felt that the use of primary legislation would be inexpedient for reasons of time, risk of prejudicing future trials or risk to public safety or security.
In respect of the question of time, Parliament can, and has, acted quickly to address matters of great seriousness in the past. Many of us have been in one or another House for many years and can remember occasions when we have been called back at short notice. Noble Lords will remember that, following the attacks on New York and Washington in 2001, Parliament was twice recalled within three days. We saw Members of another place recalled to discuss last summer’s riots within a matter of days. Only last summer, Parliament was able to pass the Police (Detention and Bail) Bill within days of its introduction. We have worked with the Crown Prosecution Service and the police to ensure that decisions can be made early and quickly on whether there is a potential exceptional need to increase the maximum limit to 28 days.
The second issue is that the debates surrounding fast-track legislation might prejudice future trials. This danger would arise primarily if fast-track legislation needed to be passed when a number of suspects had already been arrested. In such circumstances Parliament could continue to debate the principle of an extension to 28 days and the general nature of the threat. It is right to say that Parliament could not debate allegations against specific individuals. However, it would not need to and it would not be appropriate for it to do so. The question of whether extension of detention warrants should be granted in respect of individual terrorist suspects would remain a matter for the courts and not Parliament.
The noble Lord’s final concern is that fast-track legislation could not be considered because of a risk to public safety or security. Although the Government accept that the passage of fast-track legislation might be difficult, we do not believe that the difficulties are insurmountable. The Government do not therefore accept that there would be a risk to public safety and security involved in adopting such an approach.
I appreciate the noble Lord’s assertion that his amendment is permissive rather than mandatory and that fast-track legislation could still be used rather than the order-making power. However, the existence of such a power is not compatible with the Government’s general view that 28-day detention must be exceptional and that the decision to increase the maximum period of detention is one which Parliament should in the main be asked to make. I remain of the view that, should such an order-making power exist, there would always be arguments in favour of using it rather than putting the question to Parliament, where it should rightly be addressed, and the perception of 28-day detention as an extraordinary measure would again be lost. For those reasons, I hope that the noble Lord will feel able to withdraw the amendment.
My Lords, I would like to express my gratitude to the noble Lord for taking the time to talk about this matter at a meeting last week. That was useful—I hope to both of us.
I say to the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, that the time constraint I had in mind is that which would arise if the need to extend a period of detention became clear after somebody had already been in detention for 10 days and perhaps a weekend intervened and there simply would not be time to carry through emergency primary legislation, even on a fast track through both Houses of Parliament. It would be very difficult to define extensively in legislation what considerations of security and safety might apply but they are clearly considerations of prejudice to national security and public safety considerations relating to the possibility of a terrorist incident or outrage being planned which might be avoided, and information about which had better not be disclosed in a debate.
I am less confident than the noble Lord, Lord Henley, that it would always be possible to avoid the debate in either House straying from general principle into the particular circumstances of an incident if a terrorist incident had occurred, or if there were extensive media speculation about the possibility of such an incident. I believe that there could well be circumstances in which a Member of Parliament might have a constituency interest which would justify him or her raising more detail, or asking for more detail, about particular cases or particular people than would be appropriate or safe to do. Therefore, I remain of the view that the Secretary of State may live to regret not taking advantage of this amendment. However, in the circumstances of this being a straight issue of disagreement, with apprehension I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 49 withdrawn.
Amendment 49A (in substitution for Amendment 54)
49A: Before Clause 64, insert the following new Clause—
“Protection from stalking
(1) The Protection from Harassment Act 1997 is amended as follows.
(2) In section 2 (offence of harassment), for subsection (2) substitute—
“(2) A person guilty of an offence under this section is liable on summary or indictable conviction to imprisonment for a term not exceeding five years, or a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum.”
(3) For section 4 (putting people in fear of violence) substitute—
“4 Offence of stalking
(1) A person (“A”) commits an offence, to be known as the offence of stalking, where A stalks another person (“B”).
(2) For the purposes of subsection (1), A stalks B where—
(a) A engages in a course of conduct,(b) subsection (3) or (4) applies, and(c) A’s course of conduct causes B to suffer fear, alarm, distress or anxiety.(3) This subsection applies where A engages in the course of conduct with the intention of causing B to suffer fear, alarm, distress or anxiety.
(4) This subsection applies where A knows, or ought in all circumstances to have known, that engaging in the course of conduct would be likely to cause B to suffer fear, alarm, distress or anxiety.
(5) It is a defence for a person charged with an offence under this section to show that the course of conduct—
(a) was authorised by virtue of any enactment or rule of law,(b) was engaged in for the purpose of preventing or detecting crime, or(c) was, in the particular circumstances, reasonable.(6) In this section—
“conduct” means (inter alia)—(a) following B or any other person,(b) contacting, or attempting to contact, B or any other person by any means, (c) publishing any statement or other material—(i) relating or purporting to relate to B or to any other person, (ii) purporting to originate from B or from any other person,(d) monitoring the use by B or by any other person of the internet, email or any other form of electronic or other communication, or making improper use of public electronic communications networks or leaving messages of a menacing character,(e) entering any premises,(f) loitering in any place (whether public or private),(g) interfering with any property in the possession of B or of any other person,(h) giving anything to B or to any other person or leaving anything where it may be found by, given to or brought to the attention of B or any other person—(i) watching or spying on B or any other person,(ii) acting in any other way that a reasonable person would expect would cause B to suffer fear or alarm, and“course of conduct” involves conduct on at least two occasions.(7) For the purposes of this section, a person misuses an electronic communications network or electronic communications service or other social media if—
(a) the effect or likely effect of use of the network or service by A is to cause B, another person, unnecessarily to suffer annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety;(b) A uses the network or service to engage in conduct the effect or likely effect of which is to cause B, another person, unnecessarily to suffer annoyance, inconvenience or anxiety.(8) The Secretary of State may by regulation add further forms of conduct to subsection (6)(b) above.
(9) A person convicted of the offence of stalking is liable—
(a) on conviction on indictment, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 5 years, or to a fine, or to both,(b) on summary conviction, to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 12 months, or to a fine not exceeding the statutory maximum, or to both.(10) Subsection (11) applies where, in the trial of a person (“the accused”) charged with the offence of stalking, the jury or, in summary proceedings, the court—
(a) is not satisfied that the accused committed the offence, but(b) is satisfied that the accused committed an offence under section 2.(11) The jury or, as the case may be, the court may acquit the accused of the charge and, instead, find the accused guilty of an offence under section 2.””
My Lords, in moving Amendment 49A, I wish also to speak to Amendments 49B and 49C, and to do so with humility and determination. I speak with humility because since our useful, and in many ways moving, debate in Committee, when we heard the courageous testament of the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, I, like other noble Lords, have had the opportunity to learn more about stalking and to meet other victims. These are extraordinary people—usually women—who live in fear for themselves and their children, and who have been completely and utterly failed by the criminal justice system at all levels. I speak with determination because with this Bill we have an opportunity both to introduce a specific offence of stalking in England and Wales and to change the culture of our criminal justice system from top to bottom by requiring, among other things, mandatory training, risk assessment for victims, psychiatric assessment and treatment for perpetrators and a victims’ advocacy scheme. Naturally, such changes would have to be accompanied by an awareness campaign to ensure that the issue was taken seriously.
In a time of unprecedented cuts, women’s safety must be a priority. Only today, the Daily Mail reported that half a million street lights are being switched off by local authorities forced to find savings, meaning that women working shifts or returning late from an evening out will be forced to walk the streets in darkness. Similarly, cuts to backroom police services will inevitably hit specialised units such as those concerned with domestic violence. This amendment is an opportunity to provide real protection for victims of stalking and serious sustained harassment, 80 per cent of whom are women.
As we heard in Committee, lives are destroyed by devious manipulators. Sometimes lives are tragically ended by this murder in slow motion. We are not talking of a small number of people; nearly one in five women over the age of 16 has been a victim of stalking. The number of lives affected is staggering, yet we know that stalking is grossly underreported. Of the estimated 120,000 cases of stalking each year, just 53,000 are recorded as crimes by the police and only one in 50 leads to an offender being jailed. The overwhelming majority of sentences are for less than 12 months and some are for a matter of days. Where restraining orders are given, they are constantly breached and the victims live in constant fear.
By recognising stalking as a specific offence in law, as it has been in Scotland, we would ensure that the courts looked at an entire course of conduct when it comes to stalking rather than just one specific incident of harassment, as currently happens in so many cases. It is estimated that victims tend not to report stalking until around the 100th incident—yes, the 100th—because it often begins with individually minor incidents, such as nuisance phone calls, and it is invariably only when the perpetrator’s actions finally escalate to serious and violent offences, sometimes after many years of sustained terror, that the police will step in.
Two weeks ago after eight years of sustained suffering, Claire Waxman’s stalker was finally jailed for 16 weeks for a second breach of his restraining order, after being given a suspended sentence and ordered to pay compensation. The introduction of a specific offence will train the police and the courts to focus on the pattern of behaviour reported and enable early intervention to protect women like Claire—and indeed men—whose lives are stolen from them by their stalkers. The change in Scottish law, which this amendment was modelled on, has led to an increase from an average of seven prosecutions for stalking a year to 140 prosecutions in the first four months in Strathclyde alone. Last year, only 565 offenders found guilty of serious harassment received a custodial sentence, the vast majority of which were for less than 12 months, and many for just days. The increase from six months to a five-year maximum custodial sentence that the amendment would make would enable these cases to be heard in a Crown Court and ensure adequate protection for victims.
Thanks to charities such as Protection against Stalking and the Network for Surviving Stalking, and the work of Laura Richards and Harry Fletcher, there is now a vast body of evidence about stalking, its impact and the gaps in data, legal provision, training, awareness, assessment and treatment for offenders. More people are beginning to understand the need for murder prevention. This week will see more evidence with the publication of the report by the independent people’s inquiry into stalking—an inquiry that has given a voice to victims who have suffered too long in silence and at the hands of the criminal justice system. I pay tribute to all members of the All-Party Parliamentary Group, and especially to Elfyn Llwyd MP, its chairman, for their tremendous work. Many of its members are from this House, from all Benches. I have not yet seen the report but I know that it will recommend a draft Bill on stalking.
From detailed conversations that I have had I am confident that the most important elements of this Bill are covered in my amendments. Amendments 49B and 49C would place a duty on the Secretary of State to introduce such a regulation as is necessary to effect the comprehensive reform to training, victim support, risk assessment and other such measures that the people’s inquiry is calling for. Some of these measures can be done through regulation and secondary legislation. Others no doubt will need primary legislation, but by tabling these amendments—one of which lists the measures to be included in any further regulation, and the other a less prescriptive duty on the Secretary of State—the opportunity is here for the Government to furnish the Bill with further measures at a later stage.
As noble Lords will know, the Government have undertaken a consultation on stalking, which ended yesterday, and I have no doubt that it will conclude that the actions that I am proposing here today are necessary. Indeed, the Prime Minister himself has said that there is a gap to be filled, and both the Home Secretary and Lynne Featherstone are understood to be sympathetic. When the Minister responded to the amendment that I moved in Committee, he suggested that while there might be a case for strengthening the law on stalking to raise its profile, he felt that the Protection from Harassment Act was adequate to cover this criminal behaviour. Indeed, speaking of the new offence, he said:
“We do not consider that to be proportionate where the conduct does not cause a person to fear that violence would be used against them on each occasion”.—[Official Report, Commons, 6/12/11; col. 661.]
I hope that as a result of the many briefings and representations that the noble Lord must have received, he will now change his mind. In our debate on 6 December, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, said that we should not accept any amendment on that occasion because we had to get it right but that we should do it early next year. That time has come. This Bill provides us with a huge opportunity to change the law, to change the culture of the criminal justice system, to diminish the fear of victims and provide them with support and assess, and to treat the perpetrators. If we wait for a new Bill, I fear that the best could be the enemy of the good. The victims of this insidious crime need these changes to be made now. They are suffering day after day and they do not have the luxury of time to debate.
Perhaps the noble Lord will again say that we should wait until the results of consultation have been considered before deciding whether to accept my amendments. I respectfully suggest that the Government should accept my amendments, which I believe to be comprehensive but also provide them with an opportunity to furnish the Bill with further measures that may be suggested by the results of their consultation if there continue to be gaps. I understand that Third Reading will not be until March, so there would be adequate time for further amendment if necessary. I beg to move.
My Lords, I rise to speak to all three amendments in the group. Stalking is a heinous crime that currently goes much unrecognised, except for the few exceptional cases that hit the tabloid headlines. The headlines are not exceptional because of the stalking, the behaviour of the perpetrators or the suffering of victims, but usually because of the murder of the victim or, finally, the conviction of a perpetrator after many years of stalking.
I spoke in Committee about my personal experience. It was interesting that following that a number of noble Lords spoke to me privately to say that they had also experienced stalking—some from many years ago. It was evident that it was as vivid to them as my account to your Lordships’ House. My perpetrator was convicted more than three years ago. I think that many of us take many years to recover from the impact of the offence.
I thank the Minister for the discussions that I have had with him in the past few days. I hope that he will be able to reassure the House about some of the points raised by the noble Baroness, Lady Royall of Blaisdon. The harassment legislation was put in place by the previous Government, who decided that stalking could be included within the broader scope of harassment. However, the breadth of the definition means that a stalker, who may have hundreds of incidents on his record, is conflated with a neighbourhood dispute over hedges. As a result, sentencing for stalking is limited to a handful of months, whereas the whole nature of stalking is, as stated by one of the victims giving evidence to the inquiry, “a rape of the mind”. It also curtails the victim’s life as they cannot take up a normal life again while the perpetrator is able to attempt to continue to control their lives.
Amendment 49A broadly copies the Scottish legislation, and rightly proposes an offence of stalking. It outlines the increased penalty for being convicted of the offence. It does not, however, as I outlined in my speech in Committee, tackle the core and underlying problem of training for everyone involved in the criminal justice system. Stalkers are usually bright, manipulative and obsessed with their victim. Many convicted of stalking behaviour have been assessed by psychiatrists as suffering from personality disorders. They are frequently charming and able to convince professionals, neighbours and even, as in my case, random members of the public that they are hard done by and misunderstood, and it is all the victim’s fault for taking things a bit too seriously.
Amendment 49B attempts to put some flesh on the items that the Scottish legislation fails to mention, but from discussions with the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, there is some detail here. However, I fear that it is incomplete, and it would benefit from the detail of the inquiry’s report and probably from the responses to the Government’s own consultation on stalking, which has just closed. Let me give two illustrations. The first is the general principle behind both this amendment and Amendment 49C that all the other details are settled in regulation. This is very worrying. Proposed subsection (1)(a) refers to how to,
“prevent and treat stalking behaviour”.
This would involve a sea change in the approach to this type of crime, and I believe requires more than a passing reference to regulations. It has not been common in our criminal justice system to insist that perpetrators have treatment, and it is right that both this House and another place would want to have the chance to discuss this in some detail. Do not get me wrong; I believe that it is absolutely right that perpetrators have treatment. My issue is about the time left in Parliament to discuss that matter, which is an important change in the way in which our legislation operates at present.
It is important also because perpetrators must have a real chance to begin to understand and change their behaviour. This happened in my case; my perpetrator voluntarily agreed to have treatment, and it gave both me and the others affected confidence that he would finally stop. Too often, prison or restraining orders have not sufficed, and as soon as the perpetrator is back in society, or without constraint if the restraining order is lifted, the behaviour starts again. Insisting on treatment for perpetrators is a matter of freedoms and liberties. We need to have an open debate about the legislation, and I am afraid therefore that the amendment needs to be more specific.
Secondly, subsection (2)(b) of the new clause proposed in Amendment 49B states that regulations shall provide for “risk assessments for victims”. Victims have given very clear evidence to the inquiry that there must be a complex set of risk assessments for those affected by the behaviour of the perpetrator but that it should not and must not be limited to the victim. Most incidences of stalking relate to people who have been or believe that they have been in a relationship with the victim. Often, the victim’s children, among others, can be just as affected by the perpetrator. Imagine, for a moment, this running alongside a stalking case being investigated by the police, where the police have supported the victim in getting the criminal courts to issue a restraining order against a perpetrator, which is not uncommon. Now add to that a session in the Family Court, where the perpetrator has asked for extended contact with the children. At present, it is probable that the judge in the Family Court will not be aware of the criminal investigation running in parallel. I am sorry to say that, even if told, the judge may believe that the victim is being difficult about allowing the perpetrator access to his children.
This scenario is, sadly, not imaginary. Victims have talked publicly about how the family justice system seems unable to handle this, with the result that in one case the police had to intervene to tell the judge that he had to take account of restraining orders when considering access and that the victim was not just being difficult about her ex-husband. Risk assessments must include ongoing criminal cases, and must refer to the children of victims as well, not only to the victims. I am afraid that that is another reason why Amendment 49B is not sufficient.
I remind the Minister of my own example in which the police silver team investigating was exemplary but junior staff in control and receiving telephone calls were not trained using the code word. As a result, some months after the initial case started, if people rang using the code word, there was no immediate action. There were at least two occasions on which that lack of training or understanding meant that my perpetrator got away, again. I therefore ask the Minister to reassure the House that the department will look at stalking in its widest sense and assess the culture and training for everyone in the criminal justice system. Can he also provide comfort for the House on how serious the Government now consider stalking to be, and tell us what they will do to introduce legislation—preferably as soon as possible—support and training for victims, as well as the assessment and treatment of perpetrators?
I said in Committee that I support the principles and ideals behind the amendments, but I fear that they are too early and not detailed enough for the following reasons. First, copying the Scottish legislation is a start, but it does not reflect what Scotland has learnt from the law since its introduction, and there has been helpful evidence on both the success of and the omissions in the inquiry. Secondly, the Government's own important consultation on stalking closed only yesterday, and they must have time to evaluate the views of the many respondents. Thirdly, the all-party-supported people's inquiry into stalking report will be launched and published tomorrow. Here I wish to thank Napo and Protection against Stalking, and quite specifically Harry Fletcher and Laura Richards, for the detailed work they have done to help the all-party inquiry to hear so much evidence from victims, probation officers dealing with perpetrators, and many people in the criminal justice system. It is the weight of that evidence that the Government should read and address.
Sadly, therefore, I cannot support the amendments should the noble Baroness press her amendment. Given the facts outlined above, I hope that she can be persuaded not to divide the House on this occasion, but I also hope that, when he responds at the end of this debate, the Minister will be able to demonstrate how seriously the Government take stalking by providing reassurance for all of us that there will be legislation soon.
Just in case mischievous folk try to say that we in the coalition are not in favour of legislation on stalking or protecting women, let me be clear that this is simply not the case. Prime Minister David Cameron himself asked for a copy of the report on stalking when the all-party group was set up last year. He has repeated his concerns since then. Both the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister Lynne Featherstone, whose responsibilities include women, have made speeches outlining the importance of change in stalking legislation. It would therefore be utterly wrong to use this amendment to attempt to tarnish the Government, when in fact the problems lie with the amendments themselves and their timing.
Stalking is a dreadful act. As with deeply personal offences such as rape and sexual assault, it is just not possible for people not close to victims to understand what happens and how it affects them and their families for life—sometimes even for death. It requires legislation and a serious change in culture throughout the entire criminal justice system. We need to debate that change very publicly and carefully, in order to get it right, because some of the necessary changes are fundamental to making any legislation on stalking effective. However, it will impact on the freedoms of the perpetrator too. I thank and commend the noble Baroness for her amendments, but they are not the right vehicle; nor would it be right to rush something through that was inadequate. I am sorry that I cannot support them. I hope the Minister will be able to reassure us that we will very shortly see draft legislation to make stalking a crime.
My Lords, like the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, I have also been involved with this committee, which has been looking in very great deal at this issue. As others have said, with the marvellous help of Laura Richards and Harry Fletcher, who have done a tremendous amount of work, we have listened to the most appalling stories. Again, as has been said, it is not just the individual whose life is ruined; it is often whole families who have to rush around the country trying to escape the persecution. As we also know, it is not just a question of trying to escape; there are murders and other terrible consequences. I, too, congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, on tabling the amendment. It is a good and very worth-while attempt not only to replicate the Scottish legislation—which, as we have all heard, has made good progress, and lessons are being learnt from it—but to make some additions, which we have worked on in our committee. Very sadly, it is probably not the right time to do so. We have a clash because the report that we have all been working on is published tomorrow, and it is very comprehensive. This makes, in my view, a strong case for a far more comprehensive piece of legislation.
That said, I commend the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, on later Amendments 49B and 49C in this group. They are an attempt, although I tend to agree probably not a practical one, to come to the right conclusion. We have, however, been told that Third Reading is not until March, so there might be some time to work on this report. If that is the case, we should gratefully look at that. Whether or not we will be able to accept it in its final stage, it would be an example of an updated piece of legislation that might in due course need further improvement but might be a step in the right direction.
I will mention cyberstalking briefly because it is a major and worrying area that needs dealing with. The perpetrator can not only continue to hound and haunt the victim in appalling ways but reinvent himself, pretend that he is the victim and spread all sorts of rumours. It is a very serious situation that we have ignored for far too long. One is almost surprised at how little attention has been paid to it. We should think back and not forget that domestic violence was regarded as something that was within the family and that the police should not get involved. How ridiculous that sounds in today's world.
Again, I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, on what she is doing. I hope that we can make progress between now and Third Reading in the way I suggested, and then think again. I very much support what is being done.
My Lords, I very much look forward to reading the report tomorrow. I support the direction that the noble Baronesses have taken but I feel that Amendment 49A raises too many questions, particularly around the boundary of what is and is not acceptable conduct. For example, there is no requirement on A to behave reasonably, only on B. In subsection (5) of the proposed new clause we are getting close to the continental form of law where something is permitted only if it is allowed in legislation, whereas in the English form of law something is permitted if it is not forbidden in legislation. That requires careful consideration. I hope that the report of the noble Baroness will be the start of that process, and that my noble friend will be very supportive in his reply.
My Lords, perhaps the House will welcome my intervention at this stage. I echo the words of the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, in saying that, surprisingly, I, too, commend the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, on tabling the amendments in this group. However, I have some doubts about their practicality and timing.
My first doubt is about their practicality. There are three amendments in the group. I am not sure in which order the noble Baroness would wish to see them on the statute book, or whether she wants to see them all on the statute book at the same time. Amendment 49A sets out in some detail what she proposes to do, although subsection (8) of the proposed new clause still gives the Secretary of State power by regulation to add further forms of conduct to subsection (6). The second amendment is a somewhat briefer attempt to do the same thing, which gives greater power to the Secretary of State to govern by regulation. The third, Amendment 49C, seems to imply that the Secretary of State can do what she likes, when she likes, merely by regulation. I am not sure that that is the right way to go about legislating in this field. I hope that I will cover these points in greater detail in my brief remarks.
I appreciate also the extreme importance of this matter. I make it quite clear to the noble Baroness and to the House that the Government take this very seriously indeed. We understand what my noble friend Lady Brinton called the fear and trauma that it can cause victims, many of whom are women living in fear of physical violence as well as mental anguish. We accept that more needs to be done—I make that quite clear—to protect victims of stalking and to stamp out such behaviour. That is why the Government took the initiative as long ago as last November in launching their consultation, which sought views on how we could more effectively protect victims of stalking—including, if necessary, through strengthening civil and criminal law, and police powers.
My right honourable friend the Prime Minister, as my noble friend Lady Brinton said, has already acknowledged that there is a gap in the law. The question is how we close it. The issue not just for the noble Baroness but for the whole House is whether voting on these amendments today will help afford further protection to the victims of stalking or whether, as I respectfully submit, it would be preferable to give a little more time for consideration of the views of victims, practitioners and the police before a decision is taken.
Reference was made to the consultation that I have just spoken about. As the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, reminded the House, it closed only yesterday. It will take a bit of time to study the results. There were nearly 150 responses from a diverse range of individuals and groups. Rather surprisingly for a consultation that has allegedly closed, there are one or two more views that will come in, but they are almost there. The groups include victims of stalking, women's groups, the police and others. We owe it to all of them to look very carefully at, and consider very properly, their views and the evidence before we decide on the best way forward. Again, I assure the House that we are committed to doing this as expeditiously as possible—but obviously it will take a little time to consider 150 responses.
We will also look at the views of the all-party Justice Unions Parliamentary Group, which will publish its report tomorrow. The noble Baroness confessed that she had not seen it, and nor have I. However, other noble Baronesses such as the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and my noble friend Lady Brinton have been actively involved in it. We owe it to them and to the group to consider the report very carefully. Those who have been part of the group have the advantage of knowing what is in the report. Unless I am mistaken, the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, does not—and nor do I. We are very keen to consider the group's conclusions and recommendations alongside the other responses to our consultation.
I hope that the noble Baroness will not feel that I am seeking more time purely to delay or prevaricate. The issue is far too serious for that. However, as I said, with the best will in the world we cannot be expected to consider 150 responses in 24 hours, and we cannot yet consider the other report, which we are looking forward to seeing tomorrow—as is my right honourable friend the Prime Minister.
Reference was made by other noble Lords, in particular the noble Baroness, Lady Howe of Idlicote, to Third Reading. That will not happen until well after the half-term Recess. We could push that back well into March. Therefore, there is a reasonable amount of time, and to some extent the timetable is in our hands, subject to normal discussions with the usual channels. That will give us sufficient time to consider the responses to the consultation and the report from the all-party group, and to reach a view within government on the best way forward in advance of Third Reading.
The noble Baroness will appreciate that I cannot give her a cast-iron guarantee that we will bring forward the amendment that she wants at Third Reading. If she presses her amendment tonight, we will have the problem of having muddied the waters and made a decision in the House. We will then have constraints on what we can do at Third Reading. The noble Baroness is as familiar as I am with the guidance in the Companion to the Standing Orders on what we can and cannot do at Third Reading on an amendment on which we have come to a conclusion.
I would be very grateful if, on this occasion, the noble Baroness would listen to me rather than taking advice from her noble friend the opposition Chief Whip, although she can take advice from him in due course. I cannot guarantee an amendment at Third Reading, but I can promise to give the noble Baroness an assurance in advance of Third Reading as to whether or not we will be bringing forward an amendment at that stage. If we do not bring forward an amendment at that stage it will then be open to the noble Baroness, along with the noble Baroness, Lady Howe, and other noble Lords, to bring forward any such amendment as may be wished. The noble Baroness would be at liberty to bring those amendments back and press them to a Division at that point.
The choice is one for the noble Baroness but if she presses this to a Division, and if the House comes to a conclusion, she will have actually made it harder for both the Government and herself to achieve what she wants to do at Third Reading which is in something like six weeks’ time. It might be five weeks or four but, as we all know, it will be well into March.
I therefore urge the noble Baroness to listen to the remarks of some others in this debate and, on this occasion, to withdraw her amendment, bide her time for a few weeks longer and then let us see what might be possible at Third Reading.
I am grateful to all noble Lords who have participated in this short debate for their very positive and supportive views. We are agreed, all around this Chamber, that this is a heinous crime and that we really must do something about it. I will not respond now to all the points that have been made because people want to know whether or not we are going to vote. Timing is clearly of the essence—the timing of my amendment is not perfect, in view of the fact that the people’s inquiry will report tomorrow and the Government’s own consultation finished yesterday. When the Minister talked about the consultation, he said that they would look at the results—it is terrific there have been 150 or more responses—and that, if necessary, the Government would bring forward amendments or further legislation. I was thinking that that was not good enough but as he went on it seemed clear that, while he cannot give me a binding commitment that he will bring an amendment back at Third Reading, he was inviting me to withdraw my amendment on the basis that, if he does not bring forward an amendment at Third Reading, he would be willing for me to do so. Is that correct?
I was trying to give an assurance that, although I cannot speak for the House, the noble Baroness would be perfectly within order to bring forward her amendments to be discussed again at Third Reading. On that occasion it would, obviously, be a matter for the House to consider the amendments. Under the much stricter rules on what can and cannot be brought forward at Third Reading, I would certainly have no objection to her bringing forward her amendments or some variant of them.
I am very grateful to the Minister for that assurance, in view of which it would be wrong of me to press my amendment to the vote this evening. However, if the Minister is not able to bring forward amendments at Third Reading, I will certainly do so and, at that stage, I will pursue it to a vote 150 per cent. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 49A withdrawn.
Amendment 49B not moved.
Amendment 49C not moved.
Consideration on Report adjourned until not before 8.54 pm.
Local Authorities (Conduct of Referendums) (England) Regulations 2012
Motion to Approve
At end to insert “but that this House regrets that the Government are unnecessarily compelling eleven councils to stage such referendums in May 2012, given that any English local authority, or five per cent of its electorate, can require a referendum to be held on whether to have an elected mayor; and that such referendums and consequent mayoral elections involve substantial costs at a time of acute financial stringency in local government and in the country.”
My Lords, I rise to move a regret Motion in the terms set out. In doing so, I declare an interest as a member of Newcastle City Council for the past 45 years. I also have to say that I have not the slightest interest in being either an elected mayor or a police commissioner—no doubt to the great relief of many of the citizens of Newcastle.
The issue before us stems from the Government’s decision to impose referendums on 11 local authorities in May with a view to determining whether they should move from their present system, which is a leader and cabinet system, to that of an elected mayor. If the local electorate, or as many of them as decide to participate, opt to change to a mayoral system, there will, as I understand it, be elections in the dark nights of November next year, to coincide with the police commissioner elections.
The Government’s decision raises two issues which fall to be debated. The first is around the merits or otherwise of the mayoral system. That is the background to the regret Motion, although, whatever view one takes about the mayoral system, there is a separate question about whether it is justifiable to impose a referendum as opposed to relying on the system which has operated for the past 10 years of allowing a referendum if 5 per cent of the local electorate choose in a petition to demand one or, indeed, if a local authority decides to hold a referendum.
With regard to the first matter—the merits of the system—it is customary for Governments to have an evidence base for radical changes that they propose. In this case, such evidence is lacking in two key areas. The first is the claim that the elected mayor system is inherently better than the leader and cabinet model—more effective leads to better governance. I would argue that cities like Manchester, Birmingham, Leeds, Sheffield, Newcastle and many others have demonstrated an ability to innovate, to promote efficiency and to drive regeneration without an elected mayor. There has been a celebration of the renaissance of some of our great urban centres over the past few years, almost all of them in places with the long-standing—certainly over the past decade—leader and executive model.
There was a long tradition of local government leading the way in social policy before elected mayors. Distinguished local government figures such as Joseph Chamberlain and Herbert Morrison and, for all his faults, Newcastle’s own Dan Smith, created enormous change, not just in their own localities, but in the politics of local government generally. Huge advances were made over many decades in social policy, in housing, the move from gas and water municipal socialism which Joseph Chamberlain was espoused in the 20th century, to housing and social care, to transport and the arts. These were signal achievements of the old system of local government and it is yet to be demonstrated that the mayoral system, now operating in a relatively small number of places, is actually any better. I would argue that there is little evidence of that either here or indeed abroad. The noble Baroness may, as she did in Grand Committee, cite examples such as Barcelona. However, as I pointed out at the time—in fact, I think that the noble Baroness pointed it out but perhaps without quite realising what she was doing, with all due respect—Barcelona has an elected mayor who is not elected in a personal capacity but is elected, in the same way that a Prime Minister is elected, as the head of his party—the party list in the case of Barcelona. This is not quite the direct electoral system that is being advocated here. So, in my view, there is not that advantage of a mayoral system.
It is sometimes said that mayors are more visible and more accountable. Members of your Lordships’ House may not think I am all that visible at the best of times, but 17 years after I was leader of Newcastle City Council, it is, somewhat to my surprise, not infrequently that I am recognised in the streets of Newcastle as somebody who played a significant part, for a time, in the council’s affairs all those years ago, and I am sure that I am not unique in that way. There are probably many other places where those who have led councils whose physical presence was greater than mine are recognisable not just for that reason but because of what they had attempted to do on behalf of their community.
Irrespective of whether one supports the mayoral system, there is a fundamental question about whether we should be proceeding in this way. There is a real issue about the appetite for change. As the amendment indicates, a mere 5 per cent of the electorate of any council could have called a referendum in the past 10 years. Only 39 referendums have been called and in only one of those was the turnout for the referendum more than 40 per cent, apart from in a handful that coincided with the general election, where, obviously, with 60 per cent or so going to the polls, a higher turnout figure was recorded for the referendum. In fact, in many cases, even in those authorities where the mayoral system was opted for, the turnout was pretty low. It was 16 per cent in Bedford, 18 per cent in Lewisham and, just a week or so ago, in Salford, 21 per cent in Mansfield, 25 per cent in Watford and Doncaster, 26 per cent in Newham, 27 per cent in Stoke, which eventually thought better of it and decided to abandon the system in a second referendum a few years later, and there were only three authorities with turnouts of over 30 per cent. That is hardly a ringing endorsement of the notion that people are pining for a change in the system.
Nor is it right to say, as was proclaimed as the likely outcome of the change by those who espoused it—my noble friend Lord Adonis among others—that this will somehow lead to greater participation in local elections. In fact, in only one mayoral election, apart from those that occurred on general election day, has the turnout exceeded 40 per cent, and that was in Boris v Ken round 1 in 2008, when the turnout was all of 45 per cent. I vividly remember, as will, I am sure, other noble Lords, particularly the Minister, coming into London, getting out of a Tube station and seeing the placards every time, with the Evening Standard referring to this impending dramatic event. But it did not seem to excite the electorate all that much even here.
We have this position where the appetite is extremely limited, and not just among the electorate. There are very few in any political party who seem to advocate the system. The noble Baroness was a distinguished leader of an important council for many years, but that council has not chosen a mayoral system. I do not know whether she has been advocating it overtly or quietly, but if she has, she has failed to persuade it thus far. Indeed, apart from four councils in London, which had all been Labour controlled, no council in London and very few councils elsewhere, despite years of control by Conservatives, Liberal Democrats or both in coalition, have actually opted to call a referendum or encourage their electorate to do so. That remains the case today in most of the authorities that are in the Government’s list. It is possible that political groups in Birmingham may support a referendum and I gather that Liverpool is likely to opt as a council for a referendum, which is, of course, its choice.
I would like to quote a member of Bradford city council, in the absence of the noble Baroness, Lady Eaton, who is not in her place tonight, but who was in her place for many years as a very distinguished leader of Bradford Council. One of the Bradford members was quoted as saying:
“My colleagues and I are not supportive of elected mayors … We do not think that the proposals are suited to the needs of the Bradford district … We are hopeful that local people will recognise that an elected mayor would be unlikely to improve the quality of life of local residents or the quality of services provided to them and vote to reject the proposals”.
That was Councillor Anne Hawkesworth, the Conservative group leader on Bradford Council. I gather that that view is echoed by many of her colleagues elsewhere and certainly by many Lib Dem colleagues, including distinguished local government figures such as Councillor Richard Kemp and others, including the last Liberal Democrat leader of Newcastle City Council. Whether his predecessor remains of the same mind that he once had, we shall perhaps learn in the course of the debate.
In addition to the lack of general interest in the idea of elected mayors, there is a serious question about the nature of the powers to be conferred on a single individual. The concentration of power in a single pair of hands which requires a two-thirds vote on a council to overturn a decision of the elected mayor on key issues such as the budget, the children’s plan and so on is a very high ask. It can lead to the situation that we have seen in an adjoining authority to my own and that of the noble Lord, Lord Shipley—North Tyneside Council. For several years it had a Labour mayor and a very substantial Conservative majority on the council, and now it has a Conservative mayor and a very substantial Labour majority on the council. That is, to put it mildly, somewhat confusing to the electorate, and it cannot really be right that that situation can arise so easily and, moreover, that it would require a two-thirds vote to outvote an elected mayor. It seems that we are moving from local democracy to local autocracy, and that is not in the interests of representative local government.
We have this dilemma and we have the cost to bear in mind. The noble Baroness was good enough to make clear in Grand Committee that the cost for each authority of, roughly, £250,000 would be met in the first instance by the Government, but it is still money that could have come into local government and been used for better purposes, as could the equivalent amount, because it will be roughly the same, that will be spent on any more referendums should they occur in November this year at a time when budgets are under so much pressure. One would think that in these very difficult times this is an additional reason to avoid this issue leading to expenditure when there is so little public support for it.
I ask the Government why, in the face of apparent public indifference and the opposition of many of their own local councillors from both the partners in the coalition, quite apart from Labour and other councillors, they are insisting on forcing through the calling of referendums. If people want them, the option is there. Why are they forcing this procedure on an indifferent electorate? Holding them should surely be a matter for local choice, not at the behest of the Government. I would also like to ask them what their intentions are in relation to the 300 or so other authorities that have not yet held referendums. Will they too be compelled to go through this process and, if so, how will they be selected and when?
One issue that has been mentioned in the course of the debates over the mayoral referendum is whether we should be moving from individual city mayors to subregional or conurbation mayors, mayors of Greater Manchester or Merseyside, as was advocated by the noble Lord, Lord Heseltine, and Sir Terry Leahy recently in their report about Merseyside, and perhaps there are other places too. It is interesting that a Government who abolished metropolitan counties 20 or so years ago without having a referendum on that issue should now be thinking of reinventing some subregional governance arrangement, but one of this nature, with an even greater risk of the concentration of power, given that the geographic and population scope that would be involved would be greater than would arise in an ordinary mayoral referendum in an individual authority.
We are faced with the cost of following a government policy that is rooted in no evidence at all and apparently has no public support of any significance to achieve objectives that are very far from clear—unless there is a somewhat hidden political agenda. I bear in mind the words of the Member for Grantham, Nick Boles, who some years ago was advocating the system because it was the only way to provide a ladder by which the Conservative Party might climb back to power in places like Manchester or Newcastle. He is likely to be disappointed, in any event, should mayoral elections take place in May of this year, but that may be the motivation—not on the part of the Minister, I am sure, who is much too honourable for such a cynical approach, but I would not put it past some of her colleagues in the higher reaches of government and beyond.
It is therefore a matter of real regret that we should be forcing people into this process and, given the Government’s explicit inclusion of powers to inflict this whenever and on whomever they like, it is worrying that we are embarking on this process at this time. I beg to move.
My Lords, I declare an interest as a member of Newcastle City Council. I do not set out to make this a Newcastle debate. However, Newcastle is one of the 11 cities identified. I do not regret this Motion and I believe that the noble Lord, Lord Beecham, is mistaken in moving his amendment, for a number of reasons. Let me explain why.
I believe that the debate about elected mayors has moved on. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, is absolutely right that a year or two ago I felt that the balance of evidence was strongly against. I no longer believe that to be true. One of the key reasons for that—there are several, which I will come on to—is the elected police commissioner, which I believe has altered the nature of representative democracy at a local level, and that as people get used to electing directly an individual to a role, it will be very odd if the leader of a council is not similarly elected. I will come back to this.
I have not fully understood the issue of cost. There clearly is a cost in running a referendum but actually the referendum will take place on a local election polling day, and the election, should it be approved, will take place on the day elected police commissioners are being voted in.
The decision to have a referendum in the cities identified was actually part of the Localism Bill. We debated it and we came to a conclusion. That Bill is now an Act. Of course, the proposal was in the coalition agreement—it featured it as one of a number of matters—and both that agreement and the decision in the Act should be honoured.
The second reality is that the campaigns have actually started because the polling day is only three months away. I just do not think that you can now seek to put the clock back. Of course, this is only a regret amendment, but we should now be willing to test the opinion of the electorate and it is right that in the 11 cities a decision should be made by those electors.
I note the criticism about the powers of the Secretary of State, but actually those powers simply require a referendum to be held and do not dictate the outcome. It is very difficult for politicians to argue with the ballot box. Electors will make a decision as to what they want. They should be informed about the reasons in favour and those against. Those cases can be made, people can campaign, but people should be allowed to come to their own conclusions.
Local authorities now have the power to decide the outcome—to hold or not to hold a referendum—unless 5 per cent of an electorate call for a referendum. The difficulty with that argument is that in a city with an electorate of 200,000, 5 per cent amounts to 10,000 people. That is a barrier. There has to be a very strong campaign for a mayor to be elected for people to gather 10,000 names out of an electorate of 200,000. That drives the status quo, unless there is a very good reason why people are prepared to campaign and spend time and money in calling for a referendum through gathering petitions. How much better it is if you simply test public opinion, as the Government wish to do.
There are advantages in a mayoral system. I welcome the referendum campaigns because they enable those advantages to be debated. There is a whole set of reasons why I think a mayoral system is right. Mention was made of the noble Lords, Lord Adonis and Lord Heseltine. I am convinced by the arguments both have made—it is partly about leadership, partly about figureheads and partly about connecting the electorate with a person who is democratically accountable for what happens in that city.
However, the argument goes further than that. It is better for a council leader—and I have been one myself, for a period of just over four years—to be elected by the electorate as a whole rather than by a party caucus meeting, which is what happens in practice. In other words, if, for the sake of argument, you have 40 councillors and you are the majority party, you can actually elect the leader of that council—who has statutory powers—on 21 votes. I do not think that that is sufficient mandate and I have come to the conclusion that it is better to have a mayoral system where there is an electoral mandate for that person.
The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, talked in terms of the evidence base, and whether it is better. I believe that collectively, the cities of England punch well below their weight. The context of this is devolution into Scotland, into Wales, and into Northern Ireland, and also into London. Tonight we see, in the Evening Standard, that the Mayor of London is urging that he be given power over the railways into London. There is a strong case for that, and indeed, as part of discussions going on with the eight English core cities on a devolution to them, issues around transport are being discussed.
With an elected mayor in each of those 11 cities, where there would also be a cabinet, and ward members, who would implement some of the powers of the Localism Act, not least around neighbourhood planning, I do not see this as simply a matter about a two-thirds vote. I see it as being about renewing democracy, and empowering ward members as part of the Localism Act. However, we will have that debate at a later stage. The question is whether we should test the public view, and in my view, we should. The noble Lord, Lord Beecham, said a moment ago that there is no apparent public support for elected mayors. I draw your Lordships’ attention to the very recent referendum in Salford which voted in favour of an elected mayor, and of course the recent decision over Leicester—
It is too low, but of course, local elections and leaders of councils are being elected in practice on similar numbers. So no, the point is not material. The fact is that the people of Salford have voted for an elected mayor. It is simply not the case that there is no apparent public support for elected mayors. I believe that we should test the public view. That was agreed as part of the Localism Act, and we should not regret that but should test the public opinion.
My Lords, I cannot claim any direct interest in the cities that have been selected for these various orders, though I have lived in the West Midlands for many years. I have a particular interest, almost a responsibility, to mention Birmingham. The House may know that my noble friend Lord Corbett has not been very well lately but he would undoubtedly have been here otherwise, and I know that he would have said that this is a daft idea. I know this because I checked with him when I saw him this morning. Although he takes no responsibility whatever for the arguments that I propose, perhaps this could be taken as, to a degree, a reflection of his views as someone who for many years was an outstanding Member of Parliament for the city of Birmingham.
I must take issue briefly with the comments that we have just heard, not least on the argument about direct democracy as if it is somehow more legitimate if a mayor is elected by the whole population of the area rather than being elected by some other mechanism. This is essentially an argument for a presidential system, because I very much doubt whether the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, would say that the Prime Minister has less authority because he is not directly elected by the population as a whole. I, for one, infinitely prefer our parliamentary system, which is basically how our local government system has operated, in much the same way that the Government is decided in the House of Commons. Executive heads are essentially chosen by their peers, and over a period of years their strengths and weaknesses are tested and observed. Although, regrettably, the mayoral system was introduced by a Government whom I supported on most things, it has always seemed to me an attempt to graft a different system from abroad—an alien system sounds so unpleasant—which has no roots in this country. That is the basis of my objection.
I have one or two detailed points to make. The argument that has just been advanced by the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, was that the Government are simply asking local people for their opinions. His position is that it is up to local people to make their minds up. A very skewed question is being put, in the sense that the Government are insisting that these local authorities hold referenda, which seems to be at total variance with all the impassioned speeches we have heard about localism from the Benches opposite. However, it is worse than that, because the Government are insisting that these tests of local opinion shall only be held in those local authority areas which currently do not have a mayoral system. I would have felt slightly more comfortable—but not a lot more—if they had asked one or two of those local authorities that have had experience of this mayoral system over the last 10 years whether they thought it was a good idea to continue with that method of local government. In the one test we have had—in good old Stoke, home of the mighty Potters—the people of Stoke have said, “Thank you very much. We have tried this system out for the past few years and we do not think there is very much to it”. I guess that may well be the response of a number of other local authorities should members of the public locally be asked their opinion. However, the Government say, “No, we are not going to ask questions in those areas—only in other areas—and they shall have these referenda whether they want them or not”. The only question I want to ask is: where is the demand? There is no evidence of demand that I have seen for locally elected mayors in any of the places where compulsorily they must hold a referendum.
We have already mentioned that the turnout in Salford was 18 per cent, which, as my noble friend on the Front Bench pointed out, and I agree wholeheartedly with everything he said, is hardly a resounding acclamation for the system—and that is the turnout, not the vote in favour. On the turnouts for some of the referenda we have had so far, in Sunderland it was 10 per cent, in Ealing it was 10 per cent, in Southwark it was 11 per cent—which I suppose is an improvement—and two-thirds of the areas have rejected the idea. I hope very much that the ones that are being tested in this compulsory vote will also reject the idea.
As to the cost in these straitened times—which the Government Benches constantly remind us about—it will be £2.5 million for the referendums. That is about a quarter of a million pounds for each one that is held. Is this really a priority that local people want in these difficult times? I ask, rhetorically, the two previous speakers who have both led their local authority that, if they had been given a quarter of a million pounds, at what point would they have thought the best way to spend it was to hold a referendum on changing the system of local government.
It is, of course, not only the cost of the referendum but should the vote go in favour, there will be the cost of the reorganisation. I have raised this issue already with the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, and she said in Committee, rather optimistically, that it would depend on the kind of mayoral system that is adopted, which is true. She said:
“The mayor comes in and it might need to provide him with a room. He will probably need a couple of members of staff”.
I think that is fairly unlikely. She continued:
“I do not anticipate there being a huge extra cost to the council as a result of this”.—[Official Report, 17/1/12; col. GC 146.]
The noble Baroness is very experienced and respected in local government and we do not know whether she is right or I am right in saying that it will cost a lot more than a room and a couple of officers whatever system gets adopted. I cannot think of why on earth we should want to go down that road and spend that amount of money. Certainly, as someone who does not live in London but who watches the mayoral system as it goes on, I cannot believe that it is cheap. Perhaps it is, I do not know the figures, but I would like to ask the Minister—I gave notice to her office about this—whether she can tell us what the government of London cost in the last year under the old system for its head office administration, not for individual services, and what it costs now. I would bet a few shillings that the cost has not gone down. I hope the figures are there somewhere.
My noble friend Lord Beecham asked: what are the benefits of the system? It has been running for 10 years or so in many councils so we ought to know by now. The Government make grandiose claims about it in the supporting document. The Explanatory Memorandum states that the Government believe that,
“directly elected mayors … enhance their city’s prestige and maximise the potential for local economic growth”.
So I have to tell the two previous leaders of Newcastle council that, according to the Government, you failed. If you had been directly elected mayors, the place would be zooming.
On that point, the acclaimed regeneration of the City of Manchester is widely acknowledged to be on the basis of the stability of the political leadership over the past 28 years, when there have been only two leaders of the council. Businesses and civic institutions work closely with that leadership and have been able to plan, over those years, the regeneration which is a model for cities throughout the country.
That is a fulsome testimony which is entirely justified. I do not know of a shred of evidence to show that in the past 10 years London has been far better managed and that far more prestige has been brought to the city than that brought to Newcastle—I mention Newcastle as a name out of the hat— Birmingham or Manchester by the people who led those cities. I could list the other cities as well.
What are the costs and what are the benefits? I hope that in these referenda, which will doubtless go ahead, people will have the good sense of the two-thirds of those who have been asked so far in different parts of the country and say no. I am sorry about the money that will be wasted en route but I am sure they will save their local authorities money if they do say no. Before there is any further development of this scheme I hope that proper costings are made available and proper research is done into the alleged benefits of the system where it has occurred so far. I also hope that other cities will have the opportunity before too long, if the Minister persists with her policy and holds a referendum in a city that does not have a mayor at present, to follow the splendid example of Stoke-on-Trent and say no.
My Lords, I declare an interest, having been a councillor over a long period of time and, as the noble Lord, Lord Tope, knows, having served on two major European institutions and met a variety of people from a variety of backgrounds. I am proud to be able to say that Europe is diverse. Speaking personally—do not worry; I will not break into song—I do not want to be in America where there is a system that means that you can elect the dog catcher or somebody to do this, that or the other job. I quite like Europe because of its diversity. I like the fact that in Spain people can choose whether they have a Catalonian region. I like the fact that regions were developing in Greece. I am sorry for the problems that now face the people in that country.
The noble Lord, Lord Shipley, made my blood run cold when he said that we ought to get on with this because the campaigns have already started. That rings a bell with other bits of this Government’s legislation. We are told that, although we have not finished the health Bill, putting it into effect has already begun. That is not the democracy that I believe in. In the democracy that I believe in, you get the legislation in place and then you enact it. If the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, believes strongly in this, then he and my noble friend up in the north-east are perfectly free to go back and get 5 per cent of the population to agree to test the water. What is not in order is for somebody down here in the Government to decide, “You’ve got to spend that money”.
We have not yet seen the full impact of what the Government are doing in terms of local authority budgets and the effect on services. Earlier today the noble Baroness, Lady Hanham, whom I, too, respect, in answer to a question about differential funding for local authorities in the north vis-à-vis the south, said, “That is the system we use”—I hope that my paraphrase is agreed to be accurate—“and that is the way the money is allocated”. Well, speaking from the north, that way is not a fair way or a good way. People living in northern authorities that are suffering under the cuts in local government expenditure would not choose to spend this money at this time in this way. It is no good saying that it comes from a different budget, pocket or source. Money is money up north; brass is brass, and if there is brass going, they want it spent on old people. The current climate is not one that encourages people to want to spend money on this sort of thing.
I am totally in favour of choices. I actually argued in favour of choices for local people over police and crime commissioners. I asked why we could not have a referendum in each police authority area to ask people whether they wanted a police and crime commissioner or whether they wanted a few more police officers on the streets. The Government did not seem to want to ask them that question. In fact, the Government resisted it, as did one or two Liberal Democrat Members of your Lordships’ House. At this time there is an issue of accountability. It is no good Members of the coalition, be they on one side or the other, swinging backwards and forwards, saying that the people out there want choice and forcing a referendum on them. What they actually want is choice as to where their hard-earned brass is spent, and at the moment the Government are wasting it on a variety of schemes.
I think that it was the noble Lord, Lord Shipley, who spoke about the importance of individuals and I think that the Government believe in the importance of individuals. In a local authority, the one good thing about the current system, and people know it, is that if a leader is corrupt, difficult or fails to fulfil their duties, those who work with them day after day know about it and they either challenge them and hold them to account or the leader is unseated the next time round.
As for the issue of cities punching below their weight, that has to be seen against the background of the break-up of the regions. This was all too slow in development under my Government. We do not want sub-regionalism. I certainly do not want anything less than north, south, east, west and central in terms of regional strategy. What I actually want is to see people being given a choice. So let us ask the people, and let us ask them all the questions, not just the one or two that the Government favour. I am sure that I am not allowed to gamble in your Lordships’ House, but I would bet that if I went home to Ribbleton in Lancashire and asked the people whether they wanted a referendum or a home help, or whether they wanted a police and crime commissioner or more police officers at the end of the street—given the descent into rising crime figures under this Government—I know what they would say. With all her distinguished experience in local government, I believe that the Minister does, too.
My Lords, I should probably start with the same words as the noble Baroness who has just spoken. For the past 38 years I have been—and still am—a councillor; indeed I am a member of the executive of a London borough council. I have been a member of the Committee of the Regions, mentioned by the noble Baroness, Lady Farrington, since its inception in 1994, and I agree wholly with what she said about that. One of the great joys of being on that committee—there are not that many—is learning about the diversity of what I would call “sub-state government” right across the European Union. I have also been a council leader for 13 years. Where I make a unique claim in this Chamber—well, I was going to say “unique claim”, but the noble Lord, Lord Harris of Haringey, has joined us—is that of having had the doubtful pleasure of spending eight years serving on an authority with the first elected mayor in this country, the Mayor of London.
The noble Lord, Lord Grocott, asked for comparisons between the mayoral system in London and what went before. That is an impossible comparison. I get very annoyed when I hear people say—with a lot of justification—that the 10 years with a Mayor of London have been a lot better than what went before. Of course they have. Back in the late 1990s, the Labour Government offered us in London a referendum where the choice was, “Do you want a strategic government for London or not?”. I and most of us did. Yet we were not offered the choice of having what the noble Lord, Lord Grocott, referred to, as I would, as a parliamentary system—the traditional local government system, which at that time existed everywhere in the United Kingdom—or a presidential system with a strong mayor and a very weak assembly. The Labour Government told us that if we wanted a strategic government, which many of us had campaigned for over many years, the only choice on offer was an elected mayor with a weak assembly—a system once described to me as being just like having George Bush with no Congress. Some of us who had long campaigned for a strategic authority in London found that choice difficult to make, but it was the only choice that the Government gave us. Clearly, had there been a no vote in that referendum, we would not have had another choice to come back and say, “Let us have a parliamentary system instead”. There would have been nothing. So forgive me if I am a little cynical when I hear Members on the opposition Bench now complain about the lack of choice.
The other way in which I may be unique here relates to the fact that I have noticed that the debates tonight and on previous occasions have almost always fallen into those opposing the referendums being those who oppose the directly elected mayoral system and those supporting the referendum being those who broadly favour having elected mayors. I find that very odd. I have not yet been tainted by my noble friend Lord Shipley to start changing my mind. I have always been and I remain unconvinced of the case for directly elected mayors. There have been some very good directly elected mayors, both in this country and in other parts of the world, yet we all know that there have quite a few very bad directly elected mayors, some of whom have ended up in prison. Maybe we know about them. I suspect that the vast majority that we do not know about at all have been as indifferent as any other system. We simply do not know a