My Lords, the first duty of any Government is to keep the country safe. This means working together to prevent and reduce crime, backing the police—ensuring that they have the powers and tools they need—and a fair justice system which ensures that the punishment fits the crime but allows offenders who have paid their debt to society to make a fresh start.
We have already recruited nearly half of the promised 20,000 additional police officers and overall police funding has grown in real terms for the fifth consecutive year. We have also already ended the automatic early release of the most serious offenders sentenced to seven years’ imprisonment or more, we are implementing our landmark Domestic Abuse Act and we have published our new strategy to tackle violence against women and girls. However, we need to do more to protect our communities, and the measures in this Bill are directed to that end.
The police undertake a uniquely challenging role in helping to keep communities safe. They make enormous sacrifices to protect the public and, in turn, we should protect them. The police covenant will demonstrate our commitment to back police officers and staff and ensure that the police workforce do not suffer any disadvantage as a result of their role. The Bill will require the Secretary of State to report annually to Parliament on key issues that we want to prioritise, particularly the health and well-being of the workforce, their physical protection and supporting their families.
Our police and other emergency workers are committed to serving their communities. The overwhelming majority of the public applaud and salute that service but, shockingly, the latest figures show that assaults on police officers increased by 14% compared with the previous year. Obviously, that is unacceptable. The Bill therefore doubles the maximum penalty for assaulting an emergency worker to two years’ imprisonment, ensuring that those who carry out these attacks receive a punishment that is commensurate with the crime that they have committed.
Sorry, some of my speech is missing, but I will carry on. Moving on swiftly, the end-to-end rape review acknowledged that the invasive nature of the process around disclosure has long been an issue for victims. We need to do more to assure victims that information will be extracted from their mobile phone only where it is necessary and proportionate to do so in pursuit of reasonable lines of inquiry. To that end, the Bill establishes a statutory framework, backed up by a code of practice, for the extraction of information from electronic devices. Our focus is on protecting privacy and supporting victims of crime and others who voluntarily provide information to the police. In the Commons debates we heard concerns, including from the Victims’ Commissioner, that these provisions do not yet provide sufficient safeguards. We owe it to vulnerable victims and witnesses to get these provisions right and we are continuing to explore how they might be strengthened.
I return to the issue of serious violence. It blights our communities and we cannot look to the police alone to solve it; that has to be a shared endeavour, with all relevant agencies working together. Part 2 of the Bill will require local authorities, specified health authorities and fire and rescue authorities, along with the police and other specified criminal justice agencies, to come together to prevent and reduce serious violence in their area. They will be required to formulate an evidence-based analysis of the problems associated with serious violence in their locality and then produce and implement a strategy detailing how they will respond, including through early interventions. To support such collaborative working, the Bill introduces new powers to share data and information for that purpose.
One way to prevent serious violence is to ensure that we learn the lessons from the far too many deaths involving knives that we see on our streets. Each of these is an individual tragedy, with the most devastating consequences for victims and their families. We will therefore introduce offensive weapons homicide reviews—to be undertaken jointly by the relevant police force, local authority and clinical commissioning group or health board—which will examine the circumstances surrounding a death and identify lessons to prevent such tragedies in future. These homicide reviews will first be piloted to ensure that we design a review process that is as effective as possible before we roll them out across England and Wales.
Part 2 of the Bill also reforms pre-charge bail. As noble Lords will recall, changes made in 2017 sought to address legitimate concerns that individuals who had not been charged or convicted of any offence were subjected to bail conditions restricting their liberty for months or, in some cases, years while the police pursued their investigation. Noble Lords will recall that the experience of the last four years has shown that the pendulum has swung far too far in the other direction, leading to concerns that bail is not being used in appropriate cases to protect vulnerable victims and witnesses.
To address those concerns, the Bill will remove the current statutory presumption against pre-charge bail, instead adopting a neutral position. This is designed to encourage its use when it is necessary and proportionate to do so, based on each case’s individual circumstances and the list of risk factors now set out in the Bill. These changes will be reinforced by statutory guidance issued by the College of Policing to help establish a consistent approach across all forces.
Lastly, in relation to Part 2, we are extending the positions of trust offences in the Sexual Offences Act to protect 16 and 17 year-olds in a wider range of circumstances—namely, in a sporting or religious context—where adults hold a position of particular influence or power. I know this change will be particularly welcomed by the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson.
There has been much comment about the public order provisions in Part 3. The right to peaceful protest is a fundamental part of our democracy. This is not about stifling freedom of speech and assembly but about balancing those rights with the rights of others, including protecting the free press and ensuring that people can get to their work and that ambulances can quickly transport patients to hospital.
We have listened to policing professionals who have told us that the distinction made in the Public Order Act between processions and assemblies is out of date and does not reflect the operational reality. We have listened to the independent Law Commission, which recommended that the common-law offence of public nuisance be put on a statutory footing. We have listened to the cross-party Joint Committee on Human Rights, which recommended strengthening powers to ensure unhindered access—including for noble Lords—to the Parliamentary Estate. We have listened to the independent policing inspectorate, which concluded that the measures we have proposed in Part 3 would improve police effectiveness without eroding the right to protest.
Part 4 of the Bill delivers on an express manifesto commitment to tackle unauthorised encampments. These measures are not about restricting the nomadic lifestyle of Travellers but about protecting all communities from the distress and loss of amenity caused by unauthorised encampments. In particular, the Bill provides for a new criminal offence of residing in a vehicle on land without permission. It is important to stress that the offence applies only where a person fails to leave the land or remove their property without reasonable excuse when asked to do so and they have caused or are likely to cause significant damage, significant disruption or significant distress. I do not think any noble Lord would want to condone such behaviour.
The sentencing measures in the Bill will target the most serious violent and sexual offenders and those who pose the greatest threat to the public. That includes those who commit the premeditated murder of a child, those who kill through dangerous driving or careless driving under the influence of alcohol and drugs, and those who become more dangerous while in prison. However, we are aware that delivering public protection and building confidence in the criminal justice system is not just about making better use of custody. In many cases, particularly for low-level offending, effective early interventions and community supervision keep the public safer by preventing further offending. To that end, we are simplifying the adult out-of-court disposals framework, making provision to pilot adult problem-solving courts and increasing the curfew options that are available to sentencers. In addition, we will aid offender rehabilitation by reducing the time periods after which some sentences become spent so that they do not have to be disclosed to employers for non-sensitive jobs or activities.
The Bill includes measures on sentencing and remand for children. We intend these measures to increase confidence in community sentences as a robust alternative to custody and to ensure that custodial remand is used only as a last resort. They also ensure that sentences for the most serious crimes provide justice for victims and reflect the seriousness of those offences. The Bill also includes measures to enable the trialling of secure schools in order to fulfil our vision of secure environments centred on individualised education and care.
I turn now to Part 10, which includes the provision for serious violence reduction orders. These deliver on another manifesto commitment to introduce a new court order to target known knife carriers, making it easier for the police to stop and search those convicted of knife crime. These new orders are intended to help tackle high-risk offenders, by making it easier for the police to search them for weapons, and to help protect more vulnerable offenders from being drawn into further exploitation by criminal gangs. The targeted use of stop and search, as part of a wider approach to intervening and supporting offenders, will help safeguard those communities most at risk.
In Part 10 we are also strengthening the powers to manage sex offenders—one of a number of measures in the Bill which will help tackle violence against women and girls. In particular, the Bill will help positive requirements to be attached to sexual harm prevention orders and sexual risk orders; for example, by requiring perpetrators to attend a treatment programme.
Finally, the Bill includes a number of measures to improve the efficiency of the Courts & Tribunals Service. Our aim is to modernise the delivery of justice, including through the greater use of technology, but only where it is appropriate to do so. We are facilitating the ongoing use of audio and video technology in our courts and tribunals, building on its successful use during the pandemic. This will ensure shorter waiting times and less unnecessary travel for court participants. However, a full hearing in court will always be available when needed and where the court considers it to be in the interests of justice. The decision as to how a hearing is conducted will remain a matter for the judiciary—the judge, magistrates or tribunal panel—who will determine how best to protect the interests of justice on a case-by-case basis.
This is a multifaceted Bill, but there is one overarching objective: to keep the public safe. It promotes multiagency working to prevent and reduce crime; it gives the police the powers they need to fight crime and prevent disorder; it introduces tougher punishments for violent and sexual offenders; it helps end the cycle of reoffending; and it enhances the efficiency of the courts to help deliver justice for all. I commend the Bill to the House.
My Lords, I am obliged to the noble Baroness, Lady Williams, for her clear but inevitably incomplete description of the Bill. Her incomplete description of it is not her fault. We support some of the measures in the Bill, in particular those that seek to increase penalties for sexual and violent crime, but the presentation of the Bill in this form is an affront to the rule of law and the role of Parliament: 177 clauses, 20 schedules, 62 new delegated lawmaking powers and amendments to 39 other statutes. Our constitution requires legislation such as this, particularly because it affects the liberty of the subject, to be properly scrutinised by both Houses of Parliament. With a Bill this size, that is well nigh impossible. Introducing a Bill in this way at this time does not accept, as the Government should, the limitations of time on a parliamentary process.
Quite separately from those complaints that I have about the Bill, the Delegated Powers Committee of this House has delivered a report which makes it absolutely clear that it takes considerable offence to a number of the Bill’s provisions that are giving power to the Executive to pass guidance; in particular, those that will give Ministers undue power because the effect of failing to comply with that guidance will lead to consequences in court, which will have an effect on the citizen. This is not the way to legislate. Yes, there are certain things that need to be done as far as the criminal justice system is concerned, but this Government should prioritise what those things are and then do them.
The Lord Chancellor said in another place that this Bill was designed to increase—or, in his words, restore—faith in the criminal justice system. It does not do that. There were things that he could have done to restore that faith, which is urgently required. I shall identify three things to indicate that. In the year to March 2021, a staggering 21.8% of victims said that they wanted to abandon their criminal case because they were fed up with the system—that is 945,000 cases involving the victims withdrawing their co-operation. A survey by Vera Baird, the Victims’ Commissioner, said that one-third of victims took the view that they would not report a crime again because of the experience they had had in the criminal justice system. As everybody in this House knows, because it has been repeated time and again, the number of complaints of rape goes up every year while the number of rape prosecutions goes down, and the number of convictions goes down as well.
Yes, we do need improvements to the criminal justice system, but a Christmas tree Bill of this size is not the way to deal with it. It is not possible in the time allotted either to me or to any of us to identify every single issue in relation to the Bill, but I will identify 11 issues that may be worth further consideration.
The first is on the policing of protests. The Minister will have seen what the Joint Committee on Human Rights has said in relation to the provisions that have been taken. It says absolutely explicitly that the Government have got the balance wrong between the right to protest and the powers being given to the Executive. To give the Executive the power to ban demonstrations because they make excessive noise is not proportionate; you would expect demonstrations to make noise and we will be looking in some detail at those provisions.
Secondly, there is the issue of unauthorised encampments in Clauses 62 to 64. These go much further than the Minister said. Contrary to what she specifically said, they are an attack on the Roma or Gypsy way of life. It is not necessary and, furthermore, it is not supported by the National Police Chiefs’ Council. It is something the Government have done which goes much further than necessary.
Thirdly, the Bill does not bring into effect right across the country Section 28 of the Youth Justice and Criminal Evidence Act 1999. If that section had been brought into effect, it would have allowed and led to the ability—right across the country—of victims of severe sexual assault to give their evidence straightaway before a judge. They would be cross-examined about it, but the film of that evidence would then be played at the trial at a much later date. That would allow the victim to avoid that awful period as they wait for the trial to take place. But the Lord Chancellor said in another place only that it should be further piloted. Why is it not being introduced right across the country? A reason given is because there are not enough judges to do it, and there would need to be judges to hear the evidence of the victim. Apart from offences leading to death—primarily murder and manslaughter—it is hard to imagine a higher priority for the judiciary than hearing serious rape and sexual violence cases, so the absence of judicial resource does not seem a good excuse. We would strongly urge that it be rolled out and will introduce an amendment to that effect.
Fourthly, I welcome what the Minister said about the extraction of information from the mobile phones of victims of serious sexual assault. Subsequent to the deliberations of another place, I think, a code of practice was produced as to the circumstances in which the extraction of material from mobile phones could be done. We share the concerns that that code of practice does not adequately protect the interests of victims. In particular, it needs some sort of third party to protect their interests in relation to that; again, that will be debated. I would be very interested if the Minister could indicate to me what protections for the owner of the mobile phone are contained in the code of practice, and whether they can be strengthened.
Fifthly, we think that there should be, subject to judicial discretion in appropriate cases, a minimum sentence for rape of seven years. The answer given by Ministers in another place was, “Well, two-thirds of people convicted of rape get seven years or more now, so why do you need a minimum sentence?” The answer is: so that it is clear what the view of the legislature is on the gravity of that crime. There needs to be some degree of judicial discretion, but that could be built in.
Sixthly, we take the view that the Bill should have addressed as a priority the problem of sexually offending behaviour and provided greater protection. Three specific steps were proposed in the other place. First, a whole-life term should be the starting point for a murder that involved the abduction and sexual assault of the victim. Secondly, there should be an independent review of the sentencing code in relation to domestic homicides. Thirdly, there should be a power to sentence offenders for up to two years if they identify an anonymous complainant in a case involving rape or serious sexual assault.
Last Thursday—I may have got the date wrong—the Government announced an independent review of the sentencing structure for domestic homicide. Clare Wade, a Queen’s Counsel, has been appointed to review the sentencing framework. I do not know and have not seen the terms of reference of that framework. Could the Minister set out what they are and indicate what the relationship of that review is to sentencing guidelines and the Sentencing Council?
Seventhly, this is a perfect opportunity to deal with the Vagrancy Act 1825, which makes it a crime, in effect, to be street homeless. Are the Government, who have been broadly supportive of changes to the Vagrancy Act, willing to see it repealed? An argument given in the past as to why it should not be repealed was that you need something to deal with “aggressive begging”. We on this side of the House believe that that is already covered by other legislation.
Eighthly, this is the opportunity to deal with indeterminate public protection sentences. We recognise the problem that there are certain people whom it would be difficult to release, but they should be a very exceptional and small category. Perhaps they should be a category of people upon whom, if there had not been an IPP sentence, a life sentence would have been passed instead of the IPP. It may well be that everybody else—the number is going up, not down, over a definitive period—should be released.
Ninthly, it was said in another place that the offence of assaulting a shop worker would be actively considered. Shop workers have been rightly praised for keeping the country and the economy going during the pandemic. We need a bit more than warm words. The Minister in the other place said that they would consider it. Can the Minister in this place tell us where they have got to in relation to that?
Tenthly, I understand that the Government are going to introduce in this place amendments in relation to the serious issue of pet theft, although I may be wrong. Could the Minister explain the position on that?
Finally, I turn to the issue of the children of mothers in prison. Time and again, prison sentences for mothers victimise their children. The Human Rights Committee of both Houses said that this is a perfect opportunity to deal with that issue, if on no other basis than that proper information and data be collected. I did not give the Minister notice that I would raise this issue, but if she could deal with it when it is convenient—perhaps not today but on another occasion—I would be grateful.
Separately from the things that we think are right—we have no problem with the police covenant or, as I have indicated, some of the strengthening of sentencing—we would like to focus on those eleven areas. I do not treat them as exclusive, and no doubt there are many things I have omitted, but this Bill is simply a scattergun that will not do enough for criminal justice.
I very much hope that, on 27 October, the key thing we will hear in the comprehensive spending review is that the criminal justice system will be properly funded and that recompense will be made for the 25% of funding that has been taken away from it by this Government.
My Lords, I too thank the Minister for explaining the Bill. When the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, began, I was going to say that I broadly agreed with him on the size and complexity of the Bill. However, I am not sure that adding provision after provision is the best way of dealing with an already over-complex and lengthy Bill. That said, the Bill’s covering such a comprehensive area—anything to do with the four areas mentioned in the Bill’s title will be within scope—simply encourages people to add more and more provisions to it.
Far be it from me to be controversial, but I want to say from the outset that there are aspects of the Bill that deserve our support. But those worthy provisions are few and far between and are overshadowed by a vast number of measures that would undermine fundamental rights, increase existing discrimination or do both. These controversial measures, which have rightly received much publicity, particularly the erosion of the rights to free speech and assembly, mean that other measures that also deserve our attention have slipped through almost unnoticed—but not any more.
This is where this House comes into its own. In Committee, we on these Benches will question and challenge every provision in the Bill that demands scrutiny. But as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, has said, we are severely hampered in our duty by the sheer size of the Bill and the number of provisions it contains. With the best will in the world, and, in my case, having spent most of the Summer Recess going through the Bill, we cannot possibly do justice to the fundamental and far-reaching changes that it seeks to bring about when so much is contained in one piece of legislation. Can the Minister say why, after more than 10 years in government, it was necessary to cram so much into one Bill?
On the specific provisions, we welcome the police covenant but we need to understand how and why it is different from the Armed Forces covenant. Protecting police officers in vehicular pursuit of dangerous criminals is right, but so is protecting innocent members of the public caught up in the chase. Of course we need to do everything that we possibly can to combat serious violence, but how are the new duties different from the existing duties of crime and disorder reduction partnerships? Who is ultimately responsible: those partnerships, or elected mayors and police and crime commissioners? This legislation seems to further blur the lines as far as ultimate responsibility is concerned.
With all the homicide reviews that exist at the moment, what is the cost-benefit analysis of adding offensive weapon homicide reviews to that list? Of course the police may need to extract information from electronic devices such as mobile phones, but should, as the Bill says,
“any responsible person who is aged over 18”
be allowed to authorise such intrusion without the consent of the owner in certain circumstances?
In 2017, we told the Government that their changes to police bail were unworkable. Eighteen clauses of the Policing and Crime Act are now all but reversed, relegated to a schedule to this Bill. What has happened to the reasons why the limits on police bail were imposed in the first place?
Measures to combat child abuse are welcome, but why has it taken so long to bring about these changes and do they go far enough?
I applaud the sentiment behind increasing the maximum penalty for a minor assault, causing no injury, to an emergency worker. It should not be an accepted part of an emergency worker’s role, or that of a shop worker for that matter, to be assaulted. But as with all the many and various provisions in this Bill that seek to increase custodial sentences, where is the evidence that someone will think twice, in the heat of the moment, about assaulting a police officer because the maximum penalty has gone from one year to two years, particularly when this Bill also increases the potential maximum penalty for damaging a bunch of flowers placed on a memorial to 10 years’ imprisonment? What message does that send to our emergency workers?
We on these Benches support provisions where the evidence shows that they are necessary and that they will work. We do not believe in sending messages through legislation that will fall largely on deaf ears. It is the culture in society, and among some of the judiciary, that seems to accept assault as part of the job for emergency workers that needs to change. We need existing penalties imposed, rather than yet more conditional discharges or minor fines that ignore the existing or increased maximum penalties.
As the Minister attempted to do, noble Lords will notice I am going through the Bill systematically. I am only on Clause 46 of 117 clauses, and I have not even got to the most controversial parts of the Bill yet, so let me skip over those aspects that we will not be skipping over in Committee and simply highlight some of the most concerning aspects of the Bill in the home affairs arena.
Imposing conditions on public processions and assemblies not only unreasonably curtails the right to free speech and assembly but would place the police in a position that is likely to undermine the whole basis of British policing—that of policing by consent. Like the provisions on unauthorised encampments, there is little or no evidence that existing provisions are inadequate, and substantial evidence that this will add to further discrimination against minorities. We would also contest the Government’s assertion that the police have called for these changes.
A complex system of police cautions appears to make the police judge and jury in their own court, while removing useful provisions such as on-the-spot fines for minor offences, such as dropping litter, and simple cautions where the salutary effect of being arrested and detained by the police is sufficient to deter vast numbers of otherwise law-abiding citizens from transgressing again.
For reasons of time, I will leave my noble friends to talk about most of the justice provisions, but serious crime reduction orders are yet another provision that undermines fundamental principles of British justice and are likely to impact disproportionately on minority communities. To allow the police to stop and search someone, for a renewable two-year period, on the basis of no information or intelligence whatever that they have anything on them that they should not be in possession of, simply because an accomplice convicted with them had a knife on them, even if it was not used in the course of the offence and even if no evidence was presented during the trial but because subsequently, on the balance of probabilities, the judge thinks that the accomplice, who the defendant was with, may have had a knife, is as unreasonable as it is complicated. The Minister said that this would be applied to those convicted of knife crime. Perhaps she would clarify that this is the case, because that is not my understanding. It is for somebody convicted of any offence where it is believed on the balance of probabilities that one of the defendants had a knife in their possession at the time.
I have been able to touch only the surface of this Bill; goodness knows what Back-Benchers in this debate are going to do with only five minutes. This Bill, quite rightly, is going to take some time, and we on these Benches are not going to let it pass without thorough scrutiny of each and every provision that demands this House’s attention.
My Lords, it is a great privilege to lead the Back-Bench contributions to the debate on this Bill. As we have already heard, this is very wide-ranging legislation. I will focus my remarks today on Part 3 and the measures about public order, which make it possible for the police to do their job, as people expect, when the methods used by protestors are unacceptable to the vast majority of law-abiding people. I know that some Peers will express concerns about these measures; we have already heard some concerns expressed by the Opposition Front Benches. There may be some legitimate arguments to be made about whether language should be in the Bill or in secondary legislation, and no doubt we will have those debates in detail when the time comes.
If we are to legislate properly, it is important that in giving the police new powers to oversee and manage the impact of protests, demonstrations or assemblies, we provide them and the courts the clarity they need to meet wider public expectations of them in how they do their work. Because this is such a sensitive issue, I believe we must be live to the risk of process and procedure not only undermining what the Government have a mandate to achieve but perpetuating a bigger problem, accidentally or otherwise—that is, legitimising some forms of protest or assembly which are perniciously undermining our society.
In the brief time I have, let me try to explain what I mean. I start by emphasising that this is not about the subject of protests; I am not interested in whether it is climate change, racial equality or anti-vaccines. This is about behaviour and conduct which is deeply troubling because, whether by accident or design, it is promoting division and dismantling our society: behaviour that appears to be based on a belief that if people are sympathetic to a cause they can—and indeed some believe they must—demonstrate by causing disruption and distress to other people, until everyone declares their support and submits too.
As I said in the debate on the gracious Speech, back in May, until the big disruptions in central London during 2019, I am pretty sure most people assumed that it was not possible for anyone in the name of any cause, however important, urgent or noble, to blockade main roads and major junctions and not be stopped from doing so. What dismayed me about those events that summer, including the way that the police initially reacted and some of the media reports, was that common consensus among law-abiding people was at risk of breaking down. In this context, I am talking about the common consensus of what is acceptable behaviour in public when it comes to how we protest and demonstrate in support of things we believe in or are against. It is this underlying risk that makes it even more important, I believe, that we get right our own approach to the way we do our work on this Bill.
Some noble Lords may have been present in the Chamber last week for a debate led by the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, who is also speaking today, about standards in public life. During it, I raised the point that we see signs that the social norms which bond us together as a society are breaking down. Our responsibility as leaders is to promote common standards.
In a complex world where people are increasingly angry and distrustful, and asked to take on trust complex solutions, they need reassurance that decision-makers are motivated by a common purpose of upholding what is fair in a decent society. They, and any of us, can judge each other’s motives only through the actions that we can see on display.
My big concern if the House of Lords fails to support the principle of these measures, which clarify what is and is not acceptable when it comes to how people protest in public, especially when they have a legitimate right to disagree or question, is that we encourage more distrust within our society. There are some causes which, ultimately, should attract universal support, but that means we cannot allow them to be hijacked by people whose behaviours serve only to repel those whose confidence and support are very much needed for us all to thrive and meet the challenges of a modern world.
As regrettable as some noble Lords and indeed campaigners outside might find aspects of this legislation, it seeks to deliver the clarity that is needed to benefit us all. We in this House should not support methods of protest which serve to divide us; we need to promote that which unites us, even when we disagree.
My Lords, this is indeed major legislation—298 pages, and that does not tell us the whole story anyway; it is bunged full of regulations. There are 62 regulation-making powers, and, glory be, dear old Henry VIII comes to the fore to put right all 61 of the other regulatory measures, all 177 clauses and 20 schedules, which are eternal in their length. That is not the way to legislate.
I am not here to argue against any measure which promotes public safety, but I want to touch on one or two aspects of constitutionality that matter. If I really had the nerve and the time, I would simply re-read to the whole House the reports from the Constitution Committee and the Delegated Powers Committee.
Can we just look at Clause 36 and that group, on the extraction of information from electronic devices? It is done by consent of the user, unless there is a death, in which case no consent is needed. That is fine until we remember—particularly looking around the Chamber, where I do not see many people under the age of 30—how people aged under 30 behave in a way that we do not; they use their devices to convey just about everything you can care to think of about their own lives. They send that to recipients, and they receive messages back. That information is private to the recipient. It may be very rude about the recipient; it may tell him in the nicest possible way that he is to push off and other things that people say to each other on their devices. I sometimes wonder why I should not have one myself—[Laughter.] I did not mean that.
The serious point is that the communications are not protected in any way, shape or form, so a constable, who is an authorised officer for the purpose of the Act, can on complying with the conditions simply extract a whole lot of information which may be immensely personal to lots of people other than the user. We need to think about that; we are talking about young people who have to have confidence in our criminal justice system. We even need to think about the convention, which the Minister has said we are compliant with; I just wonder whether that will turn out to be the case, because I do not share her conviction about it.
I am very concerned about the casual way in which this has been done. We are waiting for regulations. The Secretary of State has to decide about protected information and confidential information. Do we know anything about what they are going to do? No. We are waiting for it in Clause 41. And so it goes on.
We then turn to the provisions on demonstrations, processions and assemblies. I am not going to enter into the debate on that; others will speak on it—whether this is right or wrong or consistent—but I want us to ask this. We are accepting all this on faith. We do not know what this Act means; we literally do not know. We are waiting for a definition from the Secretary of State to tell us. I thought the words were perfectly straightforward, but, no, the Secretary of State by regulation is going to tell us what “serious disruption” means. I think we know what it means, but we are nevertheless asked to enact this measure waiting for the Secretary of State to tell us what she thinks it means. The important point is that what she thinks it means will be in a regulation and that is what it will mean. We will not have the slightest idea whether we agree with it; we may or we may not.
Going on with it, we turn to—no, I shall not go on with it; my time is nearly up.
Noble Lords are very kind.
I support the view of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, that we have to address the issue of the evidence in sexual cases. Judge Pigot has been dead years. He wrote his report way back in the 1990s. We have gradually introduced bits of it; we are still waiting. It is an eminently sensible, practical proposal. I shall support the noble and learned Lord’s amendment on that issue when I see it.
Can we do a bit more to protect women and children and victims of sexual violence? Can we please not wait for the report from the Law Commission? The consultation document outdoes even the Bill; it is 500-plus pages long without even an index and it is controversial. That Bill will not simply go through the House as a Law Commission Bill. Can the Government either amend the existing legislation or follow the amendment in the name of, I think, the noble Lord, Lord Russell—I am sure he will be talking about it—to add that safeguard?
I could not help reflecting on the speech of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. Many years ago, I heard a programme on the radio in which people were allowed to say what conversation they would most like to have heard of which they had heard only two words. Two dons are walking down the road in Oxford, and the listener hears one old boy say to the other, “And, ninthly”. That is the conversation he would have wanted to hear. We heard all nine from the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer.
My Lords, I am grateful for the varied contributions heard today from noble and learned Lords, many of whom have vast experience in this area. I declare an interest as Anglican Bishop to Her Majesty’s Prisons in England and Wales and as president of the Nelson Trust.
As a Lord spiritual rooted in Christian hope, I look for a criminal justice system which is restorative, responsible and relational, and which is effective in focusing holistically on prevention and rehabilitation as well as appropriate conviction and punishment.
There are some welcome proposals within this very long Bill. These include community and diversionary cautions, problem-solving courts and additional support for employment for ex-offenders. There are other aspects that raise concern, and I will name just a few of them: increasing sentence lengths, police-led diversion, sentencing of mothers, racial disparities and young offenders.
First, the use of life sentences for younger offenders seems to undermine any chance of reform or redemption. It comes as part of a suite of measures on sentencing which will put ever more pressure on an overcrowded and struggling prison estate, with predictable negative consequences for education and rehabilitative work. Decades of tweaks to lengthen sentences have done nothing to improve the outcome for offenders, prevent cycles of reoffending or improve support for victims. Our sentences are already longer than those of most of our European neighbours, who do not suffer from higher rates of crime; nor are their citizens notably less safe.
My next comment is to encourage improvements in enabling considerable investment so police can consistently divert vulnerable people into support services using community resolution and out of court disposals. People often get caught in the revolving door of repeat low-level crime, simply because they are destitute, traumatised, often homeless, suffering mental ill-health and struggling with addiction.
The Nelson Trust runs Project SHE, a point-of-arrest referral scheme in Avon in Somerset. Over 500 women were diverted away from the criminal justice system in its first two years. Seventy-five percent of these women have four or more complex needs. Over the years, I have seen how repeated short sentences and the revolving door of custody particularly damages women and their families. More must be done, as has been said already, to protect the right to family life of children when their mother is sentenced.
Reportedly, the vast majority of children have to leave their home when their mother goes to prison. Parental imprisonment is recognised as an adverse childhood experience that can have a substantial negative impact on children’s long-term health and well-being, as well as educational attainment. It can also seriously affect their life expectancy and the likelihood of going to prison themselves.
I am not suggesting that no mother should ever go to prison. What I am saying is that, through the passage of the Bill, we can ensure that the right and appropriate response is delivered. For the vast majority of women, that is not prison. May I once again say that we most certainly do not need an additional 500 prison places for women?
I want to comment briefly on how troubling it is, after all that has transpired in recent years, that little attention is still being paid to racial disparities in the criminal justice system. It will be hard to build community resilience or confidence in a system while this is not acknowledged. According to research, young black adults are over eight times more likely to receive a conviction for a low-level, non-violent crime compared with their white counterparts. More must be done. One interesting option among a raft of options to reduce this disparity could be to remove the need for an admission of guilt to receive a community caution.
My next comment is around the issue of an expansion of whole-life orders to younger offenders. On these Benches, we welcome the efforts to reduce the number of children held in remand custody, but not measures that could see greater numbers of children serving longer custodial sentences. Treating children as children is paramount, particularly given what we know about maturity. My friend the right revered Prelate the Bishop of Derby, who is unable to speak today, will be following these issues closely.
Time is up, so, in summary, we must find effective ways of preventing people entering cycles of criminality and reoffending, as well as strengthening and protecting communities. This can be done only by a criminal justice system that inspires confidence and is rooted in a consistent ethos and strategy at every level that is based on evidence and research and joins up the work of the police, courts, probation, parole, prison and civil society organisations within a framework that is restorative, responsible and relational.
My Lords, I have often reflected that I thought ghosts were walking the corridors of the Palace of Westminster, some with their head tucked under their arm. I am reminded of that because I think we have a poltergeist; when the Minister lost part of her notes, I noticed that a pile of Braille notes that were next to me before my noble friend sat down next to me had gone missing, and I have no idea where they are. But I will suffice with the one that remained in my hand.
This afternoon, there are many things to welcome in this legislation, but there are so many things we are concerned about that it is inevitable we will concentrate on the things that worry us most. What is it that we are seeking to address? Does it require new powers or sentences? Is it proportionate and clear? Will it achieve the desired outcome? Will it lead to confusion, mistrust and more challenges in the courts? Is it a knee-jerk reaction to what is going on around us? All those questions are absolutely crucial as we address, through Committee and Report, the detail of this Bill.
I can deal with only one or two parts this afternoon. Part 7 in relation to sentencing may be an opportunity, under point 8 of the 11 key points that my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer outlined earlier, to put right the mistakes made, including by myself, in relation to incarceration for public protection—IPP—where the revolving door that has just been referred to affects a large number of prisoners and where, with a bit of common sense, we might be able to put some of it right, not least by using tagging instead of a return to prison for minor infringements of the licence conditions. We could put right the silliness of giving people a 10-year sentence relating to what they do to statues, when we should be concentrating on what we do as a society to each other.
I want to concentrate, however, on public order in Parts 3 and 4. I did not disagree with quite a lot of what the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, said—which I am sure she will be surprised to hear. There is a challenge for us to get right in the 21st century. With modern communication technology and the expression of anger in new ways, we need to be able to address those issues, particularly where anarcho-syndicalists take over legitimate protests and either manipulate or confuse those who are taking part in peaceful protest. But I do not believe that what is before us in this Bill actually achieves that. To paraphrase Lewis Carroll, “‘Words mean what I say they mean,’ said Priti.”—and she is pretty uneasy and quite annoyed most of the time, particularly by the noise of dissent around her. So getting the words right really does matter because, otherwise, the unfettered use of discretion described by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, will come back to bite us in a very big way: once mistrust takes hold, respect for the law and consent in our policing system will disappear.
I am wholly in favour of being able to take action against those who believe, or appear to believe, sincerely that the ends justify the means when the means do not justify the ends and, in particular, when the means are in fact damaging the ends they are seeking. Stopping people being able to legitimately use public transport is unacceptable. Let us try together, as we do so well and have done over recent months and years, to use the facility of this House to get this legislation right and achieve the outcomes most noble Lords would want to succeed.
My Lords, my noble friend Lord Paddick has addressed the Bill widely, but I want to address just a single globe on the Christmas tree, which did not merit a mention in the Minister’s opening remarks. Clause 169 concerns the extension of the temporary arrangements under the Coronavirus Act for video and audio links in court proceedings. I have nothing against using technology to improve efficiency. Indeed, in the last criminal trial I was involved in some years ago, I found I had to travel to Kingston Crown Court and hang about on no less than five occasions for preliminary hearings, each about half an hour in length. I know your Lordships will sympathise when I reveal that, under our generous legal aid provisions, these sorties were all unpaid. Obviously, video links would have been much preferable—but these are preliminary matters.
During the worst of the pandemic, it was right to keep trials going in the exceptional circumstances by the use of video and audio links. Section 169 pushes that into the future and goes further: it extends the use of live links to jury members so long as all members of the jury can
“take part through a live video link while present at the same place.”
However, before making these temporary provisions permanent, surely it would now be right to assess to what extent they impinged upon a fair trial.
In June 2020, the Equality and Human Rights Commission reviewed the use of live links and found:
“Almost all the criminal justice professionals in England and Wales who we interviewed felt that use of video hearings does not enable defendants or accused people to participate effectively, and reduces opportunities to identify if they have a cognitive impairment, mental health condition and/or neuro-diverse condition.”
The Bingham Centre for the Rule of Law, to which I am indebted for its excellent briefing, has expressed its concerns. It is important to understand the dynamics of a trial. Central to its success in convicting the guilty and acquitting the innocent is the ability of magistrates and the jury, as finders of fact, to assess the credibility and accuracy of the evidence of a witness, and that includes the defendant. I think we all know that we rely upon body language, expression and tone of voice in making these assessments. We look at the whole person. I have always found it odd that in Number 1 Court of the Old Bailey, the witness box is on the same side of the court as the jury, so its members do not see the witness face to face but catch a sideways view only by cricking their necks to the left; it is like a tennis match.
A full evaluation of the impact of the coronavirus-type virtual proceedings and its effect upon the right to a fair trial is needed. The House of Commons Justice Committee has recommended
“that the Ministry of Justice reviews how well remote hearings have worked for all participants in all jurisdictions before rolling them out further.”
Similarly, the House of Lords Select Committee on the Constitution concluded:
“Research suggests that the format of a hearing may have a substantive impact on the case outcome. If that is true, the shift to remote hearings in response to the pandemic must be scrutinised closely. It is vital that sufficient data are collected to assess the impact of remote hearings on outcomes.”
It also said:
“There are real concerns that remote hearings are disadvantaging vulnerable and non-professional court users, as well as those with protected characteristics. But the requisite data to assess and address these concerns are not available.”
I agree with those sentiments. I should hate to see the day when criminal trials are conducted by a disembodied judge on screen, with a jury on another screen, witnesses on a third, and the only person in court being the lonely defendant in the dock. That would not be a fair trial by any standards.
My Lords, I thank the Minister for performing what I think must have been quite a difficult task in explaining so clearly this long and complicated Bill. In referring to my interest as a barrister in private practice, as set out in the register, I also say how much I am looking forward to hearing the maiden speech of another barrister, my noble friend Lord Sandhurst, who will bring his experience and wisdom to our proceedings, to our collective advantage.
I entirely agree with the Constitution Committee’s report on the Bill, published on 9 September, and with earlier speakers—I have said as much myself in relation to other Home Office and Ministry of Justice Bills over the last 30 years—that the Bill is far too big. I have seen worse examples of this habit of introducing excessively large Bills, but it seems to be a habit ingrained in these two departments. At least this Bill has only one volume, but it has 177 clauses, 20 large schedules, extends to almost 300 pages and covers a large number of disparate subjects. I make no personal criticism of my noble friend on the Front Bench, or other Ministers in this House who have the conduct of this Bill, because I doubt whether they have any say in the matter, but this insidious habit affects Cabinet Ministers from all parties as soon they are appointed to office in these two departments.
I am not sure whether it comes from a desire to appear to be actively responding to what is often mistakenly thought to be some acutely felt public need or to persuade colleagues on the Cabinet sub-committee on legislation that because the Bill is so big, it must be important and should come higher up the programme than other Bills vying for recognition and parliamentary time. Having attended that sub-committee, I know there is always strong competition for a place in the parliamentary legislative programme every Session, but it sometimes looked as though someone had swept an entirely random collection of ideas from Home Office or MoJ shelves into the Bill. Not for the first time, we are presented with a criminal justice Bill that contains some good and worthwhile provisions, others of lesser value or utility and, judging from my right honourable friend George Eustice’s recent press article, will soon have a plainly unnecessary additional provision to criminalise something that is already a crime—namely, dog theft. I think that in this House we can tell the difference between an Early Day Motion or virtue-signalling and a useful addition to the criminal law.
Bills that are too big do not receive proper scrutiny in the other place, where Governments strictly guillotine Bill Committee and Report stage schedules. This Bill is hugely controversial on several fronts and your Lordships’ House will want to give it the attention it deserves. There is no time in a crowded Second Reading debate to set out detailed arguments, but there is much wisdom in the Delegated Powers Committee’s report published yesterday. Many of us would like to see the Bill amended—some of us to take things out, some of us to put things in, and some of us to do both. There is much to be considered in the provisions of the Bill on public order, data gathering, life and minimum sentences, and delegated powers. I agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, in relation to IPPs. While having concerns about those matters, and respecting the long-standing right to protest, I would like to alter the law on aggravated trespass so that those who disrupt a lawful activity should have the burden of proving, as opposed merely to asserting, that the activity they would like to disrupt, or have already disrupted, is unlawful.
Large criminal justice Bills cause unintended consequences, and I trust that the Committee and later stages of the Bill will not be rushed or truncated. Bills of this sort do not make easy work for the judges and lawyers who have the job of applying their provisions, once enacted, in real cases involving real people. When shadow Home Affairs and Justice Minister, I used to ask Labour Home and Justice Secretaries, including the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett, how many of the provisions in the approximately 60 criminal justice statutes enacted by their Governments since 1997 were respectively still in force, had not been implemented or had been repealed before implementation. The answer was roughly one-third in each category. Let us therefore try to enact about 33% of this Bill well and coherently and just write newspaper articles about the rest.
My Lords, I want to mention two specific matters. The first has already been addressed by the noble Lord, Lord Thomas of Gresford. Clause 169 will allow members of the jury to take part in a criminal trial remotely through the use of video and audio links, as long as all the members of the jury are together in the same place. I very much share the concerns expressed by the noble Lord: they have also been expressed by the Bar Council and the Law Society.
They expressed concerns because the success of a jury trial depends in large part on a good working relationship between the judge and the jury. Trust and confidence need to be built up. The jury needs to be attentive and mindful of its onerous responsibilities; the judge needs to watch the jury to ensure that members’ interests are protected and they are properly performing their responsibilities. People, of course, go to prison, sometimes for long periods of time, as a consequence of this procedure. Counsel, both prosecution and defence counsel, have to engage with the jury through advocacy and through their questions to witnesses. All of this is much more difficult to achieve through a video screen. The Lord Chief Justice, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Burnett, said last year, and I agree, that a remote jury trial
“would make the jury spectators rather than participants in a trial”.
Most of us lawyers and judges in this House will testify from our own experience in the past 18 months that a remote hearing is a far less effective means of communication than a live hearing in the courtroom. I expect that almost all Members of this House will have had the same experience participating in parliamentary proceedings over the past 18 months. I very much hope that the Government will think again on this very important subject.
The other matter I would like to mention today is an amendment to enhance the protection of women. It is an amendment to the Sexual Offences Act 2003, which the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, will table for Committee and which I will support. I am speaking on it today because the noble Baroness cannot be in her place. I will do my best briefly to explain the issue.
The House will recall that the Voyeurism (Offences) Act 2019 amended the Sexual Offences Act. Essentially, it made it a criminal offence to take photographs up a person’s skirt or kilt—it is sexually neutral—when this is done in order to obtain sexual gratification or to cause humiliation, distress or alarm. In the debates on the current Bill in the House of Commons, an amendment was proposed to add a further voyeurism offence. The offence would be to take a photograph or video of a woman who is breastfeeding, provided that this is done to obtain sexual gratification or to cause humiliation, distress or alarm. Sadly, this is a mischief which occurs frequently, and it has understandably caused immense distress to many women victims, as has been explained by Stella Creasy MP, the moving force behind the amendment in the House of Commons. These women complain to the police; the police are sympathetic but explain, rightly, that there is nothing they can do about it.
In Committee in the House of Commons, the Minister, Victoria Atkins, for whom I have great admiration, agreed that this is
“unacceptable, creepy and disgusting behaviour”.—[Official Report, Commons, Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill Committee, 24/6/21; col. 748.]
Who could disagree with that? But on behalf of the Government, she opposed the amendment to make such conduct a criminal offence because the Government want to await a Law Commission report on the publication of intimate images on the internet.
I can see no good reason why we should not now amend the law to make this form of distressing and inexcusable conduct a criminal offence. I very much hope that the Government will think about this and accept the forthcoming amendment from the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, in Committee or on Report.
My Lords, I want to speak about a specific group who will be affected by some of the Bill’s provisions. I suspect that I would not need to make this speech had the Government accepted the amendment I moved during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Act, which would have introduced mandatory training for all front-line workers in public agencies where an abused woman may turn up. We discussed then the importance of recognising the effects of trauma on the behaviour of women with experience of violence and abuse. Unfortunately, the Bill as currently drafted would exacerbate the problem and drive more women into the criminal justice system, rather than ensuring that they get timely and appropriate support. I am sure that is not what the Minister wants.
For brevity, I want to concentrate on one example of the provisions in the Bill that may be problematic if introduced without the right sort of knowledge and understanding. The serious violence reduction orders would increase the number of women with complex needs being sentenced to prison. I want the Minister to particularly think about those young women who have been groomed and experience serious and often violent sexual exploitation. Changing Lives—an organisation I used to chair—and organisations it has been working with in West Yorkshire in the STAGE project, has many examples of this and the problems that the Bill would therefore bring. Agenda also tells me of young black women who are often exploited in gangs. These are the women who may well be caught with facing two years’ imprisonment for the possibility that they “ought to have known”—as the Bill says—that someone in their company was in possession of drugs or weapons.
I was pleased to hear the Minister say that the diversion of people from prison is a key aim of the Bill. I know that the Ministry of Justice and, I am sure, the Home Office have been looking seriously at how to reduce the number of women going to court and to seek other ways of avoiding custodial sentences. It would be unfortunate if such work was put at risk in this Bill. I am afraid that the issue I raise demonstrates a lack of understanding of what happens in grooming and sexual abuse and exploitation among adults.
The consequences of this Bill could be very damaging. Could the Minister therefore find the time to discuss with me and some of the organisations working with these women what the consequences of the Bill could be? I have just given one example of those orders, but there are other aspects in the Bill that the Minister and the Government need to think about. Maybe with a civilised discussion we could avoid some of those real problems and not put these women at even greater risk of entering custody, which would not help them at all—nor would it lead to protecting the community more effectively.
My Lords, I will speak on Part 1 of the Bill concerning the police covenant, which I am pleased to support but which I believe needs a little improvement, and on Chapter 4 concerning pre-charge bail provisions. There are, of course, other very important parts of the Bill—most notably on restrictions to protest, which I will oppose.
I declare my interests in the register and my honorary membership of NARPO, the National Association of Retired Police Officers. I am pleased to see the inclusion of the police covenant report, which will show the state of the health and well-being of police officers and, importantly, those who have retired. As president of the Police Treatment Centres, which I have spoken about before, I am only too aware of how mental health issues have impacted on the care we give to officers, both serving and retired.
Being a police officer, and the situations and experiences with which they often have to deal, has a significant impact on an individual’s mental health, particularly after they have left their force. It is therefore absolutely vital that the police covenant recognises this and that appropriate measures are put in place to ensure that the necessary mental health support is available for individuals’ physical and mental well-being. I intend to table an amendment in Committee to reflect this concern, which I hope the Government will consider, and I will be doing it virtually.
I support the increase in penalties for assaults on emergency workers. We have seen during the pandemic the quite disgraceful assaults they have endured, and I hope more imaginative sentences can be given to those who carry out these crimes. Simply applying financial penalties will not necessarily stop the perpetrators.
I have long argued for special constables to be given access to membership of the Police Federation, and I warmly welcome this proposal.
Part 2 of the Bill talks of collaboration with others delivering public services which relate to reducing and preventing serious violence, as we have heard. Since I first became chair of my own police authority many years ago, with the support of the excellent Association of Police Authorities we devised collaborative agreements with other forces and the public sector—so this is not new, but from time to time it needs reinforcing.
Chapter 4, which I have referred to, deals with pre-charge bail provisions. In 2016, when we were dealing with the Policing and Crime Bill, I offered a number of amendments—none of which was accepted, of course—so I am trying again. I am once again grateful to the Police Superintendents’ Association, and in particular to its president Paul Griffiths, who alerted me to the concerns it again has about this issue. Had our suggestions been taken on board then, we would not still be in this situation today.
In essence, the association recommends that, should a suspect be arrested and then released on police bail, a summary offence, punishable by a fixed penalty or fine, should be levied for any breaches of the conditions. Under the current proposals, when a suspect breaches their police bail, they can be arrested and brought into custody, but the only action police can then take is to release them on the same bail conditions; there is no punitive aspect to the breach, only a power of arrest. There is no deterrent, so the conditions to protect the public are meaningless. I hope the Government will look again at this, because it seems to me to be making a mockery of the justice system, and I do not understand what the resistance is to this fairly simple and long-needed improvement to police bail.
There are indeed things to welcome in this Bill, but, as I said at the beginning, there are also some completely unacceptable restrictions, many of which will impact disastrously on particular minority communities. I look to the Government to take note of the amendments which will be tabled in Committee and which will address so many of our concerns.
My Lords, in the impossibly restricted time available, I can only advise the House on the key findings of the Delegated Powers Committee, which I am privileged to chair. We published our report yesterday, and it is already heading to be a bestseller.
I am afraid that this Bill is yet another we have studied with thoroughly inappropriate delegations which seek quite wrongly to deprive Parliament of proper scrutiny—or any scrutiny in some cases—of important and contentious matters. It is not the fault of my noble friends on the Front Bench. They inherited this delegated powers drafting mess from the Commons, and Commons Ministers of all parties, going a long way back, always worry about the politics of a Bill and never care about the delegated powers in it. I was just as guilty when I was a Minister. The Home Office has not been an habitual offender over the past few years, but some of the delegated powers in this Bill are quite unacceptable.
So who do I blame? Those who drafted it and have an overview of all our criticisms over the years. It seems that the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel has blatantly ignored everything the Delegated Powers Committee has been saying over the last five, 10, 20 years; or it has not learned the lesson from those who drafted the Environment Bill, which was absolutely exemplary in delegated powers terms.
So yet again we see in Clauses 18, 31, 64 and 140 so-called “guidance” to which people “must have regard” not getting any parliamentary scrutiny at all—not even the negative procedure. Then there is the usual excuse that, since they will consult all other interested parties, we in Parliament can be ignored. We have the incredible statement that, although this “must have regard to” guidance can be used as evidence in court, it is not binding, so it does not need to be an SI considered by Parliament. I look forward to what noble and learned Lords have to say about that—please explain it to me in simple language.
Clause 43 amends the PACE Act 1984 on pre-charge bail; but not only will Parliament not see the details, the power to make the regulations is being given to a non-statutory body, a company limited by guarantee, in fact called the College of Policing. It was created as a limited company in 2014 and the then Home Secretary, Theresa May, said that it would be put on a statutory basis when parliamentary time allowed. Seven years later, that has never happened, although it has been granted extraordinary powers to make and enforce laws in the meantime. Honourable though they undoubtedly are, this is still a group of self-appointed chief constables in a limited company making rules which the police and others must obey. I simply say, these are the same people who issued contradictory advice on the enforcement of the Covid powers, contrary to what we in Parliament had actually voted through. I suggest that, until they are legitimised in law, they should have no law-making power and anything they propose should be advanced by the Home Secretary as regulations getting the negative procedure.
On Clause 61 on serious disruption, I emphasise to the House once again that the Delegated Powers Committee has no opinion whatever on the merits or substance of any parts of the Bill. But we all know that this provision is contentious, and the Government have produced an illustrative statutory instrument giving a definition of “serious disruption”. It is only half a page long, so my committee takes the view that it should be in the Bill, with a power to amend it as and when necessary. We take a similar view on Clause 77 and believe that the provisions should be in the Bill with an amending power.
We have also made some serious criticisms of the delegated powers in Clauses 7, 8, 80, 82 and 120 which I have no time to address today.
Our report was published yesterday. I encourage all noble Lords to read it and take forward any relevant amendments to which they may be guided. I do not want answers from my noble friends today, because I know we will get a full departmental response in due course.
Yesterday I was able to stand up in this Chamber and commend the noble Lord, Lord Goldsmith, and Defra for implementing every single one of the Delegated Powers Committee recommendations in a Bill which is almost the same size as this one. Why did Defra do that? It was because, like our recommendations here, not a single one of our recommendations on the Environment Bill removed or diminished any substantive parts of the Bill. We were saying to Defra on the Environment Bill, “Put these from negative to affirmative; publish these; lay them before the House. Let’s have a bit of scrutiny—we do not want to delete anything from the Bill or add anything to it”. That is why Defra could go along with it.
All we are saying today is that the Home Office and the police will be making a rod for their own backs if they do not let Parliament have even a cursory look at highly contentious guidance and regulations.
My Lords, I will attempt to address three short points in the hope that I can push a little on an open door.
On the first point, relating to abstraction from mobile phones, the door has already been opened by the Minister. This problem has bedevilled the criminal justice system for at least nine years, and the opportunity has now come to deal with it comprehensively. The Bill does not do so. My noble and learned friend Lord Judge admirably put the change in the mores in a way which I could never match, but there is an area on which I can perhaps add a bit—the change in technology and the advent of programmes that can be used to assist has greatly changed things. I hope, therefore, with the indications given by the Minister, that we can look for a comprehensive piece of work, in a code or in statutory provisions, that will deal with this subject comprehensively.
The second area I want to turn to briefly is the use of out-of-court disposals. They play an essential part in the criminal justice system; I wish to say nothing about the specific changes put forward. However, with the growth in the use of out-of-court disposals over the past 15 years, there has been the need to ensure consistency, transparency and accountability. Attempts have been made by the judiciary, in conjunction with the magistracy, the police and the Government, to try to set up some form of accountability, particularly through panels of magistrates. I have no time to go into the details of that but a lot of it is summarised in a report by Cerys Gibson of Nottingham University, published by the Sentencing Academy in February. What is needed, if the confidence of victims and the public is to be maintained in this very extensive use of sentencing powers, is proper scrutiny. This will ensure consistency so that one force does not vary from another; we cannot have a postcode lottery. We also want to be sure that the police carry this out fairly and appropriately. I hope that the Minister will be prepared to explore this area, which needs dealing with comprehensively.
Thirdly, Clause 109 concerns a much more specific but important point. For the past 20 or so years, it has been a hallmark of our justice system that matters dealing with the sentencing of individuals are dealt with utterly independently and that people are not put, or kept, in custody for longer other than through a judicial or Parole Board process. The power under Clause 109 may be needed to deal with high-risk offenders in respect of certain individuals, but it is a power referred to the Parole Board by the Secretary of State. I very much hope that we can do two things: first, ensure that the clause is drafted in such a way that the risk of political pressure is removed; and, secondly, ensure that no one is kept in prison for longer than is necessary and that the decision to keep someone in longer is that of an independent body. As I read the clause, as it is currently drafted, it is possible—by a very late reference by the Secretary of State—for someone to be kept in custody without any judicial determination. I hope, therefore, that the clause can be looked at carefully and amended, because I am sure that no one wants to see us go down the road of terms of imprisonment being extended other than by an independent judicial body. It may be a small point, but the two hallmarks of our system require independence from political interference and decisions on custody being totally in the hands of independent bodies.
My Lords, I too look forward very much to the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst. He comes to this House with an outstanding legal reputation and we are lucky to have him.
Clearly this is a major and massive Bill with important proposals in it, but am I alone in worrying slightly that the Government should be dealing today with all these matters when it seems, to me at least, that some urgent issues around the criminal justice system are causing it sometimes to be in a state of near crisis? Actually, the civil justice system is, in my view, in a real crisis of many years’ standing. Surely the Government and Parliament should be discussing and debating those issues. If that means getting rid of some of the no-doubt worthy clauses in this Bill, perhaps that would be a price worth paying.
There are issues around case delays, trial delays and the endless desires, wants and needs of victims. Then there is remuneration and legal aid. In the case of civil legal aid, if I may say so, the effects of the LASPO Act—arguably the worst piece of legislation passed in the last 10 years—have been baleful. It has denied, and continues to deny, a large number of our fellow citizens any access to advice and justice. This Bill cannot be a cover for lack of action in those areas.
I have just stood down as a police and crime commissioner, which I did for five years. Day by day, I witnessed policing at fairly close quarters. I believe I am firmly of the view—I think I am persuaded—that the case for raising the maximum penalty for assaulting emergency workers is made out. Every Monday morning, week after week, I would hear of the extraordinary number of police officers who had been attacked and assaulted over the previous weekend, albeit sometimes in a minor way, if there can be such a thing as a minor assault. Of course the prospect of higher sentences—I do not like it in principle, actually; I suspect that the House does not either—is nowhere near a total solution but, if it deters some from offending, it is worth at least trying because the level of assaults on emergency workers is just not acceptable.
I oppose the changes to the policy on the policing of protests. The proposals seem vague and risk undermining the balance between freedom and control that is so vital to our free society. I urge Her Majesty’s Government not to use the police as a cover for these changes. Police officers are members of the public too; this is very much in the Peelite tradition. They, for the most part, treasure and support the freedoms that we enjoy in this country. In my experience, albeit anecdotally, the police are at the very least sceptical about some of these proposals.
Would the Minister be prepared to see me about an amendment I want to make? It is small but reasonably important, and concerns the unique way in which anyone who wants to be a police and crime commissioner candidate—noble Lords may ask why anyone would want to do that anyway—cannot be one if they stole a Mars bar or scrumped some apples 30 or 40 years ago. The Act we passed 10 years ago makes it absolutely clear that anyone with a caution or conviction for an imprisonable offence is automatically excluded, whether they went to prison or not. That does not apply to the Home Secretary, High Court judges or, if I may say so, bishops. I hope that the Minister will, in her usual courteous way, be prepared to meet me on that matter.
My Lords, I intend to focus my remarks principally on the public order powers set out in Part 3 of the Bill, particularly their potential impact on protest against the failure of Governments here and around the world to take the urgent steps necessary to address the climate and ecological emergency.
When I first heard about the Bill some months ago from someone in the environmental movement, I thought that they were parodying the Government’s proposals. When they assured me that they were not, I thought that they must simply have been mistaken. Then I read the Bill. As we have heard, it provides new powers to ban noisy protests that may cause “serious disruption” or
“have a relevant impact on persons in the vicinity”.
Who determines what all this means? It is the Home Secretary, by regulations; it is not on the face of the Bill. The Bill also imposes a maximum 10-year sentence on those who obstruct
“the public or a section of the public”
or cause “serious annoyance” or “serious inconvenience” to another person, among other things.
I am sorry that the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, has left the Chamber. I listened very carefully to what she had to say, and I do not doubt her motivation in what she argued, but it sounded very similar to the arguments that I recently read in the letter written by the six clergy of Birmingham, Alabama, criticising the civil rights campaign. In response, Martin Luther King, Jr., in his powerful letter from a Birmingham jail, said that the clergy had warned against what they saw as extreme and divisive tactics and the unwise and untimely strategy of direct action.
People take direct action when the political process fails to address issues over an extended period of time. When that failure poses an existential threat to those people, the solution is to address the issues and try to understand the reasons behind the anger and the protests, not to force them further underground. These powers will not remove divisiveness from society, as the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, hopes: they will do the opposite. They will not quell environmental protests, because acting with the urgency posed by the existential threat of climate change is the only thing that will do that.
During the campaign against the apartheid regime in South Africa, many in this House took part in the 24-hour picket line outside South Africa House. We often made quite a lot of noise. I have no doubt that the apartheid regime operating inside that embassy found that protest a serious annoyance, a serious inconvenience and, most likely, a serious loss of their amenity. We were there to cause such annoyance, to be as noisy as possible, and to raise our voices loud in protest so that the world which had not been listening, and the Government in this country who had not been listening, would do so.
Today, environmental protesters are raising their voices loud against the existential threat to life on our planet. They are raising their voices loud against politicians in this House and elsewhere who make bold, long-term promises but fail to take the vital actions to follow them up. They are raising their voices loud against those who, over the past three decades, and even to this day, continue to deny the science of climate change and, as a result, have put our whole planet at risk. Yes, they are using the time-honoured tradition of civil disobedience and peaceful obstruction. Yes, it is obstructing the public and is no doubt causing serious annoyance to people, including, on occasion, to me. However, the reason these people are protesting on the streets is because the people inside this Parliament have recklessly failed to protect our planet over a period of decades.
Those out on the streets are not there for no reason. They are there for one simple reason: because without them raising their voices and forcing their way on to the news agenda, the world would not be listening. They are not the selfish ones: it is they who have shown that they care enough for their community, their country and their planet to take action to raise our attention and the world’s attention to what Martin Luther King, Jr. called
“the fierce urgency of now.”
My Lords, one can sense the eagerness and anticipation in this House, particularly among the seasoned parliamentary guerrilla fighters, to tackle a very broad range of issues that come within this very large Bill. Yes, it is a big Bill, but it covers a lot of very important subjects. I listened to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, attack the scale and scope of the Bill, but I recall a number of pretty weighty criminal justice Bills being introduced by the Government of whom he was a distinguished member, and having sat through many dozens of hours of scrutiny.
None the less, I accept the noble and learned Lord’s point—and it was made in a particularly poignant fashion by my noble and learned friend Lord Garnier—that we should really only legislate where a change in the law would genuinely address a challenge at hand that could not be tackled by better execution of the legislative powers that we already had. That should certainly be our watchword when considering a Bill such as this, rather than to govern by initiative.
Nevertheless, we have some very serious problems that we cannot just duck because they are difficult and complex. It is clearly not right that thousands—and, on occasion, millions—of people should have their lives and their human rights disrupted by aggressive and well-organised militants whose intention is the disruption itself rather than the protest. The world has changed, particularly as a result of technology and related social media, and we have to adapt accordingly.
I do not doubt that it is very difficult to find the right balance, and to find that just line to draw; however, I also strongly feel that it is wrong to belittle serious and thorough attempts to adapt the legislative framework to protect the rights of those who want to protest while equally protecting the rights of the vast majority to go about their lawful business without serious disruption. It is clear in my mind that the balance is not right now, as is shown by daily events. To bury our heads in the sand and refuse to recognise the problem is to abrogate our responsibility.
Have the Government got the balance right in this Bill? I must confess that I do not know. There are a lot of experts in this House, and I look forward to hearing what will be, no doubt, passionate debates on this subject. Similarly, I do not feel that we can ignore the fact that we have a serious problem with unauthorised encampments. There have been too many instances of great disruption and distress caused to local communities that have had to endure violence, intimidation, crime and damage to property, among other consequences. I hope that we will be able to consider this matter in the calm, balanced and respectful manner which is the hallmark of debate in your Lordships’ House, without questioning the motives of those who are seriously attempting to find a fair and balanced legislative solution.
This is an important Bill, covering a very broad range of subjects. I have a feeling that it will be a slightly less broad Bill by the time it departs this House, but we owe it to everyone to examine the proposals put forward, and the manner in which they have been put forward, with due consideration.
My Lords, I have no time today to talk about what is in this Bill, only to talk about what is not but plainly should be: IPP prisoners, a subject already touched on by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, and the noble Lord, Lord Blunkett. This Bill represents a further step toward sentence inflation and must inevitably lead to a greater prison population and more overcrowding. Remedying the IPP regime would not only help cure a great and growing injustice in our system, it would also make some contribution—if perhaps only a modest one—towards reducing, instead of endlessly increasing, the prison population.
The very first sentence of the impact assessment for this Bill, under the heading,
“What is the problem under consideration?”,
speaks of too many offenders
“not serving a sentence that reflects the severity of their crime”.
Tell that to the remaining 1,722 IPP prisoners never yet released from their sentences—sentences which, by definition, were imposed before 2012, when the whole discredited IPP regime was abolished by LASPO, although, alas, only prospectively, not retrospectively.
Of those 1,722 prisoners—these figures come from June of this year—96% have passed their tariff expiry date and 555 have served over 10 years beyond their tariff term, which is the term specified, in the words of the impact assessment, to reflect
“the severity of their crime.”
Astonishingly, of those, 207 have actually got a tariff term of less than two years. Are these not appalling figures? Indeed, many of them have served well beyond the statutory maximum determinate sentence for their offences. Frankly, this is a system of preventive detention which some know effectively as internment.
That is not the end of the problem because in addition there are now in prison a further 1,332 IPP prisoners recalled under the licence provisions; therefore, making more than 3,000 IPP prisoners still incarcerated in our prisons. Recalls are a growing problem. The number is increasing year on year. The great majority are not for further offending but rather for often comparatively minor non-compliance with release conditions, such as not giving their correct or up-to-date address—and they do not always find that easy—or for mental health reasons.
All these IPP prisoners, whether never yet released or recalled, have to discharge that most difficult of burdens to prove for release that they would then be safe. In the meantime, they and their families live in a Kafkaesque world of uncertainty, hopelessness and despair. It is small wonder that there have been many suicides among this population: twice as many IPPs even than ordinary life sentence prisoners. It is self-harm. It is also small wonder that Justice Ministers past—Tories such as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke of Nottingham, and Michael Gove—have recognised the manifest injustice of all this and called for reform. Indeed, on 31 July I hope at least some noble Lords read Matthew Parris, who devoted his whole column to urging the Government to have the political will—as he put it, the guts—finally to deal with the gross injustices that these prisoners continue to suffer. We cannot afford to miss this opportunity at long last to do something for this cohort.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to speak on this Bill. Every time I have worked on a Bill since I arrived in your Lordships’ House nearly eight years ago, I have thought, “This is the worst Bill I have ever seen”, and every one is, but this is a stinker and it is quite obviously not going to help the police. If you produce a policing Bill and you cannot get former police chiefs, UN special rapporteurs, the Joint Committee on Human Rights and the European Center for Not-for-Profit Law on your side, something is wrong with it.
The Minister mentioned that the Government are increasing the number of police officers by 20,000 and increasing the budget, but I point out to her that in fact the police are not yet up to the numbers and do not yet have the budget that they had when the Tory Government took over 11 years ago, so this Government are not particularly kind or good to the police. We all know that policing is tough, but this Bill will not help.
Surprisingly—or interestingly, or however you want to see it—I, like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, have 11 issues that I am concerned about in the Bill. I think there will probably be more by Committee and my noble friend Lady Bennett has her own issues as well, which are equally serious and disturbing. I will try to gallop, in the very limited time we have to speak at Second Reading, through these issues.
The first is Part 2. Unprotected data gathering and sharing is a very disturbing part of the Bill. For example, it mimics what has happened with the Prevent programme. That programme has disproportionately targeted Muslims and minority ethnic communities, and it is likely that human rights infringements will be felt most acutely by those already overpoliced and overrepresented in the criminal justice system. These measures could have a disproportionate impact on marginalised communities and groups advocating for social change, with Black Lives Matter, Muslim people, women and climate change activists—among whom I am, I hope, a guerrilla fighter—being particularly affected. This Bill makes it more difficult for those oppressed groups to have a voice in our society at a time when it is so desperately needed.
I agree very strongly with the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, that we should not be adding to the Bill. We should be removing things. In fact, if we could remove the whole Bill, that would give me a few nights of good sleep. In the meantime, we can fight on all these things.
Part 3 on public order undermines democracy by limiting freedom of speech. It poses a threat to the core purpose of a protest: to allow people who feel unheard by decision-makers to speak and be heard. This part silences them. When we talk about disturbance and unease from noise, I would like to complain about the noise we hear from the other end of this Palace. The way the House of Commons carries on often upsets and displeases me, so perhaps we could apply the Bill to it.
The Bill allows future Home Secretaries to determine what constitutes a disruption. Do the Government really think we trust Secretaries of State to do that? Throughout the Bill the vague language means that it leaves too much up to officers at the scene, and we have seen this year that the police misinterpret laws, partly because they are not given good, clear instructions by the Government, but that is another issue. For example, the policing of the Sarah Everard vigil at Clapham Common was terrible. To allow through such broadly defined legislation leaves the door open to more poor policing, which the police themselves do not want. There is nothing in the Bill to protect women and girls. That is a tragic oversight.
Finally, Part 5 is on road traffic. I would like to insist on the full review of road traffic offences and penalties that was promised in 2014. We have waited seven years, so perhaps it could happen. We also need to strengthen the penalties for serious hit-and-run offences, those where the driver knew or reasonably ought to have known that the collision was likely to involve fatal or serious injury, and tackle the exceptional hardship loophole whereby convicted drivers routinely evade driving bans by pleading that they would cause exceptional hardship. There was a classic case of somebody who claimed it would be exceptional hardship if he could not use his Bentley to drive one mile to the park to walk his dog.
My Lords, I shall focus on one proposal: to criminalise trespass for the first time. This offence has been for centuries only a civil offence. The provision fundamentally disadvantages that small number of Gypsies and Travellers who still keep to their traditional nomadic culture but have no authorised stopping place because of the negligence, and worse, of local authorities in ensuring that Gypsy and Traveller sites and stopping places are available, as judges have found. This is a discriminatory provision. It prima facie breaches Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights on respect for private and family life, including traditional ways of life, and Article 14 of the convention on the right not to be discriminated against in the enjoyment of Article 8 indirectly or directly, as well as the Equality Act.
It is, moreover, a very wide-ranging measure to penalise a very small absolute number. Even a single Gypsy with his van can be caught, so not only might a family have no place to stop, but the vehicle in which all their possessions are may be impounded. Let us have some idea of the numbers involved. There are in England only 694 Gypsy and Traveller caravans—3% of the total—on unauthorised encampments. That is because of the shortage of sites. No family willingly stops somewhere without running water, waste disposal facilities or electricity and where they face hostility.
The Government justify their trigger for this hostile action as the causation of “significant” damage, disruption or distress, and it is the landlord who can start this process. But these are highly subjective terms and, given the widespread prejudice already evinced, open to cruel abuse. The loose drafting of this provision puts people in peril at the whim of a landlord, and nor are the police asking for these powers, as has been said. What assessment do Her Majesty’s Government make of the police reaction?
Numerous civic groups are against the provision. A conservative think tank, Bright Blue, says that the provision of enough sites would solve the problem without the need for more legal intervention. Moreover, the recent planning definition that Gypsies and Travellers must travel to qualify for site provision, thus penalising the old, the sick and those caring for them, is made unrealistically harsh by this proposal—unless it is accompanied by obligations to provide more sites. So why are the Government proposing this? It looks suspiciously like a dog-whistle appeal to prejudice and racism.
Things seem to be better in Wales, where there is an obligation on local authorities to meet the assessed need for sites. Is it true that the Welsh Government consider the proposal to criminalise trespass to be systemic, racist legislation? What has been the Welsh response?
It would be wrong not to acknowledge that there have been good initiatives—some from the Church of England, some from the enlightened approach of the noble Lord, Lord Bourne of Aberystwyth, when he was Minister, together with recent undertakings from the noble Lord, Lord Greenhalgh, and many through the increasing confidence, education and good citizenship of Gypsies and Travellers themselves. But still, this most basic need for appropriate sites to live on is misunderstood by public policy. Some local authorities do well, and there are well-run and harmonious sites as a result, but, as I have said, the percentage of available sites is pitiful in relation to the need—that is the problem.
I hope I am not an impatient person, but I doubt if I have many years to wait for recognition of what should be done. Really, words fail me—not something that should happen in your Lordships’ House. What are the Government thinking of, sending people with no alternative place to settle to wander the roads, making criminals of them and condemning their children to interrupted schooling and alienation, and, in the last resort, sending them to prison? Where is the impact assessment of all this, as well as of the cost of evictions? In the 21st century, after the terrible century of racial persecution we have endured in Europe—still going on for the Roma people there and elsewhere—how can the Government think that this clause is acceptable? Do they really want to go down in history as the Government who drove these ancient peoples from their only stopping places, without recourse to any other lawful destination? I hope not.
My Lords, I am not sure whether the knocking sound behind us has been someone trying to get in or someone trying to get out of the Chamber.
The House recently established a new Justice and Home Affairs Committee, which I am lucky enough to chair. We are currently looking at new technologies and their application in the law—wider than the Bill, but very pertinent to it and to crime prevention and reduction, and to policing and sentencing. Artificial insemination—
I hope Hansard does not repeat that.
Artificial intelligence has huge potential benefits and raises huge concerns, and it is not anticipating the work of the committee to refer to them this afternoon. For instance, collaboration between authorities—Part 2 of the Bill—requires the sharing of information. Will this contribute to profiling and predictive policing? Predictive policing algorithms identify likely crime hot spots; officers are deployed there, and so more stop and search takes place and more crime is reported. It is a feedback loop; a self-fulfilling prophecy which can teach the algorithm to alert the user to particular geographical areas, communities and ethnicities. It has been put to the committee that it is important to involve at a very early stage of the process, and in a meaningful way, members of the communities that are likely to be at the sharp end of these algorithms, and not to leave it to people such as the witness or me—a white, middle-class, university-educated person, who is unlikely, one hopes, to be profiled as a future risk—because even with the best will in the world, we might not spot some of these problems and risks. A tick-box exercise is not enough.
Trust in systems translates to trust in authorities and in government itself—or, of course, the converse. The Bill permits the disclosure of data, but who owns it? What consents are required? Who knows about disclosure? We all expect some information—for instance, that between us and our medical professionals—to remain confidential. Transparency is important at an individual level, as well as more broadly. A defendant, or indeed someone questioned, will find it difficult to establish what technology—what combination of facial recognition technology, number plate recognition, predictive techniques—has led to his being identified as a suspect. If he cannot identify it, he cannot challenge it. How are we to ensure governance, regulation, accountability and scrutiny on an ongoing basis in the case of machine learning?
The technology has to be procured, and it will be procured from the private sector, whose interests are not the same as the public sector’s, and it is differently regulated, if at all. How can we be sure that purchasing authorities in the public sector understand what they are procuring? In the US, some police departments accepted a free trial of body-worn cameras, but they came with an obligation to be part of the manufacturer’s data ecosystem, including an obligation to use that company’s software and store data on its servers.
It is said that we need “human override”, but humans can get it wrong too. Human operators need to understand the limitations of particular technology to avoid overreliance on it or misinterpretation; they need to retain their critical factors.
These issues apply to identification, the extraction of information from electronic devices, monitoring and more that is in the Bill. They are the context for the development of policing and sentencing, such as the new cautions; for scrutiny, both general and in particular cases; and for our assessment of ethical considerations. We should be clear that there are clear principles to be applied. The National Audit Office has just reported on the national law enforcement data programme from a value-for-money point of view, of course, but there are other costs. The NAO mentioned, as I have, trust and the cost of damaging it. AI impacts society, communities, democracy and individual rights. We must be clear about what we are doing and why.
My Lords, my brief comments today will primarily focus on domestic abuse and serious violence. My key point regards how this legislation could be amended to help with the prevention of domestic abuse.
When this Chamber debated the Domestic Abuse Bill earlier this year, I raised the point that older people are often forgotten when discussing such legislation. A study by Hourglass—formerly Action on Elder Abuse, which I was proud to establish some years ago—found that 2.7 million people aged over 65 in the UK had experienced such abuse. It is totally unacceptable that anyone of any age should have to experience domestic abuse, where very often the perpetrator is a family member or someone close to the victim.
I will support the amendment led by the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, and co-sponsored by the noble Lords, Lord Polak, Lord Russell and Lord Rosser, to extend the definition of “serious violence” to explicitly include domestic abuse, domestic homicide and sexual violence. Furthermore, I congratulate the domestic abuse commissioner for England and Wales, Nicole Jacobs, on her superb commitment and leadership in raising awareness of these issues.
Currently, the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill leaves it to local authorities to decide whether domestic abuse and sexual violence should be included in local strategies. Sadly, these crimes can happen to anyone of any age in any place. Any serious prevention strategy must start at the national level and include all local authorities. Home Office draft guidance currently says that local areas could consider including violence against women and girls as part of the new duty, if they choose to do so. This needs to be much stronger, and not optional, because we know that these crimes happen throughout the country, not just in certain areas. Preventing domestic abuse against not just women and girls but anyone of any age must be a top priority for us all.
When the Bill was debated in the other place, the Government rejected an amendment to extend the time that survivors have to report incidents of common assault to the police from the current six months to a maximum of 18 months. However, for many of those who are being abused, it is very difficult to report what is happening because coercive and controlling behaviour is sometimes part of the abuse. A mother being assaulted by her son or daughter may have a fear of stigma—of being seen as a bad parent—so she may be very reluctant to report the crime, and, if she does, it may be much later. Given that most domestic abuse, and certainly most of the abuse of older people, never gets reported, having a six-month time limit significantly reduces the chances of perpetrators being brought to justice. Can the Minister please explain why the Government wish to retain the current six-month limit?
Finally, there are significant issues relating to the Travelling community in Part 4—I support what the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, has said about this. I also note the issues regarding the rights to protest under Part 3. There is always a fine balance between protecting the rights of free speech and protest and ensuring public safety. In its current form, the Bill has yet to get this balance right. Therefore, once again, it falls to your Lordships’ House to perform its constitutional role as a revising Chamber to correct this.
My Lords, I begin by calling noble Lords’ attention to my previous service in the Metropolitan Police. I look forward very much to my noble friend Lord Sandhurst’s maiden speech this evening.
I do not need to remind your Lordships that the Bill covers many aspects. In the time allowed, I will dwell, perhaps superficially, on just a few that I feel are particularly noteworthy at this stage. First, I am delighted that the police covenant is to be enshrined in law at long last, ensuring that the police will always have the support of the nation. Having been at the coalface of policing for many years, I think that this is an important step forward in recognising the daily dangers faced by police. I congratulate the Home Secretary on ensuring that police, support staff and the families who stand behind them will all receive that special recognition that they all deserve. This will create a statutory duty to do more to support the police, placing a requirement on the Home Secretary to report annually to Parliament on progress on the covenant and to ensure that it applies to all those currently in, and—I am delighted to say—retired from, policing roles.
Quite apart from the challenges of everyday policing, police officers are governed by a strict discipline code, which rightly imposes a standard of behaviour far in excess of that expected from the rest of society—so I am delighted that the covenant recognises that working within policing comes with a high level of personal accountability, duty and responsibility, requiring courage and personal risk, both on and off duty. Much of this has been on display during the pandemic, which has seen policing challenged and portrayed in an unpopular light at times.
On the issue of assaults on police and other emergency workers, I share the views of the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, in respect of the sentencing policy of courts. Of course, I fully support the increase in sentencing from one to two years; indeed, I would go further and increase it to five years. However, I believe that the important point here is for the courts to use the power of sentencing more effectively as a deterrent. Assaults on police and emergency workers should be viewed as among the more serious offences, but they are often trivialised by ineffective sentences in the courts. Assaults on paramedics, firefighters and police attending emergency calls should and must be dealt with through forceful sentencing. I call on the Ministry of Justice to be firm in its guidance to the courts on this issue.
I turn to another point. The Police Federation of England and Wales has successfully campaigned for a time-limit amendment to be included in the Bill, in respect of disciplinary investigations. I agree with it that, too often, officers are subjected to long and lengthy investigations without just reason. I have witnessed this myself during my police service, and, as the federation rightly points out, it is a common occurrence for officers under investigation to see their cases drag on for longer than one year, with some lasting as long as eight years. Quite apart from the stress, pressures and unjust nature of such prolonged investigation, it is often the case that officers are found to be acting quite properly but have been subjected to a lengthy disturbance of their career path. Therefore, I fully support the Police Federation’s call for a time limit of 12 months for disciplinary proceedings brought against officers to be introduced, excepting of course that there are sometimes circumstances where 12 months might not be possible.
I come to Part 3 and Clauses 55 to 61, which, in essence, introduce changes to the way that protests are policed in England and Wales. This is perhaps not the time to analyse in great depth the arguments for and against—there is little doubt that this aspect of the Bill will create much debate during its journey through your Lordships’ House—that time will come. However, there is little doubt in my mind that the behaviour in recent months of particular groups of demonstrators on the streets of London, and in the vicinity of Parliament more specifically, has established a clear need to distinguish between the rights of demonstrators to demonstrate and the rights of people and businesses to go about their lawful employment without fear and without being obstructed and prevented from doing so.
It is my firm belief that police should be given every tool available to support them in this task, but I fully realise and recognise the need to carefully balance police powers against those very genuine people and organisations that feel the need to have their voices heard—so I look forward to the progress of the Bill, which I will add my voice to as it makes its way through your Lordships’ House.
My Lords, the Bill will take a while in your Lordships’ House, and I will raise three short points. I apologise to the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, because two of them are not actually in the Bill. One is another Home Office IT failure, the second is women in prison and the third is the powers of the food crime unit at the Food Standards Agency.
Published last week, the National Audit Office’s report on the national law enforcement data programme could not have come at a worse time for the Home Office, as it presents this Bill. The police are on the front line, as ever. I declare that a close family member is a police officer.
The police need access to accurate information. Five years ago, the Home Office made a plan to replace two police IT systems—the police national computer and the police national database. These are part of the UK’s critical infrastructure, and are reaching the end of their lives, with their technology becoming obsolete. Costs are up by 70%, and a 2020 review said that it would be late, costly and—wait for it—would not meet the needs of the police. Under new plans it will not operate till 2025-26, yet the present database will not be supported technically after December 2024.
This is a sorry tale, but it is not the first IT failure in government—and certainly not the first IT failure at the Home Office, which has a bad record in this respect. I share the responsibility, along with my noble friend Lord Blunkett; we were not perfect. The fact is, however, that this needs raising and dealing with.
The National Audit Office recommended that
“the Home Office should immediately clarify its role and that of the police in the delivery of the new service and agree a revised business case”.
In addition, it said that the Home Office needed to guarantee that the systems would work, and could be relied on, until the new system was ready. The police should not be called on to cover up Home Office failures.
My second point is based partly on the excellent brief from Women in Prison, which has been raised by other noble Lords. It is that the Bill misses the opportunity to radically reduce the number of women in prison, and to prevent families being torn apart by prison. Is it the case that, as alleged, the sentencing changes proposed have been drawn up without consultation with the voluntary sector, including charities that provide front-line services? I would really like to know the answer to that before Committee.
The impact assessment recognises that the changes could have a negative impact on families, as they will be apart longer. A key requirement is that the Bill should be amended so that the courts have a duty to consider the impact on dependent children when sentencing their primary carer. Obviously, some women will still go to prison. But the effect on children when the primary carer is sentenced should be looked at. The rights of the children should be given due regard. We also need a clear requirement for information to be obtained on people with parental and primary care responsibilities who receive a custodial sentence, and on their children.
My third point is not covered in the Bill either, but I think it should be. On 22 February I raised at Question Time the issue of food-related crime. This essentially relates to the need to allow the food crime unit at the Food Standards Agency to operate against organised crime, without its hands tied behind its back. The powers under PACE should be given to the unit. The National Police Chiefs Council agrees to this. It would remove a burden from the police, who admit that they have never given food crime a high priority.
It has been announced today that we are going to carry on allowing food to come into the country without any checks for another six months, and maybe a year. This is a multi-billion pound industry, and the scope for criminals, and for organised crime, is enormous. This Bill seems an ideal place to make this change. Why was it not included?
My final point relates to the Minister. In the past 18 months, while we have been in this very difficult situation, her stock has risen considerably in this House. She is now in a very strong position to go back to the Home Secretary and spell out exactly what the views of this House are, and why they should be recognised.
My Lords, the measures relating to protest and public order in Part 3 of the Bill are of interest to the wider review that I have been asked to undertake for the Government in my role as their independent adviser on political violence and disruption. I am consulting widely on that review, analysing a call for evidence at present, and undertaking measures to understand the public’s wider views on the issues of political violence and the balance with freedom of speech. I am also listening carefully to your Lordships’ views as expressed today, and, no doubt, through Committee. I do not intend to pre-empt the review, which will be handed in shortly and, I hope, published soon after that, but I will make just one general point on this issue.
My observation is on the relative absence from this discussion of the primacy of Britain’s democratic process, of which, of course, the other place in particular—this House is a revising Chamber—is a central part. It is also about the potential for physical acts of disruption, which could be described as physical force in one form or another, to run counter to the expression of public will through the ballot box, or for making your views known in non-physical ways.
I listened carefully to what the noble Lord, Lord Oates, who is not now in his place, evocatively described when he was talking about climate change. Indeed, I spoke to representatives of Extinction Rebellion as part of the review. The fragility of the democratic process to be able to enact what growing numbers believe is needed—indeed, there is now scientific consensus—should surely be deeply troubling to all of us. One point that I put to the members of Extinction Rebellion on the Zoom call was that the problem might not be the lack of sufficient channels, or the fact that the channels had been corrupted by terrible capitalism or vested interests. I said that the problem might be that the public might not be willing to enact the measures that the XR members—and indeed, increasingly myself, and many of us in this House—believe are necessary. That is a huge tension within our democracy, but it is not necessarily solved by ever more disruptive protests.
Part of my review is taking the public’s views, and noble Lords may not be surprised—certainly, those who have been in the other place and listened to our constituents talking about such measures will not be surprised—by the kind of views that the public have on such matters.
I shall devote the rest of my time to something that has been raised effectively by a number of noble Lords: the need for stronger measures to tackle the scourge of domestic abuse that is wrecking—and indeed taking—so many lives in this country. As others have said, Nicole Jacobs, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner for England and Wales, is surely right to say that the vital progress the Government are securing in the Domestic Abuse Act, and the strategy on violence against women, will be undermined if the proposed serious violence prevention duty in Part 2 of the Bill does not explicitly include domestic homicide, domestic abuse and sexual violence.
The Government appear to wish to give local police forces the flexibility to include these matters explicitly in their own strategies. However, it is unclear to me, as it is to the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, what case any force could make for not making the prevention of serious violence a central part of its duty, given the grim annual toll of women’s lives taken by their partners, and the other violence committed by those partners. If we cannot make that case, surely the amendment that the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, and others will be tabling should be seriously considered by the Government.
My Lords, there are some valuable things in the Bill but they are dwarfed by things that really should not be in it. Parts of the Bill are dangerous to our civil liberties while other substantial parts add nothing useful to existing law.
I shall concentrate on just four points. To start with, there is the sheer extent of the Bill, which has been referred to. As a former member of the Constitution Committee, I am enthusiastic about its report pointing out that Bills of this size and complexity impede proper legislative scrutiny by Parliament.
Secondly, the Bill makes bad law. Take the deeply objectionable attempt to reduce rights to protest, in apparent defiance of the European Convention on Human Rights. This gives enormous subjective discretion to police officers—who, so far as I am aware, have not asked for that kind of subjective role—and introduces the concept of “unease” in relation to noise, in the wording
“persons of reasonable firmness … may … suffer serious unease”.
I like to think that I am a person of reasonable firmness and indeed I am caused serious unease by loud noise in shops, restaurants and various places, but it does not usually represent a reason why someone else’s civil liberties should be seriously abrogated. In this context, we really have to avoid such badly worded legislation.
Thirdly, I turn to the Delegated Powers Committee, which the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, has spoken about. The committee says in its report:
“We are surprised and concerned at the large number of inappropriate delegations of power in this Bill.”
There is the accretion of ministerial power to rule by statutory instrument. The Secretary of State will have power by regulation to prescribe what constitutes “serious disruption”, in Clause 55, and will have the Henry VIII power to alter the meaning of “qualified homicide” and to amend this Act accordingly. The extraction of confidential information from telephones is inappropriately left to regulations that, in the view of the committee, should be in the Bill itself and therefore amendable. The committee also pointed out that the Bill will
“allow the imposition of statutory duties via the novel concept of ‘strategy’ documents”
that in some cases may not even be published at all. There are also the usual wide powers of consequential amendment by regulation, which currently seem to be slipped into many Bills as standard.
Then there is the direct and indirect effect of the Bill’s sentencing provisions and the wider sentence-inflation effect that they, and the rhetoric of longer sentences, will produce. The impact assessment reckons that there will be 700 more prisoners, with 300 new prison places immediately required. Paragraph 43 speaks of
“a risk of having offenders spend longer in prison and a larger population may compound overcrowding (if there is not enough prison capacity), while reducing access to rehabilitative resources and increasing instability, self-harm and violence”.
We have seen that happening in prisons, and if we have 700 more prisoners it will get worse.
Measures to bring about longer sentences are wide in their effects because it is not merely about the inclusion of a long sentence for a particular offence; it is all the campaigns that then follow, saying that the sentence for something else is not enough—“That’s all you get for stealing someone’s pet rabbit”, for example—that could happen if the Government go ahead with this suggested amendment. There is a knock-on effect, and it affects the judiciary. There is no escaping the fact that long periods when much is talked about longer sentences have an effect on what judges do in sentence determination.
This move to longer sentences is a major reallocation of resources, unsupported by any evidence that it is the most effective way to keep the public safe either by deterrence or by rehabilitation during custody. These are resources that are desperately needed to fight crime and tackle the problems that lead people into crime in the first place. It really is time that we corrected this trend.
My Lords, it is an honour to speak in your Lordships’ House for the first time and to do so in support of this Bill, introduced by the noble Baroness, Lady Williams of Trafford. I am grateful for the kind words of the noble and learned Lord, Lord Garnier, and the noble Lords, Lord Bach and Lord Davies of Gower.
When I succeeded my father in 2002, I never in my dreams expected that I would take my seat as I thought we would no longer be here, but here I am—and after a contested election, if not the sort of election that some reformers might endorse. May I begin by saying how welcome everyone here has made me feel? I have received great support from the staff of this House, not least in the Library and at the digital drop-in, and of course from the doorkeepers.
I hope the House will forgive me if I say a little about myself. After Oxford I went to the Bar. I practised under my family name as Guy Mansfield. I was not the first barrister in my family; that was one James Mansfield. In 1772 he, with others, by habeas corpus, secured the liberty of Somerset the slave before the great Lord Mansfield—no relation. James was later Solicitor-General and Chief Justice of Common Pleas. His grandson William was not a lawyer. He went into the Army, was a distinguished soldier and reached the rank of full general. William Gladstone made him a Peer and he took the title “Sandhurst”.
My great-grandfather practised a little at the Chancery Bar. My grandfather and father both aspired to be lawyers but two world wars intervened. They both served with distinction and were lucky to survive, but they did not go back to the law afterwards,
My early practice covered a wide field, like many in my time: crime, civil and family, and a range of courts. I acted for clients from all backgrounds. I was lucky in my first two years to share a room in chambers with the future noble and learned Lord, Lord Woolf, who was a great exemplar.
Life was often quite tricky. I was not always very good. My wife, who is not a lawyer, came once to watch me give a plea in mitigation. Ever the kind but critical friend, she said: “Had you nothing better to say?”
Some years later I went off to represent a district council in a planning inquiry. It was my first such, so I had never been to or seen one. I was greeted rather breathlessly by the planning officer, who said: “Oh, Mr Mansfield, this is my first inquiry. I’m so glad you’re here to show me the ropes.” I kept my counsel, we survived and we were successful.
In 1994 I took Silk. I also became a recorder and later a deputy High Court judge. The 1990s were a time of great change for the Bar. It had to respond to High Court advocacy rights for solicitors and to the introduction of conditional fees. At that time I chaired two Bar committees in succession that had to address these. Next we had the competition inquiry into the legal professions. As a result of that, I chaired the working party that introduced direct access so that people did not have to go through a solicitor to see a barrister. In 2005 I became chairman of the Bar. On my doorstep was the Clementi report, which wanted to introduce widespread change in the regulation of the legal professions. I am proud that in that year we on the Bar Council created a new constitution in the space of the year that took effect from 1 January 2006 with a new separate and independent regulator, the Bar Standards Board, under a lay chair. I think that was a big achievement.
I returned to practice. In 2009 I chaired another working party, in response to Sir Rupert Jackson’s inquiry into costs in civil cases, to look at something called a contingent legal aid fund. We came to the conclusion that the Government should look at such a fund, which would be a privately funded not-for-profit scheme to fund civil litigation. Sadly, it went into the long grass, where it remains. That is not for today but we must do more to support access to justice in the civil and family courts.
In 2012 I took over leading the Foreign and Commonwealth Office’s legal team defending claims by 40,000 Kenyans for damages for alleged assaults in Kenya during the Mau Mau insurrection. That trial lasted for 232 court days and was far and away the most complex thing that I have ever done. When it finished in 2018, I thought, “That’s it.” I retired and looked for a change of direction—so here I am. I feel greatly privileged to have been elected. I hope my background shows areas where I might be able to contribute, but I will wish to contribute on a wider canvas too.
Turning to the Bill, which I shall deal with quite shortly, I have looked at it not only with the eyes of one who sat in the Crown Court as a recorder but as a member of the public who lives in this great city and travels on public transport, like everyone else. I am conscious that the Bill has created controversy and that some parts are not necessarily easy, but I suggest that its broad principles are correct. Today, I shall focus on just three of its provisions.
First, there are the provisions to protect emergency workers. My daughter is a consultant in the NHS. She works on the wards and has told me, quite a lot of times, of incidents of assault—not just in A&E but actually on the wards. Doctors and nurses deserve protection. Secondly, I commend the provisions to make different local bodies work together to prevent serious violence. That must be wise. Thirdly, I identify the provisions for the extraction of information from electronic devices. I say nothing about possible improvements by amendment; the principle is sound. I commend the Bill to the House.
My Lords, it is a pleasure to follow my noble friend Lord Sandhurst and be the first to congratulate him on his maiden speech. As he said, he is better known outside as Guy Mansfield QC—an outstanding barrister—and there was a rustle of silk from his learned friends as they came into the Chamber to hear him.
As my noble friend said, he is a former chairman of the Bar Council and a deputy High Court judge. As head of research at the Society of Conservative Lawyers, he has campaigned for better provision of legal aid in the civil and family courts, writing that
“every man is equal before the law, but he has got to get before the law before he can attain that equality.”
He is also a prominent member of Justice, the human rights charity, focusing on those who have been marginalised by society. Of particular interest to your Lordships are his recent papers on the inadequacy of the Government’s drafting of Covid regulations and the oral evidence he gave to your Lordships’ Constitution Committee on access to personal data—both relevant to the Bill before us.
I first encountered my noble friend’s powers of advocacy during the 2019 general election, when we were both canvassing on the pavements of Putney. As it happened, that was one of two seats which my party lost—but entirely my fault and not his. Those powers of persuasion will now be put to use in the calmer atmosphere of your Lordships’ House, where his professional skills will help us improve this Bill and others. He is warmly welcomed, and I hope he will defend me against the Whips if my speech now lasts more than five minutes.
I want to intervene briefly to support the noble Lord, Lord Best, who will table an amendment to repeal the Vagrancy Act, and my noble friend Lady Bertin, who will table an amendment on domestic violence and access to housing. I make a related plea in support of Stella Creasy’s campaign on behalf of children subjected to gang-related violence.
Eighteen months ago, during Oral Questions, I asked about the Vagrancy Act, making the point:
“It has the unfortunate consequence of criminalising rough sleepers, by bringing them before the courts. This isolates them from the support that the Government are funding through housing and employment. As it approaches its bicentenary, should this Act not be repealed?”.—[Official Report, 23/1/20; col. 1152.]
I raised the matter again in April, pointing out that attitudes to those who sleep rough have softened over the last 200 years, and that provisions that refer to “idle and disorderly” “rogues” and “vagabonds” living in “coach-houses” and “stables” have no place in modern legislation. The Government’s review of the Act was commissioned in August 2018 and was meant to be concluded by March of last year. When I asked about progress last April, the answer, in a phrase often used at the Dispatch Box, was “in due course”. But given the statement by the Secretary of State, Robert Jenrick, repeal should not now be controversial, accompanied by amendments if necessary to give the police and others the powers they actually need to deal with vagrancy and aggressive behaviour. I hope that when she winds up, the Minister can say that an amendment tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Best, will have government support.
On domestic violence and access to housing, again, I hope we are pushing at an open door. Along with other noble Lords, last Thursday I tuned in to a webinar hosted by the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, with contributions from the police and crime commissioner from Nottingham, the deputy mayor in London and a courageous victim of domestic abuse who is now a police officer. What struck me in coming relatively new to this subject was, first, the unanimous praise for the action the Government have already taken in this field with legislation, with the 2018 Serious Violence Strategy and with the introduction of violence reduction units; and, secondly, the narrowness of the gap between what is already in legislation and the amendment to be tabled by my noble friend.
While the Government want flexibility of local response, the reformers want a clear statement of priorities through a small but important extension of the definition of domestic abuse. As I understand it, where the guidance says “could consider”, we want “must consider”. Is it worth sacrificing the good will and progress already made by falling out over this, particularly as the Domestic Abuse Commissioner told us that the Policing Minister is supportive?
In passing, I was concerned to hear that women’s refuges refuse to take boys over 10, meaning that one family had to return to the home of the perpetrator, and that the pattern of domestic violence is changing, with a growing number of assaults by children on adults.
Finally, I say a quick word on behalf of Stella Creasy’s campaign. Too many young people, including children as young as 14, are being murdered as a result of being groomed by criminal gangs in their neighbourhood. The common factor in these cases is the need for families, or in some cases just young people on their own, to be urgently moved to a suitable place, remote from the gang activity. But too often the mothers’ desperate pleas are not taken seriously enough. Again, the gap is a narrow one. The Government say these vulnerable people may be able to access priority housing under existing legislation but that they have first to demonstrate further vulnerability, such as a mental health condition. We think that hurdle should be removed, and I hope to add a bauble to this Christmas tree in Committee, further improving what is already an excellent Bill.
My Lords, I draw your attention to my entry in the register of interests. In this Second Reading, I shall speak to just one clause: Clause 45, which seeks to include sport under “Positions of trust”. There is some further clarification required as to the scope of inclusion and the measurement of data but, as the Minister suggested, I strongly support its inclusion. The majority of people I speak to are surprised that it is not already included. After all, teachers are, and arguably they have less power over their pupils’ lives than, say, a coach, whether employed or a volunteer.
I have been privileged in my time in sport to have met many amazing people who go above and beyond, and who care and protect the people they support. However, over the years I have been told by too many people that such a clause is not required. This is certainly not about criminalising a 19 year-old, who is perhaps a coach in a local club, and a 17 year-old. However, we must recognise that, in sport, as in all cross-sections of society and occupations, there are some people who will use their position, young peoples’ hopes and dreams, friendship circles and a feeling of belonging to overstep the mark.
Clause 45 lays a marker in the sand. It says that there is no place in sport for someone who has perhaps coached a young person since the age of 11 and then turns up on their doorstep on their 16th birthday asking for a date. There is no place in sport for the person who says to a 16 to 18 year-old that if they want to make the team, there is only one thing that they need to do—and they do not mean an extra training session.
The defence given too many times for this behaviour is, “They are good at what they do. They are a good coach.” I reiterate: they are “good at what they do”. There is not a chart that says to a coach or a supporter, “If you achieve x, you get to sexually harass; if you achieve x+2, you can stalk; and if you achieve x+4, you can be in a sexual relationship with a 16 to 18 year-old.” What if you achieve x+6? What can you then do to a young person? This is not someone who is good at what they do—they are a predator.
I would like to thank the Ministry of Justice and the Secretary of State, the right honourable Robert Buckland, for listening to the many cases put forward. I also thank the honourable Sarah Champion MP, who has campaigned for years, as well as the honourable Tracey Crouch MP, and the many other people who have supported this. Sport can be amazing and hugely positive, and most of the time it is. It can be a great frame of reference and lived experience—there are so many benefits for young people—but it can also ask a lot of young people as they develop into adulthood. As the NSPCC has said:
“These benefits should not come at the price of exposing children to a risk of being groomed, exploited or manipulated by those adults who they look to for leadership, guidance and support.”
Clause 45 is essential to protect the reputation of coaching and those who support young people, and, not least, the 16 to 18 year-olds who just want to be involved in sport and activity.
My Lords, I begin by adding my fulsome welcome and congratulations to the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst. His expertise and lengthy public service speak for themselves. I hope he will forgive me for saying that he is one of the kindest lawyers I have met, at a time when kindness is perhaps in short supply in public discourse. I am sure that he will be a huge asset, not just to the Benches opposite but to your Lordships’ House.
This Christmas tree Bill, with significant ambitions and implications for the rule of law, was railroaded through the other place with unseemly speed. So I hope that, with the breadth of expertise in your Lordships’ House, we will give each of its clauses an extremely anxious scrutiny in the weeks and months ahead. I am completely with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, and my noble friend Lord Blunkett on the need to deal with indefinite detention, and with so many other persuasive arguments that have been made around the Chamber. However, I shall use my too-short time today to touch briefly, perhaps predictably, on Parts 3 and 4, which, in my view and that of so many others, violate fundamental rights and freedoms, and threaten our democracy itself.
A hallmark of many authoritarian Governments is the perverse contrast between a light and cosy touch in relation to the activities of the super-wealthy and powerful in society on the one hand and a clampdown on non-violent—I repeat, non-violent—dissent and cultural difference on the other. As the right honourable Member of Parliament for Maidenhead said at Second Reading in the other place:
“It is tempting when Home Secretary to think that giving powers to the Home Secretary is very reasonable, because we all think we are reasonable, but future Home Secretaries may not be so reasonable.”
She went on to say she would
“urge the Government to consider carefully the need to walk a fine line between being popular and populist. Our freedoms depend on it.”—[Official Report, Commons, 15/3/21; col. 78.]
Goodness me—if only we could vaccinate Home Secretaries before they took office rather than waiting for an immunity from authoritarian instincts that may come afterwards.
The parts of the Bill to which the former Prime Minister was referring have not been significantly amended since those comments. I suggest, along with others from whom we have already heard, that Parts 3 and 4 do not walk her suggested fine line against authoritarian populism; they scrub that line virtually out of existence. Non-violent—I repeat, non-violent, which is what Part 3 is about—on-street assembly and dissent is as much a fundamental freedom, including under the convention on human rights, as voting in fair and regular elections. Indeed, the franchise was not won for most ordinary people in this country, less than a hundred years ago, without a great deal of just the kind of protest that would be criminalised by this Bill, which will be added to an already crowded statute book of broad public order powers ripe for use and misuse by accident or design against noisy, impactful or disruptive protest—as defined by the Home Secretary, for many years to come. Goodness me, will the Home Secretary not become, perhaps not Henry VIII but Henrietta I?
While some noble Lords have expressed their concerns about counterproductive protest tactics, I have concerns about our counterproductive responses, at a time when the BBC has just this afternoon broken the story of a report that demonstrates that an overwhelming majority of young people are hugely concerned about climate catastrophe, to the point where it is affecting their mental health.
While Part 3 jeopardises the freedoms of everyone, Part 4 deliberately and maliciously targets one of the smallest, most vulnerable and even demonised minorities in our nations. I congratulate my noble friend Lady Whitaker for her tour de force today, but also for so many years of advocacy in defence of that community. To be clear, Part 4 is reminiscent to me of the infamous treatment of the east African Asians, who were rendered second-class citizens by euphemistic legislation—in that case, the Commonwealth Immigrants Act 1962— which was none the less obviously focused on them. It criminalises the Travelling way of life and creates a crime of “intending to reside” on land without consent when, as we have heard, there is inadequate land provision for these communities and already plenty of—and too much—civil and criminal law used against them.
I hope noble Lords will forgive me but, in my humble opinion, it is just as racist to target the nomadic lifestyle as it would be to single out the special food, dress, language or prayers or any other group. These illiberal provisions, in particular, violate fundamental rights and freedoms and pour lighter fuel on the so-called culture wars. I look to my noble friends, noble and learned friends, other friends, and noble Lords across the House to demonstrate the principle and courage required to defeat them—otherwise, I do not know what we are for.
My Lords, I offer to the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, my congratulations on his maiden speech. We are glad to welcome him to this House.
With so many words in this wedge of a Bill, it is easy to forget that we are talking about people—as someone said earlier, real people—and the potential consequences for real lives. There is a huge responsibility, therefore, to get these details right, for both the police and the public. The noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, is right, that deep scrutiny is needed here in this House. An example of the wide range of the Bill and the important but almost impossible nature of covering all of its detail is that, although my friend the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of St Albans is unable to attend today’s proceedings, he has asked me to relay his intention to amend the Bill in Committee, to strengthen the ability of the police to deal with the issue of hare coursing. That is something to look forward to.
My main point—and noble Lords might expect me to spot and say this—is that there is an absence of almost any reference to the work of faith communities in several key areas in the Bill. Despite the differences between different faith bodies, this huge army of volunteers is present and active in nearly all communities. One good example is in Part 2, Chapter 1, where there is a consultation on plans to prevent and reduce serious violence, and consultation with education, prison and youth custody authorities. There is no mention of the faith communities that have a particularly good local source of knowledge and experience on the ground. Again, in Chapter 2 of that part, in the homicide review, members of the faith sector may have been intimately involved in issues leading up to that event, and will almost definitely have been caught up in the support and care for family members thereafter, when they conduct a funeral or other bereavement care. The same point applies, for the need of a reference to the faith community, regarding the rehabilitation of offenders, the referral of offenders, the remand of young people and the management of sex offenders. Massive investment is made by all faith communities and specific charities in serving the people most affected by the Bill. That ought to be recognised and included, as was referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Rooker.
I have two different points to make on Part 4, in support of the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker. I cannot see why it is necessary to include Clause 62(1)(3) and the mention of those residing on land not their own not returning for 12 months. That implies that they could return in 12 months. That clause should be removed. Clause 63 needs to include a reassurance that if the court requires the forfeit of a vehicle and possessions, the people and families who live in those homes are not losing their home. This aspect of the Bill should not remove the homes of the Traveller and Roma community, but simply ensure they are on land appropriate for their use.
Finally, I have three questions on Part 1, in support of the noble Lord, Lord Davies of Gower. I support the idea of a police covenant report on the well-being of our much-valued police force, but does the Secretary of State have the resources to gather the material each year? Is an annual report far too frequent? If it is annual, it will be a permanent, rolling piece of work. As soon as one report is finished, work will have to start on the next. Is it possible to compare our unique police force with other professional bodies, and use that comparison as a criterion for assessment? There must be a better way of assessing the information. Ought there not be a call for more than a report? We are so good at producing piles of paper that get received and approved but then lead to little action. I would include a requirement in this report, prescribed by the Bill, for the Secretary of State to produce a series of recommendations that improve the conditions and well-being of the police and their families. We need to do more than simply know how they are.
My Lords, I congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, and I look forward to hearing many more of his contributions to this House.
I want to talk about Parts 3 and 4 of the Bill. On Part 4, it is my experience, some years ago as a councillor in Somerset, providing and maintaining sites for Gypsies and Travellers, that leads me to realise what an utter disgrace this part is. The Minister said in opening that this was in the Conservative manifesto, and so it was. It was a dog whistle that really builds on social anxieties to garner votes, and that is about as low as it gets. It also demands the impossible. It reminds me of the ill-guided bedroom tax legislation, because that demanded that people move to smaller houses when there were no smaller houses for them to move to. This is the same: it demands that people solve a situation where there are no sites available for them. It is just inadequate provision. Really, the Government need to rethink this entire part and get rid of this part entirely.
I was interested in the well-meant speech by the noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, on Part 3, which I now turn to. It put me in mind of a quote from the author John Grisham, who said:
“Privileged people don’t march and protest; their world is safe and clean and governed by laws designed to keep them happy.”
Of course, the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, reminded us about the suffragettes. Women would not have the vote had they not been marching, protesting and disrupting life around Parliament tremendously. I believe that street protest is a fundamental protection that people have when those in power get it wrong, at not only a national but a local level. We have barely mentioned the local level this afternoon, but that is equally important. Feet on the street is a way of protecting your local playing field or library when they are threatened with closure. This country has rightly deplored regimes that criminalise dissent and discourage protest with threats of jail. Yet here we are, in this part, looking at doing just those things. To be noticed, dissent cannot be silent; it is likely to be disruptive and upsetting. I remember protesting once with the charity Baby Milk Action. We had a small white coffin on the high street in Yeovil, and it did upset passers-by but they were really interested in why we had a coffin there. If this Bill had been in place, I expect we would have been charged with upsetting the local population.
Part 3 of the Bill as it stands would have a very chilling effect on protest, because the proposed crime of serious annoyance carries a big sentence. As others have eloquently said, it is just not adequate to leave the Home Secretary to define that part. When looking at Part 3, I ask myself why it is in the Bill at all. I think it is there because the Government have realised, and Boris Johnson in particular has realised, just how many howls of protest there will be when the current Conservative proposals come into being, in communities in towns and villages that will be excluded from planning decisions under the planning Bill, and from thousands of people as the Government fail on climate change measures, such as the appalling collapse of the Green Homes policy. The Minister condemned some of the Extinction Rebellion actions yesterday. The name of their campaign was Insulate Britain, and that is a direct result of the Government ratting on the Green Homes policy.
In conclusion, do the Government really believe that those who voice their concerns loudly should suffer for life? That is exactly what will happen if they have a criminal record. Algorithms check whether you have a criminal record. It will be impossible for you to get a job interview, to rent a house or to get a visa for the United States. Life will be a series of no, no, no. As this Bill stands, if you care about your future, you cannot afford to go on marches or attend protests. But if you care about the future, you really cannot afford not to do those things. You have to try to protect the things you see as under threat, whether it is the whole planet or your local sports field. Our job is to make sure that that is still possible.
My Lords, I too welcome the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, to this House. I am sure he will make a great contribution.
With only five minutes, I will be very specific and speak on Clause 12 in Part 2. Happily, many other noble Lords have also raised this as an area of concern, and I am very grateful to them. As all those in government discover fairly quickly, it is not that easy to make a lasting difference, even when you have all the levers of power at your disposal. Yet in this vast but important legislation there is a chance to do exactly that. This comes in the form of the Bill’s new serious violence prevention duty, which, as we have heard, will require a range of public bodies such as the police, health and probation to work together to prevent serious violence—something I wholeheartedly support and think is long overdue. It will empower those professionals who can intervene before a crime takes place, rather than relying on the criminal justice system, which often steps in far too late. However, as others have already flagged up, the definition of serious violence for the purpose of this duty does not explicitly include domestic abuse or sexual violence. I think this is a mistake and a missed opportunity.
Let us just remind ourselves that domestic abuse and sexual violence are among the most prevalent forms of serious violence. More than one-third of all violence recorded by the police is domestic abuse-related, and it is the most common type of violence to be experienced on a repeated basis. Nearly half of all female homicides are domestic homicides. Despite this, as we have heard, charging, prosecutions and convictions have fallen significantly in recent years for both rape and domestic abuse, something we know the Government say they are determined to reverse. So, on one hand, the Bill does the right thing when it comes to the punishment of sex crimes, but it potentially throws away the chance to prevent or reduce them in the first place.
As the Bill stands, it will be up to local areas to decide whether they want to include domestic abuse and sexual violence in this new duty and these new prevention strategies. Of course, this sounds perfectly reasonable on paper, the argument being that local areas must have the flexibility to shape their strategies to fit their local crime profile. However, there is plenty of evidence, as this House will know, to suggest that domestic abuse and sexual violence are ubiquitous across the country. There are no hot spots; it happens everywhere. There is even more evidence to show that some areas consistently fall short in their commitment toward these crimes. I am therefore far from convinced that without explicitly including domestic abuse and sexual violence in the legislation we will achieve the change anywhere near quickly enough. There are many policies where localism works, but this issue is national, and is one where we are constantly playing catch-up.
Another big problem with this omission is that much of the proposed guidance around this new duty refers back to the Government’s serious violence strategy, which itself does not include domestic abuse and sexual abuse as “serious violence”. This has always been a concern, but now may have a very real knock-on impact on the way local boards interpret the scope of this duty. Last week I heard from two fantastic violence reduction units, in London and Nottingham—the ones my noble friend Lord Young referred to—which are doing incredible work to prevent domestic abuse and sexual violence, but they are the exception. In fact, only eight of the 18 violence reduction units, which are considered a forerunner to the new serious violence prevention duty, consider domestic abuse and sexual violence in their plans to prevent serious violence. There is still a persistence in culture across many police forces, and the criminal justice system generally, that crimes committed at home by an intimate partner are somehow less serious than crimes committed outside by a stranger.
As we know, earlier this year the Government published the Domestic Abuse Act, which provides an important legislative underpinning for the provision of support for victims of domestic abuse, as well as legislating for a raft of new criminal offences. By publishing a new Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls Strategy soon after, the Government have deepened their commitment to the issue. This Bill should and could be the perfect dovetail and complement to this work, but those ambitions will be fulfilled only if we pursue a more holistic approach to preventing, reducing and ultimately ending these crimes for good. The Bill before us provides the chance for the transformational change we need, by legislating for a pre-emptive, public health-focused approach. I call on noble Lords and the Government to support my proposed amendment to therefore include domestic abuse and sexual violence on the face of this important legislation. We have a lever of change before us and we must use it.
My Lords, this Bill presents your Lordships with an opportunity to right a long-standing wrong and introduce a modest legislative change that is long overdue: it is our chance to repeal the cruel and unnecessary Vagrancy Act 1824, which makes rough sleeping a criminal offence.
The Vagrancy Act is a leftover from a long-past era. It was originally enacted in response to public disquiet over the numbers of destitute and often wounded demobbed soldiers returning from the Napoleonic wars. Even then, there was much opposition in Parliament, not least from William Wilberforce, to the notion of punishing people for being homeless. Today, it serves no useful purpose but instead has negative consequences: by casting the street homeless as criminals, the Act inhibits the referral of those sleeping rough to the services that can address their needs; it places a burden of enforcement on the police service when the issue is really one for community and social services; and it discourages homeless people themselves from seeking support, for fear of prosecution. Those convicted under the Act are landed with a fine of up to £1,000 and a criminal record, neither of which serves any purpose in helping people recover from homelessness.
There is a separate issue of aggressive begging and anti-social behaviour, for which the police need to retain some existing powers, and the amendment to be proposed when we reach that stage would repeal the Vagrancy Act. This amendment, devised by the homelessness charity Crisis and backed by a consortium of 50 knowledgeable bodies, ensures that this balance is maintained. Repealing this 200 year-old Act is supported by distinguished senior police figures, such as a colleague on the Cross Benches, my noble friend Lord Hogan-Howe, who says:
“Frontline police are called upon to make judgment calls about vulnerable people who are living on the streets … every day. There is a lot of pressure to act on issues like rough sleeping and begging … The Vagrancy Act implies it is the responsibility of the police primarily to respond to these issues, but that is a view firmly rooted in 1824. Nowadays, we know that multi-agency support and the employment of frontline outreach services can make a huge difference.”
Moreover, my noble friend adds that while the Vagrancy Act remains, homeless people are actively discouraged from engaging with the law, even when they are victims of dreadful violence and abuse, and he concludes:
“This does not help anyone”.
Support for repealing the Act comes not only from those grappling with its consequences on the front line but from policymakers across the political spectrum. The MPs speaking in the Westminster Hall debate last April led by Nickie Aiken, Member for the Cities of London and Westminster, represented all parties and different areas of the country. They included Bob Blackman, the instigator of the important and successful Homelessness Reduction Act 2017, which I had the privilege of piloting through your Lordships’ House; Layla Moran, Oxford West and Abingdon, who has campaigned on this issue for many years; and Mike Amesbury, Weaver Vale, from Labour’s Front Bench, all unanimously supporting the Act’s abolition. The Minister in the other place, Eddie Hughes, noted the statement of Robert Jenrick, the Secretary of State, that it was legislation
“whose time has been and gone … the Act itself, I think, should be consigned to history.”—[Official Report, Commons, 13/4/21; col. 44WH.]
Taking this opportunity to repeal the Vagrancy Act now will surely strengthen the Government’s rough sleeping strategy and their laudable target of eliminating rough sleeping by 2024. It is our good fortune that a legislative opportunity has now emerged, in the form of the Bill before us today, which can finally resolve this matter. I know an amendment to repeal the pernicious and counterproductive legislation of 1824 will be strongly supported in this House, as witnessed by the supportive contributions of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer. Perhaps that means that the Government will be able to tell us today that they will, in principle, be supportive of this change.
My Lords, I welcome the chance to contribute to this debate. I welcome the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst. I did not actually notice him in Putney. I spent a lot of time canvassing in Putney; perhaps we were in different parts of the constituency. Anyway, it was a good result for us, so I can boast about that.
Perhaps I should also say—I do not know whether I am going to boast or confess—that I am trying to think of how many demos and events like that I have been on. It is quite a large number. I think the first one I went to was a demonstration against apartheid around South Africa House and the most recent was in Parliament Square on behalf of refugees. I may have been on the wrong side of this new legislation, if it goes through unamended, on a number of occasions, just simply by demonstrating for causes which I believed in, and often with a lot of noise. We often shouted on demos, because that is what one does on a demo—that is the way demos work. However, enough of that.
I am privileged to be on the Joint Committee on Human Rights, and we have had a look at this Bill. I would like to talk about some aspects of the Bill based on the work of the committee, particularly public order and the criminalisation of unauthorised encampments, and to say a brief word about the children of mothers in prison.
We must surely protect the right to peaceful protest. We must accept that crime is best tackled when there is co-operation between the police and local communities, and we must never put the police in an impossible position by asking them to enforce a law which works against the right to peaceful protest. Surely that puts the police against local communities, which is the last thing we want to happen. The right to peaceful protest is fundamental. We have seen what happens in countries where peaceful protest rights are denied, most recently in Hong Kong, Belarus and Afghanistan. I do not want those countries to look at us and say that we are taking a leaf out of their behaviour. So we must be concerned about a power that would allow the police to move the location of a demonstration, limit its numbers or duration, or even try to limit the noise. The police already have powers to ensure that demos are lawful and safe. They do not need these extra powers relating to “intensity” or “serious unease”.
These powers could make it difficult for organisers of demos; they will not know how many people are going to join them. If one is on a demo, one does not know how many thousands of people will be there and how they will behave. The organisers of the demo surely cannot be responsible for that. So these conditions will represent a restriction on the right to protest that is not necessary or justified in a democratic society. On protests around Parliament, while it is right that parliamentarians must have free access to Parliament, we do not want Parliament Square to become what I think somebody called a “dissent-free zone”. The noise factor seems to have been drafted by people who have never seen a demo—or been on one.
As for one-person protests, I just cannot believe this can be part of the Bill. One-person protests, somebody standing there—good gracious me. There used to be a man who demonstrated against tobacco. I saw him everywhere: one chap waving a little placard.
What worries me about the Bill is that so many of the powers are given to the Government by regulation. Surely these should be defined in the Bill itself. It is not right that Ministers can be given such enormous powers and we do not even know what they are. If they cannot be on the face of the Bill, at the very least the regulations should be published so that Parliament and the JCHR can consider them before scrutiny of the Bill has been completed.
Then of course there is a lack of information about conditions attached to demos which makes it harder to judge the effectiveness of existing laws. We should also make sure that conditions imposed at protests are recorded and collected so we can see what has been applied.
I turn briefly to the criminalisation of unauthorised encampments. Václav Havel, one of my heroes, said that the litmus test of a civil society is the way it treats its Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. That is absolutely crucial. I do not think the Government should use the criminal law to address what is essentially a planning issue; instead, there should be a statutory duty on local authorities to make adequate site provision for Traveller communities. The idea of seizing a Traveller’s vehicle—which is essentially their home—is just appalling.
My noble friend Lord Rooker referred to another important issue: what happens to families where the mother is put in prison and the children are left? As the human rights committee said, the Government still do not know how many mothers of dependent children are in prison. There should surely be a requirement that what will happen in a family if the mother is put in prison is taken into account.
I will leave everything else—except to say to the Minister that she is going to have a jolly tough time in Committee and on Report.
My Lords, I will touch on two issues in this Bill which have not yet been discussed, but I refer first to the Christmas tree on which it stands. Noble Lords will know that, among the baubles on the Christmas tree, some are distinctly ugly, some are out of place, some fall on the floor and get broken, and some are the wrong size. What is worse with this Bill is that the Government are granting themselves the powers to choose many of the baubles, without Parliament knowing their shape, size or intent—such as the definition of “serious disruption” or “qualified homicide”. Noble Lords have been well served by the two reports we have seen coming before us from committees of this House, soon to be followed by a third report from a joint committee on how such Bills should work on a policy approach. I think that report will give arguments which will help the House to deal with the Christmas tree.
The first issue I want to discuss is a devolution matter. Part 2 Chapter 1 of the Bill requires specified authorities to collaborate with each other to produce a strategy for preventing and reducing serious violence in the local authority area. Alongside the justice, prison, police and probation services, what are the bodies that will be required to collaborate? Obviously, they are local authorities, education establishments, health services, social and mental health care, et cetera. The Bill says, for example, that the strategy can specify actions for an educational authority to carry out.
So I raise this question for the Minister today. In Wales, all the services I have listed are within the competence of the Welsh Government. Powers over these areas are not reserved to the UK Government. The UK Government invite the Welsh Government to describe the sort of person they would like to participate in preparing a strategy, and that is all there is on engagement with the Welsh Government. So where are the Government’s powers that they intend to use for engaging the services I have mentioned in Wales? Where is the power to require education establishments in Wales to undertake any actions that they are seeking? Are the Government looking for legislative consent Motions to make this work? What discussions have they already had with Welsh Ministers? If the notion of a local strategy is to have any meaning in Wales, it will have to engage with a wide range of services outside the control of the UK Government. But the Bill says that they will consult Welsh Ministers but will not require their consent. Clarity is needed on this matter. The Government must not ride roughshod over the competence of devolved government. A sensitive approach to devolution is vital if this Government are to have any chance of succeeding in meeting their objectives in Wales.
Logically following this, I want to say a few words on the rehabilitation measures in Parts 7, 8 and 11 of the Bill. The recent reorganisation of the probation service has brought into focus the need for collaboration with a wide range of local services. Unfortunately, while the Government propose a degree of local autonomy on local provision, they fail to provide the financial resource to make genuine joint working possible. Successful rehabilitation requires the support of many services which sit outside justice provision: housing providers, social services, mental health care services, the voluntary sector, employers, training establishments, drug dependency support agencies—the list goes on and on. But all these services require support, some of it financial, to provide the people to meet the extra demands that this Bill will place on them. These local services cannot rely solely on fresh air. If they are not set up properly, they will fail without the resource, and then the Government’s ambitions will fall with them.
Perhaps I am badly considering what the Government are proposing in the Bill. Rehabilitation in the Prime Minister’s eyes seems to be getting offenders to wear hi-vis jackets with “Ex-prisoner” printed on the back and painting the railings of a local park—the modern equivalent of a chain gang. This approach is totally demeaning and doomed to fail. We need a mechanism to bring these services together in a way that promotes joint local action, with the rehabilitation activity foreseen as an end in itself. Apart from coercion and direction, as stated in this Bill, what steps will the Government take to promote co-operation at local level throughout the country? What discussions have the Home Office and Ministry of Justice had with these departments which support the type of work which ensures that vital rehabilitation can succeed?
This Bill will lead to 700 more prisoners in our prisons—overcrowded already, with remand prisoners sharing cells with convicted prisoners. It just will not succeed. This Christmas tree is sagging badly, and it could topple over without much effort.
My Lords, like other noble Lords, I congratulate my noble friend Lord Sandhurst on his maiden speech and welcome him to the House, where I am sure he will make a wonderful contribution.
I welcome much that is in this very large Bill. While I realise that the provisions on protest are controversial, I welcome the clarity they bring on the limits to legitimate protest. As the Deputy Assistant Commissioner of the Metropolitan Police, Matt Twist, has said,
“Whatever the cause, activists do not have the right to cause unreasonable and serious disruption to … communities.”
I agree with that. I personally compare it to secondary picketing: an attempt to disrupt people who are not decision-makers in order to embarrass the true decision-makers. We outlawed secondary picketing, and no one would now bring it back. I think it will be the same in this case.
However, I have three areas of concern that I want to bring to the House’s attention which are united by what I call a theme of preventive justice. There was a movie some years ago in which preventive justice was taken to a point of refinement whereby merely having a thought with a criminal intention resulted in a raid by the police on your premises to ensure that you were unable to put it into execution. I have never thought that a particularly British, commendable or desirable approach to the administration of justice, but it appears to have had a powerful effect on successive Home Secretaries.
Starting in 1998, we had the ASBOs. From that, we have gone on to a whole quiver-full of administrative processes that place restrictions on people without the tedium of having to have a criminal conviction proven. This Bill adds a further arrow to that quiver in the shape of the serious violence reduction order. Other noble Lords have spoken about this. They have also pointed out that, coupled with the proposed statutory duty on public authorities to collaborate in relation to prospective serious violence—that is, to prevent it—these points raise important questions about the character of criminal justice in this country, about how it has evolved and about equalities.
My second concern continues the thread of preventive justice. I find myself in troubling agreement with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, and certain other noble Lords who have spoken, on the question of indeterminate sentences. Much of what I was going to say has been made otiose by the compelling speech, laden with statistics, made by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, so I do not need to spend a great deal of time on that, but the fact that so many people are still languishing in prison under this cruel sentence, which has been found to be incompatible with our obligations on human rights, is simply a shame to this country. This Bill gives us a useful opportunity to set in hand a judicially led process for turning those sentences into determinate sentences.
Finally, the Bill presents an opportunity—again, it is not in the Bill, but I think it should be—to put an end to police forces’ kafkaesque practice of maintaining records of actions that are explicitly not criminal; that is, the Monty Pythonesque, self-contradictory non-crime hate incident. If there is any defence for this, it is again on the basis of preventive justice: “We want to know these things, because although they are by definition not crimes, there might be a crime some time in the future.” I do not think this is at all defensible, so I hope that in Committee there will be an opportunity to address those three areas at least and discuss them.
I hope that the Government will take the opportunity to put right these issues and bring back to our justice system a little less administrative pre-emption and a little more proving of things on the basis of evidence and facts.
My Lords, as has been said, this is a vast Bill. I cannot remember receiving so many briefings and analyses from so many different organisations—from human rights organisations and those concerned about the abuse of women and children to local government and medical organisations, including the GMC.
There is support for some aspects of the Bill but also a great deal of criticism, with fears that certain measures are untenable and unworkable. I shall discuss some of those today in the context of the deliberations on the Bill of the Joint Committee on Human Rights, of which I am a member, as is my noble and very good friend Lord Dubs. I shall reinforce some of his comments.
The committee scrutinised the Bill, discussing the content of each part carefully and holding inquiries, including on mothers in prison and the right to family life, the criminalisation of unauthorised encampments, and public order issues. Tomorrow we will be examining our draft report on the sentencing and remand of children, which is of particular interest to me. For each session, we engaged with experts on the issues raised in the Bill. I praise and thank the staff of our amazing secretariat for their expertise and hard work, and also our witnesses for their often passionate comments about the Bill and their desire to protect and enhance the rights of those who will be affected by its outcomes.
I will simply make a few general comments on some sections of the Bill. The Joint Committee on Human Rights will, of course, be tabling amendments. First, on the rights of children whose mothers are in prison: the right to family life is enshrined in Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights and in three articles of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, involving non-discrimination, the best interests of the child, respect for the views of the child and children deprived of a family environment. The committee has concerns about all of these issues, especially about the welfare of the child, sentencing and data collection on children of prisoners.
We are also worried about the right to engage in peaceful protest and freedom of assembly, described so graphically by my noble friend Lord Dubs. The Joint Committee on Human Rights considered that issues such as conditions on the noise produced by processions are not proportionate and that a regulation-making power for the Secretary of State to clarify the meanings of disruption by statutory instrument is unacceptable. The committee was not convinced that the case for unlimited conditions on assemblies has been made. A loophole in the Bill increases the risk of peaceful protesters being arrested or prosecuted for innocent mistakes. The Bill does not include references to the right to freedom of expression; the committee proposes an extra statutory protection for the right to protest.
On Part 4 of the Bill, the committee considered that the human rights concerns of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people were about criminalisation with regard to residence and having places to go, well described by my noble friend Lady Whitaker. We considered that the Government may be liable to use criminal law to address what is essentially a planning issue, as others have said. The language of the parts of the Bill describing the acts of Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people allows for prejudice and discrimination. Landowners have rights, and the provision of more authorised sites would benefit landowners who are concerned about the current situation. The police, too, have expressed discomfort about this part of the Bill.
As I said earlier, the committee will tomorrow consider the draft report on Parts 7 and 8, on sentencing and the remand of children and young people. Its concerns already reflect those of organisations and individuals who have for years shared grave concerns and misgivings about the sentencing of young people. The UN Convention on the Rights of the Child articles are clear that every child should be treated
“in a manner which takes into account the needs of persons of his or her age”,
and that the detention of a child should
“be used only as a measure of last resort and for the shortest appropriate period of time.”
The impact on the often deprived and vulnerable children who end up in the criminal justice system can be devastating. Ethnic disproportionality is seen at many stages of the youth justice system. It has been pointed out by many people that, although the UK has come a long way in protecting children, the fact that the articles of the UNCRC are not incorporated into UK law—although Wales and Scotland have made progress in doing so—has serious implications for the possibility of challenge in a UK court.
The issues I have briefly mentioned clearly need expansion and consideration in Committee. I am confident that your Lordships’ House will do this with its usual skill and thoroughness.
My Lords, I add my compliments on the maiden speech of the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst. I had the pleasure of knowing him at the Bar. He will be a great asset to your Lordships’ House.
The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, forcefully amplified the Delegated Powers Committee’s serious criticisms in its report published yesterday. I am privileged to serve on that committee under his excellent chairmanship. I want to amplify just one point. In its report, the committee contends that Clauses 55, 56 and 61 are inappropriate in that they surrender the power to define the meaning of certain phrases to delegated legislation, which is not subject to the full scrutiny of primary legislation. The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, emphasised that our committee took no position on the substantive provisions but recognised that they are contentious and should therefore be on the face of the Bill.
Let me touch on why those provisions might be contentious. Among other things, these clauses give powers to a senior police officer to impose conditions on a procession or assembly where the officer reasonably believes that noise generated by persons taking part may result in
“serious disruption to the life of the community”
“serious disruption to the activities of an organisation which are carried on in the vicinity of a public procession”
or “assembly”. The Bill does not define either phrase. Instead, it gives power to the Secretary of State to do so by regulation. Surely this is an abuse of parliamentary democracy. Where the words of primary legislation are to have a particular meaning, they should be set out on the face of the Bill; this would enable us to debate the proposed meaning properly.
In fact, we have a draft of such regulations in relation to the meaning of one phrase but not the other. The phrase defined in the draft regulations is
“serious disruption to the life of the community”.
The draft regulations provide:
“It may be regarded by the senior police officer as serious disruption to the life of the community if there is … a significant delay to the supply of a time-sensitive product impacting on the community, or … prolonged physical disruption to access to essential goods and services impacting on the community.”
They go on to say that
“‘time-sensitive product’ includes newspapers and perishable items … ‘essential goods and services’ means … the supply of money, food, water, energy or fuel … a system of communication … a transport facility … a place of worship … an educational facility … a service relating to health, or … another critical public service.”
It is quite clear that this will mean that the police may impose conditions on those legitimately, but noisily, picketing their place of work to persuade others not to work during a lawful industrial dispute where the workplace is involved in food, water, power, railways, buses, planes, ships, newspapers, mail, TV, radio, film, education, health, local government, civil service or other critical public services. It is hard to think of workplaces which will not be included.
The law on picketing is already highly regulated by statute. It has been so since the Conspiracy, and Protection of Property Act 1875—146 years ago. It has many times been restricted, most recently by the Trade Union Act 2016, but this emaciated right to picket peacefully
“in contemplation or furtherance of a trade dispute”
still remains. This Bill will give the police the power to effectively extinguish it in many sectors.
Some of your Lordships may well think such further restrictions highly desirable; others will oppose them. Let us have the debate on the basis of meanings set out on the face of the Bill, not ones yet to be determined and then tucked away in secondary legislation which avoids all but cursory parliamentary scrutiny and which we cannot amend. I ask the Minister to amend the Bill by including in it the definitions which she desires.
My Lords, I want to raise some concerns about the provision of interpreters in our courts and to suggest a way in which this Bill could improve the service. I declare my interest as a vice-president of the Chartered Institute of Linguists.
I am very grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, for meeting me after I raised these concerns in the debate earlier this year on the Queen’s Speech, and for his subsequent helpful and encouraging correspondence. I am sorry he is not in the Chamber today, because he has assured me that the MoJ is already addressing some of the shortcomings. I want to flag up a possible amendment to the Bill which I believe would help.
Part 12 already acknowledges the potential role of British Sign Language interpreters for jurors. Sign language is not my area of expertise, but it is not too much of a stretch to see that this part of the Bill would be the logical place for a simple amendment to lay down a specific requirement for minimum standards in the quality and qualifications of the spoken-word interpreter. Their role is already established in court proceedings, but all too often there is serious detriment to defendants, victims or witnesses—not to mention the taxpayer—when an unqualified, underqualified or inexperienced interpreter causes confusion rather than clarity, often leading to costly re-hearings or even the wrong verdict being overturned on appeal. I gave some examples of such cases in the debate I referred to earlier and will not repeat them here.
The question is: how can the current MoJ system be improved so that only competent and appropriately qualified interpreters are engaged? The criteria for inclusion in the MoJ’s list of approved interpreters currently fall short of either the requirements for the National Register of Public Service Interpreters or the excellent, more recently formed, police-approved interpreters scheme.
The noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, has kindly briefed me on the stakeholder forum which HMCTS and the MoJ have been holding. I would be grateful for an update on these discussions. In particular, is there any good reason why the MoJ should not adopt the same practice as the CPS and use only interpreters from the National Register of Public Service Interpreters, which would guarantee an appropriate level of qualification and significant experience of the court and justice system?
There is consensus among the specialist professional bodies that the Diploma in Public Service Interpreting at level 6 should be the minimum standard for any court interpreting work, alongside requirements for experience which acknowledge the variation in complexity of cases. The level 6 standard is supported by the National Register of Public Service Interpreters, the Chartered Institute of Linguists, and the Association of Police and Court Interpreters. There is also support for the National Register of PSIs to be the officially recognised register for court interpreters. Are the Government willing to look at these aspects of a proposed minimum standard being incorporated into the Bill, which I believe would improve trust and confidence in the system?
I have two more brief but connected points. First, I am aware of concerns that the supply chain for court interpreters might not be robust enough to meet the minimum standard requirement that I have outlined. It is true that well over 1,000 public service interpreters have abandoned court interpreting over the past few years because of poor and declining terms and conditions, not least the derisory pay rates. However, a determined campaign could bring these highly skilled professionals back into public service, not just with better pay but also much greater recognition of their status and skills, and could attract more new linguists into the field. Does the Minister agree?
Finally, it has been reported that an American venture capital firm recently took a majority stake in thebigword, the company contracted to provide language services for our courts. What, if any, impact assessment or due diligence was undertaken by the department, HMCTS or thebigword on any changes in service delivery that this change in ownership is likely to have?
I look forward to the Minister’s reply and hope that, if all my questions cannot be answered this evening, either she or her colleague, the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, will be able to write to me.
My Lords, I feel that I must begin by declaring an interest, as did the noble Lord, Lord Dubs. Two weeks ago, I was speaking at an Extinction Rebellion protest—an organisation explicitly targeted by the Home Secretary in her comments on the Bill—blocking the road outside Bank tube. On Sunday, I was with thousands of people in Liverpool, making lots of noise protesting against plans to hold an electronic warfare conference in a city-owned convention centre there. Today, were I not in your Lordships’ House, I would be in east London, where organisations including Quaker Roots, Campaign Against Arms Trade, and the Peace Pledge Union are taking non-violent direct action against the merchants of death doing business at our Government’s invitation on our shores.
In my maiden speech, I said I would aim to bring the voice of the streets into the House, and my noble friend and I will aim to do just that throughout the progress of this Bill. The issues in this Bill are every bit as close to the heart of the Green Party as those in the Environment Bill for, as the noble Lord, Lord, Lord Oates, implied, the right to protest is as much a climate emergency issue as the treatment of our soils or the management of our woodlands.
Non-violent direct action has always been something the young, the poor, women, minority groups and workers have had to do to get their voice heard. As the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, indicated, workers in particular have suffered from a great emaciation of that right over centuries in the UK. We must particularly hear from the young on the climate emergency and the nature crisis, which are already damaging their lives and threatening much worse.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, noted that there is no Member of your Lordships’ House under the age of 30. In fact, we have just five Members under the age of 40, and in the other place there are just five Members under the age of 30. The young must gather outside and shout because they are not allowed into these Chambers. Democracy—a representative Parliament—would be a very good idea. In fact, 16 and 17 year-olds in England are denied even the right to vote, and the Government are planning legislation that will deny more of the young that right.
When the political process fails, non-violent direct action steps in, and it works. There is a long and honourable tradition: very recently, anti-fracking protesters and Sheffield street-tree protesters have seen real success in changing the approach of Governments and councils—but I go back to the women’s petition led by female Levellers, presented here in 1649. We would be a far worse country without such courage over centuries, but we have a long way to go to reach the ideals of equality and justice that the Levellers were espousing back in the 17th century.
The noble Baroness, Lady Stowell, lamented that social norms are breaking down. Great: I have a shortlist—it could be a very long list—of norms that should break down. As the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester highlighted, these norms see black young adults being more than eight times more likely to be convicted for a non-violent minor crime than their white counterparts. These norms see some 17,000 dependent children affected by the imprisonment of their mother each year; the widely acclaimed Corston report, completed 15 years ago, which said that most women offenders who get prison sentences should not, has not been implemented. As the noble Lord, Lord Bach, said, these norms see legal aid cut not just to the bone but deep into the marrow, unavailable to many who desperately need it, when we know that justice unfunded is justice denied.
Like the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, I started out with a long list of issues that I wanted to address, and I have hardly got to any of them. However, I want to mention the Bill’s utterly indefensible Part 4 on unauthorised encampments. I entirely agree with every word said by the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, and, in this context, I have to cite Martin Niemöller’s First They Came. Roma, Gypsy and Traveller people remain, in the UK and far more widely, victims of the most pernicious, unchallenged and vile discrimination. I ask Members on the Benches opposite whether they want to countenance deliberately targeting them with laws to criminalise the simplest of human actions—laying down to rest—and to destroy their homes.
I am almost out of time, but I want to contrast the Bill with the direction of travel and the rhetoric that we hear from the Government north of the border. The Scottish Government may still not be doing enough, but they say that they want to reduce the prison population and want it to be far better treated. It is amazing what a more democratic political system can achieve. We often hear from the Government that they are doing what the people want—but which people, and to what purpose?
My Lords, I declare my interests as set out in the register, especially as a trustee of the Centre for Mental Health and the Prison Reform Trust. I will comment today on just two issues relating to the Bill: community sentences and imprisonment for public protection.
To set this in context, I point out that I share the views, well expressed by the Prison Reform Trust, that, far from being the simplification of sentencing that is claimed, the Bill adds to the piecemeal and confusing history of sentencing legislation, of which the Government claim to be so critical. I believe that it does so without a coherent philosophy to underpin its approach, and it guarantees the continuation of general sentence inflation, which has played a large role in undermining the ability of both prison and probation services to deliver rehabilitation goals that the Government again claim to promote.
We should be considering how we effectively reduce, not increase, the prison population by the further development of robust community sentences for offenders who currently receive a sentence of perhaps up to 12 months. This should particularly be the case for the huge number of offenders who suffer from mental health problems. It is estimated by the Centre for Mental Health that nine out of 10 prisoners have at least one mental health problem and the majority have multiple and complex needs that are often exacerbated by complex imprisonment and the fact that custody itself undermines their well-being.
I believe, therefore, that the Bill should seize the opportunity again, as I recommended in my report to government in 2009, to boost alternatives to the use of prison for appropriate offences. The community sentence treatment requirement programme is of special importance here. Where a CSTR service operates, currently on 15 sites across the country, it gives magistrates and district judges a sentencing option whereby a community sentence including one, or a combination, of three treatment requirements—drug, alcohol and mental health—can be applied. Dealing with all these issues together has proved to provide far better outcomes, especially in respect of reoffending, than short prison sentences, where little can be done to tackle these issues, which often underpin offending behaviour. Will the Minister support the rollout of this programme nationally as soon as possible and make a commitment in her reply tonight?
Further, regarding women in the criminal justice system, the Government’s strategy for female offenders has a clear ambition significantly to reduce the prison population by better use of community sentences. Clearly, as a committed member of the Government’s advisory board for female offenders, I fully endorse this approach, but I believe, as do so many voluntary organisations working with women offenders, including Women in Prison, that the Bill is a huge missed opportunity to progress this agenda, with the continued use of short sentences, unnecessary remand and, appallingly, building an additional 500 prison places for women, with the result of tearing families apart, children being taken into care, loss of employment and loss of accommodation, at considerable social and economic cost.
However, where a community sentence is imposed there is real concern regarding Clauses 125 and 127. They would give probation officers the power to strip a person’s liberty in ways that go beyond the ways the courts have sanctioned by compelling attendance at additional appointments and increasing curfew periods. Given that the consequences of failing to abide by such additional restrictions could involve breach proceedings and even imprisonment, understanding the exact procedures by which these decisions can be made and appealed will be critical as we scrutinise the Bill. People with mental health problems or learning disabilities and women with caring responsibilities can find it especially difficult to comply with such measures.
Briefly, I add my voice to the huge concern relating to imprisonment for public protection sentences, which was so well articulated by my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, in particular. I will not repeat the devastating statistics presented by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown, but I repeat that IPP was abolished 10 years ago and there are still 207 people in prison today, more than a decade after their tariff expired. It is quite unacceptable. This situation must now be addressed urgently. I hope that the Government recognise that and that the Minister will support amendments to the Bill finally to resolve these cases, recognising public protection but providing fair treatment for these individuals.
My Lords, I welcome some features of the Bill, in particular the long-overdue measures to bring certain offenders who have served sentences of four years or more within the scope of the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act and to reduce the rehabilitation periods for offenders serving shorter sentences. These provisions will help more reformed offenders live down their past, obtain employment and contribute positively to the community.
These changes are long overdue, and I am grateful to noble Lords of all parties who supported my defeated efforts to press successive Governments to go further in reforming the Rehabilitation of Offenders Act. In particular, I thank my noble friend Lord McNally and the former Home Secretary and Justice Secretary, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Clarke of Nottingham, who assisted me considerably in taking forward these measures. The coalition Government introduced a number of reforms to the Act, and I am delighted to see that the Bill includes measures that take these changes further in the direction of the changes that many of us have worked for over many years.
Regrettably, however, the positive measures in the Bill are overshadowed by a raft of provisions that are designed to further increase the harshness of sentencing. The Bill requires more offenders to serve lengthy minimum sentences. It increases the minimum terms for offenders serving sentences of detention at Her Majesty’s pleasure for murders committed when the offender was under 18. The Bill requires courts to set longer minimum terms for discretionary life sentence prisoners. It increases the proportion of sentences for certain violent and sexual offences that have to be served in custody. It creates a new power for the Secretary of State to refer high-risk offenders to the Parole Board for a parole review before they can be released. All these changes come after two decades during which sentencing in this country has already markedly increased in severity.
The Government’s impact assessment of the Bill acknowledges that there is limited evidence that the combined set of measures will deter offenders in the long term or reduce overall crime. The impact assessment also states that there is a risk of having offenders spend longer in prison and a larger population might compound overcrowding. By reducing access to rehabilitative services, there is a risk of increasing instability, self-harm and violence.
The Government are ratcheting up sentencing at a time when we already use imprisonment much more extensively than other comparable countries. As I have repeatedly pointed out to the House in the past, the United Kingdom now has the highest rate of imprisonment in western Europe. In England and Wales, there are 131 prisoners for every 100,000 people in the general population, compared with 93 in France and 69 in Germany. The average sentence for an indictable offence is now 54 months, which is nearly two years longer than in 2008. Mandatory life prisoners now spend on average 17 years in custody, compared with 13 years in 2001. The number of community sentences has dropped to around one third of the number a decade ago.
As a result of our high and increasing use of custody, most of our prisons are overcrowded: 80 of the 121 prisons are currently holding more prisoners than the certified normal population. Prisons have found it increasingly difficult to provide resettlement support for prisoners to avoid reoffending after release. Even before the Bill’s provisions become law, the prison population is already projected to rise by a quarter over the next five years. The Government have announced plans for a significant programme of prison building, yet despite this, the Public Accounts Committee, in its report last year, Improving the Prison Estate, estimated that the demand for prison places could outstrip supply by the financial year 2022-23. The Government estimate that the measures in the Bill will increase the prison population by a further 700—the population of a medium-sized prison—by 2028. This will further increase the risk that any new prison places will simply be outstripped by the increasing number of prisoners. If this happens, the results will be detrimental to the safety of prisoners and to the prospect of providing constructive initiatives that can steer prisoners away from reoffending.
In conclusion, if the Bill passes through the House, I hope that the sentencing provisions can be subject to very careful scrutiny to ensure that any marginal gains in public safety from incapacitating more offenders are not outweighed by the prospect of turning out more released prisoners whose prospects for rehabilitation have been seriously damaged by the pressures of an ever-increasing prison population.
I add my congratulations to my noble friend Lord Sandhurst on his maiden speech. We will all benefit from his wisdom. I also welcome the overall thrust of this Bill; there is so much in it that needs to be achieved. My noble friend Lord Goschen raised the important issue of the rights of the silent majority. I may be from Liverpool, and I learned to look after myself, but being stuck in my car at the lights at Parliament Square for over an hour, surrounded by a mob, was not pleasant. I am also grateful to Barnardo’s for its excellent briefing. I concur with its two main points on tackling child exploitation and ensuring that the proposed serious violence partnerships prioritise children.
Earlier this year, the Domestic Abuse Act finally became law. The legislation signalled a major step in improving the support provided to victims and holding perpetrators to account but, to ensure the Act has the fullest of impacts, it is vital that it does not stand in isolation. Its key principles must surely extend to other relevant legislation, which is why I am pleased to join my noble friend Lady Bertin, and the noble Lords, Lord Russell of Liverpool and Lord Rosser, in tabling our amendment.
I am deeply concerned that, in the little over six months since the Domestic Abuse Act received Royal Assent, its spirit and ambition do not appear to have been extended to this Bill. The Bill is designed to improve the way in which our criminal justice system works and it rightly includes a specific focus on how local partners, including the police, must work together to prevent and reduce serious violence.
My noble friend Lady Bertin highlighted that this presents a vital opportunity to prevent domestic abuse and sexual violence from occurring in the first place. She was right to remind us that one-third of all violent crime recorded by the police is related to domestic abuse. Like the noble Lord, Lord Walney, I am therefore at a loss to understand why domestic abuse and sexual violence are not put at the heart of this Bill. Furthermore, I am struggling to understand why they are not specifically recognised as a form of serious violence for the purpose of the new serious violence prevention duty. Explicitly including domestic abuse, domestic homicide and sexual violence would help to guarantee that robust prevention work is rolled out consistently across the country. This is urgently needed to tackle the scale of domestic abuse and sexual violence.
This should include education programmes in schools to help children recognise the early indicators of unhealthy relationships, intervention programmes for perpetrators, and training to help healthcare professionals recognise the signs of domestic abuse and ensure that victims and survivors are referred to specialist support. I urge the Minister, who so ably piloted the Domestic Abuse Bill through this House, to continue that work and extend the definition of serious violence for the purpose of the new serious violence prevention duty.
My Lords, there is so much in this Bill that causes concern, whatever else in it we can agree with, so I will focus on only three points. It is a bit difficult for me, as the 45th speaker in this debate, to find something new to say, but I think my first point is new; the second point, not so new; and the third point has been dealt with by several others.
My first point relates to new offence in Clause 66 of causing serious injury by careless or inconsiderate driving, which will attract a prison sentence. My second point relates to the provision in Clause 106 to increase the minimum term for discretionary life sentences from one-half to two-thirds. My third point relates to the powers given to the Secretary of State to make provision, by regulation, about the meaning of key phrases in Part 3 of the Bill relating to public order—a matter referred to in powerful speeches by my noble and learned friend Lord Judge and the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra.
Of all the driving offences, careless or inconsiderate driving is at the bottom of the scale. It has never been thought until now that it should attract a prison sentence. A moment’s inattention is all it takes, and that may happen even in the case of the most careful and responsible driver. There is no criminal intent whatever. Where criminal intent exists, it is possible that the prospect of a prison sentence may act as a deterrent, but that is not so where intention of that kind is not part of the offence at all. As for serious injury, a broken arm or broken leg will do, and that can happen to someone who, by a moment’s inattention, is knocked off a bicycle. The injury is of course to be regretted, but it seems to me that the imposition of a prison sentence for an offence of this kind is disproportionate. Do we really need to do this? Has any assessment been made of the consequences of this seemingly well-meaning measure?
At the other end of the scale is the discretionary life sentence. Not so long ago, the minimum term was reduced from two-thirds to one-half. I think that was to help to reduce prison numbers, and because it was after all only a minimum term. Given the fact that our prison population is still rising, why revert to two-thirds? Has any assessment been made of the consequences for our prisons and of the pattern of release dates since the minimum term was reduced?
I turn to a matter that has been discussed by many other speakers, on Part 3 of the Bill. The right to peaceful protest, whatever the issue and whether or not we agree with it, is an essential part of our democracy. There is no doubt that our laws are being challenged by the way in which that right is currently being exercised but any attempt by the Government to curtail that right, such as we find in Part 3, must be scrutinised with great care. I focus on the changes as to the powers of the police to give directions under Sections 12 and 14 of the Public Order Act, a breach of which amounts to a criminal offence. That is the context for the measure that the noble Lord, Lord Hendy, emphasised in his speech not long ago. If the police reasonably believe that a procession or an assembly may result in public disorder or disruption to the life of the community, they may give such a direction. Now we find that the Secretary of State is to be given power to make provision by regulation as to what is or is not to be treated as falling within these expressions. That excludes not only a power to define these expressions but also to give examples of cases that are to be treated as falling within them. In effect, as there are no limits, she and her successors are being given the power to declare the kind of protests, the reasons for them and their effect that the Government simply find inconvenient or unacceptable. That declaration will then be used for the giving of directions by the police, with its criminal consequences. As the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, said, the use of delegated powers in this way is unacceptable.
The guiding principle must surely be that it is for Parliament, not the Executive, to decide what powers to give to the police. The words in the Public Order Act speak for themselves; as the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, might say, we know what they mean. Because they are broadly expressed, they can be adapted to the needs of each case. However, if amendments are needed, they should be put in the Bill—so why are the changes, which are already in draft in respect of one of these phrases, not here in the Bill so that we can subject them to scrutiny in the usual way? Can the Minister say why that should not be done?
My Lords, in considering the Bill I shall concentrate on Part 3, although the other sections also give great cause for concern. Particular attention needs to be given to the points made by the General Medical Council relating to Part 2 and the distressing plans to criminalise a legitimate lifestyle in Part 4. These were described particularly movingly by my noble friends Lady Whitaker and Lady Chakrabarti.
The whole Bill appears to be based on the view that the world is full of dangerous people who need to be heavily policed and constrained. Personally, I think that is an unhealthy starting point for making legislation. Those who apparently engender such fear are people who do not have the ear of Ministers. They cannot invite senior Cabinet members to lunch to press their concerns; their route is protest.
Part 3 of the Bill in its present form would pose an undue threat of criminalising people seeking to have their voices heard by people in power. The Home Secretary has tried to pass a share of the blame for these draconian restrictions on to the Police Federation, saying that it had requested greater powers to police public gatherings, but it appears there is no record of the Police Federation being consulted on this. If not the police, who is demanding the curtailment of many long-held rights with threats of substantial fines or lengthy jail sentences? One suspects this is an exercise in political power. As the Government have a majority, they will exercise it to stamp their mark on society. Bad laws lead to a lack of respect for law. Placing conditions on people organising protests that cannot be measured or assessed in advance must be intended to discourage planners and participants.
Clause 55 creates a new basis for police intervention: that of noisiness. If noise could cause people
“to suffer serious unease, alarm or distress”
the police may act to prevent it. Is there a certain level of noise that would result in that response or is it arbitrary? Making your voice heard can be a noisy business. With no direct access to the national media, how else can people be heard? The Minister says that the Bill seeks to do more to protect our communities when it actually restricts communities’ abilities to protect themselves, which often involves protest.
Clause 61 appears to be a case of legislating for dealing with the activities of one person. This is never a good idea and is in danger of making the law look petty. What can possibly be meant by inciting somebody to engage in a one-person protest? Could blowing your car horn in support or stopping to give a word of encouragement become criminalised?
The Bill is in serious need of amendment. We must do that as a duty to those who struggle to have their voice heard.
My Lords, I will confine my comments to Part 4 of the Bill, which introduces draconian measures seeking to curb the way of life of an already extremely marginalised group of people. Last year, on 25 February, the Grand Committee debated the report from the House of Commons Women and Equalities Committee, Tackling Inequalities faced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller Communities. The debate highlighted the extreme difficulties these people have in accessing somewhere to stop. At the time the Minister, the noble Baroness, Lady Bloomfield of Hinton Waldrist, said:
“The Government’s recent race disparity audit highlights further evidence that demonstrates the serious disparities faced by Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. On almost every measure, as many have pointed out, they are significantly worse off than the general population”.—[Official Report, 25/2/20; col. GC 122.]
I fear that despite the intervening year and a half since that debate, the Government have chosen to ignore the report from the other place and are now seeking to further penalise those who have a different way of life to those of us in the settled community.
I really do not understand why some people find the Gypsy, Roma, and Traveller communities so objectionable. At all levels they are vilified, discriminated against and marginalised. The lack of a secure and safe stopping place makes it extremely hard for parents to get their children into school. Where children are admitted to school, they are often bullied and their culture is not respected.
I have received a copy of the report of the sixth report of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, referred to earlier. It is singularly unimpressed by this legislation. Paragraph 6 states:
“We are particularly concerned that the Bill would … allow Ministers—and even a non-statutory body—to influence the exercise of new police powers (including in relation to unauthorised traveller encampments and stop and search) through ‘guidance’ that is not subject to Parliamentary scrutiny.”
I am a member of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee. Both it and the DPRRC are concerned by the increasing blurring of what constitutes legislation and what constitutes guidance. There is a distinct difference between the two which the Government and some of their officials appear not to understand or acknowledge. The power to evict someone from their home, albeit a caravan, and then imprison them if they return should not be left to guidance but should be part of legislation.
Gypsies, Roma, and Travellers are disproportionately represented among the prison population already. The Government are seeking to increase that representation with measures in Part 4, which the police do not support. Part 4 is a sledgehammer to crack a nut. The greater proportion of the Traveller community lives on sites, either provided by the local authority or private. There were only 694 Gypsy and Traveller caravans at the last count, with only 3% on unauthorised encampments. It is part of their culture to travel, and they require both temporary and permanent stopping places in order to do this.
While serving on Somerset County Council, I fought hard to acquire a piece of land for a transit site. It was welcomed and well used. When a change of administration occurred, the site was closed and the land sold. How very short-sighted. Those local authorities which make provision for both permanent and transit sites are to be congratulated. Those which have not done so will no doubt welcome this divisive and discriminatory section of the Bill. Can the Minister say how many local authorities already provide sites? What does she envisage will happen to children whose homes are seized and their parents locked up for trying to protect them and provide a roof over their heads? How does she envisage this group of people, whose culture goes back centuries, will access health and education?
I am appalled that, in this day and age, such blatant discrimination is promoted by the Government of this country on such flimsy grounds.
My Lords, in this mammoth omnibus Bill, there is an uncomfortable shift in the balance of power away from citizens and towards the state and the police. It feels like a lockdown hangover. The suspension of civil liberties for a public health emergency was bad enough, if understandable, but now, using the language of safety, protecting citizens and fear—again, although fear of crime this time—I am worried that the Government think the new normal should be less freedom and fewer rights. There are lots of examples of this throughout the Bill, but, for now, I shall confine my remarks to Part 3, which should be removed in its entirety from the Bill.
That is because, first, despite the reassurance from the Minister, which I know she means sincerely, I cannot see how, having read the Bill, it is not glaringly obvious that the Bill will damage hard-fought-for historic rights to freedom of expression and freedom of assembly. Other noble Lords have explained that very well. Secondly, why is Part 3 necessary at all? There are plenty of laws on the statute book which would deal with the problems that the Government have identified.
I realise that this debate comes hot on the heels of Extinction Rebellion’s rather egregious disruption to the M25 and the lives of so many drivers. There has been a series of utterly galling and self-indulgent actions of late, and it becomes easy to conclude, as many do, “lock ‘em up and throw away the key”. Do not get me wrong, I find that these stunts are misanthropic and narcissistic, and I think it is a real problem that they are driven by the anti-democratic instinct that because the majority are allegedly being too slow at adopting net-zero or hairshirt eco-policies, they must be coerced, bullied and annoyed into submission by these demonstrations. However, I do not think the answer to that anti-democratic instinct is for the Government to introduce anti-democratic legislation.
The truth is that the statute book is bulging with laws that could be used to ensure that when protest tips over into bringing society to a halt, it can be dealt with. If statues are pulled down, buildings defaced and roads blocked, we already have laws against that. Criminal damage, obstructing highways, hindering emergency vehicles—that is all against the law. Cressida Dick even conceded, on a review of the Extinction Rebellion protests in London, that the powers of the Public Order Act 1986 were sufficient to deal with them.
Surely the question for the Home Secretary is: why are the police not enforcing the existing laws? Why do they so often seem to stand by and watch when obvious lawbreaking happens? Why do the police seem instead to be rather zealous when, for example, they are scouring social media for allegedly offensive tweets? They become very efficient at adding innocent citizens’ names to the utterly illiberal non-crime hate incident database, as has already been mentioned, and they are very energetic when they are parading their own social justice and diversity credentials on Instagram, but they seem somehow hesitant when they are policing some demonstrations.
I appreciate that that comes over as a crass caricature by me—some people might not be surprised—but I note that it is the way it is widely discussed and perceived. Many people in the public believe that the police have become politicised and that they treat demonstrations differentially: some with kid gloves, some with real brute force. Yet here in the Bill, in Clause 55, we are asking the police to have even more discretionary powers to decide what protests should be clamped down on, what should be allowed, et cetera. This can only exacerbate the situation and put the police under even more political pressure, and it is why so many front-line officers are themselves worried about the Bill.
The police, for example, will have to decide which protests “may” or “risk” causing too much noise or result in disruption, as we have heard. As the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, very wittily reminded us, those who are not familiar with demonstrations should note that protests are, by their very nature, noisy. That is the point. They are not sedate garden parties or occasions where you whisper: noise is a crucial way to make your voice heard by the people in power but also, actually, by your fellow citizens, who you are trying to persuade to join you. And the larger the demo, the noisier. One of the noisiest demos that I inadvertently encountered was calling for a second referendum. I was harangued by many people on it. I can assure noble Lords that I did not agree with it, but it was certainly loud, and I defend their right to shout even about an anti-democratic call for a second referendum.
I find it particularly distasteful that Clause 58 widens the geographic scope of curtailing protest around Westminster. Of course parliamentarians need access to their place of work for democracy to function, but this clause has much wider-ranging provisions and creates a de facto buffer zone around the corridors of power to protect the Westminster village from encountering dissenters. The Government regularly rail against student snowflakes retreating into safe spaces, and now they suggest turning the Palace of Westminster into a giant safe space and echo chamber. That would be a terrible mistake.
My Lords, I thank those organisations that have forwarded briefing notes to us. My thanks also go to Senedd Research for its briefing on the legislative consent memorandum to the Bill and, of course, to the Delegated Powers Committee and the Constitution Committee for their excellent reports. These have all helped those of us who do not have a legal background to make sense of this gigantic Christmas tree of a Bill.
As my noble friends have said, there are measures in the Bill that we on these Benches support, such as the police covenant and changes to rules on disclosing criminal records to help with rehabilitation, but there are also measures that so impinge on civil liberties that we cannot support them. Like others who share my concerns, I will refer to Parts 3 and 4.
This is a Bill through which Governments will place new restrictions on the right to protest—a cornerstone of our democracy. Part 3 gives the police new powers and responsibilities to place extra conditions on protests, be they by one person or many. These conditions could make it difficult for people’s voices to be heard and could make them fearful of arrest. These new laws undermine the right to peaceful assembly and smack of government attempts to silence opposition.
Clauses in this part of the Bill increase penalties for those who breach a direction applying to a procession or assembly. I welcome the statement by the Joint Committee on Human Rights, which recommends that these clauses be removed from the Bill. It is significant that these powers are also unwelcome for many past and present police officers. They fear that policing could be instrumentalised for political purposes and that the responsibility for deciding on what is and is not allowed will fall on their shoulders.
The noise element of these measures is also of concern to the Welsh Government. Although public order is a reserved matter, controls over noise relate to devolved environmental health matters, and the Senedd’s Well-being of Future Generations (Wales) Act sets out the principle of involving people in decisions such as these that affect them. This is one of the issues on which the Welsh Government are seeking clarity, and will recommend that Senedd does not give its consent until the legislation is more clearly defined and the responsibilities of the devolved Administration and local authorities are recognised and understood.
I am pleased that the Welsh Government are also withholding consent to the unauthorised encampment measures in Part 4. Of course, these measures introduce a new criminal offence of residing on land without consent in or with a vehicle. As the Constitution Committee points out in its report on the Bill:
“The provisions are clearly intended to apply in the main to the activities of Gypsies, Roma and Travellers … communities.”
There is a fundamental difference in approach between the two Governments. The Welsh Government’s approach has focused on engagement with communities and investment for adequate provision of authorised sites. This is opposed to the UK Government’s approach, which appears to focus on enforcement and criminalisation. As the Constitution Committee concludes, this situation is
“unacceptable in a democratic society … the existing powers to deal with unauthorised encampments are sufficient, and … this is fundamentally a planning—rather than a criminal—issue.”
It appears that, in their rush to solve a perceived problem, the Government are taking a sledgehammer to crack a nut. I understand that work to resolve these concerns, along with other outstanding issues, will continue between the two Governments during the passage of the Bill, but I would be interested to hear the Minister’s initial response to discussion around the legislative consent memorandum.
My Lords, this is a big and important Bill with much to commend it but, regrettably, also some ambiguous provisions that will undoubtedly infringe civil liberties. While there are welcome clauses on, for example, increased penalties for assaults on emergency workers, Part 3 of the Bill, which deals with police powers to prevent, limit and/or curtail public protest, gives cause for concern. I am aware that many Lords in this debate so far have addressed this, and I have to forewarn noble Lords that I will be doing so as well.
Freedom of expression and assembly is a crucial democratic right, and some might say the cornerstone of the democratic process. It enables citizens to express views, call decision-makers to account, participate in decisions affecting their lives and livelihoods and alerts the wider public to the potential dangers of statutory limitations. Public demonstrations are an expression of civic concerns and are addressed at legislators who not only represent the people but have the power to change legislation. The cessation of fracking is a much-cited recent example of demo power. Clearly, such freedom is not an unfettered right, public order being an equally important civil liberty but, as again Members of the other place and Peers today have argued, a balance must be sought. In the Bill before us, the balance has inexorably tipped towards the Government and their agents being the arbiters of what constitutes allowable demonstrations based on criteria which are themselves vague and subjective.
Experience tells us that, once on the statute book, a law such as this is likely to be enforced more strictly than is necessary, if only to justify the play-safe concerns that the police might have about public order and safety. It could well become the thin edge of the censorship wedge, infringing both the ICCPR and the European Convention on Human Rights. Included among the consequences of this legislation is the real possibility that an individual or individuals could be sentenced to new custodial terms for inadvertently infringing the new noise-trigger conditions. Which organiser of a procession or demonstration is able to precisely predict the level of noise a crowd will reach? However, the senior police officer in charge is free to stop a demonstration on the basis of a reasonable expectation that noise may reach a social disruption level. Who determines acceptable or unacceptable noise levels? What constitutes a “significant” impact on bystanders? Clause 56 adds to the existing police limitations on the duration, location and size of public assemblies, by allowing more general powers to impose
“such conditions as appear to the officer necessary to prevent the disorder, damage, disruption, impact or intimidation mentioned in subsection (1).”
These are very wide powers.
Clause 61 criminalises children for taking part in non-violent protest and creates harsh sentencing for children who “ought to know” that restrictions were in place. This is especially confusing since the restrictions are themselves uncertain and arbitrary, depending on the judgment of the existing officer in charge. Former senior policeman have themselves seriously questioned these clauses as pitting the police against the communities that they serve.
The vague conditions of many clauses will have a chilling effect on legitimate protest because severe restrictions can be imposed in anticipation of undue noise having an impact on those in the vicinity. Furthermore, the organisers could face an 11-month sentence for any breaches of police conditions, conditions which henceforth can be provoked by a one-person protest. By way of mollification, the Bill offers a fatuous sentence which states that the police will need to consider the human rights of protesters before using these powers. I wonder how this will be achieved.
These are disproportionate measures to deal with an issue that is not, as yet, a major public order problem. The longer-term result is that Governments and other decision-makers will be more able to avoid scrutiny or being held to account, and ordinary citizens will be silenced for expressing opposition to policies that affect them adversely. What I think this Bill will do, if enacted in its present form, is force protest of whatever kind into a far more dangerous underground channel.
I will be supporting amendments that either remove Part 3 of the Bill entirely or alter these clauses radically, by upholding the fundamental right to assemble and protest publicly.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, and welcome him to this House. I will address my remarks to youth matters, and I declare my interests as set out in the register.
I very much welcome the Bill’s important extension of the position of trust to sports coaches, about which the noble Baroness, Lady Grey-Thompson, spoke passionately. I thank my noble friend the Minister for also bringing forward measures to finally enable over 80,000 deaf people across England and Wales to have the opportunity to participate in jury service. Disability should not be a barrier to anyone carrying out such an important civic duty.
I briefly share some concerns regarding the proposal to extend the use of video-linking, already mentioned by other noble Lords. During the pandemic, we have seen the benefits of remote participation in proceedings via live video or audio link. However, research by the Alliance for Youth Justice suggests that this can hamper the effectiveness of participation in court proceedings by children and can impact negatively on justice outcomes. There is little reference in the Bill to the youth court, or to provision for the welfare of the child with regard to the expansion of video-linking. I would therefore be most grateful to hear from my noble friend the Minister how she can help address these concerns and whether she would consider ensuring that the default position for children should always be that they never appear via video link for non-administrative hearings.
I also take this opportunity to bring to the attention of my noble friend the Minister the concerns around sentencing options for first-time offenders coming into the youth court. Magistrates in a youth court have only two sentencing options available to them for first-time offenders who plead guilty: a referral order or a detention and training order, for a minimum of four months. However, if a young defendant pleads not guilty and is found guilty, the options for magistrates widen and they can also give youth rehabilitation orders.
How can it be right that a defendant who has never previously been before a court and who pleads guilty—an act for which they would get credit in the adult court—can receive only a custodial sentence, in the form of a DTO, when a defendant who does not hold their hands up but is subsequently found guilty can be handed a non-custodial community sentence? Under these rules, the principle of welfare and rehabilitation that should be at the forefront of the youth court is lost, potentially creating more short-term custodial sentences and exposing hitherto non-offending young people to serious criminals in custody. This cannot be the answer.
I have spoken before in this place about my concerns that young people who commit an offence as a child but, through no fault of their own, are not brought to court before their 18th birthday are treated as adults in an adult court. Those defendants who get to court before their 18th birthday go to the youth court, where they benefit from the specialisation and expertise of the youth court, its practitioners and its focus on the defendant’s needs and welfare. This should not be a postcode lottery, but can be due to the multiple issues, including court scheduling, that can affect which court you end up in and, therefore, how you are dealt with. Reforming the system so that all defendants are dealt with at the age and time of the alleged offence would mean that youth justice principles would be followed. It would give all defendants the same opportunity and fairness of access to specialist youth services, which are designed to reduce reoffending.
It is widely acknowledged that, when given all opportunities and support to change their behaviour, many young people do so. I therefore ask my noble friend the Minister to consider these two extraordinary sentencing anomalies, and perhaps also to consider undertaking a wider youth sentencing review in the future.
My Lords, I join other noble Lords in welcoming the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, following his maiden speech. I propose to speak briefly about three different areas in the Bill: the requirement for doctors to disclose confidential medical information about their patients; serious domestic violence, stalking and coercive control; and, finally, the proposals that will affect the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community.
Part 2 Chapter 1 of the Bill requires disclosures of information that will breach health professionals’ obligations of confidence. Clinical commissioning groups in England, and health boards in Wales, as well as other bodies, will be required to share information requested by the police, and refusals to comply can be overridden by the Secretary of State. Even worse, there are no independent safeguards, such as court orders or use of the courts to stop and limit the sharing or use of such personal information.
The General Medical Council rightly points out that this undermines the trust that lies at the heart of the doctor-patient relationship. If patients believe their information could be more routinely shared with policing, youth, education and prison bodies, as is proposed, it could impact on their decision on whether to access healthcare services, and undermine the trust that is fundamental to health relationships.
Other countries, including America, Australia and New Zealand, and the rest of Europe continue to strongly defend the principle of a confidential health service and confidential clinician-patient relationships as a cornerstone of ethical practice. It is just plain wrong that the Government are proposing this, and I will return with amendments in Committee.
I turn now to the issues of domestic violence, stalking and coercive control, on which a number of us brought forward amendments during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, told us during the passage of the Bill that the guidance to MAPPA would be extended to specifically include stalking. I thank the Minister for writing to those of us who were involved with a draft of the guidance but, as she knows, there are other issues that we believe are still outstanding. In particular, we still believe that there is a need for a stalking register.
Since the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill, more women have been murdered by their stalkers, and cases have emerged involving histories of stalking, coercive control and/or domestic violence which were not managed even when police and other bodies knew about them.
In May, a domestic homicide review found that the response to Natalie Saunders’ concerns about her boyfriend meant that the authorities did not properly protect her. The approach of the police and other services to escalating risks lacked urgency and co-ordination. In the four months before her murder, seven instances of domestic violence were reported. Despite court orders relating to other women, information was not shared or acted on. The result: he murdered her.
In June, young model Gracie Spinks was murdered by an obsessed colleague. She had reported him to the police, but they did nothing. The result: he murdered her.
Finally, in May, Theodore Johnson was convicted of strangling Angela Best. He already had two manslaughter convictions relating to former partners, yet the system did not pick this up and monitor him. The result: he killed his third partner.
So I join the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, the noble Lords, Lord Russell and Lord Polak, and many others in backing the Domestic Abuse Commissioner’s recommendations for stronger definitions of domestic homicide and a recognition that the escalation of domestic violence into serious violence must be dealt with by all the agencies involved—and, as I have said before, we need a stalking register too.
Turning now to Part 4 of the Bill, I wish to join the many others who have spoken on the parts that will essentially criminalise our Gypsy, Roma and Traveller community. The noble Baronesses, Lady Whitaker, Lady Chakrabarti and Lady Bakewell of Hardington Mandeville, and many others have all set out the case eloquently. The proposals in the Bill are nothing less than dog whistles of the worst kind, which deliberately misrepresent an already severely marginalised community.
Liberty’s excellent briefing sets out how the wording in the Bill is too loose and woolly and will give people in authority powers to push GRT people away, or worse. I want to focus on just one claim by the Government, which is that this is not discriminatory. Gypsies and Travellers have for centuries had a right to a nomadic life. Some 20 years ago there was a requirement on local authorities to provide authorised encampments. Most did not—a failure of planning responsibilities, as the noble Baroness, Lady Massey of Darwen, has pointed out. Others have closed those that were available, such as when the Conservatives took control of Somerset, as the noble Baroness, Lady Bakewell, pointed out. The Conservatives are now proposing powers that are disproportionate, discriminatory and frankly unjustified. Allowing police to impound a person’s home is astonishing and criminalises their way of life. I will join many others in bringing amendments to the Bill in Committee.
This is such a Clapham omnibus of a Bill that to try to make sense of it could lead one to arrive, potentially, at a bewildering range of destinations. My sympathies are with the Minister, who mounted the bus several hours ago, still has a while to go, and, I suspect, has as little idea as most of us do exactly where she will end up.
I shall focus on three particular areas, all of which are pertinent to the Bill and which share a concern to build on and improve the considerable advances we made in recognising and reducing violence against women and girls, which we spent so much useful time on earlier this year in scrutinising the Domestic Abuse Bill. First, working closely with Nicole Jacobs, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner, I am pleased to support the amendment that the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, talked about. The noble Lord, Lord Polak, talked about it too, and I am sure that the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, will mention it as well.
Given the Government’s commitment to try to do something about the level of violence against women and girls, I find it extraordinary that the idea of individual choice, or local choice, which seems to be a central tenet of faith for quite a lot of people of a Conservative persuasion, will allow local areas to decide for themselves whether they think violence against women and girls is a serious enough issue to be put on a list of crimes that must be taken into account.
To put this into context, I would ask the Minister and her colleagues in another place how comfortable any Minister, or any MP, would feel, trying to look a grieving family in their constituency in the face and explain why, if they had been so fortunate as to live in an adjoining area that did regard violence against women and girls as serious, their mother, daughter or sister might still be alive. I would rather you did that than I, because I would find it very difficult to talk my way out of.
Secondly, during proceedings on the Domestic Abuse Bill, the Government agreed to require all police forces in England and Wales to start trialling, from this autumn, the recording of misogynistic hate crimes. For that we are extremely grateful. But there is still a major anomaly in current hate crime legislation, in that sex is the only protected characteristic not recognised in criminal sentencing. The Law Commission is deliberating on this, but it has already clearly indicated that this would be a desirable change in the law.
By adding sex, or gender, to the list of aggravating factors in sentencing, our courts would be able to recognise how and when individuals are targeted for criminal acts simply because of their identity. To assist with sentencing, the police could be required to record the data necessary for a prosecution, which could aid the detection and prevention of such crimes. This action would equalise sex or gender with the other protected characteristics under the Equality Act, such as those of disabled people, people from minority backgrounds and members of the LGBT+ community.
During the course of the Bill we will suggest two possible courses of action to the Government. The first would be directly legislating to include sex or gender in Section 66 of the Sentencing Act 2020, which would ensure that those factors could be considered as aggravating factors in an offence. As an alternative, we will propose that, if the Government insist that they wish to wait until they can consider the final Law Commission recommendations, we legislate now to guarantee parliamentary time to consider the review in a timely fashion, by requiring the Minister to enact the recommendations of that review via an amendable statutory instrument under the super-affirmative procedure. I, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, would be pleased to sit down with the Minister and explain our reasoning.
Thirdly and lastly, as articulated just now by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, there is the issue of stalking and perpetrator management. Despite the Domestic Abuse Act and strategies for this and that, the metronome of two women dying every week continues week in, week out. We will come back in Committee with a variety of ways in which we feel this can be mitigated.
We have so much more to do to safeguard the women and girls who rely on us to speak up on their behalf. They are not pulling down statues or assaulting emergency workers; they are in danger of losing their lives. We have a duty of care to them, their families and their children to protect them.
My Lords, I draw the House’s attention to my interests as set out in the register, particularly in the world of policing as a trustee of the Clink Charity.
Two centuries ago, in the aftermath of the Peterloo massacre, where a politically motivated militia killed and maimed dozens of citizens who were protesting for voting rights in Manchester city centre, Robert Peel introduced the principles of civilian policing. Those principles have served this country with distinction ever since. British police are civilians in uniform, not agents of state control. Their calling is to police by consent, enabling the public to exercise their rights and freedoms as well as maintaining good order. It is a delicate balance. It requires Governments to stay their hand when proposing legislation and senior police officers to guard their operational independence. It is especially sensitive when the rights of citizens to protest come into the frame.
From Tiananmen Square to the streets of some American cities, we see all too visibly on our TV screens when this balance is lost. More locally, I was curate in the parish that included part of the Orgreave coking plant during the 1985 miners’ strike. The legacy of overaggressive and politically directed policing there, a legacy of broken trust, persists to this day, especially in the continuing absence of a proper inquiry.
I am far from convinced that this Bill maintains that delicate balance. As I read it, a commercial venture such as the much-loved but noticeably loud pop concert that took place two miles from my home—and very audibly from my bedroom—last weekend would have better protection than if those same citizens had been meeting to campaign against a major injustice. Both events may cause nuisance, but it is a strange set of priorities that make it less lawful to protest than to party.
My ministry in the Church of England took me from parish life in South Yorkshire to my first post as a bishop in the diocese of Worcester. There I discovered something of the rich heritage of the Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people. For many generations they have been a vital component of the local economy, not least in providing mobile agricultural labour in the market gardening communities of the Vale of Evesham. Their children were valued members of our church schools, and our churchyards provided the final resting places for the bones of those who had never in life possessed or desired a static place of rest. When complaints were raised with the district council about rubbish on the sites they occupied, we suggested that the local authority meet them to discuss how they would like their refuse collected. An amicable solution was swiftly found.
I note the wise words of the noble Baronesses, Lady Whitaker and Lady Chakrabarti, and others earlier in this debate. It grieves me that long-standing members of and contributors to the rural community are seen as having less right to live in the countryside than someone who has made their wealth in the city and can now afford to buy their trophy home in their chosen idyll. I do not begrudge the rewards of success, but I believe that Britain owes Gypsy, Roma and Traveller people a duty to provide legal sites, adequate in number and appropriate in location, in the places where they, by generations of living and working, belong. That we seek to address their belonging through a policing Bill rather than a Bill to require land to be made available for sites suggests to me that we have our priorities seriously wrong.
As this Bill moves to future stages, I will be keen to offer my support to amendments that properly maintain a balance between the rights of particular groups within society—including Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities and those undertaking acts of protest—with good policing and the needs of society as a whole. I will also follow with interest those sections of the Bill dealing with sentencing and the serious violence duty. I join other noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Best, in urging that we take this opportunity to repeal the Vagrancy Act.
Perhaps, as a Bishop, I ought to show more gratitude to the Tudor monarch who created the context of a national Church within which I minister, but I am, along with many noble Lords who have spoken today, concerned by the extent of the so-called Henry VIII clauses presently in this Bill. I close by assuring your Lordships that my most reverend and right reverend friends and I on these Benches look forward to engaging with the further progress of this Bill in the weeks and months to come.
My Lords, I join others in welcoming the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, to the House and I look forward to engaging with him in the weeks and years to come. I have considerable concerns about large parts of the Bill which seem to be designed to attack hard-won human rights. I am also particularly concerned that the Bill is empowering Ministers to make laws without any parliamentary approval. That seems to happen only in dictatorships; maybe that is where we are heading.
The Bill would criminalise Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities without explaining why the Government have failed to provide adequate sites for them. The Government also have in their sights trade unions, workers and peace marchers, who could all be criminalised because their protests are deemed to be noisy and disruptive. Companies can cause disruption by moving production and the Government say that is good and fine, but if workers protest about loss of jobs or homes and cuts to their wages, that is considered to be disruptive, and the full might of the state is unleashed upon them. Did someone ever say that the laws passed by Parliament are even-handed? If so, I would love to see the evidence.
This Bill also creates distrust between people and the police by requiring police commissioners to interpret the new noise triggers embedded in the Bill. People protest because Parliament and Governments are not responsive to their concerns. Whether they are civil rights, feminist, environmental, LGBT or anti-war demonstrators, people are asking to be included in the fabric of society. They ask for dignity and rights and draw attention to the destructive practices of corporations and abuses of power by the state. Rather than building an inclusive society, this Bill would criminalise people of conscience and deprive them of jobs, mortgages, credit cards, travel visas and other things that many of us take for granted.
This week, the good people of Liverpool protested about an arms fair to be held in the city in October. It is not criminal, apparently, for companies to market weapons of mass destruction near schools, homes and hospitals, but under this Bill it would be criminal for protestors to object to such a deadly trade being conducted in their neighbourhood. Obviously, the Government are concerned that corporations should not be deprived of their profits, but people can be deprived of their lives and there would be restraints on demonstrating about it.
So many of our rights are derived from protests. In 1968 the Ford sewing machinists organised strikes and protests to demand equality. They drew attention to legalised discrimination, which paved the way for the Equal Pay Act 1970. Under this Bill, they would all be criminalised. I remember demonstrating against racial discrimination. I made plenty of noise and caused disruption too, so presumably I would also have been criminalised and would not be standing here. Maybe this is the aim of the Bill.
The CND marches created social awareness of the destructive power of nuclear weapons and a climate for international treaties and bans, yet this Bill could criminalise similar protests. It would return us to the era of the Tolpuddle martyrs, when people protesting about wage cuts and workers’ rights were criminalised, prosecuted, silenced and exiled. The power of the state would be, once again, unleased against the likes of the Jarrow marches, seeking jobs and an end to persecution by the state.
As a result of protests, we have a better and more inclusive society. This Bill would reduce the possibilities for emancipatory change. In my final words about the consequences of such a Bill, I quote from President John Kennedy:
“Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable.”
Is that what the Government are trying to achieve?
My Lords, I wish to speak particularly about matters of relevance to this Bill affecting animals and veterinary healthcare delivery. I declare my interest as a past president of the Royal College of Veterinary Surgeons and co-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Animal Welfare, although I stress that I speak tonight as an individual veterinary surgeon. The two matters on which I will concentrate are pet theft and the abuse and threats facing the staff of veterinary practices and retail outlets.
There has been a marked increase of the offence of pet theft recently, apparently mainly perpetrated by organised criminal gangs stealing for profit and exploiting the national shortage of pets—a shortage that has recently been exacerbated by the demand for pets during Covid. This was discussed in the other place during the passage of this Bill and was the subject of various amendments, none of which was accepted by the Government. But Robert Buckland MP, responding for the Government, said it was their intention
“to make any necessary changes to this Bill in the Lords … once we have finalised the detail of exactly what is needed, using a range of powers, including primary legislation.”—[Official Report, Commons, 5/7/21; col. 675.]
Pet theft is of course covered by existing theft regulations—animals are chattels—and the maximum sentence for theft can already be as much as seven years, which is a substantial sentence. However, the prosecution rates are extremely low, with only 1% of dog crime cases investigated—not reported—resulting in a charge in England and Wales. Given these facts, would it not be constructive to ensure that the offence of pet theft is given appropriate priority, prosecution rates are improved and guidance in sentencing is revised to reflect what is clearly a substantial public and political concern about this crime? The Home Secretary herself has said that
“Stealing pets is evil and depraved. It brings profound unhappiness. It cannot and will not be tolerated.”
I ask the Minister whether the Government are proposing to bring in amendments to this Bill to reduce pet theft.
The second issue I raise is the abuse and aggression being encountered by staff in public-facing roles that provide animal health and welfare care. This problem mirrors the problems faced by many in front-line public-facing roles, and there is currently protection specifically for assaults on emergency workers in the Assaults on Emergency Workers (Offences) Act 2018, the scope of which includes those providing NHS healthcare. Veterinary staff are not included within that protection, nor does it include any protection against abuse and aggression.
Apart from the obvious differences, there are other differences and similarities between NHS staff delivering human healthcare and veterinary staff delivering animal healthcare. Both deal with situations that are emotional and difficult, even without the added problem of aggressive and threatening behaviour. However, animal healthcare is not free at the point of care, so veterinary staff have the additional problem of having to charge clients for the care they seek to give the clients’ animals. Lastly, the veterinary patients are not necessarily as compliant as humans might be. I contend that there are particularly aggravating circumstances that face those delivering animal healthcare.
In the last year and a half, veterinary staff have done a fantastic job maintaining healthcare services with all the constraints required to interact safely with clients. Due to Covid-19 safety procedures and staff shortages, inevitably clients have had to wait a few weeks for routine measures such as booster vaccinations when they are used to appointments in a day or two. Most clients have been understanding, but an increasing minority are unacceptably abusive and aggressive, to the point where staff who are trying to examine and treat sick animals are fearful, feel threatened and are leaving their jobs in some instances, and the police have been called and property has been damaged. It is frequently reception and nursing staff, the majority of whom are female—as indeed are the majority of our young vets—who bear the brunt of this. This is not just Covid-related; there has been an underlying and growing problem, and social media aggravates this situation in many cases.
Sadly, a vicious circle is in danger of emerging, where the loss of staff due to extremely abusive, aggressive behaviour is further exacerbating the challenge of providing the efficient and timely service characteristic of veterinary healthcare. Much greater legal protection for our front-line animal healthcare staff is needed. Will the Government consider extending the scope of the assaults on emergency workers Act to include staff delivering animal healthcare? Secondly, is the Minister satisfied that there are existing measures in place to deter abuse and threatening behaviour in the execution of such an important role as delivering animal healthcare?
My Lords, I begin by joining the welcome to my noble friend Lord Sandhurst. We are delighted to have him among our colleagues on these Benches.
I thank the various people who have briefed me for tonight, in particular the union UNISON, the Trades Union Congress and the Quakers—a trio of very socially responsible bodies. One of the things they have drawn to my attention is a recent Court of Appeal judgment, where it was held that:
“In a free society all must be able to hold and articulate views, especially views with which many disagree. Free speech is a hollow concept if one is only able to express ‘approved’ or majoritarian views. It is the intolerant, the instinctively authoritarian, who shout down or worse suppress views with which they disagree.”
I think that is a very useful start for where we are going.
To an extent, the Minister will have a huge amount of work clarifying matters in this legislation, because what is not clarified will of course end up in the Court of Appeal. If we do not make it clear, it will be clarified by judges, and fortunately—I hope—they will bear in mind such documents as the European Convention on Human Rights and others which have guided judicial findings to interpret this Bill.
One of the difficulties we have—which the noble Baroness, Lady Fox, alluded to—is that there are some people at the moment who deliberately exploit an anarchic way of conducting protest, not because they believe in the protest but because they believe in trying to get the consequences of the anarchy to panic society into taking decisions which could well turn out to not be very wise.
Having said that, the trade union movement welcomes the protection for emergency workers and looks forward to finalising and refining this legislation, so that it deals comprehensively with a body of workers who have had enormous amounts of problems.
I think the noble Lord, Lord Sikka, has left us, but he mentioned Orgreave. If we are actually interested in looking at the consequences of protest, there is a protest that could well do with some official looking at.
The definition of nuisance is a very movable feast, and we have to look very carefully at the borderline between what I would call peaceful protest and noisy and deliberate protest. As has been said, the whole nature of protest is often noisy. I have been on demonstrations in my time, and it is a very common thing—it is a sort of crowd coalescer—that you will have a slogan and you shout it out and it has a meaning for the people there. Most people who go on a demonstration in the classical sense are there because they have a reason for being there. They do not think, “What shall I do today? I know, I will go and demonstrate.” They are there because they are either in favour of something or against something, but they feel strongly about it.
If you bring in a penalty, as has been mentioned, of 10 years for disturbing flowers on a war memorial, it will never be imposed. It is as simple as that. It would be foolish legislation because no magistrate would ever impose that sort of punishment. I suspect we will spend considerable time looking at the Bill and dealing with its detail, but I hope, at the end, we will have a better Bill, because there are good parts of it, but there are also parts that need very careful examination.
My Lords, I have been on many demonstrations in the past and I have caused a lot of trouble in my previous life. There is some of this Bill I dislike—that has been well examined so far today and will be further examined, and I will support that examination—but there are parts of the Bill that I like too. As I get older, I get more and more modest in my aims and I am particularly pleased that the Government, in Part 5, at Clause 65, are addressing the issue of drink-driving. I presented a report from a sub-committee in 2002, urging that we should reduce the limit from 80 milligrams to 50. The rest of the world has moved on and gone down to 50 and below, and Scotland has gone down to 50, but we remain, along with Malta, the only country in Europe that still has this 80-milligram limit. Are we not brave, sticking it out on our own? We were cutting the numbers of deaths on the roads up to about 2010 but we have plateaued since then. Indeed, in the last 12 months the number of deaths on the road has gone up, and it is time we came back to this topic again and reviewed it.
I got a Private Member’s Bill through this House in 2016 to reduce the limit; it never got into the Commons. I am giving notice that I will again bring forward amendments in Committee seeking to put us into line and be sensible, and I hope the Government will be sensible in their response. Clause 65 increases the maximum penalty for causing death by dangerous or careless driving while under the influence of drink or drugs from 14 years’ imprisonment to life imprisonment. I support that. However, to help prevent drink-driving injuries and fatalities, the Bill should be amended to bring in a new, lower drink limit in England and Wales, backed by appropriate enforcement and provision of alternative transport choices. England, Wales and Northern Ireland, as I said, have some of the highest limits and we have a big problem starting to arise again, and it is related to drugs as well. Action has been taken and the law has been changed, but further steps need to be taken.
The recent report by the Parliamentary Advisory Council for Transport Safety noted that drink-driving is one of the biggest causes of road deaths: 13% of the deaths we see on the roads arise from drink and related drugs. What is not frequently mentioned or covered is the high number of very serious injuries that people suffer from being involved in accidents with people who are driving with too much drink or with drugs. That is an equal concern for us and I hope that the Government will address it. In looking to the idea of changing, I hope they will take the statistics into account about those serious injuries.
It is late in the evening and I have not a great deal more to add. The case has been made in Scotland and throughout the whole of Europe. We are well out of step. If we want union with Scotland, let us get in line with Scotland. I hope the Minister will act this time around. I think her colleague the noble Lord, Lord Ahmad, dealt with this previously and put up a rather timid defence on behalf of the Government, but none the less obdurately stuck with where they were. I hope she will be prepared, this time around, to look at the evidence and to change, bringing us into line with what happens elsewhere.
My Lords, I agree with much of what noble Lords have said in this debate but I intend to say something new. I look forward to debating the issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke; we have talked about them much in the past.
We know from the chief inspector’s reports and our debates that our prison system is absolutely hopeless at preventing minor offenders reoffending. However, few noble Lords have suggested any alternatives to the current situation. The Centre for Social Justice has proposed a new custodial sentence for the adult criminal courts: an intensive control and rehabilitation order. I support this and pay tribute to the work of my noble friend Lady Sater on the project.
The order is wider in scope than any pre-existing community-based order and is applicable to a cohort of individuals who would otherwise have served a sentence of immediate custody within the secure estate. To allow for this to happen, electronic monitoring, together with curfew requirements, would be used to achieve the restraint of liberty necessary to satisfy the punitive element of the sentence while offering sufficient protection for the public. At the same time, and because of the environment in which it is served, the sentence would enable those candidates deemed eligible to maintain stabilising relationships and engage in rehabilitative activities and requirements in the community.
Those sentenced to an ICRO would attend periodic reviews before the court—in the form of a problem-solving court—to monitor progress and enable the court to make the necessary adjustments to the condition of the order as the sentence progresses. An ICRO would be appropriate when a suspended sentence order would have an insufficient punitive or rehabilitative effect, and normally limited to cases involving no more than three years of custody. Crucially, the court must be satisfied that the defendant has demonstrated sufficient will to comply with the conditions of the sentence. I urge noble Lords to study the CSJ’s proposals.
I have already made my own proposals to your Lordships for drastic reform of the Prison Service in respect of prolific minor offenders; I recently inflicted on your Lordships an electronic copy of them, which I am sure was welcome. I propose this new sentence: to be detained for training at Her Majesty’s pleasure, or DFT. It would take over when the ICRO is not appropriate, and will be extremely controversial because it does not use the secure estate and makes extensive use of ROTL. DFT has much more compulsion—or strong incentives, at least—built into it, and release is dependent on reaching the required levels of education, training and conduct rather than having served a certain length of time inside a prison with no discernible improvement. Of course, there would have to be a legal cap on the length of time that could be served.
The ICRO and DFT fit closely together and would have the effect of avoiding using prison when it is so obviously useless for the intended cohort. In Committee, I will move suitable amendments to debate DFT. I have no intention of asking your Lordships to agree to them; rather, I hope that we can test whether my proposals are fit for purpose. I therefore hope that some noble Lords—or their advisers—will read my proposals.
My Lords, this is indeed an important piece of legislation, which has some useful proposals but could do so much more to reduce crime. Instead, it could deepen existing problems within the criminal justice system. In these few minutes, I want to touch on just a few issues.
On crime reduction, the worst aspect of the Bill is the absence of any attempt to prevent serious crime through radical reform of our drug laws. There is also the absence of any reference to the need to extend the use of restorative justice. These are two huge gaps in the Bill.
To refer to a key innovation in the Bill, I share the considerable concerns of the interested NGOs and many noble Lords about the proposed serious violence reduction orders. I understand that serious violence certainly needs to be tackled more effectively than at present, but it should not be as proposed in the Bill. At our recent meeting, the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which others have mentioned and of which I am a member, expressed concern about the powers delegated to the Secretary of State to issue guidance on the exercise of police functions in relation to these orders. Such guidance could increase the risks of harm to innocent individuals and yet have no parliamentary oversight. As the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, set out, we have other concerns about the delegation of powers in the Bill. I want only to endorse our excellent chairman’s comments.
The gaps in the Bill are so serious that they cannot be deemed just baubles that we are trying to put on to a Christmas tree Bill; they are huge issues, with huge potential. We know that a majority of prisoners have an addiction to or problem with drugs, which undoubtedly lies behind their crimes. We also know that the proportion of inmates who report developing a drug problem in prison almost doubled to about 15% in five years. This will of course lead to more crime.
It is clear that our drug laws are dramatically increasing rather than reducing crime. We have the most draconian drug laws in western Europe yet the highest level of hard drug addiction. If this country looked at the evidence on how best to reduce drug addiction and drug harms, therefore reducing crime, this Bill would be full of drug policy reforms; instead, the topic is entirely absent. Switzerland has shown that providing legal, clean heroin in a therapeutic setting can lead to two-thirds of heroin addicts leading perfectly legal lives within 18 months. The Swiss research shows that heroin addicts typically commit 80 crimes every month. I would have thought that is the sort of reduction we would want. Portugal has shown that decriminalisation of drug use can reduce teenage addiction, increase the number of those in treatment and reduce the prison population. If we want to reduce crime even more, we should, I suppose, go even further and regulate cannabis, separating it from the hard drug market and smashing the profits of the drug dealers and criminal gangs while massively reducing crime.
The APPG on Restorative Justice has just completed an inquiry report which shows, among other very positive results, that 96% of offenders taking part in restorative justice said that the process directly increased their motivation not to reoffend—again, reducing crime. If we are serious about reducing offending, this highly cost-effective approach should surely be mainstream. One study showed that for every £1 spent on restorative justice, criminal justice agencies saved £8. The Government-commissioned Shapland reports found that restorative justice has an 85% satisfaction rate for victims. I hope the Minister will respond to these few points.
Many other issues need attention: aggressive anti-abortion protesters; hit-and-run drivers; the issue raised by the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, of non-consensual, intrusive photography of women—to mention just three. We have a great deal to debate in Committee.
My Lords, as the last Back-Bench speaker, I want to introduce my speech by saying to my noble friend Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe that I can beat him when it comes to making noisy protests, because I did one last week and he clearly did not.
I shall concentrate on Part 5, on the road traffic issues, which we have been debating for 10 years if not longer ago than that, especially with the noble Earl, Lord Attlee. The problem is partly that we never quite know who is in charge: is it the Ministry of Justice, the Home Office or the Department for Transport?
The poor old road user wants to use the road safely, whether for cycling, driving, walking, coaches or trucks—we will have scooters soon, I think. The penalties need to be fair, proportionate and a deterrent, as many noble Lords have said. Much of this legislation goes back decades—perhaps even to the horse and cart—and it is interesting that, in 2014, the Government promised a full review of the framework for road traffic offences, but it never happened. There were some limited proposals in 2017, but there is an argument for having a much wider overhaul of the legal framework to address its many failings and prevent the proposals in the Bill having unintended adverse consequences. Some of the proposals are good, so, along with others, I will bring forward some amendments in Committee, largely supporting the work of Cycling UK and RoadPeace.
I will give examples of three issues. Drivers routinely escape driving bans by pleading that this would cause exceptional hardship. A statement or speech by a Member of the House of Commons yesterday quoted a Bentley driver—the Bentley cost £160,000, I am told—who escaped a speeding disqualification by pleading that he had to use the car to walk his dog. That is pretty stupid, and I have some examples from where I live in Cornwall that are equally stupid. We need to look at this—exceptional hardship is a cop-out, frankly.
We need to look at the maximum sentences for hit-and-run offences when someone is left very seriously injured. I come back to the full review of offences and penalties, as promised seven years ago; we need to look at the legal distinction between careless and dangerous driving, driving bans, interim driving bans and a few other things—I know that the noble and learned Lord, Lord Hope, referred to some of those in his speech.
My question to the Minister is this: how can we take this forward, together with the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson, the noble Baroness, Lady Vere, and perhaps the Home Office, so that we can get one policy, a decision and a series of meetings, rather than being played off against one another, which I fear has happened in the past? Perhaps the Minister could respond to that.
My Lords, with some trepidation, I rise to speak in the gap after such a long day. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Marks, for his understanding. I only want to speak briefly to three points.
First, I support a comment made earlier by the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas. I support the Government’s attempts in the Bill to withdraw digital evidence from mobile phones for sexual offence victims, but the problem is wider than that. There will have to be a radical reform of the criminal justice process because of the volume of digital evidence, the ability of the police to withdraw and analyse it and, finally, the ability of the disclosure Act to cope with the challenges that it faces. I support further action on that point by the Government.
My second, main point is about the right to protest. I know that people are concerned about this, and sometimes the police are too, but it is reasonable to ask for an incremental response to changing protester tactics. Many of the points raised in both the submissions by the police and the Government’s response are a reasonable response to some of the challenges that the police and the public have faced. The police are often challenged for not taking action if the law does not allow them to, and then of course they are challenged if they take too quick action. We have seen the two extremes in the Oxford Circus protests a couple of years ago and in the recent actions on London Bridge, where completely different actions led to protests and complaints about the police. However, I think it is important to make sure that the police can respond.
We have talked about whether noise is a nuisance factor sufficient to break the standard of whether or not criminal law should get involved. This is not merely about simple nuisance; it is about whether noise becomes an intrusive feature of people’s lives. It can be to do with its volume, its persistence or its content. It can be different if it is your home or your place of business, or if you are the leader of a business that is being protested about. It is important that we consider these important matters.
There is also the point that we have a right to balance the needs of the protester with our right to expect that an ambulance can get through traffic to give us help when we require it. I am afraid there have been times when that has not been the case. Only this week at Heathrow, some people needed to travel for very good reasons but could not. Of course it was right for the protesters to make their point, but are they to be the only arbiters of whether what they do is okay or should the people disrupted by their actions have a right of remedy and the police intervene on their behalf, to be tested eventually in the courts? I argue that in these cases it is important that there is an opportunity to intervene. I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Fox: there have been times when I have wondered whether the police could have taken more action with the existing laws but, frankly, sometimes case law has developed in ad hoc ways that have left them with dilemmas about particular circumstances that have arisen later.
My final point is about three amendments that will be tabled which have been proposed mainly by the Police Federation, and I happen to agree with them. The first is about the defence available to police drivers when they break the law on our behalf, either to attend an incident or to pursue other cars. If we do not want that to happen then we should say so, but if we do then we have to support them when it gets difficult. I am afraid that officers have been under investigation for long periods of time. That leads to the second amendment, which is about how long that process takes. Often the reason why it takes so long is the sequential nature of the consideration of the investigation of the officer, first by the force, then by the CPS and then by the Independent Office for Police Conduct—and lastly it goes back through that process again. I do not understand why that cannot happen in parallel rather than in sequence. It cannot be right for either the victim or the officer to be under sustained investigation for so long.
I thank noble Lords for their indulgence. Those were the points that I wished to make.
My Lords, I do not crave quite as much indulgence as the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, since I put my name firmly on the list but, sadly, was omitted from the final version of it—surely something that should be made an offence under the Bill.
I have an additional decoration, if I may be allowed to present it, for this heavily laden Christmas tree Bill. It is a very modest addition which would deal with an issue that I have raised repeatedly over the last few years alongside my friend the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, who cannot be in his place today. That issue is the inadequacy of the current schemes under which those convicted of or cautioned for certain offences that turned gay people into criminals in the past can secure disregards and pardons now that those offences, which should never have been on the statute book in the first place, have been swept from it. It is the issue to which the case of Alan Turing first gave prominence.
The schemes under which pardons can be made available are inadequate because they do not encompass the full range of offences under which gay people have in the past been convicted of or cautioned for conduct that today would be entirely lawful. Five years ago, at the time of the last major policing legislation, the Government accepted that the schemes needed to be extended.
The Home Office has had the detailed information that it needs for action in its hands for years; it was sent to it in 2017 by Stonewall and Professor Paul Johnson of York University, the country’s leading legal expert on this subject. They submitted a comprehensive list of all the relevant offences. Since then, Professor Johnson has tried to assist the Home Office by furnishing it with two draft Bills and a draft statutory instrument that it could have amended, and if necessary refined, as a basis for its action.
The noble Lord, Lord Cashman, and I, working in close association with Professor Johnson, have asked a string of Oral and Written Questions and corresponded with my noble friend the Minister, all to no avail. Year after year we are told that the Government’s researches are still continuing. While I and my colleagues recognise and respect the Home Office’s unique expertise, we simply cannot understand protracted delay, given the information which is in the Home Office’s possession. The Government’s inaction condemns a substantial number of people—we do not know exactly how many—to go on living with convictions for conduct that is now lawful, convictions for which the Government have a clear commitment to provide pardons. Worse still, as the years pass some are dying with justice still denied to them.
In all this there is a profound irony. Scotland has already solved the problem. Under its legislation, pardons can be made available for any offence that in the past regulated or was used to regulate sexual activity between people of the same sex that is now lawful. In Committee, I intend, in conjunction with the noble Lord, Lord Cashman, to bring forward an amendment to create in England and Wales arrangements analogous to those in Scotland. I hope that it will attract wide support in the House and that the Government will be minded to accept it.
My Lords, I too congratulate the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, on his excellent maiden speech. I have known the noble Lord for very many years, and it is a pleasure to be with him in this House. I look forward to working with him, particularly on access to justice.
The noble and learned Lords, Lord Falconer, Lord Judge and Lord Garnier, my noble friends Lord Paddick and Lord Beith and many others have attacked the size of the Bill. The Constitution Committee’s report was damning. Paragraph 5 stated:
“Bills of this size and complexity impede proper legislative scrutiny in Parliament. This is not the first time the House has encountered this problem. It should not be repeated.”
The fact that we are spending seven hours at Second Reading, with 66-odd speakers, time limited, debating such a raft of disparate measures makes the point. Each of the first 12 parts of the Bill would have justified a Bill of its own.
My noble friend Lord Paddick pointed out that the Long Title brings within scope amendments to cover the whole gamut of criminal justice topics, and so we can expect many. We will need a great deal of time in Committee and on Report to do this justice. This Bill arrogates power to the Executive, effectively sidelining Parliament. The noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, laid bare the way this Bill usurps the role of Parliament with wide and unacceptable regulation-making powers.
There is, of course, much that we welcome: the earlier rehabilitation of offenders, long worked for by my noble friend Lord Dholakia, and the police covenant, on which my noble friend Lady Harris spoke so knowledgably, to make sure officers and retired officers get the support they deserve. In principle, we welcome the regulation of the intrusion of extraction of information from mobile phones, but innocent victims of offences must be protected and not deterred from pursuing prosecutions by the fear of losing their devices and having their private information trawled through by strangers. The noble and learned Lords, Lord Judge and Lord Thomas of Cwmgiedd, highlighted the difficulties.
However, this Bill seriously threatens fundamental liberties. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, denied any such threat. We disagree. The right to peaceful assembly and protest is fundamental in a democracy and it is axiomatic, as so many have said, that protests are noisy and often unruly. Yes, they may cause disruption, inconvenience and nuisance, but that is all part of dissent being permissible and being heard. My noble friend Lord Oates and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, passionately argued this case in relation to climate change. Certainly, Greta Thunberg’s original solo school demonstrations were not noisy, but Extinction Rebellion, and no doubt the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, are squarely in the Government’s sights.
The “Today” programme this morning reported on the anxiety of young people about climate change—on the reluctance to have children, on the feeling that the world is doomed. This is not our world now, but theirs. Are the under-35s represented in Parliament? No. Do we, the over-50s, understand their concerns? At an intellectual level, yes. But as a personal threat? Bluntly, no. As one summed it up, “For us, it is personal.” How are they to be heard? Through protests. Will they be noisy? Yes. Offensive? Probably. May they
“result in serious disruption to the activities of an organisation”,
using the words of the Bill? What about demonstrations outside company meetings or political meetings? The Constitution Committee rightly concluded that the noise trigger provisions offend against Article 10 convention rights to freedom of assembly. And who makes the regulations to define “serious disruption”? Why, the Secretary of State, of course—no matter their age, nor how authoritarian or illiberal their attitudes. The noble Baronesses, Lady Jones and Lady Chakrabarti, my noble friend Lady Miller, the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, and others made these points graphically.
The sentencing provisions in the Bill are overwhelmingly retrograde, pandering to the tabloid view that longer sentences reduce crime. But all the evidence is to the contrary, as my noble friend Lord Beith pointed out—granted that locking up people for longer affords the public the temporary protection of keeping some offenders in custody. But the price of that protection far outweighs any benefit. We pay the cost of imprisoning more people than any other nation in western Europe, but we also institutionalise offenders; we break up families; we make offenders less employable and therefore more dependent on the state; we overcrowd our prisons, which have become violent academies of crime; and so we increase reoffending and the human, social and financial cost of divided and criminalised communities. Yet the Bill establishes more minimum sentences; restricts the discretion to depart from some in cases where there are exceptional circumstances; increases many terms to be served from half to two-thirds of notionally determinate sentences; and ends automatic release at the halfway point for many sentences.
On community sentences, we see increased curfew hours and periods, but nothing about increasing help for offenders to turn their lives around. There is provision for recall to custody for breach of community orders, with short custodial penalties, in the face of all the evidence that these do not work and have a disproportionate effect on women and minorities and an adverse effect on families—points persuasively made by the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester.
We need fewer offenders in prison and more looked after in the community. We must address the personal issues that caused their offending: mental ill-health; histories of physical and sexual abuse; drug and alcohol addiction, as the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, said; homelessness; and missed educational opportunities. None of this is new. But it is desperately sad that a Bill said to be directed at overhauling our criminal justice system is misguidedly focused on imprisoning more people for longer, on reducing judicial discretion and on abandoning important principles that have long underpinned our justice system. We will support the attempt of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, to increase the use of restorative justice, for all the reasons she gave.
We agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, that we must now end the utter scandal of detaining IPP prisoners indefinitely, way beyond their tariff term. We will support the Children’s Society-backed amendments to ensure that serious violence reduction strategies prioritise protecting children and young people. We will oppose groundless stop and search for persons who have been once convicted of any offensive weapons offence, even on a joint enterprise basis. That is an unjust and racially divisive proposal.
On encampments, we see no reason for criminalising trespass with intent to reside, for the reasons explained by my noble friends Lady Bakewell and Lady Brinton, and by the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker. The proposal is unnecessary; there is already a wide range of eviction powers in existence. The proposed new powers rely far too much on the subjective judgment of the police. This proposal is discriminatory; it is also one-sided. If encampments are to be restricted, we need adequate local authority provision of safe and approved sites for the Traveller community.
On sentencing for assaults on emergency workers, we agree—but why not include retail workers, transport workers and public service staff? This provision needs rethinking to extend it to protect those providing a public service.
On remote hearings, we agree with the proposals for more—and more efficient—such hearings in appropriate cases beyond the pandemic. But we also agree with the noble and learned Lord, Lord Thomas, and the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, that such cases do not include jury trials. Jury trials depend, as the noble Lord, Lord Pannick, said, on working relationships between judges and juries; but they also depend, crucially, on discussion and debate among jurors, which cannot be properly achieved on Zoom or Teams. For my part, I have long said that I would like to see more public broadcasting of proceedings—at the discretion of judges, certainly—for the purpose of improving open justice, but that is a different matter.
Finally, noble Lords have spoken of the missed opportunity to add more protections for women and girls. The noble Lord, Lord Pannick, argued for an amendment to be moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Hayman, which we will support, extending the upskirting legislation to cover photography without consent of women while breastfeeding. We agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Greengross, and others that serious violence should explicitly include domestic and sexual abuse. We also agree with my noble friend Lady Brinton, the noble Lord, Lord Russell, and others who will propose amendments to increase the surveillance of offenders and introduce further measures on domestic violence.
There is much to debate in the Bill and much of it is not good.
I start by saying that our thoughts and good wishes are very much with the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson of Tredegar, who is not able, for unavoidable reasons, to be with us today on the Government Front Bench. I add my congratulations, as so many other noble Lords have done, to the noble Lord, Lord Sandhurst, on his well-received maiden speech. We know that the noble Lord has a great deal to offer your Lordships’ House and we look forward to what we hope will be many more contributions from him.
The Bill has been strongly criticised by many noble Lords in this debate; not least the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, and the Delegated Powers Committee which he chairs, for its extensive use of delegated powers—I think there are 62—that are not open to proper, or any, parliamentary scrutiny and which leave the interpretation of words in the Bill to the Home Secretary and the police. Let me remind your Lordships what the committee said:
“We are surprised and concerned at the large number of inappropriate delegations of power in this Bill … We are particularly concerned that the Bill would … allow Ministers—and even a non-statutory body—to influence the exercise of new police powers (including in relation to unauthorised traveller encampments and stop and search) through ‘guidance’ that is not subject to parliamentary scrutiny”.
The committee went on to say that the Bill would
“leave to regulations key aspects of new police powers—to restrict protest and to extract confidential information from electronic devices—that should instead be on the face of the Bill; and … allow the imposition of statutory duties via the novel concept of strategy’ documents that need not even be published.”
No wonder the DPRRC, and so many noble Lords today, are concerned.
A number of noble Lords have also criticised the Bill for, shall we say, a certain lack of brevity. This 177-clause, near 300-page, 13-part and 20-schedule Bill covers a multitude of different matters for which the Ministry of Justice and the Home Office have primary responsibility.
As my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton said in detailing our 11 areas of concern—which I shall not repeat—there are significant new measures in the Bill with which we profoundly disagree, and significant issues that have been ignored in the Bill. However, as my noble and learned friend also said, there are parts of the Bill which we support. They include, for example, the introduction of the police covenant, for which the Police Federation has long campaigned, and addressing assaults against emergency workers, which should also be extended to key workers such as those in retail.
On the police covenant, there must be more than warm words from the Government. We will be looking to strengthen it, particularly with regard to health, including mental health and trauma, and, crucially, independence. The covenant must be a chance for the police to lead, and government to listen, on the needs of the police workforce.
On retail workers, it is important to recognise that assaults are not just a problem born of the pandemic. Although the pandemic heightened it, this has been a rising problem faced by shop workers for many years. Amendments on this issue had cross-party Back-Bench support in the Commons, and the Government said they would consider the matter and bring forward an amendment in the Lords “if appropriate”.
In a response to the Home Affairs Select Committee, published last week, the Government said they were not complacent on this issue, and repeated their plan to consider it as part of this Bill. They also said that they would “take into account” the text of the Protection of Workers (Retail and Age-restricted Goods and Services) (Scotland) Act, which has recently come into force in Scotland. I pay tribute to the work of Daniel Johnson MSP as the leading Member involved. The Bill was passed unanimously, including with support from the Minister’s own party.
What does the Government “considering” the issue actually mean? What meetings have Ministers held over the summer with business, trade unions and groups, including the British Retail Consortium, on this matter? When is the consideration going to be completed and a conclusion reached? I trust that the Minister will be able to address these points in the Government’s response to this debate.
As I have already said, there are significant new measures in the Bill with which we profoundly disagree. As so many noble Lords have said, the right to protest is a cornerstone of our democracy. Yet the Bill considerably extends the conditions that can be imposed on the exercise of that right of non-violent protest, as my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti reminded us. This is perhaps a government reaction to the aspects of the Extinction Rebellion and Black Lives Matter protests to which Ministers took very public exception.
Just one example of that extension of power is the fact that the Bill makes
“the noise generated by persons taking part”,
if it causes people
“serious unease, alarm or distress”,
a reason for the police to be able to impose conditions. The vague terminology creates a very low threshold to meet, and could be used to seriously limit or rule out peaceful protest. As so many have already said, protests tend to be noisy, because one objective is to attract attention to the cause in question. The Bill then provides for penalties for someone who breaches a police-imposed condition on a protest where they “ought to have known” that the condition existed, which would in effect criminalise even people who unwittingly breach conditions.
Yet in our view the police already have sufficient powers under existing laws to address serious disruption arising from protests that never were, or that have ceased to be, peaceful and legitimate. Those existing powers strike a balance between legitimate rights and the need to keep order, which is not what the deployment of the additional extensive powers being sought in the Bill is likely to do. In our view, the Government have got the balance wrong.
As I think my noble friend Lord Blunkett said, getting words right really matters, and the terminology in this Bill is often vague and open to different and damaging interpretations, not by Parliament but by those to whom the power of definition and interpretation is given. As the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, said—I hope I quote him accurately—
“We do not know what this Act means”.
There is also a real risk that some community groups who have legitimate concerns and want their voices heard will look at the provisions and powers in this Bill and decide that non-violent protest is potentially too risky for them. That would certainly have serious implications for the concept of policing by consent, apart from on the democratic right to protest peacefully.
Another part of the Bill contains clauses on unauthorised encampments, about which my noble friend Lady Whitaker and many other noble Lords have spoken so powerfully. These clauses create a new offence, backed up by custodial or financial penalties, of residing and—it seems—having an intention to reside on land without consent in or with a vehicle. This offence is clearly targeted at Gypsy, Roma and Traveller communities. Under the powers in the Bill, the police can seize and remove property if they “reasonably suspect” that the new offence has been committed, which could mean seizure and removal of a vehicle which is a person’s or persons’ primary residence. The police do not believe that criminalisation of unauthorised encampments will do anything other than make situations worse, and they have said that the shortage of sites to occupy is the real problem that leads to unlawful encampments.
A duty to tackle and prevent serious violence is introduced under the Bill, and we support the intention of the serious violence duty to get every agency working together locally to tackle violence. However, we are concerned that there is no provision in the Bill to safeguard children and that the Government have rejected calls for a new definition of child criminal exploitation. We also want to see it made clear in the Bill that domestic abuse or sexual violence, particularly against women and girls, counts as serious violence. As has been said already, it is a national—not local—issue. This issue is being pursued in particular by the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, and the noble Lords, Lord Russell of Liverpool and Lord Polak.
We are concerned, too, about data capture elements in the Bill and the sharing of information between agencies including the police. In particular, we want effective protection of victims, not least victims of rape and sexual abuse, from demeaning and often unnecessary intrusion into their lives by the examination of their phone data by strangers, as has been said. We are currently working with the Victims’ Commissioner on these data extraction issues.
Under the Bill, and following their being piloted, serious violence reduction orders would allow police officers with such orders to stop and search people with previous convictions involving an offensive weapon, whether used or being carried at the time of the offence. Frankly, it is hard to believe that such sweeping powers to stop and search such people without the officer having reasonable grounds and without authorisation will reduce serious violence when the evidence shows that it is intelligence-led searches which produce results.
This is a divisive Bill which challenges the continuation of long-standing basic freedoms while failing to address legitimate public concerns about keeping people safe—not least women and girls. As my noble and learned friend Lord Falconer of Thoroton pointed out, this Bill should have been the opportunity to make positive changes to the criminal justice system to better victims’ experience of it and ensure that it works for everyone and to put in place long overdue protections for women and girls against unacceptable violence. Despite the impact of a decade of government cuts to the police and the justice system, that opportunity has been ignored, and instead we have a government Bill that does more to protect statues than women, does nothing to better victims’ experience of the criminal justice system and clamps down on the democratic right to protest. As a result, there will no doubt be many amendments to this Bill put down in Committee and on Report. It now remains to be seen whether there are significant issues of concern about this Bill—which have been expressed today—on which the Government will be prepared to move of their own volition.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have taken part in today’s debate. I start by thanking the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for his kind words about the noble Lord, Lord Wolfson; I am sure that I echo the words of the whole House in sending him our good wishes. I pay tribute to my noble friend Lord Sandhurst for the very interesting maiden speech he made during this important debate—there were times when I wondered whether he might just pop down to the Front Bench and help me on some of the Ministry of Justice issues. I very much look forward to working with him in the future.
A couple of noble Lords, including Front-Bench speeches from the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, talked about the size of the Bill. I agree, and I know that the noble Lords will lead by example and not add to its size. I welcome the support for many of the measures in the Bill, including those in relation to the police covenant, supported by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and others. I note the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, about other parts of the covenant that he would like to explore: doubling the maximum penalty for assaults on emergency workers, the amendments to the Sexual Offences Act in respect of positions of trust, and the provisions relating to the rehabilitation of offenders.
It is fair to say, however, that some of the other measures have not been quite so well received by your Lordships’ House. Many points have been raised, and my noble friend Lord Wolfson and I will need to consider some of these further. I will take this opportunity to touch on some of the main themes in today’s debate, but I know your Lordships will understand that I will not get through every single point made by every noble Lord—or else we will be here until tomorrow morning.
I will first address the concerns of a number of noble Lords regarding the public order provisions in Part 3 of the Bill. I had some very thoughtful, although contrary, contributions from my noble friends Lady Stowell and Lord Moylan, and the noble Lords, Lord Blunkett and Lord Walney. In particular, the noble Lord, Lord Walney, spoke about the fragility of democracy, which I thought was a very interesting point. The noble Lord, Lord Sikka, gave several examples of how, historically, our right to protest might have been curtailed. I have to say that I disagree with him. I think the right to protest peacefully is as fundamental to our democracy now as it has ever been. To be a bit mischievous, I add as a postscript that the Labour Party boycotted the Jarrow marches.
That said, we must respect the rights of others who might be affected by the increasingly disruptive tactics used by some groups. We saw further examples of such disruption during the recent protests by Extinction Rebellion, with protesters stopping emergency workers from attending to members of the public—as the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, said—as well as gluing themselves to trains to stop ordinary working people from going to work.
The policing inspectorate found earlier this year that the balance between protesters’ rights and the rights of local residents, businesses and those who hold opposing views leans in favour of the protesters and called for a modest reset. The Bill does just that, by enabling police to better manage highly disruptive protests. These new measures will balance the rights of protesters with those of others to go about their business and their day unhindered.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, the noble Lords, Lord Rosser, Lord Oates, Lord Beith and Lord Dubs, and the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett, referred to the powers conferred on the police to attach conditions relating to the generation of noise. We accept that many protests are, by their very nature, noisy—they would not be protests otherwise—and the overwhelming majority of protests will be unaffected by these provisions. But in recent years we have seen some protesters use egregious noise, not as a method of legitimately expressing themselves but to antagonise and disrupt others from the enjoyment of their own liberties and rights. This power can be used only when the police reasonably believe that the noise from a protest may cause serious disruption to the activities of an organisation or cause a significant impact on people in the vicinity of the protest.
The noble Baroness, Lady Jones, and the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, talked about the lack of a definition of serious disruption and annoyance. Part 3 of the Bill uses many terms that are already used in the Public Order Act 1986 and other legislation and that are familiar to the police and the courts. The police are very well versed in applying the tests set out in legislation in an operational context. The tests in Sections 12 and 14 of the 1986 Act as currently drafted necessarily require the exercise of judgment based on the circumstances of a particular protest, and the amendments to the 1986 Act do not change that. To assist them in this, the police receive extensive training in public order delivered by the College of Policing.
Many noble Lords, including the noble Baroness, Lady Whitaker, the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and the right reverend Prelates the Bishops of Blackburn, Manchester and Gloucester, expressed concerns about the provisions in Part 4 relating to unauthorised encampments. I must assure the House that this is not an anti-Traveller measure and it should not be portrayed as such. Those who cause harm are a small number, who often give an unfair and negative image of the vast majority of Travellers, who are completely law-abiding. The measures allow police to tackle unauthorised encampments where they cause significant damage, disruption and distress to communities and landowners. It has to be considered that it must be time-consuming and often costly for landowners to have unauthorised encampments removed or indeed to have to clean up after them. It is only right that the Government seek to protect law-abiding citizens who are adversely affected by some unauthorised encampments, a point well made by my noble friend Lord Goschen.
On Wales, I can assure the noble Lord, Lord German, and the noble Baroness, Lady Humphreys, that we have engaged extensively with the Welsh Government on this and other provisions in the Bill.
Another major topic of discussion this evening has been the serious violence duty. My noble friend Lady Bertin sought reassurance that the serious violence duty will cover domestic abuse and sexual violence. My noble friend Lord Polak, among others, also spoke on this issue. We have intentionally refrained from including a list of crime types or prioritising one type of victim over another in the legislation. This is to allow local strategies to take account of the most prevalent forms of serious violence in the locality and the impact on all potential victims. Different forms of serious violence will vary between geographical areas, and we want to enable partners to adapt and respond to new and emerging forms of serious violence as they arise and are identified. That is why we have built in flexibility for specified authorities to include in their strategy actions that focus on any form of serious violence should it be prevalent in a local area. This could include, for example, domestic abuse or sexual violence, or other forms of violence against women and girls. What we do not want to do through legislation is to restrict things from being in scope.
On the concerns about longer sentences, the noble Lords, Lord Beith, Lord German and Lord Hendy, the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester and my noble friend Lord Attlee expressed concern that this legislation will lead to further increases in the prison population. We are committed to a sentencing framework that takes account of the true nature of crimes and targets specific groups of offenders accordingly. The proposals aimed at serious offenders do just that—they are highly targeted interventions for the most serious and most dangerous offenders, and those of most public concern. However, at the other end of the scale, the Bill also looks to divert offenders away from a life of crime and support them into rehabilitation.
The right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester, the noble Lord, Lord Rooker, and others raised the issue of female offenders. We are actively looking to target female offenders through our problem-solving courts pilot, aiming to reduce the volume and frequency of reoffending, increase health and well-being and improve the maintenance of familial relationships compared to standard court processes and disposals for vulnerable female offenders. We intend to pilot these measures in four to five courts, at least one of which is anticipated to focus on piloting problem-solving measures for female offenders who meet the eligibility criteria. The Government remain fully committed to delivering the female offender strategy, which sets out a very ambitious programme of work to address the specific needs of female offenders.
The noble Lords, Lord Dubs, Lord Rooker and Lord Pannick, and the right reverend Prelate the Bishop of Gloucester raised the issue of the sentencing of primary carers. The case law in this area makes it clear that the court must perform a balancing exercise between the legitimate aims to be served by sentencing and the effect that a sentence has on the family life of others, particularly children. The effect of a sentence on others may be capable of tipping the scales so that a custodial sentence which would otherwise be proportionate becomes disproportionate. However, there will be cases where the seriousness of the offending is such that, despite the existence of dependants, a custodial sentence is warranted. In such cases, it will still be open to the court to find that the effect of a sentence on others is such as to provide grounds for mitigating the length of a custodial sentence.
The noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton, asked about the review of sentencing in cases of domestic homicides. I am happy to report that this work is now well under way and the first stage has been completed. He was right to identify the appointment of Clare Wade QC as an independent expert to lead the second stage of the review. The terms of reference of the review have now been finalised following a period of consultation with her, and we will publish them shortly. Ms Wade will examine the findings from the initial stage of the review and then produce a report for Ministers which will consider whether the law could better protect the public and ensure that the sentences reflect the severity of these awful crimes.
A number of noble Lords, including the noble Lords, Lord Thomas of Gresford and Lord Pannick, and my noble friend Lady Sater, asked about the use of audio and video links in criminal proceedings and how it will be implemented to ensure quality and that trials remain fair. The use of live links will continue to be subject to judicial discretion, and they will be used only where the court is satisfied that it is in the interests of justice, having considered any representations from parties to the proceedings. We recognise that children have specific needs; the courts have a statutory duty to have regard to the welfare of children. They will need to be satisfied that it is in the interests of justice for a child to participate by live link, having considered any representation from parties and the relevant youth offending team.
My noble friend Lord Lexden spoke about the historic disregards and pardons for what were historically same-sex offences but are offences no longer. I have to ’fess up: I thought this was dealt with in the Armed Forces Bill, and it is not. I will immediately get on to this. I feel quite ashamed that I thought it was being dealt with, so I apologise to my noble friend.
My noble friend Lord Young of Cookham, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer of Thoroton and the noble Lord, Lord Best, suggested that the Bill might be used to repeal the Vagrancy Act 1824. The Government are very clear that no one should be criminalised simply for having nowhere to live. We agree that the time has come to reconsider the Vagrancy Act. It is complex, it might not be a question of simply repealing the 1824 Act and putting nothing in its place, but we reserve judgment on that. We also need to consider the devolution implication, given that it extends to Wales. I can assure noble Lords that we are on the case, and I am sure the House will hold me to account for those words.
The IPP is something that noble Lords, particularly noble and learned Lords, are concerned about. The noble and learned Lords, Lord Judge and Lord Brown of Eaton-under-Heywood, and my noble friend Lord Garnier argued that the Bill should address the issue of offenders still subject to the IPP sentences. We acknowledge that there are concerns about the IPP sentence, but our number one priority is to protect the public. We must not forget that many of these prisoners pose a high risk, and that the measures are working, but I acknowledge the point that the noble and learned Lords have made.
The noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Paddick, and the noble and learned Lord, Lord Falconer, argued for the introduction of a new offence of assaulting a retail worker. Were the noble Lord, Lord Kennedy of Southwark, here, he would be arguing for it as well. I share their concerns about the unacceptable increase, during the pandemic, of assaults on shop workers. There is already a wide range of offences which criminalise disorderly and violent behaviour that would apply in cases of violence towards people whose work brings them into contact with members of the public. These offences cover the full spectrum of unacceptable behaviour, from using abusive language to the most serious and violent offences. None the less, the Government have agreed to actively consider whether legislative change is necessary and to bring forward any proposal if it is.
A number of noble Lords, including my noble friends Lord Blencathra and Lord Garnier, the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, and the noble Lord, Lord Beith, referred to the reports published in the last few days by the DPRRC. I am very grateful to that committee and the Joint Committee on Human Rights for their careful scrutiny of the Bill. We will consider, very carefully, each of their conclusions and recommendations, and respond fully in due course.
A couple of noble Lords, including the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, mentioned the extraction of information from electronic devices. We agree that there is a need for strong privacy safeguards when dealing with people’s sensitive personal information. We owe it to vulnerable victims and witnesses to get these provisions right. I assure noble Lords that we are continuing to explore how they might be strengthened.
I know that I have not been able to respond to all the points raised by noble Lords during the course of the debate. I will look at Hansard; I can already think of things that I have not had a chance to respond to tonight.
I will finish by reiterating what I said in my opening speech. This is a multifaceted Bill. We want to keep the public safe and I know that together, as the House of Lords, we will make this Bill better as we work on it in the coming weeks. I commend the Bill to the House.
Bill read a second time and committed to a Committee of the Whole House.