Committee (2nd Day) (Continued)
Amendment 27 not moved.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, will be taking part remotely in the debate on Amendment 28. I call the noble Lord, Lord Paddick.
28: Clause 7, page 8, line 31, at end insert—
“(d) each NHS body in the area.”Member’s explanatory statement
This is to ensure that the local health sector is consulted when a a local plan is being prepared to prevent and reduce serious violence in that local area.
My Lords, in moving Amendment 28 in my name, I will speak also to the other amendments in this group.
Those under the new legal obligation to collaborate with each other to prevent and reduce serious violence are set out in Schedule 1 to the Bill and include clinical commissioning groups and local health boards, but they do not, for example, include hospital trusts. We will come to what should be included in serious violence in a later group, but in that group, the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, has an amendment to include violence that results in the victim receiving injury that requires emergency hospital treatment, or where the injury amounts to grievous bodily harm.
Leaving the definition of serious violence to one side until we reach that group, we know from the work of Professor Jonathan Shepherd of Cardiff University how important information about knife crime, for example, is to the police in tackling that type of serious violence. It therefore seems to be a serious omission that not all NHS bodies in the area are listed as bodies that must be consulted as provided for in Clause 7(4), particularly hospital trusts. This omission leads one to question again to what extent this is really a public health approach to tackling and reducing serious violence. I have suggested that hospital trusts, for example, are included as bodies that must be consulted, rather than specified authorities, to avoid hospital trusts being compelled to divulge sensitive personal patient information under the other provisions of this chapter.
Hospital trusts can also play an important role in allowing charities such as Redthread to engage with victims of knife crime at “teachable moments” when victims involved in gangs are at their most receptive to being approached to discuss a way out of their violent lifestyles, particularly when they have been seriously injured or their injuries are life-threatening. I have personally heard powerful testimony from a young father, the mother of whose child had committed suicide, realising when in A&E with a serious knife wound that his child might have to grow up without either of his parents if he did not turn his back on his violent past. This is an example of a truly multiagency, public health approach to serious violence, where those involved in violent gangs are not necessarily imprisoned—where they may be further brutalised—but are supported to turn their lives around.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bennett of Manor Castle, suggests that young people’s groups and religious and cultural groups must also be consulted. In these cases, such groups can have a crucial role to play in providing a safe alternative to the sense of belonging that many young people desperately seek and that criminal gangs appear to provide.
As I said on Wednesday, many young people lack family support and find themselves groomed by gang members who appear to provide them with the sense of belonging that they so desperately seek. Of course, the reality of being in a gang is very different, where discipline within the gang is enforced by violence and junior members and girls are often abused and exploited. It is often not the fault of the parents, or the lone parent, who must do three minimum-wage jobs to pay the rent, put food on the table and pay their energy bills, and as a result can rarely be there for their kids, but it creates an emotional vacuum that gangs can so easily fill. Young people’s groups can provide positive alternatives to gangs, where that need for a sense of belonging can be met. Similarly, religious groups can provide not only a similar positive sense of belonging but a positive counternarrative to extremist distortions of true religion which can lead to serious violence. As the former Chief Rabbi, Lord Sacks—may his memory be a blessing—said, the antidote to bad religion is good religion.
I acknowledge and admire the tireless work of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, to raise awareness of the negative impacts of alcohol on society. In his Amendment 32 he also includes drug use as another driver of serious violence. Certainly, drugs such as crack cocaine can lead to violent behaviour, as alcohol does, and of course, while drug supply continues to be in the hands of criminals, there will be violence associated with turf wars between rival drug gangs. When the only way to enforce drug deals is through the use or threat of violence, drugs can also be a cause of serious violence by that means.
We also share the concerns of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in Amendments 33 and 41, tabled by the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, and supported by my noble friend Lord Beith, that a strategy under this part of the Bill can have legislative effect, for example, to place authorities such as education authorities under a statutory duty to comply with a strategy that does not even have to be made public. However, I am not convinced that a national serious violence oversight board, as suggested by the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, is necessary, as I would hope that such bodies as Her Majesty’s inspectorates would already be under an obligation to review serious violence strategies and share good practice—but I will listen with interest to her arguments and the response of the Minister. In the meantime, I beg to move.
My Lords, I support Amendment 28, tabled by my noble friend Lord Paddick, which would add each NHS body in an area to the formal list of bodies to be consulted on a local plan, including why NHS bodies should not be a specified authority. I will use one example of how critical to planning they can be to support the argument.
Our Liberal Democrat colleague Caroline Pidgeon, a member of the Greater London Assembly, wrote a report in 2015 to the Greater London Assembly on knife crime. She encouraged the then Mayor of London to adopt the Cardiff model in A&E to help tackle knife crime. After a long campaign, Mayor Boris Johnson finally agreed, and one of the key recommendations in Caroline’s report was to collect anonymised data.
Currently all accident and emergency departments in London collect anonymised data on violent crime for those who need treatment. The scheme means that A&E departments share key information on things such as the location of crime and weapons used with the police and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, while protecting personal data. This data helps to guide interventions and prevention programmes and is invaluable in gaining knowledge on violent crime patterns. This is recognised as good practice, but there is an enormous amount of learning going on in our A&E departments as they collate that data. If the Government intend to emulate this elsewhere, it would also be helpful for the Bill to recognise that there is an enormous amount of expertise in our health bodies that can help tackle serious violence. It seems logical therefore that health bodies should also be statutory consultees.
My noble friend Lady Bennett of Manor Castle is unable to attend your Lordships’ Committee today, so I am proposing Amendment 30 in her place.
Along with the other amendments in this group, our amendment will improve the Government’s attempts to reduce serious violence. Youth groups, cultural groups and religious groups are just a few of the organisations that should be consulted in the exercise of the serious violence duty. There are many others too, and there will be big gaps in any serious violence reduction plan that has not consulted with and included these groups. They know their communities well, often with a different angle from other health services, local authorities and so on, and are currently not listed in the Bill—but they definitely should be. Perhaps most importantly, they can often shine a light on the failures of those other bodies with respect to how they perhaps underserve or misunderstand their communities.
So I hope the Minister will outline how youth, cultural and religious groups will be properly involved in this serious violence duty.
My Lords, as chair of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, I support Amendments 33 and 41 in my name. I intend to speak only once on the whole Bill, unless the spirit moves me via my noble friend the Minister’s reply. She will know that there were quite a few recommendations in the Delegated Powers Committee report, but I have put down just these two amendments.
If the Committee will permit, I will take the first minute to run through the more general criticism we made of the delegated powers in the Bill. I will not return to this subject again. In our response to the memorandum, we 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 … 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.”
That is the subject of the amendments before us today, and that is what I shall major on.
We concluded our general introduction by saying:
“We are disappointed that the inclusion of these types of delegations of power—on flimsy grounds—suggests that the Government have failed when preparing this Bill to give serious consideration to recommendations that we have made in recent reports on other Bills.”
That is fairly scathing condemnation, and it is a bit unfair on noble Lords in this Committee and from the Home Office, because they had nothing to do with drafting these provisions.
We all know how it happens. The Bill has come from another place; Ministers who have served in the Home Office and other departments will honestly admit this. I dealt with about 20 Bills when I was in the Home Office. The Bill team and civil servants would come in and say, “Here’s the Bill, Minister”, and we would look at the general politics of it. Then they would say, “Oh, by the way, there are some delegated powers there. When you’re ready to come back again to tweak it, we can deal with it”. We all said, “Yes, jolly good; carry on”, but never paid any attention to them. I am certain that the Bill team in the Commons—the civil servants drafting the Bill—did not, and nor did the Commons Ministers. It came here and this bunch of Lordships have got a bit upset, and I suspect others will too.
I say to my noble friend the Minister to go back, as other Lords Ministers have to do, and explain to Ministers in the Commons and the Bill team—the Bill team thinks it is sacrosanct; it has drafted it and does not like people mucking around with it—that that bunch up the Corridor will want some concessions. My political antennae tell me that on Report there may be a few amendments made by noble Lords on all sides—amendments I might not approve of at all—but if we want to get somewhere, the Commons should make concessions on this, because they are really sensible.
Before I comment on the two amendments, I will give one example. We criticise the provisions on serious disruption; I think the noble and learned Lord, Lord Judge, wishes to remove them from the Bill. We say in our report that the Government have been able to draft a half-page statutory instrument describing serious disruption. If the Government can draft it there, stick it in the Bill, for goodness’ sake, and then it can be amended later.
That is enough general criticism. I apologise to my noble friend as she has to take it all the time, but other departments have been infinitely worse in some of their inappropriate delegations. The Home Office is not the worst offender.
Clauses 7(9) and 8(9)
“make provision for or in connection with the publication and dissemination of a strategy”
to reduce serious violence. Clauses 7 and 8 allow collaboration between authorities and a local government area
“to prevent and reduce serious violence”,
“prepare and implement a strategy for exercising their functions”—
all good stuff.
Under Clauses 7 and 8, a strategy
“may specify an action to be carried out by … an educational authority … a prison authority … or … a youth custody authority”,
and such authorities are under a duty to carry out the specified actions. However, there is no requirement for such a strategy to be published; instead, the Secretary of State has the power, exercisable by regulations subject to the negative procedure, to
“make provision for or in connection with the publication and dissemination of a strategy”.
This power would appear to allow the Secretary of State to provide that a strategy need not be published if she so wished, or even to decide not to make a provision about publication at all. That does not make sense to us. My committee is
“concerned that the absence of a requirement to publish means that a strategy can have legislative effect—by placing educational authorities, prison authorities and youth custody authorities under a statutory duty to do things specified in it—but without appropriate transparency.”
We therefore recommend
“that the delegated powers in clauses 7(9) and 8(9) should be amended”—
that is, tweaked a wee bit—
“to require the publication of any action which is specified in a ‘strategy’ as one that an educational authority, a prison authority or a youth custody authority must carry out.”
That is a minor tweak—actually, so are many of the other things we recommend. We may be scathing in the report, but we are not asking that fundamental bits of the Bill be deleted or rewritten completely; we are merely asking for more transparency. Putting more things on the face of the Bill will save the Government rather a lot of grief in this House later on.
My Lords, my name is on the amendment, following that of the chairman of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. I commend the committee’s work in general, with more general comments on this Bill and the two amendments to which it has given rise in this particular case.
I am not persuaded of the merits of having a statutory structure for local co-operation strategies. I am strongly in favour of local co-operation; it should be happening everywhere to deal with serious violence and many other problems in the system. Where that is done and works well—as it has done in youth justice, to some extent—it demonstrates its value pretty quickly.
However, this is a statutory scheme; because of that, statutory obligations are created and there must be accountability for them. I am in a charitable mood so I will suggest that, if not exactly careless drafting, this did not anticipate the question, “What if no provision is made for publication of the strategy?” That is what the two amendments deal with. Perhaps the Government are undiminished in their intention that the strategies will be published and will therefore be accountable to the communities in which they are deployed but, as the Bill stands, it is weak on that point and it would be much better to make it clearer.
This is not by any means the worst delegated power issue to arise in the Bill—I am intrigued that the Home Office got off lightly tonight, with the chairman of the DPRRC calling it not the worst department. However, in this particular case, it needs to be made much clearer that, if statutory obligations are created and strategies have the force of statute, they must be published and must be accountable to the communities in which they operate.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for his remarks. It will come as no surprise to the Minister that I have a few things to say about alcohol over the course of our deliberations.
The Home Office’s outcome delivery plan, published on 15 July 2021, highlights alcohol use as a principal driver of serious violence and other crimes. However, the plan does not include any measures to reduce alcohol use. Reducing alcohol availability, increasing alcohol price and limiting alcohol marketing are powerful levers already in the hands of the Government for reducing serious violence, but none of these is included anywhere. As drafted, the Bill appears to be blind to the ubiquitous role of alcohol in serious violence both in and outside the home.
In 2019, 176,000 people in England and Wales needed emergency hospital treatment after being injured in violent incidents. Most of this serious violence takes place after 10 pm and is alcohol related. This is just the tip of the iceberg, as the Crime Survey for England and Wales demonstrates so clearly. People living in the most deprived areas are six times more likely to be affected than those in the least deprived areas. Quite apart from triggering violence, intoxication increases vulnerability, including to sexual violence, as physical decision-making capability is eroded. Hate violence increases as inhibition decreases.
One of the solutions is pricing. Even tiny alcohol price increases make a big difference. A 1% increase across the on and off-licence trades is estimated to reduce the number of people injured in serious violence by at least 6,000 in England and Wales. But at the moment, the Government’s action is in the opposite direction: they freeze or even reduce the levies and duties on alcohol. We wait with interest to see what the Chancellor will do this coming Wednesday, because effectively what the Government have done in recent years by reducing the price of alcohol in relative terms is give a licence for people to drink more and commit more violence, particularly after 10 pm. I hope there is some chance that we will start taking a different view of that. The statistics should not be ignored; they have got worse, and we should be taking action.
I bring apologies from my friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, who is unable to speak today. Had she done so, she would have talked about the related issue of drugs. Drug-related homicides are increasing. There were 311 such homicides in England and Wales in 2018-19 and 337 in 2019-20.
If one takes the consequences of the abuse of alcohol and drug taking, one sees that we have not a diminishing problem but an increasing one. We need to take all the steps we can in any way open to us to try to ensure that we start moving in the opposite direction. The amendment that I bring to the Committee seeks to ensure that the consequences of alcohol, and the need for those consequences to be recognised, are recognised in the strategy that will be drawn up, which I hope will be worth while and worth pursuing.
My Lords, I declare my interests in the register of interests. I am the independent chair of the Nottingham Crime & Drug Partnership. As this may cross some of the things I say, I am also a principal research fellow at the Rights Lab at the University of Nottingham.
The Bill requires authorities involved in the serious violence reduction duty to prepare and implement a strategy to prevent and reduce serious violence in their local area. These amendments are incredibly important because the strategy is about how we implement all the other things we are talking about. The amendments are about that strategy, what it should involve and how it can be made more effective. Such detail is what the Committee stage is about.
The Government’s figures from the impact assessment published on 30 June 2021 are simply unacceptable and we have to do something about them. They say:
“Since 2014 certain types of serious violence have increased markedly in England and Wales. Offences involving knives increased by 84 per cent between the year to June 2014 and the year to June 2020. Homicides increased by around 38 per cent and gun crime rose by 28 per cent between year to June 2014 and year to June 2020.”
In the year ending June 2020, 262 people were stabbed to death. In 2019-20, 4,800 admissions for assault by a sharp object were recorded, with some offences never reported. Redthread, which the noble Lord mentioned, is one of the special projects in Nottingham which deals with that. I say those figures not to be alarmist or to criticise, but to outline for the Committee, those who read our affairs and some who are no doubt watching them, that this is a colossal problem for us as a society. We are struggling to deal with it and do something about it.
I asked many Ministers in the other place and am starting to ask in this place, why this Bill will be different from other Bills. Nobody has passed a Bill on serious violence over the past 30, 40 or 50 years that has not sought to do exactly what this Bill is seeking to do. There has not been a police force, a justice system or a local authority across the country that has not sought to reduce serious violence. It is a failure of public policy for decades, but it is particularly pronounced at the moment. Whether it is drugs, alcohol or other things that are motiving and pushing it, the Committee are considering how this time it will be different. Why will the strategies we are putting forward now mean that the police, local authorities, NHS bodies, youth services, residents’ associations, wherever they are, are empowered to succeed in a way that strategies that were implemented before have not been successful?
I have been listening carefully to how many Members of your Lordships’ House are using their experience from wherever they have come from to inform the Government, because we want the Government to succeed. Virtually every single morning at the weekend you wake up to the news that somebody has been stabbed. Sometimes there is a 14 year-old involved in the stabbing, as was on the news recently. I listen to that with horror. How will this be better? The challenge for the Government in the best sense of the word is about how these strategies will work and how we will make them work.
I am really grateful for the work of the Delegated Powers Committee, which is not seeking to embarrass the Government. It wants to improve the legislation. What the noble Lords, Lord Blencathra and Lord Beith, said is quite significant. To repeat what the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, very powerfully said, there is no statutory requirement on the Government in the Bill to publish the guidance. It said that it considers that there perhaps should be. It did not put it like that, but that is essentially what it said. In parliamentary language, it is saying to the Government, “You aren’t required to do it, but that’s not a very good idea, and you should.” Common sense would dictate that if guidance is going to guide people, surely the Government should be required to publish it or have it, and that is why the amendment is there.
Amendments 28 and 30 would add NHS bodies, young people’s groups and religious and cultural groups to the list of groups that must be consulted. The Minister will no doubt say, “It is our intention to do that; of course they will be consulted. We would never dream of doing it without consulting them”, but people want reassurance that these bodies, groups or parts of society are actually in the Bill.
On 13 September, the Government published the Home Office Measures in the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill: Equalities Impact Assessment. The Government’s own advice to themselves says that
“there is also often a disproportionate impact of certain knife crime offences on young people. Therefore, greater benefits could fall to those with the same characteristics”,
and it goes on to talk about ethnicity and some other issues. So the Government’s advice is that young people are disproportionately impacted, therefore it might be a good idea to consult them about the solutions to this. I say to the Minister that that surely should be included in the Bill. There is nothing lost by it, whether with NHS bodies or young people. I can hear the reply now: “There is no need for it, because of course we will.” But it is so important for those things to be listed in the Bill. That legislation needs to be there, and those points were made by a number of honourable Members in the other place.
Amendment 32, from my noble friend Lord Brooke and the noble Baroness, Lady Finlay, as was outlined by my noble friend, is on alcohol and drugs as drivers of serious violence. I do not know whether my noble friend would agree, but alcohol and drugs are often, somehow or other, not given the same prominence in how we deal with this. I will give one example of how serious violence and alcohol are linked: if the police regard a particular football match as difficult, they will start much earlier in the day, before the pubs are open, essentially. Why do they do that? I am not a police officer—the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, might know better—but I presume that, if you start it then, the incidence of violence is likely to be less, although this is not definite. This cannot be overstated, so what will the strategy say about dealing with alcohol and drugs? This is fundamental to public health.
I congratulate the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, the noble Lord, Lord Russell, and my noble friend Lord Rosser on Amendment 53. I understand that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, is yet to be convinced by the national serious violence oversight board. It is a mechanism by which the signers of the amendment and those who support it seek to ensure that these strategies will work and contain something so that not just the local authorities delivering them but, somewhere along the line, somebody holds people to account for trying to deliver them. If a national oversight board does not do that, who will? Correct me if I am wrong, but I think the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, said that Her Majesty’s inspectorate might be able to.
To be honest, I am open to persuasion about what the mechanism should be, but the importance of the amendment cannot be overstated, because it says that the Bill and these strategies will work if there is some way of trying to understand whether they are working. What measures will be used and who is going to look at whether they work? Who is going to review the strategy to ensure it is any good? Who is going to share relevant data and good practice? Who is going to do that if not an oversight board? Somewhere along the line, people have to be held to account so, if Amendment 53 is not a good idea, what is? We cannot just let it run free and work; we need some way of measuring it and knowing that it is working.
The Minister is probably becoming aware that I am addicted to government papers. I read the draft guidance to the serious violence duty. Noble Lords will have noticed that on page 39, the Government themselves say that there are three key measures in respect of preventing and reducing serious violence: homicide rates, hospital admissions for knife crime or other sharp object-related crimes, and police-recorded knife incidents. Who will watch every single strategy in the various police areas? Who will ensure that all three key success measures are achieved? They put that in the draft guidance and then, everyone forgets about it. We do not do that with schools, do we? We do not say to schools or hospitals, “You can do what you want; we don’t care.” Serious violence is as important as it gets. Surely, somewhere along the line somebody should look at this. Therefore, if Amendment 53 is not the answer, I would be keen to hear from the Minister what the answer is.
As I say, we all want to reduce serious violence, and the Government rightly seek to do it via the strategies. But how will we make those strategies effective and ensure that this Bill will be different from all the previous Bills which published strategies and set out the same objectives—and yet, here we are again today? I look forward to hearing the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, I will speak to Amendment 53. I thank the noble Lord, Lord Coaker; to be perfectly honest, he has made my speech for me. I also thank the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Russell, for supporting this amendment.
Basically, everything has been said. However, as the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, asked in his passionate speech, why are we still talking about this issue? I know that the Minister listens; however, having spoken to Barnardo’s, and as a former Victims’ Commissioner and a victim of violent crime involving alcohol, I have a passionate desire to ensure that we get this right for children, because we are missing the criminal exploitation of children. I have met many victims of child sexual exploitation; what is the difference between that and child criminal exploitation? We need a multiagency approach—I feel that I am always on repeat in talking about this issue. The language and the proposals are the same, but we have to work together a bit more thoroughly and transparently.
I have attended many summits at No. 10, on sexual exploitation, knife crime—you name it, I have been to most of them over the past 11 years. Today we are still talking about serious violence, which is linked to criminal exploitation, and sadly it especially affects our young children. As the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, said, last week a 14 year-old was charged with murder. What kind of society are we living in today?
The violence in question is very serious. Last week, the police in England and Wales reported that between 11 and 17 October, they made just under 1,500 arrests. They seized weapons such as zombie knives, samurai swords and firearms, as well as £1.3 million in cash and drugs, by targeting those involved in organised drug crimes and county lines. Alongside the arrests, 2,500 vulnerable people, including children, were identified as in need of safeguarding. That is within just six days. It is an achievement to get all this together, but it clearly demonstrates that serious violence and criminal exploitation do not adhere to local area boundaries. We spoke in this Chamber about county lines but, once we had highlighted it, the drug lords widened their operations, moving the children across the country.
We have a duty to safeguard these children. Serious violence and child criminal exploitation are child abuse. If we are to stop this spreading, there has to be accountability. We like to talk the talk but, unfortunately, we are not walking the walk when it comes to what these children are put through in their daily lives. I have met 14 and 12 year-olds who are the most vulnerable in our society, absolutely captured by criminality. They do not have the education to say no, and they live in fear because the abusers do not stop at humanity. They like to grab their homes. They bring their families. We have drill videos and cuckooing—there is lots of this different lingo, and it all involves children, who are the drug mules in all of this.
Can you imagine having a child who gets involved in this, and your home then being scrutinised by a big fellow—most of them were—with a huge Samurai sword or a machete down his trousers? He looks quite normal to anyone else. Drill videos contain the lingo that gives messages to gangs. This is not in my script, by the way; this is about people I have met. This is about children who have no way of getting out. They need support on the ground.
That is why I am asking for this amendment. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, put it well when he said that we need accountability. The amendment would ensure that the Secretary of State appoints a board known as the
“National Serious Violence Oversight Board”.
The Secretary of State would chair it and it would be accountable to Parliament; it would not be just window dressing.
The amendment proposes that we monitor delivery of the new serious violence duty across the country. This is not just for individual authorities to deal with; it is cross-country. The board would provide a national picture, identify national trends, see what is and is not working and share learning across the country. As I have said, no one agency can tackle this problem. I hope that the Minister will consider this amendment and see the benefits of establishing this oversight board.
“Ensuring accountability” are the two words that should be important, not “lessons learned”, when the horse has already bolted. A national serious violence oversight board would enable analysis of the national trends and proper scrutiny of what is and is not working. We owe it to these children to give them a better future.
My Lords, I rise briefly to support what my friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, has just said. I echo her praise and thanks to another friend, the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, an ex-Parliamentary Assembly of the Council of Europe colleague, for his diagnosis—because that is essentially what this probing amendment is about.
It has become extremely fashionable for Her Majesty’s Government to do two things when they feel they are getting into difficult waters. First, they give responses whereby a series of rather large-sounding sums of money are trotted out to show that they care and are doing something about it. Usually, there is no mention of what effect those large sums are having.
The second thing Her Majesty’s Government have developed a particular tic for is developing strategies. As I have said before in this Chamber, when I hear too many strategies coming from various directions, my instinctive reaction is to reach for my tin hat and head for the trenches. By their very nature, strategies are aspirational. They try to understand a problem, and they suggest a solution. They do not guarantee what the outcomes will be, and they rarely have built into them accurate measures and KPIs to actually work out whether the much-vaunted strategy is delivering.
I entirely agree with publishing strategies, not least because in reading them and tearing them apart, you can work out whether they are complete rubbish or complete and utter rubbish or contain a germ of common sense and a direction. To take the example of the report which Her Majesty’s Inspectorate produced only three days after Second Reading of this Bill, what Zoë Billingham produced is a fairly coruscating read. If your Lordships have not read it, I recommend it, but probably not just before bedtime. It takes apart at all these strategies and initiatives, all the money that has been thrown in all sorts of directions in considerable sums over many years, and measures how effective all that effort has been. The report says in very stark terms—Zoë Billingham repeated this on “Woman’s Hour” a few days later in even clearer English—that it is simply not working because it is not joined up. Having a series of local strategies does not result in a national strategy that will deliver.
This probing amendment is designed to ask Her Majesty’s Government to look at the past, the present and the evidence of what has not been achieved, rather than the precious little that has, and not to repeat the mistakes of the past, with wonderful vague promises and aspirations—particularly when we are dealing with issues such as violence against women and girls and the effect on children, when we know we owe it to them to do better. We need proper oversight. There is a difference between a report and a strategy. We need a mechanism that measures and holds the Government and all the different statutory bodies involved to account. That is what the amendment is about, and I look forward to hearing the Minister’s reply.
My Lords, I have surprised myself, because I did not intend to speak on this group, but I find myself needing to speak in support of the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove. Generally speaking, I am not a great fan of machinery of government changes, new quangos or even of new, multiple statutory duties, but if we are taking the trouble to legislate on something as serious as serious violence, we need to think about transparency, accountability, enforcement and resourcing. Talk is cheap, and legislation is a little more expensive—but the colleagues in that Box do not get paid so much. These principles have been the undercurrent of the debate on this group.
The noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, spoke eloquently on the part of the Delegated Powers Committee, and I did not disagree with a word, save to say that I was once a lawyer in the department advising him, and we are not going to blame the officials. My recollection was that Home Office lawyers were actually terrified of the Delegated Powers Committee; it was sometimes Ministers who were a little more blasé. However, every substantive point the noble Lord made was important. There is no point having guidance if it is not to be published—unless it is guidance to the security agencies. More generally, the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, nailed it, as did my noble friend Lord Coaker. We all care about these issues. I worked on the Crime and Disorder Act when it was a Bill all those years ago, but we have heard the figures.
If it is worth legislating in this area at all, it is worth looking at how the legislation is to be enforced and resourced. That cannot be done in secret and we cannot just have directions from central government to starving local authorities; it must be public, it must be accountable, so I speak in support.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have set out the case for the various amendments in this group. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, pointed out that certain crimes are up, and he is absolutely right. He asked, rightly, how these strategies will be different. They will work only if they can measurably show something at the end. The noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, gave us some of the solutions: first, agencies working together in a multiagency approach, as the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, says. Sharing data trends is one of the suggestions in the draft guidance: sharing those trends, where the hotspots are and where agencies can have a better focus on the needs of certain areas. Local needs assessment is going to be crucial, but the monitoring and reviewing against those three measures that the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, and, indeed, the Government set out will be the ultimate measure of success or otherwise. He is right to point out that successive Governments have had successive strategies to try to deal with these things—that is because it is just not that easy. If it were, someone would have worked it out by now. I think that is at the heart of what we are talking about this evening.
Amendment 28 would add a requirement for the specified authorities to consult all NHS bodies in the preparation and implementation of the local serious violence strategy. I am in absolutely no doubt that engagement from the health sector will be key to the success of this duty, but I do not think that the amendment is necessary, because clinical commissioning groups in England and local health boards in Wales are already named as specified authorities for the duty and we think that they are best placed to lead and assure local input to and delivery of local serious violence strategies from the health sector. So, there are existing channels through which engagement with relevant NHS bodies can take place; it is open to the specified authorities to consult other persons and the statutory guidance will be clear on this. To mandate consultation with every and any NHS body would cast the net far too wide. There are many NHS bodies, not all of which can usefully contribute, or would want to contribute, to serious violence strategies.
On engagement with young people and religious groups, the noble Baroness, Lady Jones of Moulsecoomb, spoke to Amendment 30 behalf of her noble friend, the noble Baroness, Lady Bennett. I completely agree that it will be crucial for specified authorities to engage with young people, as well as local faith and cultural groups, in the development of local strategies. That is why we have included a specific chapter in the draft statutory guidance for the duty which concerns effective engagement with such groups. Given that all specified authorities will be legally required to have due regard to the guidance, I think this is sufficient to ensure that this engagement takes place and therefore do not think it is necessary to include it in the Bill. The guidance will be subject to a public consultation following Royal Assent and we will welcome feedback in advance of and during that consultation to ensure that it reflects the most appropriate advice and guidance on this process. I think the guidance has been so well trailed this evening that we will expect a lot of input into it once it is put out there.
On Amendment 32 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, on the known drivers of violent crime, again I wholeheartedly agree that to put into effect a multiagency response we need to understand and address the factors that cause someone to commit violent crime, so that we can prevent it happening in the first place. The noble Lord talked about such things as minimum alcohol pricing—we have talked about that and it is certainly something the Government are keeping under review—and the very obvious links between alcohol and violent crime, which are indisputable, in fact.
That is why the serious violence duty will require specified authorities to work together and share data, as I said earlier, and information, so they can formulate an evidence-based analysis of the problems associated with serious violence in their local area and subsequently produce and implement their strategy, and ultimately make the right interventions in how they respond to those issues. As part of this, the specified authorities will need to identify the kinds of serious violence that occur in their area and, so far as it is possible to do so, their causes, and then prepare and implement a strategy with bespoke local solutions.
I therefore consider the amendment to be unnecessary, given that the work to identify the drivers of violent crime in any given locality will already be required by the legislation. While it is true, as I said, that alcohol and drug misuse are common drivers of many types of serious violence, we cannot be certain that these will be significant factors across all local areas in England and Wales. So I think it is right that the specified authorities for the duty are afforded the opportunity to ascertain the specific drivers of violent crime in their own areas and keep this assessment under review, so that they can develop a strategy with bespoke local solutions.
Amendments 33 and 41, concerning the publication of strategies, were tabled by my noble friend Lord Blencathra in light of the recommendations from the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee, which he chairs. First, I was very pleased to know that the Home Office was not the worst culprit of all departments. I also assure my noble friend that it is our intention for all strategies to be published. Regulations to be made under Clauses 7(9) and 8(9) will include further detail on matters concerning the publication and dissemination of local strategies, such as the date by which the first strategies must be published and the method of their publication. We intend to consult on the content of such regulations before they are made.
Given that the core requirement to prepare, review and implement serious violence strategies has been set out in the Bill, I can see that there is a case for the Bill itself to also stipulate the requirement to publish. I will consider the Delegated Powers Committee’s arguments on this issue further, if I may, and I undertake to respond to that committee’s report ahead of the next stage of the Bill—you see what happens when someone praises the Home Office.
Finally, Amendment 53 would require the creation of a statutory national serious violence oversight board, to be appointed and chaired by the Secretary of State. I agree with my noble friend Lady Newlove that we will need to have a means of monitoring progress in relation to the serious violence duty and that this may include a role for the Government. I am not sure it is necessary to include the detail of such arrangements in the Bill. However, we intend to develop options and include detail on the approach in our statutory guidance for the duty, which will be subject to a public consultation following Royal Assent. This will afford specified authorities and those who represent them an opportunity to contribute their views on this process, including any proposed role for central government in monitoring progress and activity in relation to the requirements of the serious violence duty, before it is established.
To be clear, we intend to provide further detail on monitoring the development and implementation of strategies, providing support to authorities where required and disseminating emerging best practice. It is also worth noting that specified authorities will already be expected to be able to self-monitor their progress through the requirement to keep their strategy under review. The draft statutory guidance, published earlier this year, advises that such reviews should be carried out annually. In carrying out these reviews, specified authorities will be expected to be able to be able to collectively evaluate the impact of the local strategy on levels of violence locally.
Police and crime commissioners and, in London, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime and the Common Council of the City of London will also have a discretionary power to monitor the performance of the specified authorities against their shared objectives. Furthermore, community safety partnerships, which may be the chosen partnership to deliver on the duty in certain areas, already have a statutory requirement to keep the implementation of their strategies under review for the purposes of monitoring effectiveness, make any changes to such strategies where necessary or expedient and publish the outcomes of each review.
In conclusion, I reiterate my commitment to consider further the two amendments in the name of my noble friend Lord Blencathra about the publication of strategies. As for the other amendments, I hope that, in light of my explanations, I have been able to satisfy the Committee and that the noble Lord will be content to withdraw his amendment.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate, particularly my noble friend Lady Brinton for her support for my Amendment 28 and the noble Lord, Lord Blencathra, and my noble friend Lord Beith for powerfully explaining their amendments calling for the publication of strategies, despite my noble friend’s scepticism about having statutory strategies.
Other parts of the Delegated Powers Committee’s report criticise the fact that there is no indication that guidance issued to the Government will be published. There is also no requirement in the Bill to publish the serious violence reduction strategies; that is the main criticism in this group, as that clearly cannot be right.
The noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, talked about drug-related homicides; I was not sure whether he was talking just about drug-fuelled perpetrators or other deaths associated with drug misuse. The noble Lord, Lord Coaker, graphically illustrated the alarming increases in serious violence, particularly knife crime—there has been an 88% increase in recent years. He asked a very important question: how will this part of the Bill, and the strategies associated with it, succeed where previous strategies have failed? I am not sure we have heard the answer to that.
I agree with the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, that we need to do whatever it takes to make sure that we succeed this time, because we have not succeeded up until now—provided that whatever that is, is effective. Clearly, there is a need for national co-ordination, for the very good reasons she explained.
The noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, highlighted the need for smart objectives in strategies—specific, measurable, achievable and realistic objectives which have a timeframe. That is what effective strategies contain, and they do not appear to be present in the Bill. I thank the Minister for her comprehensive answers to the issues raised. She appeared to agree with the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, but it is not simply about sharing trends and monitoring; crucially, it is about setting smart objectives.
The Minister talked about clinical commissioning groups and local health boards; I have been told by my noble friend Lady Brinton, our health spokesperson, that these bodies do not include NHS hospital trusts, which at least should be included as bodies that must be consulted in developing these strategies. Accident and emergency hospital data is even mentioned in the guidance referred to by the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, as a crucial measure of serious violence, yet accident and emergency hospitals are not even required to be consulted, according to the Bill. So we need to have further discussions on these issues.
The Minister agreed about the role of alcohol and the strategies that needed to include a response, but measures such as minimum alcohol pricing are not within the control of local areas. I am afraid that I do not accept her argument that it depends on what the problems around serious violence are in particular areas. I do not know any police area where alcohol is not a factor in serious violence and therefore needs to be addressed. It needs to be addressed by the sort of national measures that the noble Lord outlined.
I am grateful to the Minister for agreeing to look at, one hopes, all the recommendations of the Secondary Legislation Scrutiny Committee and not just those in relation to this group of amendments. At this stage, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 28 withdrawn.
Amendments 29 to 33 not moved.
34: Clause 7, page 9, line 25, at end insert—
“(13) A specified authority is not subject to a duty in subsections (1) to (3) if or to the extent that compliance with the duty—(a) would be incompatible with any other duty of the authority imposed by an enactment, or(b) would otherwise have an adverse effect on the exercise of the authority’s functions.(14) In determining whether subsection (12) applies to an authority, the cumulative effect of complying with duties under this section must be taken into account.”Member’s explanatory statement
This ensures that public bodies are only obligated to comply with the serious violence duty to the extent it does not conflict with their other statutory duties.
My Lords, I am sorry; I have a bit of asthma having had Covid last December, so I am not wearing a mask, and I have cut my speech somewhat. I hope I get through it.
I give notice of my intention to oppose the Questions that Clauses 9, 15 and 16 stand part of the Bill. The noble Lords, Lord Paddick and Lord Moylan, will respond to Amendment 65, and I very much agree with their concerns.
Amendments 34 and 60 would ensure that public authorities were obliged to comply with the serious violence duty to co-operate only to the extent that such co-operation did not conflict with their other statutory duties. Of course I wholeheartedly support helpful co-operation between statutory authorities, but not at the expense of the public services that we treasure so much. The work of doctors, teachers and other public servants relies considerably on the trust of their patients, students and others. If it became known, as it would do, that these public servants were working with the police and possibly divulging information to the police about them, it would have catastrophic consequences for those public services. I am sure that the noble Lords, Lord Paddick and Lord Moylan, and others will elaborate on this concern, but will the Minister do all she can to ensure that the Government table amendments to deal with these concerns about these demands on our public servants?
Clause 14 focuses on collaboration between educational, prison and youth custody authorities to prevent and reduce serious violence in an area. Of course, the aim is admirable. However, the three clauses, Clauses 9, 15 and 16, introduce the authorisation of disclosure of information by staff within the authorities listed in Clause 9(3). That list includes the prospect of the Secretary of State authorising disclosure not only by the named authorities—the local policing authority, educational authority, prison authority and youth custody authority—but, under subsection (3)(a), any other specified authority. This could, therefore, include doctors and other staff in a health authority, or staff from any other authority. Perhaps the Minister can explain what the Government have in mind.
It is helpful to consider these three clauses together, because they all relate to disclosure and all raise very concerning issues about the potential for regulations under this Act to take precedence over confidentiality obligations or even the Data Protection Act. Clause 9(4) says that a disclosure of information authorised by this section
“does not breach … any obligation of confidence owed by the person making the disclosure, or … any other restriction on the disclosure of information (however imposed).”
In my view, those words, setting aside these protections, are really concerning. Admittedly that is in order to achieve an important objective—reducing violent crime—but nevertheless it is unacceptable to do this.
Clause 9(5) suggests that the regulations should not contravene the data protection legislation. Fine, but the next phrase, in brackets, seems to undermine that commitment, which surely is important and should not be undermined:
“(but in determining whether a disclosure would do so”—
that is, contravene the data protection legislation—
“any power conferred by the regulations”
to the Bill
“is to be taken into account)”.
This provision reduces existing safeguards and protections. Clauses 15 and 16 use almost identical language to Clause 9, but Clause 16 focuses on the supply of information to local policing bodies. That would appear to be covered by Clause 15. This is not a matter of concern to me but it seems somehow extraordinarily shoddy to have a completely unnecessary clause in a Bill—unless the Minister can explain why it is there.
It would be most helpful if the Minister could clarify whether Clauses 9, 15 and 16 in fact provide for the regulations to the Bill to override or weaken the power of the data protection legislation and other confidentiality obligations of statutory authorities. If they do, the implications for trust in public services are devastating. The duty gives the police the power to require information from the named and unnamed statutory authorities, and mandates widespread data sharing without proper safeguards.
I want to focus for a minute on the fact that these clauses put on a statutory footing many of the failings identified by the Information Commissioner’s Office and MOPAC of the Met Police’s gangs matrix. The stated aim of the matrix was to enable the Met to identify and keep track of people involved in gangs—a laudable aim indeed. However, data sharing between the police and other agencies without safeguards meant that a stigmatising red flag followed people in their interactions not only with the police but with other service providers, including housing, education and jobcentres.
Some 78% of the people on the matrix were black, despite black people being responsible for just 27% of serious youth crime. Are we going to see a similar result across the country as a result of these clauses? Perhaps the Minister can explain. Some 75% of the people on the matrix had been victims of violence themselves but were still subject to enforcement-led interventions. The lifestyle consequences for people on the matrix, 40% of whom were not suspected of any violence, were appalling. People lost college places; others were threatened with eviction or, for example, were forced to report to the police in London despite having started a course at Cambridge University.
Can the Minister respond to the very real anxieties that the Bill, particularly Clauses 9, 15 and 16, will be counterproductive and lead to serious injustices, as was seen in the Metropolitan Police? Far from preventing serious violence, the risk is that these provisions will make it very difficult for young people to escape a life of drugs and crime and to turn to education and work as the way forward. No doubt the Minister is aware that the Met Police’s gangs matrix remains under review after the Information Commissioner’s Office ordered the force to rectify its breaches of data protection laws. The clauses seem to make lawful across the country the very same problems that the Met was criticised for and which caused such harms.
The clauses risk undermining trust in our local public services, thus undermining all the good work done by our committed doctors, teachers, youth workers and others, as well as trapping young people in a life of crime. I look forward to the Minister’s response.
My Lords, the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, was absolutely right to introduce this group of amendments by focusing on the full range of public services that will be drawn into the demands by this Government, and by police and other bodies, to have access to the personal information of individuals. As she rightly pointed out, this includes health services. Although I will not repeat the point that I made on the group starting with Amendment 22 earlier today, it sets the picture for the overall complexities and contradictions that other noble Lords have been discussing all evening on this Bill.
The data protection guardian has said that there are concerns that these likely breaches contravene the Data Protection Act. As I mentioned earlier, so have the GMC, the BMA and other health bodies. It is extremely concerning that we now must think about confidentiality in other areas too. I have no doubt at all that there are times when the balance of when information should be passed back is vital. That is what the serious violence strategy is all about. The problem is that there are no safeguards set out and no clear boundaries. I do not understand why that is the case.
While we have been talking about bodies and specific authorities during the course of these amendments, I am equally concerned about whether this debate is happening for the wider public, to tell them that in this Bill their personal data may well not be kept confidential. We do not even have the guidance on the point at which the police will start to get that information. So can the Minister identify any such consultation or debate in the wider media and social media about these rules, which will change citizens’ private data confidentiality for ever? I also echo the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, about this undermining trust in the bodies that have the data.
Amendment 65 makes the wider point that I referred to at length in the first group of amendments about the use of depersonalised information, but it sets out some guidelines and I strongly support this amendment too.
In closing, I say that the worry that many noble Lords have spoken of in various groups this evening is now becoming abundantly clear; it is just not clear where the rules and boundaries are, and I hope that the Minister will be able to help the House in this area.
My Lords, I have Amendments 35, 45, and 47 in this group. This is a very large group of amendments covering a range of issues and I apologise in advance for the length of my comments.
Noble Lords will forgive me for sounding like a broken record, but I go back again to the Government response to the consultation on the new legal duty to support a multiagency approach to preventing and tackling serious violence, which supports my own consultation with relevant stakeholders, which revealed universal concern that the Bill as drafted actually facilitates a police-led enforcement approach and not a genuine public health approach—a genuine multiagency approach to these issues.
The Government set out three proposals in that consultation: the one in the Bill, a new duty through legislation to revise community safety partnerships, and a voluntary approach. More responses were in favour of revising crime and disorder partnerships than the Government’s preferred approach set out in this Bill. Can the Minister tell the Committee what the purpose of the consultation was if the Government had already made up their mind?
The revising of crime and disorder partnerships was supported by 40% of respondents, including half of all police responses, compared with 37% in favour of the approach in the Bill. It is not too late to accept the result of the consultation and to revise crime and disorder partnerships. Amendment 35 is a probing amendment giving an example of how this might be done: for example, by adding authorities to existing crime and disorder partnerships.
Amendment 45 raises the concern that sensitive personal information, which this Bill forces public authorities and even doctors and counsellors to disclose, may be disclosed to private sector or third sector organisations that the Home Office, police forces or others may subcontract work to, to tackle or prevent serious violence, whose data security and personnel vetting procedures may not be as good as that of public sector organisations, and that this may result in sensitive personal information leaking into the public domain.
What assurances can the Government provide that such data, if public authorities are forced to share it, will be kept confidential? Cybercrime experts tell us that no database is secure and that data holders need to work on the basis that their security will be breached and that they need to have back-up plans. The more sensitive personal information about individuals is shared, the greater the risk that confidential information will end up in unauthorised hands, potentially used for illegal purposes such as blackmail, and ultimately end up in the public domain. Amendment 47 removes any requirement to disclose information that would breach an obligation of confidentiality.
Moving to other amendments in this group, Amendment 34, to which I have added my name, takes us back to what should be the fundamental principle of disclosure of information: that we should trust the professionals—whether doctors, counsellors, social workers or youth workers—to exercise their professional judgment in balancing the often hard-won trust and confidence of those they work with against the need to disclose sensitive personal information to the police or other agencies in order to tackle or prevent serious violence.
It should not be beyond the imagination of the drafters of the Bill to think of a scenario where preservation of that bond of trust is more important than the potential impact on serious violence of passing on sensitive personal information. Can you imagine a youth worker or a social worker trying to work to rehabilitate a young person involved in or at risk of becoming involved in serious violence, who on their first meeting had to say to them, “I have to tell you that if you tell me anything about serious violence, I am under a legal duty to pass it on to the police”?
As we heard in the last debate, there are existing systems, processes, policies and protocols about what—and under what circumstances—confidentiality can and should be breached. Having a law that compels disclosure of sensitive personal information will dramatically and detrimentally change the very relationships that are often crucial to reducing and tackling serious violence.
The other point on this issue is the practical effect of such a legal duty. If, as is almost always the case, the confidential exchange occurs between two people, where no one else is present, how will that duty to pass on that information about serious violence to the police be enforced if the youth or social worker decides to break the law by not passing it on, except in the highly unlikely event that the person who originally disclosed the information themselves makes the information public?
Placing people under a legal duty to disclose information to the police about serious violence is very likely to have unintended consequences that could make the problem of serious violence even worse. Amendment 34 is intended to leave disclosure to the professional judgement of those involved, as it is now, as are Amendments 46 and 63 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, which we also strongly support. The explicit provision that enables professionals to breach their obligation around confidentiality should not be part of the Bill.
The existing systems of processes, policies and procedures strike the right balance of building trust and confidence and, in exceptional circumstances, breaching that confidence and disclosing sensitive personal information. Clause 9 is not necessary and should not stand part of the Bill, and neither should Clause 14, forcing educational, prison and youth custody authorities to collaborate, including making any breach of confidence lawful.
We support Amendment 65, to which I have added my name, which refers to the provision of information to local policing bodies, which under Clause 13 “may assist” and/or “may … monitor” and/or “may report” on the actions taken in their area to tackle or reduce serious violence. This raises another fundamental issue: who is in charge and ultimately responsible for preventing and tackling serious violence? Is it crime and disorder partnerships or one of the specified authorities—in which case, which one—or police and crime commissioners? Is that not an important part of what PCCs are elected to deliver: to prevent and tackle serious violence? Is that not one of the major matters that they should be judged on by the electorate when it comes to re-election? According to the Bill, they “may assist”.
There is nothing more certain to fail than when something is everybody’s responsibility and therefore no one’s responsibility. In any event, as directly elected mayors and police and crime commissioners are only assisting in preventing and tackling serious violence or monitoring or reporting on it—and only if they want to, according to the Bill’s wording—the amendment ensures that any information supplied to them in their largely observer role is depersonalised.
For the reasons I have already stated, we also support Amendment 67 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, which would remove the power to compel people to divulge information to local policing bodies and remove any obligation to keep information confidential.
Directly elected mayors and police and crime commissioners already have considerable de facto authority in their local areas from their electoral mandate, without the need for legal powers to force other bodies to provide them with information. Clause 16 is not necessary and should not stand part of the Bill. To suggest that anyone in a position of trust and responsibility who is working with the issues and people affected by serious violence needs to be coerced, to have a legal duty placed on them to collaborate and to pass information that is essential to the prevention and tackling of serious violence to the appropriate authorities, is an insult and is likely to be counterproductive.
My Lords, I lend my support to Amendments 34, 60 and 65 in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, to which I have added my name. I do so particularly in regard to the Bill’s effects on local authorities, having 28 years’ experience of having served on one.
Local authority officers, especially those working in social services, are the most collaborative people possible—they have multiagency working written into their DNA—but within proper professional limits, especially concerning the guardianship of personal information. Their focus is always first and foremost, properly, on the welfare of their client—in the case of serious violence, often young people living in the twilight zone between potential offender and, at the same time, potential victim. Of course, the risk in these provisions is that the disclosure of information provisions in Clause 15 changes the relationship between social worker and client so as to drive the latter away from services that could in fact divert them from serious violence.
What I do not fully understand and has not been made explicit is whether Clause 15 alters or expands the existing legal and professional constraints that social workers operate under in relation to the release of information to the police. If it does not, what is the point of it? If it does, will my noble friend say in what way and to what extent it does so, and what the rationale is? It may be that my noble friend can satisfy my concerns about this, but in the meantime the amendments proposed by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, particularly Amendment 65 requiring depersonalisation of data, go some way to address those concerns, and I support them.
My Lords, this group enables me to raise a concern that will not be new to the Committee or to the Minister but has not been resolved as a general issue and is possible as the Bill is drafted. It is the reluctance of immigrant women—it is usually women—suffering domestic abuse to go to the police for help because they fear that information will be shared with immigration authorities.
Last week, the Domestic Abuse Commissioner published a report entitled Safety Before Status, and one of her recommendations is that
“the Home Office should introduce a firewall between police and immigration enforcement, accompanied by safe reporting mechanisms”
I cannot resist saying that it continues
“and funded referral pathways to support.”
Perpetrators can use a victim’s insecure status as a component of coercive control. They can use status that is not insecure, but the victim is led to believe that it is. If victims are to come first, it is essential that they know that they can seek support without putting themselves in danger of deportation. I was going to ask noble Lords to imagine what this means, but I am not sure any of us can: not only the financial and accommodation implications considerations but, in some communities, shame and abandonment by the family in the country of origin. There are a number of very difficult consequences—that is putting it too mildly.
The commissioner’s report says:
“Immigration abuse and insecure immigration status as a risk factor is not always identified in local safeguarding protocols, and often the risk faced by victims … is misidentified.”
She goes on:
“Information sharing with immigration enforcement undermines trust in the police and public services”—
a point that has been made this evening—
“and enables perpetrators to control and abuse survivors with impunity. A key reason why staff in public services share information with immigration enforcement is for the perceived purpose of safeguarding a victim. Data sharing in this capacity, however, can put the victim or survivor at risk … and, even where enforcement action does not take place can compound the experience of immigration abuse, pushing victims and survivors further away from support.”
I could not let this group go by without raising that issue.
My Lords, I will briefly but wholeheartedly support the thrust of all the amendments in the group. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, as a former policeman, put it very well: if everyone tries to be the policeman society is the poorer, but effective policing is also harder to achieve. To crystallise it, let us say that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, is the policeman and I am the teacher or youth worker. If I am under any kind of duty, or perceived to be, to hand over my notes on an automatic basis or on demand to him, there is a significant problem not just for education and youth work but for trust and confidence in civil society, and indeed for my ability to go to the noble Lord when I have a specific overriding concern about an individual young person or student.
I understand where this comes from—it comes with the best intentions, because Governments of all persuasions have gone increasingly down this road of big data for many decades. It is not a party-political point, because when you are in government you are told, quite rightly, that central government is indivisible and that there is one Secretary of State. That is a very important central government constitutional principle, yet even central government is supposed to hold data for specific purposes.
There is an obvious attraction to creating a purpose that overrides all others on a wholesale basis, especially when it is something as important as combating serious violence. However, if it trumps not just other government purposes, such as tax collection or healthcare, but begins to trump local and professional confidential duties, we are really in trouble. As I said, with the best of intentions, this will undermine trust and confidence in a number of vital services and will, I believe, undermine the role of the police. When you are looking for a needle in a haystack, do not keep building an ever greater haystack.
The joke is on me. I was once a government lawyer. I then become a civil rights campaigner and the director of Liberty. I fought big databases and compulsory ID cards. Now look at what I do: I walk around with my personal electronic tag, and I pay for the privilege. In recent days and weeks, we have all read about big tech and the way in which it designs its platforms and serves its profits while undermining not just personal privacy but principles against discrimination—in fact, all the principles of a decent, kind and civil society. I am not suggesting for a moment that the Government intend those outcomes, but having big data collected in one place for whatever good intention is inherently dangerous. It is not just dangerous to medicine, teaching, youth work and our trust in civil society and each other; it will undermine the fight against serious violence, and will undermine law and order and sensible policing.
My Lords, I will be relatively brief, for two reasons. The first is the time. The second is that many of these issues were raised in our earlier debate on medical confidentiality.
The amendments in my name in this group would remove provisions in a number of clauses in this chapter of the Bill, allowing for obligations of confidence and restrictions on the disclosure of data to be breached. They target the same provisions that have already been raised by noble Lords in this debate. At this stage, the intention of my amendments is to probe the intended effect of these powers.
As we have heard, the Bill provides:
“The Secretary of State may by regulations authorise the disclosure of information”
between authorities involved in the serious violence duty. Clause 9(4) provides that those regulations
“may provide that a disclosure under the regulations does not breach … any obligation of confidence owed by the person making the disclosure, or … any other restriction on the disclosure of information”.
Subsection (5) goes on to qualify this somewhat, stating that the regulations must
“not authorise a disclosure of information that … would contravene the data protection legislation”.
However, it then provides that,
“in determining whether a disclosure would do so, any power conferred by the regulations is to be taken into account”.
What restrictions do the Government envisage being breached under the provision for “any other restriction” in Clause 9? What restrictions do they mean? Do these provisions differ from what is in place for existing duties that require joined-up working? The Bill states that the one restriction the regulations are not intended to breach is data protection legislation but, as I have said, it then seems to suggest that this will be qualified by the powers under the Bill. Can the Government expand on that in their response? In what way should
“any power conferred by the regulations”
be taken into account? Can the Minister give some examples?
The sharing of information and the prevention of silo working are, as has been said, vital for tackling crime and for safeguarding purposes. We have heard in previous groups, not least from my noble friend Lady Blake of Leeds on housing provision, what can happen when services are not able to work together to put necessary or urgent support in place. However, the wording in the Bill has given rise to considerable concern in organisations working on these issues, as has been said already. I will not repeat the points already raised but will touch briefly on a few issues before I conclude.
First, one of the key concerns that has been raised by organisations, and which was raised again during the debate this evening, is the erosion of trust that is risked if people feel that private information about them may be passed on in unexpected ways. In particular, there is a risk of young people feeling they cannot build the relationships of trust with social workers, teachers or service providers which are absolutely irreplaceable for preventing violence and keeping those young people safe. Do the Government recognise that risk that breaches of trust risk make it harder to achieve the aim of reducing violence? Who makes the decision about when it is or is not in a young person’s best interest that information is shared, an issue which my noble friend Lady Chakrabarti raised in an earlier debate?
Secondly, later in the Bill, we will spend time debating provisions to protect the privacy of victims of crime. This section explicitly defines
“becoming involved in serious violence”
as including victims of crime. How will these data-sharing provisions impact the victim of crime?
Finally, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime and the Information Commissioner’s Office have both reported significant problems with the Met’s gangs violence matrix, an existing tool to identify and risk assess individuals involved with gangs. The key issues included the disproportionate inclusion of young black males on the matrix, and data protection, including serious data breaches. What proactive learning has been undertaken from the experience of the gangs violence matrix to prevent the same problems arising again under the provisions of this Bill?
I said I would be brief; I hope I have achieved that. Like other noble Lords, I look forward to the Minister’s reply.
I thank the noble Lord for his brevity and thank the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and other noble Lords for setting out the case for these amendments. The noble Baroness put forward Amendments 34 and 60 which seek to avoid possible conflicts with competing duties. As the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, said, the arguments put forward in this debate are very similar to those discussed in relation to earlier amendments.
To engender an effective multiagency approach to preventing and reducing serious violence, we need all the relevant parts of the system taking equal responsibility and playing their part. The specified authorities for the serious violence duty, being the police, local authorities, probation, youth offending teams and fire and rescue authorities, clinical commissioning groups in England and local health boards in Wales, have been intentionally chosen because of the direct link between the work they already do and the need to prevent and reduce serious violence. Therefore, I do not feel it is necessary or correct to provide such authorities with the opportunity to be exempted from the serious violence duty, as we expect that it would complement the existing duties of such authorities rather than conflict with them.
I understand that there are wider concerns that this duty may breach other duties of the specified authorities, such as duties of confidence, the point most frequently mentioned, and I will come to address those shortly. However, I think that Amendment 34 would unhelpfully weaken the impact of the serious violence duty.
Similarly, in relation to Amendment 60 to Clause 14, we have intentionally required the initial collaboration between specified authorities and education, prison and youth custody authorities as part of the preparation of the local strategy in order to ascertain whether any such institution ought to be involved in the implementation of the strategy or, indeed, need not be involved, as the case may be. This is a crucial step in ensuring that the institutions which are affected by serious violence will be drawn into the work of the local partnership without placing unnecessary burdens on those which may not. Therefore, I do not think that such authorities should be able to opt out of this consultation, given that it would ultimately be in their interests to engage with the specified authorities at this stage in order to ascertain whether their future engagement in the strategy’s implementation will be required.
I understand Amendment 35 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, to be a probing amendment about the relationship between the serious violence duty and the work of crime and disorder partnerships. I agree that crime and disorder reduction partnerships can and do play a vital role in ensuring community safety and reducing violent crime locally, but I do not think that they are or should be the only partnership model responsible for doing so. Again, the draft guidance makes it very clear in that context. The geographical reach of such partnerships might mean that they are not the optimum partnership model in all areas, which is why we have intentionally built in flexibility to allow local areas to choose the most appropriate multiagency structure to deliver this duty. However, I recognise that they have a key contribution to make to local efforts. That is why, in addition to creating a new duty, we will be amending the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 to include a requirement for crime and disorder reduction partnerships to have in place a strategy for preventing and reducing serious violence. Such a strategy would in any case meet the requirements of the serious violence duty if all relevant partners specified in the Bill are involved in its development and implementation.
The other amendments in this group bring us back to information-sharing. It might assist the Committee if I recap why we have included provision for the disclosures of information. The serious violence duty proposes to permit authorities to share data, intelligence and knowledge in order to generate an evidence-based analysis of the problem in their local areas. In combining relevant data sets, the specified authorities, local policing bodies and educational, prison and youth custody authorities within an area will be able to create a shared evidence base, upon which they can develop an effective and targeted strategic response with bespoke local solutions. Each of the authorities specified in the legislation has a crucial role to play, and it is vital that authorities are able to share their data to determine what is causing serious violence in their local areas. For example, information-sharing can contribute to local efforts by allowing authorities to identify patterns and trends, geographical hotspots and the most vulnerable victims. This data should be regularly reviewed by authorities to determine the effectiveness of the interventions they put in place at a local level.
I shall explain what we mean by information-sharing in this context. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked a pertinent question. Clause 15 will create a new information-sharing gateway for specified authorities, local policing bodies and education, prison and youth custody authorities to disclose information to each other for the purposes of reducing and preventing serious violence. I must be clear that this clause will permit, but not mandate, authorities to disclose information to each other. It simply ensures that there is a legislative basis in place to enable information to be shared between all authorities exercising functions under Chapter 1 of Part 2. However, the clause ensures that any disclosures must be made in compliance with data protection legislation and cannot be made if certain prohibitions on disclosure set out in the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 apply.
The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, asked for examples of data types that may be shared by partners. To be fair, he asked me that under a previous group as well and I completely forgot to answer him, so I hope to combine the two answers in one at this point. Examples include hospital data on knife injuries, the number of exclusions and truancies in local schools, police recorded crime, local crime data, emergency call data, anonymised prison data, areas of high social services interventions, and intelligence on threats such as county lines, including the activity of serious organised crime gangs in drugs markets. I hope the noble Lord finds that information helpful.
Clause 9 provides a power for the Secretary of State to make regulations conferring powers on authorities subject to the serious violence duty to collaborate with other prescribed persons in a prescribed area to prevent and reduce serious violence. This may include organisations within the public, private or voluntary sectors, as well as regional or national bodies.
To support this collaboration, this clause also permits regulations to be made authorising the disclosure of information between authorities and external bodies for this purpose, so long as it would not contravene existing data protection legislation or be prohibited under the provisions of the Investigatory Powers Act. As with Clause 15, this would be a permissive gateway, permitting but not requiring the sharing of information. If such disclosures are authorised, partners will need to ensure they have arrangements in place that clearly set out the processes and principles for sharing information and data.
It is crucial that specified authorities have the ability to draw valuable insights from both national agencies and local community-based organisations. Combining evidence from across the country with the voice of the community will help ensure that local areas are well equipped in their efforts to tackle serious violence. This goes back to the point from the noble Lord, Lord Coaker, about the strategy; why would this strategy be different from others?
It is not intended that these provisions will replace existing data-sharing agreements or protocols that are already established, including those under the Crime and Disorder Act 1998. Through these provisions, we are simply ensuring that all specified authorities, local policing bodies and education, prison and youth custody authorities are legally permitted to exchange relevant information to meet the requirements of the serious violence duty.
We expect all authorities subject to the duty to have agreements in place that clearly set out the processes and principles for sharing information and data. Such agreements may cover sharing information and data within existing local partnership structures and with external bodies, the purpose of sharing the data and what is to happen to the data at relevant points.
Clause 16 provides a power for a local policing body—that is, a police and crime commissioner, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime and the Common Council of the City of London—to request information from a specified authority, educational authority, prison or youth custody authority to enable or assist the local policing body to exercise the functions conferred on them under Clause 13. These functions are to assist specified authorities and monitor the exercise of their functions in order to prevent and reduce serious violence. Where such a request is made, Clause 16 places a statutory requirement on the specified authority and the other authorities I just mentioned to comply, but disclosures are not required if they would contravene data protection legislation or prohibitions in specified parts of the Investigatory Powers Act 2016.
The clause provides a number of safeguards in relation to the information that can be required. Local policing bodies must only request information related to the organisation the request is made to or a function of that organisation, except when functions are contracted out. The information supplied under Clause 16 must be used only by the local policing body that receives it to enable or assist that body to assist the relevant authorities or monitor the activity they undertake under the duty. The information received is not therefore to be used or disclosed onwards to any other bodies for other purposes. We expect that the ability to request such information will support them to ascertain whether the local strategy is having the intended effect on serious violence levels locally.
Furthermore, we do not envisage that it will be necessary for individual personal data to be routinely disclosed under this power or under Clause 15, as there are already existing mechanisms in place to permit this where necessary, such as via multiagency risk assessment conferences, or MARAC, and multiagency safeguarding hubs, or MASH. However, given that the purpose of the duty is to enable an effective response to serious violence in a local area, it may be necessary in some instances for targeted operational activity to take place. In such cases, the authorities will still need to consider and comply with relevant data protection legislation when sharing that personal data. Where personal data is subject to the UK GDPR, the data protection legislation sets out the principles, rights and obligations that apply to this processing of personal data, including exemptions from particular provisions which can apply in certain circumstances set out in Schedules 2 to 4 to the Data Protection Act 2018, including the prevention and detection of crime.
I wholeheartedly agree that any decision to disclose an individual’s personal data should not be taken lightly. While disclosure of information made under Clauses 15 or 16 or any regulations made under Clause 9 would not breach existing obligations of confidence, such disclosures must none the less abide by the requirements of data protection legislation and the provisions in the Investigatory Powers Act.
The noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, asked me about the firewall and data protection, which I know was something we discussed during the passage of the Data Protection Bill. I know that the Government are examining this in response to the HMIC report, and I will be happy to update her on this in due course, if she is amenable.
I hope I have been able to provide some reassurances to the Committee about the nature and purpose of the information-sharing provisions in this part of the Bill and the safeguards in place. I have already indicated in response to previous amendments from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, that we will consider further the issue of patient information and, on that basis, I hope that the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, will be happy to withdraw her amendment and support Clauses 9, 14, 15 and 16 standing part of the Bill.
My Lords, of course I would be glad to be updated, but I think that the Minister will recognise that, as the Bill stands, the position I spelled out would be possible: information could be shared with immigration authorities—and, of course, the Data Protection Act has an exemption in that regard.
I thank the noble Baroness for her explanation. I did not quite understand when she seemed to suggest that this was all facilitation and to enable different authorities to share information—and that there was no compulsion to do so. Could she therefore explain Clause 17, where it says that,
“if the Secretary of State is satisfied that … a specified authority has failed to discharge a duty imposed on it by section 7, 13(6), 14(3) or 16(4), or … an educational authority, prison authority or youth custody authority has failed to discharge a duty imposed on it by section 14(3), (4) or (5)(b) or 16(4)”,
“The Secretary of State may give directions to the authority for the purpose of securing compliance with the duty”
and can enforce that requirement by a mandatory order? In what way is that voluntarily facilitating the exchange of information? Clause 17 is all about the Secretary of State forcing authorities to share information.
My Lords, as the Minister says, the hour is indeed late. I thank the noble Lords, Lord Paddick and Lord Moylan, in particular for their support, and other noble Lords for their speeches. I was going to make a rather similar point to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, because the Minister made this provision sound very amenable and voluntary—“Don’t worry about it. There is no problem with trust. It is all just about general information.” That is not my reading of these clauses at all.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, made one issue very clear, but there are actually various bits of these clauses that build that general picture of anything but voluntary disclosure. There is a lot about modifying data protection and so on.
I hope that, one way or another, we can have a discussion with the Minister before Report because, otherwise, I fear that we will have to bring these amendments, or something like them, back. We would much prefer to sort this out, if we possibly can. With that, I beg leave to withdraw the amendment.
Amendment 34 withdrawn.
Amendment 35 not moved.
Clause 7 agreed.
House adjourned at 10.27 pm.