House of Lords
Wednesday 27 October 2021
Prayers—read by the Lord Bishop of Bristol.
Retirement of a Member: Lord Puttnam
My Lords, I notify the House of the retirement, with effect from today, of the noble Lord, Lord Puttnam, pursuant to Section 1 of the House of Lords Reform Act 2014. On behalf of the House, I thank the noble Lord for his much-valued service to the House.
Climate Change: Global Temperatures
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, published on 9 August; and what policy areas they intend to reassess in response to the finding that global temperatures are rising faster and will have worse consequences than previously predicted.
The IPCC report reaffirms the importance of net zero. On 19 October, we launched the net-zero strategy, supporting up to 440,000 jobs and leveraging up to £90 billion in private investment by 2030. Our strategy sets out clear policies and proposals for keeping us on track for our coming carbon budgets and our ambitious NDC.
How on earth does that and the Government’s net-zero plan fit with the fact that the Chancellor has just given us a Budget that is so carbon intensive that we should all just give up everything that we are bothering to do? He has reduced the duty on domestic flights, which are the most carbon-intensive form of travel, and he has frozen the fuel-duty escalator for the 12th year. This Treasury does not understand the climate emergency, and the noble Lord, who hears us all here, has to take that back.
Of course I always take the noble Baroness’s comments back to the department for discussion, as she well knows. I think that she is being a little unfair with her comments and I know that she would not want to be. The Chancellor has also announced £3.8 billion-worth of funding for domestic low-carbon heat installation systems, social housing decarbonisation and public sector decarbonisation—we talked about that in our statement a few days ago. It is important to bear in mind that many communities in the UK—people who live on remote islands et cetera—rely on their air services. Domestic aviation accounts for less than 1% of UK emissions. I also remind the noble Baroness that the Chancellor recently announced considerable funding—something like £180 million—for sustainable aviation fuel.
My Lords, working with the devolved Administrations, could the Minister indicate what new policy proposals the Government will bring to COP 26 next week, in respect of financial innovation, green finance and technology, to ensure that a comprehensive scheme of carbon capture is in place to assist with climate change mitigation by the Government’s 2030 target, over and above the Budget today, which was rather limited in this respect?
Some noble Members opposite have obviously listened to a different Budget from the one that was actually announced. We have £1 billion-worth of funding for carbon capture, usage and storage proposals. The noble Baroness will be aware that, only the other day, we announced the first two clusters in north-west and north-east England. These are world-leading, exciting proposals; no one else in the world is being as ambitious as we are on CCUS.
My Lords, returning to the issue of domestic air passenger duty, does the Minister recognise that short-haul flights are the most carbon-intensive form of travel? Ahead of COP 26, what signal does the Minister believe it sends to announce a cut to domestic air passenger duty while presiding over a record rise in rail fares—one of the least carbon-intensive forms of travel?
I refer the noble Lord to the answer that I just gave to the noble Baroness, Lady Jones. Many communities in the United Kingdom rely on air travel for international and internal connectivity. Some parts of our nation are islands, separated by water that trains do not go across. Therefore, it is important to retain connectivity. At the same time, the Chancellor also announced an increase in long-haul air passenger duty.
Is not the premise of the noble Baroness’s Question—namely, that global temperatures are rising faster than previously predicted—the reverse of the truth? When the IPCC was established, it forecast that over the ensuing 30 years, now complete, the global temperature would rise by 0.3 degrees per decade. In fact, it has risen by just 0.17 degrees per decade—barely half that amount—and all 39 models used by the IPCC produce estimates higher than reality. Reality is actually quite reassuring.
I can see that the noble Lord has the House with him on that one. Even putting aside his scepticism about the accuracy of the IPCC report, surely even he would agree that, given the current spike in gas prices, for instance, it is a good thing to reduce our usage of carbon-intensive fuels. If we can generate more electricity domestically in a renewable and green way, that has to be a good thing because it reduces our reliance on importation.
My Lords, can we park the constant sideline bickering over China’s CO2 emissions? The discussion pre-COP 26 is unbalanced. We hear endless criticism of China for its 6.5 tonnes per capita emissions record, while there is a deafening silence over the record of the English-speaking world of Australia, Canada and America with their average emissions of 15 tonnes per capita—two and a half times those of China. The China bashing needs to stop. No wonder it may not attend COP 26.
I am sorry, but I just do not agree with the noble Lord. China is responsible for one of the largest emissions totals in the world. This is very much a global problem and, if we are to make any progress, every nation has to make its contribution, including not only the English-speaking world but also China.
I can reassure my noble and learned friend on that basis. Heat pumps are a mature heating technology and currently the market-leading low-carbon option. I am also delighted to tell him that the largest UK manufacturer, Mitsubishi in Scotland, produces 10,000 of them a year.
My Lords, the unpredicted intensity of freak events such as the heat dome in the US and Canada has left scientists reeling. Oceanographers are monitoring with concern the anomaly in the Gulf Stream, which helps to regulate our world’s weather, and the cold spot south-east of Greenland is particularly worrying. Does the Minister accept that it is time to stop dicing with the future of our planet, to keep fossil fuels in the ground and therefore to ditch the abominable policy that places a legal duty on our Government to extract every last drop of oil from the North Sea?
The Committee on Climate Change has made it clear that we still need fossil fuels for the transition. I remind the noble Baroness that the UK is responsible for only 1% of worldwide emissions. Yes, we must do our bit, which we are—we are a world-leading power in that respect—but we also need to work on a worldwide basis with other nations, because just stopping emissions in the United Kingdom will not solve the problem.
My Lords, the Government had four key objectives for the summit next week in Glasgow. The third of those, and the one that was in many ways among the most important because of the failure to deliver it over the past decade, was the objective on finance and delivering $100 billion per annum of support for those developing countries that would miss out as a result of moving towards net zero. The Government have admitted this week, in advance of the summit, that that objective is not going to be met. Does the Minister agree that one reason for that might just be the fact that our Government—our country—withdrew on their commitments to the world’s poorest people this year and that that might just have affected the atmosphere around decision-making and the commitments that might then be made by others?
No, I do not accept that, because the UK, even after the recent reduction, still has one of the largest international climate finance facilities in the world. Again, on international finance, we are world-leading as well. It was an immense diplomatic effort to get many other nations on board—credit goes to the Prime Minister and to Alok Sharma for managing to do that. We have got the commitment, albeit maybe not as early as we would have hoped for, from 2023.
As the noble Lord is probably well aware, under the heat and buildings strategy, another of the Chancellor’s announcements last week, we have allocated hundreds of millions of pounds to the public sector decarbonisation scheme to go with the £1 billion that we have already spent in the past year on the PSDS. I could point the noble Lord to numerous examples across the country, both in London and elsewhere, of excellent schemes where the public sector is using these funds to deliver meaningful carbon reductions.
The Minister mentioned the carbon capture and storage facilities that have been approved. He will also be aware that the one that was most ready to go ahead is at St Fergus in Aberdeenshire, but that was not given approval. Why? Are the Government deliberately setting out to upset Scotland and the Scottish Executive?
I think that the noble Lord knows the answer to his own question. A rigorous process was gone through to determine which schemes should get the go-ahead. It is not true that the scheme to which he referred was the most advanced. An independent panel of experts studied all the bids. It is not the case that we are not going ahead with the scheme; it is on the reserve list. It will almost certainly proceed, but just not in the first wave.
On 7 September, we announced £5.4 billion of new funding for adult social care over the 2022 to 2025 period. We have also announced that this includes more than £3.6 billion to reform the adult social care charging system and to help local authorities better sustain their markets by moving towards paying providers a fair rate for care. It also includes more than £1.7 billion for much-needed wider system reform. Further details will be announced in a White Paper later this year.
My Lords, the Health Foundation has calculated that, over the next three years, the funding required just to meet current social care demand is bigger than the extra money going into social care from the levy. So this levy will not even start to address issues such as the need for better pay and conditions for social care staff, local government’s lack of resources, and the need for community care, personalisation, et cetera. Could the Minister explain how he expects the country to believe the Government’s plan that, after three years of operation, the NHS portion of the levy, which is currently the majority, will be cut and transferred to social care? Can he confirm that the plan is really to cut NHS funding in 2025 in the face of ever rising demands on its services?
The Government have always been clear that the share of the levy going towards the NHS to tackle the backlog was temporary and that, in the longer term, we would move to funding social care. As I am sure the noble Lord is aware, for decades, Governments have kicked the can down the road and have not tackled this difficult issue. The Government have been quite firm in committing money and have been learning, in our constant discussion with stakeholders, how best to reform the social care sector.
My Lords, further to the question from the right reverend Prelate, I understand the concern that the proceeds from the ring-fenced levy may not be enough to relieve all the pressure on social care. So will the Minister encourage the NHS trusts, which are receiving the bulk of the extra funds, to use Section 75 of the National Health Service Act 2006 to commission social care, thereby taking some of the pressure off local authorities?
I thank my noble friend for that suggestion, and I will take it back. What we have to remember about the way social care is funded is that, in reality, it is mostly private providers that provide social care, and these are funded by private and state-funded patients. Quite often, we find it is private patients who cross-subsidise state-funded patients. I will take the question from my noble friend back and send an answer.
My Lords, the NHS hospital system is the carer of last resort. When the community’s needs are not being met as they ought to be by social care or primary healthcare, they go into hospital. This puts excessive demand on hospital resources, which should be devoted to dealing with the elective backlog and waiting lists. Does the Minister recognise that this distortion, with its damaging effects on the NHS, can be corrected only when the NHS is partnered by a well-funded and reformed social care system?
It is quite clear that, if we want to make sure that the social care system is fit for purpose, we have to make sure that, in the model, enough money is going in to reform the system. Part of the funding does go to helping local authorities push for reform, but, at the same time, it is true that some of the additional productivity as a result of digitisation will help make the NHS more efficient.
My Lords, is it not an unfortunate fact that not a single penny from the levy will actually go to the front line of social care to relieve those overworked and underpaid staff making 15-minute visits, which is the real urgency? Even when the money does come to social care, some way down the line, will not much of it be taken up with bureaucracy, in making assessments and testing eligibility for the cap that the Government have put into the system? Surely that is something that we have to look at. How much of the money is actually going to go to the front line, not just now but in three or four years’ time.
The noble Baroness makes a very important point: we have to see reforms in the social care sector. The spending of £5.4 billion includes £1.7 billion for wider system reforms, including at least £500 million to support the adult social care workforce in professionalisation and well-being. We are also working closely with providers of care, local government charities, the unions, professional bodies, and users of care and their representatives, and will respond to their views in the forthcoming adult social care system reform White Paper, later this year.
My Lords, so far the Minister has responded only on the issue of adult social care. Freedom of information requests from every local authority in England by the Disabled Children’s Partnership reveal that 40% of authorities cut the respite care for parent carers during the pandemic. This comes as eight in 10 parent carers are experiencing some form of anxiety—a rate much higher than among the general population. Can the Minister outline specifically how the health and social care levy will help restore short breaks and respite care for families with disabled children?
The noble Baroness makes an important point that we should address. In looking at the wider picture, we recognise that unpaid carers play a vital role in our care system and make a considerable contribution to society, alongside the paid social care workforce. The Care Act encourages local authorities to support unpaid carers and provide preventive care to stop people’s early care needs escalating. The announcement of the £5.4 billion funding marks the next step in our transformational plans for the sector.
I thank my noble friend for that important point. We have listened to the sector and prioritised the adult social care workforce. The investment of at least £500 million over three years will deliver new qualifications, progression pathways, and well-being and mental health support. This workforce package is unprecedented investment, which will support the development and well-being of the care workforce. It will enable a fivefold increase in public spending on the skills and training of our care workers and registered managers, as well as on their well-being.
My Lords, the Secretary of State, Sajid Javid, has admitted that the Government cannot commit to clearing the NHS treatment backlog generated by Covid within three years. This is despite the fact that £12 billion a year raised from the levy will mostly go to fund this work and that he is also announcing another £6 billion in capital funding for the same purpose. Does this recognition of the scale of the NHS challenge mean that social care will have to wait even longer than three years for any levy funding? Can the Minister confirm, as he failed to do last week, that the £162.5 million announced for the social care workforce and recruitment fund was new money and not part of previous repackaging, as we have seen with the Chancellor’s pre-spending review announcements so far?
The funding commits us from 2022 to 2025—it is three years’ funding. The point that the noble Baroness makes is that, of course, we are hoping that we can clear as much of the elective backlog as possible. After that, the money will be moved and will focus on social care reforms. On her specific question, I will write to the noble Baroness.
My Lords, my question builds on that of the noble Lord, Lord Young of Cookham. Can the Minister explain how social care is to cope now, when there is a crisis, without a larger allocation of the levy in addition to funds announced, and, in particular, how delayed transfers of care from acute hospitals may be reduced? Should there be central guidance to the NHS to commission social care services to assist in safe rapid discharge?
My Lords, £1 in every £12 spent by local authorities on social care goes towards funding mental health social care, supporting people of all ages who live with severe mental illness, and their carers. Can the Minister say what proportion of the planned levy will be used to fund mental health social care, which provides such a lifeline to all those affected?
The noble Baroness makes a valuable point about the need to look at mental health and social care. The issue is that, sometimes, for some of the patients who are being helped, it is not only mental health that we are looking at; there is a multiplicity of issues. I will try to get a specific answer and will write to the noble Baroness.
Covid-19: Vaccinations Administered Abroad
My Lords, a pilot was launched in England on 30 September for residents vaccinated abroad who request that their vaccines are uploaded to the national database. Vaccines equivalent to those that are UK-approved—those regulated by the FDA, EMA or Swissmedic—can generate an NHS Covid pass, currently AstraZeneca, Pfizer, Moderna or Janssen in the US, EU, EEA and Switzerland. So far, 53 individuals have had their records updated, covering 22 countries. Vaccination centres have been quick to adapt and users so far are happy with the resolution.
My Lords, the Government say how important it is for eligible people to have their Covid booster jab, but those vaccinated overseas are not being called forward for their boosters because their initial vaccinations are not recorded on NHS systems. When will the Government fulfil the promise made by the then Vaccines Minister in the other place in July that this problem would be fixed by August, and how can those vaccinated overseas get their booster jabs?
What we have done is look at a wide range of vaccines that are being administered worldwide and look into how we understand the vaccines that have not yet been approved by the MHRA. We are requesting trial data, for example. Only a couple of days ago, I was in a meeting with a Chilean Minister who was asking me about Sinovac, which was very important. It was very helpful that they were sharing data with the MHRA so that it could make a decision as quickly as possible.
My Lords, on a recent visit to France, I found that it was very easy to transfer my English record of vaccinations to the French anti-Covid app, which I then used when going into restaurants and public buildings. This system worked well for residents and tourists alike. Yet, according to the Government’s own website, the English Covid app cannot generally even import the records from Scotland, never mind other countries. What discussions are the Government having across the UK and internationally to ensure that the pilot that he mentioned is rolled out properly and that we have a fully effective system in the future?
The noble Baroness raises a very important issue about the devolved Administrations. As the noble Baroness will know, health is a devolved matter; we are keeping the devolved Administrations informed of progress on the overseas vaccination solution and they are looking to set up similar processes within their own jurisdictions. A Northern Ireland service has just launched. Bidirectional data flows have also been set up by NHS Digital for those who have been vaccinated cross-border between England, Scotland, Wales and the Isle of Man. Bidirectional data flows between England and Northern Ireland will be live soon.
My Lords, in July, the Minister’s predecessor, the noble Lord, Lord Bethell, told your Lordships’ House that the problem with registering Covid vaccines—whether it was UK residents jabbed abroad or those who had taken part in clinical trials—would be resolved by August, in time for the holidays. A further problem is that the app still cannot tell the difference between a third dose and a booster dose. That is important because third-dose people need a further booster dose. To hear that only 53 people have now got their records on an app is appalling. What are the Government going to do about this mess?
One of the reasons for the delay has been the wide range of vaccinations that have been administered worldwide. MHRA is working to make sure that it is confident about recognising them in a Covid pass. There is also a range of issues relating to anti-fraud measures that have to be put in place to maintain the integrity of a Covid pass service. The multi-organisation approach that has been adopted has ensured a high-quality service. NHS England has engaged vaccination centres, provided training and enhanced the vaccine data resolution service capability. NHS Digital has updated the API to allow overseas vaccinations to flow from the vaccine database—the so-called national immunisation management system—to the Covid pass. Also, NHSX has built the certification rules to enable overseas vaccinations in the Covid pass.
My Lords, another group of people who are not having their jabs recognised are the public-spirited people who took part in the Novavax clinical trial. Novavax has said that it cannot guarantee that having a Pfizer booster is safe for those in their trial, because it has not trialled it. Yet, the Government are now saying that they can have the booster—or they can start all over again and have one of the other jabs. Why?
One of the difficult issues we face is pushing international partners to agree that the participants of well-regulated vaccine clinical trials should be treated as fully vaccinated. Only a couple of weeks ago I was on a call with G7 health and transport Ministers, trying to push them to ensure that they recognise those very brave people who came forward for vaccine trials. So far, sadly, we have not had much success. We continue to push them, but, in the meantime, we have found the solution of giving people another vaccine in order for them to be recognised. However, we would prefer international recognition.
I think the Minister needs to simplify this for the House—it is a very simple issue. If it is possible to register in France that you have been double vaccinated through its systems, why is it not possible to do that in the UK? While the JCVI may be working to fix the issue for UK residents who have been double jabbed abroad, British entry regulations have left foreign visitors in limbo. So, although two doses of Covid vaccine administered by a UK-approved regulator is enough to enter Britain without having to self-isolate, it does not seem to be enough to avoid being pinged by what has now been exposed as our expensive and not very effective test and trace system. Does the Minister agree that this does not make sense, and can he confirm that the JCVI review will also aim to resolve this?
As I said, we are looking to resolve as many of these issues as possible. There is no logical reason for this not to happen—it is just that we have to push international acceptance but also make sure that we have gone through the processes, especially for those vaccines not recognised by the MHRA.
My Lords, further to the point made by the noble Baroness, Lady Quin, about Scotland, does the Minister realise that there has been a huge amount of buck passing between the Northern Ireland authorities and the English authorities about people who are temporarily working in England who have a vaccination and then try desperately to get the Covid pass when they go back? It is really not acceptable. Will he give an assurance now that anyone from any part of the United Kingdom who has been double vaccinated will be able to get a Covid pass, no matter where they got that original vaccination?
I remind the House of my interest as a member of the Army Reserve. Many serving personnel and their families have been vaccinated overseas, either by defence medical services or local practitioners, and they too have had a challenge getting their vaccines on to the NHS app. Equally, in reverse, many serving reservists here in the United Kingdom have been unable to get their vaccinations on to JPA—the MoD administration system —meaning that there is a potential delay in their deployment. Since this is not an international problem but a national one between two government departments, can my noble friend simply use his good influences to sort it out?
I thank my noble friend for making me aware of that issue; I was not aware of it. On the availability of the Covid pass, I repeat that the NHS Covid pass is available online and via NHS.UK, provided that individuals already have an NHS login. Users can then access it from anywhere in the world and download a Covid pass PDF. Individuals need to be in the UK to download the NHS app, but, once it is downloaded, it can be accessed worldwide. In terms of the conversations between the Department of Health and Social Care and the Ministry of Defence, I will make sure that I do that, and I will write to my noble friend.
Following on from the question from the noble Baroness, Lady Thornton, if you are double jabbed in England and test and trace tells you that you have been in contact with someone who has tested positive, you can get a test and, if it is negative, carry on regardless. If you have been double jabbed abroad, you cannot—you have to self-isolate for 10 days. So these people are restricting their social contact with others in case they have to self-isolate. Why can the two categories not be treated equally?
Health Care and Adult Social Care
To ask Her Majesty’s Government what assessment they have made of the report by the Care Quality Commission The state of health care and adult social care in England 2020/21, published on 21 October, and in particular the concerns about staff shortages this winter.
I am on a hat trick. The department welcomes the report by the CQC and recognises the challenges that providers and local authorities are currently experiencing in recruiting and retaining staff, especially social care staff. While local government has a key role to play in tackling staff shortages, the department has been monitoring the situation closely. We have already put in place a range of measures, including funding to help local authorities and care providers address workforce capacity pressures.
My Lords, the CQC’s concern about the desperate social care staff shortages this winter and warning about a tsunami of unmet need unless urgent action is taken is very worrying. It is clear that the health and social care levy will not provide any real means of dealing with chronic staff shortages for at least two years. The recent £162.5 million for the workforce retention and recruitment fund gives less than £100 per social care worker, according to this week’s analysis from the Homecare Association of care providers. The CQC has echoed the Commons Health and Social Care Committee’s call in May for an urgent total overhaul of workforce planning in light of workforce burnout after dealing with Covid; a people plan for social care; and an annual independent report with workforce projections. Can the Minister tell the House what progress is being made on this and when we can expect a fully costed and funded workforce plan for this key sector?
I thank the noble Baroness for her reference to the £162.5 million of funding for social care through the workforce retention and recruitment fund to help boost staff numbers and support existing care workers through the winter. This is on top of the third infection control and testing fund, introduced in October 2021, which is providing a further £388.3 million of adult social care Covid-19 support until March 2022. This means that, during the pandemic, we have made available more than £2.5 billion in funding specifically for adult social care. We are also taking action to support adult social care providers through a national recruitment campaign.
My Lords, this important report is challenging reading for all those who worked on the front line of the pandemic. Its most challenging section is undoubtedly the part on the recovery of services; in particular, as the noble Baroness, Lady Wheeler, said, the importance of
“investment in workforce development and formal changes in service specifications.”
Can the Minister give us some more precise details on how that budget will be spent?
I thank my noble friend for his question and for the advice he has given me to date. Even though I have size 11 feet, I am finding it rather difficult to fill his large shoes. On the funding announced, local authorities have a key role in supporting recruitment and retention in their local areas. We are working with them to make sure that they support local providers by identifying workforce shortages, developing workforce plans and encouraging joined-up services. We also continue to work closely with providers, councils and our partners to assess the situation and consider what further action may be necessary.
My Lords, the CQC’s annual report highlights the challenges faced by people with learning difficulties, their families and their informal carers. Does the Minister acknowledge this problem? The CQC accepts that its inspection procedures require more emphasis on the knowledge and experience of family and informal carers, following Professor Murphy’s report on the failures and abuse in Whorlton Hall. How can we hope that the CQC and other agencies in health and social care will give priority to the role of family and informal carers when the Government’s main policy statements and papers still virtually ignore their existence?
The Government recognise the valuable role that paid and unpaid carers play in social care. We are looking at how we can make sure that we recruit and retain staff. We understand the challenges that many care homes, quite often those in the private sector, face when trying to recruit and retain staff, given the competitive pressures around the jobs market. The Government certainly take seriously the role of unpaid and paid carers.
My Lords, in addition to the winter’s and next year’s workforce plan, the CQC reports that providers of residential care showed the vacancy rate rising month on month from 6% in April to 10.2% in September. Some care homes whose attempts at recruitment have failed are now having to cancel their registration to provide nursing care, leaving residents looking for new homes in local areas that already are at, or close to, capacity. In recent weeks, two homes in York have announced that they are closing. I appreciate the discussion about planning for the workforce but this is a current crisis. What is the Minister going to do as councils are overwhelmed trying to find beds for patients when there are none?
I am grateful to the noble Baroness for the specific examples that she gave. The department is constantly monitoring the workforce capacity pressures. We are continuing to gather a range of qualitative and quantitative intelligence in order to have a strong and live picture of how the risk is developing and emerging. In more detail, this includes drawing on evidence gathered by a regional assurance team and regular engagement with key stakeholders, including the Association of Directors of Adult Social Services in England, local authorities and care provider representatives. We are also monitoring data from the capacity tracker, Skills for Care’s monthly workforce reporting and wider market data. To ensure that we are aware of any emerging workforce capacity pressures, we are strongly encouraging providers to continue sharing available capacity and completing the capacity tracker.
My Lords, I conveyed my commiserations to the Minister last week. As he said, he is on a hat trick today, but he is no Salah just yet. The noble Lord is obviously not a Liverpool fan. As the report says, over the past year the pandemic has further exposed and exacerbated health inequalities. Case rates and mortality rates were higher in deprived areas—2.4 times higher than in the least deprived areas for mortality. The report stated that
“strategies to identify and tackle health inequalities were not yet well established.”
What is the Government’s strategy for this, given that deprived areas, such as those in London, are often next to the wealthiest?
The noble Baroness raises an important point but before I answer that specifically, I reassure her that I am a Liverpool fan, as well as an Enfield Town fan. It so happens that my middle name is Salah. I think that I can wear that name on the back of my shirt with pride. I assure noble Lords that I did not line that question up. One reason why the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities was set up in the first place was to look at disparities across a wide range of issues, not only in social care but in relation to gender inequalities, ethnic minority inequalities and some of the other inequalities and disparities between various areas. As the noble Baroness rightly says, sometimes one can find some of the poorest communities right next to the some of the wealthiest. We are hoping to address those issues through the work of the Office for Health Improvement and Disparities, by first identifying where disparities are and then addressing them.
My Lords, with more than 105,000 vacancies in social care, we have a bit of a crisis. Which job would the Minister advise a low-paid worker to take when offered one of these three full-time jobs, all advertised today: a delivery driver at £11 an hour, a supermarket shelf stacker at £10 an hour or a senior care assistant at £9.25 an hour?
I do not see myself as someone who is able to offer jobs advice or careers advice. But the points made by the noble Lord help to explain in many ways some of the pressures that care home providers are facing when recruiting in a competitive market. The Government have looked at funding and how we can work with care providers, particularly as many are in the private sector, as I said earlier. They are not directly controlled by the Government and we can therefore work with local authorities and care providers on how to make sure that they pay a competitive salary to attract care workers to work in the social care system, as opposed to some of the more competitive sectors that the noble Lord mentioned.
My Lords, one of the areas where there is most pressure has been that of unpaid carers. Not only are they having to take on a much greater load but for a long period they could not even visit their loved ones in care homes. In all the programmes that the Government are taking on, can the Minister say explicitly what is going to be done to support carers in their invaluable role?
I think that all noble Lords will agree with the point made by the noble Lord about the importance of unpaid carers and also paid carers. In relation to unpaid carers, we hope that as the social care reforms, in particular, come through, patients will be able to take advantage of social care. That will remove some of the burden from unpaid carers and free up their time. We are, however, looking closely at the implications and consequences of some of the proposed reforms.
Critical Benchmarks (References and Administrators’ Liability) Bill [HL]
Order of Commitment Discharged
My Lords, I understand that no amendments have been set down to this Bill and that no noble Lord has indicated a wish to move an amendment or to speak in Committee. Unless, therefore, any noble Lord objects, I beg to move that the Order of Commitment be discharged.
Commons Urgent Question
The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Monday 25 October.
“It is indefensible and unacceptable that Iran has rejected Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe’s appeal against the new charges made against her. We continue to call on Iran to let her return home to the UK immediately. On 22 September, the Foreign Secretary spoke to the Iranian Foreign Minister to make clear our deep concern about the ongoing situation of Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe, alongside the continued detention of Anoosheh Ashoori and Morad Tahbaz. Iran must release British dual nationals who have been arbitrarily detained so that they can return home.
The Foreign Secretary spoke to Mrs Zaghari-Ratcliffe and Richard Ratcliffe on 16 and 17 October respectively. Earlier this month, I spoke to the families of arbitrarily detained dual British nationals and reiterated that the UK Government, from the Prime Minister down, remain fully committed to doing everything we can to help them to return home. We also called for humanitarian treatment of detained British dual nationals. Their welfare remains a top priority for us. We lobby on health concerns and mistreatment allegations whenever we have specific concerns or a family member brings issues to our attention. We call on the Iranian Government immediately to allow health professionals into Evin prison to assess the situation of dual British nationals incarcerated there. We continue to raise their cases at the most senior levels and discuss them at every opportunity with our Iranian counterparts. Our ambassador in Tehran regularly raises our dual national detainees with the Iranian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. The Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office provides consular assistance to the families of British dual nationals detained in Iran wherever they seek our support.
The UK Government continue to engage with international partners and directly with the Government of Iran on a full range of issues of interest to the UK. Our priorities remain to prevent Iran from acquiring nuclear weapons capability, to promote stability and security in the region and to secure the full release of our dual national detainees. I can assure this House that the safety and welfare of all British dual nationals detained in Iran remains a top priority for the UK Government. We will continue to raise our concerns with our Iranian interlocutors at every level and we will not stop until those who have been detained unjustly are at home with their loved ones.”
On Monday, Nazanin’s husband Richard began a hunger strike outside the FCDO. I hope that as many noble Lords as possible from across the House will visit him if they have not already done so. When I met him on Monday, he repeated his description of the Government’s policy on Nazanin as a policy of waiting. Does the noble Lord think that is correct? In 2019 the Government granted Nazanin diplomatic protection. Will the noble Lord explain what this has achieved? What precisely the United Kingdom is doing, with our international allies, to bring an end to state hostage-taking by Iran?
My Lords, first, I think that I speak for all noble Lords in saying that we stand very much with all families experiencing the dreadful situation of their loved ones being detained in Iran. The Government will continue to do all we can to ensure that not only are representations made but that we seek their earliest release from Iran, so that they can be reunited with their families.
On the noble Lord’s specific point, we are very much aware of Richard Radcliffe and his situation. As the noble Lord said, he has begun a hunger strike. Tomorrow my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary will meet Richard to discuss the issue, and I know that she has been very seized with the situation since her appointment.
With regard to the diplomatic protection, as the noble Lord will know, that move raised the issue to formal recognition in terms of state representation. Nevertheless, Iran still fails to recognise Nazanin’s dual nationality status.
I agree with the noble Lord in encouraging noble Lords to meet Richard, as I have done in advance of this Question. In last week’s debate initiated by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, I raised Iran’s contravention of the Convention against Torture and other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment. A statement by the previous Foreign Secretary indicated that it was UK policy that Iran was in contravention of the convention. The concern is that with every new Foreign Secretary—and there have been five since Nazanin’s detention—officials wipe the slate clean. When the Foreign Secretary meets Richard, will she commit to press Iran to investigate this case formally, which is its duty under this convention?
My Lords, is it not the case that the Iranian authorities maintain that we owe them a very large sum of money relating to a cancelled contract some years ago? What is the Government’s position on that matter, and does it play a part in these discussions?
My Lords, one thing that we have been clear on is that this situation—the debt referred to by my noble friend—is a live issue bilaterally between the United Kingdom and Iran. On the debt itself, as I said last week during the debate on a QSD asked by the noble Lord, Lord Dubs, there has been an adjournment on this case. I cannot go into the details, but the next hearing on this case and its details will be in April 2022. We have been clear what needs to happen is that Nazanin and others who are being held should be returned.
My Lords, if the Iranians believe that we owe them £400 million, and believe that we have promised that that money will be paid, without excusing the Iranian Government for any of things they are doing to the hostages, surely the Iranians have a sense that we have not been straight with them. Can we look at this £400 million again? Never mind the legal action, which has just been delayed. The Urgent Question repeat uses fine language but does not add up to anything at all. I put this to the Minister: there is a belief that there is more going on than we know about and that there is some reason why the Government keep hedging their bets and not getting on with it. What is it?
My Lords, as I said, I cannot go into the case itself; notwithstanding his comments about the sensitivity of commenting on an ongoing legal hearing, I am sure that the noble Lord will appreciate that I have shared as much as I can on the details of the case.
On what we are doing to seek Nazanin’s release and that of others, I assure the noble Lord that we are working in diplomatic channels and with international partners. I mentioned the Human Rights Council last week. We are raising these issues consistently and directly with the Iranians as well.
My Lords, this sorry saga has been going on for more than five years. Each time, the Government’s involvement seems to have made matters worse, not better. Will they recognise that the dual nationality issue is an excuse by Iran? This woman is a British citizen and should expect to be supported by the British Government. How come we have a claim for a global Britain but are unable to find a solution to release this shamefully wronged British citizen?
My Lords, I do not agree with the noble Lord that the Government have not prioritised this case and others. We continue to do so. Of course, there is a relationship with Iran on wider issues as well where, again, the Government have taken what I believe to be the right line, particularly in connection with the JCPOA. On this case and others, we will do all we can to ensure an early release. As far as the wider issues are concerned, they play into the general narrative but we are very much focused on individual cases.
My Lords, my noble friend raises an important point. We are consistently in touch with Nazanin directly. Indeed, my right honourable friend the Foreign Secretary spoke to her on the 16th of this month. We are in direct contact with her, Richard Ratcliffe and other families to ensure that the issues my noble friend raises around health and general welfare are being addressed.
My Lords, if it is true that the Government owe Iran some money, is it not possible to have some form of compromise and a discussion with government lawyers to see whether something can be paid to it? The detail of whether there should be interest and that sort of thing can go through the laborious process until next April. Give Iran some money and see whether it does any good.
My Lords, as ever, the noble and learned Baroness puts forward a practical solution. However, she will know better than me the specific issues around the legality and sensitivity of ongoing legal proceedings. For me to comment any further would not be appropriate.
My Lords, having watched this cruel saga play out over the years, it is obvious that the Iranian regime—or the Iranian Revolutionary Guard, to be more accurate—is playing mind games with a British citizen who is being used as a political pawn. Does the Minister agree that this matter must be completely divorced from any financial debt that may or may not have been incurred by different Governments of the day? If the UK Government accept liability in principle, surely the matter can now be settled amicably without either side losing face and the torture of a mother and her family can be brought to an end.
The noble Lord articulates the position very clearly; we should not focus on seeking to join the two issues. We do not believe that there is any reason for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe to be detained in Iran, which is why we continue to implore the Iranians to ensure her early release and continue to campaign on that very principle.
My Lords, while I accept what my noble friend has just said, there is a debt and there is a hostage. Following on from the point made by the noble and learned Baroness, Lady Butler-Sloss, can we not lodge this money with the United Nations, so that we acknowledge there is a debt and when she has been released, as she should be immediately on humanitarian grounds, we can go forward?
My Lords, when he was Foreign Secretary, the man who is now our Prime Minister misspoke about the reason for Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe being in Iran. Should he not now take personal responsibility for getting her out, as those words undoubtedly worsened her position?
Arrest of Sudanese Prime Minister
Commons Urgent Question
The following Answer to an Urgent Question was given in the House of Commons on Monday 25 October.
“I am grateful for the opportunity to answer this Urgent Question. The UK most strongly condemns today’s arrest of civilian members of Sudan’s transitional Government by the military. We are also deeply concerned about reports of shooting at protesters, which must stop.
Over the past two years, Sudan has been on the delicate pathway from oppressive, autocratic rule towards freedom and democracy. The UK has been a consistent and firm advocate for the democratic transition since the 2019 revolution. The acts of the military today represent an unacceptable betrayal of the Sudanese people and their journey to democracy.
I was in Khartoum just last week, when I stressed the need for all parties to support the civilian-led Government’s work to deliver the democratic transition, the process agreed by all sides in the constitutional declaration of August 2019. The military leadership in Khartoum cannot claim to be committed to a democratic future while simultaneously acting unilaterally to dissolve the transitional institutions and to arrest leading civilian politicians.
The Sudanese military agreed to the power-sharing agreement, as outlined in the constitutional declaration. Having arrested the Prime Minister and others today, the military have undermined the trust placed in them by the people of Sudan to deliver democracy.
At this very moment, there is a communications blackout and, therefore, only intermittent contact with my officials in Khartoum, but they are working to establish the full details of the situation. We have updated travel advice to reflect the unrest and we will keep it under review to ensure the safety of British nationals and our staff, although I understand there are no flights at the moment. We are working with international partners and expect to make a public statement later today. I will also speak to my US counterpart later today.
As we know well in this place, disagreement and debate are essential features of democratic politics. Disagreement and debate are neither a threat to Sudan nor a threat to the Sudanese people and as such I urge Sudan’s military leadership to change its course, to release detained politicians, including Prime Minister Hamdok, and to ensure Sudanese people can protest without fear of violence. The actions of the Sudanese military today are wholly unacceptable.
Women were a major driver of the 2019 protests that fought so bravely for democracy. Last week in Khartoum I met inspiring women leaders, inspiring women social reformers, inspiring women entrepreneurs and inspiring women community leaders, including the truly awe-inspiring Mama Iqbal, who successfully eradicated female genital mutilation in her 200,000-strong community of Tutti Island. She has undertaken to roll out her work across the country with help from UK aid.
Women and girls have a vital role to play in Sudan’s future and the UK stands with them. The military’s actions today have betrayed all the people of Sudan, but especially the women and girls.”
My Lords, on Monday Vicky Ford welcomed the United Nations Secretary-General’s condemnation of the military’s action, stating that the UK was actively calling for a briefing at the UN Security Council. She added that she would be speaking to her US counterpart later that day. Can the Minister update the House on the progress of these initiatives? The release of Prime Minister Abdalla Hamdok yesterday is welcome but the statement by his office said that other government officials remained in detention, their locations unknown. Can the Minister tell us what discussions in the last 24 hours Ministers in the department have had with the security and military forces in Sudan to urge the release of those who have been unlawfully detained?
My Lords, the UK strongly condemns the arrest of civilian members of Sudan’s transitional Government by the military yesterday. We are also deeply concerned by reports of protesters having been shot. Over the past two years, Sudan has been on a delicate pathway from oppressive autocratic rule towards freedom and democracy. The Minister was in Khartoum last week, as she told the House of Commons, where she stressed the need for all parties to support the civilian-led Government’s work to deliver the democratic transition process that has been widely agreed.
In response to the noble Lord’s question, together with the US and Norway we have issued a troika statement condemning the suspension of the institutions of state, the declaration of the state of emergency and the detention of Prime Minister Hamdok and other members of the civilian leadership. The statement also calls for the immediate release of those unlawfully detained.
My Lords, I declare an interest as outlined in the register. I was due to be in Khartoum next Friday, scheduled to meet Prime Minister Hamdok on my 13th visit to Sudan before, during and after the democratic revolution. It is an absolute tragedy that has afflicted the people of Sudan, especially the women and young people, who have been so active in the transition process. There is considerable concern that diplomatic access will be refused to officials, many of whom I have spoken to over the last few weeks leading up to the coup. Can the Minister update the House on ensuring that there is diplomatic access to Prime Minister Hamdok and other Cabinet Ministers who have been detained and are now under house arrest in their own properties?
Secondly, there is significant concern that certain countries allied to the UK may well be offering significant sums of money to the military, which has now taken power. Will the troika and the EU work together to ensure that allies of our countries will not financially support military dictatorships that overthrow democratic transitional administrations?
The noble Lord makes an important point. It is clear, as everyone would agree, that the actions of the military are unacceptable. We are reassessing our commitment to restart a phased defence engagement in light of what has happened. The noble Lord also mentioned the impact particularly felt by women and girls. It is worth acknowledging, as the Minister for Africa said yesterday, that women were a major driver of the 2019 protest and fought so bravely for democracy. Last week in Khartoum, Minister Ford from the other place met a number of those inspiring individuals who have shown the vital role that women and girls have to play in the country’s future, and the UK solidly stands with them, both from over here in the United Kingdom and through our humanitarian assistance and overseas development programmes.
We are not in Committee yet.
Northern Ireland (Ministers, Elections and Petitions of Concern) Bill
The Bill was brought from the Commons, read a first time and ordered to be printed.
Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill
Committee (3rd Day)
Relevant documents: 1st, 2nd, 4th and 6th Reports from the Joint Committee on Human Rights, 6th Report from the Delegated Powers Committee, 7th Report from the Constitution Committee
Clause 8: Powers to collaborate and plan to prevent and reduce serious violence
Amendments 36 to 41 not moved.
Clause 8 agreed.
Clause 9: Power to authorise collaboration etc. with other persons
Amendments 42 to 48 not moved.
Clause 9 agreed.
Amendments 49 to 53 not moved.
Clauses 10 agreed.
Schedule 1: Specified authorities and local government areas
Amendment 54 not moved.
Schedule 1 agreed.
Clause 11 agreed.
Schedule 2 agreed.
Clause 12: Preventing and reducing serious violence
55: Clause 12, page 13, line 4, at end insert “, and domestic abuse, domestic homicides and sexual offences”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment would clarify on the face of the legislation that the definition of serious violence, for the purpose of the proposed Serious Violence Prevention Duty, includes domestic abuse, domestic homicide and sexual offences.
I apologise for being a bit quick off the mark earlier.
Amendment 55 would clarify in the legislation that the definition of serious violence, for the purpose of the serious violence prevention duty, would include
“domestic abuse, domestic homicides and sexual offences”.
While it is right to acknowledge the many male victims of domestic abuse and sexual violence—and this amendment would serve them also—the change we seek today is about stamping out a culture where violence against women and girls has been tolerated for too long. Zoë Billingham, the excellent outgoing inspector for Her Majesty’s Constabulary, described the level of violent and abusive offending against women and girls in this country as an “epidemic”. She is right: 1.6 million female victims of domestic abuse; 892,000 female victims of stalking; 618,000 female victims of sexual assault; 55,000 rapes, with less than a 2% charge rate; and, finally, 110 women murdered last year. Some names we know, but many more we do not. This grim tally should mark a watershed in our attitudes, and I heap praise on the domestic abuse commissioner and her team for their leadership in this regard.
I also thank my cosignatories—the noble Lords, Lord Polak, Lord Rosser and Lord Russell of Liverpool. This amendment is truly cross-party, as it should be. The strength of feeling on this issue bridges the political divide and, for once, I am absolutely delighted by the gender imbalance in this line-up of names. While of course it is men’s behaviour that is the problem, we must be careful not to pitch this as men versus women. This is about violent men versus the whole of society, but we need men—all men and all society—to engage in this and be part of the conversation and the solution.
The main justification for excluding sexual offences and domestic abuse from the Bill has been its focus on localism and flexibility, allowing local leaders to fit the strategy to local crime profiles. That is of course entirely reasonable when talking about gun and gang crime and such issues, where there are clear geographical hot spots, but this simply is not the case with domestic abuse and sexual offences; these crimes are happening everywhere. To my mind, localism is about where we put new housing estates and schools. It should never be about allowing individual areas to opt out of prioritising domestic abuse and sexual violence. This is the wrong issue on which to devolve decision-making, but it is already happening, which is why this amendment is more crucial and urgent than ever.
Of the 18 violence reduction units that have already been set up, only eight have included domestic abuse and sexual violence in their plans. Indeed, the Government’s own serious violence strategy makes no meaningful reference to sexual violence and domestic abuse, which is a problem, as often local boards refer back to it when making their policies. I am keen to stress that this amendment would not restrict flexibility at a granular level; of course a strategic needs assessment would still be carried out and specific interventions would differ from area to area.
I also say, on the record, that I absolutely do not doubt the Government’s commitment on this issue. I know they listen and I know they care. They listened to people on the front line a great deal during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Act, and look at the changes that have come in: the rough sex defence has been ended; revenge porn, coercive control and economic abuse offences have been extended; and upskirting is now a crime. Very importantly, they have extended the period of time in which you can put forward an assault charge based on domestic abuse; that was crucial. I will not list them all, as the list is long, but it is important to acknowledge that the Government have done a good deal. I hope they continue in that vein.
I strongly believe that explicitly including these offences in the duty would maximise the potential for a multiagency, public health preventive approach. We have talked about this a great deal in the House, and we all know that this is the only way to see real change on such a deep-seated societal issue. If we do not take this approach, we will be making these speeches again and again, for many years to come.
I am grateful to the noble Baroness. Does she agree that the passing of her amendment, or something like it, would send out a clear message to the Crown Prosecution Service that its policy change-based failure to prosecute significant numbers of rape offences and other serious sexual offences should be reviewed as soon as possible?
I thank the noble Lord for his intervention and absolutely agree. Of course, it would not solve the entire issue, but it would set us on the right path in sending that signal to the CPS, as well as to the police.
The multiagency, public health preventive approach is so important. Education plans, health plans and a more standardised perpetrator scheme would all be part of what this change could look like. It is important to note that the HMIC report that the Home Secretary commissioned warned that this duty, as it stands, would not go far enough in that regard.
The noble Lord, Lord Polak, mentioned in his speech at Second Reading that we need to make sure that such landmark legislation, the Domestic Abuse Act and this Bill, does not stand in isolation. We need to sustain the momentum of this ambition. Let us once and for all try to buck the trend of silo policy-making and bring together this work in a meaningful way.
As others have discussed in previous debates, it is right that the burden should not fall entirely on the police. I think we spoke about “broadening the base”, and that is why it is crucial that we get this duty right. Nevertheless, the specific policing response and the CPS response deserve a lot of attention. One-third of all violence reported to the police is domestic abuse related. This is not a small slice of their work. While their response to this crime has certainly improved over the past decade, and there are pockets of excellence and dedication, which we must acknowledge, there are still inconsistencies at every level in how the police respond to victims of domestic abuse and sexual offences, and shocking variations in how frequently—perhaps infrequently would be more appropriate—different forces use the protective powers available to them. I am sure that the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, will speak at length on stalking; some forces around the country seem entirely unaware that stalking protection orders are available to them, and this has to change.
Another statistic that shocks me is that three-quarters of all domestic abuse cases are stamped with “no further action”. We know from the rape review that was launched this year, and as the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, has pointed out, that that happens with so many incidents of sexual offences. It cannot continue. The lottery of standards among the 43 police forces in this country, and within individual forces, means it very often boils down to who picks up the phone or who responds to the call as to how victims are dealt with.
I will make one further point before I finish. As with other high-harm crimes, such as terrorism and organised crime, I believe strongly that violence against women and girls should be marked with a clearer focus, better funding, minimum standards and far more national co-ordination. This amendment is only part of the answer—of course it is—but it could be instrumental in starting that journey to greater consistency. Small actions taken together can make a big difference. While this amendment is relatively simple, its effects could ripple out.
Finally, you do not wake up one morning and become a murderer or a rapist; you work up to it. The horrific chain of events leading to Sarah Everard’s terrible murder laid this bare in the starkest of terms. We have to act to do all we can to stop this kind of behaviour in its tracks before it escalates and takes lives. There is an opportunity in this Bill, and we must take it.
My Lords, before I speak to my Amendment 56, I will start by saying that I completely agree with everything that the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, has just said. Amendment 56 adds to Amendment 55’s
“domestic abuse, domestic homicides and sexual offences”
the words “and stalking”, to be added to the definition of the serious violence prevention duty. As the noble Baroness identified, this is a keen interest of mine. I also support the noble Lord, Lord Carlile, pushing for a charging review for this range of crimes. Too often, they are either ignored or charged at a much lower crime rate.
The Minister will remember that, during the passage of the then Domestic Abuse Bill, many hours were spent looking at the typical progression of violence in obsessed perpetrators. Some of us asked the Ministers to look at the reverse structure of someone who had committed a crime of serious violence. All too often, the elements of behaviour were there from early on in their fixated behaviour. I understand that that is why the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, and others have laid their amendment to ensure that this trajectory of behaviour starts to be monitored early; and it also recognises when domestic violence accelerates very quickly. Adding
“domestic abuse, domestic homicides and sexual offences”
is absolutely vital.
But I regret that stalking was not on the list in her amendment, and I will focus briefly on that. First, victims of stalking say that they often do not go to the police until around the 10th worrying event has happened. Shamefully, it often takes many more before stalking is taken seriously by the police. But many perpetrators of stalking, as I have said, progress in their fixated behaviour, and serious violence and homicide are too often evident.
The noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, referred to stalking protection orders. I was pleased when they were implemented, but they are far too sparingly used, and some victims are told, “That’s all you need. It’ll be fine now”. Yet injunctions still have to be taken out and cautions still have to be issued, and, all the while, their stalker’s behaviour is becoming worse and worse.
According to Dr Jane Monckton-Smith, stalking sits at point 5 of the eight points on the homicide timeline, due to the fact that risk to the victim escalates at the point of leaving an abusive relationship. Monckton-Smith’s 2017 study of 358 homicides, all of which involved a female victim and a male perpetrator, revealed stalking behaviour as an antecedent to femicide in 94% of the cases. These figures demonstrate how vital it is to work on prevention for stalking cases.
There is a misconception that stalking is almost exclusively perpetrated by people on former partners and, therefore, probably covered by domestic abuse. This is untrue. The real figure is closer to 50%. Too many victims of non-partner or former-partner perpetrators of stalking report that, the first time that they talk to the police, they are told that they are overreacting, and some, especially young women, are even told that they should be grateful for the attention.
So stalking victims are too often ignored, and that is worrying. There is no other word for it than “ignored”—I know. The man who stalked me and other colleagues—he stalked men, too—over a three-year period grew progressively more fixated. Among other very unpleasant acts, such as abusive anonymous letters and telephone calls, his violence was initially against property—breaking windows, pulling down signs and scratching cars—but, each time, it was a bit stronger, more aggressive and more distressing. It took well over a year and 130 incidents before the police started taking it seriously. But their attitude changed completely when, night after night, he started using a very large knife to slash tyres. Their forensic psychologist warned that they expected that he would start using that knife on his targets next. We all knew who the perpetrator was, and, finally, we saw that the police started to move. He was then arrested quickly, and he pleaded guilty.
More recently, in June this year, Gracie Spinks, who, like many stalking victims, was let down by police because they did not take any of the early reports and link them together, was murdered at the riding stables she worked at by a former colleague from a previous job. She had reported her concerns to police four months earlier. He had turned up unannounced at the stables. Separately, a bag containing knives, an axe, a hammer and a note saying “Don’t lie” was discovered very close to the stables six weeks before Gracie’s murder. That breadcrumb trail was all there, and it was typical of a serious stalker, too—the perpetrator profile is well known. Gracie’s father, Richard, has said that if only the police had connected the incidents, his daughter would not have died.
Neither Gracie’s nor my case would have been covered by Amendment 55. Stalking needs to be added to this section on the serious violence protection duty just as much as domestic abuse, domestic homicides and sexual offences.
My Lords, I am very pleased to add my name to Amendment 55 and pay tribute to my noble friend Lady Bertin for her leadership on these matters. I was also pleased to have worked with my noble friend, together with the noble Lords, Lord Rosser and Lord Russell of Liverpool, during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill.
The amendment in our names is an extension of our previous work. I shall not repeat and rehearse the reasons why it is important that the definition of serious violence for the purpose of the proposed serious violence prevention duty must include domestic abuse, domestic homicides and sexual offences. For me, it is straightforward, and I make a simple appeal to my noble friend the Minister, who was so instrumental in piloting the Domestic Abuse Bill through Parliament with such professionalism, dedication and patience. There is an opportunity to cement and build on that historic and vital legislation, to build on what was achieved, so that it can be possible for the serious violence strategy to recognise domestic abuse and sexual violence. Can it be possible for a serious violence strategy not to recognise them as forms of serious violence? It would be difficult to understand.
The Domestic Abuse Commissioner, Nicole Jacobs, has said that the Government risk missing an opportunity to make a “historic shift” in the handling of this problem. She went on to suggest that this amendment could deliver a step change, ensuring a focus not only on crisis provision but on early intervention and prevention measures to stop abuse occurring. I totally agree with her.
The Home Office’s draft guidance says that local areas “could” consider violence against women and girls as part of the new duty if they choose to. I am still trying to get my head around “could”. How about “must”? This short and succinct amendment is so important, and I just do not understand who could not support it.
My Lords, I also support the amendment in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin. I thank her for putting it so cogently and the noble Lord, Lord Polak, for following up.
The Minister has been nothing but consistent in advocating what the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, described as localism, which is enabling local areas to decide for themselves what they include in their definitions of serious violence. Here I pay tribute—which may surprise some people—to our Home Secretary, because earlier this year, in the wake of the tragic murder of Sarah Everard, she commissioned a study by Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services, under the leadership of Zoë Billingham, referred to earlier, to look into the circumstances which had allowed the murder of Sarah Everard and so many other women to take place. That report was published three days after Second Reading of this Bill last month.
The report, which the Home Secretary asked to be done, says clearly, in black and white, that localism is not working. In fact, localism is serving to fuel what I can only describe as a wave of domestic terrorism, because essentially domestic violence is domestic terrorism. If you look at how many people are killed in this country on average each year through terrorism, it is, thankfully, a minuscule amount. If you look at how many women—primarily—are killed every year in this country through what I am calling domestic terrorism, it is approximately two and a bit every week, week in, week out. We know the figures. It does not stop. It is like an awful, ghastly Halloween metronome that will not stop. We have to do something to stop it.
Zoë Billingham’s report demonstrated graphically that, at national level, local level, force level and individual level, there are severe, endemic failings. That is primarily because, despite some good initiatives in some police forces, such as Nottinghamshire and the Met in London, they have been done in such a scattered and disaggregated way that they are as nothing compared with what is going on in the vast majority of police forces. You cannot develop proper, joined-up best practice unless you are doing it in a concerted, integrated and thoughtful way.
Essentially, Zoë Billingham’s report provides strong backing for what the Domestic Abuse Commissioner has asked the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, the noble Lords, Lord Polak and Lord Rosser, and me to do, which is to articulate and to give voice to the profound and troubling but stark findings of that report. I appeal to the Government to build on the good work started by the Home Secretary. This report has provided the evidence that the Government need to take action and, I would argue, please, to accept this amendment.
My Lords, I add my support for the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, in Amendment 55, and I will speak in support of Amendment 56. I want to develop the theme that both she and the noble Lord, Lord Russell, have been talking about, which is of the inconsistencies in the local response to this huge challenge.
I go back to HM inspectorate’s report, because it laid this out. It started by paying tribute to dedicated professional police officers, which is absolutely right, but it found that, at individual level, victims reported very different responses, depending, as the noble Baroness said, on which officer they spoke to or which call handler took the call. It told us that some officers showed exceptional care and sensitivity, while others made the victims feel that they were not believed. We heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, about the specifics of her own case and the huge challenge that she had in getting the police to start to take it seriously.
The inspectorate goes on to say,
“at force level: there are unexplained variations in how frequently different forces are using the protective powers and orders at their disposal to protect women and girls; at local partnership level: roles and responsibilities for partners working together in multi-agency safeguarding arrangements vary considerably; and at national level: actions to improve the police response are split over multiple Government strategies. These structural, strategic and tactical inconsistencies must be addressed if the police and their partners are to make inroads in tackling the deep-rooted problem of VAWG offences.”
That is why we need some action at national level. If we leave it to local forces and the local safeguarding arrangements, I am afraid that nothing will happen to improve the situation.
I want to say a few words in support of our Amendment 56. We would like to add “stalking” to the noble Baroness’s amendment and perhaps persuade her to come back on Report with a more comprehensive amendment, if at all possible, because we are all batting off the same wicket. We know that stalking is a very serious crime, but it is underreported and underprosecuted. We debated this during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill. The case is as strong as ever. Stalkers are often mischarged with other crimes and it is common for the National Stalking Helpline to see high-level stalking cases managed as low-level nuisance behaviours. As a result, stalking behaviours are not being adequately identified. We believe that the noble Baroness’s amendment could be enhanced by the addition of stalking as a serious issue that is not being tackled effectively at the moment. I am sure that I speak for many noble Lords in hoping that we can pull all this together in a consensus amendment on Report.
My Lords, I applaud my noble friend Lady Bertin’s eloquent speech about something so sensitive and dangerous.
During the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill, we had lots of discussions about stalking. I rise to speak because my name is on Amendment 56. It saddens me that we are still battling in this area, which is so fragile and misunderstood by the agencies that are there to protect. I congratulate my noble friend the Minister, who listens to our speeches all the time and takes them on board, but I reiterate the seriousness of what my colleagues have said. We are talking about human lives. We are not talking about figures or money; we are talking about human lives that are being brutally lost.
This is where we need to gain some perspective on what we are doing in legislation. Legislation is important to legal people, politicians and your Lordships’ House but, on the outside, how does it protect an individual who is being stalked or is losing their life through domestic abuse? Where do we draw the line in saying, “Enough is enough, we’re going to protect you”? As we have heard, Dr Jane Monckton Smith’s report says that stalking sits at point five of eight on the homicide timeline due to the fact that risk to the victim escalates at the point of leaving an abusive relationship. We need to include stalking in my noble friend’s Amendment 55 because that is the only way in which the serious violence reduction duty will guarantee robust prevention work being rolled out consistently across the country. We talk about localism and centralism but, for everybody on the street, that is not language that they understand. This is about their safety and agencies understanding the issue.
In the dictionary, stalking is like a cat chasing a bird. Put simply, that is what is happening to these people. There is a delicate line in proving it when people are traumatised and are being brutalised in their home, in their workplace and wherever they travel. If we cannot get this right in the Bill, we simply are not listening to the figures on the human lives that are being lost every day. As we speak, somebody is being stalked and going through that. I ask my noble friends the Minister and Lady Bertin: please can we look at this? I would love to have this issue included at the end of Amendment 55.
My Lords, Amendments 57A and 59A have been grouped here. I am always hesitant to follow with a small, perhaps technical, point on important points such as have been made this afternoon.
My amendments are intended to inquire of the Minister the place of online activity in this issue. The clauses that we are looking at are very much place-based—this part of the Bill refers to “area” almost throughout—but what prompts the violence may not be place or area-based. Given the statutory requirements for the assessment of the criteria, my amendments probe whether the role of online activity has a place in that assessment. Grooming and other activities may be generated in one geographical or police force area but directed more widely.
There are examples, obviously, of violence online intended to prompt copying, which this amendment is not specifically directed at. I dare say that the answer to that will be the online harms Bill. But I would like to ask the question, perhaps in another way, of how this legislation is to work together and to be assured that we are not at risk of missing opportunities or leaving gaps.
My Lords, I, too, support Amendment 55 in the name of my noble friend Lady Bertin, and I pay tribute to all the work she has done in this area. This is a relatively straightforward amendment which would send a very strong message to police forces, local statutory agencies and the public that domestic abuse and sexual violence are priorities to be both prevented and tackled.
Too often, our response to these types of crime comes too late for the victim. The benefits of this duty would be to ensure that we have a robust preventive approach that brings together a range of different partners and ensures that police forces are considering domestic abuse and sexual violence within the definition of serious violence for the proposed new statutory duty.
I, too, congratulate my right honourable friend the Home Secretary on calling for the HM inspectorate report following the tragic death of Sarah Everard. The report, whose authors I also congratulate, points to
“the co-ordinated and bespoke multi-agency response that is needed specifically for VAWG.”
It also says that the current drafting of the proposed serious violence prevention duty in the Bill does not go far enough.
The Government have already made significant progress on tackling domestic abuse through the Domestic Abuse Act, and I pay tribute to my noble friend the Minister and her team for all the dedication and hard work that have gone into that landmark piece of legislation. There is still more to be done. I think this amendment could be the missing piece of the puzzle to help maximise the approach in regard to domestic abuse, homicide and sexual offences.
I understand that the Government have some concerns that Amendment 55 could undermine the flexibility of the duty, but it simply clarifies the nature of the definition. It does not bind local areas to that definition, but it would require them to take this issue more seriously and would, I hope, prevent some of the dreadful acts we have heard about today and at Second Reading. This amendment is supported by the domestic abuse commissioner, and I join in the thoroughly deserved praise that the commissioner and her office have already received. I hope that my noble friend on the Front Bench, who I know cares passionately about these issues as well, will listen to the strength of the arguments on this amendment.
My Lords, I start by apologising to the Committee for not speaking at Second Reading—I am afraid that I had a household full of Covid. I am finally here and delighted to support Amendment 55 in the name of my noble friend Lady Bertin, and congratulate her on her brilliant campaigning.
I am quite surprised that my noble friend still has to campaign. While I had Covid, I watched the debate from start to finish and listened to the Minister’s response. I think, first, that my noble friend’s amendment is clearly on the right side of the moral argument; there is no disagreement there. But because she is so persuasive, we have to test the counterarguments. I have done that, and I think that it is entirely properly thought-through and proportionate, so perhaps my noble friend the Minister could help me with some things I genuinely still do not understand about the Government’s hesitation.
I noted in particular the Minister’s reference to scope and her concern that other offences could, in effect, be pushed out should my noble friend Lady Bertin’s definition be added to the Bill. In other instances, however, where the Government believe that clarification is necessary, there are named forms of violence; for example, against property. This is a general question rather than a veiled assertion. Can the Minister clarify this for me?
Others, including the noble Lord, Lord Hunt, and my noble friend Lord Polak, have challenged the Government on local decision-making. I tested myself and wondered whether I was being hypocritical here, because I often tell the Government that they are too prescriptive and we cannot have a Whitehall-down approach. However, in this case, if I may say so, I think that the Government are misguided. My noble friend Lady Bertin always sets things out so powerfully. It is not as if there are areas living blissfully free from domestic abuse and sexual violence. If any areas believe that they are—and I very much doubt it—surely that is all the more reason for national leadership on this issue and definitive action through the Bill.
As my noble friend Lord Polak mentioned, the Home Office guidance states that local areas “could” consider violence against women and girls as part of the new duty if they choose to. The logical conclusion, then, is that the Government are—what?—neutral or relaxed if a local area chooses not to. I cannot believe this is the case, especially knowing my noble friend the Minister as I do, but she must see the effect of this equivocation.
I must remind myself to stick to the amendment, so I will wrap up simply by saying that I believe that the Government’s intentions are very good, but I do not think that their performance is always coherent when it comes to violence against women and girls. I will pay very close attention to the Minister’s response, and I assure my noble friend Lady Bertin of my support, whatever happens going forward.
My Lords, I too add my support to the amendment moved by the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin. Many points have been covered, and I simply want to say that if the definition of serious violence is not expanded in this way, the concern is that many local areas will not consider it within their strategies.
Join-up on this is absolutely vital. Local strategies to prevent domestic and sexual violence through education, research and specialist violence reduction units are key, including primary prevention, which I have raised before in your Lordships’ House. We must do all that we can to enable work across services and through effective partnership.
As has been said, the Domestic Abuse Act is a very good thing, yet a lot of time was spent during the passage of that Bill in this House trying to highlight overlooked groups and issues. This amendment once again highlights these issues by creating the necessity of more joined-up thinking between key agencies and ensuring that they remain cognisant of the issues. This amendment is vital.
My Lords, I support everything that has been said so far. I will speak to Amendments 57 and 58, in which I am endeavouring to specify the broad categories of serious violence, ensuring that any violence that is serious enough to result either in injury requiring emergency hospital treatment or harm constituting grievous bodily harm would meet the threshold for serious violence.
I am grateful for the general support I have had, especially from those noble Lords with long policing experience who see merit in what I present today. It might be that, as yet, we have not quite got the wording right. It is a bit like the debate that we have been having so far. There is a case for us coming together if in fact we can convince the Minister that, in principle, there is merit in what we are arguing; we could come together later, perhaps, to get the wording right, if the Government are to be so convinced.
My amendments are not solely about knife crime, but the intention is to ensure that the broad categories of serious violence are specified so that local partnerships must address such violence in their prevention plans and take full account of the information available on serious violence, which comes up in the A&E data. That is particularly important.
When the Home Secretary introduced the assessment of the public health duty—the public health measures—on 15 July 2019, he said that collaboration to reduce serious violence was particularly important. The Government have of course moved to introduce this legislation following that.
The violence that constitutes serious violence is not specified in this Bill. Good legislation depends on such specifications and definitions. It will rightly be for the local partnerships to decide how they will reduce serious violence, but it would be neglectful if this legislation does not state what serious violence includes.
The impact assessment signed by the Home Secretary relies heavily on the effectiveness and cost-effectiveness of the use by local partnerships of data collected in hospital accident and emergency departments for the prevention of serious violence. This approach, known as the Cardiff model for violence prevention, has been found in rigorous evaluations to reduce violence related to hospital admissions and serious violence recorded by the police by as much as 38%.
This approach has four principal advantages in the context of the Bill. First, it specifies a broad category of serious violence: violence serious enough to result in emergency hospital treatment. Secondly, it makes sense from a public health perspective, which is missing in what is, after all, a public health duty. Thirdly, following the implementation of the emergency care data set, the Cardiff model data on violence location, weapons and assailants, for example, can be recorded and shared for violence prevention by every NHS trust with an A&E. Fourthly, these NHS data are valid and reliable measures of serious violence, which would be available for joint inspections. Most importantly, even if just 5% of partnerships achieved the Cardiff-model benefits identified in the impact assessment, total benefits are estimated to be at least £858 million over 10 years and a reduction of around 20 homicides a year.
On Monday, the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, referred to the invaluable work of Professor John Shepherd at Cardiff University. Professor Shepherd has helped greatly in the scheme that has been running in Cardiff—he certainly helped me in preparing these amendments and for speaking today. He makes the point that, if the amendments are not adopted, the Bill when enacted is most unlikely to achieve the reductions in serious violence. There is nothing specific around which to achieve that objective. Violence that results in emergency hospital treatment, and which affects all age groups and both genders, in and outside the home, would not be considered serious. The Bill when enacted would not resonate or easily be owned by the NHS and by clinical commissioning groups; they would not be obliged to commission this approach.
We therefore have to make sure that the local authorities get the data, get an outline of what needs to be done, and then get a clear instruction, from within the Bill itself, that there must be action taken and that they must not ignore what has been produced in this very valuable information.
I therefore hope that we can move forward collectively in looking at the range of amendments and see if we can produce something that actually puts specifics in the Bill, that then can be acted on lower down the line.
My Lords, I support Amendment 58 in the name of the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, but I think all of the amendments in this group are extremely worthwhile. The noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, gave a thoroughly well-argued pitch for her amendment, to which the Government have to listen. The noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, also argued very comprehensively for the inclusion of stalking, and I agree with that very strongly.
I wanted to sign every single amendment to this Bill, so I have ended up signing a sort of weird collection, and I apologise for that; I care about it all because I am so distressed about the Bill in general.
On Amendment 58, we need to know exactly what the Government intend with their duty to reduce serious violence. We talked earlier about intrusions, particularly relating to confidentiality, so it is quite important to have a redefined definition of serious violence. Because we have identified those intrusions, without safeguards, we must be sure that Parliament is clear and precise about the situations to which we intend this duty to apply; otherwise, we are left with a vague duty that interferes with people’s right to privacy in arbitrary and unfair ways. I very much hope that the Minister is listening and agreeing.
My Lords, I support Amendments 55 and 56, principally because, apart from their justice, it is naturally the right thing to do. As importantly, the amendments move the police into the preventive area more than they are now. I keep urging the Government and the Home Office in particular to make statutory the preventive duties. I am afraid that that is not yet taking shape, and this is a way in which it could do so.
There is a consequence of this. People have talked about the inconsistent approach around the country. That will generally tend to happen: with 43 organisations, we will always end up with an inconsistent approach. For me, 43 is at least 42 too many. That is my view; others will have different views but having so many organisations will lead to inconsistency.
More importantly, we are asking for officers to be more specialist in their investigative capacity. If it is left to the front-line officers, often they do not always have the time, or, frankly, the skills, to investigate these serious types of crime. The natural consequence of that is that more people will be moved out of uniform and into specialist areas. We all need to keep in mind that although part of the public will urge being able to see officers more often, officers are more effective when they are more specialist. How we get that balance right is difficult. This is not a plea for another 20,000 cops; it is about getting the balance right between the specialist who can be more effective and the uniformed officer who is more visible. That debate continues, and the amendments support that.
I rose to talk in particular about Amendments 57 and 58, which I support. Professor Shepherd has achieved some incredible things from his base in Cardiff. There are two big reasons why I support those amendments. The first is the constant bid for consistency. They provide a further test on the definition of serious violence, such as the requirement for hospital attendance, particularly at A&E. There is a danger, of course, that some people will attend A&E who do not really deserve to go there—they believe that they are seriously ill, when in fact they are not—but that risk is fairly low. Most importantly, as the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, said, the amendments will urge the health service to share the data it has to better inform the police and the Home Office on the strategies for the future. I am afraid that if the police can be inconsistent, so can the health service in sharing data that is vital to understanding the nature of serous violence around the country. Without that information, neither the Government nor the police, nor others, can take action.
For those reasons, I support these amendments, which are sensible conclusions.
My Lords, I have already made a comment about serious sexual offences but there is something else that I want to raise, into which I have been provoked by my noble friend Lord Hogan-Howe. The point I want to make is about consistency. I do not agree with my noble friend that we should have a single national police force, but I do believe that 43 territorial police forces is a real recipe for inconsistency. I regret very much that successive Home Secretaries, from all political parties, have failed to take on this issue. What actually happens—Charles Clarke did it when he was Home Secretary—is this: when a Home Secretary has the courage to say they are going to reorganise police forces to bring policy consistency on issues such as this, immediately that Home Secretary is told by Members of another place that the world will fall apart if the Loamshire police force is abolished, because how could the world continue without it?
I was a Welsh MP for 14 years. There are still four police forces in Wales; there should not be. The Dyfed-Powys Police, the force in my constituency, operated generally well, but I could not possibly argue that more than one police force is needed, in Wales, at any rate. I therefore ask the Government to take consistency as a major theme in this matter and reflect—
We are going into a wider debate. My personal view is that we should never have abolished the Oxford City Police force in the 1960s, because we never recovered when it became part of Thames Valley Police, and we had our own watch committee. But there is an issue here, is there not, between what might be regarded as operational efficiency and overpoliticisation? Frankly, the experience in Scotland is not a good example of the risks of too direct a relationship between a national Government and a police force. That would surely be the risk in Wales.
I realised when I started on this that there were one or two noble Lords around the House—I saw one agreeing with me, I think—who are, or have been, police and crime commissioners, who might disagree. I respect the noble Lord enormously, as he knows, but I say to him that the experience in Scotland was not good to begin with but is much, much better now.
I will cite just one piece of evidence. The small number of counterterrorism units operate very well as a group. They have a very good collegiate function and there is real consistency between their operations. In my view, the way that CTUs have developed is a paradigm for the reorganisation of the police. I do not want to prolong this part of the debate, but I urge the Minister to consider whether the best route towards consistency is to reorganise the police, reluctant though many will be.
My Lords, perhaps we should leave the reorganisation of the police to another occasion. The first attraction of Amendment 55 is its utter simplicity and simple, clear language. You have no idea how anybody who has had to spend a lifetime looking at criminal justice legislation greets with acclaim a simple piece of legislation, which this is. There is no misunderstanding about it. It does what it says on the tin. Nobody can reconstruct it afterwards or say Parliament had a different intention—it is there.
More importantly, the argument is irrefutable. I had prepared quite a long speech to make today—long by my standards—but I will not make it. We have heard the arguments. This is a special, national problem—full stop. The best solution to a special, national problem is for it to be dealt with nationally. I therefore support this amendment.
My Lords, first, I have absolutely no doubt about the Minister’s commitment to dealing with the sorts of offences we are talking about today, particularly violence against women and girls. I also have absolutely no doubt about the Government’s commitment to tackling those issues. This makes the Bill even more puzzling. We support all the amendments in this group, but I want to look at this from a slightly different angle.
This group of amendments is intended to ensure that certain categories of crime are always included in the serious violence duty. It raises the wider issue of what this whole chapter of the Bill is about. Crime and disorder partnerships—noble Lords will know from previous debates that I am quite keen on these—have for many years been responsible for a multiagency approach to preventing and tackling crime and disorder in their areas, including serious violence. They have the advantage of being able to assess what local needs are and prioritise the crime and disorder that is a particular problem in their areas.
In light of these well-established existing partnerships, one must ask why there is a need for an additional serious violence duty. There has been much concern about knife crime in recent years and Scotland has demonstrated how successful a public health approach to the problem can be, where police enforcement is just part of a multiagency, multipronged approach to tackling knife crime. There may be characteristics of the knife crime problem in Scotland and solutions tailored to tackle them there that may not be completely transferrable to other parts of the UK, but the general principle is sound: law enforcement is only one of many approaches that need to be brought to bear on a problem.
If the Government were focusing solely on this type of serious violence, one could understand, in the face of the growing public concern, that a public health approach to knife crime might be mandated—but that is not what the Bill says. However, there are clues in other parts of the Bill that that is what the Government were initially thinking. For example, we will shortly come on to offensive weapon homicide reviews and serious violence prevention orders, which are all about knife crime.
The Bill talks about serious violence generally, including threats of serious violence but excluding terrorism. It goes on to talk—in Clause 12(4)—about a list of factors that must be taken into account, such as: the maximum penalty that a court could impose; the impact on the victim; the prevalence of the violence in the area, and the impact on the community. Presumably, other factors could be considered when the local area is considering its own serious violence. This effectively makes any violence serious—for example, hate crime. Hate crime should be considered serious violence because, by definition, it has a serious impact on the victim.
Amendment 55, from the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, says that domestic abuse, domestic homicides and sexual offences should always be included in the serious violence duty. As the noble Lord, Lord Polak, said, how can any of these offences not be considered serious violence? If the Government do not accept this amendment, can the Minister say what types of domestic abuse, domestic murder or sexual offence are not serious, or in what areas they are not far too prevalent? Amendment 56 also includes stalking, for the reasons that my noble friend Lady Brinton so powerfully argued.
Amendment 57, from the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe, includes all violence that results in emergency hospital treatment, or GBH—for very good reasons. As I mentioned in discussion on an earlier group, as the noble Lord did just now, the Cardiff model—that of sharing depersonalised accident and emergency information on knife and gun crime with the police—has proved invaluable. Furthermore, as the definition of serious violence includes threats of serious violence, my noble friend Lady Hamwee is quite right to point out that social media and other electronic communication—the impact of which may go beyond the geographic area for which the authorities that have a serious violence duty have responsibility—require a duty that goes beyond a single area.
In defining serious violence in such a wide way, the Government must either accept that all violence has the potential to be serious, or risk being accused of saying that violence associated with hate crime, violence against women and girls, domestic violence, and almost any other form of violence, is not serious, or should not be treated as serious in every police area.
What the Government should have done, and what they should do now, is go back and look at crime and disorder partnerships, which are already established and responsible for preventing and tackling all forms of crime and disorder—as their consultation on this issue said they should. They should look at where crime and disorder partnerships need to be strengthened —whether, perhaps, to include partners not currently involved—or where legislation needs to be changed to facilitate co-operation and the exchange of information, instead of mandating others to provide information to the police to enable a police-led enforcement approach to tackling serious violence—whatever that means. Of course, we will support all the amendments in this group for as long as the Government continue with such a broad definition of serious violence.
My Lords, like other noble Lords I await with interest the Government’s response to all the amendments in this group. My name also appears on Amendment 55, which, at the beginning of this debate, was so ably and comprehensively moved, as we knew it would be, by the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin. This issue was raised by the shadow Minister for Policing in the House of Commons, and I only hope it receives a more enthusiastic hearing from the Government in this House, given that it is being presented with such strong cross-party support across the House.
The serious violence duty introduced by this Bill, as we know, requires local authorities, the police, fire and rescue authorities, specified criminal justice agencies and health authorities to work together to formulate an evidence-based analysis of the problems associated with serious violence in a local area and then produce and implement a strategy detailing how they will respond to those particular issues. Prison, youth custody and education authorities may also need to work with these core partners.
As more than one noble Lord has said, the amendment is clear and straightforward in its intention, which is to make clear in the Bill that the definition of serious violence for the purpose of the serious violence prevention duty includes domestic abuse, domestic homicide and sexual offences. That begs the question of why this amendment is necessary. As the noble Lord, Lord Polak, said, and he was not the only one, is it not obvious that domestic abuse, homicide and sexual offences must come within the definition of serious violence? Apparently it is not. Despite domestic abuse representing one-third of violent crime recorded by the police and despite 20% of all adult homicides and 50% of adult homicides where the victim is female being domestic homicides, the Government’s serious violence strategy does not recognise domestic abuse and sexual violence as forms of serious violence.
No doubt, that is one explanation why between April 2014 and March 2020 the annual number of domestic abuse-flagged cases referred to the Crown Prosecution Service by the police fell by 37%, with similar declines in prosecutions and convictions. No doubt, it is also one explanation why over the same period of time the annual number of prosecutions in rape-flagged cases fell by 55% and the annual number of convictions fell by 44%. No doubt, also, it is one explanation why in the year ended March 2020 only 9% of domestic abuse-related crimes and 1.4% of rape-flagged cases recorded by the police led to a charge or summons.
This Bill’s proposed serious violence prevention duty places a requirement on public authorities to collate and plan to prevent and reduce serious violence. While Clause 12 explicitly includes some named forms of violence, such as violence against property and threats of violence, to ensure that they are regarded as a form of violent crime across the board, violence against women and girls is not put in the same category, even though rates of domestic abuse and sexual violence, as so many other noble Lords have said, are consistent across England and Wales and do not vary greatly from one area to another.
Instead, intended Home Office guidance simply says that local areas can consider violence against women and girls as part of the new duty if they choose to and not that it is expected. Clearly, the Home Office is not too fussed one way or the other what areas decide on this very serious issue. There are attacks on statutes, and the Home Office gets very troubled. There are violent domestic attacks on human beings, particularly women, and the Home Office, however different the reality may be, appears so laid back that it wants to leave it to other people to make their own decisions on whether to regard these attacks as serious violence. It appears to want to leave it to other people to decide whether these dreadful attacks come within the scope of the serious violence prevention duty and the requirement on a range of public bodies, including local statutory agencies and the police, to work together to prevent and tackle serious violence with the aim of reducing the numbers of victims and perpetrators of such dreadful crimes.
Explicitly including domestic abuse, domestic homicide and sexual violence in the sexual violence reduction duty and its multi-agency approach would send a clear message to the police, prosecutors and a range of statutory agencies, including local agencies, that violence against women and girls is just not acceptable and that they all have to play a crucial role in tackling it.
At the moment there appears to be a distinction within the criminal justice system so that violence that takes place in the home or at the hands of an intimate partner is regarded as less serious than violence perpetrated in the public sphere. Only around one-half of police forces, as I understand it, have opted to take up Women’s Aid’s Domestic Abuse Matters specialised training on domestic abuse. As the noble Baroness, Lady Bertin, said, only eight of the 18 violence reduction units established in police force areas, which are funded by the Home Office and considered forerunners to the new violence prevention duty, name domestic abuse in their strategies.
Her Majesty’s Inspectorate of Constabulary and Fire & Rescue Services has recently published its report into policing and violence against women and girls, as the noble Lord, Lord Russell of Liverpool, and others have said. It specifically raised concerns that the current drafting of the proposed serious violence prevention duty
“will not go far enough to promote the co-ordinated and bespoke multi-agency response that is needed specifically for VAWG.”
“the introduction of a new statutory duty on all appropriate partner agencies to collectively take action to prevent the harm caused by VAWG.”
No doubt, we will hear in the Government’s response what they intend to do in relation to that recommendation.
I would also like briefly to touch on the amendment tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, and supported by my noble friend Lord Hunt of Kings Heath and the noble Baroness, Lady Newlove, which would add stalking to the list of specified offences to be prevented. My noble friend Lady Royall is unfortunately unable to be with us today to add her expertise to this debate, but I am sure the House recognises the years of work she and others have put into this issue. Stalking, as has been said, is representative of many VAWG offences in that it is high harm and it escalates. Despite the early warning signs in many of these cases, the risk is not properly recognised or responded to until it is too late.
The last time we debated this issue, during the passage of the Domestic Abuse Bill, the Opposition Benches and Members on all sides of this House pressed for more robust action on stalking, including a register of dangerous perpetrators. Since that debate, more women have been failed and killed, and the list of bereaved families has grown longer. The Government, as others have said, should seize this opportunity to tackle the epidemic of violence against women and girls because currently this Bill is missing that priority. Recognising violence against women and girls as serious violence is a vital place to start and one of the key changes so many of us in this House are calling on the Government to make to this Bill.
My Lords, I assure noble Lords that I will not be getting into a debate about the number of police forces we should have, but I will say two things on that: first, consistency is key; secondly, good leadership is crucial. That said, I am grateful to my noble friend Lady Bertin, the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Hamwee, and the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, for setting out the case for these amendments, which have, quite rightly, attracted a wide-ranging debate about the scope of the serious violence duty. I am also pleased about the gender balance of the tablers of the amendments, and I join my noble friend Lady Bertin in paying tribute to the DA Commissioner and join the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, in paying tribute to the noble Baroness, Lady Royall, with whom I have worked on many occasions on stalking.
I will start by addressing Amendments 55 and 56. The Government remain absolutely focused on tackling violence against women and girls. There is no place in society for these abhorrent crimes. That is why in July we published a new cross-government Tackling Violence Against Women and Girls strategy, which includes a range of actions to help ensure that more perpetrators are brought to justice and face the full force of the law and that we improve support to victims and survivors and work ultimately to prevent these crimes, as the noble Lord, Lord Hogan-Howe, said, and send a message of clear expectation, as the noble Lords, Lord Carlile and Lord Rosser, pointed out.
The strategy builds on our existing work, as my noble friend Lady Bertin said, including the new legislation that we have brought forward, which includes specific offences of forced marriage, upskirting, and the disclosure of private sexual photographs. The Domestic Abuse Act, which secured Royal Assent in April and which I am very proud to have taken part in and led through your Lordships’ House, will strengthen our response to domestic abuse at all levels. The Act includes a new duty for local authorities in England to ensure the provision of support for victims of abuse, both adults and children, in refuges and other safe accommodation.
Amendment 55 seeks to make it clear on the face of the Bill that domestic abuse, domestic homicide and sexual violence are included within the meaning of “violence”. We recognise the importance of multiagency working to address these crimes, as my noble friend has stressed, and I assure noble Lords that the draft statutory guidance for the serious violence duty, published in May this year, does already make it clear that specified authorities will be permitted to include in their strategy those actions which focus on any form of serious violence which is of particular concern in a local area.
I note the point that noble Lords have made that domestic violence is prevalent in every area, but it could include domestic violence, alcohol-related violence, sexual exploitation, or modern slavery. Ultimately, the specified authorities are best placed to determine what the specific priorities are for that area based on the local evidence. However, all that said, I can see value in the intention of this amendment, to expressly provide on the face of the Bill—and avoid any doubt—that domestic abuse, including domestic homicide, and sexual offences, falls within the definition of “violence” that specified authorities should follow when considering what amounts to serious violence and making that evidence-based determination as to what the specific priorities should be for their area.
Regarding the specific addition of “stalking”, I thank the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton, for drawing attention to this important issue. I recognise that there are other forms of crime which disproportionately affect women and girls which local areas may want to consider for the purpose of the duty, and the draft statutory guidance highlights that they may wish to do this. However, we might risk creating confusion if we specified too many crime types under the meaning of “violence”, and we must consider carefully where to draw the line. I discussed this with the domestic abuse commissioner the other day and she agrees that the definition of “domestic abuse” should be broad enough to draw attention to this issue where it takes place in a domestic abuse context. In addition, while many stalking offences do take place in a domestic abuse context or ultimately involve violent behaviour, that cannot be said for all, and so I am not convinced that an express reference is appropriate.
In any event, we remain completely focused on our efforts to tackle these crimes. The Home Secretary will chair a new violence against women and girls task force to drive cross-government activity and help maintain public confidence in policing. We are funding the first full-time national policing lead in this area, Deputy Chief Constable Maggie Blyth, as I mentioned during the Urgent Question yesterday, and later this year we will publish a new domestic abuse strategy.
Having listened to the debate, I am in no doubt about where the whole Committee stands on this issue. We can all agree in this place that we need to do much more to tackle violence against women and girls. The multi-pronged strategy we published in the summer is directed to that end. We intend to build on that further, having listened to the views of the Committee. The Government agree that part of the response must include the police, local authorities, health bodies and the other agencies to whom the serious violence duty applies, working together to prevent and reduce domestic abuse and sexual violence in their area. Therefore, I agree with the aim of my noble friend’s amendment and will work with her ahead of Report to agree how we might best reflect this.
Amendments 57 and 58 would require violence to be defined as serious in a local area should it result either in injury requiring emergency hospital treatment or in harm constituting grievous bodily harm. I agree that such consequences are clear indicators of the seriousness of the violence in question, but we want to consider further any implications of adding such specific language to the definition of serious violence in the Bill.
The Bill already specifies certain factors that specified authorities must consider when determining what constitutes serious violence for their local area: the maximum penalty that could be imposed for any offence involved in the violence; the impact of the violence on any victim; the prevalence of the violence in the area; and the impact of the violence on the community in the area. We expect the specified authorities to use the evidence gathered from their strategic needs assessment to answer these questions and set the priority areas for their local strategies accordingly. We think that current drafting ensures that specified authorities consider the most harmful types of violence, including those resulting in acute physical injury, as part of their local strategies. However, we recognise the need to further consider the points made by the noble Lord, Lord Brooke of Alverthorpe.
Finally, Amendments 57A and 59A, in the name of the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, raise another important issue. It is true that serious violence is often not contained by local borders and, owing to electronic communication, perpetrators of violence are able to have an extended impact in areas far across the country and beyond. We fully recognise this, and it is why Clause 8 permits specified and relevant authorities to work across local government boundaries with other authorities and, in doing so, to collaborate on strategies that cover areas greater than those where they primarily provide services. This could include collaboration with authorities in neighbouring areas or further afield. We have also included advice within the draft statutory guidance to this effect. For this reason, we do not think these amendments are necessary.
The Government have been clear that internet companies must go further and faster to tackle illegal content online. It is already an offence to incite, assist or encourage violence online, and we will continue to work with the police to support proactive action against and to address illegal material posted and offences perpetrated online.
In conclusion, I assure noble Lords that I will reflect very carefully on this debate and, in particular, on the amendments in the name of my noble friend Lady Bertin and the noble Baroness, Lady Brinton. I will continue to work with them to find an agreed way forward ahead of the next stage. On that basis, I hope my noble friend will withdraw her amendment, on the clear understanding that we will return to these issues on Report.
My Lords, first, I thank everyone for their powerful collection of persuasive speeches supporting the amendment in my name, for which I am hugely grateful. The House is at its best when it comes together on an issue that bridges the political divide and about which we all feel strongly. I am grateful to noble Lords for that. I thank the Minister for her support and what she just said in response, in particular to my amendment. She always gives a huge amount of time and she is such a diligent Minister. The Government are lucky to have her. I think I speak for the whole Committee when I say that she works incredibly hard and cares so much. I am grateful and I thank her.
I consider myself lobbied by my noble friend Lady Newlove, the noble Baronesses, Lady Brinton and Lady Royall—who is of course absent—and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt. My noble friend knows that I agree with every word she said on stalking. I cannot promise that I will change the amendment, but I promise that I will go to bat and lobby as hard as possible, because there is a huge problem here. Some 1.5 million people are being stalked a year, and less than 2,000 people are ever brought to justice. There is a massive problem here and, for too long, it has not been taken seriously enough. I want to work more on that, and I am grateful to my noble friend the Minister for saying that she will look at these amendments and that we can discuss this further before Report.
It is very difficult for me to respond to amendments that are not in my name, and I will probably not do justice to them, but I thank the noble Lord, Lord Brooke, for laying his amendments—he had hugely persuasive arguments—and the noble Baroness, Lady Hamwee, for the amount of work she does on these issues. She is absolutely right that social media companies need to be kept in check. I could not disagree with the points that she made.
That is where I will leave it, but I am grateful and look forward to Report. With that, I beg leave to withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 55 withdrawn.
Amendments 56 to 58 not moved.
Clause 12 agreed.
Clause 13: Involvement of local policing bodies
59: Clause 13, page 13, line 25, after “body” insert “for a police area”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment clarifies that references in Clause 13(2) to “the police area” are to the police area of the local policing body mentioned at the beginning of that provision.
My Lords, Amendment 59 to Clause 13 is a drafting amendment. Clause 13 concerns the involvement of local policing bodies in local serious violence strategies. This amendment simply clarifies that references in Clause 13(2) to “the police area” are to the police area of the local policing body mentioned at the beginning of that provision. The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, has given notice of a stand part debate on Clause 13 so, if it please the Committee, I will hear from him, but, for now, I beg to move.
My Lords, we on these Benches want to probe whether Clause 13 needs to stand part of the Bill. Can the Minister explain to the Committee why there is a need for legislation to allow a local policing body, presumably a directly elected mayor or a police and crime commissioner, to assist in preventing or tackling serious violence?
I could understand if the clause stated that local policing bodies must assist or monitor what specified responsible authorities were doing and must report their findings to the Home Secretary, but that is not what it says. It says that such assistance, monitoring and reporting are voluntary, in that these bodies “may” assist, “may” monitor and “may” report.
Subsection (4) states:
“The Secretary of State may by regulations make provision conferring functions on a local policing body”.
Does that mean that, although in primary legislation—the Bill—all this is voluntary, the Secretary of State can by regulation make it compulsory?
Subsection (5) states that the functions contained in regulations
“may include provision ... for a local policing body to arrange for meetings”.
Why does the Secretary of State need to pass regulations for a directly elected mayor to hold a meeting? Can the Minister explain why Clause 13 needs to be part of the Bill at all? We on these Benches are struggling to understand why.
My Lords, I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for this stand part debate. If the Committee will forgive me, I will say, as quickly as I can, a word or two about how I perceive the role of police and crime commissioners up until now.
Clause 13 is clearly an important element in establishing, from the Government’s point of view, a serious violence reduction duty on a more statutory basis—if I can put it that way—than exists presently. This obviously involves police and crime commissioners in particular. It is important to remember—I think this is what the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, was getting at, in part—that police and crime commissioners have, in their nine-year existence, voluntarily worked hard to establish partnership working and commission partnership services. In many cases, they have taken a lead in those partnerships.
There is a fundamental misunderstanding—not, I am sure, in this Committee—that, somehow, the only real role for police and crime commissioners is to hold their police force, and the chief constable in particular, to account. That is a crucial part of their duties, but I point out—the Committee does not need this pointing out—that they are not just police commissioners but crime commissioners as well. At the very least, they should have a significant duty to find ways to prevent crime and its effects on victims and society, working alongside partners, of course.
This is not about dealing with crime that has taken place, whether it is antisocial behaviour or serious violence. It means dealing with what has become a hackneyed phrase but is crucial here: the causes of crime, going back to early childhood development and early intervention. It is always about poverty and its effect on crime. It is about bad and lousy living conditions, and it always involves looking after the vulnerable, whoever they may be—we are all vulnerable at some stage or other in our lives. Above all, it is about preventing lives being thrown away, whether they are those of victims or perpetrators. I have to confess—noble Lords may have already realised that this is what I am about to say—that this kind of work or duty, as I call it, gave me and many other police and crime commissioners the greatest buzz of all.
It was crucial to achieving anything that one worked with partners, local and national, very much including government. To their credit, the Government set up violence reduction units, changed their support—I do not mean that in any bad way—and became very keen on the public health approach to dealing with these matters. That was a huge and important change, and many of us were convinced by the work that we did and seeing what happened in Scotland that this was the right course to take.
Where I was police and crime commissioner, we have what we call a violence reduction network, rather than a unit. I argue that it has achieved quite a large amount already, with great projects. My predecessor as police and crime commissioner for Leicestershire ran and started an office of the police and crime commissioner-run strategic partnership board, or SPB, which, by the time I left office, included all—I mean all—of the main public services in the area covered by the force, from local government to health, education, the police, fire and ambulance services and more.
The other example I give is that I was the chairman of the East Midlands criminal justice board. Other police and crime commissioners were chairs of their local boards or whatever they chose to call it. Clearly, if Clause 13 and other parts of this chapter pass into law, there will be—I am guessing that this is how the Government will put it—more statutory backing for this way of approaching the serious violence reduction duty. I am not against that in principle, but my one concern is that, in my experience, police and crime commissioners are a little bit like elected mayors: if they are good, they are very good, and they can make a huge difference, but if they are not so good, they can make a huge difference the other way.
I was lucky in that I had a brilliant team working for me in my office. As it happens, it has been decimated by my successor, but that is for another day, certainly not for today. Also, when I was there, other police and crime commissioners, whatever their party politics or lack of it, seemed to me to be able people who wanted to do the right thing and were very committed. As the noble Baroness and the Committee will know, many new police and crime commissioners were elected in May this year, which is no doubt a good thing, and many more of them were women—it is about time, too. It is too early to say whether they will grab these extra opportunities, but I hope that they will.
There are two big issues as far as the future is concerned in the real world. One, of course, is data sharing, which the Bill is very concerned about, and so it should be. So often, people of good will get together on behalf of organisations that are not prepared to share data. That has to change in this area, otherwise there will be no achievement. The second issue—I hate to mention it but it is the usual one—is funding. If we are going to fund all these exciting proposals, it will require government to take a leading step in that.
I am grateful to the Committee for listening to my speech. I thought it might be useful in terms of this clause.
I thank the Minister for her explanation of government Amendment 59. She said it makes a minor clarifying change, and we have no concerns to raise on it. However, I look forward to the Minister’s replies on the questions and issues raised by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, and my noble friend Lord Bach. I am not sure whether I have fully understood this issue, and if what I am going to say now indicates that I have not, I apologise in advance.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, indicated in his explanatory statement, which he repeated, that he has tabled the Clause 13 stand part Motion so that he can
“probe how the provisions of this Bill and the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 will work in practice; and the relationship between Crime and Disorder Partnership and Police and Crime Commissioners.”
As I understand it, Clause 13 provides that local policing bodies, such as PCCs and the Mayor of London, may assist authorities in delivering the serious violence duty, monitor how authorities are exercising their duties, report back on their findings to the Secretary of State and be given authority by the Secretary of State to assist the duty in specific ways, such as providing funding or convening meetings on the duty. It also provides that authorities must co-operate with local policing bodies. The Crime and Disorder Act 1998 created community safety partnerships, and that raises the issue of how this duty will interact with the existing duties on CSPs.
The Government have published draft guidance on the serious violence duty. It says:
“In order to comply with the duty it is not necessary to create a new partnership, instead the specified authorities should use existing partnerships where possible and with appropriate modifications.”
It goes on to say:
“The Duty is an opportunity to simplify and add focus to existing partnership arrangements rather than add any additional complexity to the current multi-agency landscape.”
On community safety partnerships, the draft guidance says—it says quite a bit, actually—that the Bill
“amends the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 to include a requirement for CSPs to formulate and implement a strategy to prevent people from becoming involved in serious violence, both as victims and perpetrators, and reduce instances of serious violence in the area.
Should specified authorities consider the CSP to be the most appropriate local multi-agency structure through which they intend to fulfil the requirements of the duty, then the strategic needs assessment and strategy produced by the CSP may account for both the Serious Violence Duty and Crime and Disorder Act requirements.”
It goes on to say:
“In recognition of a CSP’s wider remit in relation to community safety, and that many issues concerning violent crime can be interrelated, a CSP may choose to incorporate their strategy for preventing and reducing serious violence into a wider plan which also encompasses their other priorities. This will also help to ensure that individual strategies are aligned without being duplicative.”
I simply raise a key question. Certainly I, and extend it and say surely we, understand how the Government envisage the serious violence duty working with existing structures. If I am not mistaken, Clause 19 directly amends the Crime and Disorder Act 1998 to require community safety partnerships to implement a strategy on preventing and reducing serious violence. However, the draft guidance says that there is flexibility for specified authorities to choose the most appropriate local multi-agency structure to deliver on the new duty. It would be helpful if the Government, in their response, could provide some clarity on what the Bill will mean for community safety partnerships on day one. Surely the key questions are simple, as far as any question is simple: how do we avoid duplication and how do we avoid adding complexity into existing structures?
I shall raise one final point. it was raised in the Commons but did not get an answer. It is about funding, to which my noble friend Lord Bach referred. The Local Government Association has raised the issue that CSPs have had their funding steadily withdrawn since 2010. As the Bill appears to create an additional duty, do the Government have plans to review the impact that funding reductions have had on the ability of councils to work with other partners to tackle crime?
My Lords, with apologies for rising at this late stage, I lay my cards on the table and say that I have never been the greatest fan of legislating to require public officials to work together and creating byzantine edifices of legislative partnerships. However, I think that the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, has a point. If this is to stand, we need to understand whether “may” means “may” or “may” means “must” or whether “may” will become “must” because of regulations that will be made under what Clause 13(4), as it is now, will eventually become. That is just good law-making.
Unlike my wonderful noble friend Lord Bach, I have not been a great enthusiast for police and crime commissioners. I have to be clear about that. I always thought that it would lead to a politicisation of the police and, I am sorry to say that in many cases I feel that that has been the case. I will not dwell on the very crass remarks made by a particular commissioner in the wake of the Sarah Everard case. I am not a fan of that particular politicised mechanism for holding the police to account.
We will no doubt come to this in later clauses, but of course we must have a public health or more holistic approach to tackling—dare I say it—the causes of crime, as well as crime. But setting the policing bit and the Home Office above the other parts of the partnership, with the powers to mandate and the money and so on, is a journey we began with the Crime and Disorder Act, probably 23-odd years ago, when I had the privilege of sitting over there, in the Box. It is a journey that we still seem to be on. I am sorry to say that the poor old Home Office is often the dustbin department, picking up problems in society when it is almost too late. A lot of the deep-seated causes of crime come from other places and need to be tackled; yes, by preventive action—many noble Lords have made that point—but such preventive action belongs in education, in health and in tackling poverty and inequality. We all know this—I am preaching to the choir—but to set up an edifice whereby the senior partner, with all the powers to mandate and all the money to donate, is the policing bit, the security bit, the interior bit and the Home Office bit, is something we need to explore further, as I think the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, intends, during the scrutiny of these clauses.
My Lords, I thank all noble Lords who have contributed to this debate. Clause 13 provides a power for a local policing body—namely, a PCC, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, or the Common Council of the City of London in its capacity as a police authority—to assist authorities in meeting the requirements of the serious violence duty. The noble Lord, Lord Rosser, was absolutely correct, as was the noble Lord, Lord Bach—as I always say, we are immensely lucky to have Parliament’s only PCC in our place; the benefit of his experience is incredibly useful.
Local policing bodies have an important part to play in convening partner agencies. PCCs and the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, as elected local policing bodies, are the voice of the local community in relation to policing and crime. This is reflected in their current functions in relation to community safety partnerships. Local policing bodies are responsible for the totality of policing in their force area—the noble Lord, Lord Bach, pointed out some of the things that they get involved with—as well as for services for victims of crime. They will therefore have shared objectives in relation to the prevention and reduction of serious violence. That is why this clause provides local policing bodies with a discretionary role in supporting specified authorities with the preparation and implementation of their strategies, as well as monitoring their effectiveness and impact on local serious violence levels. I underline that the PCC role is discretionary and that it cannot be mandated through regulations.
The PCC, the Mayor’s Office for Policing and Crime, and the Common Council of the City of London will not be subject to the serious violence duty as specified authorities. However, as with the existing functions of these local policing bodies in relation to community safety partnerships, they may choose to collaborate with local partnerships. They may also take a convening role to support effective multiagency working.
Regulations made by the Secretary of State may provide further detail on the ways in which local policing bodies may assist specified authorities, including convening and chairing meetings, requiring certain persons to attend such meetings and providing funding to a specified authority to support the implementation of the local serious violence strategy. They will also have a power to require information for this purpose, as set out in Clause 16. In undertaking their monitoring functions, local policing bodies may report their findings to the Secretary of State to ensure compliance with the duty.
Specified authorities will have a duty to co-operate with local policing bodies when requested to do so. However, we have made clear in the draft support guidance the need for the relevant local policing body to consider the proportionality of additional requests and anticipated costs to specified authorities before making any such requests.
The overall objective is to provide additional support and leadership, if and when required, and not to place additional burdens on those authorities subject to the duty. The approach is very similar to arrangements in place for CSPs. There has been a mutual duty on PCCs and CSPs to reduce offending since the Police Reform and Social Responsibility Act 2011. I am sure noble Lords will agree that, to engender an effective multiagency approach to preventing and reducing serious violence, we must ensure that all relevant parts of the system play their part and have sufficient support in place to enable them to do so. We believe that local policing bodies, including PCCs, are best placed to provide that support. I take also the point made by the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, about funding.
I have just a couple of questions. First, what aspects of Clause 13 are local policing bodies currently not allowed to do that the clause allows them to do? Secondly—and I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Rosser, for articulating what is in the guidance—my understanding is that crime and disorder partnerships could be the mechanism chosen to deliver on the serious violence duties in a particular area, or it could be a different mechanism, and the police and crime commissioner might want to be part of that or might not. That does not appear to provide the clarity of leadership and accountability necessary to deliver a serious violence strategy. Perhaps the Minister can explain how this all works.
My Lords, I shall try to. At the moment, PCCs and other local policing bodies have the powers to work with the specified authorities to support multiagency working. The serious violence duty is a new duty, and the legislation clarifies how it will fit together. PCCs are the elected bodies; they work with local forces. The multiagency working can be through the CSPs, or there is flexibility around how the local partnerships are constituted. Because it is a new duty, it is definitely worth clarifying in legislation how it might work out.
Amendment 59 agreed.
Clause 13, as amended, agreed.
Clause 14: Involvement of educational, prison and youth custody authorities
Amendments 59A and 60 not moved.
Clause 14 agreed.
Clause 15: Disclosure of information
Amendments 61 to 64 not moved.
Clause 15 agreed.
Clause 16: Supply of information to local policing bodies
Amendments 65 to 68 not moved.
Clause 16 agreed.
Clause 17: Directions
Amendments 69 to 71 not moved.
72: Clause 17, page 17, line 5, leave out “consult” and insert “obtain the consent of”
Member’s explanatory statement
This amendment requires the Secretary of State to obtain the consent of the Welsh Ministers before giving a direction under Clause 17 to a devolved Welsh authority.
Amendment 72 agreed.
Debate on whether Clause 17 should stand part of the Bill.
I rise to explore whether Clause 17 should in fact stand part of the Bill. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for his support. He knows a great deal more about all this than I do. I will focus my remarks on Clause 17(1)(a), which refers to Clause 16(4). That subsection makes clear that a person employed by any specified authority who is requested to supply information to a policing body must comply with the request. Of course, these bodies may include a health authority as well as an education authority, prison authority, youth custody authority or any other authority named by the Secretary of State.
My objections to Clause 17, if I have understood it correctly—and I am humble enough to know that I may not have—are rooted in my objections to the earlier clauses requiring disclosure of information by public servants to the police. Clause 17 seems to add insult to injury by giving the Secretary of State powers to issue directions to any public servant failing to provide information in order to secure compliance with the duty. Clause 17 goes on to say that a direction can be enforced by a mandatory order. Can the Minister assure the House that these clauses exclude the disclosure of information that could identify an individual? This is vital, as the Minister knows—and I have a great regard for our Minister, who understands these things.
A doctor or teacher, for example, may take the view that to pass information that risks identifying a patient, pupil or other individual to the police would be contrary to the interests of that person and would not contribute significantly to preventing or reducing serious violence. They may make a professional judgment not to disclose information that could identify a patient, pupil or other. I seriously question the Government’s proposals in Clause 17, unless this issue can be clarified.
For example, a patient may suffer from mental health problems and may be causing difficulties, but may still be making good progress in a therapeutic programme. It is likely to be utterly destructive to draw that person to the attention of the police. Likewise, if a child has severe behavioural problems at school, is vulnerable and is being targeted by a drug dealer but has agreed to co-operate with a cognitive behaviour programme and other support designed to deal with his or her problems, it would be incredibly damaging to involve the police at this point. That child could be driven into a life of drugs and crime instead of being carefully steered away from such a path.
Having worked as a social worker many decades ago—goodness knows how many—and worked with families with problems, and having also been on the Police Complaints Authority for nine years, I think I can look at these issues from both points of view. I have considerable regard for the police, despite being—indeed, perhaps because I was—involved in investigating complaints against the police for all those years. I understand that they do want information about young people who may be committing crimes. The noble Baroness, Lady Williams, knows well my view that a radical review of our Misuse of Drugs Act 1971 to focus on drug treatment, rather than criminalising sick addicts, would be a great deal more fruitful in reducing drug abuse and serious violence, including county lines, than this Bill, the serious violence prevention orders and these disclosure clauses.
I hope that the Minister will explain what penalties the Government have in mind if a public servant fails to provide information in accordance with a mandatory order. Are the Government at risk of criminalising public servants? I hope the Minister can reassure the House on these issues and that she will, if necessary, seek the agreement of her colleagues to reconsider the approach in Clause 17 before Report. I look forward to her reply.
My Lords, I have to support what I have just heard from the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, for reasons we began to articulate on Monday evening. Noble Lords will remember we began to have a discussion about what is to be shared and in what circumstances existing duties of confidence and existing professional duties need to be overtaken in the public interest. But who decides? The Minister kindly gave me a very specific answer at one point in our discussion, when she said that it will be decided by the person who holds the data, but, obviously, that can be subject to challenge. That of course is my traditional understanding of professional confidence.
Way before this, and way before the Crime and Disorder Act, that was the traditional position: if the doctor, the teacher or whoever is not minded to hand over to the police the data about a specific person, or more general data, the police will have to go to the courts and try to get a warrant. That is the place for those hopefully rare disputes between professionals and the police, who are coming at this from different positions, to be decided, rather than being decided by direction from the Secretary of State.
Of course, normally, we want the health professionals, the policing professionals and the educational professionals to be working in discussion and collaboration, but, where there is a rare dispute because of their different professional angles and ethics, it really is for a judge to decide and not for the Secretary of State to trump all those existing ethics and duties. I think the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, is nodding at me. That is the concern I hope the Minister can address in her explanation and defence of Clause 17.
My Lords, I rise to support the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and I am very grateful to the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, taking us back to very late on Monday night, if the Minister remembers, when we were discussing Clause 15, on the disclosure of information. The Minister—I think, from memory, although it was late—implied that the disclosure of information was voluntary and that the clause was there simply to facilitate the disclosure of information. In challenging the Minister in that, I quoted from Clause 17.
I can be brief. Clause 17 enables the Secretary of State, if satisfied that a specified authority, educational authority or youth custody authority has failed to comply with the duties to collaborate or disclose information—including, presumably, sensitive personal information and information covered by a duty of confidentiality—to direct the authority to comply and enforce her direction through a mandatory order. That is what Clause 17 says.
I have already explained at length why professionals should use their professional judgment—as the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti, just said—within existing policies, procedures, practices and protocols, rather than being forced to divulge sensitive personal information when it is not, on balance, in the public interest to do so. For example, there will often be a greater good to be derived from maintaining a relationship between, say, a youth worker and a young person at risk of becoming involved in serious violence than from divulging sensitive information to the police. All authorities dealing with these issues are committed to preventing and tackling serious violence. They may, from time to time, have a different perspective on the problem, or a different view on the best way to achieve what we all are desperately seeking to do.
This clause is one of the reasons why so many organisations believe that the Bill is really about a police-led enforcement approach, because it is the Home Secretary who can force them to comply, rather than the public health, multiagency, multifaceted approach that has been so successful in preventing and tackling knife crime in Scotland. Can the Minister give examples of where public authorities involved in preventing and tackling serious violence have obstructed efforts to achieve those objectives? If not, why is this clause necessary? We believe that Clause 17 should not stand part of the Bill.
My Lords, this group starts with government Amendment 72, which I will say a brief word about. The amendment requires the Secretary of State to obtain the consent of Welsh Ministers—not just consult them—before giving a direction under Clause 17 to a devolved Welsh authority. I understand that the change was requested by the Welsh Government, and we support it on this side of the House.
I turn to the debate on whether Clause 17 should stand part of the Bill, which was tabled by the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, who introduced it, and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. Their explanatory statement says that:
“The purpose of this amendment is to explore the extent of the Secretary of State’s powers to issue directions under this section and the consequences of failure to comply with such a direction.”
A number of very searching questions have been raised, and I have a few questions myself. It would be helpful if the Minister could give some more information on what a “direction” might be and what it might consist of under this clause. The central point made by both the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, was about the context of police-led enforcement rather than a more equal arrangement between other agencies such as education and the National Health Service.
In the House of Commons, the Minister said that it is envisaged that this power will be used extremely rarely. Nevertheless, could the Minister give an example of when this power might be used and what checks might be in place when it is used? What would the prior steps be before a direction is considered? How would an authority’s progress in acting upon a direction be measured? Further, can the Minister say something about how the Government see this power working in practice?
I thought the noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, raised a particularly interesting question about what the sanction might be if a public servant fails to comply with an order to disclose information. My noble friend Lady Chakrabarti also spoke of the rare disputes between professionals and how these may be resolved by direction from the Secretary of State, rather than through the courts. She gave a historical context, if you like, to that status of professionals making their own judgments.
I look forward to the Minister’s answers to these questions, because, in a sense, they go to the heart of the recognition of the police’s authority and the status of professionals when they are asked to disclose sensitive information.
My Lords, we expect that the duty will provide the right legal basis for improved multiagency working and draw in the correct set of partners to prevent and reduce serious violence effectively. We think it is right, however, to ensure that there are means of securing compliance should a specified authority refuse to play their part—in other words, in adherence of the duty. So we have included provision within Clause 17 for the Secretary of State to issue a direction to secure compliance, should a specific authority, educational institution, prison or youth custody authority fail to meet the requirements of the duty. For publicly managed probation service providers, prisons, young offender institutions, secure training centres or secure colleges, existing mechanisms can be utilised through the relevant Secretary of State to ensure compliance with the duty.
As a result of the amendment to this clause just agreed by the Committee, the Secretary of State must now obtain the consent of the Welsh Ministers before issuing a direction to a devolved Welsh authority, as the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, said.
I now take the opportunity to address concerns that were raised previously by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick —it was only on Monday night, but it seems quite a long time ago. Let me be clear: a direction can be issued only to certain specified or relevant authorities and not to individual front-line professionals or practitioners. In addition, directions can be issued only in respect of certain duties, as listed in Clause 17(1). On information sharing, no directions can be issued in relation to the exercise of the powers in Clause 15 or any regulations made under Clause 9, which enable but do not mandate information sharing. I hope that answers the question from the noble Lord, Lord Paddick.
Directions can be made by the Secretary of State in relation to a failure to discharge the mandatory duty in Clause 16 to share information with a local policing body. As I have said previously, the purpose of Clause 16 is to enable the local policing body—that is, the PCC and their equivalents—to request information in order to assist the specified authorities and monitor the effectiveness of local strategies. To reiterate—this may assist the noble Baroness, Lady Chakrabarti—this power would not enable the Secretary of State to directly compel an individual doctor, teacher or social worker to disclose personal information. Additionally, any direction given to an authority cannot require a disclosure which would be in breach of the data protection legislation. If an authority refused to comply with the direction due to concerns that doing so would breach the data protection legislation, the Secretary of State could apply for a mandatory order and the court would then determine the question. I hope that this clarification is helpful.
I assure the Committee that, in any case, we expect these powers to be seldom used and utilised only where all other means of securing compliance have been exhausted. I am sure noble Lords would agree that, in order for this duty to be effective, a system needs to be in place to ensure that authorities comply with the legal regulations we are proposing to help prevent and reduce serious violence.
A direction by the Secretary of State may require the authority in question to undertake specific actions in order to comply under the duty, and directions may be enforced by a mandatory order granted on application to the Administrative Court in England and Wales. Further detail on this process will be set out in statutory guidance, which will be subject to a public consultation following Royal Assent. I commend Clause 17 to the Committee.
My Lords, the direction power is not available in relation to probation services provided by the Secretary of State or publicly run prisons, youth offender institutions, secure training centres or secure colleges. As I said earlier, existing mechanisms will be available to ensure that they are meeting the requirements of the duty. In addition, as I have already outlined, the Secretary of State must also obtain consent from Welsh Ministers before exercising the direction power in relation to a devolved Welsh authority.
Before the Minister sits down, I have one further question about the protection on data protection. My understanding is that, essentially, it works by limiting the control and transfer of data to the purposes for which the data is held. However, if this legislation changes those purposes to include, for example, the serious violence duty, data protection will not help any more because there will be a purpose that overrides the existing primary purpose. Perhaps during the next few hours—or years—of this Committee, we could get some advice from our friends in the Box.
I am grateful to the Minister. I think I need to read what she said and compare it with what is in other clauses in the Bill because, although it is difficult to hold everything in one’s head, I am not sure that everything she said is consistent with what is in the Bill.
However, there are two specific questions that the Minister did not answer. The noble Baroness, Lady Meacher, asked what the sanction would be for failure to comply. Is it right that a mandatory order is an order of the Administrative Court to comply with a legal duty, and therefore failure to comply with a mandatory order would be in contempt of court? The second question, which I asked, was: can the Minister give examples of where public authorities involved in preventing and tackling serious violence have obstructed the efforts to achieve those objectives? If not, why is the clause necessary? I do not expect the Minister to have examples at her fingertips but perhaps she could write.
I thank the Minister for her response on Clause 17. However, I wish to express a bit of concern. Although she assured the Committee that an individual doctor or youth worker would not be required to provide information, nevertheless an authority might well provide information, without consulting the individual doctor or youth worker, that would identify individuals who were receiving services in that authority. After the Minister’s response, I am not at all clear that we can be completely sure that this will not happen; I believe that there should be some wording in these clauses to specify that information from authorities about individuals would not be accepted if they provided it. This is an incredibly dangerous situation if individuals find that their authority has been divulging information to the police; it could destroy the efficacy of our public services—it is that serious.
I am not trying to be awkward; I just feel that we need some assurances in these clauses that individuals will not need to be concerned about the disclosure of information about them. Various subsections in Clauses 15 and 16 and so on indicate that, in looking at data protection, you must take account of the regulations in this Act. It is quite complex but it is not reassuring, if I may say so.
My Lords, I am keen for this not to be left hanging in uncertainty. Perhaps a bit of further explanation will be helpful to the noble Baronesses, Lady Meacher and Lady Chakrabarti, and the noble Lord, Lord Paddick.
This is a backstop power that will be used rarely. However, if needed, it could be utilised; for example, where one of the specified authorities fails to participate in the preparation of the local strategy. If a direction was issued and the authority still refused to comply—that was the question asked by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick—on the basis that it believed that doing so would breach data protection legislation, the Secretary of State would need to apply for a mandatory order and the court would ultimately decide, but I do not think that there is any question of breaching data protection legislation.
My Lords, it might be helpful to the Committee if I clarify what may be a slight confusion. The group was led by Amendment 72 but noble Lords will recall that Amendment 72 was agreed to in its place. The question that the Committee now has before is that Clause 17, as amended, stand part of the Bill.
Clause 17, as amended, agreed.
Clause 18: Guidance
73: Clause 18, page 17, line 17, at end insert “and contained in regulations”
Member’s explanatory statement
The aim of this amendment is to ensure that the guidance under this Clause is able to be scrutinised by Parliament
My Lords, in moving Amendment 73, I will speak also to Amendment 74 in my name.
Clause 18 states that those authorities that are, under this chapter of the Bill, under a duty to prevent and tackle serious violence
“must have regard to guidance issued by the Secretary of State”.
However, in the Bill, the only people the Secretary of State must consult are Welsh Ministers. As we will see in a later group, when it comes to similar guidance in relation to offensive weapons homicide reviews, Clause 31 requires the Secretary of State to consult
“persons appearing to the Secretary of State to represent review partners”
“such other persons as the Secretary of State considers appropriate.”
That is in addition to Welsh Ministers.
We on these Benches believe that the Secretary of State should also consult representatives of the authorities that will be subject to the guidance, and such other persons as may be appropriate to consult. That is the intention of Amendment 74. We also believe that such guidance should be statutory—that is, contained in regulations—to enable Parliament to scrutinise the guidance before those involved become subject to it, as set out in Amendment 73. I beg to move.
My Lords, we support the amendments put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick. On Amendment 74, we believe it is vital that the Government should consult front-line organisations on the content of the guidance. They are the ones who know how this will, or will not, work in practice and their expertise is the driving force behind the duty. The Government have of course published draft guidance on this, and I ask the Minister whether this guidance is being consulted on.
Amendment 73, as explained by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, is a recommendation of the DPRRC. The committee said it was unconvinced by the reasons given by the Government on why, throughout the Bill, guidance should not be subject to parliamentary procedure. It raised the potential power of this type of guidance, which authorities are told in statute to have regard to. The committee said:
“The guidance could … go much further than simply assisting those to whom it is directed: it would allow the Secretary of State to influence how statutory powers and duties are exercised”.
Will the Minister accept the committee’s recommendation?
My Lords, that was quick for a Committee debate. I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, for setting out the case for these amendments, which relate to the power to issue guidance in relation to the serious violence duty. I am sure we all agree that legislation works far better, in practice, when it is implemented alongside clear guidance. In the case of the serious violence duty, we want to ensure that the guidance is clear on the expectations of all specified authorities, that it provides sufficient advice in meeting them and that it highlights best practice from across England and Wales. It is also crucial that such guidance is developed in collaboration with and with input from those who will be subject to the legislation and those who represent them to ensure that it is fit for purpose.
That is why, prior to the implementation of Chapter 1 of Part 2, we will publicly consult on the guidance to support the duty. As a first step, we have published the guidance in draft to assist the scrutiny of these provisions. I have a copy of it here. We welcome feedback on the draft and will take that into account when preparing an updated draft for consultation following Royal Assent to the Bill.
Clause 18 already expressly requires consultation with Welsh Ministers, as the noble Lord said, in so far as the guidance relates to the exercise of functions under this chapter by a devolved Welsh authority. But we are committed to going further and, as part of the public consultation on the statutory guidance, we intend to invite views from key representative bodies and other relevant persons, such as the Children’s Commissioner and the domestic abuse commissioner. Given this commitment, I do not think it would be appropriate, at this point, to include a broader duty to consult in the Bill.
The stated aim of Amendment 73 is to enable the guidance to be scrutinised by Parliament. In principle, I have no difficulty with that at all; it is open to Parliament to scrutinise guidance at any time. However, the effect of this amendment, when read with the provisions in Clause 21, would be to make the guidance subject to the affirmative procedure. I am not persuaded that this level of scrutiny is necessary—and nor, for that matter, was the DPRRC, which recommended that the negative procedure should apply in this case. We are carefully considering that committee’s report and will respond ahead of the next stage. In light of the commitments I have given, would the noble Lord be happy to withdraw his amendment?
My ventriloquism skills are not so good that the Minister would think I was the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby. But I am glad that the Minister is going to consider the regulations again. I am not sure that the intention of my amendment was to ensure that guidance would be approved through the affirmative procedure. Any procedure would be better than no procedure at all, and it does not look like there is any provision in the Bill for parliamentary scrutiny of guidance, so I am grateful for that undertaking. I will go back and look again at a later part of the Bill, which includes the need to consult on guidance. I may need to come back on Report and again challenge why, in that part of the Bill, guidance has to be consulted on, but not in this part. Having said that, I withdraw my amendment.
Amendment 73 withdrawn.
Amendment 74 not moved.
Clause 18 agreed.
Clauses 19 to 22 agreed.
Clause 23: Duty to arrange a review
75: Clause 23, page 22, line 7, at end insert—
“(c) no other mechanism is available to review or hold an investigation or inquiry into the death”Member’s explanatory statement
The purpose of this amendment is to ensure that the reviews conducted under Clause 23 do not duplicate any other review taking place into the same death, for example a Coroner's inquest.
My Lords, in moving Amendment 75 I will speak also to Amendments 76 and 77 in this group, all in my name. We now come to offensive weapons homicide reviews and there are two points I will make initially. The first is to point to the evidence that the provisions on this in the Bill were probably, quite rightly and properly, about knife crime. Chapter 2 is about offensive weapons homicide reviews and, predominantly if not almost exclusively, homicides involving offensive weapons are knife crime offences.
Secondly, as with Chapter 1, the primary motive of the Government is to produce the illusion of doing something when the changes in the Bill have little practical beneficial effect. As we argued in Chapter 1, the Government’s approach potentially does more harm than good. Amendment 75 is a probing amendment to ask the Government why, just as Chapter 1 should have strengthened existing crime and disorder partnerships, this chapter should not strengthen the already considerable and comprehensive powers of coroners, if this were necessary, rather than creating a new and separate legal duty to conduct offensive weapons reviews—other than the obvious explanation that the Government could point to it and say they had done something about knife crime.
For every death where the cause of death is still unknown, where the person might have died a violent or unnatural death or might have died in prison or police custody, a coroner must hold an inquest. Clearly every qualifying homicide, as identified by Clause 23, and every potential qualifying homicide, even if the Secretary of State changed the definition by regulations, as subsection (7) allows, would be subject to a coroner’s inquest. Paragraph 7 of Schedule 5 to the Coroners and Justice Act 2009 provides coroners with a duty to make reports to a person, organisation, local authority, or government department or agency, where the coroner believes that action should be taken to prevent future deaths. All reports, formerly known as rule 43 reports, and responses must be sent to the Chief Coroner. In most cases, the Chief Coroner will publish the reports and responses on the Courts and Tribunals Judiciary website. Coroners are very powerful members of the judiciary. Attendance at a coroner’s court takes precedence over an appearance at any other court, if a witness is required to attend more than one court at one time, for example.
Can the Minister tell the Committee what consultation took place with coroners before this chapter was drafted? What was their response? What additional benefit would an offensive weapons homicide review have over a coroner’s report? If benefits were identified, what consideration was given to the coroner, rather than a review partner, being given the power to order a homicide review? Can the Minister also explain what happens if one of the review partners considers that none of the conditions in Clause 23(1) is satisfied, but another review partner considers that the conditions are met? Does the review take place despite the review partner’s objection, and, if it does, does the review partner that objected have to participate if it does not believe the conditions are met? Is there a hierarchy of review partners? So, if the police believe the conditions are met, must the review go ahead? And if a clinical commissioning group believes that a review should go ahead, but the police do not believe the conditions are met, does the review take place and do the police have to participate?
The Government may say that all this will be set out in regulations, but the existing provisions in the Bill are a shell of an idea, where this Committee is left to guess what actually happens in practice; what a qualifying homicide is, because that can be changed by regulation; who the review partners will be, because that will be set out in regulations; and what happens if there is disagreement among review partners about whether the conditions are met.
We already have child death reviews, domestic homicide reviews—on which more in a subsequent group—safeguarding adult reviews, and, now, offensive weapons homicide reviews. With the Bill as drafted, how many of the sadly too many knife crime deaths a year will be subject to a review? According to the Bill, factors that decide whether a review is necessary may include, for example, the circumstances surrounding the death, the circumstances or the history of the person who died, or the circumstances or history of other persons with a connection with the death, or any other condition the Secretary of State sets out in regulations. How many reviews do the Government believe will have to be conducted each year by our overstretched police, local authority and health services? I ask the Minister to not give the answer: “It depends what conditions are contained in the regulations”.
Amendment 76 is intended to ensure, as with the serious violence duty, that professionals, including doctors and counsellors, are not forced to disclose sensitive personal information that is subject to a duty of confidentiality, unless, in exceptional circumstances, it is in the public interest to do so, and in accordance with existing policies and practices, although I accept that these may be less stringent in the case of information regarding the deceased.
As before, Clause 31 says that review partners must have regard to guidance issued by the Secretary of State, but there is no mention of parliamentary scrutiny of such guidance. My Amendment 77 requires the guidance to be laid before Parliament to ensure parliamentary scrutiny. I beg to move Amendment 75.
My Lords, I am glad to support my noble friend in questioning whether the processes outlined in this clause should be altered so that they protect the procedures that we already have and have had for a thousand years, to use the system of coroners to investigate unexplained deaths of a wide variety of types. Instead, we have the offensive weapons homicide review added to the system. It is unclear how this will relate to the coroner’s duties in a situation where such a death has occurred, because the coroner’s duties do not disappear because we have legislated this system into existence. I hope the Minister will clarify this point.
There was a time when the Government might have felt that the system of coroners was not quite up to the job in some areas. We had problems over the years with inconsistencies in standards of coroner, but considerable attention has been given to that in recent years and I think the system now has much more consistency about it. We are not subject to some of the problems of particular localities which existed in the past. The creation of a Chief Coroner, although in a more limited way than originally envisaged, I think has helped in that process.
It seems to me that the Government are not saying that the coroner system cannot handle this, they are simply legislating for an additional mechanism, because that seems to be a good, visible response to a problem that we all acknowledge is a serious one. But serious problems are not solved by creating more structures and processes, particularly in the circumstance where what is a qualified homicide appears to be so uncertain that the Government have to keep to themselves powers to change the meaning of qualified homicide while the legislation remains in force.
I am very unpersuaded about this system and certainly would like to know what coroners are supposed to do when they find themselves presented with the likelihood of such an inquiry taking place and may have their own duties in respect of the death that has taken place.
My Lords, the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, has made it clear that these are probing amendments. The noble Lord, Lord Beith, has just expressed scepticism about the number of initiatives which the Government have put forward in this section of the Bill.
Having said that, we support this part of the Bill on offensive weapons homicide reviews. Amendment 75 raises the question of what happens if a death is already covered by an existing review mechanism, and not duplicating reviews. When this question was raised in the other place, the Minister said:
“To avoid duplication of work, the Bill provides that these new offensive weapons homicide reviews will be required only where there is not an existing statutory requirement to review the homicide”.—[Official Report, Commons Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill Committee, 27/5/21; col. 268.]
Clause 23(5) provides that a review is not required under this chapter if a review of the death is already taking place under different arrangements. If I understand it correctly, I think this meets one of the questions raised by the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, in his amendment.
Amendment 76 deals with data protection. It would prevent data being shared for these reviews if it breaches an obligation of confidence or any other restriction other than the Data Protection Act. These issues were debated in detail on Monday in relation to the serious violence reduction duty. Obviously, data sharing is absolutely key to a homicide review to allow us to identify and learn lessons from the death, and to decide on actions to take in response. However, as raised in the earlier debate, we must know how this is to be balanced with safeguards.
Clause 29 provides that a person may not be required to disclose information under this chapter that they could not be compelled to disclose in High Court proceedings. It would be helpful if the Minister could talk us through the specific provision of potential High Court proceedings.
Amendment 77 is based on a recommendation of the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee. The DPRRC has said that guidance on this chapter of the Bill provided by Clause 31 should be subject to parliamentary scrutiny and done through a statutory instrument subject to the negative procedure. We support the committee’s suggestion and call on the Government to look carefully at all the committee’s recommendations.
I am grateful to the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, for explaining his amendments to the provisions in the Bill which establish offensive weapons homicide reviews. Before I turn to the specifics of the amendments, it may assist the Committee if I first set out the context and rationale for the introduction of these reviews. Noble Lords asked a lot of questions and I will do my best to get to all of them. If I have missed any, I will write to noble Lords.
Every homicide is a tragedy and the Government are committed to doing all they can to prevent the senseless loss of life and tackle serious violence. We are naturally disturbed by data showing that homicide has risen by about a third in England and Wales between 2014-15 and 2018-19. We have also seen that homicides involving offensive weapons now make up a large and growing proportion of all homicides—approximately 354 out of 732 in 2019. Homicide is now the fourth leading cause of death for men aged 20 to 34, behind suicide, drug overdoses and car accidents. Yet there is currently no legal requirement to formally review the circumstances around the majority of homicides involving an offensive weapon.
This provision will require local agencies to consider the circumstances of both the victims and perpetrators during an offensive weapons homicide review, and identify lessons that could help prevent future deaths. By deepening our local and national understanding of homicide and serious violence, together we can improve our response and ultimately save lives.
The amendment would change the definition of a “qualifying homicide” whereby, alongside the other requirements already set out in Clause 23, an offensive weapons homicide review would be applicable only if no other mechanism is available to review or hold an investigation or inquiry into the death. We agree with the sentiment of the amendment that it would not be necessary or proportionate to require the review partners to conduct an offensive weapons homicide review where the homicide already meets the conditions for an existing review—for example, a domestic homicide review—as this would involve duplication of work and create an unnecessary burden on the review partners, yet produce the same outcomes. However, we do not consider the amendment necessary as Clause 25 already provides for the relationship between offensive weapons homicide reviews and other review requirements to avoid duplication of effort, including disapplying the duty to conduct an offensive weapons review in certain cases.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, cited coroners’ inquests as an example of existing reviews that would preclude a homicide from qualifying for a review under Chapter 2 of Part 2 of the Bill. We should remember that inquests are designed for a different purpose. They are legal inquiries into the cause and circumstances of a death, and are limited to the four statutory questions of who, where, when and how or by what means a person came about their death. Further to this, in many homicides where an offensive weapon is used, there will not be an inquest because the criminal trial will answer the statutory questions and an inquest will not need to take place.
The noble Lord, Lord Paddick, also asked if consultation with coroners had taken place at an official level. It has and that will continue during the design phase.
I am grateful to the Minister for giving way. It cannot possibly be right that a coroner’s inquest is not held if a criminal trial answers the statutory questions. Why is a coroner’s inquest into the Manchester Arena bombing currently taking place after two people have been convicted in criminal trials? I cannot believe that what the Minister just said is true.
I am not in a position to answer that question, I am afraid. I shall have to write to the noble Lord.
I can now confirm that coroners’ inquests will not preclude an offensive weapons homicide review.
In homicide cases where there is an inquest, its purpose would not be to provide the same in-depth review as an offensive weapons homicide review, which will identify points of failure, lessons learned and opportunities to intervene, which will help partners tackle homicide locally and nationally. Due to this, we do not consider that the amendment is necessary. I may have already said that, in which case I apologise. In fact, I have said that; I shall move on to Amendment 76.
Amendment 76 relates to information sharing in relation to confidentiality obligations and data protection in Clause 29. To review the circumstances leading up to a homicide involving an offensive weapon, to identify lessons and produce recommendations that will have a meaningful impact and save lives, the review will undeniably need to be able to access and consider information and material relevant to the homicide. Such information may include information about the victim or the alleged perpetrators or perpetrator. It may relate to their interactions with police forces, social services, health practitioners, educational institutions, employers or third-sector organisations. It may relate to information about their known associates.
It is not for the Government to determine what information is relevant. That will be for the review partners. I was asked by the noble Lord, Lord Ponsonby, about the High Court proceedings. That issue is dealt with in Clause 29, which sets the terms on which disclosures of information required or authorised by Clauses 26 to 28 may be made. I do not have precise details on the High Court proceedings but I will come back to the noble Lord, if that is all right. Clause 28 includes a power enabling review partners to provide information to another review partner for the purpose of enabling or assisting the review partners to arrange and carry out an offensive weapons homicide review.
I have mentioned review partners a number of times and it is worth digressing briefly to attempt to answer the question of the noble Lord, Lord Paddick, about the backstop, effectively—what happens if there is no review partner? That is not possible because in cases where there is no relevant review partner, the regulations also allow for the Secretary of State to be given the power to direct which partners are the relevant ones. I hope that answers his specific question.
Clause 28 also includes a power for review partners to require information from other persons. However, review partners may request information under this power only for the purposes of enabling or assisting review partners to arrange and carry out an offensive weapons homicide review, and the request may be made only to a person whom the review partner considers likely to have such information. The scope of the information that might be requested, and who it might be requested from, is therefore limited.
This power does not, however, affect the availability of any other duties or powers to share information such as existing lawful routes for information to be shared for safeguarding purposes or for the purposes of the detection and prevention of crime. As currently drafted, the provisions in the Bill ensure that relevant information may be disclosed, and such disclosure would not breach existing obligations of confidence, but any disclosure must still abide by the data protection legislation—that is, the Data Protection Act 2018 and regulations made under that Act, the UK General Data Protection Regulation, regulations implementing the GDPR and the law enforcement directive—and must not be prohibited by specified provisions of the Investigatory Powers Act. For example, where personal data is subject to the UK General Data Protection Regulation, that regulation sets out the principles, rights and obligations that apply to the processing of personal data, including exemptions from particular provisions that can apply in certain circumstances, as set out in Schedules 2 to 4 to the Data Protection Act 2018—for example, in the prevention and detection of crime.
Additionally, Clause 29 provides that a person cannot be required by Clause 28 to disclose information that they could not be compelled to disclose in proceedings before the High Court, meaning that information that is subject to legal professional privilege cannot be required to be disclosed. Due to those safeguards, we do not feel that Amendment 76 is necessary.
I should also like to confirm that we have consulted the Information Commissioner’s Office throughout the development of these provisions and will continue to engage with it as we develop guidance and prepare to pilot these reviews. We consider the information-sharing provisions in Chapter 2 of Part 2 necessary to facilitate an effective multiagency approach to preventing and reducing homicide and serious violence.
Amendment 77 would ensure that guidance under Clause 31 is laid before Parliament. The statutory guidance provided for in Clause 31 will assist the review partners in understanding the statutory responsibilities placed on them, as well as providing best practice on how to fulfil those responsibilities. Among other things, the guidance will provide further information on the notification requirements, the conduct of reviews, the content of the final report and information sharing. We intend to publish an outline draft of the guidance document to allow time for further development before consulting on the guidance, as required by Clause 31. The guidance document will be finalised and published ahead of the pilot commencing.
As I have mentioned the pilot, I will take this opportunity to confirm that we have reached agreement with local leaders in London, the West Midlands and Wales that several authorities in these areas will take part in the pilot of offensive weapons homicide reviews. They were chosen to provide insight from places with differing levels of homicide and serious violence in both England and Wales. We are working with local leaders and partners in these areas on the design and pilot, and further details will be provided in due course.
Returning to the specific matter of the guidance, I can confirm that the guidance document will be published on GOV.UK and be available for everyone, so that families, friends, the public and organisations which have an interest in an offensive weapons homicide review can understand what to expect from such a review. As to whether the guidance should also be laid before Parliament and subject to parliamentary scrutiny, we note the recommendation made by the Delegated Powers and Regulatory Reform Committee in this regard. We are considering carefully that committee’s report and will respond ahead of the next stage of the Bill.
In conclusion, I am happy to consider Amendment 77 further, but I hope that I have persuaded the noble Lord that Amendments 75 and 76 are unnecessary and that, accordingly, he is content to withdraw Amendment 75.
Before my noble friend does that, can the Minister clear up a mystery? I remain mystified. A person has been stabbed, but no charge has been laid against anyone because the police have not yet identified who might have carried out the stabbing. The coroner opens and adjourns an inquest in those circumstances. What happens then? Is the coroner told that he must close down this inquest? Does the coroner continue to co-operate with the police in the normal way, as they bring to him the information that they have gradually obtained about how this death might have taken place? In passing, I should say that it would be wrong to give the impression that coroners do not, as a matter of course, draw lessons from public bodies and others which arise from any death that they report on.